On Abune Paulos Statue and Birhanu Nega’s Paper

We are transfixed by the Abune Paulos statue saga. In Ethiopia, no leader, not even Mengistu Hailemariam, erected one’s own statue that symbolizes a bizarre personality cult and pomp of shameless proportion. We thought that despite the fair share of ruthless dictators and personalized governments we have had, this was alien to us. Ethiopia was not Turkmenistan. It was not going to happen. Our assumptions were deeply unsettled by not a politician as one might plausibly expect, but a man who leads a church of nearly half of the country’s population.

As it is the act of the patriarch and his people, most of those who debate the statue’s meaning and validity do so only in terms of the tenets of the church’s teaching and its history. They take it as an internal debate; something that “others” have no standing in. But the truth is this: this is not a bust erected in a compound of a church. It is in a public space in one of the trendiest areas of our capital. Monuments and statues in cities have profound human value. They not only represent the human condition; they are part of the condition itself.

Before the figure of Abune Paulos with his outstretched hands became the latest addition to the statues and monuments of Addis Ababa, the city had seen little building in that front in the 19 years of EPRDF rule although it has become richer and many new swanky districts have been built. This is given little attention as a testament to our new predicament – that of lack of broadly and roughly settled understanding of history.

This story is about the ghosts of the 1960s and 70s student movement. The movement and its radical members are often regarded as Marxist. Yes, they read and shouted Marxist slogans. Yes, they used Marxist terms in the general discourse on Ethiopia. Yes, they were influenced by the Marxist intellectual and political winds blowing from other parts of the world. But in habit of thought and action, they were deeply immersed in the tradition of relativism and iconoclasm. Endless critique was taken as critical thinking. Unsystematic historical revisionism was confused for “intellectual” history. The politics of difference was the authoritative framework of historical interpretation. The general discourse of the era assailed the country’s bulwark institutions and cultures with pious zeal. These were done in the name of exposing “illusions” and “delusions”. They apparently knew a lot of Marxist vocabulary, that generation.

There is something seductive about relativism. Claims that there are no objective facts or/and that all facts are social constructions have a liberating appeal. Objective facts seem at first sight constraints on freedom. To understand that objective facts, as in Quine’s famous story of sailors, can be the planks(mainly rotten) to stand on to build a ship on water needs deep intellectual discourse; something that – as some of the members are now testifying – was sorely lacking during the revolutionary period.

It is worth nothing that this is not an attack on relativism as a plausibly interesting and illuminating thought experiment or even a limited guiding principle of political action, but a statement on the unsystematic, terribly simplistic relativism of the radical generation. One of the effects of this habit of thought and action after it became the dominant part of our public life has been the inability and unwillingness to reach some points of agreement regarding our history and its actors, a lack of the necessary platform upon which we stand to pursue further aims and aspirations. The unspoken moratorium on building monuments and statues in our city was the consequence of this crisis. And where there is a void, someone definitely steps in.

Philosopher Robert Nozick recounts a story William James once wrote in one of his letters.

A person approached James and said: “The world rests on a large turtle.” “And what does the turtle rest upon?” James asked. “Another turtle,” said the person. “And what…,” began James, who then was interrupted: “Professor James, it is turtles all the way down.”

The world of “turtles all the way down” is not the world of freedom. It is where contentions about truth and facts are solved by unbridled and unregulated wealth, power, shameless bullying and criminality. “When the world is denied all substance and perception is blind,” historian Hayden White asked, “who is to say who are the chosen and who are the damned? On what grounds can we assert that the insane, the criminal and the barbarian are wrong?” If White was suggesting that there was no authority, he was wrong. The insane, the criminal and the barbarian are the authorities in such a world. The fate of radical, unsystematic relativism is the absolutism of criminality.

The leader of the Abune Paulos statue committee, former beauty queen Ejegayehu Beyene, said with the authoritative voice of a religious historian that the patriarch had done more positive things for the church than his predecessors. She needed no confirmation of her thesis from church historians or religious leaders, no consultation of church scholars on the religious practices and doctrines regarding statues, no opinion from Ethiopians on what they would think and feel about a statue of the patriarch in a public place.

She just declared her truth and erected the damn statue.

On Birhanu Nega’s paper

I don’t know what to make of Birhanu Nega’s paper presented at the Oromo Studies Association Conference. If it was a political speech, it was too long and complex. If it was a political speech delivered for an academic audience, I would say well-done. If it was an academic article, Its reliance mostly on Democracy and Difference, an authoritative book of essays edited by a great thinker, but not exhaustive of the area of discussion Birhanu raised, made it weak.

But it shows that as a politician Birhanu’s support for classical liberalism as espoused by Humbolt, Constant, J.S. Mill, and Tocqueville has undergone some changes. Instead, he seems to be embracing neo-Rawlsian liberalism, which under serious challenge from communitarianism, Marxism and theories of identity modified some of its principles to remain- despite all its discontents- as the most coherent, humane and viable of all political ideas. Whether he takes this new position as a pragmatic move to form alliances with the ethno-nationalist political groups or as a principled commitment, it is a welcome change. Classical liberalism was becoming a threat to any progress in creating a stable political community in Ethiopia as radical ethno-nationalism. The center is where Leencho meets Birhanu.

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52 Responses to “On Abune Paulos Statue and Birhanu Nega’s Paper”

  1. you seemed to be attempting to make a point against the building of the Patriarch’s statue. Then you delved into the philosophy of the whole representation and what statues should stand for, unwittingly deploring the society as being all confused and at a loss with itself, citing the ban or lack of statues. Then you contradicted yourself all the way back to shouting down the person who organized the construction of the statue. It seems you some how failed to put your thought in line or you just wanted to write something against the statue as many others are bitting their drums. I know you can do better.

