Response to Dr.Negasso’s NED speech on Ethiopia politics. By Teshome M. Borago

By Teshome Borago | Satenaw Columnist

The much anticipated NED presentation in Washington DC by former President Dr. Negasso Gidada gives us a unique perspective on those Ethiopians who support ethnocentric manifesto. Also, hidden inside his heavy retrospection was his interesting endorsement of “Consociational Democracy.” While this new doctrine might not completely solve the decades long deadlock that is in Ethiopian politics, it can potentially bridge some major gaps. I will give a brief analysis on what exactly is “consociational democracy” and give my recommendations.

Before presenting my analysis, I have to mention two concerns. First, for those Ethiopians who saw Dr. Negasso Gidada briefly working with the UDJ opposition party, his speech in favor of ethnic-federalism and Article 39 must be a disappointment. At the same time, I believe it is a dangerous mistake that some Ethiopians (i.e. Dr Daniel Teferra’s response on yesterday) still refuse to accept the existence of diverse ethnic groups and nationalities inside Ethiopia. Whether we like it or not, identity politics and ethnic consciousness exists everywhere in Ethiopia and it is irreversible. Whether we like it or not, the question of nationalities exists and it must be addressed.

It is embarrassing and disturbing how some Ethiopian scholars today still fail to understand such a basic concept that was already understood over 50 years ago by Ethiopian students like Wallelign Mekonnen et all. We can never have a healthy political discourse in Ethiopia if we continue to completely reject the aspirations, the identity and the beliefs of our brothers and sisters of Oromo, Tigrayan, sidama et al descent.

So, what is the “Consociational democracy” recommended by Dr Negasso Gidada?

Consociationalism was originally developed for European countries like Switzerland and Netherlands because incurable political and social divisions threatened the survival of these states, and to avoid endless civil wars. Most political scientists say that a stable democracy works when there is a homogeneous (cultural/identity/linguistic) majority, so it was believed that heterogeneous multi-ethnolingual countries that do not have one majority bloc will always be unsuccessful in establishing real democracy. Thus, the solution to this problem was introduced as “Consociational democracy.”

– “The goals of consociationalism are governmental stability, the survival of power-sharing arrangements, the survival of democracy, and the avoidance of violence. Political scientists define a “consociational state” as a state which has major internal divisions along ethnic, religious, or linguistic lines, with none of the divisions large enough to form a majority group, yet nonetheless manages to remain stable, due to consultation among the elites of each of its major social groups.”

So, is the best solution to Ethiopia’s problems Consociationalism?

In an extremely diverse country like Ethiopia, it is nearly impossible for the same type of democracy to be copy & pasted from the West. We have to adjust, design and develop our own form of democracy. We cannot impose the same type of liberal democracy used in countries that have a homogeneous majority.

Also, in third-world countries where most of the populations are often poor and illiterate, people tend to vote with their emotions over logic. Therefore, a government led by a diverse coalition of educated and moderate political elites (elected by the people) can fix fragmented societies of deeply divided countries. In many ways, consociationalism could be a better fit for Ethiopia.

There are many benefits to consociationalism in Ethiopia. For instance, if one of the purposes of Consociational democracy is “the avoidance of violence,” then Ethiopia qualifies because our country has sufferred decades of bloody civil wars and it is in danger of more wars in the future. Even with Dr. Negasso’s ethnic-federalism approach to cure our internal division, we still witnessed dozens of ethnic violence cases between 1991-2005.

The ethnic violence will be exponentially greater if ethnic groups are allowed to secede or create their own country. The violence will also increase if provincial-federalists take over Ethiopia and overturn the ethnic-federalism structure completely. Therefore, if some form of “Consociational democracy” arrangement can stop Ethiopia from a devastating and endless war, it is worth giving it a chance.

Yet, how do we apply Consociational democracy in Ethiopia?

