Assefa A. Lemu 4-12-19
Introduction: The making of Ethiopia took Emperor Menelik II less than half a century (1866-1913), but making Ethiopian took triple of that time (1866-2019) and not yet fully made. As Mr. Lencho Leta, a veteran Oromo politician, said in early 1990s, being Ethiopian needs negotiation because there is no agreement on who is Ethiopian and what are Ethiopian values. Creating the unity of territories is relatively easier than creating the unity of peoples. To make Ethiopia a better country for its citizens, three major changes had been taken place in Ethiopia: the February 1974 change from Feudal System to Socialism, the May 1991 change from Socialism to Revolutionary Democracy, and the April 2018 change from Revolutionary Democracy to Medemer (addition/coming together). Unfortunately, the questions of who is “Ethiopian” and what are “Ethiopian values” didn’t yet get answers. The disagreements and conflicts that Ethiopia is currently having revolve around these questions.
Below, we will briefly see four “Ethiopias” (Feudal Ethiopia, Socialist Ethiopia, Revolutionary Democratic Ethiopia, and Medemer Ethiopia). Each Ethiopia has passed through serious unfreezes and refreezes that consumed significant resources and time that would have been used for the social and economic development of the country. The architects of these three changes claimed that the purposes of the changes were to make Ethiopia a country that belongs to all its citizens, but in every Ethiopia there are groups who feel that they are marginalized and not treated as Ethiopian. It is true that the three changes expanded the boundaries of economic, social, political, and human rights and brought incremental freedoms. The 1974 change liberated broad masses from serfdom (feudal system) and relatively expanded the economic and political rights of the majority, the 1991 change liberated ethnic groups from cultural domination and expanded their political rights of self-administration, and the 2018 change liberated Ethiopians from brutality and expanded their democratic and human rights.
Feudal Ethiopia (Pre- February 1974)-The pre-1974 Ethiopia was belonged to the feudal lords and the ordinary peoples in Ethiopia were simple subjects of the empire. As indicated under Chapter I Article 1 of the Ethiopian constitution which was given by Emperor Hailesellassie to his subjects on July 16, 1931, all the natives of Ethiopia were subjects of the empire and the supreme power rests in the hands of the Emperor. The preamble of the revised constitution which Emperor Hailesselasie gave to his subjects on November 4, 1955 also says “we granted to our faithful subjects and proclaimed a constitution for the Empire of Ethiopia”.
These days, we hear lots of accusation that the Ethiopian politics is based on blood relationship (ethnic) and even some call it “a DNA politics of Ethiopia”. What these groups overlooked is that Ethiopian politics has been like that for years under successive Ethiopian regimes and this is not a new phenomenon in Ethiopia. For example according to Article 2-4 of the revised Ethiopian constitution of 1955, the Imperial power was limited to the male descendants of King Solomon of Jerusalem and succession to the throne and crown of Ethiopian Empire was based on blood and sex. Therefore, Ethiopia was not a country where any citizen who has the interest and capacity could compete for the top political power in the country. It was a country that excluded those who were not the descendants of King Solomon of Jerusalem and females from top political power.
In addition to giving preference to one group of people, it also gives preference to one language and one religion. According to Article 125 of the 1955 Ethiopian constitution, Amharic was the official language of the Empire and according to Article 126 Ethiopian Orthodox Church was the official church of the Empire. Therefore, the pre-1974 Ethiopia was not Ethiopia of all Ethiopian languages and not Ethiopia of all religions worshiped in in Ethiopia. Until recently, the Department of Ethiopian Language at Addis Ababa University taught only Amharic because they assumed that other languages in Ethiopia were not qualify to be considered as “Ethiopian languages” because their speakers were not considered “true Ethiopians”.
Therefore, in terms of using one’s language (human rights), attaining political power (democratic rights), worshiping, and other factors, the pre-1974 Ethiopia didn’t treat Ethiopian citizens equally and didn’t qualify to be called “Ethiopia of all Ethiopians”. The Ethiopian feudal system didn’t only deny the equality of groups, but also the equality of individuals. Individual human beings were stratified as Chewa (gentle) versus Balege (rude or ordinary person), Getoch (the lord) versus Gebar (serf), and etcetera. As Aaron P. Micheau put it “Imperial policies recognized Amharic culture as Ethiopian culture, and marginalized other cultural expression. Christianity and the Amharic language were other institutions which were transplanted to conquered peoples. Some non-Amharic peoples, particularly Tigrayans and Oromo, were "Amharized" through conversion, intermarriage, and patronage and became part of Abyssinian society”2.
Socialist Ethiopia (February 1974-May 1991) - The contradiction between the masters and the subjects in Ethiopia led to the February Revolution of 1974. The deep rooted structural problems in the political and economic sectors and immediate causes such us student movement , the 1973 famine in northern part of the country , the increase of the price of petroleum because of Arab Israeli War of 1973, and the deterioration of the living conditions of Ethiopian soldiers led to the eruption of the revolution.
