Some unsettled issues of current affairs: suggestions for discussion
By A. Beyene, Professor, November 28, 2019
Given the upcoming elections in Ethiopia and the current worrisome political turbulence, the following issues have risen in my mind as important enough to require a thorough discussion – to build a national consensus if possible, or to identify points of departure among political groups otherwise. I raise these issues not as agenda items for others to dissect, but with tentative ALTERNATIVE solutions of my version, solutions which I propose with less than full conviction. In other words, I may change my opinions, and ask the reader to also take my points as exploratory – catered for change or improvement.
I. The constitution
- On the “nations, nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia:” the constitution is casual about these terms, and the distinction among them is only implied, not properly delineated. The implicitly established distinction builds a hierarchy that rewards those high in population numbers and punishes those less populous. Simply put, population size seems to be the only criteria used to make the distinction between “nations, nationalities and Peoples,” but without specific range of numbers to delimit the classification.The reference of “nationalities and peoples” creates a sense of second-class citizens, unfitting of a country claiming to be proud of its diversity as a cultural capital, at least on paper. In as long as Ethiopia’s collective rights are functions of the number of the population of a group, the country cannot be said to have a political commitment to respect group rights or cultural diversity. The classification smacks a constitutionally mandated condescending tone unapologetically endorsed by political leaders. For example, I saw a video of the former PM, Meles Zenawi explaining why “Aggar dirijitoch” (non-members of EPRDF constituencies) can’t join EPRDF as members. He stated that as sedentary people the “aggaroch” have not yet matured for revolutionary democracy.Alternative: It is healthier to recognize all the diverse peoples of the country labelled as “nations, nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia” as the ‘nations of Ethiopia’. A nation should be any group of people with autonomous language and culture, independent of the size of its population, with equal representatives to the House of Federation, just like all States in the USA which have equal number of Senators regardless of the size of the State. In fact, among so defined nations, the smallest minorities shall be given adequate protection and care to assure their survival if not prosperity. The OLF, whose raison d’être is collective rights of the people must champion the case of cultural minorities of Ethiopia, with no less determination than that it renders to the Oromo who may not face a risk of extinction as many of the minority cultures do. Note that Article 5, Section 2 states “all Ethiopian languages shall enjoy equal State recognition.” All languages cannot enjoy equal rights while they are not defined as equals. This logic I presented here validates Article 47 of the constitution as a definition of a State.
- On the national emblem and anthem of Ethiopia: a few crisscrossing lines don’t match the culture, tradition, or greatness of the people as an emblem, that can be claimed once its diversity is fully celebrated. I for one fail to relate where the poorly designed ‘star’ as a national emblem can be extensively tied to the people as a metaphoric symbol. The national emblem should be as meaningful as the Oda tree for Oromos. The ‘hammer and sickle’ is reserved for proletarian solidarity – and copying is never a sign of greatness. Some might have been used to the star, imprinted on the flag by now, which reminds Ghana’s btw, perhaps as a reverse gratitude to Ghana for its adoption of Ethiopia’s flag turned upside down.Alternative: Ethiopia’s emblem must be determined as a competitive artwork, representing the country’s collective and symbiotic taste, through a democratic process. Personally, I see a lion to be more linked to Ethiopia’s tradition than a Walia or crisscrossed lines. But I advise keeping religious symbols out of the image. I take South Africa as an example of a reconciled anthem, a process which can serve the creation of a uniting emblem in Ethiopia. Prior to 1997, two anthems existed In South Africa. The “God Bless Africa” was used as an anti-Apartheid anthem. It was popular among the black population of the country. The second was “The Call of South Africa”, which belonged to the apartheid regime. In 1997, the two anthems were combined to reflect the multi-racial country while functioning as an instrument to inspire national unity. Five of South Africa’s eleven official languages were used to create the new anthem. The South African national anthem became a true testament to mutual respect and recognition of cultural diversity. Emblems and anthems can only serve as true symbols of a country if they faithfully represent the country, and if they are embraced by the people of the country.
- Oromo language shall be the official language of the Federal Government. Ethiopia needs a criterion to define a language as Federal.Alternative: As a starting point, I propose having a ground rule for establishing a criterion to select Federal languages. One option is, a language becomes Federal if it is spoken by at least one million permanent residents outside of the nation’s regional territory where the language is spoken. For example, if there are one million Somali speakers in Ethiopia permanently residing outside the Somali region, the language then becomes Federal. We can debate on the validity of one million versus any other number, – the power of my point here is in the idea, not the number. I remember that in the 1970s and 80s every large city in the former Soviet Union wanted to have an underground transportation system. The problem was that every little town claimed to be large, and it demanded an underground train even when the problem was not acute. Then, the Soviets ruled that a city with more than one million population qualifies for underground transportation. That is where I took my idea. The use of population size in such cases doesn’t contradict what I proposed above under I, a, because the ultimate solution in here encourages development without creating superior and inferior classes of cultures.
