Will the Centre Hold?

The Horn of Africa is a region where population growth is exorbitant; politics is featured with long and grinding civil wars, failed and/or authoritarian states; and poverty is abject. The Horn is also that part of Africa where the national politics of each of the countries (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia) seems to have immediate and remarkable spill over on the neighboring countries. It is the only region where an African country collapsed into small clan-cum-warlord provinces. Somalia is in such a Hobbesian state for over two decades now.

The Horn is also the only part of African where a state came to being seceding from another African country (Ethiopia). The Sudan, the largest country in Africa, hosted the longest and most grinding civil war in Africa in the South. Following the Naivasha Comprehensive Peace Agreement, January 9, 2011 is the date when Southern Sudanese people would cast their final vote to stay within Sudan or secede.

“Sudan is no more!” confided a northern Sudanese friend of mine, a professor of African History in one of Ohio’s Universities. Following years of neglect, and oppression by Khartoum, often dominated by the Moslem northern Sudanese (some call them “Arabic” that I do not buy); the south is set bow out heralding yet another “child” to the Horn of Africa. Beginning from Anya Nya Movement, the southern people’s demands for internal autonomy, proportional representation in the national government, equitable share of Sudan’s national wealth and public amenities (some basic as education and health) were deferred successively. As Langston Hughes once put it, there is nothing more explosive than “a dream deferred!”Al Bashir’s ascent to power; his Islamo-nationalist agenda espoused in the programs of National Islamic Front; and its earlier inspirations from the likes of Hussein Al Turabi added more fuel to the conflict.

The prospect of a secular, democratic and federal Sudan (Gharang’s “New Sudan”) became far more unachievable. Just as the harsh, undemocratic and violent excesses of Addis Ababa fanned, and fuelled Eritrean resentments; Khartoum kept committing the same mistakes. Further west, we have the Darfur crisis and there also are low intensity conflicts in the north eastern borders of the Sudan. Many in Sudan are asking a simple question: “will the center hold?”

And he asks in his most recent book (2010), “We must now look deep into our national soul, as it were, and reexamine what held us together. What was the glue that held things together in our case?”  I am sure you are suspecting of an Ethiopian interlocutor-some average “neftenyaa” who drums about the dismemberment of his motherland, Ethiopia. No dear reader, the author is Bereket Habtesellasie (2010) the pariah of Eritrean Nationalism in his latest book, “Wounded Nation”. Given the early activism of Muslim lowlanders in the struggle against Ethiopia (remember EPLF’s criticisms of ELF for being ‘narrow nationalist’ ‘arabist’ and ‘reactionary’); the united struggle of both the highlanders and the lowlanders under the EPLF; and the fresh memory of that “national” struggle against its neighboring nemesis (Ethiopia); you would think Eritrean Nationalism is in high gear! But not so fast, two decades into its national life, Eritrean scholars are asking, “Will the center hold?”

Arguing the case for a united, secular and democratic Eritrea; Bereket (p265) charts how the center is being challenged from two sides. On the one hand, he argues, are, “A few Eritrean writers who do not seem to believe in Eritrea as a viable nation, presumably want us to join (or rejoin) and reclaim common nationhood with our larger neighbor to the south.”  At the other end, “there are Eritreans who hold the “Tigirigna Supremacist” hypothesis, imagining a scenario of a possible breakup of Eritrea in which the lowlands join Sudan and the highlands join Ethiopia.” Eritrea is faced with the ‘ethnic-cum-religious question’, two decades after Isaias Afeworki commented that this was Ethiopia’s burden for the coming century.  The question is once again “will the center hold?”

Given all these, Ethiopia’s experiment has its own silver linings. First and foremost, like it or not, the Ethiopian polity now has a trajectory of political parties straddling two extremes. The first are Unitary nationalists people. Those who espoused being Ethiopian as nothing but Amharic speaking, Orthodox Christian Highlander. Their Ethiopia is a monolith; one that imposes its political and cultural fiat over such a multi-ethnic entity. At the other extreme, we have ‘anti-colonial’ liberationists whose reading of Ethiopia’s history recommends nothing but secession. Yet their political commitment is backpedalling towards an internal, democratic self-determination. As Aregawi Berhe (2009) eloquently argues, such recourse to internal self-determination usually opts for “federation, confederation or autonomy” as opposed to secession. Be this as it may, the reformasi in the liberationists camp is welcome news.

Somewhere in the middle, we have various ethno-nationalist parties with political programs, constituencies and alignments meant to represent a particular group in the country. Their scale and limited appeal means they usually play a second-tier role in national politics.  Further into the center, we have not yet invented a unitary party. I see you shaking your head in disbelief! Yes, dear reader, we did not. Oneness parties have never been unitary (since unity essentially assumes diversity). Neither did “hibret” parties; for they only reduced Ethiopia into a quantitative aggregate of ethnic representations-EPRDF is a good example.  One of the easiest challenges for the EPRDF was to deconstruct Ethiopian nationalism; but it faltered in finding an alternative definition for it.

Ironic enough, Ethiopia haunts its incumbent! A crude equivalent of a centre would be an “ande-hibret” party. It can be a center that holds: a con-societal entity whose scope and program are national but has ample room to address regional and ethnic sensitivities. Now, there is one wrong place to start such an experiment from: Marxism Leninism- the ideology which trumps individual rights and freedoms, popular consent, majoritarianism and the rule of law. An ideal place to start would be by asking how liberalism addressed issues of structural inequity (based on gender, race, ethnicity, etc). But left or right, Ethiopia deserves kudos for struggling to locate its center.

