SEPARATISM IN ETHIOPIA DEAD OR JUST MORIBUND?
Ezana Sehay 10 - 03 – 2014
anything be better for Ethiopia, anything more enjoyable for those devoted to
the unity of the country, than the slow disintegration of the groups with
secession and extremist agendas?
has the virtue of being true – as I will explain later. Despite the
separatist’s assertion of otherwise, the reality is they have become
In the last
few weeks the world’s attention has been drown to the Scottish independence referendum
drama which shook the political ground of the 307 year old, seemingly strong
union [United Kingdom]. Though separation was averted thanks to the flurry of
last minute offering of more power to Scotland and recoil to the status quo –
even with a” no vote”, it is certain to lead a makeover of the centuries-old
constitutional arrangement in favor of regional empowerment.
words the vote has opened the door to demands for greater autonomy from the
other constituents as well. Jonathan Hopkins, associate professor of Comparative
Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science stated – “the
fact that this happened and the fact that it was close has put the whole
organization of the U.K state back on the table.”
traditionalists [unionists] have interpreted Prime Minister David Cameron’s
offer to negotiate, an excessive gesture that could possibly lead to “devo max”
– maximum devolution – of the United Kingdom, and so are registering
reservation about the idea.
familiar? - It was the same accusation thrown at the EPRDF, by the flat-earthers
in Ethiopia, for its commitment to federalism. They warned decentralization
would plunge the country in to a “trou noire” – a black hole.
The Scotland referendum process has produced a lesson about the realities of
of one of the most successful unions in history, who could not and have not
come up with even a hint of an advantage, economic or political, that they
could possibly derive from breaking up the union, but could and have recognized
several ways in which secession from Great Britain would be to their detriment;
if such citizens are sufficiently prepared to act against their own interest,
pecuniary and political, to have almost voted for devolution, the reason must
be that ethnic or tribal nationalism is a stronger force than we imagine it to
centuries, Questions of national identity influenced by ethnicity, religion or
language have kindled a growing sense of demand for separation, autonomy, or
faire political representation. In fact, much of the 200+ UN member states came
in to being as a result of a breakup of bigger countries or empires.
for igniting nationalism are plenty: For some it is an existential choice.
Most feel usually rightly – that they were/are subject to discrimination and
persecution. Some have suffered political violence or economic negligence.
Others just want to assert their symbolic values of: ethnic, religious, or
parts of the world esp. Africa and the Middle East, borders are drown on lines
on maps by European powers, that bore no relation to ethnic, culture, or
economic facts on the ground. Naturally, separation in those countries is not
hard to sell to aggrieved people. Nor is it necessarily complicated to sell
detachment to components of states or federations recently and rather
arbitrarily assembled, such as the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia,
Czechoslovakia… Even in older national agglomerations [like Ethiopia], where
the processes were not democratic and the union was neither voluntary nor
equitably nurtured, separation can be sold as a concept to dissentient regions.
where there is a democratic rule, and adherence, and conscientious effort to
address regional grievances, as in the UK or today’s Ethiopia, secession becomes
hard to sell as we’ll explore at a later stage.
achieving independence or separation usually involves bloody civil war. But in
the west, at least, holding a majority vote to separate under accepted terms is
the trend. Unique to the above scenarios is the “velvet divorce” – a peaceful
and democratic dissolution of Czechoslovakia.
As we speak,
a strong nationalist streak does exist in every corner of the world. Some, in Europe,
emboldened by the pluck of Scottish experience have started to draw strength
and are readying to be part of the inexorable march toward the fragmentation of
a union. Others; such as in China, Middle East, Pakistan, India, Thailand,
Philippines, and many parts of Africa are fighting it-out.
the outcome of separation is by no means same for all. Some have fared well in
deed but most separated states end up struggling. And so: a newborn breakaway
state becomes less effective, esp. economically than it had been as a favored
region in a bigger union.
point, the Eritrean independence; after initial shock it proved to be no big
deal for the Ethiopians - who have since prospered – but devastating for the
Eritrean people who have become isolated, troubled economically and plagued by
worse political repression. Incidentally, Ethiopians now consider the current
Eritrean situation - a canary in the coal mine.
