April Monthly Event Recap: Sankofa: Looking Back to Move Forward

April 7 was the day I learned, not only about my history, but who I should be. As i entered the room it was filled with people staring at the screen. For the few months being an AWiBer, it was my first time using a projector on a Monthly, but I get why we had too. I sat down and joined the crowed staring at the same map as they were. As I was trying to figure what kind of story it was telling, Konjit Seyoum, AWiB Board of 2022, stood at the podium and began introducing her fellow board members. The ones that were present stood up and show themselves. Konjit thanked our partner First Consult, our sponsors Dashen Terrara and Ras Amba, for always being a huge supporter of AWiB.

Konjit moved on to introducing two members of AWiB, Liya Hiruy and Fasika Solomon that own their businesses to show case their products. Liya Hiruy explained how she makes house plants called Lily’s Cactus plants. Liya explained how cactuses are not only easy to take care of, but that they are healthy and is recommended in people’s homes. Fasika came next and elaborated the uniqueness of her bags called Awra Studio. Awra is a brand inspired by Addis Ababa which is the embodiement of the country. As the city seeks to evolve, Awra also seeks ways to present men and women with different products that will embrace their daily experience. Fasika continued talked about her collection as she said “as Awra, we say make a statement with a bag that expresses you. Awra, speak up, speak louder, and speak boldly”. Konjit proceeded on to explaining AWiB’s upcoming workshops, Commercial Code, Risk Management and Concious Parenting.

As Konjit was introducing the members and workshops, I was trying to think about how much I knew about my past or if I knew anything about my past. Is what I know real or is it what people want me to know? As I was asking these myself these questions, Konjit introduced Dr. Emebet, First female academic, VP of Addis Ababa University. She has over 20 years of experience in teaching and research. She took over the Center for Research Training and Information and Development (CERTWID), currently called Center for Gender Studies (CGS).

Konjit gracefully stepped down from the podium as she handed the mic to Dr. Emebet. Dr. Emebet thanked Konjit for the beautiful introduction and modestly stated if she can fill the picture Konjit painted, but she most definitely do her best. Dr. Emebt asked the speakers for the night: Mikiyas, Aster and Sylvester, if they could join her on the stage. Will a big applause, they did. Dr. Emebet gave a detailed explanation on the speaker’s background and expertise. As per the order of introduction, Dr. Emebet went right in for the questions and wasted no time. She voiced that the speakers had fifteen minutes to fully express their ideas in answering the questions.

Since its better if we start the context with history, the dialogue started with Sylvester. Sylvester, stateted that we Ethiopian say that we have 3,000 years old history, but Sylvester asked how much of it we actually knew. He said knowing History isn’t enough, but historical analysis needs to be done too. As time goes by, it is those Historical events that are shaping our futures. Sylvester gave the Adwa war as an example where Ethiopia defeated Italy. He asked what the significance was. He said that it forever guaranteed Ethiopia’s independence as a modern nation state. India, Canada, all the Arab countries are colonized. Only Ethiopia was not colonized and because of that it has shaped certain values and belief systems. Ethiopians have a belief system within themselves where they have been historically independent on our territory and we have the right to develop resources. Sylvester stated that the belief system Ethiopians have comes from history which is why he thinks reading history is crucial. Sylvester moved to the context of Sankofa. He said the name Ethiopia is the product of Sankofa because a little over a 100 years ago the name of the country was Abyssinia. We are the Ethiopians of history which we are forgetting. We need to reclaim that name for ourselves. Going back in history, rediscovering a name that was meaningful and reclaiming it and informing everyone including the league of nations that our country name is no longer Abyssinia, its Ethiopia. Sylvester started explaining the map we were all staring at. Ethiopians believe that they come from a great country but most do not actually know the story. Have you ever imagined if Ethiopia had an ocean named after it? It’s called oceanus Aethiopicus, but it has never been reclaimed. So, how did we loose and ocean that was named after us? It was because at that time we were in a civil war with Gondar. Fighting civil war that fragmented the Ethiopian empire over 200 years, but when the war ended the map had already. When we want to look forward, we must look at those values of unity, nationalism, patriotism that these values have saved Ethiopia at one point or the other.

