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Ethiopians must urgently overhaul ethnic politics

Ethiopians must urgently overhaul ethnic politics and the policies and ethicized institutions that have placed Ethiopia on a dangerous path.

Ethiopia and Sudan map

by Aklog Birara (Dr) | Part I of II | February 19, 2021

“The principles of Ubuntu are the original wisdom of all our common ancestors…that the only way they can not only survive, but thrive, is by working together to relate to one another in a way that says: ‘I am, because you are.’”

Mamphela Ramphele, author and physician, South Africa

Dr. Ramphele, a person I came to know at the World Bank, is right. We Ethiopians must embrace our common humanity and our human worth if we wish not only to survive; but to thrive. The current polarized ethnic system will not allow us to do that. If Ethiopians fail to learn from the debilitating and incapacitating ethnic politics of the past four decades, that have cost the Ethiopian people tens of billions of dollars in investments and thousands in human lives, they do not have anyone to blame; but themselves.

This is the reason why Ethiopians must urgently overhaul ethnic politics and the policies and ethicized institutions that have placed Ethiopia on a dangerous path.

I agree with critics that Ethiopia’s politics and economics are replete with one form of oppression and exclusion. I do not, however, agree that these conditions emanate from oppression and exploitation of one ethnic or religious group over another. Class oppression, exclusion, marginalization, discrimination and or exploitation exists within every nationality group.

The premises of Ethiopia’s costly and disastrous civil wars are therefore misplaced and opportunistic. This misunderstanding and misrepresentation led ethno-nationalist liberation fronts to introduce the ethno-linguistic federal Constitution of 1995; and an administrative configuration that makes exclusion by ethnicity and faith possible.

Ethiopia became the only African country to adopt in its Constitution (Article 39) the right to self-determination as a core and unconditional principle. Ethnic elites felt entitled that “Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia” have a legitimate right to self-determination including secession.

Last November, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) tried to exercise this right. It argued, among other things, that the Federal Government violated this principle and undermined the human and democratic rights of the people of Tigray. Consequently, the TPLF initiated a war whose impacts and consequences are more far reaching than partisans on both sides of the current debate imagined.

The lead question I shall pose in this essay is whether Ethiopia’s future is guaranteed without its political elites, including the governing party, questioning, and changing key components of the 1995 Constitution itself?

Encircled Ethiopia!

Today, Ethiopia is practically encircled. The Sudanese armed forces took advantage of internal deflection and institutional gap created due to the terrorist war initiated by the TPLF. No doubt backed by and encouraged by Egypt and other Arab League nations, the Sudanese penetrated deep into Ethiopian territory and occupied vast tracts of Ethiopian lands. I know of no time or condition that enabled the Sudanese army to conduct such an unprovoked invasion of Ethiopia; capture lands; expropriate property; and violate Ethiopia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty on its own. Behind this aggression is a slew of external actors, most notably Egypt and the Arab League.

The evidence is out there for anyone who wishes to defend Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people. On Tuesday February 16, 2021, the Arab League issued a statement supporting Sudan’s invasion of Ethiopia and sanctioned Sudan’s brazen annexation of Ethiopian lands.

I condemn this statement and urge all Ethiopians to close ranks and condemn this aggression. I also urge the Federal Government of Ethiopia to issue a bold statement condemning this action.

What in Heaven’s Name is the African Union Doing?

Ethiopia championed African independence; played an instrumental role in establishing the Organization of African Unity (the pacesetter of the African Union); offered land and physical facilities for its Headquarters; and still hosts this continental organization.  What is it gaining from this contribution?

Given Ethiopia’s immense contributions to continental independence and solidarity, why did the African Union fail to condemn this Sudanese invasion? Why did it keep silent and numb? why did it fail to express outrage when the Arab League dominated by Egypt issued a statement supporting Sudan and sanctioning its annexation of Ethiopian territory?

Is the African Union a subservient body? A club of talking heads.  Does it really stand for the principles for which it was established?  I say this for a reason.

The AU was formally established in 2002. Its objectives are the following:

“To achieve greater unity, cohesion and solidarity between the African countries and African nations.

To defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence of its Member States.

To accelerate the political and social-economic integration of the continent.

To promote and defend African common positions on issues of interest to the continent and its peoples.

To encourage international cooperation, taking due account of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

To promote peace, security, and stability on the continent.

To promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation, and good governance.

To promote and protect human and peoples’ rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other relevant human rights instruments.

To establish the necessary conditions which enable the continent to play its rightful role in the global economy and in international negotiations.

To promote sustainable development at the economic, social, and cultural levels as well as the integration of African economies.

To promote co-operation in all fields of human activity to raise the living standards of African peoples.

To coordinate and harmonize the policies between the existing and future Regional Economic Communities for the gradual attainment of the objectives of the Union.

To advance the development of the continent by promoting research in all fields, in science and technology.

To work with relevant international partners in the eradication of preventable diseases and the promotion of good health on the continent.”

My singular focus is on the Union’s purported commitment “To defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence of its Member States.” The AU practically failed to condemn Sudanese invasion of Ethiopia and Arab League sanctioning of this invasion and the annexation of Ethiopian territory by a member state. By its own definition, the AU did not utter a word. It did not reject Sudanese violation of   Ethiopia’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity.” In other words, the Arab League triumphed over the African Union. Black African nations, including Ethiopia are essentially treated as second class nations.

The talking heads of Sub-Saharan African nations that are quick to hold conferences on any subject imaginable proved incapable to defend the very nation that championed Africa’s independence from the yoke of colonialism and imperialism and that led the formation of the OAU and its successor the AU that it still hosts.

If the leadership were principled and bold, the AU would have expelled both Egypt and the Sudan from its membership; at least it should have threatened to do so. This is because nothing is more sacrosanct and sacred for Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people than their territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence.

In brief then, I am unable to find words in expressing my outrage that the African Union is keeping silent as Ethiopia faces an existential threat.

In my assessment, Sudan invaded and occupied Ethiopian lands at the bidding of Egypt and the Arab League. What do the Arabs want?

  1. Egypt has one primary objective, namely, to avert the completion of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
  2. Sudan wishes to divert attention from its internal governance failure by claiming lands that do not belong to it.
  3. The Arab League is determined to access waters and farmlands to feed their peoples.

Ethiopia is endowed with both waters and farmlands. The opportunity for the above three external forces to access and dominate both natural resources exist, they imagine, because Ethiopian society is ethnically polarized.  The ethnic- system is serving as a sieve for penetration of Ethiopia.

In this regard and by all honest accounts, the TPLF that captured international attention, including the imagination and interests of the Arab world today is one of the most brutal, divisive, corrupt, and treasonous political organizations that Ethiopians have ever experienced. Its core leadership has collapsed. However, its ethnicity based, hateful and make-believe political philosophy, the Constitution it crafted and the administrative structure it imposed on Ethiopian society is haunting Ethiopia and its diverse population.

I have suggested numerous times in my commentaries and in my books that ethnic division and polarization are fatal. Egypt and the Arab League continue to use divisions within Ethiopia to Balkanize Ethiopia. Ethiopia lost its access to the Red sea because of its internal divisions. Fast forward to 2021, the same phenomenon is being utilized to break Ethiopia apart.

Standing alone does not mean surrender

By all accounts, Ethiopia stands alone in its determination to preserve the territorial integrity and sovereignty of this ancient nation. It cannot even rely on the African Union that it hosts. Internal unity among Ethiopia’s population of 116 million people is the only way out of this existential threat and nightmare scenario.

 The root cause Ethiopia must overcome to defend itself 

The root cause of the divisive and retarding ideology that makes Ethiopia vulnerable can be traced from colonial ideologues, most notably from Europeans such as Barron Roman Prochaska. His book, Abyssinia: The Powder Barrel is a must read.  “The numerous peoples and tribes which inhabit the territory of the Ethiopian state and which differ in race, language, culture, and religion from the ruling minority Abyssinian proper, would long ago have thrown off the Abyssinian yoke if they have been given the right of self-determination. Indeed, they are being forcibly kept cut off from European influences and from the advantages that progressive colonization could confer upon the country.”

If Ethiopians allow this misleading narrative by a Colonial ideologue to dominate their thinking, then

Egypt and the Arab League will be right in their wrongful assertion that Egypt’s hegemony over the Nile, 86 percent of whose waters come from Ethiopia is sacrosanct; and that Sudan’s outrageous claim that it is restoring Sundanese sovereignty over lands taken by Ethiopia is legitimate. These claims are farfetched and untrue. I reject these claims; so, should you!

