CROSSROADS OF SYMBOLS AND SUBSTANCE

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“The art of building peace is a synergistic process to change hearts, minds, beliefs and attitudes, that never ceases.” H.E. Prime Minister, Dr. Abiyi Ahmed
One of the most compelling international exhibitions, filled with photos that capture a sampling of a country’s cultural, social and political accomplishments and aspirations, opened to the public on December 12th in Oslo, Norway entitled CROSSROADS ETHIOPIA. In honor of Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Laureate, His Excellency Prime Minister Dr. Abiyi Ahmed, the exhibition was created by the Nobel Peace Center, with the intention to curate a ‘portrait of the Laureate himself…a close-up on change, hope and challenges in his country.’ The exhibition, which remains open through November 2020, features photographs commissioned by Nobel Peace Center from British-Canadian photographer, Finbarr O’Rilley, who traveled to Ethiopia to create a series of photographs of the young Leader and his country. O’Riley said in an interview with Scandinavian Daily, “I had very limited time with the Laureate – just a few minutes to make a handful of portraits. So, I focused on documenting some of the political changes implemented by the Laureate, and how he has positioned himself to lead his country as it heads towards elections scheduled for next year.” The Center’s Program Director, Toril Rokseth, also said, “It is exciting to create an exhibition about an ongoing process. Abiy Ahmed has great ambitions, but he also faces great challenges. Through this exhibition, we want to show how complex and time consuming the road to peace and democracy is, and also the risks involved.”
CROSSOROADS ETHIOPIA was co-curated by the Nobel Peace Center’s Asle Olsen and Liv Astrid Sverdrup, with part of the exhibition equally co-curated by Addis Photo Fest (AFF) Founder and photographer, Queen of Ethiopian Photography, Aida Muluneh. AFF archives provided a supplement to O’Reilly’s visual record on the “political changes” with a narrative of cultural and social actualities seen through the lens of Ethiopians. The photos of AFF alum, emerging photographers, Mulugeta Ayene, Abinet Teshome, Aron Simeneh, Naod Lemma, Nader Adem and Getu Addis Aemero were selected for the prestigious exhibition. Bu there is no surprise here, as AFF is known for its high caliber of photographers and imagery, summoned to Ethiopia by Aida every two years. However, if one picture can say a thousand words, likewise words can paint a picture.
The speech of the Laureate, Dr. Abiyi best expressed the PM and Ethiopia’s visions for justice, peace and progress in Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa and the Continent. H.E. the PM said, “I accept this award on behalf of Ethiopians and Eritreans, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of peace. Likewise, I accept this award on behalf of my partner, and comrade-in-peace, President Isaias Afeworki, whose goodwill, trust, and commitment were vital in ending the two-decade deadlock between our countries. I also accept this award on behalf of Africans and citizens of the world for whom the dream of peace has often turned into a nightmare of war.” These warm words reflected the Pan African spirit of Brotherhood and desire for continental harmony espoused by the Founding Fathers of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) now African Union (AU) including Emperor Haile Selassie I, Ghana’s Hon. Kwame Nkrumah, Kenya’s Hon. Jomo Kenyatta and Egypt’s Gamal Nasser amongst others. The desire for African unity and the protection of sovereignty brought 32 countries together for shared goals in 1963 and we are still coming together here in the 21st century.
Another excerpt of the PM’s speech states, “Peace requires good faith to blossom into prosperity, security, and opportunity. In practice, Medemer is about using the best of our past to build a new society and a new civic culture that thrives on tolerance, understanding, and civility. At its core, Medemer is a covenant of peace that seeks unity in our common humanity…“No justice, no peace,” calls to mind that peace thrives and bears fruit when planted in the soil of justice. The disregard for human rights has been the source of much strife and conflict in the world.” Human Rights Day was commemorated on December 10th at the UNECA, organized by the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights Regional Office with over 200 youth in attendance. They came from various parts of the country from different disciplines, walks and stages of life and I must add, an almost equal representation of male and female participants. Students, social entrepreneurs, tech leaders, lawyers, poets, dancers, painters, media and more came to hear and have a say on the role of youth in Ethiopia as champions for human rights towards ensuring a peaceful and progressive society. Three semifinalists from eighty submissions for the OHCHR sponsored essays contest were read aloud with all “coincidentally” reflecting the Leo Leader’s speech delivered in Norway? No coincidence here at all! We all want peace and we therefore “…must become something we have never been and for which our education and experience and environment have ill-prepared us. We must become bigger than we have been: more courageous, greater in spirit, larger in outlook…” according to Emperor Haile Selassie I 1963 UN Speech. Simply put, we join John Lennon’s in song, “All we are saying, is give peace a chance…”.

Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.