By Hama Tuma


Jean Paul Sartre once said that words are loaded pistols. The same can be said of alphabets, at least where it concerns Ethiopians. Back in the late sixties and seventies, there was tendency within leftist groups and parties of the world to split, with the splitters still keeping the mother name but adding alphabets to it. CP (R), CP (ML), CP (D) and a whole parade of qualified names. The R stood for Revolutionary or Renovated, ML defined true blood Marxist- Leninist, the D stood for democratic, and so on and so forth. There were many times good reasons for the splits but the alphabet soup, as it became known, was like a poor man’s soup, short on the meat and just plain water.


In Ethiopia, since the nineties, the D tag has spelt disaster and betrayal, often given to pro-regime or satellite groups that existed in name only. Given the fact that the ruling front was not itself democratic its offshoots or stooges could not deserve the democratic tag. The same can apply to other groups who took up the D to be attached to names that really neither belonged to them nor defined them. That being the case D defined other things like:

·        D for disaster;

·        D for division like the ethnic politics of the regime, article 39 approving secession, being a faction to weaken the patriotic forces;

·        D as in deadly, massacring innocent people, committing genocide;

·        D as in deterioration, a catastrophic setback, a fall unto the pit of ethnicism;

·         D as in dilapidated, worn out, old, hopeless;

·        D as in destruction of a country or an organization,;

·        D as in degrading of a country’s culture and history, the valiant struggle of an organization;

·        D for dismantling of a country or a party;

·        D for dissolve, break up and liquidate;

·        D for deracinate;

·        D for demolish.


D has not stood for democratic, alas.  D has often stood in for dog as this is the only friend you can buy for money but then the D tag on groups signifies disloyalty and not the loyalty of even a dog.


And when an R has followed the D it has not been a relief at least in the Ethiopian context.  I venture to quote Alexander Pope:

        “The bookful blockhead ignorantly read

             With loads of learned lumber in his head.”

The Drs have become in many instances Disasters Refined, pedants and snobs, elitist to boot. The African intellectual or/and politician , the one castigated by Fanon for his/her black skin and white mask, disappoints as it acts as if bravery or courage are out of fashion. I agree intellectuals are “of their time”; they should be situated within the specific, country and culture, and era too. The demands on an intellectual in Africa and the one in America may not be the same. It is possible to be generous and to define the intellectuals or, as in the Ethiopian case, those who devotedly attach the Dr and PhD tag to their names, as a minority “pursuing knowledge and research”, surfing in the realm of pure art, aloof in its own ivory tower, untainted by the mundane that is the reality. There is also what Edward Said called “political trimming, a technique of not taking clear positions but surviving handsomely nonetheless”. Most intellectuals of this inclination have proved a curse for Africa, survival becoming their main preoccupation even in/and especially in/exile.


Given our own historical context and problems,  it is imperative for us to refer to the public or the real intellectuals, those who are friends of critical discourse, who are committed to justice, who take the side of the weak and the dispossessed, the disadvantaged.  This goes beyond sheer exaltation of the national, the identity. Those who not only champion their own culture and national heritage but go above it to “universalize the crisis” as was said, to not fall into national jingoism or narrow ethnic exclusiveness, to seek the alternatives shrouded by the priority of the so called main battle. The task of the intellectual is therefore not to organize what Julien Benda (who wrote “The Treason of the Intellectuals” in 1928) referred to as “collective passions” such as sectarianism and national belligerence. There is often a reference made to the Meji Restoration of 1868 in Japan which brought the monarchy back, abolished feudalism and charted a way towards building a new Japan but the facts show that the process led to extreme and even fascistic nationalism. Shido minzeku, the notion that Japan was a leading/special race (an ideology that justified the massacre of the Chinese and the crimes against Koreans and other peoples) was upheld by intellectuals that championed their national Japanese identity and interest as it were. During World War II, American intellectuals reciprocated with a similar debasing attitude towards the Japanese. In other words, intellectuals who are said to be in tune with their nation and time can also veer off and create havoc. Tagore of India and Jose Marti of Cuba are admired because they were nationalists whose position did not hinder them from being critical. They fought the main battle but did not lose sight of the alternatives. Fanon’s critical appraisal of the FLN of Algeria and the struggle against French colonialism is to be seen within this context. That is to say the struggle against the existing malaise (colonialism then or dictatorial regimes now) should always be accompanied with a critical appraisal of the struggle for change and a clear understanding of the substitute for which sacrifices are being paid. This is crucial because the oppressed can become oppressors before the euphoria of victory has even calmed down. The victorious FLN imposed a dictatorship on the Algerian people. The Boers who fought against British imperialism brought apartheid on the South African people. The February Revolution of 1974 in Ethiopia overthrew the feudal autocracy but the military took power to establish one of the bloodiest dictatorships in History. Those who preach liberation will not necessarily be liberators and, alas, every would-be dictator vows in the name of democracy.


