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Jun-05-2011 20:42printcommentsVideo

My Turn to Visit my own Genesis

“Having smelt blood
That Black Panther
Poised with pistol and rifle.”

Long Walk to Freedom

(UGANDA) - Any Ethiopian who read ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ with a queer memory like mine would easily spot that I took a leaf from the autobiography of the great man of Africa with just one look at the heading of this piece.

Nelson Mandela or Madiba as he’s referred with a terms of endearment by South Africans, the way Tanzanians eternally call Julies Nyerere Mwalimu; expressed his excitement at the prospect of visiting Ethiopia some 48 years ago as follows.

“Ethiopia has always held a special place in my own imagination and the prospect of visiting Ethiopia attracted me more strongly than a trip to France, England and America combined. I felt I would be visiting my own genesis, unearthing the roots of what made me an African. Meeting the Emperor himself would be like shaking hands with history.”

Again an astute observer who can follow my train of thoughts will have no difficulty to guess that I too got the opportunity to visit South Africa.

Tanzania Pres. Julies Nyerere

That’s right. If everything goes according to schedule, exactly 85 hours later from the time of writing this, I would be airborne to Johannesburg to attend a workshop with journalists, bloggers and other activists.

Ethiopian singer Alemayehu Eshete

Of course, anyone who is familiar with the earlier history of Ethiopia that recorded a resounding victory over colonialism and which probably was a cause for Madiba’s excitement at the prospect of visiting Ethiopia may wonder about the sources of my excitement to visit South Africa to the point of equating it as a rediscovery of my genesis.

Before elaborating on that one, however, a word or two about my earliest memory related with South Africa. There was this music I used to enjoy very much during my childhood without understanding its meaning. It was played by the famous Ethiopian singer Alemayehu Eshete in support of the struggle against apartheid.

In the lyrics he captured how human beings used to be hunted down on the basis of their skin color. The refrain went like this, though, my rough translation might do injustice to the original Amharic song.

“Having smelt blood

That Black Panther

Poised with pistol and rifle.”

In case, anyone tries to link this with Julius Malema’s favorite which the country’s High court banned on the grounds of its potential to incite violence against South Africa’s white minority, I would contend that the Ethiopian musician’s song is just a harmless rendition from history like Jacob Zuma’s favorite “Umshini Wami”/Bring me my machine gun/.

On a more sober note, I have other memories too of the struggle against apartheid which was far from a call for bloodletting and swashbuckling. Among them were short stories and essays written by black South Africans.

Through these writings, they augmented the struggle by appealing to the voice of reason; by pricking the consciences of those powerful nations who were cozy with apartheid. In one of these essays compiled by Langston Hughes which he called “An African Treasury” Bloke Modisane indicted the world in his ‘Why I ran away.’ He employed the following poignant words.

“I know that the riddle of South Africa will have to be resolved in South Africa, perhaps without blood. But the possibility of bloodshed cannot be brushed aside, and I hope that through my writing I can yet make the world realize the danger gathering in the Union.

That what will happen there will touch the rest of the world. For the world outside is responsible for the furtherance and continuance of the system. I indict the world. Every investment, every gold bar bought from South Africa helps to pay for the machinery of apartheid.”

In that same anthology, there was another short story by Richard Rive titled “The Bench.” A simple black soul depicted as attending a rights movement meeting for the very first time heard exhortations such as “We must challenge the right of any people who see fit to segregate human beings solely on grounds of pigmentation.”

Having transformed immediately, he vowed to challenge in his own way albeit with no knowledge as to how, when or where. Fortunately, he found the answer right away on his way back to his home. For the first time, he noticed the bench marked ‘for Europeans only’ at the train station wherein he ignored the rule and sat on it. The rest is history.

Where is the South Africa I am going to visit now?

It would be impossible for me to collate the South Africa I know through books, movies and media outlets in the upcoming visit that will not last beyond 4 or 5 days with what is actually on the ground.

Yet, I do hope that I would be able to catch the vibe, both positive and negative.Meanwhile, post-apartheid South Africa is one of the few countries in the continent where leaders bow to public demand to the point of resignation. It’s the first nation to host World cup in the continent, whatever the implication economically.

