In Ethiopia today, more than ever, the number of restrictive taboos is dramatically increasing. The kind of taboo by itself has evolved into being a double-edged sword, whereby we neither publicly discuss nor openly practice the taboo subjects. Starting from discussions and debates about human sexuality to the history of the country to the implosive potential of the religions to the highest leading ideal, Ethiopia’s politics, all are forbidden to be discussed outside the politically-correct circles and to be practiced outside what I usually label, Chief Government Scientists, personalities who have asked every question about those topics and answered them all by themselves. While the true emancipatory potential of those issues of concern is immense, they’ve totally but subtly been banned from mainstream public discussions and debates, including the flim-flam, election campaigns and debates, where they’re the only true platforms for genuine societal discourse. Instead of properly addressing the rift among generations and across a generation apropos of those coordinates of the country’s fate, they’re left in the dark to rot till kingdom come.
Our schools are not allowed to talk about them even to make allusion that are “not safe”, our parliament is not allowed to put them on the table, our religious institutions are told to shut the fuck up no matter what, our teachers are ordered to teach orthodox science – pure science of the chief gov’t scientists-, our history is not to be studied with the proper utility of scientific historiography rather Orwellian Newspeak.
The suffocation is unbearably overwhelming, to big for our shoulders to bear. I step into a political science class that claims to teach Ethiopian Politics, but I find the teacher blubbering to the degree of stuttering about the evils of neoliberalism, communism, socialism…all sorts of -isms. At the unconscious level, we’re all supposed to tarry while our country really is on fire. You set foot in a biology class, where you see lots of individuals with the access and proximity to modern means of information and paper PhDs, if the topic of the day happens to be about sex, they’re supposed to talk about it as if it’s an alien phenomenon practiced among aliens from other planets. On a mention of genitals of both sexes, they describe them with too much obscurity that you may end up identifying them as pieces of art or else cheap souvenir. You attend a sermon at your religious organization, you find the religious leaders preaching about the “coming era of peace, prosperity and perseverance because of the miraculous acts of the gov’t” killing the age-old father figure in charge of those things, the god that you believe in. The institutional sicknesses of some of those religious organizations and authorities, even when it’s to the detriment of the attainment of relative peace of the country, are not to be discussed short of taboos rather to be dealt with by the courts or the ancillaries of the state like the police.
The most surprising part of the story, this quick succession of prohibitive laws and censorship, resembles that of the Soviet Union under Comrade Stalin. Even though it’s not a written rule, you’ve an unwritten right to make a joke – a dirty one – about the Communist Party, the Dreary Life You Live, or the Comrade Himself. A joke of this kind is on the safer side of the divide. But if you happen to publicly criticize the person who made the jokes, telling him “You idiot, don’t you know it’s forbidden to do so?”- cuing him on the presence of a certain unwritten dictum prohibiting such acts of political incorrectness, if I may call it – you’ll severely be punished (Refer to Srecko’s Article) .Paradoxically, you’ll receive the lashes for revealing their very existence.
Mutatis mutandis, what we desperately need but lack today, in those moments of desperation, hopelessness and endless uncertainty, is a genuine social discourse that could surpass the impasse of mere tolerance and political correctness. If we as people and Ethiopia as a genuinely sovereign state is to traverse the 21st century and beyond, it’s a matter of survival to break the conspiracy of silence that lurks on those subject matters in or outside government institutions, in our households or in the neighborhood, at the university or the religious institutions. I don’t how we could miraculously become an African Tiger by emulating the “Asian Tigers” ignoring the internal contradictions of our ideology, the binding principle that guides us in our journey to the uncharted territories of capitalist purge and socialist nostalgia.
We are sick, we’ve to know we’ve been infected in a sublime way under unfortunate circumstances and we must wake to it and deal with it in time. We cannot go on pretending that everything is fine the way it’s or else pushing the painful memories of our experiments on those subject matters into our sub-conscious. We’ve to wake up out of our slumber and pay attention to what’s going in our world out there. We cannot go on pointing our finger at the war in Somalia, the terrorist attacks and the implosion thereof in Kenya, the stubbornness of Isaias Afewerki’s Eritrea, instead of diagnosing the our own predicaments – our clinical case of an obsessional neurotic, obsessed with taboos though out of collective ignorance and minority pressure. Our problems could not simply figure themselves out because our everyday citations of generous and beloved presidents in Tanzania, Uruguay, or else the Scandinavians. As long as, we accept the precedent fact that we’re been sick for long, because principally, we’ve been letting our guards down, uncertain of and unwilling to contemplate our dire future, we could overcome our current plague of fantasies by coming to terms with our past not by evading it.