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Rethinking the Continuing Insanity of Ethiopian Politics

By Dr. Fisseha-Tsion Menghistu & Associates, Addis Tribune (Addis Ababa), 13 October 2000

Addis Ababa—In the first article of this series, (see Addis Tribune, September 8, 2000) we argued that one of the central ideological and political factors that has created unacceptable divisions, war and suffering for our people in the last three decades is the much-abused concept of the right of nations to self-determination up to and including secession.

This issue has brought about the secession of Eritrea and the ethnicization of Ethiopian politics with all its incalculable consequences for both Ethiopians and Eritreans.

We also tried to inform and enlighten our readers that today there are very few sovereign states and nations in the world led by the United States and very few other countries who can truly exercise their right of self determination.

What exists in many poor and underdeveloped countries, particularly in many African countries, is a sham and meaningless sovereignty, which only protects the interests of the leaders and neglects the masses of the people of Africa.


In our previous article, we also attempted, among other things, to bring to the attention of our fellow Ethiopians and Eritreans that we are now living in an unprecedented era of mega-mergers and globalization.

We have reached the highest, most complex and most sophisticated stage of the private enterprise system where global corporations and the three major currencies of the three major trading blocks of the world, i.e. the US dollar, the Euro and the Yen, will dominate the world economy. This unprecedented era of mega-mergers and the integration of our national economies into the world economy have rendered the fragmentation of markets and secession absolutely meaningless. For global companies the market of 4 million people in Eritrea is too insignificant compared, for example, with the 60 and 120 million people of Ethiopia and Nigeria respectively. At any rate, those Eritreans who have purchasing power are outside Eritrea.

It is regrettable that we seem to focus our own energies on a strategy of mutual annihilation and destruction, and on the wrong issues. If only we realized how far behind the rest of the world we truly are, we would not have engaged in this cruel, inhuman, savage, primitive and sub-standard politics that have nothing to do with the elimination of the unacceptable level of abject poverty that persists among the vast majority of our people.

In poor, underdeveloped countries like ours, which are marked by diversity, accepting the right of secession has far greater drawbacks and negative consequences than practical benefits and advantages. These kinds of policies have become a serious threat to the national security, unity and future of our nations. To put it simply, we cannot have a bright future if we continue to pursue the policies of insanity and mutual destruction and mutual exclusion.

If each of the rich regions in minerals, oil, land, coffee, teff, fish, sheep and cattle and other resources rise up one day to demand ownership and control of these resources to the exclusion of other Ethiopians, or decide to hold the rest of our people hostage, then Ethiopia will cease to exist. Moreover, if some were to argue that the land of the Amharas and Oromos does not belong to all Ethiopians, including Tigreans, Eritreans, Somalis and Afars etc., this would be a form of ethnic politics and the Bantustanization or kililization policy which all other Ethiopians should condemn. It is for these and other reasons that we advocate that Article 39 of the Constitution and various other policies and practices of the TPLF/EPRDF be revised.

On the issue of devolution, we like to stress that we do support a meaningful devolution and regional autonomy. But we are opposed to any form of so-called self determination that eventually leads to secession and fragmentation that has nothing to do with the elimination of poverty. Secession and fragmentation may be good for warlords, gangsters and the mafias but certainly not for the vast majority of our people.

We Ethiopians and Eritreans seem to accuse and blame one another that have nothing to do with alleviating the day-to-day suffering and misery of our people and improving their standard of living. Eritreans quarrel with Ethiopians without knowing that Isayas is their greatest enemy. Many Eritreans who call themselves civilized have surrendered their mental faculties to one man who eventually reduced them to be mere applauding parrots of his lies and propaganda.

We have never seen a nation that has put so much blind trust and confidence in one man for too long. Many Eritreans blindly applauded and never questioned that power and many other things could corrupt him to be the accuser, the judge and the executioner. We have warned many of our colleagues of the dangers long ago but they treated us as their enemies. Now all Eritreans are paying a heavy price.

