By Fikru Helebo
Elders in Ethiopia are well respected and, in some cases, they are revered. I reckon that most, if not all, languages of Ethiopia have words in them with which one expresses respect to an elder (such as Gashe, Abba, etc...), and the fact that a plural form of a verb is used to describe an elderly person indicates that the Ethiopian culture gives much respect to wisdom and perspective that can only be attained with getting older. This is not to say that all elderly Ethiopian people are wise. Truth be told, some aren't. And then there are those elders who abuse this respect that society has accorded to them. This, too, as unfortunate as it is, must be taken into account when discussing about the role of elders.
Elders play a significant role in settling disputes within a family or among community members at the local level. However, I am not familiar with elders playing a role in settling disputes at the national level in modern Ethiopian political history, although there have been some instances where elders have played a role in bringing peace at a regional level (please correct me if I am wrong in this assumption). So, when I learned in the summer of 2007 that a group of Ethiopian elders led by Professor Ephraim Issac had played a key role in securing the release from prison of CUD (Kinijit) leaders, I was very skeptical about it and did not think it was worth mentioning in my blog entry at that time.
Now that Birtukan Mideksa, one of those leaders who were released as a result of the elders mediation efforts, is back in jail for speaking about the process that led to the release of the political prisoners, it is increasingly becoming apparent that the role that the elders had played was tainted as many, including myself, had suspected. To understand how tainted the role that the elders had played was, one only needs to read the very first statement the prisoners of conscience had issued after their release and score that statement against what the elders have and have not done between then and now. So, if any of these elders have any allegiance to the truth and have respect for the role elders play in Ethiopian society, it is incumbent on them to come forward and explain the role they had played in the release of the prisoners and the whole mediation process to the Ethiopian public now.
Here is a portion from an article by Professor Mesfin Worldemariam, a fellow prisoner of Britukan's, that underscores the necessity for the elders to speak up: