Some months ago a friend had invited me to a birthday ceremony. There had been a fair number of attendees to the ceremony. Just after the lunch program, the social time continues while people grabbing drinks – soft drinks, beer, and ‘Tela’ (the local beer). There had been discussions on many issues. Almost all of the attendees were engrossed to talk about the current situation of their country. Many were concerned about the ethnically motivated attacks, brutal killings, and displacement of citizens.
To my observation, most of the attendees of the ceremony concluded that tribalism is the primary cause of almost all conflicts in the country. They believed that people become hypersensitive about their tribes, and they trust no one but their respective ethnic groups when it comes to their security. Furthermore, what was shocking is that most of the attendees were utterly pessimistic about our future as a nation.
While listening to their discussions, I was deeply concerned about their disappointments and tried to imagine our disillusionments emanated from our ethnicized thinking. It was upsetting to observe citizens’ distress. I was also pained by their frustrations as everyone believes that he/she will be victims of ethnically motivated attacks if they try to travel to other parts of their country.
That circumstance urged me to believe that if Ethiopia had been plagued with an epidemic, probably, it had not been as pervasive as the current tribalism sentiment. This country plunges into the quagmire of ethnicized thinking. It seems that tribalism and the frustration out of it are in the hearts and minds of all groups of Ethiopians – young and old, literate and illiterate, religious and atheist.
But, why this happened?
Why our country which is claimed to be one of the most religious nations (i.e. religions which underline humanity as their adage) on the earth obsessed with tribalism than humanity? Why Ethiopia – the cradle of mankind and civilization failed to solidify humanity as a basic rule of life? Why this nation which is claimed to be the emblem of freedom to all black Africans fail to prove it by being a realm of peaceful coexistence? I think the following points might pinpoint part of the answer(s).
In my view, the primary reason will be un-enlightenment (about the prominence of humanness) permeates our society. We might have millions of educated citizens. The vast majority of our citizens might be followers of religions which are known for their emphasis on helping and loving people unconditionally. Nonetheless, our actions as a society indicate that we are not embracing humanity as an important aspect of our lives. We rather have groups which believe in the ‘purity’ of their lineage by expelling fellow humans from ‘their villages’.
Humanity demands a profound understanding of fairness and altruism. We should have learned these attributes from our schools and families. But we did not. The displacement of citizens in different parts of the country, for instance, signifies that despite our religious and secular schoolings we are not enlightened with the virtue of safeguarding humanness. It seems that we are only superficially taught about the concept of kindness.
In the face of significant progress in religious freedom and an impressive expansion of education, injustice becomes the guiding principle of individuals. Selfishness commands our daily routines. Appallingly, most of us picture human beings only from the perspective of their ethnicity. I think it is a sheer sign of imagination deficiency.
As a society, our social intelligence is diminishing over time. This is probably why most of our arguments accentuate on a mere justice than on the basic human dignity. We often emphasize on how the man-made justice system is the ultimate protector of humanity while we disobey the intrinsic and God-given virtue of helping each other. True justice will be ensured only when we believe that human beings do have inherent dignity. This virtue will also be realized only when we are truly educated about the greatness of the soul.
Secondly, because we fail to create a mutually beneficial social contract which is founded on individuals’ equality and the right to create their own merit-based relationships, we have a hierarchical and a punitive society which does not appreciate individuals to look beyond the commonly set social standards. Such a society might not be open to individuals’ substantive relationships and creativity. And, being short of such kinds of relationships, will open a room for a crowd mentality to thrive. When a crowd mentality reigns, actions of individuals will always be determined by their social environments. Meaning, freewill will be snubbed. Hence, it will be the group, particularly ethnic group that matters most than the humaneness of the individual within the group.
Thirdly, our so-called scholars and politicians are obsessed with declaring the urgency of our social and political problems than investigating indigenous solutions for them. We do not need them to zealously discus about how the Russian federation disintegrates to understand the risks of ethnic-based political arrangements. We do not need excessive comparisons between our current situation and the Balkans or between our ethnic unrests and the genocide case in Rwanda to recognize the threats posed by the recurring social and political conflicts. We rather need solutions that can bring consensus among different conflicting parties.
Our scholars and the so-called politicians do not have the gut to scrutinize the root causes of the challenges we face today as a nation. It is only by exploring indigenous forms of conflict resolution mechanisms (not by reciting the history of Balkanization) we can curb the pervasiveness of ethnicized thinking. If our scholars and politicians uphold reciting their ill-tensioned ‘knowledge’ of how the different regional states might be Balkanized, things will get worse. Therefore, citizens will be more desperate for last gasp solutions than thinking about long-lasting solutions. This also deepens the chaos.
The virtues of our elites cannot be evaluated on the amount of information they have about how nations will fail. Their merits will be judged based on their efforts to bring sustainable solutions for our social, political, and economic woes.
In sum, if we need to focus on human dignity than ethnicity, we have to be enlightened with the prominence of humanness. We should accentuate that humanness is an inherent attribute of every single individual. But, ethnicity is a secondary attribute which will never be comparable to our intrinsic value – human dignity.
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