What is patriotism? To me, it is a genuine love for, caring, and understanding of country, and a willingness to sacrifice for, be appreciative of, and thankful for our nation and fellow citizens.
Patriotism is not wrapping oneself in a flag, nor walking around with a gun or a blade, but being responsible for your family, your community and nation, in short, helping your country do better.
As Ethiopia faces a growing ethnic divide, political and economic split, we need to find ways to inspire our young people to realize social acceptance, ethnic tolerance, conciliation, cultural appreciation and cultural adaptation through some sort of national service, if not in the military, then in a national volunteer organization to provide services to poor people, the elderly and disaster victims.
Of course, young Ethiopians themselves would also benefit from such national service. How then does a democracy cultivate civic responsibility and shared identity? With taxes governments can fund common purposes, but it does not provide common experiences. A practice in which young people rich and poor, men and women, of every ethnic background work side by side to address public problems would create, at least, a vivid, lifelong memory of shared national purpose.
Now, we shouldn’t introduce a national service just because it’s a ‘nice’ thing to do, but rather because it can be a means to strengthen the ties that bind us as a nation; and because it can create bridges across groups in our society that have little to do with each other on any given day, and because it can be a pathway to a stronger sense of citizenship. Plus, the idea of introducing a national service will not only help the country how to solve public problems but also appreciate what we owe our country and each other. In fact it may provide the common ground that seems to have gone missing in Ethiopia for some time now.
Meanwhile, with economic times tough, especially among the young, the idea of a national service can be very attractive. There are a lot of kids who would join in to work on a program, say, of Greening Ethiopia. The fundamental evidence for national service is built on cost-benefit analysis, and studies show that the economic value of national service far exceeds its costs. This conclusion is valid for participants, for taxpayers, and for society at large.
I believe this is an idea worth exploring which can contribute to furthering our nation’s and our young people’s interests.
Call for Mandatory National Service NOW!