  2. Turtles all the way down.What an interesting view and reply from the person.The church has many turtles,the country has many turtles and they build their own erection from their own terrestrial worlds.These turtles don’t move or let us move.Abune Paulos is a turtle himself and got his own turtlic statue up in the sky of Addis Lord have mercy.
    I have little to comment about Ethiopia’s 1960′s generation infatuation of Marxcism or relativism as i see little link or coherence in the article.
    Let me give you one last comment- please do write a scolarly artice (as u always do) on the adoption saga of ethipian childern.It is very alarmingly formidable.Every Westerner who asks where i am from would tell me that his next man in the hood has an Ethipian baby adopoted recently.
    what a fate.

  3. Abiye….i am puzzled that you did not comment on the relationship between Birhanu’s self-positioning as Rawlsian liberal and his apparent endorsement of armed struggle as a tool of advancing political objectives. What is Rawls take on armed struggle?

    • Bereket,
      Rawls had little to say about that. In Steve Pyke’s collection of photographs of philosophers, Rawls wrote an autobiographical summary: “Three years spent in the US army in the World War II led me to be also concerned with political questions.” It is clear from this that war did shape Rawls’ thoughts. It was puzzling for a lot of students of Rawls that a man shaped by war didn’t make it a direct subject of one of his treatise. There are many answers for that but I am not going there. In A Theory of Justice he wrote on civil disobedience but only with the assumption that “there exists a constitutional regime and a publicly recognized conception of justice.” In his weakest book, The Law of Peoples, he laid out his views of just war theory and advocated for restricted liberal interventionism, but that was in the context of international relationships. But that book clearly shows that Rawls was no pacifist.

  4. Thanks for your timely article and your attempt to generate debate on relevant issues.

    In my mind the statue of Abune Paulos represents the absolute lack of respect to the poor people in Ethiopia who are struggling to feed themselves each and everyday. Spending extravagantly to satisfy once megalomaniac tendency while across the street where this ego boosting three dimensional beast is erected exists one of the great slums in Addis, is not only repulsive but morally repugnant. How can one teach the ways of Christ and spend so much on once palace, luxury car and now statue? What would Christ say if he lived in Ethiopia today? I will leave the answer to those with conscience.

    As to Birhanu’s Nega’s paper, I am glad to see pragmatism returning to Ethiopian politics. Although idealism had completely suffocated every breathable political air in Ethiopia until recently, especially after the student’s movement in the 60’s and 70’s, we are now witnessing the tectonic shift towards accommodative politics out of necessity and I say long may it continue.

  5. Dr Brhanu’s piece deserves a lot more discussion and debates. For one he is formidable political figure who garnered substantial support both from elites and urbanites both within and outside the country. Second, in his piece he was able to articulate and clarify in more simplistic manner the multiple facets of political understanding we Ethiopians possess since ethnic based politics came in forefront. The dichotomy between identity politics and what he called “integration” politics is not as clear as black and white. It is unfortunate that Brhanu made two serious political miscalculations since the 2005 the formation of kinijit and subsequent imprisonment of kinijit leadership that resulted slow-down if not reverting the political gain of the election.

    The first is the unnecessary fight he engaged with Hailu Shawel and ended up splitting kinijit into two. The second is the ill advised choice he made for staying abroad. I agree that the political space in Ethiopia is not existing or zero and Woyane does not have any intention of opening an inch as long as it could. But, with political capital Brhanu accumulated in the short period of time, I believe he would have been able to fracture woyane for a second time with the shortest time than he claim he can do it from abroad.

    Coming back to his piece, it was succinct and as clear as it can be. In his piece, he created four political categories namely, 1. Ethnic based…2. Moderate ethnic based….3. Political moderates…. and 4. Radical integrationist…. Among the four political categories, any lay man will be able to identify who are the first three categories. The 4th category “Radical integrationists…..” , however; are hard to identify or unknown. Although there is good possibility for such category could exist, they are either extremely small or are not yet organized to a level of political groups whose political actions publicly known. It looks to me Brhanu attempted to be opportunistic and non-existent category to soothe the extreme elements of the audience or the organizers who are in the 1st category. Although there could be minor differences among “integrationist” in the political tactics the majority of the parties we know fell in the 3rd category, all respecting diversity and recognizing the inequality among ethnic groups.

    I agree with Abyie when he said the epicenter is when Leencho meets Brhanu because the 4th category does not exist and has been disingenuously made as a tool to appease the other end.

  6. Abiy. Abiy. Abiy…I just wish you get a chance to get back to the ground. Your ideas are flying so high and so fast that I am not able to grasp them. I mean…are you trying to confuse me…seriously. Where is the Abiy I used to read on Addis Neger Newspaper? C’mon mate…as the saying goes…’Kuas Bemeret’!!

  7. Bravo Abiye

    Your commentaries are witty , clever , relevant and timely. I am so glad to have you as my fellow countryman.
    Obviously and expectedly , the stagnant , backward and barbaric ethno-nationalits will NOT BE ABLE to comprehend your intellectually heavy weight piece. Do not mind their sophistry.
    Keep on enlightening our sleeping society. A society who does not know and exploit its past is doomed to fail!
    Thank you Abiye

  8. Aby I’m realy confused. Is it realy time to ran for making Statue? many people die due to lack of support which is expected from religious institution and the so called government. Forget abt the politics by any measurement how could some one spend public money for nothing. Can we ask that lady what Paulos did for those “miskin” children that we don’t know?

