The Right to Speak Loudly | October 28, 2012

The Honorable Dr. Maya Angelou,

It is a great honor to have the opportunity to get an e-mail message  from you. It is also a great opportunity to introduce you to the most marginalized peoples in Africa – the Oromos, the Sidamas, the Ogadenians, the Afars, the Hadiyas, the Agew and many others in the Horn of Africa whose voices are rarely heard in the West due to the conspiracy of silence. Before I convey your message to American citizens of Horn of African origin, I would like to bring the following very important points to your attention:

The Right to Speak Loudly

Essays on Law and Human Rights

By W. J. Basil Fernando

“We desperately need cross-cultural discussions on the rule of law and human rights. Much of the discourse is dominated by the West, as is the language of justice, which is associated with several centuries of struggle there. As a result, many of the problems faced by people in Asia are beyond the comprehension of those who are used to this discourse. Persons from the Western tradition struggle to understand how a police may so readily resort to torture as his means for routine criminal investigation, or how he may spend more time making a living on the side than dealing with his official duties. They cannot easily accept that a prosecutor may belong to a powerless agency, or that a complete buffoon may sit as Chief Justice and make a mockery of the very institution he represents. An enlightened discourse on the rule of law and human rights will develop only when we break down the language barriers involved to understand the actual daily experiences of people throughout Asia”.

Human rights violations and the justice systems in Africa are even the worst as compared to Asia. Few courageous torture survivors started the Truth Speakers Project at the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) – International and we have become voices for those who didn’t have the chance to speak about human brutality – torture. About fifty percent of torture survivors that came to the Washington Metropolitan area are from Ethiopia.

Breaking Laws Made by Dictators

The great public intellectual, Noam Chomsky, observed that: “Law is a changing instrument.” Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia has written a very funny law. If you oppose his exploitative policies or write critically against his apartheid and oppressive regime, you are a “terrorist”. Very funny indeed! His former comrade and Politburo member of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and former Defense Minister of Meles Zenawi, Mr. Seye Abraha, also said that, “It only takes few hours to write a new law to Meles Zenawi”.

Two courageous Swedish journalists, Martin Schibbye and Johan Person, went to Ethiopia to investigate and expose the genocide in Ogaden, Ethiopia. Both were severely wounded and captured by the TPLF fighters. They were sentenced to 11 years in prison on alleged “terrorism” charges but thanks to pressure from the international community, they were released after staying more than 400 days in the notorious prison of the Ethiopian dictatorial regime.

After he was released from prison Johan Person said, “As long as governments make laws to protect themselves against journalists, our job is to break those laws. I would do the same again”.

By speaking truth to power, we managed to break the language barriers and laws made by dictators. Many decent people in the West who thought there was democratic governance in Ethiopia, believing the jargons of liberal democracy that Meles Zenawi was good at speaking, started investigating what is going on in Ethiopia after the mass murder of protesters in year 2005. The International Crisis Group (ICG), Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Genocide Watch, TASSC – International, Oromia Support Group (OSG), Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) and many other human rights groups and many courageous journalists have exposed the brutality of this regime to the international community.

“As Obama seeks for another four years in office, most Africans are no longer enthusiastic about his presidency as his last four years had no impact on Africa. If Obama wins, Africans expect more from his administration, if he can strengthen democratic institutions in the continent, strengthen trade and investment which will boost the region’s economic growth, fight for peace and security and reducing the rise of terrorism in the region, Obama will go a long way in redeeming his image in Africa”, Leadership.

You may read for details: “What Africa Wants from Obama”, and Preventing Genocide in Ethiopia by clicking on Human Rights. I am one of those people who broke the laws made by the United States’ ally – Ethiopia. I refused to accept Revolutionary Democracy or minority dictatorship.

As you precisely put it, “voting is the great equalizer’. I have struggled to choose my own leaders throughout my life and I didn’t have the opportunity to vote. They chose prisoners of war who speak my language – Afan Oromo for me and I refused to accept them as my leaders. They tortured my body for breaking their law but they never got my heart.

Voting is a right and I believe that American citizens of the Horn of African origin have also the right to vote for the candidate of their choice.

Maya Angelou is a great black American writer and poet.

Fayera N.  Soboksa


Email from Dr. Maya Angelou:

Pretty or plain, heavy or thin, gay or straight, poor or rich

Dear Feyera,

I am not writing to you as a black voter, or a woman voter, or as a voter who is over 70 years old and six feet tall. I am writing to you as a representative of this great country — as an American.

It is your job to vote. It is your responsibility, your right, and your privilege. You may be pretty or plain, heavy or thin, gay or straight, poor or rich.

But remember this: In an election, every voice is equally powerful — don’t underestimate your vote. Voting is the great equalizer.

Voting has already begun in some states that President Obama needs to win. So please use this handy tool to make sure your friends in those key states know where to cast their ballot. You will be doing them a great favor.

As a country, we can scarcely perceive the magnitude of our progress.

My grandmother and my uncle experienced circumstances that would break your heart. When they went to vote, they were asked impossible questions like, "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” When they couldn’t answer, they couldn’t vote.

I once debated with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. about whether an African American would ever be elected president. He believed it would happen within the next 40 years at the time — I believed it would never happen within my lifetime.

I have never been happier to have been proven wrong.

And since President Barack Obama’s historic election, we’ve moved forward in courageous and beautiful ways. More students can afford college, and more families have access to affordable health insurance. Women have greater opportunities to get equal pay for equal work.

Yet as Rev. King wrote, “All progress is precarious.”

So don’t sit on the sidelines. Don’t hesitate. Don’t have any regrets. Vote.

Go, rise up, and let your friends and family in early vote states know where they can vote today. We must make our voices heard:

Your vote is not only important. It’s imperative.

Thank you,

Dr. Maya Angelou

P.S. — Not on Facebook? Send your friends to — don’t let technology get in the way of your incredible duty to our democracy.