- Article 49, Section 2, states that “the city of Addis Ababa shall have complete powers of self-administration.” A self-administering city within a self-administering State favors anarchy and creates disorder. The anarchy has attracted “bale’aderas’ as self-acclaimed rulers of the city, and TPLF appointed city mayors who pushed the boundaries of the city about doubling the size of the city in three decades.Alternative: The administration of Finfinne must answer to Oromia. Finfinne’s self-administration must be to the same extent as capitals of other States to their regional administration. As a capital of the largest State in Ethiopia, Oromia, Finfinne is also its part. A city can’t be a capital of a region without being part of that region, and for this reason, the discussion that Finfinne doesn’t belong to Oromia is mute. The fact that Finfinne will be administered by Oromia has no impact on private ownership, placement of Federal buildings and institutions, or international agencies. These exist even today in all other cities administered by regions.
- Article 49, Section 4, states that “the special interest of the State of Oromia with respect to supply of services or the utilization of resources or administrative matters arising from the presence of the city of Addis Ababa within the State of Oromia shall be protected.”A careful review of the situation on the ground makes the idea of Oromia having a special interest in Addis Ababa absolute nonsense. The Federal government has neither the authority nor the business in dictating the relationship that Finfinne should have with Oromia. The relationship is naturally symbiotic, and it is at best an internal debate between Oromia and Finfinne. Of course, all the other States may also have relationships with Oromia, i.e., Finfinne. The Federal government must yield such discussions to the two discussants, should they emerge as relevant, mindful that Oromia has full control over Finfinne. We don’t need Qerro to prove this.Alternative: No special interest shall be endowed to any part of the country by any other part. There is a mutually acceptable equilibrium we can try to strike between the city, the state, or the country, in all cases – not only Finfinne. The interests of Finfinne and Oromia are not mutually exclusive. In my opinion, these interests are best guarded only if, like all the other cities within a state, Finfinne is also administered by Oromia State. Once again, Finfinne should be treated just like other regional capitals with superimposed discipline to host national or international institutes.
II. On the Ethiopian unity
The Ethiopian unity is still a controversial issue, now with added flavor of “meddemer” (a word literally meaning “to be added,”) – a title of a book authored by the Prime Minister, Dr Abiy Ahmed. The book elevated Dr Abiy’s initially slogan-sounding “meddemer,” to a philosophical idiom, without adequate reference to the established literature on the subject. I say that it initially sounded like a slogan, examples of which include:
- Alba gu bràth, meaning Scotland forever;
- All power to the Soviets of the Bolshevik’s October revolution;
- Arbeit Macht Frei(Work Will Set You Free) of the Nazi Germany;
- Make America Great Again of Donald Trump;
- Ethiopia Tiqdem (Ethiopia First) of Derg.
I claim it is not adequately referenced because “meddemer” didn’t build on the rich and time-tested literature on the subject. Heraclitus wrote about unity around 500 BCE, appreciating the unity of A and B while acknowledging that A and B must be different. Here Heraclitus’ verity forms the central thesis of dialectics as a reason for change.
“Meddemer” tacitly suggests an abridged version of unity, filtered to match favorable natural laws, proposed as an indigenous solution to Ethiopia’s political chaos. The topic of unity as Ethiopia’s political chaos was also insufficiently treated in “meddemer.” Here, I would like to quote my text from my 2010 paper, presented as an argument against Dr Birhanu Nega’s ‘doctrine’ on unity which he presented at OSA:
“Thus, promoted as a consecrated ideology, unity of the Ethiopian unionists has also become an alienating precondition condemned by many who are not convinced about, or unconvincingly targeted by the unity. Paradoxically, both unionists and their opposition exclusively cater their messages for their own loyal members. A debate outside their comfort zones is usually avoided by both, except by those who specialize in waging open internet struggle anonymously. The widespread condescending tones and at times foul languages do not allow the parties to even share a room with each other.
