DEAR MAMA ETHIOPIA AFRICA, “I CAN’T BREATHE”!

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“There is no power or authority without responsibility, and he who accepts the one cannot escape or evade the other.” H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie I
As we close out the month of May, commemorating Victory Day, African Liberation Day and the Downfall of the Derg, we also honored the birth of Malcolm X and passing of Berhane Selassie aka Bob Marley. The month of celebrations and reflections would end in rage, however, as the world watched 46 year old African America, George Floyd, take his last breath while pleading for his life, finally crying out, “Mama…I can’t breath.” This is not new. Sadly this is status quo in America yet every time I think I have built up an immunity or “anti-body” that will allow for my non-visceral reaction, I am proven wrong. It cuts like a hot knife piercing the flesh, soul and dignity of every person of African descent; a wound so fresh and deep that even our ancestors weep. Marley wailed in the song Slave Driver, “Every time I hear the crack of a whip, my blood runs cold… .” The whip or weapon this time was a knee on the neck of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the good ole US of A.
Approximately 81,000 Blacks reside in Minneapolis, almost 19.5% of the population. Ethiopians are an estimated 22,000 in numbers of the north central US state which Prime Minister, H.E. Dr. Abiy Ahmed, found it fit to visit in 2018 in what I like to call, his ‘Come Back Home US Tour’. The state is also residence to others born South of the Sahara according to Michou Kokodoko, Project Director of Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. “Since 2000, the number of African immigrants in Minnesota has increased from almost 35,000 to more than 90,000, according to…the U.S. Census Bureau. During this time, African immigrants in Minneapolis-St. Paul and… outside the metro area have actively engaged in civic and economic life. For example, Ilhan Omar was recently elected to represent the state’s fifth Congressional district, the first Somali American elected to Congress. In terms of economic life, African immigrants work in a number of industries, with a notable presence in health care.”
When juxtaposed to the historic relationship between Blacks in America and the continent, specifically Ethiopia, we do find connectivity. Dating back to 1892’s Victory of Adowa which propelled Pan Africanism, signaling the forward ever spirit for Black freedom fighters, Africans at home and abroad fought with and for each other, over land and sea and “…by any means necessary” to quote Malcolm X. By the 1930’s, Italian occupation of Ethiopia would rally African American support, though Blacks faced after church Sunday lynchings in the south, inspiring Nina Simone’s song, Strange Fruit. “Southern trees bearing strange fruit. Blood on the leaves and blood at the roots. Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze. Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.” Same period, Tuskegee Airman, Colonel John C. “Brown Condor” Robinson served the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force; Ethiopian World Federation forged the successful Pro-Ethiopia campaign; and Dr.’s Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s first president and Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president graduated, respectively, 1930 and 1939 from Historically Black University, Lincoln State before heading home to take the anti-colonial helm. Nkrumah wrote after his experience in America, “Slavery was not born of racism, rather racism was the consequence of slavery.’ With this racial twist was invented the myth of color inferiority. This myth supported the subsequent rape of our continent with its despoliation and continuing exploitation under the advanced forms of colonialism and imperialism.”
By 1954, US school segregation was deemed discriminatory and according to research, the 1954 inaugural USA visit of His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie I, may have influenced the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown Vs. Board of Education. A May 1954 Chicago Defender Newspaper article states, “It was obvious that the state department realized that his visit on the heels of the Supreme Court decision offered a good opportunity to counter Communist racial propaganda which has plagued this nation in world forums.” While May 22, 1954 editorial in the Ethiopian Herald stated, “So intermeshed are the interests of our present day world that whatever happens in one part may have repercussions in wide areas elsewhere. The United States Supreme Court’s decision last Monday on segregated state schools in that country takes its place in this category of events.” Buttressing the impact of the Monarch’s visit was the USA’s Amicus Curiae brief to the US Supreme Court arguing, “It is in the context of the present world struggle between freedom and tyranny that the problem of racial discrimination must be viewed . . . For discrimination against minority groups in the US has an adverse effect upon our relations with other countries. Racial discrimination …raises doubts even among friendly nations as to the integrity of our devotion to the democratic faith.”
H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie I stated, “There is no power or authority without responsibility, and he who accepts the one cannot escape or evade the other.” The AU made a powerful move in recognizing the African Diaspora hence taking on a major responsibility. Will they respond to the voices of the 6th Region, desperately in need of a proverbial ventilator to literally save lives, as they cry out, Mama Africa “I can’t breathe…”?

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.