The 1974 revolution abolished the feudal system and ended the exploitation of tenants by landlords. Under feudal system of Ethiopia, the norm was that one-third of the products of a tenant was taken by the landowner, one-third was taken by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (sisolekedash), and only one-third remain to the serf ( sisolegebar). In terms of politics, “The Ethiopian revolution was indeed a revolution, and not a revolt or an insurgency: a fundamental social upheaval changing the political order and the basic structures of society, accompanied by new ideologies that reversed the assumptions of established authority, and yielded new leadership elites, with other legitimization strategies”1 . The nationalization of all land in 1975 and the removal of the land-owning class were important measures taken to minimize the gap between the lords and the serfs (GetochenaGebar) to make Ethiopia a country for all Ethiopians. As affirmed under article 2 of the 1987 Ethiopian constitution, Ethiopia was declared to be a country where all nationalities live in equality and where government’s preference for one language was ended and languages of all nationalities were respected; with Amharic being the working language of the government but no more official language of Ethiopia.
The political, economic, and social changes taken under the Socialist Ethiopia were considered insufficient by certain groups and this dissatisfaction added to Derg’s abuse human and democratic rights led to conflicts and resulted in the downfall of Derg in mid-1991.
Ethiopia of Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples (July 1991-March 2018)-Post 1991 Ethiopia is regarded by many as “inclusive Ethiopia”, because the policy of equating Ethiopian culture with only Amharic culture came to an end and the policy of equating Ethiopian culture with the cultures of all ethnic groups in Ethiopia has been started with the adoption of the Transitional Period Charter. The Transitional Period Charter of Ethiopia which was approved on the Conference held from July 1-5,1991, in Addis Ababa, summarized the past political situation of Ethiopia and future direction in its preamble as follows: “... the military dictatorship was, in essence, a continuation of the previous regimes and its demise marks the end of an era of subjugation and oppression thus starting a new chapter in Ethiopian history in which freedom, equal rights and self-determination of all the peoples shall be the governing principles of political, economic and social life and thereby contributing to the welfare of the Ethiopian Peoples and rescuing them from centuries of subjugation and backwardness”. Article Two (c) of the Charter affirmed the rights of nations, nationalities, and peoples for self-determination and their rights to exercise the right to self-determination of independence when they are convinced that their rights are denied, abridged, or abrogated. These rights are also included in the current constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
Even though certain groups think that they lost their dominant positions in Ethiopia, a country which they think created by them, most Ethiopians are happy about the principles of equality introduced in 1991. Unfortunately, the equalities and rights affirmed in the constitution and other laws of the country were not properly implemented and the disappointment on the implementation of the constitutions and other laws led to another unfreezing/wave of resistance and protest which led to the change seen in the country in early 2018.
The Present Ethiopia /Ethiopia of Medemer (From April 2018- September 2020)- Prime Minister Dr. Abiy told us not to forget even for a minute that he is the only Prime Minister until another elected Prime Minister will take office in 2020. Therefore, I assume that he will continue leading the country with his Medemer political philosophy until another elected government will take power in September 2020 or he will be re-elected.
In Ethiopian politics, even after 130 years of being under one central administration, there are groups who consider themselves as “genuine Ethiopians” and trusted and consider others as “ordinary Ethiopians” and not trusted. Regardless of the contribution they made to Ethiopia, their loyalty to Ethiopia, the positions they held in Ethiopia, individuals who are not from the “genuine Ethiopian” groups are always accused of treason. The late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been accused as traitor who vilified Ethiopian flag and Ethiopianism (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrwEy8zE6_M ). The efforts of Prime Minister Dr. Abiy and President of Oromia Mr. Lemma Megersa to show their loyalty, love, and commitment to Ethiopia were not trusted by a group who believe they are the only “genuine Ethiopians” and both were forced to came out more time in the second half March 2019 and reaffirm their loyalty, love,and commitment for Ethiopia. At the press conference held on March 29, 2018, Prime Minister Dr. Abiy declared that he never intentionally committed anything that harm Ethiopia and Ethiopians in his life ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9M_ea4s8R7g). On the meeting held with investors in Oromia held on March 30, 2019, the President of Oromia Mr. Lemma Megersa once again declared that he loves Ethiopia and he is not a traitor (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zCcIiUAS6I ). The volume of propaganda direct against these two leaders to convince the audience that they are not “genuine Ethiopians” is immense. The Amhara dominated medias continued to question about the loyalty of Dr. Abiy and Mr. Lemma to Ethiopia (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qEc0sv6NsY). This reminds me an Oromo adage “kangaraanfirahingoone, adaraanfirahingodhu” which literally means if somebody doesn’t trust you or doesn’t consider you as his relative, your repeated appeal doesn’t make him trust you or to consider you as his relative.
The reason why the loyalty of Meles Zenawi, Abiy Ahmed, and Lemma Megersa to Ethiopia is questioned is simply because they refused to deny their ethnic background like Emperor Hailesellassie I and Colonel Mengistu to assimilate themselves to a group who claims to be the “owners” of Ethiopia and has legitimate right to rule it. These three leaders introduced new definition of Ethiopianism which shook the old thinking from its core.