During the prevalence of the one party system in Africa any talk of justice or any critic of the regimes was considered as treason. The “national cause and national interest” drum was beaten to silence any critical voice. Parties were not the results of existing class and interest differences but taken as creators of these conflicts. This was how the one party system was justified, through an illusory common interest and identity, with the ruling party embodying the whole nation and the dictator being its symbol. Anyone one who opposed the American war in Indochina was considered a traitor for quite a while. In such a situation and in critical times, the intellectual is called upon to rally to the flag, to be silent on the crimes being committed in the name of the nation. Leave the sixties aside and observe the present reality in which under the cover of national interest or so called national liberation, crimes are being perpetrated. The Rwandan intellectuals who broadcast Radio Mille Collines and championed genocide, the Algerian and Somali intellectuals who expounded extremism and the warlord carnage, the Ethiopian intellectuals who shamed their age old country with ethnic chauvinism, were not patriotic and loyal at all. They sought refuge in their own ethnic or national cocoon to justify their inability to be intellectuals worthy of the name.


The intellectuals need, in the words of Edward said, to “speak the truth to power”. This is no easy task, it requires not only transcending the narrow confines of stunted nationalism but also demands courage as the power holders are not keen to hear or heed any criticism. The intellectual must not only question authority but strive to undermine it wherever it is illegitimate. Reciprocating the evils of the system in reverse (fighting ethnic chauvinism by preaching ethnic genocide for example) is not an option. As Edward Said so aptly put it, ‘to regress into hand wringing impotence or into muscular reassertions of traditional values, as characterized by the global neo-conservative movement, will not do. I think it is true to say that the critique of objectivity and authority did perform a positive service by underlining how, in the secular world, human beings construct their truths, and that, for example, the so-called objective truth of the white man’s superiority built and maintained by the classical European colonial empires also rested on a violent subjugation of African and Asian peoples, who, it is equally true, fought that particular imposed “truth” in order to provide an independent order of their own. And so now everyone comes forward with new and often violently opposed views of the world: one hears endless talk about Judeo-Christian values, Afro centric values, Muslim truths, Eastern truths, Western truths, each providing a complete program for excluding others….   One of the shabbiest of all intellectual gambits is to pontificate about abuses in someone else’s society and excuse exactly the same practices in one’s own”. (Underlining mine –HT).


Aime Cesaire wrote of the need for the “invention of new souls”. Beyond the victory over a regime or system, there must be a vision of a new construction, a new society to be born from the sacrifice, new souls to be invented so to speak. It is in this realm that real intellectuals have their role. Not to reboot the same system anew but to forge an alternative. Not to regress back to traditional times (Africa had no golden age before colonialism for example and Ethiopia’s imperial past was an unmitigated disaster), nor to seek some “centrism” or ethnic ghetto that excludes others but to soar high and beyond and above mediocrity and more of the same to seek a new and brighter vision, to build the country on a democratic basis that unites the people on the basis of equality. In this the role of the intellectual is to “actively represent the truth”, to stand with the people, to look ahead and never to regress back into the pit of a nostalgia of disaster. It is said the “true intellectual is always a secular being”, that is to say very much different from the Christian or Islamic fundamentalists that are trying to drag us back to the dark ages of ignorance and intolerance. Morality is defined in the concrete, here and now, in whom it serves and benefits. And the real intellectual should thus find his/her place in the public role, in the upholding of truth, in refusing to be directed and ordered about by the authority in place. Blind obedience to power, to greed, to selfishness, to an arrogant superpower, to harmful and narrow ethnic or sectarian interests will in the end turn the intellectual into a historical coolie of shame and cowardice.