The Blue Nile on which the GERD is located is Ethiopian; and the entire Nile River is African. The Blue Nile cannot be taken away from Ethiopia. An Armageddon of Arab League forces cannot change this geopolitical reality if Ethiopians unite and fight back. Remember, this is what Ethiopians did at the Battle of Adwa. Ethiopia is much stronger today than it was then.  As we celebrate the Victory of Adwa, I suggest that we reflect on how best we can support our homeland to defend itself today.

Barron Roman Prochaska told us when he wrote his book that Black Africans should abandon their freedom and independence and, instead, invite Europeans to colonize and to “civilize” them. Today, the Arab League led by Egypt is telling us the same thing. Arabs genuinely believe that African leaders can be bought with petroleum and gas dollars. The consent or at minimum the benign neglect of the African Union is telling us the same story. That is, Africans will be better off if their waters and lands are owned by Arabs.

Prochaska’s framing in the 1930s is telling in two important ways:

First, non-Abyssinians were oppressed by a minority; and

Second, Ethiopia as a country and the oppressed “peoples and tribes under Abyssinian yoke” would have been better off had they been colonized by Europeans. If you subscribe to this narrative stop reading this commentary.

African history tells us that no matter which colonizer and which colony, European colonizers believed in the advantages of their civilizing mission. Some still do. So do the Arabs. The tragedy is not what European colonizers propagated to serve their own national interests as the Arab League does today. Rather, it is the fact that many Ethiopian ethnic elites and other African Blacks, including the African Union adopted this thesis of oppression within and non-Black African superiority without in its entirety.

Therefore, Sub-Saharan African economies are still dominated by Europeans. Natural resources rich

Democratic Republic of the Congo/Zaire is dominated by war lords.  I recall that Zaire supported Egypt on the GERD. Today, its President is Chairman of the AU. I urge him to be bold and take a stand on the side of Black Africans.  Black Africa must show solidarity with Ethiopia.

Prochaska continues. “But the Abyssinians are planning to go much further than this, and the final aim of their policy of antagonism to the White races, in which they are relying on the cooperation of Japan, is nothing less than to act as the champions of the colored peoples of Africa.” The author wrote this outlandish claim to defend colonialism.  He forgot or ignored intentionally that Ethiopia has a history that spans more than 3,000 years. Weaknesses and class oppression notwithstanding, Ethiopia’s state formation, government and administrative practices predate those of European countries. Ethiopia existed before Germany and the USA.

During the scramble for Africa, Ethiopia stood as the sole and only independent country in Africa. The battle and victory at Adwa against Italian colonial aggression are seminal events that the entire world, especially colored peoples all over came to admire. Ethiopia then was technologically weak. Its success is not attributable to material superiority. Rather, it is the unity and patriotism of all Ethiopians; and not solely of “Abyssinians.” The term of Abyssinians is a deliberate distraction.

Ethiopia’s Great, wise leader and disciplined leader Emperor Menelik reached out to all Ethiopians–Oromo, Somali, Tigre, Wolayta, Gurage, Amhara, Annuak and numerous others—assembled a formidable Ethiopian Force and defeated Italian colonialism.

The lesson I draw from this feat is that European colonizers learned the hard lesson that Black Africans are capable of uniting and defending their cherished independence from external aggression. The Adwa spirit of unity and solidarity remains relatively intact today.

It is true that forty years after the victory at Adwa, a modern Italian army launched a brutal attack against Ethiopia and tried to introduce “progressive colonization.” It is equally true that for five years, Ethiopian patriots closed ranks again and fought Italian occupiers without let up.

In summary, Ethiopian national spirit prevailed. It is this Ethiopian spirit and national resolve the African Union either forgot or ignored completely as we speak. The AU forgot that Ethiopia’s independence against colonialism and imperialism served as a precursor for the independence of the entire African continent. Ethiopia was and still is the “champion of all colored peoples” across the globe.

Egypt, Sudan, and the Arab League are ignorant and, too me, patently non-African in spirit and thinking. Physically, these countries are in Africa.  Their souls and actions are embedded in the Arab world. They do not respect Black Africans. More important, they ignore the notion that it is virtually impossible to abrogate Ethiopia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

I therefore urge all Ethiopians to unite and fight back for the soul of Ethiopia and for the welfare of 116 million Ethiopians.



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