By Teshome Abebe & Aklog Birara
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela
Over the past many months, EDF (Ethiopian Dialogue Forum) and its policy arm ERPI (Ethiopian Research and Policy Institute), have conducted numerous meetings, and held public discussions with a large number of scholars, experts and people of experience both within the Diaspora as well as from within Ethiopia itself. These discussions and debates continue to inform the myriad of the problems that Ethiopia faces as well as inform the available policy options to help solve those problems. In this regard, we have had discussions and presentations regarding history, culture, national identity, assimilation, bloodline politics, citizenship, extremism, constitutional issues, human rights and the rule of law and very recently, the merger of ‘Oromo’ organizations dubbed the ‘Oromo Revolution’, Amhara revolts dubbed ‘Amhara Resistance’ in Gondar, Gojjam and Wollo, among others. EDF/ERPI is heartened by the stimulating and thought provoking nature of these forums in which differences of opinion are encouraged. We consider diversity of thought as healthy as much as those of diversity of cultures and peoples in our homeland. What we find troubling is intolerance of views and the politics of hate based on ethnic and religious affiliation.
EDF/ERPI has stated goals and purpose, which include:
- Support and advance the promotion of Ethiopia’s inclusive and equitable development and the development agenda of EDF
- Expand the wealth of knowledge on relevant Ethiopian issues by tapping into the country’s rich and diverse indigenous cultures and by drawing from best practices across the globe
- Expand interdisciplinary research and inquiry, and promote regional and continental engagement of the Ethiopian Diaspora and Ethiopianists
- Help bridge the research-policy gap, both to better inform academic research on pressing policy issues and to bring academic research more to the attention of policy-makers at the EDF and its members
- Because we are a member-supported independent entity, our only resources are our volunteers
As a consequence, we aim to identify, seek, solicit and invite meaningful views and input from those that wish to collaborate with us and contribute to Ethiopia’s sustainability and the wellbeing of its 102 million citizens.
ERPI aims to approach and analyze development as a process and as a condition in which inclusive economic growth, social equity, political freedom, respect for human rights and democratic participation are all integrally linked and must reinforce one another and operate synergistically in order to advance sustainability and equity. Its program of research and policy analysis, therefore, aims to cover the following main areas of development:
- Economic, historical, cultural, social, political, scientific and technological.
- Consequently, it draws heavily on a wide range of social science disciplines and other fields, and brings a multi-disciplinary approach to its work.
- The Institute’s outlook and conceptual framework will be non-partisan, ideologically open and national. This is expected to enable it to provide a forum in which groups with different ideological and political orientations could engage in a critical dialogue on controversial and not-so-controversial national issues impacting Ethiopia.
- The reason behind this narrative is relatively straightforward. Each and every Ethiopian citizen and nationality group has a stake in Ethiopia’s future and the advancement of all its citizens.
- We have determined through research and dialogue that exclusionary policies, programs and investments are hugely expensive and detrimental for sustainability. This research leads us to believe that, together, Ethiopians can overcome divisive and repressive governance and together establish a firm foundation for sustainability while preserving the country.
Accordingly, we plan to do our level best to identify tools and best practices that advance social, economic and market cohesion, the peaceful resolution of conflicts among groups, unimpeded inclusion, sustainable and equitable development and the building of societal and institutional capacity to mitigate rent-seeking, corruption and illicit outflow of national capital.
Because we believe that many look to EDF/ERPI for intellectual leadership on many important issues, this White Paper is intended to elaborate and amplify our position on three important current issues:
- The unity and inviolability of Ethiopia;
- Our position on extremism of any type; and,
- The deleterious effects of Article 39 in general and the right to secession in particular of the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
The Unity and Inviolability of the Ethiopian State:
The bloodline political narrative prevalent in Ethiopia today imposed by the current ruling party have caused fissures in society, and have wreaked havoc on the livelihoods of the population. The divisions that have been created by the cynical and destructive TPLF have spawned various groups seeking not only recognition but autonomy and possible secession as well. It would not be so terrible if the aims of these groups, largely manipulated by some academics, political elites, social media, political and religious groups, were to simply seek recognition and self-rule, it is worse: they wish to create ‘mini-states’ that will inevitably lead to the Balkanization of Ethiopia in a similar way to that of the former Yugoslavia, the failed state of Somalia and the war torn country of Syria. There is a plethora of evidence that shows that, for some individuals and groups, the typical narrative today is ‘Independence of their land’ from Ethiopia. The air of ambiguity, and hence, suspicion in which the intentions and policies of some of the groups float has produced unease and bewilderment among many. This only helps the very same divide and rule system they tell us they “oppose.”
Surely, this is not designed to help Ethiopians to unite and prosper, and indeed, the goal might even be to distance and to “other” what they call “Ethiopian groups”. Certainly, we cannot be expected to ignore and disregard this state of affairs. Children of Ethiopia should and must repudiate as well as shun this as a terrible idea before it is too late!