PhD can define knowledge and a continuing search for it or, alas quite often than not in the Ethiopian and African context, it could mean a pile of horse dung. We can struggle to invent new souls or to reboot the rotten ones. The choice is limited and gratuitously labelling oneself democratic or an intellectual is just an exercise in futility.

Published in: on November 19, 2008 at 9:01 pm  Comments (14)  

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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Bravo Hama!!!
    It is a nice article. I would say, it is a good reply for a new book titled “Radicalization and Cultural Dislocation in Ethiopia, 1960-1974.

  2. Hama’s piece is a timely critic of the pseudo intellectuals who are shaming Ethiopia and Africa.For me Anjas, Berhanu Negas, all Ds in Ethiopia refer to being an anti democratic virus.

  3. Hama,

    When do you will stop endlessly talking and writing and deliver on the ground in Ethiopia?

    Otherwise, your organization and you will be the same as the other hopless poltical parties based in the Diaspora. Namely Meison, Ande Ethiopia, Tand, Ginbot 7 etc.

  4. One of the paragraphs gripped me. I think the country is heading to disaster. I just finished reading few books on genocide in the world and scramble for raw materials. At the root of all this problems you have mentioned, may be man has never understood himself and society very well. And it did know how to behave and handle himself when he saddles himself on the back of the trodden masses. Power and money corrupts. Even worse seeking international stardom in empire making
    dissolves the basic decency that one’s moral values dictates to us go down the garbage shoot and humanity
    finds himself at horrifying historical junctures. The magnitude of the disaster could be local, national or/and international. I feel in the Ethiopian Empire case we are heading to another genocicial epoch in dark history of that nation.

    We need to avert it; I am afraid people gripped with nostalgic background and historical watersheds seemed
    not to listen to chiming of bells from the pens of enlightened of our moment in time. I say moment because those powerful men and women may not last long but their actions sediment ugly scars on the faces of our society. The case in points are the Khmer in Cambodia, the Hitter in Germany and the Turkish massacre of the Christian Armenians and the hot blood that still fumes from the soil and rivers of Rwanda are few examples in the darkest moments of man in history. For me I could see the tale tell signs in the shimmering sandy deserts of Ogden and Marshy savanna grass lands of Western Ethiopia – Gambela and even at the center of Oromia when men and women are led to prisons in drove. It is absolutely wrong and we all are going to be responsible if we could not stop this red storm that is going to engulf the city of Addis Ababa and the Ethiopian Empire. Blood and Soil and Blood and Oil are the books that have been hunting me; I am afraid to reread them again but I had to do it; in case I could understand history better.

    Sabataa Dubbii

  5. “Morality is defined in the concrete, here and now, in whom it serves and benefits. And the real intellectual should thus find his/her place in the public role, in the upholding of truth, in refusing to be directed and ordered about by the authority in place. Blind obedience to power, to greed, to selfishness, to an arrogant superpower, to harmful and narrow ethnic or sectarian interests will in the end turn the intellectual into a historical coolie of shame and cowardice. ….PhD can define knowledge and a continuing search for it or, …. We can struggle to invent new souls or to reboot the rotten ones. The choice is limited and gratuitously labelling oneself democratic or an intellectual is just an exercise in futility.”

    What a pen and a moral weight! So powerful, brother. It is sad many of us do not admire and safeguard our heroes; but I believe there will be a day your works and legacy will be rejoiced in the free sprit and ownership of our people.

  6. Sabataa,the impending disaster can be avoided if we all unite and struggle for democracy and justice and avoid going into our narrow ethnic shells of hatred and prejudice.let us join hands.

  7. In to day’s world, intellect is measured by how many degrees are acquired and how much money one makes. It is really sad to see African intellectual turned in to money making machine and forget the suffering of our people. We do not see any moral authority from those intellectual, which we use knew from previous intellectuals.

