February 3rd, 2008
A Youth Ambassador?
By: Yohannes Birru*
He came to the United States of America as a toddler in 1995 and today he’s a 16 year old social entrepreneur. Yes, this teenager is Samuel Gebru, a talented Ethiopian living in Cambridge, Massachusetts who has probably done more for Ethiopia in his young life than many adults.
Who is Samuel Gebru and why is he important? Samuel plans to be a catalyst for change. He heads an American nonprofit, The Ethiopian American Youth Initiative, which strives to promote Ethiopian culture in the US, unite Ethiopian and American youth to raise funds for Ethiopian developmental projects concerning women and orphans, as well as to serve as a platform for networking between Ethiopian and American youth as a means to find the “inner leadership” that Samuel is convinced hides in everyone.
Mr. Gebru is an avid Ethiopian, concerned with Ethiopia’s social, political, economic and youth affairs. He shows his concern through the many websites that show his work including his very own blog and his work through African Path, an online African portal for bloggers. Interestingly enough, Gebru’s article on Ethiopia’s land policy gained the attention of Mr. Michael Strong of Flow Idealism in his post: Gebru vs. Sachs, who wrote a commentary on Gebru’s views on the land policy and Sach’s recent visit to Ethiopia in January 2008.
He’s already garnered the attention of Ethiopians throughout the world. Through his youth work, Samuel simply amazed Mr. Seyoum Mesfin, Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister and Mr. Kassahun Ayele, the former Ethiopian Ambassador in Washington, DC. Samuel proposed an idea which would bring all Ethiopian youth together, disregarding the political, socioeconomic and religious boundaries: The Worldwide Youth Embassy of Ethiopia. His plans for the Youth Embassy of Ethiopia are unprecedented - which includes that the Youth Embassy of Ethiopia should be headed by an official Youth Ambassador and if this plan materializes, Samuel is slated to become the world’s first official youth ambassador.
“The Ethiopian Youth Embassy could be that connection that the youth and the government have never had. In September 2007, a few days after Ethiopia’s new millennium, the Prime Minister held a series of meetings with Ethiopia’s youth in order to ‘heal wounds’ between the government and the youth.”
He continued to state that Ethiopia’s youth have always had horrible relationships with Ethiopia’s Governments since the 1960s. “During the time of Emperor Haile Selassie the youth were the ones who engineered calls for political reform, this eventually led to the fall of his government and the rise of a military administration that would plague Ethiopia,” he adds.
“However, it was also the youth that engineered the downfall of Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam’s Marxist government.”
Samuel refers to the EPRDF, Ethiopia’s ruling party, as part of the youth-led movement which ended in Mengistu’s downfall, “the EPRDF emerged from the TPLF, which was established by high school and college-aged Ethiopians from the northern Tigray province….but what distinguished the EPRDF from the other political fronts and organizations which had their roots in the young population was that it was able to mobilize its members quickly and it garnered the support of the peasants, who to this day remain the essential backbone of that party.”
When I asked Samuel Gebru about today’s political arena, he seemed to be more conciliatory than his previous articles and posts over the internet which usually condemned political parties. “Ethiopia is diverse, and I can’t tell you how many times we’ve all heard that! However, we have over 90 political parties and it is impossible to create unity with so many different views and ideologies. Hence, it’s better for political parties to either merge into coalitions or into unified political parties therefore creating less of an array of political parties because many Ethiopian political parties are similar in their objectives but they’re too reluctant to unify. I believe I’m just reiterating what was said by Ethiopia’s former Minister of Defense, Siye Abraha.”