  9. Once again I simply say and pray to the High Heaven to “let my people live”

    Our self-anointing want-to-be-revered leaders, do not do their jobs and by so doing do not give a chance to we-the- people to do ours…
    and there they go to call
    the country, the people and themselves names which does have a little with our reality,allow only prostitute institutions and entrust sociopath opportunist individuals who are willing to do anything to appease our ruthless lords of misery, and at times even become so creative and surprise their benefactors, as in erecting the unthinkable…

    Had they been with and for all of us, we the people could have turned them imortal…since they know where we stand and their imortality they have to test the water while they are riding on our back…God save them…

    That generation…with a comandable commitement and sacrifies but please let us move on…politics is nasty but an ever lasting concensesslessness is nastier…please please enough of the 70′s, help us to live in the 21st century..

  10. Abiy
    Yet another brilliant piece but i would have liked to see the two topics separated and of course you could have said more on Dr Berhanu’s paper.
    Let me start probably by what may be a factual error. If the information I have is correct your assertion that Abune Paulos is the first person to have his statue erected while still alive is not entirely correct. I was not old enough to actually have seen it but there was a small statue of the Emperor erected in Piasa in front of one of the cinemas. This was nothing conspicuous and it was at any event removed when Derg came to power and I am told it is thrown somewhere in the Addis Ababa fire brigade near St George church. I have not been able to check this story but I was always fascinated by it. And there is what some claim to be Mengistu’s figure in the ‘Tiglachin’ (or is it ‘Dilachin’?) monument near the Black Lion hospital. This of course is one of so many figures and I am not sure if it can be considered his statue.
    Having said that for me the most important thing is what does the erection of Abune Paulos statue tells us. Professor Tadese Tamirat in his article called ‘Feudalism in heaven and on earth’ describes how the church and state collaborate to hold the poor peasantry hostage and leave a life of luxury and waste at their expense. He shows us how these two institutions create an incredibly similar but parallel structure to control the peasantry and prolong their regime. I believe what we are observing these days is a continuation of this feudalistic legacy albeit in a disguised form. In spite of the fact that we have a secular state the influence of the church (and increasingly of the mosque as well) is not really that diminished. So it is all part of building personality cult within the most important institutions i.e. the church and state. And mind you we are observing the same trend in politics. Given the recent trend I think it can be safely argued that the cult of Meles is on the rise. First it was just his pictures in the bars and pubs of Mekelle. Then it was the billboards all over the country reminding us of the African leader committed to development. This was followed by a song and recently a thousand page book around his life. I wouldn’t be surprised if next we raise a statue for him. Is EPRDF going back to its feudal roots? This makes me think of George Orwell’s Animal Farm where at the end of the story the animals were confused who is a pig and who is human. Who was Haileselassie, who was Mengistu and who is Meles? For me it is becoming increasingly blurred…………….

  11. Dear Abiye:

    Thank you for initiating discussion around these issues.

    I fully agree with Mesfin that the two topics should have been separated though both converge to the same political quagmire the country finds itself.

    We have to acknowledge that the Abune Paulos (aka Diabilos) has greatly contributed to the material foundation of churches at least in Addis Ababa. Using his ethnic card, Abune Paulos was able to repossess church properties nationalised by Dergue (like apartment buildings around arat kilo and other places). He was also able to get free land and facilitated the construction of high rising building (Eragueal, Urael, etc) to enhance the material and financial sustainability some of the churches in the country.

    While Abune Paulos (directly or indirectly) was able to perform commendable work for some of the churches, his inability to openly fight corruption, nepotism, ethnicity, bad governance, violation of human rights in the country deprived him any moral authority that is expected from a person of his stature and religious authority. He openly provided moral support to the brutal rule of Zenawi and blessed all his atrocities as there were no incidents where the Patriarch “questions” his cousin’s megalomaniac rule. This made Abune Paulos the most hated Patriarch in the history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Churches and denied him the “Holiness” needs to rule in the eye of devoted Tewahido Christians. The Patriarch is observed to have more interest and leaning to worldly and materials things (putting his poster, blessing his statue, constructing place, buying expansive cars, etc) than the “believing, practicing and promoting” the moral and heavenly teachings of the Holy Bible.

    Abune Paulos has forgotten the teachings of the Holy Bible that “Jesus himself lived like a poor, in real material poverty, not a spiritual one.” In fact the Patriarch did not understand that the story of Exodus is a prototype of liberation constituting a basic paradigm of God’s saving action. Prophets and prophecies are seen as conscientizers of the people. Christ is a figure representing struggle, death, and vindication – in short – liberation: . Abune Paulos needs to remember the teaching of Luke when he said “the spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore, he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19.)”

    Unfortunately, Abune Paulos hugely violated most teachings of Christ and the Ten Commandments and this outweighs his little contributions to the growth and sustainably of some churches in the country. Accordingly, the erection of Abune Paulos’s Statue is nothing but a further indication and testimony of the Patriarch’s moral dilapidation, tribal arrogance, ignorance of the teachings of the Holy Bible and “Detached Reality Syndrome” in the face of our poverty, misery and political, economic, social and tribal oppression. ለነገሩ መጽሃፉ “የሚሰሩትን አያዉቁምና ይቅር በሏቸው”; ይል የለ!!

    Finally, having gone through the 19 pages of Dr. Nega’s paper, I understand that most of the issues he discussed have been raised in various workshops, symposiums, debates, etc in one way or another for the past 20 years. As a result, I declined to extensively comment on the paper to save myself from redundancy and irrelevance. However, I have taken the following from the paper:

    • Whatever we do, we have a problem of disentangle our politics thinking from the jungles of leftist and ethnic politics of the 1960s and 1970s? We are still trying to solve the problem without going out of the box and forgotten the wisdom of Albert Einstein that “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

    • I understand Dr. Nega’s struggle to convince his audience (leftovers of the student movement of the 1960s) as to how “individual freedom will contribute to the wider objective of identity politics”

    • I also see Dr. Nega’s herculean task of convincing the OLF and its supporters to entertain a new kind of politics whose foundation is the achievement of “social justice” to all. To what extent Dr. Nega convinced or get compromise from the “Wallelignain” OLF is to be seen in the future.


