Ethiopia: Toxic Ethnic Politics and the Looming Crisis

Ethiopia: Toxic Ethnic Politics and the Looming Crisis

By: Nahome M. Freda

Lately the TPLF-led government is lurching from one crisis to another, inflicting hardship, death and destruction to all sectors of the society. Most of it is self-inflicted and the result of a warped ethnic politics imposed forcefully on a diverse country and trumpeted for the last twenty plus years as a cause for celebration even in the face of deteriorating interethnic relations and threatening the countries cohesion. The wanton killings of peaceful Oromo student demonstrators, ethnically motivated displacement of citizens from various parts of the country, the suppression of Muslims’ legitimate demand for religious freedom, the arrest of bloggers, journalists, and opposition politicians and their supporters points to TPLF’s dismal failure in governing a multiethnic and multi-religious country.

TPLF’s ethnic politics has congenital defects that make it incapable of fostering healthy interethnic and interfaith relations. Its mode of governance is inherently bound to create division, cynicism, and suspicion among the various ethnic groups and religions. Even good government policies will be seen with suspicion that they favor this group over that group. Ethnic politics is toxic, creates ethnophobia, and saps positive energy for achieving common objectives. It dewless on what divides rather than unites us. It reduces citizenship to artificially confined ethnic enclaves. It stifles freedom and curtails opportunities for interaction and dialogue. It inhibits creativity and cross-fertilization and free flow of ideas and capital from one part to another. It is expensive as it is bound to create duplicate and parallel systems. It relegates meritocracy and invites nepotism, discrimination, and corruption. Other countries with similar challenges like Ethiopia eschew ethnic politics and address current or legacy issues through other governing modes because they recognize its inherent danger for maintaining peace, cohesion and nationhood. TPLF’s perfidy for ethnic politics and fanning of ethnic venom continues at an accelerated rate (especially after the botched 2007 elections), despite the fact that the destructive effects of its policies is nudging the country to the precipice.

TPLF’s incessant divisionary propaganda, sinister revision of history, and an attempt to blame and exact revenge for real or perceived grievances that took more than a century ago is nothing but a colossal failure to govern and address the many challenges of today and the past in a civilized and contemporary manner. The party had many historical opportunities to change its destructive ethnic politics (including after the death of its architect-in-chief – Melese Zenawi) but it squandered them all due to its demonstrated lack of capacity to love and respect its own people, illusion of power and grandeur, and utter incompetence and contempt for the views of others. How else would you describe a party (and a leader) that shamelessly declares that its distractive policies are not open for dialogue and would be changed only on its death!? This kind of dark mentality shutters the ears for constructive dialogue and engagement and invites the inevitable confrontation and crisis looming over the horizon.

There is ample evidence to suggest interethnic relations are worse today than when TPLF assumed power more than 20 years ago, as, among other indicators, the growing number of evictions of Ethiopians from one part or another and ethnopobic pronouncements of party hacks demonstrate. The increasing episodes of ethnically-motivated measures and the simmering discontent are harbingers of the looming crisis Ethiopians of all ethnicities face. The government has refused to heed these warnings and adopt a more conciliatory tone to defuse the tension. Let us not delude ourselves that economic progress will ameliorate cultivated ethnophobia. The fact on the ground points ethnic relations are deteriorating and any economic gains attained so far could evaporate quickly. The TPLF knows this fact as it has tight control over the country but is wedded to its myopic ideology because of its lust for power. It cares less about others, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence on the negative impacts of its policies on the mosaic fabric of the country. Opposition leaders, religious and traditional leaders, intellectuals, the media, and people of goodwill need to confront head on and address this looming crisis urgently.

The challenge is how you do this in a country that has effectively closed essential public space for dialogue (for example through civil society or free press) and freely tramples people’s rights to express themselves. The recent scattered awaking of the opposition and the populous’ growing confidence to stand up for its rights are promising signs. However, no one party or group has the magic solutions to address legitimate ethnic and religious demands and come-up with a viable alternative system acceptable to the majority. That is why all responsible people need to contribute the pieces to an acceptable solution. It will take years of hard work, tenacity, and quite honestly, lots of prayers to rectify the damages TPLF aggravated so irresponsibly. But the work has to start in earnest and now!


Oromo student injured by police during a peaceful rally held at Wollega University, Ethiopia on April 27. qeerroo.org
Oromo student injured by police during a peaceful rally held at Wollega University, Ethiopia on April 27. qeerroo.org

Opposition parties need to give priority in their political programs for addressing legitimate ethnic grievances and reversing the hatred purposely cultivated for years. They should demand that the government tone down its negative rhetoric and venomous propaganda and instead take confidence-building measures. They should incorporate talking points on the need for defusing conflicts and fostering reconciliation in their diplomatic engagements with donors and supporters of the government. They should seek assistance and learn from the experiences of others on conflict prevention and resolution strategies and on fostering interethnic dialogue and trust. Outside groups should lobby donor nations and organizations to put pressure on the government to revisit its destructive ethnic politics. Religious leaders and elders should use their bully pulpits to preach the virtues of forgiveness and co-existence. They should employ lessons from their Ethio-Eritrea reconciliation efforts and assist political parties create a multi-ethnic platform for developing solutions. Intellectuals should actively pursue inquiry on the impacts of ethnic politics and alternatives. They need to develop the rational for reconciliation and craft homegrown governing models and strategies applicable to the Ethiopian context. Elders should use their influence and impress upon the young on the need to build bridges and reach out to compatriots across ethnic boundaries. Writers and artists should use their work to trumpet the virtues of forgiveness and the beauties of diversity and interethnic solidarity. The media should counter the TPLF’s propaganda by giving forum for alternative voices and through programs that foster interethnic and interfaith relations. It is time for people of goodwill from all walks of life to close ranks and reverse the looming crisis!

Long Live Freedom and Diversity!

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