The fact that Ethiopia is presently ruled by representatives of a minority nationality may puzzle, surprise, or aggrieve any reasonable Ethiopian. But a closer look and attentive examination of the events of the past 26 years would reveal that the situation we are living and enduring today, and what may most likely be unfolding in the no so distant future should neither puzzle or surprise us; though it may never cease to aggrieve us.
That the TPLF and its creation, the EPRDF, have been able to maintain power for such a long time should not be attributed to their preternatural ability to govern, their military prowess, or political savvy, or much less to their superior intelligence. They are here today, ever more tyrannical, cynical, and violent because they have been able to identify from the outset the inherent weaknesses of the country: and that is, its history, culture, politics and internal dynamics.
When they came to power, Mengistu Hailemariam and his regime had left a country which was not only impoverished, but was war-ravaged, wounded to its core, and completely demoralized. This was not a people that rose up to chase away a tyrant or rid itself of a regime, it was a country that was abandoned by a tyrant to its own device, and basically handed over to an armed guerilla group of questionable intentions and unproven record. Even though the people welcomed the demise of the Derg, they were less than enthusiastic in their reception of the rag-tag, ill-clad and rather uncouth and rough guerilla army. In retrospective, their uneasy and circumspect reception was more than justified.
Thanks to Mengistu’s murderous regime, the Ethiopian people had grown not only demoralized, but also deeply unsure of the soundness of their moral core: they had seen the depth of the depravity perpetrated by their own people during the Terror years, and they had come to question their belief in their capacity for compassion, their claim to trustworthiness and their commitment to their country as a whole. There was a sense that any regime could not be worse than the one they lived through. And if the current regime prides itself in being better or superior to its predecessor it would be setting itself the very lowest bar.
Even though the Derg, in clear contrast to the imperial regime, has addressed the question of nationalities, it never succeeded in framing it properly or much less resolving it. It simply acknowledged its existence without proposing serious or viable alternative to the status quo. Indeed it was ill-equipped to address the question while it was waging war against all the ethnic-based liberation fronts. It could have opted for political and legal solutions, but instead it chose force over reason.
When the TPLF marched into the Capital, its leadership was very well aware of the emotional and mental state of the people. But it went about to exploit it for its own political ends. It did not seek to re-assure people through a reconciliation process, but set about to immediately emphasize their differences and mutual grievances. It even revived old rancor and hostilities. Its objective was to have a divided and dis-united nation to easily manipulate and rule. The ruse has worked wondrously for 26 years. But now it is becoming undone at the seams, and the TPLF is scrambling to hold its artificial coalition and its power by making recourse to unprecedented violence.
Anyone with a modicum of intelligence knows that if the two major ethnic groups of Ethiopia, the Oromos and the Amharas – who together constitute nearly 60% of Ethiopia’s population, and likewise occupy nearly 60% of the habitable land – decided to put aside their old rancor and recriminations, and negotiated the terms of their co-existence, this current regime would collapse like a house of cards. The nationalities question in Ethiopia is simply the question of Oromo-Amhara co-existence. And I say this with no disrespect or malice intended towards minority nationalities of Ethiopia. On the contrary, it is out of concern for them that I propose an Oromo-Amhara terms of peaceful co-existence. Their status as members of the Ethiopian Nation will be far better established and served under such terms than under the current regime, which, it should be repeated, designed the current ethnic federalism out of expediency than genuine desire to validate their status.
When these two major ethnic groups hammer out the terms of their peaceful co-existence, Ethiopia will finally gain a more solid lease on life, a more stable polity and the best antidote against a possible balkanization of the region. The TPLF regime has shown time and again that it rather see the dismemberment of Ethiopia, than surrender power peacefully. I would rather fight and scramble to preserve the unfair advantages, the ill-gotten gains, and undeserved power of its ethnic base than surrender power to the majority of the people. But as history has shown, no minority government lasts for very long. It always starts with an expiration date written all over it. And that date is fast approaching for the TPLF and the EPRDF.
What Ethiopia needs is not an ethnic federation with uncertain rights and privileges, or duties and obligations. She does not need a tapestry of national states with questionable territories and authority. True, Ethiopia is still, as one eminent scholar put it once, “a mosaic of peoples”. But this should not imply that we should curve out of her as many killils as there are nationalities. Ethnic federalism has proven an utter disaster as implemented by the TPLF: I need no conformation than to refer to what happened in the past two years. It is clear that we need to re-configure and re-think Ethiopia differently, and on much solid basis.
For a more permanent, peaceful and prosperous Ethiopia, we need to bring at the center of our political discourse and vision what has been and remained the big elephant in the room, the fundamental cause of TPLF’s continued hold on Ethiopia, and Ethiopians constant frustration. I am referring of course to the simmering, and yet deceitfully calm, anger and hostility that has defined the relation of our two major ethnic groups. As long as it continues TPLF can ensure its permanence in power for the foreseeable future. Only the proper and peaceful resolution of this anger and mutual suspicion can bring Ethiopia a sigh of relief and the prospect of a bright future.
Oromos and Amharas must come together to resolve their century old issues. They do not need any government, or any arbiter, to establish the platform of their negotiation, they can do it themselves, anywhere and at a time of their choosing. They can select their wisest members and their most respected intellectuals (but not their vociferous provocateurs and agitators) to represent them at the negotiation table to hammer out the outlines of a new Ethiopia.
A return to the pre-revolutionary Ethiopia, or the maintenance of the status quo with some modification is neither feasible nor desirable. Ethiopia will be best served when her two largest nationalities take center-stage in her governance. It is not a wild idea to envision an Ethiopia where Oromiffa and Amharic will have equal status, where they will be used side by side for all matters concerning government, commerce, education, etc… Where everyone in the realm will be required to learn one of these languages besides one’s own. This is in no way to denigrate the status of minority nationalities. On the contrary it is to provide them with safeguards against abuse by a regime such as the one we have now. In truth their rights and privileges will be better protected and served when the source of power is based on a dual majority coalition.
What I cannot imagine is the creation of several states out of what has been for nearly a century a viable country. What I firmly believe is Ethiopia’s fragmentation benefits no one, but harms everyone. No one nationality has the human and land resources in Ethiopia to survive adequately, let alone prosper. For us Ethiopians, unity is not a matter of sentimental wish, but a dire necessity. Indeed, our potential has been seriously curtailed by Eritrea’s departure from our union thanks again to TPLF’s misguided and short-sighted deal.
The name “Ethiopia” would be meaningless in reality if her two major nationalities claimed independence and self-government. The name Ethiopia is a shared name, no one ethnicity has a particular claim to it. It should not be contraposed to Oromia or any other nationality. If we hark back to its Greek etymology, it means simply [people] of “burnt face”, meaning of darker complexion. And no one ethnicity can arrogate to itself alone such an appellation. We can all claim it: Oromos, Amharas, Tigreans, Gurages, Somalies, etc…. (And even Eritreans!!). Thus it should not and cannot be used as a term of division or separation.
We don’t have much time to deliberate any further. The winds of unrest is already at our doors. It would be criminally irresponsible for our elders and intellectuals to sit and watch what could be the worst tragedy Ethiopia has witnessed in a generation. The choice is all ours: what will we tell the next generation? That we tried nothing but stood by quietly?