Dear Bereket Simon, So now you know! – Kassahun Addis

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Dear Bereket Simon,

So now you know!

I am not sure if you remember me. But maybe, this story of one of my encounters may jog your memory. It was the first week of July 2007 some days after the boss, I believe, you love more than yourself spoke in the Parliament on a range of issues. It was also a time when residents of Mogadishu were tasting the cruelty of the regime you and handful others were presiding over. The occupation of Somalia (save Somaliland and Puntland) by Ethiopian forces was becoming a lot like the occupation of Iraq and beyond cover-ups. Meles finally told representatives that they, which is him, you and other leaders of the country, miscalculated that breaking the backbone of Al Shabab would usher in a period of peace in Somalia. As a journalist filing reports and contributions for The Washington Post and Time from Ethiopia and neighboring states, I took that angle and a news story was published by The Washington Post entitled ‘Ethiopia Premier Admits Error in Somalia’. You see, for me, it was just another story that may be of interest to an international audience only to discover that hell broke out. I was called by your people the next day and told to show up immediately. Upon entering the building, I was hurried to your office where you were looking at a print copy of the web story. “You get this story down from the website and make sure the Post issues a correction tomorrow?”, you said with a calmness the doesn’t match the content of your spoken words (Of course you said it in Amharic). “You can leave now, but if the story is still up on the website 24 hours after this, you can forget practising journalism and start worrying about some other kinds of stuff”, you added. left confused, angry, wanting to cry and wondering what that “some other stuff” may mean. I later realized some other stuff mean harassment, intimidation, permit revocation, and vacation in Maekelawi. On my way out I told your protocol/director of Media monitoring unit that I see no problem with the story and that I might try to get the story down from the site but never would never ask for my editor to issue a correction. By the way, that editor, Stephanie McCrummen, just won the Pulitzer Prize this year. So now you know.

Fast forward to now, I read your letter and listened to a handful of interviews you gave this week. I felt for you when you told us that you heard of your suspension from the Party you founded and led through breaking/news. Do you know why? Because we both have similar experiences. Three or four days after that brief encounter in your office, it was Friday night and I was preparing for a customary night out in the city I love to live, get crazy and retire in. Just before I left my house, I was watching the news and then came the weekly state editorial. It was the usual gibberish and when I was set to turn it off, I heard the phrase ‘The Washington Post.’ I paused. The newscaster continued and mentioned the name of my editor, Steph, and then an adjective “Kitregna, telalaki”, before uttering my name. I was awed, then frightened, then scared probably like you would have been if you were in Debre Markos town when a group of aggrieved and resentful youths were ransacking and burning a vehicle that was thought to be carrying you. Calls started to come in from family and friends who watched or listened the state editorial. Even girls that never picked my calls and cheap friend that only “miscall” called me worrying for my safety. You see, I was honest when I say I felt for you. So now you know.

Dear Bereket, I am not a small city type of person and never understand people who hate big cities where day and nightlife are diverse and colourful and cultures come to one pot, some to melt together and others to add layers of beauty to cosmopolitan identity. But my friends who like small towns like you do say I would never get it. Back to the point, it is sad that you may never retire in either of Bahir Dar or Gondar. And I wouldn’t advise that. The mob will eat you alive. They have already passed the guilty verdict on many counts. And they are not shy about administering the sentence they see fit for the verdict. So I strongly advise you not to go there. Every time there is a temptation, just watch a youtube video of Gaddafi or of that Cote D’ivoirian dictator. You see the thing is people hate you for the crimes you committed with your colleagues, some of whom now want you to aggregate and carry their crimes too (Heads Up: Jesus also carried the sins of all of us), on countless citizens. And they also hate you for not being “Amahara enough.” The irony here is that you worked very hard to create, mentor, and nourish the “democratic ethno nationalist” youth that want to lynch you not for the human right related crimes you committed, but for not being “Amhara enough.”

Why am I telling you this? Not because I think you do not know all these deep inside. It’s because it is also my story and the story of countless people: dead and alive. Just imagine if the Debre Markos mob has reached all over Ethiopia, and unlimited resources. Do you think you would live to write the letter we read this week? Nope. Your party has been the Debre Markos mob on steroid, on another steroid and another and another. At least for people who expressed dissent. I know it wasn’t like that for many others. But it was for some of us. If you think about that mob, it is not cruel if one is not Bereket. See where this goes? If you have been to Eastleigh in Nairobi, or Bosaso in Puntland, Kampala, Sana’a, Hargeisa, and all over the world, you would meet some of the finest Ethiopians whose lives were destroyed directly and indirectly because of you and the party you were at the top leadership of for over two decades. Your party was a mob that prosecutes, judges and executes.

One more thing, stop with the defence tour. An apology tour would have fixed the hearts of some godly people. Mengistu Hailemariam just like you deny any involvement in massacres. He actually recently said, through his proxy, his daughter, that he was the voice reason and reform within the Derg, that he tried to save Atnafu Abate and others. And like you he wrote a voluminous book with the harder back cover than yours. Do you think yelling and writing that you were innocent that you never decided on the fate of individuals whose lives were destroyed, literally and figuratively, would cleanse you of all the blood? Nope. Look, I was good at finding better angles for stories: like that particular angle, I took on the Somalia story. A good angle to your narrative would go like this:

“I ain’t the only devil in the room. Why just me? What about my co-devils?”

Then I would ask one of the monks at Tana Lake monasteries for admission. You still got to be closer to Bahir Dar, and Gondar, monks and their God cannot refuse forgiveness, and hopefully the Hyacinth on the lake barricades the monastery of your choosing from the Debre Markos like mobs. This, I would do if I were you. So now you know

In any event that you feel unsafe, just flee. Run away before they add your name to Blacklist at Bole Immigration office. I knew some people who almost left the country only to be carried away from a running airplane and thrown to Maekelawi. You never know. The new administration only promised to null and void the old blacklist. They never said they wouldn’t create one. You wrote you can survive without that Ethiopian Oxygen. Trust me you would find similar oxygen elsewhere. As Cicero said home is not only where you are from, it is also where you are well off. Yes, true, it ain’t always relocation. It can ba e dislocation for many of us for many years. But you will get over it once you think of it as nagging discomfort that would never go away. Just so you know, never stop praying that no human right organization would bring a charge against you in the event that you decide for life in exile.

Adios!

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