Ethiopia: Tamrat Layne: Real Transformation or False Confession?

By Asefa Gultu

I am somewhat puzzled by how little attention Tamrat Layne’s story has received among the Ethiopian media. May be it is just me but I expected it to be a major discussion topic among Ethiopians. In any case, most Ethiopians that I have come across seem to think that the claim by the former Prime minister to encounter Jesus in his prison cell is not for real.

Many think that his apology and regrets are too late and do not mean much because a nation has already been destroyed by the actions and policies of a regime he once was a leader and which still is in power. Others suspect that genuine or not, Tamrat Layne’s claim of a spiritual journey from being a fervent atheist to become a submissive follower of the Lord is nothing but an attempt to rationalize his mind. He is just trying to escape his guilty conscience resulted from his appalling past, they claim. Worse still, there are those who see his whole ‘conversion narrative’ as part of a larger effort to win hearts and minds of unsuspecting Ethiopians for his ulterior motive: his plan to comeback to politics.

I understand why so many Ethiopians are angry at Tamrat Layne, and despise, ignore or shut him down. I can see why I could easily have been one of them. But for me, what I am hearing from the former prime minister is nothing short of miracle .As Tamrat himself repeatedly asserted, he represents a generation of Ethiopians that had gone astray because of a misguided and Godless ideology: Marxism Leninism. Not only do I think his confession is for real but I also maintain his situation presents a unique opportunity for redemption of his generation as well as Ethiopia as a whole. Here is why I think so.

First and foremost, I believe Jesus or God truly transforms people, especially those who, in our eyes, seem to deserve it the least. As hard as it is to believe, Tamrat Layne might have actually encountered Jesus personally in his prison cell, as he claimed. If that is the case, everything Tamrat claimed to have happened in his life is not hard to accept.

Nothing is impossible for God. On the other hand, from what I hear him talk, he does not appear to me like a person who faked transformation. Rationalization? Possible, but I doubt it. Forgiving one’s enemies and praying for them can only come from a source like Jesus or God. Let us be clear: it is not really really about Tamrat here, it is about God. It is whether or not God can bring a real healing in a person’s heart. The truth is no one knows for sure how and who God chose. This means if it was not Tamrat, it could have been anybody, even Meles Zenawi.

Second, Tamrat Layne could not be more correct about the problem in our country. I have long been convinced that at the root of the political problem in Ethiopia is the wrong direction the country took in the 60s and 70s under the poisoning and dangerous ideology of Marxism and Leninsm. How else can we explain a sinister group like TPLF taking control of the entire country without something going horribly wrong in our society in the first place? And that something is the Marxist-Leninst idea of organizing society. I do not think God has preference for one system of government over another as such. But a movement inspired by a atheistic ideology like Marxism is bound to poison society as it goes against human nature as intended by God. Tamrat is right on target when he said as a communist he was not only Godless, but despised anything that is associated with any theistic understanding of the human affair. That, unfortunately, was the characteristic feature not just of individuals, but the movement and era in which he was a part.

Finally, it looks to me that love, forgiveness and national reconciliation, the kind of messages Tamrat is preaching now, are signs of a transformed heart than a rationalizing mind. It is true that the regime in power in Ethiopia has ignored repeated calls for national reconciliation form many fronts. Because of that the term seems to have lost its meaning. But I believe some kind of national reconciliation is the best, if not the only, way forward for Ethiopia. A closer look at our situation reveals that ours is too complicated a problem to be solved by the usual party politics. Nor does it appear to me armed struggle is a cure. Our political culture needs a radical transformation not in the sense of a utopian Marxist revolution but in the sense of love, forgiveness and national reconciliation. And when those messages come from a man like Tamrat Layne who was at the top of the destruction of our country, I sense hope.

Of course the former Prime minister has a long way to go in terms of putting his claim of spiritual transformation to the test. He needs to be more forthcoming not just in revealing the past but in his contribution to change the present. That will make many Ethiopians see the fruits of his alleged spiritual renewal and shows his seriousness about healing the enormous wound he and his group have caused to our nation. After all, the ethno-Marxist group which he played a key in installing is still in power and the divisive and tribal policies that was put in place under his watch still continues. But we also need to give the former Marxist the benefit of the doubt and encourage him to liberate his former comrades from the prison of greed, hatred and self-destruction they put themselves in to. If and when that happens, we can turn Tamrat Layne’s personal transformation in to national reconciliation for Ethiopia.

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