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UncategorizedEthiopian internal conflicts: examples of dwindling social capital?

Ethiopian internal conflicts: examples of dwindling social capital?

Parallel to or more than the political causes, absence of strong social capital might cause and aggravate the different conflicts in the country. The social intercourse among people that prompts the society to support one another seems to be weakening, writes Kibrom Berhane.

Both interstate and intrastate/internal conflicts are not peculiar to Ethiopia. Examples of interstate wars/conflicts include the Ethiopia-Somalia war (1964/1974) and the Ethiopia-Eritrea war (1998-2000). In recent years, however, the magnitude and rate of recurrence of intrastate or internal conflicts are increasing.

It seems that since claiming power in 1991, the current Ethiopian government, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), is unable to find durable solutions for cyclical internal conflicts and disappointments. According to Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) report, Ethiopia has been plagued with waves of protests in recent years. Ethnic, religious, border, resource rivalries and political violence are also the types of internal conflicts that commonly erupt in the country.

Most conflicts in Africa are believed to be caused by ethnicity-related issues. In Ethiopia, similarly, some writers comment that the introduction and implementation of ethnic federalism is the main source of violent ethnic and political conflicts. The current government, however, claims that ethnic federalism is in place in order to eliminate entrenched inequalities between nations and nationalities which are inherited from the past regimes (particularly during the imperial government of Haile-Selassie I (1930-1974) and the Derg regime (1975-1991)). Some proponents of federalism similarly argue that it is the best stratagem to accommodate differences in ethnically diversified nations like Ethiopia. But identity issues and socio-cultural differences still ignite fatal conflicts in many parts of the country.

In Ethiopia it is customary that peaceful protests turned into violent conflicts that claim human lives. Ethnic, political, and religious diversity have become main causes of conflicts in the country.

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On the basis of the current context, one can say that Ethiopia is one of conflict prone countries in Africa. Government’s failure to engage in series of dialogues with different stakeholders and protesters as well as the peoples’ intolerance to solve their problems through dialogue might indicate further grievances are imminent.

Following such socio-political and cultural turbulence many writers usually believe that the causes are ultimately emanated from problematic political system of the country. And the argument holds water to a certain extent. The rationale is that the dictatorial nature of the government might exacerbate the conflicts than solving them.

Parallel to or more than the political causes, absence of strong social capital (i.e. the network of relationships among peoples) might, however, cause and aggravate the different conflicts in the country. The social intercourse among people that prompts the society to support one another seems to be weakening. The network of relationships (i.e. the social capital) that enable Ethiopians to function effectively is declining. Thus, the internal conflicts that we face today are partially the outcomes of loose social networks between different ethnic, political and religious groups.

Throughout its history this country had been able to keep the cohesiveness of its different ethnic and religious groups. More than any other identity and despite all differences, the social network created on the basis of being an Ethiopian was the thread that ties them together.

Ethiopians togetherness and heroics in defending their country from foreign aggressors (such as the victory of Adwa over the then Italian aggressors in 1896); long history of peaceful coexistence of its ethnic groups; civility of its citizens and their attitude of respect for others; as well as trust between different religious and ethnic groups have been unique features of being an Ethiopian.

Unfortunately, these days many people, particularly elders, talk in nostalgia about social networks that urge Ethiopians to live together peacefully. They are nostalgic obviously because they observe cohesiveness, civility, cooperation, dialogism, and support to each other – in a nutshell social capital – waning through time.

Contemporarily, one can mention plenty of evidences that might indicate social capital in Ethiopian society is deteriorating. For instance, if the social capital is not depleted, Ethiopians could have bridged the fractious relationships among different ethnic, political and religious groups through dialogue. If the repertoire of social capital is well-kept Ethiopians would have not be passionate to hate each other on the basis of ethnic lines. If the social capital is robust, views and interests of Ethiopians might have not basically been divided by crosscutting cleavages such as religion and ethnicity.

The existing Ethiopian context substantially indicates that there is a bonding capital than social capital.

As Clay Shirky, in his book entitled “Here Comes Everybody: the Power of Organizing without Organization,” states bonding capital “is an increase in the depth of connections and trust within a relatively homogenous groups.” This is a kind of capital one can routinely encounter in contemporary Ethiopia.

People in homogenous groups come closer and solidify their favoritism to their group; thereby, developed (negative) stereotypical thinking about people out of their groups. Agreements and disagreements are seen through glasses of ethnic interests and motivations. This in turn loosens the social intercourse among individuals and/or different ethno-religious groups. The sense of being a community and fellowship seem to be withered.

It seems that the Ethiopian communities plagued with deficiency of cross-cultural integrations. The communities seemingly lack bridging capital – connections among heterogeneous groups.

So, what will be part of the solution?

To stand as a strong nation, apart from the political solutions for the different internal conflicts, Ethiopians might be demanded to foster connections among heterogeneous groups. When Ethiopians glued ethnic-based divisions, they can think about inclusiveness. They might not intend to exclude ‘others’ simply because they have different views from them. They do not need to confine their perspectives within enclaves of their cliques/groups; they rather need to bond themselves with different cliques and to navigate different situations to broaden their horizon.

When bridging capital (i.e. connections among heterogeneous groups) imbedded into routines of socio-cultural lives of Ethiopian communities, it would bring strong social capital/social networks. And if Ethiopians solidify their social capital they would definitely support one another. They become resilient to ethno-religious conflicts. Finally, they can move forward together as Ethiopians.

Ed.’s Note: Kibrom Berhane is a lecturer of Journalism and Communication at Mekele University. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]


Contributed by Kibrom Berhane


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