We cannot blame the vast majority of Eritreans who due to ignorance or innocence may have behaved the way they did. But the behaviour of many Eritrean intellectuals in diaspora has been shameful and despicable. They became deaf, blind, dumb and hysterical for too long when any discussion arose about Isayas and Eritrea. It is only now that they are waking up.

A society that knows only war and mutual destruction cannot have a good future. We fail to understand why the life and future of a whole generation should be destroyed to bring about the so-called independence of Eritrea whose socio-economic, technological and other benefits to the vast majority of Eritreans living within Eritrea remains illusive. What they got so far is death, destruction and bereavement except perhaps those in diaspora. Even then, we could not imagine how they could escape noticing the suffering of their cousins living inside Eritrea.

There are still some Eritreans in diaspora who call themselves educated scholars that still regard Ethiopia and its people as backward nation and people. This has made us wonder whether these breeds of Eritreans are coming from another planet. They seem to forget that many Eritreans and Ethiopians, for example, have a lower standard of living than cats and dogs have in the West while the world has advanced into cloning human embryos and landed astronauts on the moon more than 25 years ago. Many Eritreans do not seem to be seriously concerned why we are left far behind.

The fact that some of us have access to the Internet does not mean that the rest of our people are not left behind. In the last 25 years, the standards of living of both Ethiopians and Eritreans have declined in real terms. We just have to open our eyes to the reality of unacceptable state of abject poverty and misery that the vast majority of the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea, are facing today.

The situation in Ethiopia is depressing. In addition to the loss of so many lives more than 30, 000 children are daily begging on the streets of Addis Ababa alone. Youth unemployment, prostitution and corruption are rampant. Even the very people who claim to be concerned about the future of our people seem to be more interested in saving themselves than in saving the country and conserving its people.

If our primary objective is to eliminate the poverty that exists in our country, and to restore the pride and dignity to our people, then what we have been doing in the last three decades has nothing, or very little to do with realizing such noble objectives. It was a struggle waged to satisfy the aspirations of some self styled, inept and sadistic politically motivated elites who have had obsession for power rather than anything else. It is because of this that the true aspirations of our people still remain unfulfilled and unrealized.

At any rate, as far as Ethiopia is concerned, we do not accept that a right of one ethnic group, as articulated by some individuals who are more obsessed with their own power is more paramount than the sovereign rights of the rest of the voiceless majority who are suffering from basic needs. Moreover, self determination of a group is not more primordial and a greater fundamental right than the collective right to life of our citizens.


There are some disturbing and worrying developments with respect to the ongoing ethnic politics. We believe it is going too far in Ethiopia, particularly among the Ethiopians in diaspora. Many individuals are being grouped along ethnic and tribal lines. The mutual distrust, anger and mutual recrimination between the various ethnic groups of Ethiopia have become dangerously deeply rooted. They do not seem to feel the sense of brotherhood and sisterhood that existed during our adulthood. Tremendous hatred and anger is building up against, for example, the people of Tigray for the mistakes being committed by some of the leaders of TPLF. We do not understand why an Amhara or Oromo taxi driver in Washington D.C., Atlanta, or Los Angeles should quarrel with or refuse to greet or trust ordinary Tigreans simply because they happen to originate from the same region/province as those core leaders of TPLF.

Such individuals often do not seem to understand that ordinary Amharas have not benefited from either Haile Sellassie or the Dergue. It can also be equally argued that not all Tigreans support TPLF and it is not right on our part to suspect that every Tigrean is supporter of TPLF and that every Eritrean is a secessionist. These kinds of generalizations will not help to build harmony and social cohesion.

What is going on among some of the individuals who claim to represent different ethnic groups of Ethiopia is shameful and unacceptable. In Ethiopia, even the shareholders of Ethiopian banks and clients seem ethnicized. This is too far and too bad.

There is something sinister brewing in the minds of many people inside and outside the country. In the past individuals from the Amhara and other ethnic groups used to try to join their Tigreans or Oromos when their respective traditional dances were being played. Now only those sober and seasoned once seem to show a sense of solidarity and togetherness. As a result, barriers and fences are being created in the minds of many people whose only choice of survival is by living together.