  12. the generation was radical yet their thought process was shaped by simplistic relativism is to say the least is bizarre. how can pseudo Marxist radicalism and a terribly simplistic relativism go together?

    • It is not bizarre if one sees the difference between commitment to relativism as a political philosophy in the different ways political philosophy is considered and applied and a relativist habit of thought and action. My blog was about the latter. I also contend that such a habit of thought and action may be the result of the psycho-social contradictions and alienation radicalism creates particularly in communitarian societies. There is enough social science on this.

  13. i dont know why you think Dr Berhanu shifting his political stand. he made it clear before officialy formed his movement with raising many creadiabel qustions to public.

  14. I agree with Liberty in that Dr Berhanu’s political stand with respect to moderate ethnic based organisation is not a shift. Even during the 2005 election campaign, he was advocating all inclusive reconciliation process. The only point he might have shifted his stand is in the all inclusive nature of the struggle he intend to lead now. In my opinion, he is the type of leader our county may get only once in a generation; and those who can, we better seize the moment and help him in his endeavour with whatever way possible.

  15. Abiye,

    Some body should tell you that this article or piece of yours, in general, is mumbo-jumbo.

    I am not an Oromo. But I attended some of the conferences organized by OSA and found that the papers presented there are very academic. In fact, whenever it organizes conferences, OSA calls for academic papers, but not political speechs. Besides, I have read Dr. Brihanu’s paper, and found out that it is very academic. If you had good intent or humbleness on your part, you would also have known it by yourself.

    Dr. Brihanu’s thesis simply is: for the last four decades the political landscape in Ethiopia is dominated by two groups, the extreme nationalist, and the ethnocentric, leftists; these extremes cannot discuss and come up with a viable solution to the issue of group rights (the national question/the right of self-determination), in whose name our country witnessed so much bloodshed; thus, the other two groups, moderate ethnic based political groups and progressive liberals, should come to the forefront the political landscape and discuss to solve the above-mentioned issue within the framework of liberalism.

    That is what his thesis is all about. He does not delve into the discussion of liberalism. The only time that he deals with liberalism is when he asserts that collective rights can be entertained with the framework of liberalism. Therefore, your statement that he has shifted from one liberal mode of thinking to another liberal mode of thinking is not correct. Besides, you do not give justice to the 19 page article by a 2 paragraph “analysis.”

    • Hannibal,

      1.My two paragraphs presuppose that Birhanu’s political philosophy is well-known in the public sphere. He wrote a book on it and other political issues and talked a lot about it in the past. He has always maintained that liberalism can incorporate the legitimate claims of identity politics. In the past his reaction to demands of identity politics was of two types;both often presented together: one is the problem of incompossibility and the other is that liberal rules of fairness can accommodate different and competing conceptions of the good, including but not limited to forming a community. At least, this is how I interpreted his views. If I am right, Birhanu’s response then was that of a classical liberal mixed with a bit of touch of early Rawlisianism. But in the article that I mentioned this is what he said:

      If the ultimate solution to the political problems of the country is to come from a renegotiation of the political community as Lencho Letta suggests, these negotiations must address and settle these problems embedded in the politics of identity squarely. Political liberalism does not have much of a problem with these issues as it is based on providing primacy to individual rights, in the sense that respect for group rights are valid only in so far as they don’t trample upon the rights of individuals or groups with different identity markers. For liberals, a genuine respect for individual rights and liberties is the only guarantee that ensures the respect for group rights.

      If you can’t differentiate a proposition that the principles of liberalism accommodate the fair demands of the politics of identity by allowing individuals to freely form their community(say proposition P1) with the proposition that group rights are valid in so far they are not inconsistent to the rights of individual members of the group or other groups(P2), I have to say any further discussion on this matter will be like trying to learn calculus without having to study pre-calculus.

      2. I didn’t comment on the academic standards of OSA. I limited myself to Birhanu’s paper. If you had read it seriously, you would have found a lot of paragraphs and sentences which looked out of place in an academic literature. And some of the assumptions, claims, definitions, taxonomy and divisions were not backed up by primary and secondary resources. Something connected to this point, but not wholly the same, is the extreme limitation of engagement with the literature on the topic of discussion. Just an example:

      The political opening that ushered a meaningfully contested election in 2005, all but died with the death of over 200 unarmed civilians that peacefully
      protested the blatant stealing of the election by the ruling party. Election 2010 that gave the ruling EPRDF a 99.8% victory finally put the death nail on Ethiopian democracy under the current regime.

      Would an academic article make claims about blatant stealing of elections without substantiating them with primary or secondary resources?

      Now I have no intention of criticizing Birhanu’s speech just because it is not an academic work. He has produced a lot of splendid academic works before and has given impressive political speeches. My sense is that this paper is in between the two(and certainly not without a goal). If you think that because the OSA is an academic organization and, therefore, each and every paper presented ought to be an academic paper, that doesn’t logically lead to the conclusion that Birhanu’s paper was academic.

      3. As to my lacking good intention, the demand of the piety due to an enormously influential politician and public scholar like Birhanu is uninhibited discussion of his works and views. That is telling it as you legitimately think of the subject of his discussions, even taking the risk of accusations of lacking good intention.

