Friday, April 19, 2024
CommentaryBreaking the shackles of ethnic politics in Ethiopia

Breaking the shackles of ethnic politics in Ethiopia

Ethnic partisanship politics in Ethiopia has shackled the people indiscriminately. This damaging politics, preaching the gospel of “new Ethiopia,” is a dangerous gospel that destabilizes the country, loosens the unity of the people, and only distributes privileges to partisans while hurting non-partisans.

Restricting people within regions with ethnic branding and distorting the past history of Ethiopia to consolidate ethnic politics must stop, and the formation of adaptive administrative structures for Ethiopia must be deliberated upon.

The people of Ethiopia are totally under the tight grip of ethnic politics; shackled so that they can’t move freely between ethnic bounds to live and work freely in their own country. They are compelled to circumscribe their country and themselves narrowly and specifically around purported ethnic origins under the pretext of indigeneity. That works hardly ever in Ethiopia.

Without understanding what it means in terms of Ethiopia, ethnic politicians in Ethiopia are trying to categorize its people by indigeneity criteria. Indigeneity in Ethiopia is erroneously understood as people currently speaking a specific language of the area. At other times, the speaker may be segregated by finer criteria as a native speaker or an alien speaker.

Ethiopia has a diverse population rather than a homogeneous one. In spite of this hard fact, Ethiopians are subject to social arrest and hence are deprived of the freedom of choice to think in the wider context of Ethiopia over and above ethnic shells.

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Ethiopians are shackled with ethnicity by the pressures of ethnic politics, preached by hardliner ethnic politicians, whether poor or rich, illiterate or professor, self-bureaucrat, religious leader or political leader, in the diaspora or at home. As a result, these hard-liners’ narrow ethnic mindset has divided the people into thinking of separate ethnic groups. In Ethiopia, qualifying for a particular ethnic group is mandatory to be recognized and associated as a citizen of the country, thereby enabling one to get government services or deserve one’s civic rights.

Ethnic politics, as unique as it is, is the exclusive means to own enabling instruments of political power to control the resources of the country, grab government offices to offer double standards for specific partisans, distribute wealth among partisans, and deprive non-partisans of the offer. Citizens’ loyalty is expressed through membership in an ethnic party, which serves as a gateway to the rights to available resources necessary for living in Ethiopia as a citizen.

While ethnic partisanship provides maximum personal and group-based gains, its sacrifice in payment in kind, however, demands minimal effort. The return is expressed in one’s explicit determination to not care about Ethiopia or boldly standing against historic Ethiopia to accept the new gospel known among ethnic politicians as “the new Ethiopia.”

This is a source of rift, dividing citizens’ political determinations into two categories: ethnic and non-ethnic; and indigenous and non-indigenous; though the latter does not read the gospel or hardly ever accepts the dichotomy of new Ethiopia and old Ethiopia.

In a biblical context, today’s Ethiopia is Ethiopia of the past, or Ethiopia of the past is Ethiopia of today, an anonymous person noted, refuting the baseless “new Ethiopia” gospel. Notwithstanding, either from sheer ignorance or choice of a lucrative political environment, ethnic politicians refuse to accept this long-held narrative about Ethiopia.

Worse, ethnic politicians recognize Ethiopia to the extent that they make extensive use of its abundant resources, drawn from a small circle of benefactors, as they have been dubbed “rent-seeking politicians.” They are wood weevils that burrow into wood and feed on its constituents, causing it to decompose.

In reply to my article published on the Amharic version of the Ethiopian Reporter on September 14, 2015, E.C., titled “Let’s deliberate on the formation of adaptive administrative structures for Ethiopia,” many individuals, including political figures, replied with strong criticism, advising me to “rethink twice” before advancing such thoughts, which they described as “the old days’ thoughts.”

They said this because it contradicts their “new Ethiopia” fantasy, which condemns historic Ethiopia. Whether it is me and my preferences or those on the other side who must “think twice,” I leave the decision to the power of sound judgment!

At about the same time, I opined on Facebook, criticizing the fake claim on the origins of Geez numerals and the ethnic categorization of the famous patriot, Belay Zeleke, in the new curricula materials developed by the Oromia Region Education Bureau.

This was reinforced by another round of criticism when Jimma University’s president’s office announced, via an official letter dated September 22, 2022, a five-point administrative decision, including suspending module writers from their jobs and referring the case to a law body for violating the university’s academic rules, as reported on Facebook.

The alleged module writers developed course material for the Sociology of Ethiopian Studies, though they were finally held responsible for their work.

