Nation, Nationalities day: A Covenant Renewal Occasion


Nation, Nationalities day: A Covenant Renewal Occasion

Nation, Nationalities day: A Covenant Renewal Occasion

(Teferi Haile 12-11-14)

The 9th Ethiopian Nation Nationalities and Peoples Day was colorfully celebrated on December 8 in Assosa  city of the Benishangul Gumuz Region. The relevance of celebrating the day in Benishangul is that while the Regional State is a fertile and promising section of the country, the people of this region have for long been  victims of widespread national oppression.

Furthermore,  related to low-level people-to-people contact the  people  have struggled hard and paid a lot of sacrifices to maintain  their Ethiopian identity. On the other hand, because the  previous rulers used to look at the region as less worthy, and because of the interference of outside forces, the people  were  forced  to  look  away.

The  last  twenty  years  have  created better and conducive situations for the people to  develop full confidence in their Ethiopian identity. In this  context, celebrating the day in the region eliminates any  remaining obstacles.

Politically, it improves the  attitude  of  the  people. There  are  those  who  think of the region suspiciously. The event was an excellent opportunity to show these people that the  region is indeed a source of unity, peace and development.  These shows that celebrating the day in this region is indeed of great relevance.

The Significance of the day

Many ask why is it important to celebrate the day? We need to allude into three pillars in connection to this.

First, we need to look into the constitution. For thousands of years Ethiopia’s growth was downwards. The country was once at the summit of civilization, as is repeatedly said. So why did it fall behind? The major concern and talking point 20 years ago was to see if Ethiopia would disintegrate like Somalia or Yugoslavia, or whether it would continue to survive as a nation.

We need to remember the conditions of those times. Nearly a million soldiers armed by the crumbling government were spread across the country. There were 18 armed political organizations operating in the country. It was also common knowledge at the time that all countries that had found themselves in similar situations did indeed disintegrate. People in Yugoslavia and our neighbor Somalia, having the same religion and color, were engaged in ethnic wars.

By contrast, with the so many nations and nationalities, and coming out of a long and protracted war, how did we manage to rise up? We need to carefully look into the secret.

When we consider this, the first thing that comes to mind is  the  constitution.  The  preamble  of  the  constitution  says:

“we, the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia are…strongly committed in full and free exercise of our right to self-determination, to building a political community founded on the rule of law and capable of ensuring lasting peace…”

This is a covenant. Therefore, the constitution is a document that has effectively reversed the downward movement, the  civil war, and the dangers of disintegration.

We are celebrating the day in  honor of this document. It is a document that opened the door to a bright future so that we are unified again and start  making new history. This is not a time to simply sing and dance. It is rather a time to remember the constitution and renew  our pledge to protect it. It is a time to create such knowledge and awareness. Therefore, its political relevance is immense.

Secondly,  this  document  will  have  life  when  it  is translated in relation to politics, economy and human rights, and is implemented by institutions. It will have life when  lives of our people change. Therefore, since it is the source of development, peace and unity, its political relevance is crucial.

Hence, when the top leadership, the youth, women, and other members of the society as whole think of the constitution, they need to remember that it is this document that has created the stability we are currently enjoying, and it is because of it that we can aspire for development; we can work and grow; we can travel peacefully; we are projected from all kinds of attack ; we can stand in union, and so much more.

There are some who think the occasion is just for singing and dancing, which is wrong. The reason our defense forces do not attack the people, but rather protect their safety and never violate their human rights is because they were established in line with the constitution. During distribution of wealth, those in power do not waste resources, and work fairly because of the constitution. It is the constitution that tells us that, when problems are created, we have to teach people and not to use force.

Power belongs to the people. If we believe people are the source of power, the constitution says, the people should be educated. People have the right to get education using the country’s resources, and the government has the obligation to ensure this. It is the constitution that says no mother shall die because of preventable problems. Every mother at every corner of the country has the right to enjoy this and save her life. This occasions makes us think of all this.

We know a few people used to embezzle the country’s wealth. There used to be governments that forced citizens to get involved in wars they never believed in. This was done using the country’s resources. The current constitution does not allow this. It is a constitution that clearly states that people are the source of power, and they have the right to deliberate on every issue that concerns them and make decisions. If this fails to materialize, then the government becomes lifeless. Therefore, when we think of this day, we think of the time when fundamental changes in philosophy came into being in the country.

