Friday, July 08, 2005

who let the guns out


There is a truism that stands in all modern society “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. Even before most humans barely knew what guns were Ethiopians had a similar proverb, just substitute ‘guns’ for ‘daggers’ but the idea remains the same - (“negeru nEw enji chUbe sew aygOdam”). Some governments seem to have a hard time understanding this cliché for it’s not their compassion and good governance that keeps them in power. Funny you might say, an Ethiopian MP Hailekiros Tadesse recently said “eliminating nuclear weapons would free the world of all fears”. Mind you, this statement came from someone affiliated with a regime that is holding on to authority strictly by the power of guns.

For us Ethiopians, guns in public places are considered a norm. Unless we see guns in action, their presence is not felt any more than the presence of stray dogs. Since the first “senAder” (Snider Breech-Loader Rifle) made its way in to the country during the time of Atse Tewodros, the ownership of arms in Ethiopia has been culturally significant. Besides the obvious fearsome respect one gets for their gun, it also determined their status in society - the bigger the rifle the wealthier the person. In recent times however, the ownership of guns in a household is not much of a big deal, thanks to the influx of AK47 at the end of the cold war, now every farmer is armed to the teeth.

When Mengistu H/Mariam put together the largest army in Africa he didn’t arm them with broom sticks, his russki pals, who by then were playing with much bigger toys, handed him all the AK47 he desired for not more that an ‘I. O. U.’ letter. When Mengistu fled the country and his army fell apart most of the weapons were an accounted for, the desperate solders were trading in their AKs for an ear of corn. May 1991 saw the AK47 sell of the century, it was a “buy one and use that to get another one” deal. The transitional EPRDF government at the time attempted to convince the public to return all the weapons through comical-ads and house-to-house searches, a few did so because they had no use for more than one, the rest of the weapons ended up in the rural community.

My first enjoyment of holding an AK came at the age of ten when it was cheaper to buy an AK than a toy gun. My first satisfaction of killing my opponents with an AK was during my university years where so many precious hours were well wasted playing counter strike. My first holdup with an AK came two weeks ago. Here is how the last one happened.

After the funeral of one of my uncles the past week. The funeral was held at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis. The holy trinity is the most exquisite church built during the time of H.I.M. for ceremonial purposes. Story has it that Indian and Middle Eastern master masons were brought for the construction. The architecture of the cathedral combines the common eastern orthodox domed style with some gothic influence, which makes very unique. On top of that, since the time of the monarchy, the burial grounds are reserved for people of high stature like royal family (including H.I.M), patriots of the two Italo-Ethiopian wars and highly influential people. Just like the church the headstones are meticulously carved. all these characters make the Holy Trinity Cathedral a must see land mark for any one who visits Addis, just make sure not to mistake the Red Berets for priest in ceremonial robe.

The special solders are a recent addition, not only to the church but to the city; their presence has been more prominent since the election. their main purpose is intimidation, besides their mean looks they are armed with automatic weapons the likes of me has never seen before, not even on counter strike. Legend has it they are sharp shooters too, which is their other purpose; I guess they have proved that on May 16, 2005.

After the funeral, I figured I snap a picture of two of the holy-drones in their new habitat so I pulled out my camera, that’s when I got stopped by one of them holding an AK47, who then confiscated my camera and told us to go wait by a wall. I asked him what the problem was; he said there are no pictures allowed. I wanted to say “it is your presence that shouldn’t be allowed not taking pictures of the beautiful church” but that will be considered mouthing of. He told me the matter has to be looked at by his superior and started calling for number seven on his CB radio. So I went by the car and started contemplating the possible outcomes of the situation, the simplest was to go home one digital camera less but the harsh ones were too many.

Twenty minutes later three military dudes, who looked of a higher rank from their uniform, strolled in through the gates; they went and had a brief chat with the first guy. I was given the hand gesture to come over; the meanest looking one asked why I have the camera and I Gave him a very straight answer, “to take pictures”. I guess he got pissed of by my response, he then started going on and on about how this is serious crime and my identity should be looked in details. When he said that, my last remaining hopes of leaving in one piece stated pouring out through my sweat pores. When someone that mean says “your identity should be looked in to in details” he is not suggesting a trip to the social security office. Once again I was told to go wait by the car. I tried to explain that there were no pictures taken and if he wishes I could erase the data from the camera. He was adamant.

More chattering on the CB radio.

After a while, a non military pickup truck drove in to the compound, from it emerged a rather large guy in military uniform. You can tell his superiority from his beer belly. They all went and stifled my heinous crimes to their boss; he then looked my way which I took as a sign to walk over. He asked if it is my camera, I said “yes”, he told me to turn it on, I proudly did. After he saw for him self that there were no incriminating pictures, he handed me the camera back and gave me a warning not to do it again. The mean dude who has been threatening ‘detailed investigation’, I could tell by his looks that he wasn’t pleased by my release. As for me, I left the compound before they change their mind.

For any eventuality….

“don’t take your guns to town son, leave your guns at home…”

J. Cash


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