    Hama you did timely work for those who want to learn. Hope fully, this may teach them what burden those PhD should carry.

  8. Mesyae Kebede is one example of the soeudo intelelctual.He was a Meisone cadre and a Serto Ader party leader who now has turned around to attack that generation that was progressive.shame on such people who never say we made a mistake.Thank you Hama

  9. ayeee ye ehapa neger…

    while weyane is killing and destroying the entire country in a daily basis, you guys are wasting time about the word D, …

    who cares…

    In addition to this waste of time, eprp full time job has been becoming destroying others major oppostion parties by jumping in all diaspora oppostions supporters as a grasshoper…..

    I can not wait to see the active and the brave eprp that I was told from my family members and others.

    those who had firm stand against tyranny had been killed and others had left the party but the eprp is now just a cultish group of retiree groups that have no best dream for their country but always want to achive the power and all finacial means with no in put from thier side…..

    I am always feel so bad to see the eprp party that many have died for it, and many more had lost thier life and sacrified a lot, but now only survived by a group of anti oppostions elements that are parallelly destroying along the formidable ethiopian enemy weyane…

    yet those days might be still available for dreamer groups of eprp to take off their egoisest and cultish coat, and join the vast majority of the ethiopians who are now standing against weyane….

  10. Wedi Ethiopia you sound very much wedi Weyane.The wekaness of the opposition is not the fault of the EPRP but of the groups themselves and due to the work of the Weyane to divide and wekane them. You are attacking the EPRP in the same way as Weyane and former Derg criminals do.Try to learn and mend your way if you are sincere that is. Hama’s comments and articles are useful and provoke always discussion.EPRP has always been leding in ideas and options and methods.

  11. Hama,

    As always fresh thinking and insights…it is a pleasure to read and study your articles. Not only the outstanding literary style….the substance that always forces us to wake up and reminds us as Ethiopians, that we are duty bound to stand up and be
    There is much to be said about our intellectuals, I don’t remember who said that: “the intellectual had the choice between silence and
    “Going astray”: neither was compatible with the traditional definition of his function. ”
    Yes, majority of the learned Ethiopians are in the “camp of silence” As always few in number are determined to fight in defense of Ethiopia and the
    Ethiopian people.

    Thank you Hama!

    Ethiopia will prevail!

  12. It dpends how to put what i feel about this piece of work because interms of content i appreciate the way you put it but i am not clear how you put all in one basket because as far as i know the oldest parties outside of the country did not play their role to bring Ethiopians in one umbrella but when others who are new tried with their vision we do not have to trigger the bullet on them.when there is no environment from the eldest brother the youngest will try new ways that is what we see the mushrooming of political parties which are indirectly helping the tyrant or the woyane tugs to do what ever they want because we are bestly doing their home work due to that we are divided and disarrayed inspite of becomming one and fighting the tyrant we fight eachother.

  13. I read the article with interest. On completing reading it, I asked some questions? The first one was assurance with the statements presented. Yes, our elites are not doing what is expected of them. Seconf, disagreement: there are a handful elites who have devoted their time and energy to the causes of the country. Further more, EPRP and people from this old but hopeless party can accuse others of not doing well. Where is the role of EPRP? Wasn’t it EPRP who championed ideals of Article 39 of the present constitution? Wasn’t it EPRP which interfered in the internal affairs of KINIJIT and facilitated its end?

    As to Messay Kebede, unless you people have other personal sor political affairs, to my evaluation he is the one who deserves the PhD. His books are witnesses for that! The profit we gain by disgracing others is worthless. Just show us in practice. To define D or R or P is not a step towards democratizing Ethiopia.

    Ethiopia le zelalem tinur!

  14. I found this on EEDN. A very good response to this article. AA

    The politics of envy and blame: closing chapter of Hama Tuma’s political life?