The Constitutional  Principles of development and the challenges

One of the principles of our constitution is equitable development and equal opportunities. The second one is making regions of our country enjoy their fair share from the wealth generated in the country. These two principles have effectively granted rights which were for long denied of our people.

We need to know that regions also have great potentials to develop. When we say giving equal opportunity, we are talking about creating conducive conditions for regions to fully utilize their potential and resources within the  limits of their mandate as self-governing entities.

Regions in our country are self-governing ones. Conditions are also favorable for them to equally participate, with all their capacity, in development and building a democratic system. Nobody interferes in this. This enables them to enjoy the first principle of equal rights.

As elaborated by H.E. Kassa Teklebrhan, Speaker of the House of Federation:

The Constitution sets up a federal system granting all ethnic groups the right to self-determination. Regional governments decide on the matters concerning their territory and people whom they are representing.

All regions have democratically elected parliaments and governments being accountable to the parliaments and therefore the people. The decentralization down to district (woreda) level further strengthened this trend.

Today, development programs are locally decided and make citizens not only to beneficiaries of services, infrastructure and improved living conditions, but also to decision-makers. The citizens actively participate through local councils and again in the implementation process.

Almost half of the adult population is represented in the locally established councils which are elected in free and fair elections for five-year terms. This high level of ownership is manifested in high satisfaction levels regarding services.

However, because of various historical factors, our regions are not on the same footing. While all are given the full constitutional right to develop, there are visible differences in their executive capacity to fully utilize their potentials.

Therefore, the second opportunity for development can be strengthened as the federal government, with its central leadership role, supports them in various ways in building their capacities.

Our constitution states that the federal government supports regions that, for historical reasons, suffer from lack of executive capacity. There are also efforts underway that are aimed at ensuring equitable and fair growth in all areas.

When we implement this, all regions will get the opportunity to grow equally. However, regions that do not have the capacity to grow like others receive support from the federal government. This, is due course, will create the condition for all to grow equally.

This principle avoids the unfair situation in which some regions develop while others watch on, which, in turn, affects the peace and speedy development in the country. This will have great contribution for our nations and nationalities to be beneficiaries.

Expounding this point, it has been noted that:

Equity and benefitting the society as a whole is another important principle, the Ethiopian Government is following in its endeavors to develop and stabilize the country. This means that the strategies and policies are designed with the people and for the people. It is taken care for that all infrastructure improvement and social service improvement is carried out throughout the country ensuring the constitutionally granted right of all people to have access to the same services.

Fiscal transfers from the federal to the regional level are equalizing imbalances, giving special attention to the emerging regions which had been neglected and disadvantaged by previous regimes. The special attention given to the emerging regions demonstrates again the solidarity which is one of the important pillars of the Constitution and the strategies of the government.

This does not mean there are no challenges.

On one hand, there are challenges in some regions related to execution capacity. This area is being addressed with the help of the federal government, but the same should also be done by the regions themselves. There are multifaceted problems of attitude hindering the utilization of full potentials for growth. This includes corruption and backward attitudes. Although this is somehow improving, a lot remains to be done to completely eradicate these. In particular, effective solutions are needed to address negative attitudes and action driven by the intention to incite violence and conflicts between regions that needed support.

These are obstacles on the way of development and good governance. When these are dealt with, it will greatly contribute to the sharing what is available equitably, and, in due course, allows people to benefit from the development. These principles are really the right ones. They have been implemented and have shown tangible results, and must continue.

The Constitution remedied internal contradictions

As clearly stated in our constitution, as well as the policies and strategies that followed it, our vulnerability for risk mainly comes from issues that endanger our security from the inside.

If we look back at the long history of our country and the path previous regimes followed, we can see that they used to think that dangers treating our country would mainly come from outside, and the country was somehow surrounded by enemies. But the main factor behind our vulnerability for risks was the deep-rooted and worsening level of poverty, which was really hurting the people.

When we consider how the once glorious country came so close to disintegration, we can easily understand that our vulnerability to risk does not come from outside. As there was no other alternative to address the problem of poverty, many tried to remove the governments to pave way for newer and better systems.

This is what our history shows. Our country, which was once glorious, started to decline because of the lack of a system that could accommodate diversity, nations and nationalities, religions and other social differences. People had serious grudges because of the violation of rights, including democratic rights, equality rights, nations and nationalities rights and religions rights. Not only grudges they understood the consequences of this were grave, so they opted to resort to armed resistance.