  16. Abiyee,
    Dissecting Dr.Berhanu’s can make you earn lots of academic drawbacks and faults which is evident in any scholarly work.As you know there is no Immaculate academic work in the world of inquisition.Hence,this paper might be lacking as you said from propositional differences to lack of contents page,enough literature review,clear methodology part , bibliography ,appendix and bla bla.Albeit, i hugely admire your attempt of intellectual deconstruction of the paper –there are these facts that you skipped.
    1.In the case of Dr.Beresh’s paper, as a paper there could be circumstances that you may not have to follow and be by the book in every detail and aspect of your piece(even for an academic paper like this one).He could have just presented a 5 page synopsis of all the work in a conclusive format without detailing his historical and politico-philosophical arguments he delved on.
    2.House style or academic license- the writer holds every right to present his academic paper in his own house style(the universities)or has the academic/literary license of using paraphrasing ,enlarging or reducing the size of his paper,premises and what not.
    3.Most post modernist scholars or papers dwell less on literature reviews as it is increasingly being equated with indirect plagiarism and dis-originality.Thus you shouldn’t wonder about the specifications of definitions,taxonomy,resources and so on.They are for sure important but the essence of the research paper is more of an ethnographic observational critique.When one reaches his academic and personal experience and qualification , one tends to publish such comment and deeply analytical academic sabbaticals.
    As a wrapper: with the undeniable necessity for such scholarly commentaries from you and the readership: what should be most focused on is whether the paper was of any significance(academic and political) and if its capable of u-turning the existing polarized political stances.I feel this paper can be highly equated with the effect that Walelegne Mekonen’s small piece had.You will begin to see it soon.The change will start to trickle from the Oromo academic and flourish all berms of ethnicities in the offing,i opine.I say it will start from the academic cause the paper is so analytical and is not simple to be understood by laymen like me.Thus i propose its translation into Amharic and oromiffa languages.

    One last comment to Abiye and Online’s team, since you started your page and immersing us with you well thought pieces- the number and variety of comments that i see are astonishingly admirable.I was wondering why not you allow some of the most popular commenter’s on this Web like M. Ayalew,Lubak, Oda and the others to blog on this web and show us their efficiency and knowledge.That makes this web really participatory enough in the public sphere.

    • Alamerew,
      1. Your suggestion of including popular and thoughtful commenters as bloggers is great. We will see what we can do provided that the commenters are comfortable with it.

      2. You are right that academics who have reached a certain stature have the flexibility of not being demanded to follow the rigid rules of academic writing. But there is a certain degree of familiarity of the general discussion regarding the subject matter that they ought to exhibit and the rules of referencing that they ought to follow. I was not acting as the watchman of academic writing. I actually don’t like them in settings like this and would happily read whatever Birhanu writes without slightly caring whether he quoted Habermas or Weinstock. I made the one line and was accused of bad intention by Hannibal because of the setting the paper was delivered.

      3. I am a liberal who thinks that liberalism has good solutions for the politics of identity (but not classical liberalism). I am happy now that Birhanu has embraced those ideas of liberalism. My views have much more force in a public discussion when a person of influence advocates them.

      Thank you.

  17. Abiye,

    Thank you very much for presenting and trying to expound Dr. Berhanu’s paper.

    For the time being let us get out of Berhanu’s political philosophy, classical and social liberal views of human liberty and equality, Rawls’s thought experiment (veil of ignorance) and distributive justice, and Lencho’s political community and try to elucidate and illustrate our unprecedented political quagmire and predicament in a non-philosophical, abstract ways.

    Look Abiye, the Joshua Project shows that 57 African countries with a combined population of 1,020,675,000 have 3752 ethnic group/people group defined mainly in terms of “ethno-linguistic.” (http://www.joshuaproject.net/continents.php?rog2=AFR&sf=cntpeoples&so=desc). Of these 57 countries there are 10 counties with more than 100 ethno-linguistic groups. These are:

    • Cote d’Ivoire has an estimated population of 21,207,000 with 106 ethno-linguistic groups

    • Ghana has an estimated population of 23,219,000 with 109 ethno-linguistic groups

    • Kenya has an estimated population 40,317,000 with 115 ethno-linguistic groups

    • Ethiopia has an estimated population 83,638,000 with 116 ethno-linguistic groups

    • Chad has an estimated population 11,193,000 with 141 ethno-linguistic groups

    • Tanzania has an estimated population 44,134,000 with 160 ethno-linguistic groups

    • DRC has an estimated population 67,381,000 with 239 ethno-linguistic groups

    • Sudan has an estimated population 41,981,000 with 246 ethno-linguistic groups

    • Cameroon has an estimated population 19,933,000 with 291 ethno-linguistic groups

    • Nigeria has an estimated population 157,277,000 with 523 ethno-linguistic groups

    Most African countries have experienced and are still experiencing dictatorship and tyrannical regimes and identity politics in one time or another. At the same time Africans witnessed that common identity (language, religion, socio-cultural makeup, livelihood system) failed to avoid ethnic conflict and institutions Warlordism in Somalia and also the existence of poly- ethnic identity in a country does not necessary lead to ethnic conflict as 160 ethno-linguistic groups live peacefully in Tanzania and other African countries.

    Currently, we rarely witness secessionist identity politics in most poly-ethnic African countries with the exception of Ethiopia and South Sudan. I think it is only Ethiopia that institutionalize, practice and promote hate politics as an official State ideology and instrument of thug rule.While other African countries blame the white colonizer for most of their governance problems, Ethiopians have no one to blame except ourselves for the self-destruction project we are experimenting in the country.

    Thus, my questions to you and other participants in this forum are:

    1. Why is identity politics so rampant and reached the highest level of self-destruction in Ethiopia unlike other African countries?

    2. Why ethno-linguistic groups do not deny their Kenyanness, Cameroonness, Tanzanianness, and Chadness and struggle for accommodation, justice and equality (the recent referendum on the new Kenyan constitution can be cited as good example) unlike the identify politics of Ethiopia?

    3. Why is that we Ethiopians (I know some Wallelegnian deny their Ethiopianess) are unable to communicate to each other to genuinely sort out our problems and construct our common future?