I would like
to point out Eritrea’s quandary is not entirely as a consequence of separation
from Ethiopia per-se – and is more luck of leadership.
is; in the campaign for secession; separatists generally do everything to cast
the debate [to secede or not to], in the gauzy, aspirational languages of
romantic nationalism - promising utopia - and devote less effort in to
Ethiopian nations and nationalities have rightfully felt corralled, and have
struggled to voice their legitimate grievances. Thus secession in one form or
another has occupied center stage in the Ethiopian political decorum. The issue
of national question gain momentum at the time of the king’s rule and reached
crescendo during the Derg reign.
the fall of Derg, the future of the country’s unity was in doubt. There was a
palpable feeling that the union was on the verge of breakup. Propitiously, the
government of EPRDF understood the crux of the matter and made it [the national
question], it’s central priority and managed to calm the maelstrom situation
with a promise to undertake a radical reform of the political administration of
the country and set about fashioning a new Ethiopia; an Ethiopia with ample
room for everyone.
for most of the national groups who wanted no more than national renewal and
the right to control their local administrative matters; the EPRDF gesture was
good enough. But hard-line separatist groups’ [esp. OLF and ONLF], citing past
injustices perpetuated by former regimes - demonstrated a potent emotional
passion for nationalism and separation.
weapon for countering the hard-liners’ passion, was not warning or threats,
rather an equally passionate appeal to the public: emphasizing the bonds
between the nations, nationalities, and the people to each other as well as the
country. That was as an effective strategy that changed the playing field.
message was simple: you can have your nation and keep your country too.
it [EPRDF], entered in to interminable negotiations with all the stake holders
in search of an accord [constitution] that will be acceptable to both. And so
ultimately, was born an inclusive - sui generis - constitution with
an amendment clause - pro re nata. And the tectonic plates have been shifting
against separation ever since.
for the EPRDF was to come up with a political system that recognizes the value
Ethiopians justly put on fairness, which is symmetric federalism. A federalism
which makes the various constituents making up the federation feel they are
treated fairly and equally.
constitution as well as the federal system has detractors on both sides of the
national political domain [separatists and reactionaries]. Needless to say; the
separatist’s objection is obvious.
though, remnants of the old regimes who want to take back the country to the
dark days of paternal centralism, to this day excoriate the EPRDF of kowtowing
to the separatists; for promising to let the nations leave the union on the
most minimal conditions [a reference to article 39 of the constitution], and
called federalism “a secession without a demand” which would lead to eventual
were wrong on both counts. Federalism – having national governments Oromia,
Amhara, Gambela etc… with reasonable powers in some areas and greater control
on others didn’t weaken Ethiopia. To the contrary today’s Ethiopia has a strong
central government, strong regional [Kelel] administrations and a content
is a sharp sense of Ethiopian national identity. Ethiopianess is far more
diffuse, and is far more connected to the overriding sense of belongingness.
Before 1991, the sense of Ethiopianism that did exist was steeped, and always
connected to past triumphs, was Semitic and usually Christian. Now days, there
exist a meaningful Ethiopian identity that embraces the reality of modern
multinational and multicultural Ethiopia - ideals of Ethiopian unity that is
inspiring a whole new generation.
Ethiopia, every member of each nations and nationality is unapologetically
federalist [Ethiopianist]. The new leaders of the nations and nationalities are
brainies who despise the whingeing victimhood preached by the separatists and
abhor the navel-gazing language wars and ethnic-bashing that the, extremists on
both sides, are going for. Their only focus is providing competent governess at
their Kelel level.
After all; a
confident people with strong identity doesn’t need those cheap theatrics. And
so, the option or desire to separate has become irrelevant.
long, the Ethiopian separatist camp has been dominated by the once mighty Oromo
Liberation Front [OLF] and Ogden National Liberation Front [ONLF]. Currently
these groups have been reduced to leaderless rumps. The groups are in such a
sorry state that nobody is coming to their rescue. The reasons for their
implosion are plenty, but I will leave that for another day.
now is just a guess. But no doubt they will be preoccupied for some time with
internal issues, the biggest of which is this: how to survive in a society that
has made it clear it has no more time for talking/hearing about separation.
separatists argue the” dream of OLF and ONLF will never die”, perhaps not, but
it will never win either. Thence one of the country’s monkey on the back
[secession], all but has faded away – perhaps not forever, but seemingly for a
great long while.
such development; some optimists now declare the eco-system that accommodated
the separatist – reactionary axis is smashed, and predict Ethiopian politics
hence forth operate on a right – left paradigm.
said, we Ethiopians still have important lesson to draw from the Scottish
experience. The point is that a country – whether it is Ethiopia or the U.K –
has a right to demand that a referendum on something as important as
sovereignty be conducted under mutually agreed-upon circumstances, including
the articulation of a simple and fair ballot question.