When we consider such facts, we can easily see that the main cause of our vulnerability lies within us, not an invading foreign force. When the new federal democratic system was first installed, the question of what the basis for our survival was examined rigorously. It was then believed that the risk for our country was poverty and backwardness as well as the lack of democracy, and the need for a condition that could address these issues was accepted as a way forward.

Today, the Ethiopian nations, nationalities and peoples are found at their climax level in fighting against their common enemy – poverty - and thereby to consolidate their development endeavors through putting their Growth and Transformation Plan in place. The voice of every Ethiopian in contributing every possible due to make the Grand Renaissance Dam, which is located at the Benishangul Gumuz region, real is one of the most remarkable signs of our unity. Thus, our Federalism has become our common factor to ensure our common interest that we dreamed of it for ages.

Thus, Ethiopia has become a nation where rapid and sustainable development has been realized even at the time of global economic and financial crises. The secret of its success springs from its home grown policies and strategies which in turn are the results of objective demands of the Ethiopian Nations, Nationalities and Peoples. And the real demands of these nations, nationalities and peoples’ goes hand-in-hand with the Ethiopian Federal system of governance enshrined in the constitution.

Thus, our constitution, which springs from the free will and full consent of all Ethiopians, has been ensuring rapid and sustainable development for the last eleven consecutive years. And the Nation has been entering to remarkable development shell through joint efforts of all Ethiopians. As a result, Ethiopia has been associated with rapid and sustainable development along with ample investment opportunities in the contemporary globe. This is the new reality of Ethiopia today which everybody may easily understand it without digging more.

Ethiopia as a role model

Economic development depends on a variety of factors but we can conclude that there are a number of lessons that can be learnt from Ethiopia’s success. As highlighted by Kassa Teklebirhan in the paper, titled: "Strategies for Successfully Developing Economies –  Lessons from Ethiopia".

First of all, the Ethiopian government immediately started to correct injustices, committed by previous regimes after coming into power in 1991. The government immediately adopted the right to self-determination of Ethiopia’s nations and nationalities in order to enable them to take their destiny into their own hands while providing assistance and support in terms of fiscal equalization, infrastructure and service development as well as capacity building.

The federal democratic constitution provides the framework for equitable development which has been consequently implemented and pursued by the government. Equitable development might be one of those success factors to be exported into other developing economies. Equity provides the basis for a peaceful co-existence of diverse societies because it prevents injustices and neglecting some parts of the society. Equity along with the principles of good governance again provides the necessary requirement to obtain peace and political stability, two factors very much needed for sustainable development.

Another lesson might be the focus on the needs of the society and the resulting insistence of only applying and implementing such strategies fitting the context and the needs while neglecting and rejecting non-fitting ideas. This might involve some less pleasant encounters with international partners, but in the end governments are accountable to their people and not to international organizations. The objective is development, peace and stability not the testing of ideas.

The third feature which might be applicable in any other country is commitment and integrity of the leadership. The Ethiopian leadership is highly committed to peace, democracy and development. The leaders are sacrificing their lives for the improvement of the country and not the other way round as it can be seen in some other countries. This type of leadership could be exercised in other countries as well.

Last but not least, Ethiopia’s success is founded on the insight of the leadership that the people constitute the major resource of the country. This means that people have to be enabled to be active, prepared to change their mindset towards development and that the rights of people have not only to be respected and protected but that all policies have to benefit the majority of the people and not only small elite groups.

Ethiopia, while still being a poor country, has gone a long way during the past twenty years. Being aware that there remains a lot to be done, the country can be proud of what has been achieved already. The confidence in Ethiopia as a safe place for both, domestic and foreign investment has risen significantly resulting in increasing investments which will again spur economic development.

In Conclusion:

We shall not lose sight of the fact that generations come and go, but the country continues to live, so these celebrations should be an occasion for renewing own covenant. We need to take it seriously and honor it for political, economic and peaceful agenda that it is.

As we all came to this world with the identity we were given by chance, it should not be something to be ashamed of. This education should be given to the youth, especially at educational institutions. The same should be done at religious and governmental institutions. If we do this, the renaissance journey that we have started will have a great chance to continue.


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