A Statement Made on Being Awarded an Honorary Degree

by Addis Ababa University

24 July 2004

 

by Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher

 

Your Excellency Ato Girma Woldeghiorgis, President

of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia,

 

Your Excellencies Dr. Negaso Gidada, the First President of

the First Democratic Republic of Ethiopia,

 

Your Excellencies Ministers of the Federal

Democratic Republic of Ethiopia,

 

Your Excellency Professor Andreas Eshete,

President of Addis Ababa University,

 

My Old Colleagues of Addis Ababa University,

 

My Many Young Old Students Who Are Here,

 

All You Young Students Who Keenly Worked for, Awaited

and Graduated Today,

 

All You Young-at-Heart Old Seekers of Truth

Being Hounoured together with me Today,

 

Parents, Family Members and Friends of

the Young Graduates,

 

Ladies and Gentlemen.

 

[Note: The speech in the next paragraph appears in Amharic and those with updated browser may be able to read it.]

XMfqDk# nb!b bLn G:Z bLNy zx!Rt$: x mn# YsM;n! XMkRS MDR? bxR BgRM bflGk# nbR GN lz!h# KBR b" lM ;qF DUF xDN XNs Yg;L

 

Therefore, I shall speak in English.

 

I came into Addis Ababa University College as a boy in 1959. In the same academic year, as a poor student with khaki shorts and no shoes, I won the public speaking competion for that year. I think that the tradition of annual public speaking competitions has been discontinued. Forty five years after I won that, I am now wearing shoes to make me taller, but I sure am glad that this is not a public speaking competion.

 

Many things have happened since then. For sure my small Addis Ababa University College has become my big Addis Ababa University. Also for sure, I am an old man. That is where my being sure ends.

 

I am here being honoured. Old men should savour honour. I suppose I do. I think that it is because old men are no longer sure, that honour soothes them.

 

I have served Addis Ababa University. Or at least Addis Ababa University thinks so. I have served Ethiopia. Or at least Addis Ababa University thinks so. I have served Africa. Or at least Addis Ababa University thinks so. Why else would I be here being told so and being honoured thus?

 

Have I really done all this service? I can tell you for sure that when I tried to serve Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia, Africa, the World, I meant it. I was young, and I could be sure. Thank God that I see so many young people around me. I am sure that you young people are all sure that you will serve your families, your communities, your institutions, your country, your world and all life. After you have tried, you may not be sure how well you have done. It is only natural. It is because hindsight shows what better could have been done, and how better it could have been done. But, hindsight is ruthless because it is a vivid record of burnt options. But, of course, it is only inaction that, on hindsight is only ashes. Therefore, keep your heads clear and act. That is the only way to stay on top of the ashes.

 

But, provided you stay on top so you can still breath, even lying on the ashes of burnt past options is comfortable.

 

Look at me here. I am breathing fine. And I am enjoying this honour. My honour is particularly sweet. This is because it is here that I have nearly always been. And thus it is here where every one knows me most. That means that it is here that my ash heap is most visible. In Amharic, we say, "xwQk#> Qk#>" meaning, "I now know you; so I despise you." Yet, I am being honoured where I am known. I have been honoured elsewhere as well. But there, much of my ash heap could be out of sight. Not so here. Hence the fact that my honour is sweet.

 

Have I been good at hiding my ash heap even here? I leave the question for you to answer. But, I can confess that I have had many burnt options. Nevertheless, I have, perhaps, genuinely taken some correct options.

 

But, alas, most of them seem to me to continue needing more work.

 

My country is still very poor. I leave it to you young graduates with myriads of options ahead of you to bring sufficiency to every Ethiopian life. I would love it if you could change every child that begs for a meal to a student like you.

 

My continent is still the most down-trodden. I would love it if every African could be so respected that she/he would be granted a visa to any country in a matter of minutes. I would like to see the queues in every European and American Embassy gate in every African capital dissolve away. I would love to see all Embassy gates deserted.

 

Life in my biosphere is still uncertain. I would love to be assured of a stable climate. I would love to see human and other forms of life fully protected from human adventurism.

 

In this age of globalization, local differences are seen as a nuisance. We are all being pushed towards congealing into an indistinguishable human mass, all of us becoming approximately American. I love globalization; but I love diversity even more. I would love the brilliance of the totality of our heterogeneity to be accessible to every point on Earth. That is the globalization for me. I recommend it for you all. I leave the unfinished business of changing globalization to be thus to you, the young.

 

Let me now go back and lie on my ashes and savour the rainy season before global warming dissipates it; watch the plants flowering, mammals scampering, birds flying and diverse peoples chattering in their languages - over 60 in Ethiopia - and leave you, the young, with the job to finish.

 

Finally, I would love to wholeheartedly thank my wife and children and the rest of my family for withstanding the smoke that produced my ashes and also for helping me reduce it; my colleagues here for their generosity in thinking the heap is small; my University for accepting their evaluation; my Government for never interfering in my attempts which, at times at least, must have seemed foolish; my sisters and brothers all over Africa for the tremendous strength they have given me in my global encounters; and my many wonderful friends all over the world for shielding me, especially at my times of greatest vulnerability, particularly with vital information. Whatever I have done internationally has been possible owing to internationalism. It is there waiting for you all who want a better world to use.

 

And, irrespective of ashes, it will become a better world.

 

Thank you all.