First, we have to carefully identify the competing major political camps that must come around the negotiating table. According to Dr. Negasso, Ethiopia is faced with two competing camps. According to him, the first camp is made up of secessionist groups like OLF, ONLF, SLF etcetera. And the second camp is made up of anti-ethnic-federalism groups like Ginbot 7, UDJ and Patriot fronts. So according to him, “anti-secession ethnic-federalists” (like EPRDF and OFC/Medrek) are the middle ground. But this is a wrong conclusion. I believe the two polar opposite groups today are ethnic-federalists (it does not matter whether secessionist or not) and provincial-federalists. I believe these are the real two ideological extremities today. If ethnic-federalism and provincial-federalism is the main polar opposite ideologies in Ethiopia, then it is up to us to find a middle ground solution. I believe the best accommodating middle ground position could be a combination of both ethnic-federation system in the rural and a multi-lingual provincial-federation system around urban centers like Adama,Gondar, Addis, Awassa, Dire Dawa etc. But in order to have a consensus about the details, we must have an inclusive conference and a honest dialogue on which form of federalism structure is best for Ethiopia to accommodate all major ideological camps. To have a win-win situation, our elites representing both sides must negotiate.

Are the conditions in Ethiopia today ready for such a vital conference to take place between ethnic-federalists and provincial-federalists?

The short and simple answer is: NO. This all inclusive conference should have happened in 1991 but it didn’t. Today, the ethnic-federalists are empowered and well-represented inside and outside Ethiopia because they control the government (EPRDF) and they dominate the opposition (Medrek, OFC, UEDF, OLF, ONLF, SLF etc). Despite winning the 2005 election, the provincial-federalists (CUD, Ginbot7, UDJ, AEUP) are weakened and they are always victims of EPRDF schemes. For example in 2013, ex-OLF officials changed their outfit and went into Ethiopia under the ODF banner. In contrast, outspoken provincial-federalists are being targetted and chased out of the country. The current system in Ethiopia simply does not permit their existence. The only way to find long-term solution in Ethiopia is, first, by empowering the provincial-federalists like UDJ and Ginbot 7. Unfortunately today, UDJ has been paralyzed by the ruling party bureaucracy while Ginbot 7 is begging Eritrea to survive. The ruling party must know that the voice of millions of Ethiopians who oppose the current ethnic-based federal system should not and will not be stifled forever. Western nations who support the ruling party should also pressure Ethiopia to hold such an inclusive conference. Otherwise, the status quo is unsustainable.

One of the biggest obstacles to negotiations is that Dr Negasso Gidada and many similar people do not exactly understand which sector of the Ethiopian population opposes ethnic federalism. They are misinformed and they don’t trust the Ethiopians who reject ethnic-federalism. So to clarify, i have categorized them into 3 types of opposition to ethnic federalism.

Type1) Patriotic Ethiopian nationalists of any ethnic background who choose to self-identify themselves as
“Ethiopian” first.
Type 2) Mixed “Ethnic Ethiopians” by blood who have no choice but to call themselves Ethiopian because they are
born from two or more ethnic groups ancestry.

Type 3) People who seek to gain advantageous social status and economic benefit via exploitive unitary system.

One of the biggest mistakes made by some Oromo, Tigrayan and other ethnonationists is they ignore type 1 and type 2 as illegitimate; by grouping them all into a type3 blanket. Yes, those Ethiopians who belong to type 3 should never have a place in a future Ethiopia, but those Ethiopians belonging to type 1 & 2 should be given appropriate representation inside the government. Type 1&2 Ethiopians are the same Ethiopians that made the CUD party victorious in Addis Ababa, Adama, Gondar, Awassa and all semi-urban areas of the country during the 2005 national election. The ruling party may have imprisoned their leaders yesterday and today; but their people’s state of mind can never be imprisoned today or forever.

Final Recommendation

For Dr Negasso’s Consociational democracy to be successful in Ethiopia; the power sharing arrangements should not only be between ethnic groups; but also between one ethnic-based groupings, mixed ethnic based groups and non-ethnic based nationalists. The federalism structure should also be designed the same way by providing equality for all groupings.

One of the negatives of the “Consociational democracy” system is that it perpetuates division and institutionalizes political sectarianism. Unfortunately for Ethiopia, tribalism and negative ethnic differences have already been institutionalized over the last 50 years, especially the last 25 years. So it is too late. The only remedy is to balance its negative impact by co-institutionalizing Ethiopianism and providing equal representation to mixed Ethiopians and promote our common shared history. Therefore, I would propose our own unique Ethiopian Consociational democracy. This would be an “integrative and assimilative Consociationalism” toward a common sense of purpose, unity and citizenship to recreate a united states of Ethiopia made up of both ethnic-based states and provincial-based states.


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