According to the April-June 2011 BBC Focus on Africa magazine, its growing economy has earned it acceptance to the emerging economies known as Bric/Brazil, Russia, India and China/which will now be called as Bricsa by including South Africa in the acronym.

Yet, it’s still dogged by high rate of unemployment among the black majorities characterized by abject poverty and abysmal ignorance.

Order 'World on Fire' from Amazon

This in turn has led to rampant crime that occasionally drove some elements of the society to vent their frustration with xenophobic attack on fellow African migrants. Despite the much vaunted economic growth, South Africa doesn’t seem to have moved much from the grim portrayal by Amy Chua in her book “World on Fire.”

She described how she felt aghast in 1997 when faced with an entire room filled with only white faces/and perhaps one person of South Asian descent/followed by her invitation to give lecture at the University of South Africa better known as UNISA.

She also authoritatively demonstrated in her book from page 97-100 the ugly and vast economic disparity between the white minority and the black majority. While the leadership is groping for a solution to bridge the gap between the minority and the majority, the underdog’s patience seem to be wearing thin. This has been manifested in mutual recrimination and even racially motivated killings that consumed the life of a notorious racist named Eugene Terr’Blanche.

In a nutshell, I fear that if the country’s leadership is not fast enough to fix these things, disillusionment to the point of desperation would set in.

Kenyans, who had a high hope during the Mao-Mao uprisings, caricatured their disillusionment after independence by depicting the itinerary of an ordinary Kenyan before and after independence. They portrayed him as one who stands sulking under a white colonial rule in a neat suit and shined shoes. While leaping for joy as a free man under Kenyatta, his suit was beginning to look distinctly tatty.

By the Moi era, the emaciated mwananchi was crawling, not walking. His suit was in tatters with no shoes and eyes crazed, he was begging for alms. That’s the story of many African nations after independence. Even me who used to pride myself like many of my compatriots over my country’s uniqueness for not being colonized attempted to show later the futility of celebrating the victory at the battle of Adwa through a doggerel whose full text can be accessed on was titled “Commemorating the victory at the battle of Adwa.” In it, I scribbled the following among others.

   “—On the contrary

     I’ve always had liberty

     Granted by my compatriot rulers

    To genuflect, flatter, march and parrot freely

    And always on an empty belly

    Accompanied with abject poverty.

    Hence, I am eternally confounded

   Whether to be bloated or deflated

    With the fact that

    My oppressor has always been

    From within

    Whose pigmentation is the same

    Color as that of my skin,

    Which is the one and only

    Tribute to me

    From that day of victory

    Over the fascist Italy.”


If all of our woe as Africans is the same by sharing a legacy of injustice, one may ask then why I feel differently to the fourth country I will set foot in my own continent.

Simple; many of our folks, especially from the Horn of Africa flock to South Africa. For this and the reasons I cited above, I am too much emotionally involved with South Africa.

Although, I may not have the opportunity to shake hand with history itself by having contact with giants like Nelson Mandela, I feel that I would be treading on the center of African history. Simply put, I am quite excited by my trip to Johannesburg. 

An Ethiopian Human Rights Defender based in Uganda                                   

Kiflu Hussain is an attorney based in Uganda. He says his passion for writing came from reading, and that it’s inevitable that the more one reads, the more one develops the urge to write. Kiflu has published articles in Ethiopia on the English Reporter, then a weekly newspaper along with a few Amharic articles on the defunct Addis Zena. It was after he and his family found refuge in Uganda, that he began contributing writings to the local papers and various websites such as Daily Monitor, Uganda Record, The New Vision, Ethioquestnews, Garowe Online, WardheerNews etc.

The reason for this is clear. Ethiopia, despite being a seat of the African Union had never produced a regime that allows even the minimum space for dialogue that other people in Africa enjoy so naturally. So Kiflu's ending up as a refugee in Uganda is a blessing in disguise for it accorded him with the opportunity to write. He says at the same time he learned, unfortunately, that his refugee status would be what showed how deep the hypocrisy of the “international community” goes. We at are honored to carry this gentleman's work and we hope that in the process, western people may come to appreciate the struggle of refugees throughout the world.

You can write to Kiflu at this address: E-mail;

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essay September 12, 2011 2:52 am (Pacific time)

very interesting article! I will follow your themes.
Can I subscribe to your posts on Twitter or on your Facebook profile?

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