An Open Letter to the Organic Intellectuals accross the Horn of Africa




Dr. Mesfin Araya, York College,


The City University of New York   January 29, 2008


“ It is a curious thing with national hatred….Yet there is a stage at which it vanishes altogether, where one stands above the nations, so to speak , sharing joy or sorrow of a neiggboring people as though they had been encountered by one’s own ‘’ 1

The Age of Enlightenment in Europe has made a profound revolutionary change in the history of humanity. As history, however, is ultimately indeterminate, the Enlightenment has paradoxically brought humanity blessings as well as continued social crises .

With its central governing philosophical principle—The Mind, Reason, as the sole supreme authority—it has opened our eyes to the hitherto impenetrable secrets of nature; and behind the modern day of individual freedom and the unprecedented material comfort in the Western world lurks the historical role of the Enlightenment , although ‘The Third World’ frighteningly remains marginalized.

On the other hand, its heartless logic has unleashed unbridled ecological racism, resulting in a scaring environmental decay ; socially , it has aggressively eroded and narrowed the ethical-moral sphere: The debilitating poverty in ‘The Third World’, the accelerating fatal North/South divide, largely along the racial line , the morally disturbing global proliferation of the sex industry, etc. are indeed indicative of the unquestionable products of a civilization apparently singularily driven by The Mind, Reason, that has never tried to engage the Heart, as the latter has invariably been dismissed as a mere locus of emotions, irrationalities.

We need to understand, however, that behind the distortion, pollution of the historical role of the Enlightenment has been the critical role of its own twin products : The nation- state and capitalism .

The worst crime in the modern history of humanity occurred when a selfish minority elite in society invented the nation-state ; but the great tragedy unfolded when humanity itself blindly believed and followed the enterprising , destructively selfish , nationalists.

The nation-state–driven by its inherent mechanics of Us/Them syndrome and by its no less inherent logic of profit motive–has been central in the unfolding agony of humanity. . AS early as 1862 Lord Acton had predicted that , when he wrote that nationalism

“…does not aim either at liberty or prosperty, both of which

it sacrifices to the imperative necessity of making the nation

the mould and measure of the state. Its course will be marked

with material as well as moral ruin.’’2

Behind the notorious history of the transatlantic slave trade and the cruelest institution of slavery in The’New’ World was the logic of the nation-state. The primary culprit in the late 19th century European scramble for the ‘The magnificent African cake’ —under the holy alliance of the politician , the merchant , the army , and the church— was the nation-state itself. The two destructive World wars , and the heartless Jewish Holocaust– “ …the mass sacrifice of human beings to the idol of nationalism . ’’ 3 — were no less the products of the nation-state; the unending suffering of our Palestinian sisters and brothers is rooted in the nation-state, this time parodixically, with a Zionist accent . Behind the Rwanda ethnic mayhem was also the role of the nation-state, with an African accent .

With the pessimism of the mind and the optimism of the heart, our dear Democratic Left, Eric Hobsbaum, tells us that– like ‘ The owl of Minerva—which brings wisdom—flies out at dusk ’– the nation-state, with its nationalism and selfish interest, may be on its way out under the onslaught of globalization. If so , its departure does not appear seamless. In its apparent death-bed, it seems to have engineered a destructive agenda. Among its targets is the Horn of Africa . Currently , we are watching the alarming military buildup along the Ethio-Eritrean border, where “ the threat of war is very real . ” 4 ; and we all know that wars –as Goethe would would say “… make many unhappy while they last and none happy when they are over . ” 5

The great question of our time is : Can we frustrate its agenda? Certainly, the answer must be yes ; as the alternative is mayhem , as an end in itself. had– on December 2 , 2007– released ‘An Open Letter to Eritrean and Ethiopian People’ with its encouraging and enticing slogan: ‘Together, we can do it!’ —i.e. , to avert the impending Ethio-Eritrean war, which has been conducted so far as a proxy war in the Horn. Indeed, it is a welcome call, especially coming from Eritreans in whose homeland “ Even the stones [ let alone human beings- M.A. ] were burning” under Mengistu Haile Mariam’s brutal war of ‘Greater Ethiopia’ nationalism . But their call ought to go beyond simply preempting the war to include the defeat of the twin tyrants : The incorrigible dictator in Asmara , Isaias Afwerki, and Meles Zenawe in Addis Ababa , the shameless Musharraf of the Horn of Africa .

The Oromo Liberation Front [OLF] had also issued —on December 3 , 2007— a public statement , calling upon resisting forces in the Horn of Africa to rally around the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy [ AFD ], in order to realize peace , democracy , and prosperty . But it is one thing to appeal for the need to initiate a united front across the region in which OLF itself —like all other opposition forces— would participate as an equal partner and totally quite another and disappointing thing to call upon resisting forces to merely circle around the would-be umbrella organization, the AFD . This is not the time for competing in leadership, it is rather the defining moment for creative collaborative efforts.