2.4.1 Abandoning the old policies of death and destruction

No one denies his/her own ethnic or tribal origin, but Ethiopians also have the inalienable right to live together in peace and harmony and to have unfettered entitlement to use and exploit and develop every part of the land, sea and skies that belong to all Ethiopians. Moreover, the government that calls itself the Ethiopian Government has the primary duty to see to it that Ethiopian resources are exploited to the benefit of all Ethiopians and not to a particular ethnic group. Nor can our chronic socio-economic and political problems be solved by appointing hand-picked yes men and women originating from different ethnic groups and pretend that they represent other than themselves.

The right to self-determination, which many Ethiopians readily accepted in good faith and which, in principle, was a well-meaning idea intended to bring about devolution of power and decision making and to increase grassroots participation has become a cancer of our social fabric. Unfortunately, Ethiopia and the rest of the world has never had shortage of many lunatics who are prepared to destroy their own people under the slogan of self determination.

In practice, apart from satisfying the power ambitions of some groups, whatever devolution and decentralization that has taken place under the right of nations to self-determination since the Dergue tried to implement it, has not brought about a meaningful devolution of power from the Party leaders and bureaucrats to the people. Moreover, it has brought us three decades of needless fratricidal war, division, unacceptable misery, suffering and shame. It has taken Ethiopia many steps back.

Now, our people are extremely dependent on the outside world for even food, more so than ever before. Our unity, dignity and pride have been seriously undermined. What we now have is a sort of ethnicity- based governments within a federal government which, if one day is led by angry and extremist elements could give rise to a break-up as it has happened in the former Yugoslavia. If Ethiopians cannot learn from the experience of the last three bloody decades of suffering, then we have no reason to be hopeful and optimistic about our future.

The right step to come to our senses is to abandon the right of nations to self-determination up to and including secession and to make a clean break with the era of our collective madness and focus on the issues that matter to the vast majority of our people. There is a dire need for a somber rethinking and dialogue on the future of Ethiopia in the 21st century.

Our viewpoint is clear. We have advocated for no less than 25 years of our lives that in a country full of diversity such as ours, and where the diversity is part of being Ethiopian, ethnic politics is as dangerous as racism and fascism, none of which should have any place in our society. There is no way, for example, that Tigreans and Oromos can drive Amharas either to the south or to the west, and there is no way Amharas can drive

Tigreans and Eritreans into the Red Sea and the Oromos to Kenya. Nor does it make sense for all the major nationalities and minorities of Ethiopia to hate each other when they are condemned by the Almighty and the merciful to live together.

In our view, diversity should be seen as an asset rather than a reason for secession. For example, the state of California has a population comprising about 140 ethnic groups whose members have migrated from different parts of the world. The State of Florida also has Cuban immigrants. Although Latinos are the majority ethnic group living in certain areas of California, they are not demanding their own Latino state independent of California. Nor would such a demand be acceptable. In many ways, what they wants for their children is similar to what every other American want for his children. Yet in

Ethiopia, we are abusing our diversity to the extent of unacceptable and intolerable absurdity, and for too long.

Anyone who has followed the tragic step-by-step dismemberment of the former Yugoslavia and the creation of mini-republics there from, including Kosovo, cannot help but wonder whether the people of the former Yugoslavia were not better-off under Tito than they are now. Today the best of friends and neighbours have become the worst of enemies, partly due to irresponsible extremist elements in the various groups. The fact of the matter is that foreign intervention and holding of elections have not solved the problems and addressed the issues that matter to the people.

As far as we are concerned, we do not want to see in Ethiopia what is happening in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Nor do we want Charlie point corridors dividing our people belonging to the same ethnic group on the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia. We also think that our brothers living in Western, Northern and Eastern lowlands of Eritrea who value their Eritrean identity are wise enough to understand that they would not like to see a fragmented, permanently crippled, dependent and isolated Eritrea.

When even the rich, powerful, industrial and former colonial powers of Europe are strengthening their political, economic and monetary union, and have dismantled their borders we are dividing the same people who have inseparable destiny. This is unacceptable and unpardonable.