By Abel Merawi
November 25, 2019 (Ezega.com) -- Society is built upon shared values and norms of its members. Amongst others, a societal value that is praised globally is loyalty. It can be defined as allegiance, commitment, and devotion in thought and action to a certain entity or idea. There are times in which our loyalty is tested, which make us question our course of action. During the Derg regime, when Ethiopian Jews were persecuted, the Israeli Government ran a successful covert mission to transport its people from Ethiopia. The Israeli state was in conflict with its neighboring state of Palestine at the time, as is the case now. Geographically and historically, Israel has more links with Palestinians than it has with Ethiopian Jews. Though the mission in Ethiopia was praiseworthy, it makes one wonder about the principle upon which our allegiance is founded. If Israel takes the trouble to help people who are distantly related to it through lineage to King Solomon, it would have been easier for the country to find commonality with its Palestinian neighbors. It is not loyalty per se that makes it right or wrong, it is the thing we are faithful to that makes all the difference.
Every country expects a certain level of loyalty from its citizens, which is justifiable. But this loyalty becomes unjustifiable when we support even the wrong acts of our country. Whenever conflict breaks out between two countries, no citizen bothers to question if one’s country is fighting a just or unjust war. Everyone assumes that her/his country is right and claims that the other country is the aggressor. For example, the people of Germany, by and large, supported Hitler’s war against various countries, as did the Russians and others who opposed them. To talk about right and wrong, we first have to accept that there is truth that should be set as a standard for passing judgment. If we look at the world subjectively only by considering our side of the story, truth and justice become empty words. When we consider the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea that separated us for about 20 years, we can observe such contradiction in our judgment. Most Ethiopians assumed that Eritrea was the aggressor, and, at the same time, most Eritreans assumed that Ethiopia was the aggressor. Upon considering the issue from the perspective of truth, only one side could be right. Speaking in general terms, two contradictory stories cannot be true at the same time. But for us to find the truth, we have to put our national loyalty aside and deal with objective facts. In other words, our loyalty should be to truth.
Loyalty is not expressed only in nationalism; it is expressed in our daily interactions as well. At the family level, we find relatives being loyal to their loved ones. It is truly honorable when our devotion and commitment to our relatives are manifested in love, in the provision of needs or in any valuable manner. However, when we deem it necessary to defend even the wrong actions of our family, our loyalty is misinterpreted and misused. To state some obvious examples, no mother blames her own child but assumes that she/he was just an innocent child who was pressured by bad friends. It is not usual for family members to inform on a criminal or corrupt conduct of a relative because doing so is seen as a betrayal. In the classroom too, it is not usual for a student to inform on a cheating classmate because such an act is equivalent to betraying a fellow student to an outsider. It is also customary for friends to defend each other even when their friend is the one who is wrong. Such loyalty is also common amongst colleagues or even people in the same profession when their member wrongs someone who is considered to be a stranger. In all of the above instances, we find the same sort of loyalty – allegiance to a group rather than to the truth.
With the above background, let us now examine the loyalty evident in our people towards the various regional or ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia. The commitment people show towards an opinion leader who appears to represent their ethnicity is common but shocking. There is an unwritten code of loyalty to which most people adhere whenever they encounter an ethnic issue. I am in no way suggesting that everyone follows this code, but the ill-treatment they face when they are loyal to the truth implies the existence of an ethnic loyalty. It is wrong to defend a criminal who claims to be a political leader or an activist when the intention and its consequences are a threat to everyone. It is sad to see people killing and persecuting the people they lived with for generations just because they are now told that they are their enemies.
There is an interesting story told by Jagama Kello regarding this ethnic loyalty. Lieutenant General Jagama Kello, also known as ‘The Thunderstorm,’ was the hero from Oromia region who defended his country as a young boy during the second Italian aggression on Ethiopia in 1935 GC. He was also a military officer in the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, who defended Emperor Haile Selassie during the attempted coup d’état. He recalls a time from his childhood when some people approached his honored grandfather to consult with him of their plan for expelling Amhara people from Oromia region. He heard them out while he gave each one of them a mixture of teff and wheat. Then he requested them to separate the teff from the wheat, to which they responded in confusion by the impossibility of the task. He then smiled and told them that separating Oromo and Amhara was similarly an impossible task. The moral of the story is that we Ethiopians are united in an inseparable bond that is impossible to separate with a poisonous narrative of ethnicity. We have shared our happy and sad moments with the people around us. We are united with our neighbors despite the current ethnic hostility. If we are loyal to the truth, we can see that our neighbors are more similar to us than any distant relation we claim through ethnicity.
It is especially astounding when one considers how people live in faraway places like America. There, when you go to offices, factories, schools, shops, and restaurants, you see people who came from different places, backgrounds, and languages. Some are Chinese, some Indians, some Native Americans, some Africans, some Europeans, etc. You will see white, yellow, brown and black people all mixed, working, living and thriving in harmony. If these people, who came from the far ends of the globe, could live in peace and harmony, how is it possible that virtually identical people living just a few kilometers apart their entire lives could be hostile to one another, all due to race? Groupthink can be highly irrational, as history has shown us time and again. "None of us is as dumb as all of us,” said one author, “we've learned that groups can make stupid decisions that no single individual in the group would make."
The resounding truth that resonated through time and space is that justice and truth are objective, and loyalty to a group will never change it. One plus one will always be two, no matter how many people say otherwise. Socrates in ‘Apology’ states that the multitude or the majority does not create truth, and the truth will remain to be true even if it is uttered by a child. Loyalty is necessary to create a bond among people, but not when it is blind dedication. Loyalty to the truth is a genuine and strong social value expected of a rational human being.
Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for Ezega.com. He can be reached through this form.
Other articles by Abel Merawi:
The Value of Work
The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System
Intellectuals and the People
Where Are Our Pathfinders?
The Allegory of the Cave and Its Lessons to Leaders
The Truth Behind Humanity
The Seven Virtues
The Seven Deadly Sins
What is the right thing to do?
Building National Identity
Adey Abeba and the Spirit of Change
Living the Truth as a Human Being
Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others
The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them
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