Then and Now: A Rejoinder to my Critics – By Messay Kebede  

Prof.  Messay Kebede

In the last article I posted, titled “Unity Overrides Everything,” I urged the Amhara to join the ongoing Oromo protests even if their reluctance is understandable in the face of the protests being confined to ethnic issues. Some of my readers did not like my appeal, arguing that the protests did not assume a national content and were anything but inclusive. In the many emails I received, the absence of references to Ethiopia and Ethiopian people was cited as the main reason that prevented and still prevents the Amhara from closing ranks with the Oromo.

Such an objection is for me quite disturbing. The most important complaint of the Oromo is that the Ethiopian discourse has always marginalized their contribution and identity in favor of a unilateral assimilation that favored Amhara and Tigreans. The demand that Oromo protesters turn their issues into a national or Ethiopian cause seems to repeat the past practice. Following the inescapable reality of the political fragmentation of the country, the Oromo rose up for their own cause, sacrificed their life, and now they are told that they should transfer their heroic deeds to the larger Ethiopian entity even though that entity remained aloof! I want to remind that most of the young Oromo protesters have no idea of Ethiopia as a unitary nation: as the established political system forces them to do, they see Ethiopia as a collection of different nations. Just as Kenyans are not expected to fight for Ethiopians, so too it is not surprising if the Oromo present their demands in terms of Oromo concerns.

The request to append the label “Ethiopia” to the protests is an invitation to commit historical robbery; more importantly, it forgets that Oromo courageous fight against the TPLF machine is how they rehabilitate themselves and become makers of their own history and, through them, of the history of Ethiopia. Clearly, such a request lacks fairness, to say the least. Who would blame the Amhara if they turn their protest against the ceding of tracts of land in Gondar to Sudan into an Amhara issue? Instead, what they should worry about in case protests break out is whether the Oromo will show the same solidarity as the Amhara have displayed to the Oromo. As the Amharic saying goes, the game is ነግ በኔ”.

Those who expect the Oromo to rebel by assuming the Ethiopian identity forget that the notion of Ethiopia as a unitary nation has receded since the TPLF and the EPLF defeated the Derg and the former implemented the system of ethnic federalism. The fight for a unitary nation should have been waged while the TPLF was battling the Derg. It is now too late and there is no going back. Going back would mean war and, if the Ethiopian state survives, the cost would be the institution of another dictatorial system. How else, if not by blood and fire, would you impose unity after two decades of unrestricted ethnicization?

My unhappy readers seem to be sulking like a child moping in a corner after his wish has been denied. You do not present conditions when people rise and fight an oppressor that also happens to be your own oppressor. You join the fight and only then can you make the issue of unity a common cause. Those who simply watch cannot present conditions to people being beaten, killed, and imprisoned. To make your support conditional is to forget that you are also chained, beaten, killed, and imprisoned by the same oppressor. I find it strange, I repeat, that the sharing of the same fate with the Oromo does not trigger the sense of solidarity.

Nor do I understand how those who rightly claim to be the creators of modern Ethiopia, namely, Amhara elites––of course, in partnership with the Oromo, as evinced by the prominent role of Ras Gobena and other Oromo leaders, to remind those who would be tempted to forget it––do not come to the forefront of the fight for Ethiopia instead of making their intervention conditional on the acceptance of their demands. To pose conditions eliminates the unconditional commitment to Ethiopia, which is precisely what they accuse the Oromo of lacking. If you want an unconditional commitment to Ethiopia, then begin by showing your own unrestricted dedication by joining the Oromo despite the missing Ethiopianism, for only thus you can win them over.

To present condition is also to endorse the divided-and-rule police of the TPLF. Indeed, in being bystanders in this trying and crucial moment for the Oromo, what message are we sending to them? Are we not telling them that their cause and their atrocious mistreatment are not of our concern? How would they feel Ethiopian when those who claim to be Ethiopian turn their back on them? This is to say that the Oromo uprising gives us the unique opportunity both to defeat the TPLF and forge a new unity by our struggle against the common oppressor. Let us remake Ethiopia, this time through the concrete solidarity and unity of the oppressed!

 

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you very much Prof. Messay Kebede.

    Your opinion is not only explicitly present the truth, but also indicate the way forward for our people. At this critical time we need peoples like you not individual dreaming the return of old empirical reign or the keeping of the current status quo.

    What do we call G7 leader, the one who gave lip service for Oromo protesters in his introductory part of his speech and mercilessly told us that “Shouting only destroyed Jericho” in his summary speech. How on the earth, our be loved brave school children’s blood equated to shouting. Ethiopia can only be saved by peoples like you, who can speak the truth and device solution for the future based on facts, not by liars, attention seekers, fact deniers, etc..

