The dangerously rising ethnic nationalism in Ethiopia

By: Asress Mulugeta

The dangerously rising ethnic nationalism in Ethiopia 1The Ethiopian constitution that came into force in August 1995 divided the country into nine ethnic-based regional states namely Afar, Amhara, Benishangul Gumuz, Gambela, Harari, Oromia, Somali,  Tigray and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region. The largest ethnic groups in the country are Oromo 35%, Amhara 33%, Somali 6%,  Tigray  5%, Sidama 4%, Gurage 2.5%  and Afar 1.7%. Following the adoption of ethno-lingusited based federalism and strict ethinic  ethnicization policy, ethno-linguistic identity has been has been considered as the key instrument in social mobilization and political party formation in the country. Since the adoption of ethnic-based federalism, the absolute political and economic domination of the minority Tigray has been the reason for discontent of the vast majority of other ethnic groups, namely, the Amhara, Oromo, Somali, Afar, Gurage etc.

The ruling minority, the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), has implemented ethnic based federalism as a divide and rule mechanism with the sinister aim of ensuring its dominance at the expense of all other ethnicities. For the last 26 years, TPLF has been insidiously creating and politically manipulating ethnic tensions and conflicts among the dominant groups in order to fracture potential political alliances that might threaten its political supremacy. The political and economic marginalization coupled with the dividing and hate mongering ideology that has been implemented in the country for the last quarter of a century is the main reason behind the current dangerously growing ethnic nationalism in all regions of Ethiopia. To most of the peoples their ethnic belonging is much more important than their national (state) identity. The situation became extremely tense last three years. Almost all major ethnic groups are aspiring to take over the state or to secede in order to have their state. There is a wide spread opinion that the growing ethnic nationalism is going to plunge the country into a serious crisis.

The Somali of Ogaden support the idea of Greater Somalia and are in favour of seceding from Ethiopia and joining their compatriots in neighbouring Somalia. The Ogaden is a region between Somalia and Ethiopia. The Somalis living in the region have been suffering cruel tortures at the hands of the TPLF forces. The situation is hardly known by the rest of the world because media and AID are not allowed in the region. The stories of massacre are many. Women rape is being used as a war weapon. In the region, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) forces are fighting against the government to defend the regions’s natural resources and to achieve an independent state in Ogaden.

The Afars inhabit Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti in the Horn. The Afars inhabit more than 2/3 of Eritrea’s coastline. The majority of the Afars and the biggest chunk of Afar Triangle are in Ethiopia. Afar nationalists want to incorporate their kinsmen living in Eritrea and Djibouti. Afars in Ethiopa and Eritrea had deep grievances about the undemocratic, repressive rule of their respective governments. Currently, the Afar people in Ethiopia are facing bad governance, human rights violations, unlawful land grabbing, forcible removal and eviction of Afar People from their traditional grazing land. They were driven away from the banks of Awash River which has been the lifeline of the Afar population that depend on it for survival since time immemorial to make place for the sugar plantations and large-scale agricultural projects owned by TPLF and foreign multinational corporations, companies and investors. Economic marginalisation such as monopolizing the Afar salts concessions in Afdera predominantly by Tigrai merchants is one of the reasons that the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front (ARDUF) struggling against the regime.

Over the last several decades, Oromo nationalism has evolved from a quest for self-reliance to seeking regime change to fighting for total liberation. The Oromo nationalists have been fighting against the successive regimes with the aims of realizing inalienable right of the Oromo to decide their own political destiny and ultimately liberating the Oromo people from oppression and exploitation. The Oromos, who make up around a third of the population, have long complained that they have been excluded from the country’s political process and the economic development. The resurgent Oromo nationalism, expressed in the historic Oromo protests of the last two years, was built on a shared Oromo identity and a collective consciousness catalysed by deep grievances against Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) increasing authoritarianism, insatiable rapaciousness and land grabbing at the expense of Oromo farmers. The minority TPLF regime has a history of cracking down on the Oromo people, who represent a majority of the population and a perceived threat to its power. Instead of responding to the long-standing grievances of the people, the TPLF government declared a state of emergency which give the security forces and the army new sweeping powers that permeates all levels of social structures, including individual households. All those heavy-handed approaches of the minority TPLF regime are uniting factors for different Oromo nationalists to organize themselves under strong and dangerous ethnic nationalism, that may directed outward at another groups living the in the region.

In the Amhara region, Amhara nationalism developed in response to the myriad of political, economic and social injustices that Amharas have suffered under the TPLF-led regime.  Over the last couple of decades, Amharas have been singled out for a particularly brutal form of mistreatment. Amhara peasants have been forcefully evicted from their farmlands, and their livelihood completely destroyed. Amharas have been mass murdered in Harar, and in other parts of the country. The population statistics of the Amhara Regional State was deliberately suppressed to attenuate the region’s political and economic influence in the country. On a day to day basis, the TPLF regime has for the last 26 years maligned, harassed and persecuted Amahra intellectuals, business owners, and public figures with a particular zeal and viciousness. To put a stop to these series of political, economic and social injustices, growing number of Amharas are organizing themselves under the umbrella of a strong Amhara nationalism. Many say that the rise of Amhara nationalism maybe the beginning of the end to Ethiopian unity.

In conclusion, the rising ethnic nationalism needs an intervention of the government before it is too late. The ethno-political situation in Ethiopia becomes more and more tense.  The government should look for, a new model of governance that can create a strong and universal civil identity while maintaining cultural diversity of Ethiopians.

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