By Meron Tekleberhan
Addis Ababa, June 11, 2012 (Ezega.com) - On Saturday June 9 the New African Union Hall hosted a conference unlike any other it had seen in the few months since it was inaugurated. The conference was one called to show solidarity against the international pressure being exerted against developing countries to adopt what has been labeled the most significant human rights issue by some advocates, that of ‘homosexual rights.’ By 9:30 am the hall was at full capacity with everyone eagerly anticipating the arrival of the leaders of the major faith organizations in Ethiopia expected to address the issue in their official capacity.
The leaders arrived together setting the tone of the conference from the outset. In attendance were Abune Paulos, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Haji Azam Yussuf, Vice President of the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Council, Qes Wakeseyoum Edossa President of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Iyseus, Abba Berhane Iyesus Surafel, Head of the Ethiopian Catholic Church and Dr. Sileshi Kebede, Special Assistant to the General Secretary of the Ethiopian Evangelical Churches Fellowship.
The program for the day was launched by a moving prayer offered by Abune Paulos before the topic of the day was introduced by program coordinator Dr. Seyoum Antonius, President of United for Life, a Non Governmental Organization working on pro-life and sanctity of marriage concerns.
Dr Seyoum began by discussing the international pressure being exerted by Western leaders on countries in Africa and other parts of the majority world to adopt the homosexual cause. Dr. Seyoum referred to statements by US president Barrack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon which all urged for the realization of gay rights in African countries and even made not so subtle threats of withholding aid in the case that the nations of Africa choose to remain recalcitrant.
Dr. Seyoum went on to discuss the various aspects of homosexual relationships and the long term consequences of such relationships on the physical and mental health of those engaged in such acts. He presented scientific research that strongly argued homosexuality to be a mental health issue related to stress factors in the environment of children and susceptible young adults and argued against any biological or genetic factors.
Dr. Seyoum passionately called for Ethiopians to take the lead in saying no to the pressure from western forces and to take the lead in standing against compromise once again proving to be a symbol for freedom in Africa.
Dr. Seyoum was followed by the personal testimony of an Ethiopian homosexual man who was in the process of rehabilitation. The young man described the sexual molestation that he had suffered as a young child which had finally led him to a life as male prostitute as detailed in his book: ‘Ye Sedom Nefsat.’ The young man’s testimony proved to be very moving to many in attendance already emotional by the explicit medical presentation that had preceded it.
The leaders of the various faith institutions were allowed a chance to address the conference after the personal testimony and the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was elected as the spokesperson for the group.
Abune Paulos explained that it was decided that he would address the conference because the leaders has a united response to the issue at hand. There was no discord amongst the interfaith body and it was ready to declare as one that homosexual acts were unnatural, against holy writ and contrary to the core beliefs and traditions that came together to form what was uniquely Ethiopian.
Abune Paulos eloquently declared that Ethiopians did not need their identity to be dictated for them from outside no matter how wealthy or powerful the forces applying the pressure were. Ethiopia has withstood foreign incursion before and managed to retain its integrity as a unique nation re-known for spiritual maturity, religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence he said.
The interfaith group is united in condemning homosexuality as an unnatural act and call on international bodies to repent from their sponsorship of legalizing what is wrong and harmful as well as requesting foreign bodies to refrain from attempting to subvert the sacred traditions of the Ethiopian people by threats and political pressure, concluded Abune Paulos.
The final statement from Abune Paulos representing the leaders of the major Christian denominations and the Islamic Affairs council was met with a resounding standing ovation from the conference hall.
The Patriarch was followed by various representatives from civic associations the most touching address being delivered by the representative from the Ethiopian Patriots Association who said that Ethiopians did not suffer from an identity crisis and have fought bravely to protect their legacy and heritage from foreign incursion in every generation. The elderly veteran of the Ethiopian resistance movement to the Italian occupation during the Second World War urged all to fight against this new challenge that may have change form but still represented the old imperialistic designs.
The conference concluded on a high note with everyone in attendance heartened by the passionate and patriotic rhetoric. It was especially moving to see the leaders of the various faith institutions walking in and out as one body to polite reception from the conference attendants from all faith groups. It bodes well for the nation that Ethiopians of disparate religious backgrounds could come together with absolutely no discernible tension to address a common social issue. We can only hope that this politeness and unity will extend to other issues and come to characterize our national discourse.
The effectiveness of the conference in effecting the issue however is one that can only be proven in time. Without denigrating the intentions of the program in any way it seems to ignore that the passionate call of religious people all over the world has been largely ignored by governments in their address to the homosexual issue and there is little to encourage the hope that African leaders will be more responsive in the final analysis.
This fear seems to be borne out by the marked absence of an official representative of the Ethiopian government at the conference. The conference also received little or no attention from the public media in the country again indicating the sensitivity of the issue in the politically correct international arena the official representatives of the country have to play on.
While there is no doubt that the conference was an amazing show of solidarity that ought to settle the fears that Ethiopia is fast succumbing to westernization in the name of modernization to the point of losing all sense of self, it can only point to the hard difficult battle ahead if we are to remain first against the pressure that is being exerted.
Meron Tekleberhan is Addis Ababa based reporter for Ezega.com. She can be reached by sending email through this form.