May 18, 2017
During the Dergue era, it was a taboo to speak about issues concerning the country. It was out of the scope of ordinary citizens to speak about problems concerning the whole country. People were conditioned to learn that it is not in their province to speak about national issues. This mode of thinking was a continuation of the governing philosophy of the empire established by emperor Menelik II. In this philosophy, it is presumed that you are either from the ruling group or you are in the ruled. There is no active citizenship, only rulers and subjects. This is the philosophy that has created a country that became a prison house of the majority of nations and nationalities of the country.
In our current time, it is weird to see young people advocating similar type of abstract unity of the Dergue era type.
The oppressed nations and nationalities have raised arms to fight this tyranny that was threatening to end their existence as people. It is in our recent memory how bitter the armed struggle was. It has taken huge sacrifice to get the government that was guardian of poverty go away.
The version of abstract unity that was preached and practiced by the former regimes seems to be emerging in different forms. This makes one to think and ask ‘Do people (not) learn from history?’ After all the sacrifices made and long after the ideology was defeated in the battlefield, it is tragedy to hear young people espousing similar ideology.
It is right to promote Ethiopianism and be proud of it. But it should not be at the expense of the rights of its constituent nationalities and the concept should not be seen as something abstract and superior to other citizenships of the world. Of course, previously this was done deliberately by the elites of the ruling class to confuse the people and keep them frightened. But to try to continue the same philosophy after all the turbulences we have passed through as people and country, is either to be dull enough not to have gotten the lessons of our recent history or to be fascistic enough not to give value to the lives of the populace.
In the present Ethiopia, all nations and nationalities know their rights and obligations in the Ethiopia Union. Then what is all the new euphoria of ‘Ethiopia’ about? The tone of the expression does not sound healthy. It seems to echo the ‘unity’ the Dergue used to propagate. That unity was a killing ground for the then oppressed nationalities of the country. So if that is the case, then ‘we the people, nations and nationalities’ of the country have to prepare ourselves for yet another historic war to maintain the status quo and prevent ourselves from sliding back to the status quo ante.
I think the right thinking when thinking of our identity is:
- First I’m a human being
- Then I belong to the community I was raised in
- Third I am an Ethiopian
We should not forget that the Ethiopia union is so vast that it is an ongoing process of build up. It is work-in-progress.
Moreover, Ethiopia has far higher responsibility now for the region, in Africa and in the world than it used to have in the previous regimes. Thus the philosophy of the ‘abstract’ unity is just not adequate and not suitable for the new scenario. During the days of the abstract unity, the rulers wanted to live in an abstract world of their own making, a small world separated from reality. In that way they managed to create:
1. An elite with ‘siege’ mentality
2. A country that forgot the world and the world has forgotten her
3. Impoverished majority that were cyclically affected by drought and famine
Furthermore, it is a matter of fact that most regions bordering other countries have their brothers and sisters on the other side of the border like Afar in Ethiopia & Afar in Eritrea. Same is true for Tigrai, Somali, Gambela & Oromo people(to some extent). Therefore, the extremist philosophy of the past regimes does not fit into the political and ideological conditions of our day.
Finally, Ethiopia the country is a legal and historical entity. To try to establish it beyond that as a psychological & emotional entity is to try to establish unwarranted premises that pave the way to ‘siege’ mentality, to instability and destructive conflicts. The effort now should be not to build emotional and touchy society, but rather tolerant, civil, hardworking society with global viewpoints.