Last week Ethiopia lost one of its wonderful sons who played a vital role in causing the national tri-color to fly high over and over again on the international arena. Ethiopians were shocked and saddened by the death Woldemeskel Kostre (PhD), the renowned distance running coach considered by many to be the architect of Ethiopia’s string of gold medals at the Olympics and World Championships from the mid-1980s onwards. Ethiopia owes a debt of gratitude to this coaching legend, who earned numerous accolades during his career including the 2006 IAAF Coaches’ Award. The passing away of the celebrated coach compels us to reflect on how we should treat souls who have done well by their country.
Ethiopia has produced numerous citizens who have duly contributed their share to the country’s cause in various disciplines. Different generations of individuals have done their country proud through exemplary feats in fields of national defense, government service, diplomacy agriculture, health, education, law, construction, commerce, sport, arts, literature, etc. Who is supposed to provide them with the care they require when they age, succumb to illness or become homeless? Many have been forced to undergo hardship and ordeal that eventually resulted in death because the invaluable contribution they have made is rarely if ever remembered when they are alive.
It is only when they become bed-ridden or die that citizens who have discharged their obligation to the nation are remembered. They should be honored when they are alive in order to motivate the youth to emulate their accomplishments. When they are neglected succeeding generations will have nothing to look up to. That is why it is imperative to put in place a legal framework which governs the conferring of recognition and awarding of medals of honor for those who are worthy of receiving them. Though it is a matter of moral obligation to serve one’s country with devotion, it is equally important to develop the culture of recognizing deserving citizens.
If roads, squares, schools, hospitals, stadiums and the like were to be named after individuals who are generally regarded to set a positive example, it would spur the youth to work hard for and passionately defend their country. While it is appropriate to erect statutes for or naming streets after foreigners who have proven to be friends of Ethiopia, it is indefensible to overlook Ethiopians to whom the country owes a debt of gratitude. Naming streets, schools, hospitals and other institutions after Ethiopians who are held in high esteem by the public is gratifying to the recipient of the recognition; it is a way of saying “thank you” to them for the commendable things they did for country and fellow citizens.
Hardworking folks who retire after long years of service in either the public or the private sector also merit recognition. Such acknowledgement need not necessarily be equated with bestowing honor on them. It just requires availing them with libraries, parks and facilities where they can meet other senior citizens, play recreational games and exercise. Most of them lead a miserable existence because they are unable to afford these pursuits on the paltry pension they earn. If the government and the society fail to care for them the rest of their life is bound to be meaningless. Any development plan hence must accord sufficient attention to the needs of these citizens; they have to be treated with respect and dignity.
Generally speaking citizens owe the obligation to serve their country in their chosen field irrespective of age as long they are physically and mentally able to. Though we should be willing to pay the utmost sacrifice for our beloved us in the spirit of President Kennedy’s saying “Ask not what our country has done for you but what you have done for our country”, it is in the national interest to remember citizens to whom the nation owes a debt of gratitude. The youth will be inspired to write their own chapter of history and take Ethiopia to greater heights when the achievements of these citizens is appreciated through various means including, among others, the awarding of medals of honor, dedicating public institutions or infrastructures after them as well as tending to their needs during the twilight of their lives. If, however, we do nothing as a nation when they go hungry, become homeless or suffer from illness, the youth’s moral will be sapped. It is incumbent up on all of us to remember and provide the care that citizens who have done right by their country when they are alive!