“Stay true to yourself, be confident in your abilities and love your country and culture.” Desta Hagos, 2014
Victory .Day, May 5, was celebrated in Addis Abeba on the quiet side this year. The customary cannon blasts did however echo for miles from Jan Meda, signaling at sunrise, the 79th anniversary of the victory over the Italian invaders attempting to add the sovereign nation of Ethiopia, last on the list, to the colonized countries in Africa. Though the fascist foe got an A for effort, the people of this mountainous and mysterious land of miracles stood on principle and integrity and in solidarity against a common enemy to restore the reigns to the ancient Crown. His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I returned to Ethiopia on May 5 1941, after exactly 5 years in England marshaling support and devising strategies to oust the foreigners from the empire, also a defining moment for the trajectory of African independence in the 20th century.
That was then. This is now. So what shall be counted as the major victory for Ethiopia in the 21st century and shall it likewise impact Africa? Shall the major victory be over a virus and subsequently over the financial crisis the country faces, mid stride an “economic boom”? Shall it be over the forces trying to divide the country on ideological and political lines, which frankly never end well for the masses? Or shall it be individual victory over the depression from being stagnant for so long; over the fear of not-knowing-what’s-next or over the pain of illnesses that are off the radar as covid19 continues to steal the show? I expect a positive prognosis on all fronts based on the faith and resilience of Ethiopians and the People of this great continent for that matter (despite the doom and gloom predicted by western media in their “misery loves company” frenzy).
I have lived in Ethiopia for 15 years, come July 18th and worked on the continent since 1992 under the mentorship of Dr. Nana Rita Marley O.D. who founded and led the Rita Marley Foundation and Bob Marley Foundation. Nana Rita like her husband Bob Marley, illustrated to all of Africa the impact and importance of music in the most difficult of times. I reflect on Lagos, 1992 when Nana Rita performed in a fundraising concert for Nigerian children with Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Kool and the Gang, Commodores, Sonny Okosuns, Third World, Shabba Ranks and more. The commitment to Africa was furthered in 2005 as we produced AFRICA UNITE at Meskel Square with leading female artists Angelique Kidjo, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and the I-Three amongst others. As I decided it was time to be home in Africa permanently, thinking of Ghana, my ancestral home and where the Marley Foundations were now firmly based, I will never forget Nana Rita’s words, “You hold the East and I’ll hold the West, Ethiopians are your people you are theirs…go and serve them well Des…”. It was our faith as Rastafari and knowledge of Nyahbinghi, an ancient spiritual tradition that emphasized a personal code of the highest moral conduct and allegiance to Africa, that brought and kept us together through the decades. As an artist, a mother and wife to reggae icon, Bob Marley, Nana Rita never lost site of the victories ahead, even when it felt like an uphill losing battle. We looked to Ethiopia for encouragement and strength. We looked to the vibrancy and victories of this multi-layered, multi-cultural, multi-faceted, country that had overcome so many challenges and outright attacks and remained victorious. We looked to Ethiopia, to Africa, for strength.
Finally, I am encouraged by the notion of victory based on my professional and personal relationship with another women of letters, Artist Extraordinaire, Desta Hagos. I had the honor of curating her 50th exhibition at the National of Museum of Ethiopia in 2014 where I learnt even more about overcoming challenges with grace and dignity. Rita Pankhurst sums it up, “Desta set an example for Ethiopian women and other African women… . Her perseverance, through thick and thin, has earned the respect and admiration of many…”. But Desta says it best herself in her self titled 50th Exhibition catalogue, “It has been a long journey since I first fell in love with art and decided to spend my life in and with art. It was a difficult road, I have no regrets, as I have been able to do what I love most, PAINT. Stay true to yourself, be confident in your abilities and love your country and culture.” Wise words for us all! I share this message as Ethiopians take time to consider our future and impact in the 21st century; let us be conscious of the blessings of culture, heritage and creativity, which we possess and have a duty to use, as arsenal in our next victory.
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.