A Community in Crises-the Irob dilemma
Our responsibility as members of the Irob community
In my last article, under the same title I touched on several issues that relate to our possible demise as a functioning community. Let me repeat my opening paragraph again as a reminder that this is about all of us not paying timely attention to our community.
“I am stuck in the middle of a large deep lake and do not know how to swim. I am not sure how I got here, but I remember that I have lost most of my elderly children to God, Young adults and middle aged men and women to Shabia and my youngest and brightest children to a false dream in search of a better life across the deadly ocean and deserts. Some of my children who made it across seem to spend so much time arguing amongst themselves over immaterial issues that they look like exact copy of a dysfunctional family and I am afraid that they have forgotten about me. I see so many people standing around the lake watching me and discussing how I should be saved and who is best equipped to help me; I can hear so many absurd ideas on mobile phones and through internet that I am no longer sure that all of them are my own children; as some of their suggestions are to simply take out all the water from the lake and then pull me out. Well, it has been over thirteen years of talk and I am still stuck here. I see some hands extending, but not even one of them is jumping in to save me”
As I promised, in spite a strong reaction from some corners not to touch this subject, I have decided to revisit the one subject that has made some of my detractors nervous. Relax; I am not pointing fingers at any groups or individuals. It is the collective “sin” that includes this writer that is being put on a table for confession, as they say in America; it is the catholic guilt I am trying to deal with.
While I intend to deal with the subject of the uninvited guests in the near future, I cannot move on without touching on the consequence of one of those “guests” The result of the onslaught by the invaders has created a long term psychological, physical and spiritual vacuum that has changed the fundamental reality of our people. We have become a perfect case study for a post war community; with alcoholism leading the way, promiscuity and violence followed with a total disintegration of the social fabric that has kept us intact for so long. As I was growing up, there was only one person in the area that had a total mental break down and two people that I remember with death on their hands. The only time one would see a drunken would be a wedding or “Taskar”. Today, one can find all these ills in abundance in every village in Irob.
After all the suffering and glorious victory of the community and the nation over the intruder, we are no closer to the assured national identity. Our country has a distinct privilege of being victorious on the ground and yet losing in court, putting us in jeopardy of our birth right Ethiopian citizenship. I am all for peace and negotiated settlement, but the louder the talk about the need for dialogue with our northern neighbor gets the more nervous I seem to get. When we start reading statements that are made in reference to us, without any consideration to us from some of the most prominent American experts, such as Ambassador Cohen, we have the right to be nervous. Here is what he wrote; “To break the stalemate between Eritrea and Ethiopia over the implementation of the EEBC decision, there needs to be a mutually face-saving solution. I propose that Ethiopia offer to accept a symbolic initial takeover by Eritrea of territory awarded by the EEBC, followed by the same day opening of dialogue with a totally open agenda”. Do I need to say more about our dilemma?
Victimization: As a consequence to invasion, one major problem that the Irob community is facing today is victimization; surrendering our obligation and responsibility and being very creative in blaming everyone but ourselves. For a small community that historically have had very high literacy rate, it is puzzling to see our incapacity to come up with a better solution than blame game and self-pity. A community that produced brilliant and skillful individuals such as the late Dr. Abba Weldemariam Kahssay, his eminence Abune Yohannes Weldegiorgis, Abba Yosief Tesfay, Dr. Tesfay and others, not to find some semblance of leadership to help us “to cross the bridge” as they say, is disappointing.
Focus on what we have in common rather than our differences: Focus on the most important element; the Irob community. No matter what we stand for or against, it is safe to assume that we all want the Irob community to be in a better position. Let’s take this assumption and work on it. We must solemnly swear to do that as a group and forget whatever conflict or differing opinion we may have with anyone that is in our community as we are preparing to work towards a betterment of our community. If those of us residing abroad are not ready to sacrifice; contribute financially, we need to stop making some fantastic comments that have no relevance unless there is money to follow. While I agree that all Irobs everywhere they may reside should attempt to create “Ukub” or Iddir” or any support groups, the teleconference on February 1st should focus on our community in Irob land and not about us in the comfort of the western world.
Pragmatic: We need to be pragmatic: what are the most relevant and actual basic needs on the ground for our community? Who knows those challenges better than those on the ground? Who should lead us to deal with challenges of our community needs and identify the priority and not what feels good or reflects better on oneself or anyone we tend to follow. Speaking of following; we ought to stop following anyone but our factual information. Stand in the middle and look at all stake holders; government, faith organizations, entrepreneurs and individuals must be invited to the table. Every one of us have the right not to like any of these institutions, but we have a responsibility to include anyone that we believe can help with our objective.
Organization: Even if miraculously we are able to accumulate all the above qualities, without strong organization, nothing will be accomplished. We have hundreds of Irobs all over the world; in every continent and almost in every county around the world. What we have just started is very critical and that every one of us should support this promising agenda of creating a global Irob organization. One caveat; we have never been very good at creating organizations and even worse yet, of strengthening and maintaining organization in our past; we have nothing to copy from our past. Make sure that the team we select mirrors the Irob population. We must examine the capacity, independent thinking (not blind followers of some obscure groupings that we are so endowed with), and their total commitment and ability to focus on the objectives for the sake of our people. We must not wait for a consensus of everyone to join inn; let’s start with whoever is willing and able to be part of this. We must demand membership dues and differentiate between those who put their money where their mouth is, and those who keep talking and never contribute.
What can the community member do?
The latest attempt to reorganize Irob community members all over the world is encouraging and must be given the maximum support. As usual, we spent so much time and did not seem to know where we are going and as usual, we moved so fast at the end, as we were selecting a group of good people to lead us; almost as a last thought. If we could manage our time a little better and focus on the real subject matter, we could manage our affairs better. In spite of our disorganization, I am confident that this team will be able to help us move forward.
The following are my personal view of two separate and distinct methods of what we may focus on in order to actualize the improvement of the basic needs of our people:
- Focus on specific projects rather than a general theme of “assistance” mentality. We have to think ‘self-sufficiency” rather than dependency of our people. We can look into, among other key basic needs such as technical training centers, health centers, clean water projects, solar and wind energy. These projects may be proposed by the people at the field. We must insist on reports both narrative and financial from the local (Irob) to the international group. Invite stake holders such as government offices, faith organizations; both catholic and orthodox and wealthy individuals (mainly Irobs) to be partners in these projects.
- The second, and in my view the most practical option is changing our focus from the “paternalistic” and assistance based module to individualistic and business module that empowers people. Let’s be mindful that we are losing our youth running away to foreign lands to find employment. They have lost hope in a community that creates nothing and consumes millions worth by enriching surrounding small towns outside of Irob wereda. We must look into how to create employment opportunities for our community and future for ourselves as investors by creating a share holding company in Irob. This to me is the most essential strategic decision we can make for Irob. START A BUSINESS THAT CAN EMPLOY AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE IN IROB and produces something that is built with materials that can be found right there. “A win-win” strategy for the local population and for those who are willing to sacrifice their hard earned money.