“Dhibbaan Magaalaa Adaamaa Kessati Nurra Gahaa Jiru Akkan Nu Dhibee Jira.
Bulchiinsi Magaalaa Adaamaa Oomisha Jimaa Kan Umanni Gurgurate itti jiraatu Kiloo Takko Irratti Birri 10 ykn Konkolaataa tokko Birri Kuma Afurtam Kafaltan Male KonKolaata Kessan Dabruu Hin Danda’u Jechuun Kafalta Humna Olii Nu Kafalchiisun Magaalaa kessa dhiibani nu baasa jiru.
Guyyaa arrati guyyaa sadiif Jimaan Akka Magaalaa Adaamaa Hin Seenne Nu Ittisaniru. Nuti ijolleen Harargee fi Qotee Bulaan Harargee Jireenyi Keenya Oomisha Jimaatin Walitti Hidhamee Jira Kanaaf Qamni dhimmi kun ilaalu akka furmaata nuf kennu nuf iyya waliif dabarsaa”
FROM INTERNAL COLONIALISM TO MULTI-ETHNIC FEDERALISM WITHOUT GENUINE
REPRESENTATION: A threat to Ethiopian State Unity and Regional Security?
(By: Yaya Beshir)
– Malmö University, Department of Global Political Studies
– Malmö University, Department of Global Political Studies
(Parts of this article are omitted intentionally to suit the interest of the readers))
Ethiopia’s security situation can easily affect the whole Horn of Africa, one way or another. Since Ethiopia is the most populous state in the region and shares many ethnic groups beyond
borders with neighbouring countries, its internal peace or conflict could also affect those neighbouring states. It has been in conflict with Somalia since long ago, have a border dispute with Sudan, Eritrea has still a border issue after it seceded in 1992 and currently, the central government is at civil with its own Tigray Regional Government. The situation that forced Eritrea 30 years ago is still in place. Not only the Tigray region but also the grievance among
the Oromo, the largest group in the country, is increasing, against the revival of the old Amhara ruling elites in the central government. Consolidating state power with the process of Amharization, which undermined multi-ethnic identities was the long-time history that the country has experienced since its birth at the end of the 19th century. In1991 while it was on the verge of disintegration, Ethiopia entered a new chapter that recognizes the existence of over 80 ethnic groups, at least in principle. The constitution that was ratified in 1995 has structured identity-based federalism and recognized the ‘rights of nations, nationalities and people’s self-determination up to secession (Smith, 2013:79). However, the federalism framework ushered a new hegemony of Tigray, whose rebel forces (TPLF) seized key power in 1991, kept marginalizing other groups. This failure gave birth to a popular uprising from the largest group, the Oromo, which resulted in the eviction of the
TPLF from the top leadership in March 2018. Yet the Oromos are still not genuinely represented in the government system, while their top political leaders are languishing in the jails. Instead, the
Amhara old ruling regime is reviving, problematizing the rights of other ethnic groups.
The same internal conflicts forced Eritrea to secede some 30 years ago and now Tigray is also on the same track to become another independent state planning to secede from Ethiopia. Following
the recent Tigray war, regional conflicts with Ethiopia are also expected due to many reasons. If the domestic conflicts in Ethiopia are not resolved genuinely, total state disintegration and
regional chaos seem inevitable. This is the hypothesis of this paper that I will test it reviewing existing literature and make my own analysis to answer this predictive question. This study will
answer the question of how the lack of Ethiopia’s internal security risks regional security, using a case study method of comparative research (Halperin & Heath, 2017:212).
Internal Colonialism in Ethiopia
The fundamental problem of Ethiopia’s federal structure is that it was built on the problematic foundation of internal colonialism that had been there for about a century. Definition of internal colonialism given by scholars of the field significantly fits the history of Ethiopia’s state formation. Pablo Gonzales defines internal colonialism as “a structure of social relations based on domination and exploitation among culturally heterogeneous, distinct groups” (1965:3). John Åberg also substantiates this definition which suits the state formation of Ethiopia: States gained external sovereignty through recognition before they gained internal sovereignty within their territories. Therefore, to establish internal sovereignty, states needed to engage in internal colonialism – that is, processes of organized violence,
bureaucratic expansion, and cultural assimilation ( 2013:51).
Åberg further strengthens this definition relating it in line with the dominant understanding of the Westphalian ideal of the state where authority is one, bureaucracy is one and nation is one – and
together they make up the trinity of the modern state (2013:51). The selective incorporation of ethnic elites into the ruling class through elevation of Amhara culture and religion and the denigration of other cultures and religions in Ethiopia (Smith, 2013:65) is a perfect replica of this fact. The campaign of the Argentine state to establish dominance over Patagonia, known as the Conquest of the Desert (Åberg 2013:51), which Åberg mentions as a good example of the internal colonial process has a resemblance with what the Amhara elites did to the Oromos and other groups in Ethiopia, during the state formation.