    4. Did colonialism provide unique opportunity for colonized African countries (unlike Ethiopia) in planting the seed of vibrant civil society, accommodative governance structure and civilized political discourse to openly address the nonconstructive dimension of identify politics?

    5. Why we collectively failed to learn innovating identity governance practices from other counties?

    6. Or are we cursed (as Tsegaye G/Medhin ቢቸግረው once said) or are we unique creature (ጸጋየ እዚህም ላይ ደማችን ይምርመር ብሎ ነበር) unable to solve our problem without divine intervention?

    Tsegaye is probably right when he humorously said “ደማችን ይምርመር” and let me conclude with the following:

    እኛን የሚያደርገን የተለየ ፍጡር:
    የሚያጨቃጭቀን የሚያባላ ነገር:
    አብሮ እማያሰራ አብሮ የማያስኖር:
    በሽታ ስላለን ደማችን ይመርመር::


  18. Lubak,

    I am not a social philosophy student nor a social scientis, for that matter. But I am keenly aware of and partcipated in the social upheavals of the early 1970s to the late 1980s.
    I could see from your earlier post(aug. 13 post) the line of poltical discourse that you were taking based on your analysis. We have to come down to the realities of poltics on the ground and the legitimate questions raised by left and right. I am convinced that you would like to wish away the Oromo politics as many have tried to do. We have matured enough to know what those kinds of stance takes the country to. Eritrea is the best example. My brother joined the Ethiopian army 1n 1978 despite my attempt to discourage him not to do so since I knew what was going on Eritrea. He was a gun-ho guy like many late teen agers are. In six months time he lost his life protecting Asmara. You see where Eritrea is. It is easy to brush aside what is going on in ethnic politics (it is not only Oromos who play ethnic poltics by the way) and pave the way to expansion of division or come to terms (Berhanu says he would not delve into imposition of western philosophy to an African problem) with the reality and address those legitimate grievances. You have mentioned the list colonized African countries with the exclusion of Ethiopia. Just Remember that Meniliks expansion took place at the same time of the scramble of western contries to the colonization of Africa. So we should not pick and choose philosophies that are convenient to support our views while rejecting others.

  19. Obbo Boona,

    Thank you for your genuine and honest comments on my contribution.

    I never tried to push aside the grievance of the Oromo or other ethno-linguistic groups including Amharas. What I want to contest is the “Oromo elite’s stupefaction, misinterpretation and rejection Oromo history related to the making of Ethiopia.” Let me clarify my point.

    First, Oromos like others groups have paid blood in their blood for the defending the survival of Ethiopia in the face of all threats be European colonialism or Ottoman Turks expansionism. Given centuries of sacrifice in blood (like your brother), the Oromo elite should not deny the contribution of Oromos for the making of modern Ethiopia.

    Second, as you very well know the country has been ruled by despotic Kings, repressive military officers and ethnocentric tormenters in all our history. In this long history, Oromo people have participated in the creation and maintenance authoritative regimes in our country as the Gonder ruler were the offspring of the Yeju dynasty (which is Oromos) and the same is true to most of the Shawn rulers. If you also see the profile of most of the OLF leadership, you will see that they were main actors and factors of the Dergue repressive regime like elites from other ethnic groups. Hence, presenting Oromos only as victim not aggressor and ruler at the same time lacks historical evidence though it serves OLF’s propaganda objectives. What did the poor Menze get that the poor Wollega Oromo did not get? What did a Gonder get that the Bale Oromo did not get? What did a Wolloye Amhara get that a Shewan Oromo missed? Hence, oppression and repression have been common fate for all ethnic groups in the country and not unique for Oromos.

    Third, the usual OLF song is “Minilik expansion and occupation” Minilik did not march to South or East or West without the full participation of Oromos at the command and control centre. If you think those participants were “Oromo bandas” then we have to redefine the meaning of banda!! If OLF asserts that Minilik’s march was “expansion, occupation and colonialism” then what do you tell the Amaharas, Sidamas, Hadiyas, Kembattas who think there was an “Oromo expansion and occupation” in the country? Do you totally deny that there has never been “Oromo expansion and occupations?” and these people who raise this type of issue are simply Nefetegnas/or Tebabs?

    Obbo Bona, rather than blaming history and counting historical scars, let us has the courage to come out of our ethnic cocoon to solve the social, economic and political quagmire we face at present to leave a better country for the next generation.


  20. Lubak,

    I would like to keep this forum as clean as possible unlike other forums that have degenerated to insult forums. I do not believe that your labeling of OLF and others as Walleligans will contribute positively to any fruitful discourse. With regard to your history there are as many interpretation of the facts that happened in Ethiopia contrary to what yiour beliefs are. I thought we may be able to exchange ideas in a more civilized dialogue than demagoging political groups. If I understand it correctly, that was the message I got from Dr. Berhanu Nega’s paper and that will remain. As to your analysis, oh boy, you are way out and I do not subscribe to any of your thoughts.

  21. Abiye

    the principles of liberalism accommodate the fair demands of the politics of identity by allowing individuals to freely form their community(say proposition P1) with the proposition that group rights are valid in so far they are not inconsistent to the rights of individual members of the group or other groups(P2).

    I gather you are of in the P2. Can you explan how this will work in creating a viable, peaceful and prosporous political community?

    BTW, I am not sure Birhanu will subscribe to the this group but might accept it as a temporary political compromise.

  22. Aite Lubak (probably the blogger Derese Getachew),
    for the several questions you raised and why can be summarized in one question: “why is Ethiopia unique to institutionalize identity politics?”, the answer is just in short for Ethiopian oppressed nations and nationalities are the unique victims of the only colonizer nation from Africa, i.e victims of your Abyssinia. All other African nations and nationalities in almost all countries are satisfied by being free from their European colonizers and there is no much grudge or bitterness against their fellow neighbours. Your Ethiopia on the contrary is still the prison house for all oppressed nations except for you, the colonizer two Abyssinian nations (Tegaru and Amhara). Unless all oppressed nations under your colony get our freedom, don’t dream that your empire will be in peace. The only solution is a future UNION of free nations on the grave of your currently dying Abyssinian EMPIRE, which you want to keep at any cost.


