Montreal·Personal Essay

I am grateful to now be safe in Montreal, but I fear for my family and friends in Ethiopia

I am very grateful to have lived through the pandemic crisis in this country, however I am feeling torn by being afar during such a transitional and traumatic time back home.

Speaking out about atrocities is one way to help my home country

Living most of his life in Ethiopia, Biniam Engdawork says he now feels helpless being far away in Canada. Raising awareness is one way he can help his country and his family back home. (Submitted by Biniam Engdawork)

My name is Biniam and I was born and raised in Ethiopia. I came to Canada in June 2019 and I miss my country immensely. I am very grateful to have lived through the pandemic crisis in this country, however I am feeling torn by being afar during such a transitional and traumatic time back home.

Over the past two years, there has been a long-awaited reform to the government, which for 27 years prior, was corruptly controlled by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). Tigray, being one of nine regions and one of 80 tribes, making up approximately six per cent of the population, it's an understatement to say that this government has an unfair bias to how they rule.

I, and many others, faced extreme challenges growing up as another tribe while the TPLF were in power. My father was a soldier prior to TPLF taking control, and thus my torments began when this change of power shifted my father from being a hero to an enemy. At the age of four, both my mother and father, uncle and six of their military colleagues were put in jail. My life as a result became completely unstable, being shuffled between different homes. Four years later, when they were finally released, they were prevented from having any jobs or regular civil opportunities.

I, as a result, started working at a very young age and never experienced childhood. Both my parents died young, due to the stress of being without stable work and the unhealthy lifestyle of living in poverty.

Throughout elementary and high school, I had to work twice as hard, with an after-school job, working late nights and still managed to keep my grades up, because I had the ambition to study music and computer science.

But my dreams were crushed when I graduated. The TPLF forced everyone to study whatever suited the government. As the country was moving into industrialization, I was forced to study engineering along with most of the others my age, and was sent to a university in a Tigray region. They chose which region to send you to, overpopulating many universities. We lacked basic resources such as water to drink and shower with, books, space in the dorms and seats in the library to study. I have good friends who lost their minds and others who killed themselves due to the circumstances.

Reforms have improved the situation in Ethopia, but the current bloody conflict leaves many in danger, Biniam writes. (Submitted by Biniam Engdawork)

If you managed to finish alive, there were no jobs as too many students graduated with this degree, unless of course you were of the Tigray tribe or had a family connection. If you could afford it, you could go to a private school and choose what to study, otherwise you struggle, give up your dreams and talents and end up without a job anyway.

The cost of living became unaffordable, even the lower-class housing and transport was out of range and there was extreme taxation making it almost impossible to survive. There was no democracy, no freedom.

The worst part was the fear. If you spoke out against any of this, you would be put in jail, especially if you were someone influential. For example, Teddy Afro, a famous musician, was put in jail for more than two years for speaking out in one of his songs. Many journalists, actors, artists, athletes, opposing politicians and activists suffered terrible consequences, including having to flee the country.

The TPLF were also very strategic in forming strong international ties. This international power can be seen by the fact that Tedros Adhanom (the former foreign minister for the TPLF), is the director general of the World Health Organization. All of this, to ensure that their power would reign for many years to come. This is why it is so important for us to speak up about the revolution that is happening now, and to inform the international community of how TPLF has been terrorizing the nation for decades. Their manipulation tactics risk to trick the rest of the world and again receive aid to allow their massacres to continue.

'For most Ethiopians, this is a chance to see freedom,' Biniam writes. (Submitted by Biniam Engdawork)

After hundreds of thousands of members of different ethnic groups were forced to migrate to escape the TPLF regime and thousands were brutally murdered, we finally are seeing hope and a bright future for Ethiopia where all tribes can live equally in our own country.

For most Ethiopians, this is a chance to see freedom. But after all I went through, I have mixed feelings about what is happening. I would prefer this to happen without war and innocent people dying, though I truly believe the TPLF left the current government without a choice and their reign needs to be put to an end once and for all.

Knowing the control the TPLF has in the Tigray region and their manipulation tactics to create conflicts between tribes, even after the reforms, we have been watching in fear that they may still be able to bring us back to darkness. This is why I am writing this article, because we need our voices to be heard, we need to share the truth of their terrorism. It is one way to help my country from abroad.

It is really scary to see the false information being spread to the world stating that the current government is waging a civil war on the Tigre people. It is so critical to share the truth to make sure that the international community knows what is really happening.

Ethiopians lived in fear under TPLF rule, Biniam writes. (Submitted by Biniam Engdawork)

I find myself stuck in a dichotomy, unable to be there to take part in the marches, activism and most importantly to protect my family and friends while at the same time so grateful that I am here and can at least somehow support them financially.

On top of the current war, business was already at a major low due to COVID-19 lockdowns in the country. I see my family and friends struggling and what can I do? My hands are tied, even though I am in a better situation, I feel helpless!

As I sit here, connected to the country merely through online news and social media, I am shocked as I see longtime old friends, who are Tigrians, still stand by them as they are brainwashed by their tribe being in power. Blind to the reality of TPLF attacks on innocent people, like herding hundreds of innocent civilians to be massacred and cut into pieces, due to the entitlement and privileges they and their families received over the past 30 years.

I know the most significant work I can do right now is create awareness. This is why I want to share my story and help bring a perspective of truth to what 95 per cent of the Ethiopians have lived during this TPLF reign of 27 years.


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For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

About the Author

Biniam Engdawork is a DJ, music producer and event entrepreneur also known as ETLEKTIK. He was born and raised in Ethiopia.

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