    How long it takes, at the end justice will prevail, truth will prevail!

  2. Prof. Messay Kebede said:

    „Those who expect the Oromo to rebel by assuming the Ethiopian identity forget that the notion of Ethiopia as a unitary nation has receded since the TPLF and the EPLF defeated the Derg and the former implemented the system of ethnic federalism. The fight for a unitary nation should have been waged while the TPLF was battling the Derg. It is now too late and there is no going back. Going back would mean war and, if the Ethiopian state survives, the cost would be the institution of another dictatorial system. How else, if not by blood and fire, would you impose unity after two decades of unrestricted ethnicization?“

    Both policy-makers and scholars have turned their attention to federalism (decentralized Governance) as a means for managing conflict between central governments and national groups as well as conflict among national groups themselves. Both the theoretical literature and the empirical track record of federations point to federalism’s ability to manage conflicts of ethnic diversity and preserve peace. More particularly, multi-national federalism has considerable, albeit critical support, among contemporary academics. Multi-national federalism is the sure way to peace and development in Ethiopia, as it is the only way to manage the Ethiopian ethnic diversity peacefully, democratically and respectfully.

    Given its history of gross and systematic group domination and discrimination (ethnic, religious, linguistic, cultural, etc.), the adoption of a multi-national federation is not a luxury that Ethiopia can afford but a necessity. The adoption of a multi-national federation was necessitated by the urgency and intensity of the need to address the claims of the country’s ethnic groups of historic discrimination and inequality, and to build a multi-national democracy. The multi-national nature of the new Ethiopian federation can be gathered from the following three sites.

    • First, the 1995 Federal constitution vests sovereign powers with the nations, nationalities, and peoples of the country (Article 8).
    • Second, the Federal constitution entitles the nations, nationalities, and peoples the right to self-determination including and up to secession (Article 39).
    • Third, all Ethiopia’s nations, nationalities, and peoples have equal representation in the House of Federation (HoF), which is vested with the ultimate power to interpret the constitution (Article 39 cum 61-62).

    Federalism is a system of government in which a written constitution divides power between a central federal government and regional governments. Both types of government are supreme within their proper sphere of authority. Both have to consent or agree to any changes to the constitution. Furthermore, federalism is a concrete manifestation of the right to internal self-determination regarding self-rule and shared rule of specific communities in a multi-ethnic or multi-national state. A federation, on the other hand, is a polity in which decision-making power is divided between central (federal) and regional governments.

    Advocates of multi-national federations seek to unite people who seek the advantages of a common political unit, but differ markedly in descent, language and culture. Multi-national federations involve the maintenance of two or more nations, and reject the strongly integrationist and assimilationist dispositions of national (mono-national) federalists. Multi-national federalists believe that it is possible for the citizens of such federations to have dual or multiple loyalties, e.g. a patriotic attachment to the federation and a nationalist attachment to their regional homeland. They believe it is wrong to assume a priori either that multi-national federations will lead to the abuse of the rights, interests and identities of regional minorities, or that they will necessarily make secessionists victorious.

    The major limitation on the well functioning of Ethiopia’s federal system is the one party dominance that has been in place since the adoption of the Federal constitution in 1994, though EPRDF has been in power since 1991. The problem is not that a single party has been
    commanding a majority seat in parliament, but that the party strictly adheres to ‘democratic centralism’, a principle which is diametrically opposed to political pluralism. There’s lack of political pluralism, because the public space has been dominated by EPRDF which is a coalition of four ethnic-based political parties and ot her affiliated non-member parties that are subservient to the Tigrean Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF). Therefore, what held the Ethiopian multi-ethnic federation together is coercion, as with the case with most pseudo-federations, rather than consent of the country’s various ethnic groups. Ethiopia lacks multi-party democracy. This last fact alone meant that there is no possibility of dialogue or co-operation among the different ethnic groups.

    If the current federal arrangement has to successfully hold the diverse ethnic groups together (or put negatively, to survive a violent breaking apart), the ruling party has to discard ‘centralisation of authority’ in favour of political pluralism as it is detrimental to its endeavor of building a genuine multi-national democracy in Ethiopia.

    The success of Ethiopia’s experiment with multi-national federalism depends on the ruling party’s willingness and ability to disengage itself from centralisation of authority, extend and consolidate the democratization process, reduce poverty, ensure a sustained economic growth rate, and expand educational coverage.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here