There were many dead soldiers. One body was a little different. It was wrapped in the flag and there was a suicide note. The rest of the soldiers had simply perished through fatigue and hypothermia, a combination of heat and humidity. My platoon was sent to rescue the company that has lost its direction in the middle of one of the harshest environments in the world, along the coast of the Red Sea, somewhere between Massawa and Assab. The dead soldier in front of me was a sergeant and he preferred ending his life than suffer a slow death. The suicide note was tied at the corner of the flag and it simply said: “Our flag: I have fought for you and now I die for you. Long live Ethiopia.” I kneeled down, took the flag which was all covered with his blood, kissed it and felt like crying but could not. We buried all in the desert with the sergeant’s body covered with his flag. (The full story in my book Kihdet be Dem Meret). Major general Amha Desta, a distinguished Air Force Commander, committed suicide wrapped up with This Flag.
There is no other flag in the world that evokes so much passion and so much pride. There is no other flag that gives so much hope and courage in the face of adversity. There is no other flag that is so sacred and so revered. There is no other flag in Africa that is as old. According to Blaten Geta Hiruy, This Flag was designed by Minlik the first, between 982-958 BC, which makes it the oldest national flag in the world. This Flag has been carried in every battle won and lost. This Flag is the flag of Africa and the flag of the Ras Tafarians as the symbol of emancipation from slavery and colonialism.
This Flag has been the symbol of freedom, hope, unity, territorial integrity and honor. It is a symbol that unites every race creed or religion in Ethiopia. When you raise the flag, you raise your hope. When you fight the enemy, the flag is the engine that drives you. When you sing the anthem you celebrate the memories of all who have fallen for the cause. When you march together with all the others, you feel the sense of irreversible unity of our people. When you look at the beauty of the colors, it radiates hopes and brings memories of the glories of our forefathers. When you hold the flag you carry it with awe and responsibility.
This Flag has eternal life. Because of the spirit of courage, peace, valor, and unity that it radiates, it is always revered. When my friend Captain Sahle witnessed a soldier dropping the flag by mistake, when he was hoisting it, he was furious. But the soldier also felt embarrassed and asked for forgiveness from Captain Sahle and asked to be punished. He later asked forgiveness from the squad that was lined up behind him. He felt that he was desecrating the flag. He was troubled by the incident for days because every soldier and officer was brought in a tradition where the flag was more important than each one of us; that even if you were to fall while carrying the flag you make sure you hit the ground first; not the flag.
‘Be Bandira!!! Don’t move!’ If a person was about to run away from a scene and you shout ‘bebandira!; wedka betenesatchew, don’t move!’ it is impossible to imagine a situation where the person does not stop. He will. And the crowd around will freeze and watch the reaction of the person. Such was the respect that our flag commanded. This Flag; the Green, Yellow and Red; untarnished, unchanged for decades; it has carried our people this far. When the flag started being desecrated and called names, disfigured and abused, then our unity started being fractured but not broken.
When you honor This Flag you honor the ideals that it has stood for hundreds of years and the respect of those who have sacrificed their lives in defense of this great country. Changing the color, the emblem, the shape and design of the flag in whatever form, is considered desecration. When the TPLF put the flag on the back of a donkey and marched in public, it brought out all the anger and fury that no time can heal. It was an insult to the millions who died and suffered for the cause that this flag stands for.
In highland Eritrea, until the time it separated from Ethiopia, every funeral service was decorated with This Flag. Every household had a flag hoisted outside its house on holidays. Nowhere in Ethiopia has our flag been so honored and revered like in Eritrea. It became the irony of life that Eritrea seceded from its own country, from the very flag that it honored for generations, from the flag that ‘Hager Fikre Mahber’ proudly waived in every march and demonstration demanding reunion with the motherland. Most of our wars were fought in the North, in Tigray and Eritrea, against invaders coming through the Red Sea, and it was there that This Flag was most honored. Another irony is that Tigray, where so many lost their lives carrying This Flag, became a place where a political organization desecrates this flag. Did Prime Minister Meles Zenawi say that it was only a piece of cloth? It was difficult to believe that any Ethiopian with a sane mind would utter these words. That was the ultimate act of shame and treason.
Thanks to the sacrifices and unity of our people, This Flag has been redeemed and flying high and proud in many places in Ethiopia these days. It is a sign of good times to come. When our flag flies high and proud in all the places that is the time of redemption for Ethiopia. Claiming This Flag is claiming our unity.