John Young, an IR scholar who did long time research on the nature of Ethiopia’s state formation adds that in Ethiopia the clash was compounded by the fact that power was held not by a transplanted colonial class that could be pushed to relinquish power and return to Europe, but by an indigenous Amhara nobility whose survival depended upon retention of state power (1996:533). He elaborates that Emperor Menelik II incorporated the lands and peoples of the
south, east, and west into an empire that became the modern state of Ethiopia, and much of the conquered land was given to the court and church officials, soldiers, and settlers from the north who were encouraged to migrate to the region (1996:532). Lahra Smith also supports Young’s argument in her book. The imposition of Amharic language, the formal political establishment of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and its distinct theology as the national religious identity of the state, and the dominance of Amhara cultural and political symbols in political life (Smith, 2013:65) Just like the Westphalian state system, with its “cuius regio, eius religio” doctrine. (Eng.: “Whose realm, his religion”) (Beyer, 2016:238), the power to rule the Ethiopian state was built on the foundation of religion (the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) and ‘becoming’ Amhara. “The ability to “become” Amhara was limited not just by the ability
and willingness to learn Amharic to the level of native fluency, fully convert to the Orthodox Church (Smith, 2013:65).
The political change that Ethiopia saw in 1991 was supposed to end this century-long Amhara supremacy by reasserting the political structure in ethnic-federalism aimed to sustain the county’s unity. However, this arrangement was built on the underlying. Amharaized’ foundation that has been discussed above. This underlying cultural and social dominance still does not allow the equality and genuine political representation of all ethnic groups in Ethiopia. In 1996, five years after the regime change, figures from the Federal Civil Service Commission showed some
57% of federal government employees were Amhara, 14% Oromo, and 12% were Tigrayan (Ethiopian Herald, 8 April 1996). These figures point to the continuing subordinate position of
the Oromo who constitute more than a third of Ethiopia’s population (Young, 1996:537), a situation that continued to this date. Did the 25 years-old ethnic-federalism really resolve the political
misrepresentation and successfully avoid the domestic conflicts that threaten state unity and regional security?
The answer in short is no! Brass argues that ethnicity is a product of competition between ethnic elites for state power, and state centralization encourages alienated elites to raise ethnic demands
(1991:217). The solution for such a problem that Ethiopia is experiencing is exercising democracy that allows a genuine political representation of the groups. However, none of the elections held in Ethiopia in those 25 years was fair and democratic, according to several reports released each time by the international observers.
Lahra Smith shows the real picture of fake representation in the existing Ethiopian federal arrangement putting it “The increasing use of local administrative structures to violate the most
fundamental human rights of the Oromo and suppress genuine political representation” (2013:161). Although Smith is closer to my argument, still she did not adequately answer the question of whether lack of this genuine political representation threatens state unity and regional security.
Despite the transition from a unitary rule to a federal system in 1991, the ethnic groups in the country have never been genuinely represented in the government. Ethiopia has held about five
national elections since then, however, none of the elections were free and fair to bring the aspired genuine political representation. The ruling coalition party, EPRDF, which was Although it seemed dismantled in 1991, The Amharized internal colonialist structure remained to jeopardize the domestic security of Ethiopia. As Rene Léfort, a senior researcher and publisher in the Journal of Modern African Studies recently commented, the problems arising from the
contradictions between the Ethiopian empire and its ‘colonies’ all around have never been completely resolved (Ethiopia Insight, December 24, 2020). The Amharaized nature of the political
landscape is still causing conflicts that arise from the question of citizenship equality, particularly from the Oromos. According to the most recent Ethiopian national census in 2007 (no official
national census has been conducted since then), Ethiopia has over 80 ethnic groups out of whom the Oromo are the single largest group constituting 34.4% while the Amhara is 26.9% of the
total population (Central Statistics Agency of Ethiopia, 2007).
However, when it comes to the demography of the main cities and towns across the country, the Amhara highly dominate as they were the old conquerors. For instance, in the capital Addis
Ababa, which the Oromos claim calling with its old name – Finfinnee, 47% of the inhabitants are the Amhara, while the natives Oromos are only 19%, according to the 2007 census (Central
Statistics Agency, 2007). The Amhara also takes the lion’s share in the positions of both governmental and non-governmental institutions. Abiy Ahmed’s attempt to de-ethnicize
Ethiopian politics significantly helped them to revive their old legacy – domination in the name of ‘Ethiopianism’, which is triggering the marginalized identities to polarize, in retaliation.
