Dissent is Patriotic

by Anaf Lello

In the wake of the Colin Kaepernicks of the world, debates on what constitutes and negates nationalism and patriotism are headlining more than they have in ages. Political dissent is nothing new here in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world, although it is certainly met with varying capacities. In America, public displays of dissent seem to be at an all-time high, with President Trump signing prejudice into legislature at his leisure. In the case of Ethiopia, however, those who claim that the diaspora’s armchair tourists and beguiled expatriates are hindering the nation’s progression with their “anti-unity” claims of foul play are missing one simple fact: dissent is inherently patriotic.

Dissent may look different in every era, but it is an inextricable facet of nationalism whose absence is only telling of a lack of transparent, democratic society. Several decades ago, when it was debated in the U.S. whether the Pledge of Allegiance encouraged patriotism or limited free speech, Bush Sr. found a platform in arguing the former. The irony? The idea of putting an end to reciting lines such as “one nation under God” – lines in direct conflict with the religious freedom outlined by the 1st Amendment – was seen as anti-American. What could be more American than the documents that make up the rule of law? What of the rights and freedoms the Constitution is meant to uphold and inform?

Unfortunately for many Ethiopians, the same is true for Ethiopia’s political affairs. Where even identifying too strongly with your ethnic group is seen as an affront to the Ethiopian identity – a strange allegation, considering the ethnocracy that has ruled for a quarter century – it is apparent that the threat of a united front against the government was the catalyst for the government crackdown on the people’s last few years of protests. In October, that same government went so far as to issue a state of emergency, citing the “damage that is being carried out against infrastructure projects, education institutions, health centres, administration and justice buildings”.

What the government has not issued, however, is an accurate statement detailing the transgressions it has committed in carrying out the Addis Ababa expansion plan, the Irreecha Massacre or the death toll for any of the clashes between unarmed protestors and government officials. In Ethiopia, lack of transparency, consensus and government accountability are rampant. If not made obvious by the power the ruling party maintains with all 547 seats in Parliament, this is visible in many other forms of apparatus of control – the 99% election wins that Africans know all too well, the monopoly on media and the rising number of innocent people languishing in the country’s notorious prisons, to name a few.

Political dissent is holding your government accountable. Political dissent is voicing your constitutional right to disagree with edicts, laws, bills, policies and anything else that oppresses those whom are affected. It is no mystery – you should be able to speak out against your government. And as long as those on the ground are suffering, my patriotism will manifest in criticizing a government that has terrorized its people for many successive regimes and monopolized upward mobility for a select few, not in blind flag-waving. That is not negotiable. My dissent is, always has been, and always will be patriotic.

Anaf Lello is a student living in Southern California. She is interested in feminism as a liberatory discourse, exploring Oromo women’s narratives and understanding the Gadaa and Siiqqee instutitions. Her favorite style of Oromo song is geerarsa, because of its historical significance in expressing the plight of the Oromo people.