  23. Abiy:

    I go apologize first for not reading Dr Birhanu’s speech at OSA. I expect academicly Birhanu’s speech would be graded ‘A’.

    However we are no short of ideas. We have been overdosed with ideas, arguments and counter arguments. What we need is a leader
    that can bring people together. I am afraid Dr Birhanu speech is not getting traction anymore for Dr Birhhanu single handidly has damaged his credibility.

  24. Obbo Walfidaa,

    Attam jirta?

    I thought weeks ago we have agreed to disagree and close this chapter with you and made an appointment to meet in the Capital of the free Gadaa Republic -Finfine!!.

    I fully agree with Obbo Boona to keep this forum clean. If you think we shall continue disussing this issue, let us do it off line.

    Nagaan turi,

  25. tsegaye dejene 16 August 2010 at 2:54 pm

    I am reading since it starts your comments and news.I rated good.butyou donot encourage the diaspora to come together. our problem is to create strong leadership.I am observing on the contarary .for example you dont write the the starting of brodcasting of ESAT but you wrote when it is interpted . How it is interpted. now you come to Dr Berhanu you dont write the article as the whole the report.This helps us to judge.but you wrote only the creadeblity .what we want is encoureging to creat leadership. weyane is fighting us not to create front. we wish your advice how to unite how to improve and unite .It is not time to dvide weyane is enough.

  26. Aite Lubak,
    I don’t think we will come to any good result by discussion for you are here just to justify your domination in the empire and I am struggling for the liberation of all oppressed nations in the empire from your mechanisim of exploitation! You being part and parcel of the system of domination/colonization, I am here to fight against you, not to discuss with you! I may discuss with the currently colonized (since 1991) Amhara forces who also want to liberate themselves from your looting and lording, but not with you the Tigrean hegemonists!

  27. Lubak
    You pointed to the crux of the matter. We need open discussion to solve the problem of Ethiopia without indulging into emotionally charged debate.

    Here are my two cents to your question… “Why is identity politics so rampant and reached the highest level of self-destruction in Ethiopia unlike other African countries?” I assume when you say rampant, it is more in Diaspora rather than inland in Ethiopia. Even after 18 years of woyane’s instigation, ethnic groups in Ethiopia seem to be tolerant to each other and no significant deterioration in inter-ethnic relation observed so far.

    With that premises, I throw out there few points which may appear simplistic but I think they are realistic. I do not believe that the hardliners outlook originated from differing world view or philosophical points of view rather it originates from simple utilitarian perspective of individuals in advancing political interest.

    1. Political ambition. A fact that we all remember is the class struggle of 1970s was violently defeated by Derg. As a result, the classes as a social group cease to be an effective social classification to pursue political interest. The alternative social class for pursuing political interest was ethnic groups. To advance their political interest the political strategist exaggerated differences among ethnic groups, they suppressed shared history and overstated minor differences. Some people have spent too much time reinventing themselves. In the process of deconstructing and reconstructing, it seems that they lost who they are altogether. It will be hard returning back after propagating the same to loyal followers. A self-feeding cycle develops as time passes giving no chance for compromises. No doubt for some political strategist separation is the only viable way of achieving status and power.

    2. Ethiopia’s poverty. The Diaspora community has been negatively impacted by Ethiopia starvation victims that the international communities have been witnessing in their TV set in the last three to four decades. The negative stereo types that these events placed on the Ethiopian Diaspora was so devastating that many have gone to the extent of hiding they are from Ethiopia. To evade the stereotype, some have been identifying themselves as Sudanese or even Somalis but carefully avoiding not to be identified with other darker skin Africans. For purpose of confusing gullible foreigners, some have been identifying themselves with ethnicity and evade stereotype related to famine stricken Ethiopia. No doubt the stereotype was influence to push some to extreme, particularly for those individuals who garnered economic advantage here in the west and consequently decided never to go back home again.

    3. Guilt ridden politics. We are swallowed up by what Messay Kebede stated guilt ridden politics rather than rational thinking molded with particular vision or world outlook. We automatically assume all opposition to government are justified and explained as a result of deep ineradicable differences between “them and us”. In the past decades, the secessionists have used this collective guilt sentiment to their advantage in terms of intimidating and silencing those with moderate views. Those who are against them, if they are from their own ethnic groups or other “minority groups” they can easily be blamed as sellout; if they are from other ethnic groups they can easily be blamed as chauvinist. We have the tendency of sympathizing with whoever is assumed oppressed. We think that fighting for “oppressed” is the most popular view and internalize every propaganda piece that is against the norm as historically accurate. The guilt ridden politics prevented the moderates from challenging the extreme views by rational arguments.

  28. Oda,

    Names are so easy to pick up these days and use them as one wishes. I am sure you know what Oda symbolizes for an oromo. I think you forgot Those extreme views you pointed out at the end of your

    Here is what I quote:


    In here your point of discussion is in reference to Ethnic poltical groups that laid out their grievances in the hitherto Ethiopia. Where do you classify the elites of the ethnic group of the dominant culture that others feel played a major for the cause of their existence and the disruptive role they have been playing and are playing to some how mold some solution that will not basically address the core sore of the other ethnic groups?

    In other words, the fingers should be pointed at every direction and genuine solution should come by attending to the root cause of these grievances.

  29. Whatever one may think of Wallelign and his Marxist generation, they did not invent the class/nationality problem of Ethiopia. In other words you can run away from the Marxists, but not from the issues.