He was disappointed that Ethiopia’s main opposition coalition was in disarray, “Let’s remember that the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, the CUD, was formed shortly before the May 2005 elections. In such a rushed environment, the parties which formed the coalition did not hammer down all of the important factors, party due to the short-sightedness of a few officials who had their own agendas�It’s unfortunate that the CUD has become divided to the point where I can’t even begin to tell you who the Chairman of the party is: is it Ayale Chamiso, Temesgen Zewdie or Hailu Shawel?” While he chucked when asking such a question that he categorizes as rhetorical, Samuel acknowledged, “there are elements in every political party in Ethiopia - EPRDF, CUD, whatever it may be - that are hell-bent on destroying Ethiopia for their own purposes and I think as Ethiopians we cannot let that happen to our motherland. From our elected officials and rebels, both good and bad sides exist, and what we must do, as a nation, is bring out the good so that national reconciliation can actually happen and not simply be a framework for utopianism.. For instance, opposition parties are given a field day every month for 30 minutes to set forth anything they wish on the agenda. How is 30 minutes in one month going to be effective, at any rate for political parties? The system must be accommodative because I cannot foresee any benefit from a mere 30 minutes.
Gashe Ephraim Isaac, an Ethiopian elder and renowned scholar, has a motto he introduced to the world which I continue to use to this day: ‘Hidasse Ethiopia, Ethiopia indegena teweled.’ This short and simple phrase means a lot; Ephraim is calling for the revival of Ethiopia, an Ethiopian Renaissance!”
In the past, Samuel has been criticized for a few statements he’s made with regards to Ethiopia’s war in Somalia and Ethiopia’s politics. However, he stated that he believes that those criticisms helped him reach out to the other ideas and to understand than to annihilate. “Life is a learning process! Yes, I took hard-lined views on certain things, however, I also opened up to find a mutual ground to talk with people who have different views than my own - this is the key to tolerance, or as we say in Ethiopia: ‘mechachal’.”
His advocacy of the Worldwide Youth Embassy of Ethiopia and the support he’s garnered notably from Ambassadors of Ethiopia and experts on Ethiopia has helped enhance ‘the campaign for youth voice’ as he calls it. “I was appointed by the Cambridge City Manager in March 2006 to serve on a council chaired by the Mayor: the Coordinating Council for Children, Youth and Families. As a voting member I am introduced to new perspectives which help me formulate ideas to represent the youth of Cambridge to the council.”
Gebru believes that youth are catalysts for change and believes that unless due attention is given to youth and their grievances Ethiopia will just see more riots and revolutions. “We call Cambridge the ‘People’s Republic of Cambridge’ because it’s a leftist city - we’re a very liberal and secular city and because of that, we’re noted as being Marxist! Cambridge respects its people and gives so much attention towards us youth that I cannot even begin to describe it. The Kids’ Council is just one avenue the government gives attention to the youth; and through my activeness in such a city that gives due attention towards youth I begin to list similarities and differences between Ethiopia and Cambridge and this gives me another reason for advocating for the Worldwide Youth Embassy because, simply put, Ethiopia does not give due attention towards its youth in the nation and abroad.”
Through the Worldwide Youth Embassy, Samuel hopes to create a lasting communication between the youth and the government in order to facilitate economic, social and political growth because “the youth will drive Ethiopia forward tomorrow, like it or not, we’ll be taking over!”
Samuel Gebru, with a clashed personality of Ethiopianism and Americanism, is the ideal Ethiopian to head a youth-led revolution; however, instead of taking up arms, Samuel plans to have youth take charge of their own lives and become leaders in Ethiopian society. As for now, he’s waiting from the official response from the Ethiopian Government as to if his plan can materialize. To enhance his idea, Samuel was invited as a Special VIP Guest of Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin, in which he met with the Foreign Minister and Ethiopia’s State Minister for Youth and Sports, Mr. Abdissa Yadeta, two youth associations and paid a visit to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.
“My business trip to Ethiopia in August 2006 certainly helped me gain attention, and ever since then, I’ve been using this attention to emphasize the fact that we youth all are leaders and regardless of what’s next, I will continue to push for a youth-led revolution of Ethiopia’s political and social culture. I encourage dialogue and enjoy when people contact me because I am also able to learn their side of the story. The time has come for change, and youth are, what we call in Cambridge: change agents!
And there you have it, the 16 year old Ethiopian you might be calling “Mr. Prime Minister” sometime in the future.
*The author can be reached by email at email@example.com. Samuel Gebru’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yohannes Birru, M.B.A.
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