Enlightenment: Tigrean Zeitgeist

Published on 16th June 2020

Tigreans have embarked on the age of enlightenment that future generations will commemorate. The different positions, organizations and expressions we witness today are watershed moments that future generations will look back for reference. Alas! Tigrai is organically molding her own Diderot, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Voltaire, etc. etc. But what is enlightenment?
Of course, everyone knows enlightenment was an intellectual and cultural movement that flourished and converged in Paris during the 1750s. Everybody also knows that it means casting light (les lumiéres) in dark places. But it was Kant who captured its essence. For him, enlightenment was the highway people follow towards intellectual maturity. Kant wrote “a large part of mankind gladly remain minors all their lives, long after nature has freed them from external guidance. They are the reasons why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as guardians”. Indeed, those who lack the confidence to think for themselves fall under others who direct them. So for Kant:

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another’s guidance. Dare to know! (Sapere aude) “Have the courage to use your own understanding,” is therefore the motto of enlightenment.

An objective observer would note that Tigrai is budding with enlightened leadership. There is a big difference between “a leader” and “a leadership”. Meles, for example, was a leader. But, as Mohammed & De Waal put it, Meles was “the first among equals!” But why? I think it is because Tigreans never see history as Carlyle saw it.

For Carlyle, “history is but a biography of great men”. That is why certain activists (turned politicians) wrongly portrayed Weyane as a headless chicken after August 2012. They subscribed to Carlyle’s misguided view of history that renders people to worship emperors as ancient Egyptians did. This is not the reality in Tigrai. If that was not the case, Tigrai would have succumbed back in 2012, i.e., long before Derg 2.0 ascended in 2018. Tigreans had the “courage to use [their] own understanding” to forecast the political weather. This reminds me of the brave resignation of Ethiopia’s Speaker of the Upper House Chamber a few days ago.

There is no individual anointed to guard Tigrai. Tigrai does not have a 7th savior. What Tigrai has is a “leadership!” But what is leadership? Graham Allison asked Lee Kuan Yew how Singapore trained its leaders. He answered: the Dutch HAIR model. I will break the “H.A.I.R” down as follows:

·Helicopter: the ability to look at things from a higher vantage while still seeing the details on the ground and being able to zoom in on those.

·Analysis: a superior ability for rational analysis, logic, and judgment.

·Imagination: the ability to develop fresh and creative approaches to problems.

·Reality: The ability to develop a grounded and realistic solution.

Tigrai has a group of leaders (not necessarily TPLF members) in every front. Some focus on Tigrai’s past: history. Others focus on Tigrai’s future: science & technology. Some converge on Tigrai’s present: economic development, good governance & international relations. Others try to weed out Tigrai’s internal problems: gender inequality, corruption, social injustice, competitiveness, etc. There are also Tigrean leaders advocating for sovereignty. The point is this: all Tigreans embrace genuine initiatives.

All Tigreans expect from its leadership is, to say the least, to become helicopter leaders having adequate analytical, imaginative, and realistic caliber in solving practical problems. Other than this, Tigrai welcomes anyone who is genuinely striving to advance its interest. This is why Tigrai is united than ever. It embraces true initiative!

The only exceptions future generations will vilify are the Judas Iscariots. Those conspiring to crucify Tigrai by cooperating with her enemies will never be forgiven by the future generation. Tigreans always reject traitors categorically. They do so for a reason. For, one may forgive one who crucifies one person; but one cannot tolerate anyone that crucifies an entire people. That is why the Nuremberg trial or Eichmann’s trial ended as they did. There is no excuse for genocide. All that’s left to be said is: “woe to those who betray Tigrai at this critical juncture! For they are its true enemies!”. Regardless, here is how I see Tigrai’s Zeitgeist.

Socrates famously said: “an unexamined life is not worth having”. This is why I agree with Gen. Teklebirhan when he said Tigreans need to see themselves and others as they are. Aristotle also said that there are conditions where even life itself is not worth having. That is why Tigreans venerate Amora and Keshi Gebru. What does it mean to know thyself? Nature and nurture are the elements making the compound called: self, i.e., personality. Nature endowed every individual distinct DNA. We are all unique. But nurture balanced this distinction by granting us a common environment. While we are similar, some of us resemble each other more than others. So, we call ourselves communities. 

Our environment bestowed the basis for cooperation-which, as Yuval Harrari said was the foundation of civilization. Every community is shaped by a unique diet. It is surrounded by a unique ecosystem. Our environment also enabled certain communities to make history. History is a chronicle of major interactions among strong communities. It is not a chronicle of skirmishes over some grazing field and drinking water. History is a story of organized communities aiming to achieve greater things. In this sense, Tigrai has a history that stretches back several millennia. 

But history is not a science. As Carr put it, history is an interpretation of events. Its essence is not facts but interpretation. Saying x did y in z period is stating facts. Saying x did y to do b during z period is interpretation. Some historians might say x intended to do a. Others will argue it was to do b. That is why Tigrai needs its indigenous historians lest others misinterpret their past.

Most historians espouse Eurocentric view of history that marginalizes black peoples’ contribution to civilization. The Eurocentric order does not want to remember Hannibal’s Carthage. Not all Afrocentric historians champion Pan Africanism. They prefer to highlight the achievements in their localities. A narrow scope of history inspires vanity. It misleads people to believe they are better than others when they are not. Many African historians do not know about Timbuktu, Mansa Musa, Great Zimbabwe, the Zulu, and many more African civilizations. Other historians put their craft at the disposal of their political patrons. They deliberately glorify some and undermine others.