    I am ragingly mad to read Hama Tuma’s hate and insult of EPRP (d) and Ethiopian intellectuals, on “OF ALPHABETS AND DISASTERS”

    In his latest smear, Hama mimics Wolde Towlde (AKA “What is my name?”) and uses letters to devalue his self-created enemies – Ethiopian intellectuals and EPRP (d). Like Wolde, who always try to create something out of nothing by joggling words and creating irrelevant, useless, and more often meaningless acronyms, to appear mystical, philosophical and relevant, Hama uses the letters “D” and “R”, separately and jointly, to belittle Ethiopian Intellectuals and unleash his phantom of hate and merciless insult on his ex-comrades.

    Hama states, “PhD …… in the Ethiopian and African context, … mean a pile of horse dung” and insult’s his ex-comrades in arms by saying, “D has often stood in for dog as this is the only friend you can buy for money but then the D tag on groups signifies disloyalty and not the loyalty of even a dog”.

    Loyalty? Eh? Unintentionally, Hama affirms what most of us already know about him, that he expects and demands “absolute loyalty” from members of EPRP, not comradeship, discipline, love and respect that arise out of shared values, political views, visions, and mission. This was one of the reasons for the split.

    Hama tells us that PhD held by Ethiopians is a “horse’s dung” and his ex-comrades are less than “Dogs” (with emphasis to the Ethiopian use and interpretation of the word). Malicious? Yep, but that’s not even my problem. My problem is his insistence on perpetuating the politics of hate, tossing off of his shoulders all responsibilities, and passing off lies as fact at every single opportunity. My problem is Hama and his group’s perpetual attack of opposition groups when all other opposition groups are working diligently to form a working alliance against Woyane.
    I will come back to the PhD issue later; first though, his mind boggling accusations and lies on EPRP (d). In an obvious sense of grumble and in what appears to be an attempt to settle score, he says “… The same can apply to other groups who took up the D to be attached to names that really neither belonged to them nor defined them.”

    There are two issues here, the first one claim that the name EPRP does not belong to the group, and the second imply that EPRP (d) is not democratic. Or, to come from a known frame of reference, and since internal democracy is a relative phenomenon, his claim can be deduced to mean, his small group practices better internal democracy than EPRP (d).

    Before I move to my position on the two claims, however, I would like to express my dismay at the timing of the name question. Why now, after a year? Did Hama felt the pinch in the purse? It is true that most of those who continued as EPRP (d) were the financial pillar of the organization, and their departure has sucked out the financial soul of the status quo. So, for an organization that lacks clear delineation between personal and organizational purse, finance can be a motivating reason to moan.
    But, who does EPRP really belong to? Who has a legitimate claim to the name? If EPRP does not belong to members of EPRP (d), who could it belong to? Who, how and what gave Hama or his small group, the exclusive right to the name or the right to question others who spent almost four decade with the name? If the name EPRP does not belong to members of EPRP (d) like Mersha, Debebe, Hagos, Teshome and many others who sacrificed a big chunk of their flesh, and poured gallons of their blood to EPRP and to the democratic principles it stood for; how in the world could it belong to a Paris ‘party animal’ who never shade more than a sweat for the party and who lately had made it a habit to stand contrary to the sacred democratic principles of EPRP? Where is the logic? Where is the reasoning? Where is the justice?
    As to which group practice relatively better internal democracy, though not a member, I know both groups very closely and from what I know, albeit not perfect yet, it can honestly be said that there is relatively better internal democracy within EPRP (d) than most opposition groups I know in general and Hama’s small group in particular. Therefore EPRP (d) earns the right to use the “d” suffix to markedly differentiate itself from Hama. One other proof is also that, as pointed above, the fact that Hama requires and demands “absolute loyalty” from his comrades and members. This translates to, decision in Hama’s EPRP flow from top down, contrary to basic democratic principles.

    The fact of the matter is; EPRP belongs to all Ethiopians. In a nutshell, EPRP stood and advocated for the democratic rights and social and economic wellbeing of all Ethiopians. During the glorious days of the party, it was embraced by all Ethiopians. So, no single group, let alone single sole, has a totalitarian claim to the name. That entire generation that pass through it have legitimate claim to the name and no single group or individual can disallow that claim.

    Hama continues his insult and false accusations by stating, “D as in dilapidated, worn out, old, hopeless;”
    “D for dismantling of …. A party; D for dissolve, break up and liquidate”, repeating his accusation that the group that formed EPRP(d) is composed of old and worn out individuals, therefore, responsible for the breakup of the party.