I call upon the organic intellectuals across the Horn of Africa—those who are deeply committed to the welfare of ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ in the region– to close ranks and mobilise their capacty to unleash a social movement to defeat the twin tyrants . As a social movement, they can popularize democratic ideas that can be transformed into a formidable material force to bring Peace, Democracy, and Social Justice . I submit that I have little doubts that once these rare and indespensable social values are realized, ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ of the Horn of Africa—who have for long undergone lived experience of abject poverty, oppression, and a vicious cycle of tyrannical rule—are likely to vote with their feet to bury the twin tyrants, the nation-state, and inaugurate a peaceful and democratic transition to the union of the countries in the region .

The organic intellectuals of the region can restlessly expose the servile role of opportunist intellectuals, the advisory councils behind the merciless tyrants; they can educate and show an alternative emancipatory vision . Indeed, history is settled at the present moment ; and if they ever opt to remain as a side observer , they will never escape their de facto complicity with the wantonly destructive designs that the twin tyrants have in store for their people .

I call upon our Ethiopian and Eritrean sisters and brothers- where ever they may be- to join the struggle against the tyrants . I also call upon our Oromo, Ogaden, and Somali sisters and brothers- whose legitimate grievances have yet to be addressed – to join the collective sruggle. Indeed, the need for a united Front has never been more timely ! This is the time for all of us to exit from our respectve ethnic wombs and assert our humanity. We ought not forget– as Goethe would remind us—- that “ The world advances only because of those who oppose it .’’ 6

May the spirit of Ra, God, Allah, and that of our ancestors find us courage and resolve to make a difference . May the spirit of EPRP members—who bravely marched to their death , holding ‘ Democracia’ high in the face of the merciless ‘ Red Terror’ , and may equally the spirit of the Eritrean martyrs— who heroically sacrificed their lives for freedom that never saw the light of day—sustain our collective sruggle for Peace, Democracy , and Social Justice . ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ in the Horn of Africa shall triumph !!!


To my dear friends — wherever they are , who may still be not embracing , but rather embraced by emancipatory vision—I would like to recall our memorable years as undergraduates in Addis Ababa : We were young dreamers then—long before the process of living tried its best to undermine our collective dreams for our people . Do you remember when in the depth of the night we formed a circle and swore : ‘ Only death do us part ? ’ . Our dear friends , Wallelegn Mokonnen, Yesehak Debretsion, Yohanes Sebhatu , Tselote Heskias , Meles Gebre-Mariam , Tesfu Kidane , and many more , were there ; Debteraw [ Tsegaye Gebre-Medhin ] was obviously at the center with us . I, for one, remember vividly !

Debteraw remains an exceptional friend. We ought not forget his critical role , especially in the darkest years of EPRP : When doubts and hopelessness prevailed, he asserted courage and resolve! When the narrow individual interest prevailed, he affirmed the broader vision and the collective interest! When sheer expediency prevailed, he held cherished principles high ; when merciless Reason prevailed , he asserted the optimism of the Heart ! When some sold their souls to the Dergue , and then to Wayane , he resolved to struggle– regardless of the price to be paid . Indeed, Debteraw– ‘ The Black Lion’ of the rugged mountains of Ethiopia– shall always live in our hearts .

In the great African tradition the departed are not dead , as they continue to participate in the lives of the living . To die in the African tradition is to change one’s address. Our dear Debteraw has only changed his address ; and what really matters on our part is never to discontinue contact ! May his indomitable spirit guide us all in this stormy, Suname—like political weather in the Horn of Africa !


  1. Frederick Ungar [ ed. ] . Goethe’s World View, [ New York : Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1963 ] :185

  2. Edward Hallett Carr . Nationalism and After . [ London : Macmillan ] : vi

  3. Ibid . ,p . 34

  4. Herald Tribune, December12 , 2007

  5. Goethe , p . 187

  6. Ibid . , p 113

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4 Responses to An Open Letter to the Organic Intellectuals accross the Horn of Africa

  1. Bekalu Tegegne says:

    It is a grand idea from a generation that never betrayed its cause for its people. Thank you Dr. Mesfine.

  2. ewinatu yeferad says:

    Thank you very much Professor Mesfin for starting this important discussion. We are in crisis. We have to really around responsible intellectual. I believe there are only two possible escapes that can save Ethiopians from organized mayhems of our dark potential- the side that has given the crusades, watchaunts, enslavement, and geocide. Our moral decency provides one necessary ingredient, but it is not merely enough. The other must from the rational side of our morality. For, unless we rigorously use human reason both to discover and to acknowledge nature’s factualty, and to follow the logical implication for effective human action that such knowledge entails, we will lose out to the threatening force of irrationality, romanticism, uncompromising “true” beliefs, and apparent inevitability mob action(Kenya is a good example). Reason is our potenial salvation from the vicious mass action that rules. Skepticism is the agent of reason against organized irrationalism, and, therefore, one of the keys to human, social and civil decency
    Prof. Mesfin I would be surprise if you don’t remember that New york has been the breeding ground for such dishonest intellectuals.

  3. Dear Professor!

    Your call is noble but the question is why now and how to go about it? Please, show us the way!

    In the mean time, would you explain the following three points.
    1.What do you believe i.e that government or capitalism is the cause for our poverty/problem?
    2.Is there a contradiction between your complaiant that we are going into our “mothers’ wombs” with that of calling your friends?
    3.I do not see why you worry about your personal friends when the issue is about nation and nation states?

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