Everyone witnessed Islamic fundamentalists of the Middle East destroying the relics in ancient Mesopotamia and Baghdad. In Turkey, Kemalists rejected the Ottoman legacy. Now, fundamentalists reject both the Kemalists and the Ottoman legacy. Communist China suppresses the achievements of imperial China, Tibet, Mongols, Uighurs, and others. Descendants of the conquistadors in Latin America hardly celebrate the achievements of the Mayans, Inca, and Aztecs, etc.

Mainstream Ethiopian historians denied that we defeated the European army for the first time in Dogali (under Yohannes IV) before repeating it in Adwa (under Menilik II). Derg 2.0 (2018-Present) strives to throw Weyane’s contribution to the Pan African struggle, i.e.: African integration, peacekeeping, developmental state model, and active lobby against climate change under the rag. The ongoing assault against peoples’ achievements by alien historians worldwide creates the demand for native historians.  

The Tigrean plight falls under the universal truth that all human beings are created equal. Unfortunately, the global order does not seem to acknowledge this fact. That is why we are witnessing popular protests against skin-color-based police brutality in America. Science has already confirmed that skin color has nothing to do with human ingenuity.

Skin, as Bill Bryson put it, is a bunch of dead skin. If this dead cell (skin) happens to have color, it is reflecting the environmental conditions. For instance, Homo Sapiens living in tropical regions face strong sunrays. Evolution, therefore, favors those who can secret melanin (black color pigment) to absorb the light survive in the tropics. Homo sapiens living in colder climes do not need to fight sunrays. They do not need to secret melanin. By the way, this figment also manifests in eye color. If someone has a blue or green iris, her eye does not need to fight sunray radiation. But people living in Africa or the Middle East often tend to have black/brown eyes because their environment favors it. 

Today, Tigreans are conscious. They have witnessed their capacity to at par with others. The material prosperity in Tigrai may not have caught up with the intellectual emancipation. But the Tigrean political maturity, geopolitical sensitivity, economic outlook, and the normative mode of social relations is maturing. Any ordinary Tigrean knows the significance of the state in gauging the markets. Every Tigrean knows the rationale behind federalism and self-determination. These are important insights that educated people in most countries (including those in most advanced nations) have failed to grasp to date. The Tigrean software is already advanced. The rise of anocrats (look it up) in Ethiopia has created a favorable condition for the Tigrean software to take effect. It revealed the difference. It forced Tigreans to see the gap. Why are they behaving in such a barbaric manner? Why are they lying shamelessly? Do they want what we want? Tigreans started asking critical questions. These objective questions, in turn, triggered an existential question, namely: who are we? 

The question “who are we?” was what catapulted nations from third to the first World status in a short period. The Portuguese discovered the ocean voyage because the Ottomans blocked the Silk Road. Spain became a great power after defeating the Moor conquest. The Dutch became the first maritime superpower because all they can produce was fish. The British became great power after defeating the Spanish Armada that prohibited it from trading on waters. The Russians rose because Peter the Great realized how his country was lagging behind Western Europeans. Japanese and Chinese became great powers because they were humiliated by scientific, industrial, and powerful Europeans. Germany became a great nation because it was unified in 1870. The United States became a superpower because it rose against the British imperial expropriation. 

The difference in power between one and another nation lies not in their natural resource. Nor does it rest on their demographic size. The difference among nations rests on their productive capacity. Who can organize available natural and human resources in such a manner it produces the greatest output? The Middle East and African cases show surplus resource attracts abuse and complacency. The Indian and Chinese experience proves overpopulation could be a burden. The European nation-states (Germany and Scandinavians), Israelis, and East Asian Tigers (including Japan) experience show that human capital is the tipping point. I do not gauge human capital using conventional indicators. It is not how many people went to college or could achieve high marks in standardized math and science tests.

I understand human capital in deeper terms. I ask: how many people are prepared to do whatever it takes to change their circumstances?  I see Tigrai as second to none in this realm. If Tigreans sacrificed their lives to earn their freedom, they can go to school/study, create and consume energy, build institutions and infrastructure, launch businesses and social services; and face any competition to sustain their freedom. Earning freedom is more difficult than keeping it. I say this because the struggle for freedom is waged while one is uncertain that she deserves it. But the struggle to keep freedom is waged when one is certain she earned and deserves it. Tigreans have already earned respect for themselves and from others. This esteem of self and from others serves as a shield to pursue further goals, namely: self-actualization (per Maslow). Not all communities, despite their gazillion numbers, could claim what Tigreans achieved. It is this critical mass of human capital that has sparked the current enlightenment in Tigrai.

Tigrai has set fire in its peoples’ minds. Its historians are looking at its past. Its high tech people are looking at its future. Its academics are trying to bridge its past with its future. They are asking “how can Tigrai get from where it is to where it wants to go?” The magnitude of the riddles, dilemmas, gaps, proposals, publications, posts, dialogues, debates, and noises has flourished as it never did before. Never in Tigrean modern history has there been an era of inquiry. It is this path towards intellectual maturity that Kant called: “the enlightenment!”

Tigreans have begun to ask serious questions. They no longer expect the blind verdict of divine intervention. Instead, they bravely confront the present with its serious questions and decisions about their past and their future. This is exactly the condition all great communities encountered before they became great. Britain faced the Armada; Spain face Henry’s explorers, Portuguese faced Islamic occupiers, Islam confronted pantheism, China feared Mongols, Japanese met Perry, etc. All great communities are like David after defeating Goliath. Great communities are those who dare to stand up against a greater challenge. They punch above their weight. As Bob Marley put it: “if you’re a big tree, I am a small axe; ready to cut you down!” This is the Zeitgeist in Tigrai: that of Enlightenment!

By Aesop
Courtesy: Aigaforum


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