Reiterating, Ethiopian unity has emerged as a preeminent political essential for the major Amhara dominated political parties, and, at the same time, a “must be avoided” political taboo for many South-centered parties. The Orthodox Church priests have prayed for Ethiopian unity, but at the same time Orthodox followers have died to dismantle this same unity. Those who died in such actions have become celebrated heroes while other citizens of the same country condemned the martyrs as villains, hatefully exhibiting their dead bodies on the streets and on TV for a passionate disgrace, unworthy of mankind, certainly not worthy of a human citizen with whom a potential unity is sought. Legesse Wagi, one of the OLF commanders killed by the regime few years ago, was treated as such, but became an Oromo hero whose picture, with his breaded hair, is a screen saver for hundreds of young Oromos in Minneapolis. The pictures of artist Ebisaa Adunya holding his guitar upright, has now found a permanent façade at California community meetings. He was murdered for singing unflattering song about TPLF brutality. I see no reason why Legesse or Ebissa shall not be heroes of all Ethiopia, their pictures posted in the front offices of Voice of Ethiopian Unity party, Kinijit Unity Party, Ethiopian Unity Diaspora Forum, etc. The Ethio-centric unionists shall learn how to mourn the death of a young Oromo artist as a common loss and gain an Oromo trust before they demand an Oromo alliance. The beautiful tradition of mourning a loss as a truly united community independent of ethnic and nationality is common in Ethiopian traditions of all peoples until the Derg killed compassion and affection by killing innocent people and posting their dead bodies on the streets. For an Oromo, Legesse’s or Ebissa’s death is no less painful than that of an Amhara emperor or a Tigrean General. I only named these two victims as an example; the jails of Ethiopia are but full of Legesses and Ebisaas. ….
Despite the prayers and the massive army protecting the Ethiopian unity, at least one part or party has succeeded in separating from Ethiopia and establishing an independent State. The second party, the TPLF who fought the military regime, would have easily seceded had it so chosen, but it preferred capturing the entire State and punishing the civilian population by terror for a terror it suffered from the Derg – a generational revenge which could repeat in a vicious cycle.”
Where are we now, almost a decade later? What changed in the Abyssinian uptake of unity or Oormo quest for self-determination? I think the emergence of “meddemer,” proposed as a political philosophy, is a newly consumable pedagogy at least from one angle; it forces a discussion on unity. Unfortunately, the ‘philosophy’ also obscured the debate around unity by suppressing the need to debate the attributes of the individual constituents that come for “meddemer”, i.e., addition. The whitewash elevated Ethiopian unity to an anteroom philosophy, a precariously untouchable dogma that must be hailed unconditionally, even in its camouflaged version working for cultural dominance.
But if probed for originality, “meddemer” may be said to carry some novelty because it proposes unity as absolute, universal, complete and positive substitute. Such novelty in unity is not convincingly argued, nonetheless. For example, even religion is not unanimous about unity. In Christianity it is derived from doctrine of the Trinity, which teaches the unity of Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit as three identities but united in one God. In Islam, the Holy Qur’an states that the mu’minoon (believers) are united in a brotherhood: “The mu’minoon are but a single brotherhood.”
Unity is not absolute, neither universal, nor complete – it is not necessarily and universally better than solitude. For human beings, as social entities, solitary confinement is a legal punishment. So, unity is preferred, although we know many individuals who prefer to be alone. In the animal kingdom, there are many who eat each other, even within the same species. The spider widow kills her own husband, apparently to protect its children. Unity is not universal; it can be natural just as solitude can be. By celebrating national unity as a universal ethos, I am afraid “meddemer” bypasses the tough talk on conditions needed to establish equality, peace and understanding for the conceived unity.
As a political taboo of the upcoming elections, Ethiopian unity will be controversial and may create a loss of constituency especially for the OLF unless it is handled carefully. It opens a line of attack for opposition and “Ahadawwi” (anti-Federalist) groups. I think a combination of two factors: a) asking for a referendum on self-determination, but b) stating clearly that Oromos believe in equal unity based on equality and respect to nations, could be an optimum stretch. The first is needed because it carried the struggle to the betta. The second is needed because unity, in principle, if done based on true understanding, mutual respect, and honesty, – is highly favorable, – an element of growth. I realize that even today Menelik is forced upon us, and there are million reasons to give up on unity. I for one have little energy left to convince those who have exhausted their patience. But I grew up singing “let’s give peace a chance.” This song has costed us dearly, but I hope we will never stop singing.
III. On ODP and EPP
OPDO changed its name twice in a year, first to ODP (Oromo Democratic Party) and now to EPP (Ethiopian Prosperity Party,) the later without a mention of Oromo in the new name, replaced by Ethiopia. Given the experience of the last several decades in the country, the vehement will for cultural domination under the cover of Ethiopian nationalism so prevalent even today, I don’t understand how an Ethiopianist political party wins in Oromia or in any other region of the south in the near future. For this reason, I am a bit confused about Dr Abiy’s strategy of merging the EPRDF. But I see some possible motives:
- Perhaps EPRDF is planning on the assumption that it will lose the upcoming elections. With this assumption, it is setting up a post-election scenario to create a majority with a winning team to rule the country. The scenario becomes remarkable if EPRDF wins, and the loss would be highly controlled if it loses. A newly created front of the majority with the new Ethiopianist party will likely propose Dr Abiy’s experienced group to lead the country once again. This makes some sense;
- The new party may wage all-out attack on opposition, taking power no matter what the outcome of the elections would be. They have the might of the military to implement this, if they so choose. In such scenario, the dictating new party will have some political leverage as an Ethiopianist bloc, but of course it will be a disaster for the country – hence less likely. The new party can quickly switch to option a) if a loss becomes imminent;
- EPP and its predecessors are so confused that they think they really can win the elections as an Ethiopianist party. This means, if they win, I am the one who will be judged totally confused.
