And Exactly Who Are You?

The use of pen names has become more and more prevalent in SELEDA. Of course this trend is not unique to SELEDA, go to any Ethiopian publication and read the "letters to the editor section" you'll find people signing of with such creative pen names as "loyal reader in Boston" "concerned in DC" and "boiling mad in Atlanta". But the use of pen names in SELEDA does represent a kind of disingenuousness. After all SELEDA is a publication that reputes to be by and for Ethiopian professionals. A place where people are supposed to share insights and life experiences with their peers. The use of pen names makes one wonder how much of what's being shared is reality and how much is fictitious. After all that "brain surgeon" who wrote about the pressures of his occupation might in reality be a "parole officer" that would rather spend his time fantasizing instead of monitoring those in his charge.

SELEDA (let me rephrase that) We in SELEDA can pose the argument that we check the background of those that contribute to our publication and thus you should take our word that what we publish is based on reality and not fiction. This argument can not carry much water since we have not identified who we are either. We claim to be fellow young Ethiopian professionals but we could easily be a group of over 65 retirees reliving fantasies of being young again at our reader's expense.

There is a deeper question here. What is this great fear of being identified? If we have views and ideas should we not stand by them? Is it the loss of privacy we fear? Or is it being labeled as an intellectual, radical or snob? Is what other people might think of our views so terrifying that we must hide behind fake names and meaningless tittles?

Abiy Desta



On Finding Out Exactly Who I am?

Dear SELEDA Code Name "Wonde ATere"...

Ooops, sorry. I guess I will be using your real name instead of your given SELEDA identity. (Does this mean you've had the secret ID Number they tattooed on our left hands surgically removed?)

Abiy, may I first commend you on your self-outing. The question of who lurks behind the SELEDA cyber-megareja has actually been a prevailing question that has intermittently flooded the mailbox. (In case you are interested, here's what the standard smart-ass reply has been:

"We at SELEDA can't tell you who's running SELEDA because… well, darned if we know. In the tradition of certain affinities we as a people have to coup d'etats, the beleaguered SELEDA Board is often overthrown every, um, 4th day… except during the tsom, when it's overthrown everyday… meat deprivation apparently further agitates the abiyotawis and the tsere abiyotawis. In fact, we hear gunfire as we write this, so we'll have to scaddadle on outta here. Well, gosh darn it! There goes the doubly re-enforced steel boardroom door   being blown to pieces… again."

Granted, this adebabso malef  of a litany has yet to placate even one reader, but until recently (and until you slapped it back at our faces), it hadn't sound so terribly evasive. Now, Abiy, there you go making it sound so.. glib-like. Why?

While the "Tiyaqay Melash Komitay" tries to come up with a more effective riposte, here's my take on your take: what does it matter who the mercurial editors are? The point is, we care about putting out excellent, poignant, well thought out and well-written articles which touch us, and, we hope, touch our readers. The Internet offers our writers and us a modicum of privacy to explore a side of us, which is sometimes painful and uncertain. But there is no denying that writing anonymously offers a certain freedom to express oneself without the "Oh... entinan eko awqewalehu" bug to murk the point. My position is that the focus be on the content. We encourage writers not to use pseudonyms. However, if it boils down to choosing between a superb piece and a real last name, I think it is a no-brainer.

As to assurances about the writers being whom they say they are, I think you are referring to that distasteful episode when that chiko enna mela bis Pat Buchanan tried to pass himself off as a disgruntled St. Joseph alumna ranting about the Mexicans taking over the parking industry. Granted, were we half the prolific editors we like to be mistaken for, we would have sniffed out that imposter after the first few misplaced "Yene hizb… adamTugn!"s. However, all reactionary, self-centered sociopaths seem to run the same to us, so, mea culpa. Hopefully, Abiy, you will let the rest of us live down that ugliness.

And not that we can deny being a Tegen for a couple of card-carrying egomaniac control freaks, Abiy, but SELEDA should not play any part in making the spectacularly over-rated people behind it into quasi cyber-celebs. (Need I remind you of the exigent "Beginners Humility" class forced upon new editors by easily over-excited SELEDA Chieftains?) Besides, I'm convinced that outside of morbid curiosity, I doubt people really care about who's behind all this wackiness. Still, you make an excellent point: how can we pretend this is an open forum where we "share insights and life experiences with [our] peers" when we hide behind pen names? I don't have a good answer, except, "Maybe in time".

For now, I am OK with this bottom line: there are a million untold stories about the Ethiopian Diaspora, and SELEDA should just focus on being a forum to tell some of them. I will leave it to the degreed sociologist (although I am sure the physiatrists will also pipe in here) to decipher why we prefer anonymity.

That said, and slightly changing the subject, Abiy, are you behind the "Let's jam the cappuccino machine with tiny nails" b'lo CHewata? I thought you had forgiven me for the l'il fun we both had watching bemusedly as the email virus I sent you crashed your system?