Dr. Emebet moved to Mikiyas Sisay. Mikiyas stated that his views will be fully from how media played a part in shaping history. The impact of media is that it deals with people’s minds–they are mini gadgets that people listen to. Mikiyas emphasised that history is first inked by the media in modern time. But we have to understand or learn from our past because it gives us our own identity. He mentioned the Rwanda genocide as an example of how the media then perpetuated the killing of 800,000 over the period of three weeks. The media shaped the minds of people to think that a specific group benefited from it. People listened and acted. Mikiyas stressed that whoever controls the media controls the mind as we have seen it in the recent politics and in past histories. He said that we shouldn’t forget that media is double edged sword—as much as it is positive, it can also be negative. Just like he stated the negative sides of media, Mikiyas stated that during the Kenyan election in 2007, during the dialogue of the negotiation period, it was the media that saved the country by the late Kofi Annan used the media in showing where the dialogue was and who was behind negative ideas. That helped the people in knowing the true information. He also mentioned about the digital media world and how it has it has enhanced citizen journalism. Citizen journalism is where people from whichever end post without any responsibility and editor-in-chief. He stated that conflict is inevitable in any part of life, but what we don’t want is for that conflict to go to violence. Conflict unless managed will go to violence. He emphasised on mediation or preventing diplomacy. Mikiyas stated that how ‘Shemgelena’ is part of our culture and how we forgot about it during times like these. In the past, Ethiopia has mediated Nigerians and Sudanese, and we used ‘Shemgelena’ respecting both parties without name calling, but how we have failed when it comes to our own is something we should have learned from our ancestors.

As Dr. Emebet was summurizing Mikiya’s point of view, she said something I was thinking myself. Mikiyas did give us more homework, more questions than answers. She then moved to our third speaker, Aster Birke.

Aster started from the context we live in. She stated that where the country is at now is at a crisis. She mentioned that it is characterised by high polarization along political ethnic lines intolerance of differing views. There is misinformation and disinformation which has created a confused citizenry that is easily manipulated. Aster moved to speaking about the civil society in Ethiopia. She mentioned how civil society has had long years of contribution in terms of getting and supporting the marginalized communities in Ethiopia in terms of providing services, education and health, but has not played the role it should’ve. One of the things Aster mentioned was how political parties have set up organizations and the allegiance of these NGO’s isn’t necessarily on the neutral common good. So it has been difficult for civil society to come together, had its own niche and stands different from government. When it comes to what has to be done is for civil societies it needs to carve a unique space and identity very different from others and needs to have a clear mission particularly in areas of in peace building conflict prevention by developing its capacities in peace building and needs to be able to lead and guide social discourse.  Asters a question we were all thinking of. Who is pushing, leading and setting the agenda of agenda of the nation? Civil society is very well placed by developing the culture of dialogue, discussion and being specialised in terms of peace building, quality and number. It needs to have top leadership and alliances. They can be good in being inclusive and in getting the voices of women, youth and people with disabilities to get their voices heard. Aster then moved to Sankofa and that she thought of it as a process of learning, evolving, being conscious continually and seeking so that we can be the best we can be. But Aster believes we are stuck in the past — which we haven’t learned about our past to move forward. Because we haven’t learned about our history well, we have been manipulated by few people that have an agenda. She began speaking passionately on what we haven’t done anything for our society regarding the causalities and deaths happening around the country. She stated that we have to not only learn, but to be honest to start change. Aster went back to what needs to be done and began asking herself what she should do and that she should stand for what she thinks is right, whether its comfortable or not, whether it’s her ethnic group or not. It is then when I questioned what I’ve done as Egziharya. Have I done what’s truly in my heart? Have I been quiet around people that have different views as I have? I can feel the room asking themselves the same questions. It is then that I realized our country needs people to wake them up – to wake me up. Aster was right. If we are not taking an action actively participating, we are part of the problem.

Dr. Emebet summarized the discussions and opened the stage for questions from the audience. Some of the questions included:

  • Where do we synergize from media and civil society?
  • Where do we look back to when discussing Sankofa?
  • When saying truth is relative and we need to agree to disagree, we’re not even able to do that. So how can we reach to that? How can we reach to a conscious effort?
  • With the distortion of history from both sides of good and bad, how can we really appreciate our history and move forward?

The responses included we first need to make a conscious effort leave the bad history behind and ask ourselves ‘what can we do?’ ‘How do we raise our children? We need to know the key national issued that need to be discussed on by staying true to ourselves. Society needs to listen to understand in order to agree to disagree. When talking about different perspectives, it doesn’t mean one is more truthful than the other. We need to research on history

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