IV. On Jawar
Jawar has declared that he will run for elections. But how? He has few strategic options, not many. First, I rule out the weak options for Jawar: he will not run as an individual because he will then settle for one seat only. He will not join the newly merged EPP party because he saw it as a failure before the party was born as a merge, and he recognizes it is probably doomed under the scenarios I discussed above. Here, I am assuming a high level of rigidity in Jawar’s politics, fully mindful that I can be proven wrong by jawar. His real options are to run under the OLF or under OFC. Any other party, new or old, will be too soft to land Jawar. As a newcomer to the OLF or OFC, I am sure overall he will be well-received, and he will bring a solid batch of support to the group he joins. Whoever he joins, he must go with humility and submission to the pre-existing structure that my good old friend Jawar may not be used to, especially in the absence of some mature advisers. I am sure both Obbo Daud and Dr Marara will embrace and nurture him if the young activist turns a politician.
On the other hand, Jawar has become a highly controversial figure among Amharas, particularly the elites, and will carry some level of liability whoever he joins. I don’t understand why Jawar, a person beloved by the Oromo youth, is so hated by the Amhara. This discrepancy alone serves as a measure of the toxicity of Ethiopian politics, particularly between Oromo and Amhara. The abnormal hate for Jawar has propelled Jawar’s popularity. In fact, the hate for Jawar has become a source of his popular support among Oromos, no less than the degree to which Jawar earned his own popularity through hard work. While Amhara elites might have contributed more than Oromos to the popularity of Jawar, they post no justification for their hate, if there can be such a thing. Let us review the recent incident in which Jawar was central, an incident that resulted in the death of several dozens of youth. The following is extract from a recorded voice between Ethiopian security officers and Jawar’s security (my summary translation):
- Ethiopian security office orders Jawar’s personal guards to abandon their post of guarding Jawar’s home at midnight;
- The lead guard asks for confirmation, fearful for the security of Jawar;
- The security officer clearly orders the guards to leave, tells them there are two cars parked in front of jawar’s house to pick them;
- The guards ask if there is replacement for Jawar’s security, fearful that leaving their post will endanger jawar’s life;
- The security officers reply that the concern for Jawar is not the guards’ business, and ask them to take order and abandon their post;
- After several disputes the guards tell their boss, that they can’t take the order, and that they will remain in post defending Jawar through the night – expressing full responsibility for the consequences of their action;
- Jawar posts the audio conversation and reports the event through his facebook, plus the movement of police surrounding his home;
- Jawar’s message was that of calm, telling his followers not to damage any property, etc. But he did write that if anyone attempts to force his way into his house, the guards will act, and the responsibility for any loss shall rest on those who force their way into the house.
The youth rushed to Jawar’s home to protect him. Opposition to the protest grew horrific, and people were killed as a result, most of them Oromos. Later, several Amhara intellectuals condemned Jawar for inciting the conflict. They blamed Jawar, the victim, for actions he took to protect himself and his friends. Jawar, in the minds of his haters, should have kept quiet while his personal security was removed after midnight, exposing him to life-threatening risk. Most who blamed Jawar for inciting the conflict didn’t say a word about him facing a great danger. This weird logic bought sympathy for Jawar, a solid backing from even those who didn’t support him. For most Oromos, Jawar is correct in letting his followers, his people know about the impending danger on him. For most Amharas, he should have faced the risk silently. Ultimately, many Oromos thought the incident was not about Jawar. But the answer to a question: – where does unity of Ethiopia lie in the mix of this irrational logic, ultimately tells us why peace may or may not prevail in Ethiopia. And one question remains intriguing for me. How can hate and love sort themselves so strictly by nationality? If I may add, who does such hate harm more, Jawar or the beloved unity of the country?
Ethiopia’s complex problems: security, unemployment, human rights, group rights, deforestation, food security, population growth, quality of education, stubborn political tradition, women’s issues, economic justice especially those arising from land grab, unity, etc. can be compartmentalized and addressed only through open discussions, listening to each other with patience, devoid of hate, and without a claim to having preeminence to define Ethiopia’s interest, or its meaning. Patience, respect to each other, and honesty – free from intrigues carry the hope for Ethiopia’s unity and peaceful coexistence of the people. These are highly affordable down payments for Ethiopia’s future.