This questionable narrative diminishes the fundamental notion that, irrespective of ethnic and or religious affiliation, all Ethiopians sacrificed their lives and their material wellbeing; and preserved Ethiopia’s independence from colonial rule and constant external threat. The battle of Adwa and the defeat of a European imperial power by an African Black nation would not have been possible without the unified and heroic struggle of the Afar, Gurage, Tigre, Amhara, Oromo, Wolayta, Annuak,Sidama and other nationalities and religious groups. This same national asset and potential can and should be used to overcome repression and poor governance, abject poverty, destitution and technological backwardness. Ethiopia and Ethiopians have enormous natural resources and human capital potential to overcome structural poverty and propel the society towards sustainable and equitable change.
Ethiopia is, therefore, not a product of a single ethnic or religious group; but an achievement of a diverse population that is bound together through generations of marriages, religious and economic interactions. As a consequence, tens of millions of Ethiopians are of mixed blood and ancestry. They form the social glue that will make the country prosperous in generations to come. Greater effort should thus be made to advance a genuinely democratic future in which the vital interests of all Ethiopian stakeholders would be served.
Discordant Narrative Won’t Help:
Yes, the politics of many of these groups may be seen as incoherent. But for those who are in it and dream of gaining big, they know just what they want, and the lack of a clear and compelling narrative only enhances their power. To understand what is in store for the country and its 102 million people with so many groups vying for attention and recognition, we need to understand who these groups are. To do that, we can no longer afford not to name names, identify which groups are demagogues, which groups have dictatorial impulses, and which groups are internal and external enemies of Ethiopia. The reality is that others are doing this in social media. That is not the aim of this White Paper. The aim of this paper is to outline a framework of policy, which can be used as a guiding principle and one, which Ethiopians of all walks of life would embrace and should embrace by contributing to the debate and the options in a constructive manner.
What we know is that Ethiopia’s circumstances are neither an accident nor inevitable. What we also know is that when dictatorial and exclusionary governments and bad leaders come to power, they rarely advertise brute force and oppression. In fact, they come to power because others are hesitant to speak truth; followed by deference hoping that the brutes will reform once they get to power; then that followed by cooperation and collusion with the brutes in power. In Ethiopia, this could have been prevented because the previous regime was brutal. We cannot afford to repeat the same mistakes over and over again and expect a positive out outcome.
EDF/ERPI recognizes, indeed, acknowledges the “right of people to be acknowledged publicly as what they really are”. This is a fundamental human right issue that the world embraces. We do too. EDF/ERPI further acknowledges that individuals hold more than one identity based on profession, religion, and history, social structure and based on the identity constructive capacity of the individuals. Furthermore, EDF/ERPI doesn’t consider identity as “sameness” or as “homogeneity” as “equivalence”. This does happen even in a nuclear family. Yet, it is our position that our common genealogical and geographic roots that have given us common ancestry with common destiny are being eroded by wily political elites whose aspirations for power are limitless. The common bonds that bind Ethiopians are far superior to those that divide us. These common bonds are not only a source of strength against external threat; they are also the single most important glue that will propel one of the poorest and technologically least developed countries to sustainable prosperity for everyone. The narrative of ethnic divide and rule pursued by the current ruling party and echoed by different political elites is, therefore, dangerous to all Ethiopians.
What we Ethiopians have learned from the state of affairs in the country is that we have to react faster and much more vigorously and honestly than was the case when TPLF took power in 1991. The other thing we must countenance is that we should stop assuming that the government in Ethiopia would not fall into the wrong hands, that it is safe for the long term durability of the Ethiopian state to acquiesce to the plans, aspirations and machinations of the disparate groups to sell Ethiopia to the highest bidders; and stop believing that civilized debates are sufficient enough to convince everyone of the importance of maintaining a united and ONE Ethiopia with diversity.
EDF/ERPI takes the position that we need responsible, moral, aggressive repudiation of the effort to split up the country and/or introduce extremist forms of rule.
To this effect, EDF/ERPI promotes, supports and advocates the following:
- The unity and inviolability of the Ethiopian state is sacrosanct and non-negotiable.
- Ethiopians of all walks of life should repudiate, condemn and denounce all forms of extremism. A key part of this action is the recognition that sectarianism plays into the hands of people who wish to take advantage of the current situation, weaken and Balkanize the Ethiopian state.
- Because Ethiopia is a long and historic product of inter-ethnic integration with common ancestry; and because its people are both natural and eternal, that the nation cannot be unmade, we call for the removal of Article 39 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia.
- We embrace the fundamental principle of respect for the human rights of each and every Ethiopia; and will contribute our part in the formation of a genuine democratic state and government that is bound by the rule of law.
- We have called and continue to call for an All-Inclusive Stakeholders Conference at the earliest opportunity; and have contributed and will continue to contribute on a meaningful framework underpinning a compelling alternative for Ethiopia and its 102 million citizens.
* Professor Teshome Abebe and Dr. Aklog Birara are respective chairs of ERPI and EDF, as well as two of the Founding Members.