    These accusations might have fooled some people early on, but what is the reason for continuing these absurd accusation and lie? It has been over a year since we heard the orchestrated attack and accusation that the group is “going to Ethiopia to work with TPLF”, “that it has completed the affidavit”, “negotiated with Woyane”, etc. However nothing has changed in the life of members of the group or their leaders. EPRP (d) is still in the opposition camp of the democratic struggle. All their print and air communications unambiguously, unequivocally and repeatedly state their anti TPLF stance, and loudly expose the undemocratic deeds of woyane equally, if not more than any other opposition group. All their leaders that were accused personally to have a reservation at Minilik’s palace, by Hama and his group, are still in exile leading the struggle. If not hate and envy, what perpetuated this unjustified lie now?

    As to “D” for “dismantling a party”, I can’t help but wonder when will, the elderly political leader stop blaming others, and as a leader, share (if not take full) responsibility for the action, reaction or lack thereof, of the party? When will he realize that, as a senior leader of the party, that he is somehow responsible and accountable for all the factions in the party? From the first, Redda and Maru faction to the latest split, and the exodus of members out of the party, youth league and EPRA, he was the senior leader and therefore responsible. Who could knock some sense into him to make him understand that, as only surviving founding and senior leader of the party, he carries the full responsibility for the latest split and overall downward spiral of the party? Because, Hama, should have and could have learned lessons from several of the factions before, and solve this latest problem pragmatically, objectively, by accommodating others. Instead of using several unsuspecting soles to manipulate a special congress through lie and deceit; Hama would have been courageous enough to see things realistically and humble enough to accommodate real issue rose honestly and saved the latest split. But, Hama took the low road. He did not learn from history and therefore did not save the split but yet, continues to blame everything and everyone for the latest split and all wrong in EPRP but himself.

    If Hama was more than a short story writer and a visionary leader with wizardry power, as some of his stooges wants us to believe, not only he would have avoided the split by compromising and accommodating others, but also refrain from attacking the group unjustly by throwing false accusation that proved to be baseless. Even after the split, instead of seeking to befriend with what he once called his major enemy and attacked like a mad dog, AAPO, which he has very little in common, he would have apologized to his life long ex-comrades, mend the broken relationship and built the party back. But visionary and wise leader, he proved he is not.

    Ethiopian’s PhD mean a pile of horse dung”

    Let me make one point abundantly clear right off the bat; I am neither a PhD holder nor claim to be an intellectual. Therefore, I can’t objectively rebut the assertion by giving a full comparison of PhD and “Horse Dung”. Unless they ignore the assertion as insane, I believe several Ethiopian PhD holders could write tons to show that their greatest achievement does not resemble, in any form or shape, horse dung. The problem I have is with the overall attitude and the message it convey.

    I grew up learning to value and placing high regard on education. Believing poet WB Yeats saying that, “Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire”. Much similar to what we Ethiopian mean by “Yet’e mare Yigdelegn”. To me, educational achievement and a PhD, is a measurement of a person’s qualities, such as perseverance, commitment, sacrifice, and of course a degree of intelligence. To hold any kind of degree, let alone PhD, requires sacrifices and some perseverance. It does not come or pileup as easy as horse dung. Education also is a gateway out of poverty. It is believed by many, and I share that, one of the escaping routes from poverty for poor countries like ours is Education. I believe we should respect and encourage all educational achievements. Appreciate intellectuals and PhD holders, irrespective of their political views. Political view and political stance should be separated from educational achievement. After all, political position is a product more of a person’s inherent trait than that of his educational background. One should not expect or demand all intellectuals to follow the same path, to have the same passion, to speak similar language. And if the expectation or demand is not met, one should not label a blanket of insult upon them.

    I am not sure why, but lately, Hama’s politics has been like a malfunctioning missile always launched away from the main enemy, to the wrong enemy. Or like running on a treadmill, designed to run your heart out, until you are out of breath, without moving an inch from where you were.

    May the good lord slow the speed of his fall to the bottom!

    Alebachew Bedlu,

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