Ethiopia of the Future (Post September 2020)-It is not possible to correctly predict who out of the 108 political parties in Ethiopia will win the 2020 general election. However, it is possible to categorize these parties into two main groups: Pro-group (ethnic) politics and pro-individual (anti-ethnic) politics (for the difference of these two groups, please see my article titled “Ethnic Politics vs. Citizenship Politics in Ethiopia” available here http://aigaforum.com/article2019/Citizenship-Politics-Vs-Ethinic-Politics-in-Ethiopia.htm ). The winner will be a member of one of these two groups. Therefore, the result of the 2020 Ethiopian election will have huge impact on the future of Ethiopia because it will decide to whom Ethiopia belongs for at least the next five years and how stable and peaceful Ethiopia could be. It will make Ethiopia either a country that belongs to all citizens (our Ethiopia) or Ethiopia that belongs to certain groups (their Ethiopia). This cannot be decided by the mere name of the winner party or to which group it belongs, but by looking into the details of the political, economic, and social program of a winning party.
According to the former Derg Official Dawit Woldegirogis and his likes being Oromo and being Ethiopian are incompatible ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfkENhelWG0 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tq3ZounmT8Q). Therefore, he advised Dr. Abiy Ahmed to renounce his ethnic identity and become Ethiopian through Amharanization or leave government power to somebody else who is either Amhara or already Amharanized or willing to be Amharanized. Like the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the current Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed is accused for not being “genuine Ethiopian” and for not being loyal to “Ethiopian values”. This is a continuation of the old feudal thinking:“Notwithstanding the diversity of Ethiopian society, it is evident that the elite sectors of Ethiopian society have been dominated by Amharas. Additionally, the level to which Amharization has occurred in Ethiopia suggests that ethnicity is more than simple biological, cultural, or historical difference. Ethnicity is a social and political construct. Non-Amharic individuals were often required to speak Amharic, adopt an Amharic name, and for sake their own cultural heritage in order to gain employment and advance socially" 3.
The main problem in Ethiopian politics is refusal to accept diversity and categorizing ethnic groups as “senior/dominant ethnic group” and “junior/subordinate ethnic group”. The recent incident that proved the existence of such senior/dominant-junior/subordinate categorization is the response given from Amhara political leaders to the leader of Ginbot 7, Dr. BerhanuNega who belongs to the Guragie Ethnic group. The Amhara politicians like Mamushet Amare, the Chairman of All Ethiopian Unity Organization, and TesfayeMekonnen from Amhara Identity for Ethiopian Unity Organization said non-Amharas do not qualify to teach Amharas who are senior people about being Ethiopian and advised Dr. Berhanu to better go to Oromia and Southern Ethiopia whom they think are juniors and teach them about being Ethiopian ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZdKWm-7eg4 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVhzwoK-qaA). Similar remark was made by a former Patriot-Ginbot 7 member Zemene Kassie on the Amhara Youth Association Conference held in early April 2019 in Debre Markos, Amhara State, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlpiZiOLyO4).
Without accepting diversity, it is difficult to have common value and without having common value it is difficult to create unity. In this 21st century seeking to create unity using the strategies that were used by France and Italy in 19th century is not a viable option. The assimilation policies were tried in Ethiopia prior 1991 and in Sudan prior 2011 and failed terribly and resulted in breakaway of Eritrea from Ethiopia and South Sudan from Sudan. These breakaways were mainly because of the attempt to impose one’s value on the other through assimilation or homogenization. Few members of “subordinate ethnic groups” renounced their ethnic identity and accepted into the “dominant elite circles” through Amharization and tell us how comfortable they are with the assimilation but that doesn’t mean themajority is happy with the process and support the continuation of assimilation. Ethiopia which belongs to all Ethiopian citizens must be built through inclusiveness and acceptance of diversity not through assimilation which was rejected for the last one century and half.
Regarding the importance of accepting diversity,Indian yogi and author SadhguruJaggiVasudev once said “So now there is an argument going around in certain parts of America, is God a man or a woman? In India, we have no such problems. We have a man God, we have a woman God, we have a cow God, we have an elephant God, we have a monkey, we have a snake, we have flying ones, crawling ones, creeping ones, every kind. Because it’s a very wise culture, we foresaw all the future problems that may arise.” Like India, Ethiopia must acknowledge the existence of diversities of religions, languages, cultures, and values.
Currently, Ethiopia is in a precarious condition. If the presence of diversity is denied and the pulling of the country to different directions continues, Ethiopia may be torn apart once again. Therefore, making Ethiopia inclusive and that accommodates the values of all its peoples necessary.
1. Abbink, Jon. (2015).The Ethiopian Revolution after 40 Years (1974–2014) Plan B in Progress? African Studies Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands, Journal of Developing Societies 31, 3, p.335 (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283186455_The_Ethiopian_Revolution_after_40_Years_1974-2014_Plan_B_in_Progress )
2. Micheau, Aaron P. 1996. The 1991 Transitional Charter of Ethiopia: A New Application of the Self-Determination Principle. Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Volume 28 | Issue 2, p.372 ( https://scholarlycommons.law.case.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1562&context=jil)Back to Front Page