Huleay'm ke akbrot gar,

"Ye SELEDA tamagn agelga'y "

As a confirmed proponent of wearing the scribto-sim mask, I say "to each her/his own." We all live in this tiny Diaspora pond where in my reality every third Ethiopian I run into is related to me in some way. There is no greater freedom than one achieved through anonymity (or confession - but that's another story). As I see it, there is no value lost or diminished if we and our contributors choose to remain unidentifiable as anything other than fun-loving wordsmiths who, on occasion, make a salient point or two. In fact, I believe we gain by it because we can effectively neutralize the gossip fall-out from the inevitable nay sayers who would not hesitate to attempt to defame the SELEDA name by gossiping about the board of Editors or contributors. By removing the person or identity from this forum, we make the issue or the central point the focus, as it should be.


Sim Yelesh

(a.k.a. Anon Ymus)

Well Seledawyan, perhaps this is one of those occasions where a happy compromise can be reached.

Let us overthrow the "tyranny of the OR" and embrace the inclusiveness of the "AND". There may in fact be room for BOTH real names and pseudonyms. It seems to me that if SELEDA is to become a forum for discussion of professional matters, participants must use their real names. Without such a rule, I would agree with Abiy that the credentials of the self-acclaimed brain surgeon would indeed be in doubt. In addition, I would argue that even amongst us paranoid Ethiopians, discussing professional issues leaves little room for slander or gossip. I prefer MS DOS over Unix Operating Systems .... so sue me, right ?! (by the way I don't care either way, it was just an example....)

On the other hand, what makes SELEDA such a rich reading experience, is the fact the our contributors discuss more personal and sensitive issues that are unique to our reality as young Ethiopians living in the US (notice I still can not bear to call us "immigrants"). In such a case it would be suicide to request that people use their real names. I would imagine that very few people would feel free to expose their inner thoughts and feelings as we have seen thus far. I personally have been amazed to see how much we Ethiopians have in common, in our inner and outer struggles here in the US. After all we pretty much share the same experience of suddenly leaving our beloved Ethiopia and finding ourselves dropped in a new and strange land, sink or swim ....

Until we can convince Hollywood this is good movie material, I think we have a wonderful forum to share and learn from our trials and tribulations. So leave such discussions open and let the authors use any name or no name at all.

In short, perhaps we need a professional section of SELEDA for discussing career related issues where contributors MUST use their real names (and the parole officer posing as a brain surgeon is promptly weeded out). And the life stories (such as the "My Story" etc...) where contributors can use pen names of their choice. How's that for compromise.

Haeran (yes-it's-my real-name) Fisseha

My sentiments exactly, Abiy. You are right on target. In fact, as one of the first participants in the "Life Diaries" and one of the few people who used a real name, I felt it was important for participants not to hide behind an assumed name. If the CORE principle of SELEDA is to bring young professional Ethiopians closer, what is the point of secrecy? From my experience, those who choose to be anonymous are those who have something to hide or fearful of retribution.

I strongly believe that "Life Diaries" has become to a certain extent a forum for flirtation in part because of the anonymity of participants and intentional pairing of the opposite sexes. I reluctantly accepted to participate because I felt my experience could inspire or help a young Ethiopian. The forum should explore not only the "success" stories, but also the stories of those who are facing difficulties etc....

I agree that anonymity provide a sense of security and confidence to say what you would not say otherwise. But since Life Diaries is the foundation of SELEDA, (check out what we said in our Inaugural issue), I believe that Diarists should put their names behinds their words to separate fiction from fact.

Tewodros Dagne

Having (been) slammed a few too many times against the glass walls of this teeny fishbowl called Little Addis (a.k.a. Washington DC) myself, I'm a huge fan of anonymity. Declaring your identity is productive only when there is an acceptance of differences as a normal part of life. In fact, when it comes to abesha-le-abesha interactions, I'd even go so far as to say that there are some excellent arguments for massive, no-leaks-allowed, no-holds-barred anonymity. [Huh? Hows about benevolent dictatorships? Does no one believe in benevolent dictatorships anymore???] I know this flies in the face of what other Opinionated folks have said, and I respect their commitment to openness, but I cannot share it.

Speaking for myself, if I had had to declare my name on-line from the beginning, I wouldn't have written a single word on/for SELEDA.

One of the most important SELEDA contributions is that it brings back into the fold those people like me who had opted out of the community, but it still entertains those active members who are happy within that world. It speaks to a grossly under-served group of people who have yet to find non-political, and non-personalized forums for discussing any ol' thing. Personally, by removing my name from things I write, I find a great way to isolate who I am from what I think; what I write. I rarely have the pleasure of joining any discourse amongst abeshas, on line or live, with close friends or with unknown cyber-buds, where WHO you are is not indelibly linked to WHAT you say. Sometimes (like when you're running for office), that's useful. On the other hand, do we really need to know who Gelawdios is in LDs to enjoy the prose?

Sorry to go on so....ideally, we should all get along, get equal pay for equal work, be accepted for who we are, and be able to eat Ben & Jerry's ice cream without gaining an ounce. At the very least, we should be able to voice an opinion without having a brand on our foreheads till the end of time. But until that's possible, I'd like us to reserve the right of all authors to let their words stand on their own and entertain as they are meant to, without speculation about the writer's intentions. Anyone willing to write under his or her own name should be encouraged to do so, of course.

I'm pretty happy with LD as it's turned out - but then, of course I would. I think that it provides a good forum for discussing that whole man/woman thing without either being in the "Ethiopian men are dogs" camp, or in the "Afer-sihon, I broke a nail -- Save me!" category.


Sim-alba (coloring the fishbowl glass walls so no one can see IN!)