Victims of the module’s writing (author and editor) seem to have written based on previous literature accounting for the sociological history of the Oromo society. Despite this, the university highlighted some of the words and phrases on pages 48–49 of the module as provocative statements fueling inter-national conflict. An excerpt from the module text reads:

“During the 1530s, this Muslim force (the Ottoman Turk proxy war led by Gragn or the Lef-handed) nearly succeeded in destroying the Amhara-Tigray state of Christianity. At about the same time, the Oromos were in the midst of a decades-long migration from their homeland in the far southern lowlands. The Oromos moved north through the southern highlands, bypassing the Sidama on the west and into the central highlands, where they settled in the center and west on land that formerly belonged to the Amharas.”

Regardless of the presence of supportive cross-references, the word “migration” was emphasized to declare the writing a “systematized war on Oromo, claiming the land of Oromo.” This is an illegal and futile analysis, not reflecting the true history of the Oromo people, designating the module as “curriculum of the Neftegna,” seemingly an effort to reinvent the wheel of Ethiopian history.

Nevertheless, the above excerpt in the parenthesis is not the writer’s personal opinion or a newly fabricated rumor gathered from taverns. One such piece of literature that corroborates the authenticity of the statement in the excerpt is a book on the 16th century history of Ethiopia, authored by the famous Oromo scholar, Yilma Dheressa, and published by Berhane Selam Printing House in 1959 E.C., just to give an instance.

What is “migration,” which means “moving from place to place”? Our 15th–16th century ancestors, before they transformed their means of livelihoods to settled agrarian societies, were pastoral and trans-pastoral societies, leading a herding lifestyle. Herding, by its nature, demands moving cattle from place to place. As they were getting mixed with other societies, they gradually turned to mixed farming societies and then to settled agrarian societies.

What is the surprise in this historical transition? Pastoral and trans-pastoral societies using this livelihood system as a coping mechanism still exist in our country.

It is unethical to evaluate past history based on current political emotions in order to achieve a desired goal. What an absurdity it is to assign a derogatory connotation to “migration” and declare the writing a “systematized war on Oromo, claiming the land of Oromo.”

Furthermore, referring to the past social history of Ethiopians to obtain a political substrate to deceive people is futile because politics is the objective reality of current sociological problems of existing people.

Politics is unable to find solutions to problems which were known to have existed in the past; only history records them.

The coincidence of the two incidents; my September article and the module case, sparked comments, suggestions, and critics from all sides; either in support of or in opposition to my assertions; instructive or nonsense communication; all insightful in learning about individuals’ internal feelings and the interests they want to fulfill by hitting ethnic politics drums.

Differences in our thinking about Ethiopia stem from personal differences in our perception and the podium from which we speak out about Ethiopia, a respondent said.

I knew ethnic politics was the worst venture in business and thus avoided it from my portfolio. It makes a distinction between people based on language differences and an undetermined place of origin, contradicting a statement made by the respondent, “I am a man who is everywhere but nowhere.”

The contradiction denies the sovereign rights of the people in an effort to distribute wealth based on ethnic politics and partisanship, denying the rights of nonpartisans and so-called aliens to the rights of resources. That was why the EPRDF was often accused of an unfair distribution of resources between national and regional states.

I assert that “all citizens of Ethiopia, men and women, are everywhere but nowhere in Ethiopia,” because it is their own country. No one knows the reality of this assertion better than ethnic politicians per se, with the majority of their lobbyists and activists comfortably living in the West, perpetrating massacres of genuine citizens in Ethiopia.

This is despite the fact that the country was founded and lived by our common ancestors and must be lived together by the present generation and beyond. The means to making the country fairly and equally habitable for all citizens is to make arrangements for democratic institutions and laws to ensure good governance, not to gather evidence of people’s indigeneity.

The FDRE constitution, often publicly dubbed “a paper tiger,” seems to have theoretically answered the problem of the sovereign rights of citizens to live and work everywhere in Ethiopia. Much more is regularly said about this famous constitution-in-disguise from both sides, but all in vain.

When one says, “I am after the people but not the country,” he or she must be careful to ensure that he or she is after the people of Ethiopia as a whole, not after specific ethnic groups with whom one associates oneself to meet a pressing need or escape a pressing force.

If we say we are after the people of Ethiopia, it means we have a common perception of the people in its entirety and have congruent ideas about the people, the country, and its history. How can we harmoniously agree as citizens of the same country and normally operate on the politics of the country while we don’t have common consensus on the history of the country and have equal love for its people?

Above all, the incessant proxy war fought in the north and the regular mass-killing of innocent people in Wollega, Benishangul Gumuz, and elsewhere in Ethiopia, in violation of individual rights and impeding the country’s development progress, is all elicited by ethnic politics sponsored by historic enemies of the country.

Hence, the everlasting demise of people paid to fulfill the political and economic interests of a few organized ethnic groups and their sponsors must end. It is deadly venom to be neutralized. The shackle must be broken soon to free the people of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia will prevail!

(Hussien Adal Mohammed (PhD) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at the College of Natural Sciences at Wollo University.)

[Ed Note: The author’s opinions and views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of The Reporter.]

Contributed by Hussien Adal (PhD)

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