This summer President Obama did something no standing U.S. president has done before–he went to Ethiopia. There’s a reason for his decision. He was able to speak to the African Union, headquartered in Ethiopia, meeting with 54 national leaders. He was able to press for freedom of the press and fair elections in Ethiopia, where many journalists have been jailed according to human rights organizations. Ethiopia is the second largest African country (in terms of population) and the one with the largest military. It is threatened by al-Shabab incursions in the south, coming out of Somalia. President Obama was able to speak with regional leaders about this concern and the larger concern of destabilization in the neighboring nation of South Sudan, where rival tribes are locked in conflict, causing a huge refugee crisis. All of this is good news for a region of Africa that needs to be connected to the outer world and in open dialogue about vital issues.
As we watch refugees pouring out of Libya on illegal boats (sometimes thrown off in the Mediterranean) or see tourists bombed in a Tunisian museum or read about the supposed Egyptian reformer President Morsi being sentenced to 20 years in jail for torture of protesters, we may wonder what happened to the Arab Spring that seemed so promising. Revolution is started by people who have had enough and want reform. Unfortunately, it often gets hijacked by others who want personal and complete power. Certainly that was the case in Ethiopia, where hopeful Ethiopian Christians joined the ranks of protesters and celebrated the fragile possibility of a new and better society back in 1974 when the Emperor Hailie Selassie was removed from power. Then came the counter-wave of terror, as Col. Mengistu took absolute control and clamped down on anyone who might be perceived as a threat, including any religious leaders who did not knuckle under to his imposed authority. I hope my memoir–Running to the Fire–has relevance in this sense. It is a look at an earlier “Ethiopian Spring” that turned too quickly to Fall–or perhaps I should say an Ethiopian planting season that turned to drought. I’m enthused about a recent radio interview about the book, which was conducted by Bob Leonard on KRLS, based in the Pella and Knoxville area of Iowa. It was aired as part of the show “In Depth,” and it goes in depth into the origins of the book, the history behind the revolution in Ethiopia, the role of missions in Ethiopia, and more. If you have time, you can listen to the podcast at http://kniakrls.com/2015/04/in-depth-author-tim-bascom/.
To listen to another shorter interview, this time by Rob Dillard at Iowa Public Radio, you can go to the following link: http://iowapublicradio.org/post/teen-runs-fire-1970s-ethiopia. It’s an honor to be included on both radio shows!
If you are interested in getting books into the hands of Ethiopian kids, here is a great website: http://www.ethiopiareads.org/. Ethiopia Reads, begun by award-winning children’s author Jane Kurtz, is building libraries in towns and villages all around Ethiopia. They have created over 65 libraries, adding them in every region of the country. And here are a couple facts from their website, to press home why these libraries are needed!
In this remarkable video, you can get a quick feel for the unique jazz tradition in Ethiopia, which reached a peak in the early 1970’s just before the fall of Emperor Selassie and just before our family returned to the country under the Marxist regime of Col. Mengistu–the era portrayed in my new memoir Running to the Fire (University of Iowa Press, 2015). Though the jazz clubs went out of business, we would hear the music in restaurants, serving as a quiet reminder of better times. Today, Ethiopian jazz is flowering again and one of the great groups of the past–The Ethiopiques–are getting long overdue attention. Listen and learn: