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The main contradiction in Ethiopia

The main contradiction in Ethiopia

Tesfay Atsbeha 09-02-20

 The murder of the famous Ethiopian Oromo musician, Hachalu Hundessa on 29 June 2020 and the killings as well as the destruction of properties following the death of Hachalu should be condemned in the strongest terms.

The opposition against the EPRDF (Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front) was transformed in to an opposition against the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) due to the fact that the Amhara and Oromo member organizations of the EPRDF sided with the opposition. The removal of the dominance of the TPLF from the federal government was justifiable and the TPLF peacefully accepted its demotion despite the fact that it had a dominant position in the leadership of the army and the security apparatus.

In the course of the opposition to remove the TPLF from federal power, many Ethiopians were glad when Abiy Ahmed became the prime minister of Ethiopia. The removal of the TPLF, not the coming to power of Abiy per se, was the decisive factor even for President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea to be delighted. Isaias said: “game over Weyane (TPLF)” and suddenly became willing to talk about peace with Abiy, after having refused for many years to talk on peace with Hailemariam, the predecessor of Abiy.

Now, the Oromo protesters are claiming that Abiy is erecting a Neftegna system, a system of armed warriors who subjugated the Oromo and other people of southern Ethiopia, warriors who took the land and turned the people to serfs. Although it is based on historical facts, the use of the adjective “Neftegna” can aggravate the contradiction.

Furthermore, the protesters are expressing their fear that their gains of regional autonomy will be reversed, although the prime minister is an Oromo. The protesters are associating the feared reversal of the current self administration with the Neftegna system. The protesters are also alleging that Abiy is behind the assassination of Hachalu Hundessa, while the government is pointing fingers at other alleged perpetrators. The protesters are accusing the government of abusing the murder as a pretext to imprison more than 9000 people, including the members and leadership of most of the main opposition parties.

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There is a repetition of murders of prominent individuals, mob killings and displacements of innocent people since Abiy came to Power and there is an atmosphere of distrust and uncertainty. The security of citizens particularly in the Oromo and Amhara regions is not guaranteed as the political leaders of the regions seem to tacitly allow some citizens to be attacked due to their ethnic background. The administrative organs and security forces are not fulfilling their duty of ensuring the safety of peaceful people

The mode of communication within the governing political elite, including the prime minister is extremely rough. Some members of the governing elite are engaged in the dissemination of expressions of incitement against their compatriots and they disregard every form of political correctness. The media is following suit. The hate speeches of the political leaders are the most dangerous to peaceful co-existence because the government officials control the media and reach a large audience. This behavior of the elite is certainly one of the major reasons why mob killings, which were traditionally unheard of in Ethiopia, are taking place. The elite should stop its war of words to help stop the mob killings.

The neutral expert on Ethiopia, René Lefort in his article: “Preaching unity but flying solo, Abiy’s ambition may stall Ethiopia’s transition” posted on 25 February 2020 writes: “In many, if not most parts of Ethiopia, except in Tigray region, the mengist—together the authority, the power exemplified in governance, in the state apparatus and civil servants—has vanished.”

The mass imprisonments and disproportionate use of force by the Ethiopian government can only aggravate the unstable situation. Since the Ethiopian state machinery at the federal level is under the control of the prime minister and his Prosperity Party, it is difficult to expect the justice system to be neutral. Therefore, an independent enquiry commission or a commission whose members are acceptable to the major opposition parties should be deployed to investigate the series of murders.

In connection with the unrest in Ethiopia after the murder of Hachalu, Prince Dr. AsfaWossen in his interview with the magazine of the Ethiopian German society said: “The origin of all evil in Ethiopia is the racist constitution we got in 1995.” And added: “It makes me incredibly sad that this country of all countries should be the only in Africa with an apartheid constitution.”

The assertion of the prince is incorrect, a trivialization of the Apartheid system, a demonization of those Ethiopians who struggle for the self rule of their respective nations/nationalities and above all else a hate speech against Ethiopians who demand the implementation of self rule. The perception of the prince is in fact supported by Ethiopians who want to reverse the rights of self rule recognized by the current constitution.

Article 39.10 of the current Ethiopian constitution states: “A “Nation, Nationality or people for the purpose of this constitution, is a group of people who have or share a large measure of a common culture or similar customs, mutual intelligibility of language, belief in a common or related identities, a common psychological make-up, and who inhabit an identifiable, predominantly contiguous territory. “

According to Article 32.1 of the constitution on freedom of movement: “Any Ethiopian or foreign national lawfully in Ethiopia has, within the national territory, the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence, as well as the freedom to leave the country at any time he wishes to.”

Therefore, it is the mere formation of administrative entities, on the basis of the article mentioned above which the prince is portraying as an Apartheid system. There was racial stratification in South Africa which put whites first, followed by Asians and then the so called colored at the third level downwards, while blacks who made up the majority were relegated to the bottom of the ladder in their own country. Such a racial stratification has neither been written nor can it be implemented in Ethiopia because Ethiopians are of the same race and there is no party which promotes stratification.  

The prince cannot find any clause in the Ethiopian constitution according to which people were barred participation in church and state as was the case in the constitution of Transvaal. He can neither find anything like the prohibition of mixed marriages Act of 1949 nor the immorality Amendment Act of 1950, nor the population Registration Act of 1950 according to which the Apartheid system classified South Africans.

According to official information (e.g. interview of the former speaker of the House Federation, Keriya Ibrahim with Awlo Media in Mid August 2020), there are 76 nations and nationalities recognized by the Ethiopian parliament. The total population of the Oromo and Amhara according to the census of 2007 (Wikipedia in English) is together more than 62% of the whole population of the country. Adding the populations of Somali and Tigray raises the percentage to more than 73%; and with the inclusion of six more nations and nationalities, about 87.4% of the population of Ethiopia is included.

About 10 nations and nationalities are peacefully struggling to establish their own regional states within Ethiopia, but their leaders like those of the Welayta were being victimized by the government for raising this demand after the murder of Hachalu Hundessa, as if the unrest has to be extended.

The prince has every right to rationally oppose the demand of the people and their respective elites for self rule. But the fact that he is insinuating that the authors of the constitution and millions of their supporters are racists, is wrong. The most recent administrative region in Ethiopia is the Sidama regional state which is the 10th regional state. More than 98% of the Sidama people voted in favor of the establishment of their regional state in a referendum. This decision of the Sidamas is a democratic decision for self rule and not a vote for the introduction or continuation of a system of Apartheid.

The struggle for the self rule of the nations and nationalities is a continuation of a series of changes since 1974 in Ethiopia. Firstly, the feudal system along with the monarchy was abolished following the revolution, when the land reform which denied the feudal lords the material basis for the oppression and exploitation of the people was implemented. Secondly, the military regime deviated from the practice of imposing the education of only one language for all Ethiopians and started giving people basic education in several mother tongues.

The main contradiction within the active members of the Ethiopian elite now is between the proponents of the self rule of the nations and nationalities on the one hand and the opponents, who want the self rule not to be based on ethnicity, on the other. Both groups formally accept a federal system of government which is a form of the unity of Ethiopia, but the groups have antagonistic positions on the nature of the entities of the federal structure.

While the first group accuses the second group of wanting to impose its decision on the nations and nationalities as was historically the case in Ethiopia; the second group accuses the first group of wanting the disintegration of Ethiopia. The unrest, anarchy, assassinations, road blocks and robberies in the Amhara and Oromo regions are closely connected with the main contradiction of the two groups. In this sense, the contradiction, however it may be veiled, is of a national or of an ethnic nature.

If the groups can tolerate each other and accept a democratic decision, the conflict can be resolved peacefully, by a referendum. It is necessary to draw a lesson from the war for the independence of Eritrea against Ethiopia to deal with the demands of self determination of the nations and nationalities of Ethiopia. When Eritrea was denied the federal status and made a province of Ethiopia, the Eritreans started an armed struggle for independence in 1961 and Eritrea became an independent state in 1991 (formally in 1993 after the referendum). The Eritreans have many things in common with the Ethiopians, like ethnicity, language, culture, history, religion, intermarriage etc. but the undemocratic attitude and rule of the Ethiopian ruling classes forced them to get rid of the latter.

There were more than 10 Liberation Fronts, when the EPRDF took over power after removing the military regime in 1991. Some of the fronts were struggling for the secession of their respective nationalities. The present constitution is the product of the rejection of both the unitary state and secession. Therefore, the Ethiopian Liberation Fronts, unlike the Eritreans, agreed on unity in diversity.

Keeping Ethiopia intact by ensuring the right of nations and nationalities to self determination is one of the spirits of the constitution. It is like the code civil of the 19th century for many Ethiopians including the Oromo, and the OLF (Oromo Liberation Front) was one of the main protagonists in restructuring the country’s administrative regions and formulating the charter which led to the present constitution.

The regions have been curved mainly, but not only on the basis of language or ethnic belongingness. The regions have at least theoretically or legally achieved self administration while they are also practically using their own languages for administrative, parliamentary and court activities as well as education.

It is a matter of self rule and shared rule, but while this is the beginning of an achievement there isn’t yet a democratic system in Ethiopia. The multi-party system is still fake. All power is practically in the hands of a single person of the executive branch; irrespective of the content of the constitution: The country is fragile.

Prince Asfa-Wossen is demonizing the present Ethiopian federal system and structure by portraying it as apartheid. He and his cohorts do not seem to have taken a lesson from the secession of Eritrea and from the fact that the regional state of the southern nations, nationalities and peoples in which 56 notations and nationalities were lumped together is falling apart. The Zeitgeist for self rule is unlikely to be abolished and the attempts of suppressing self rule are causing unnecessary sacrifices. The opponents of self rule in Ethiopia in its present form have not come up with any concrete and feasible alternative except their angry campaign to abolish the current administrative regions.

The opponents of the present federal system in Ethiopia try to create the impression that they want the equality of all Ethiopians. This impression is far from the truth. In Fact, these haters of self rule even went as far as disseminating a call for genocide against the people of Tigray, by arguing that one has to get rid of the water (the people) in order to get rid of the spoiled fish (the TPLF). The call for Genocide is the worst crime that can ever be committed at least in words and the fact that none of those who actively denounce the constitution opposed the call for genocide has to be taken very seriously. It is therefore those who demonize the current federal system as Apartheid who go beyond Apartheid by calling for genocide.

In the final analysis, there is no healthy alternative to dialogue amongst all Ethiopian stakeholders.

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