    It is good to see however that some are grappling with the same issues using different frameworks. Let us hope the borrowed frameworks take the specificty of Ethiopia into account.

  30. Boona
    I agree with the concept of fingers should be pointed out to both directions. You said “Where do you classify the elites of the ethnic group of the dominant culture that others feel played a major for the cause of their existence and the disruptive role they have been playing and are playing to some how mold some solution that will not basically address the core sore of the other ethnic groups?”
    There are no nameless & faceless political groups that we do not know. Who are you referring to among the oppositions?

  31. Abey!
    I was one of the attendants of the Oromo Studies Association where Dr Birhanu was invited to present his point of view which is, of course, different from our Oromo brothers and sinister in the OSA circle. You know the fact that the present day politics in Ethiopia is caught in crossfire between the funs of liberalism and ethnocentrisms or in other words between those who promote the individual rights and the group rights. Unless we are selectively blind to our history, or deliberately deaf to hear the other side, it is overt that both sides have grain of truths to deal with. Those who died and still die for the cause that matters for their ethnic group such as OLF have their own story to tell us if we come to the round table for genuine dialogue. On the other hand those who strongly believe in liberalism have also their side of philosophical and ideological arguments to convey to their opponents.
    Both sides have their own supporters, and in effect the Ethiopian politics is shaped by such centrifugal and centripetal political forces if we take the matter to its extreme point. Unless we have a forum (just like what Dr Birhanu and OSA did) to sit down and have a dialogue between apparently different political forces in Ethiopia there is no way to solve our real problem by a kind of baseless critics wrapped in quotations of western philosophers to shade the author’s instinct which appears to be out of touch with regard to real Ethiopian politics. Therefore, I can’t see your point view that why you are annoyed to see Dr. Birhanu’s and members of the Oromo Studies Association in the same room discussing about their different views on Ethiopiansm. Whether you call his paper academic or political it doesn’t matter for me as far as the content is relevant to contemporary Ethiopian politics.

  32. Oda,

    Here is one of your paragraphs that I referred to:

    Begin ===============
    Political ambition. A fact that we all remember is the class struggle of 1970s was violently defeated by Derg. As a result, the classes as a social group cease to be an effective social classification to pursue political interest. The alternative social class for pursuing political interest was ethnic groups. To advance their political interest the political strategist exaggerated differences among ethnic groups, they suppressed shared history and overstated minor differences. Some people have spent too much time reinventing themselves. In the process of deconstructing and reconstructing, it seems that they lost who they are altogether. It will be hard returning back after propagating the same to loyal followers. A self-feeding cycle develops as time passes giving no chance for compromises. No doubt for some political strategist separation is the only viable way of achieving status and power.

    In your description you are alluding to ethnic poltical organizations who bear their ethnic name with distinct poltical programs. You explain the fact that these poltical organizations articulate narratives that are consistent with their poltical agenda. What I am pointing at is the fact that there are also poltical organzations that do not bear their ethnic name but advance a political program that basically supports the position of the specific ethic group. The problem arises when these programs are contradictory to each other and some claim to have a higher moral ground to dictate the poltical future of the country. I say that, in the best interest of the country, we should respect the positions of all poltical groups and the media should encourage that dialogue should be centered on how we can create a democratic environment in which bthe Ethiopian people are given the opportunity to face these issues through a ballot box. We have all seen demonizations of organizations in the last 40 years only led deterioration of the poltical land scape and it has to stop some where.

  33. Lubak and boona,

    I am afraid your account of the proliferation and institutionalization of identity politics in Ethiopia overlooks a key factor, namely geopolitics. The Cold War and Arab (particularly Nasserite and Baathist) nationalism were critical factors for the spread of ethnicist divisionism in the Horn of Africa. Shifting East-West alliances in Somalia and Ethiopia throughout the 70s and 80s, as well as Arab (Egyptian) destabilization policy towards Ethiopia (in connection with Nile and Red Sea politics, primarily exploited divisive identity markers as a weapon. While USSR’s aid boosted the Derg regime for so many years, TPLF and EPLF’s massive military buid up were directly linked to logistical and material support from the UK and the US, in addition to regional outposts such as Saudi Arabia.

    I regret to say that one of the reasons why analyses of political events in Ethiopia are often weak is because they are myopic — they are focused only on local factors and are entirely oblivious to the exogenous factors that contribute to the events.

  34. Boona,
    well put! I once met two russians in a subway, in a city where I do live. Each of them have got a bottle of drink respectively. One was using the bottle named VODKA, the other one using the bottle named WATER. Both of them were drinking from their own bottles. I just observed them and could see that the one using the WATER bottle is more drunk than the other one using VODKA bottle. I was surprised and asked them: how can this be!

    How can it be that the one using WATER bottle is drunk? Then they laughed at me and told me that both were drinking vodka, but the name of the bottles they were using differ. This is the difference you wanted to talk about. Some nations like Oromo use VODKA bottle and say spade is a spade (talk about Oromo right), whereas other nations like the two Habesha nations (Tegaru and Amhara) use WATER bottle (use the name Ethiopia), but do play the same “ethnicity” (promote Tegaru hegemony and Amhara dominance respectively), which is bad game in comparison to the good liberation game of the Oromo.

  35. Boona
    I understood what you said. But my question was who are these among the opposition groups trying to deceive the public (see what I quote below)? I am not talking about EPRDF since we all know that it is dominated by TPLF. Help me figure out which opposition you are talking about. The parties cannot do honest negotiation if they are basing their claim with allegation or suspition.

    “What I am pointing at is the fact that there are also poltical organzations that do not bear their ethnic name but advance a political program that basically supports the position of the specific ethic group. The problem arises when these programs are contradictory to each other and some claim to have a higher moral ground to dictate the poltical future of the country.”

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