According to the rational choice (Game Theory), which James Fearon describes in the Yugoslavian case, ethnic groups in a certain country can easily polarize when the group interacts in an environment where no third party can guarantee and enforce agreements between them (Halperin and Heath 2017:45). In the Ethiopian case, the political change that brought Abiy Ahmed to power in 2018 promised to end the grievances of many ethnic groups who have been demanding equal representation in politics. In his inaugural speech, Abiy promised to serve as a ‘third party’ that holds together the fractured communities. However, he gradually became biased to the Amhara elites, glorifying old Amhara emperors, vowing to revive their legacy,
antagonizing the genuine opposition of the Oromo, Tigray and other groups who have been fighting the unjust system in the country. A former Assistant Secretary of the US African
Affairs, Herman Cohen recently commented:
The name of the government is the Federal Republic of Ethiopia. But I can’t see any sign of federalism, I don’t think Prime Minister Abiy really intends that federalism. If he does, he would not make war against Tigray (Oromia Media Network, December 31, 2020). Abiy Ahmed took every action the Amhara elites requested, including eliminating and detaining prominent Oromo politicians as well as declaring war on Tigray. This development dramatically triggered the opponent groups to polarize themselves against Abiy and the Amhara elites, whose supremacy is reviving after almost 30 years. This is the main motive behind the current war in Tigray and the unrest in the Oromia region that claimed hundreds of lives recently.
The polarization of the Tgrayans, even before the outbreak of the war, was as powerful as demanding secession, which reflected in the celebration of the 45th anniversary of the TPLF in 2020, where the federal government flag was rejected by the mass, other than the regional yellow-red flag. The other groups such as the Oromo are also waiting for the right time to follow the Ttgrayans footsteps rather than accepting the renewal of the old Amhara dominance.
The vast majority of the Oromo nationalists with their vanguard organization – the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) who seemed to denounce secession in 2018 also now calling for unconditional secession from Ethiopia. The number of armed forces fighting the Abiy regime in the name of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) is now increasing in the Oromia region and when they see their ‘ability to secede or withdraw from joint agreements will decline in the near future and when for them, fighting in the present is preferable to the worst political outcome they could face if they could choose continued interaction’ (Fearon, 1998:112), massive civil war that even more dangerous than the one ongoing in Tigray is inevitable in Oromia and other regions, which could sadly mark the total disintegration of the state. This contradiction between
unitarist colonial Amhara supported by Abiy Ahmed and the rest of the groups in the country is now posing a clear danger to the unity of the state which also affects the security of the Horn region, as already began.
According to realist theory, all states intend power maximization and they exploit every opportunity they see to overcome their security dilemma. For realists, the state is the main actor
in international politics and sovereignty is its distinguishing trait, in which war is of fundamental importance to understanding state behaviour in the international system (Dunne 2017: 109). The
internal security problem of the Ethiopian state is linked to neighbouring states in one way or another, which internationalizes its domestic conflict.
Eritrea is involved in the internal conflict of Ethiopia against the war on Tigray, for revenge of the 1998-2000 war which took place between the then TPLF-led Addis Ababa government and Asmara. Sudan has also a serious border issue with Ethiopia, and it has been waiting for a suitable time to control the disputed territories. Sudan is now removed from the US terrorism list and rebuilding its relationship with the US, which increased its confidence to ‘protect the country’s sovereignty and repel any aggression’ (Twitter, December 16, 2020), according to a recent comment by its prime minister.
The prime minister, Abdallah Hamdok, made this statement after the domestic war between the federal government of Ethiopia and the Tigray Regional State broke out (Washington Post, December 20, 2020). Ethiopia shares a number of ethnic groups with its neighbouring countries and its border with most of them is still disputed. There were border issues with Somalia, which took both states to war in 1977. In the south, there are ‘silent’ border issues with Kenya and South Sudan. These neighbouring countries closely follow up the domestic politics of Ethiopia.
They want to see a weaker Ethiopia that gives them an opportunity to regain lost territories they claim Ethiopia has controlled previously. What is currently going on in the Ethio-Sudanese border, just following
the outbreak of civil war in Tigray, is a good example. The Sudanese government recently declared that it regained the territories it claims encroached on by Ethiopia (Reuters, December 16,
2020). Egypt is also another state to offer unwavering support to Sudan in the fight against Ethiopia, in intention, to halt the construction of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)
over the Nile River. This is how the Ethiopian domestic ethnic conflicts can easily expand to regional conflicts that involve the vast majority of the Horn of Africa as far as Egypt.