History has its verdict on this. These long held assumptions that a) homogeneity cements state stability and b) diversity undermines it; these no more hold water. As early as the 1960s, students of African politics spoke about the ethnic, religious and economic diversity of many African states and how that would undermine the center. A few countries were exempted for their homogeneity. Somalia was a forerunner for its near perfect ethnic (though we have a minority Bantu population) and religious (Islamic) homogeneity.

Forty years down the line, we have realized that the center is not a ‘given’ but rather ‘earned’. Despite the entire pejorative connotation the ‘centre’ has in Ethiopia’s political history, I reckon it is time to have some “mehal sefaris”. Let me end with an anecdote of an avowed Ogadeni nationalist who, in the middle of a heated discussion, named Ethiopia as a “banana republic.” A sage Somali scholar at Rutgers University, Prof Said Samatar, responded back, “Ethiopia is not a banana republic. It is the only stable state we are speaking of in the Horn!”

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45 Responses to “Will the Centre Hold?”

  1. This is a disappointing article. You repeat the age old tired argument of the exteremists. Unity means Amhara domination.
    That dog does not hunt anymore.

    • Bulcha,

      Have you even read the article? Please tell where in the article the writer said he takes unity as Amhara domination??

  2. Derese Getachew 2 December 2010 at 7:50 pm

    Did I?

    • i don’t agree with bulcha . you make a convincing and persuasive argument that should not be ignored.

  3. Its a nice article but WTF “Amharic speaking, Orthodox Christian Highlander”????? Many non amhara but Amharic speaking (it doesn’t mean only Amhara) and non orthodox christian (Muslim) people want to ethiopia unified!!

    • Dear Yacob,

      In the article “Amharic speaking, Orthodox Christian Highlander” is mentioned as the only meaning of unity at one extreme and secessionists on the other end. He is in fact trying to imply what you noted as the centre and there is no such political group representing that idea.

  4. The article would have merits if the issue at hand was discussed openly and if the truth about our differences and similarities are aired-out to find a common ground. But what has been the temple to decide the fate of millions of our people has been the pseudo intellectuals who could not make-up there mind from one season to the next on the objective of governance and their version of democracy beside their desire to rule uncontested.

    Time and time again the handful of individuals and groups continue to drum-up conflicts and hatred and switch to different position after the damage is done-confusing the people of Ethiopia from coming together to aim towards the ideal of liberty and representation for all.

    Until the minority groups of different strips are challenged to come clean with the people, the temples will continue to be against some group (ethnic, religion, regional, class, and more to come), not for the higher ground of democracy and coexistence.

    No one mastered the template of division and hatred as the present ruling group Woyane. The next runner ups are no better in drumming up real and imagine victimization and hatred to get what they want. If it was not for the wisdom of the Ethiopian people who refused to follow the distraction of hatred of the ruling regime and its counter parts it would have been worst than Somalia.

    Frankly, the people of Ethiopia are leading the gun toting regime and their counter part’ not the other way around showing their wisdom over and above the self appointed leaders.

    Derese Getachew

    You said;

    “First and foremost, like it or not, the Ethiopian polity now has a trajectory of political parties straddling two extremes. The first are Unitary nationalists people. Those who espoused being Ethiopian as nothing but Amharic speaking, Orthodox Christian Highlander. Their Ethiopia is a monolith; one that imposes its political and cultural fiat over such a multi-ethnic entity. At the other extreme, we have ‘anti-colonial’ liberationists whose reading of Ethiopia’s history recommends nothing but secession. Yet their political commitment is backpedalling towards an internal, democratic self-determination. As Aregawi Berhe (2009) eloquently argues, such recourse to internal self-determination usually opts for “federation, confederation or autonomy” as opposed to secession. Be this as it may, the reformasi in the liberationists camp is welcome news.”

    The essence of unitary nationalism is not what your victim mind reads i.e. “noting but Amharic speaking, Orthodox Christian highlanders” if you are far sighted enough to see the merit beyond your hatred of the group as prescribed by the ruling regime, its mentors and counterparts. It is an over used political mantra that did not get anybody any where. Even those who supposedly liberated themselves are back to square one to blame no one but themselves as you noted.

    It is also a coup-out from taking responsibility of your own by playing the victim card. There are no two rights or wrong to choice at your convenient. Everybody should own his rights and wrongs than passing it to one group or another. You also should not insult the intelligence of the rest of Ethiopians by claiming unitary nationalism is the desire of the highlanders…Christians…Amharic speakers; a self serving statement? Why don’t you focus on ‘let the Ethiopians speaks without fear and intimidation; is it too much to ask?

    It seems it is not only Woyane that fears Ethiopians to speak their mind but whole lots of groups that want to rule them by impunity. Do you wonder why? and can you tell us why we can not agree on Ethiopians to speak for themselves than the self appointed leaders?

    My experience tells me there is no group I know of that desires our people to be free to determine their fate with their compatriots but, self serving depots who want to make them pawns to remain or come to power. If I am wrong please correct me by showing me who and how?

    I think the solution is simple; to liberate ourselves as individuals before we claim to liberate anyone. Are you ready to do that?

    With love,

    Your Ethiopian brother

  5. A very dissappointing piece.I agree with the first comment that the statement ” The first are Unitary nationalists people. Those who espoused being Ethiopian as nothing but Amharic speaking, Orthodox Christian Highlander. Their Ethiopia is a monolith; one that imposes its political and cultural fiat over such a multi-ethnic entity” is rubish. The writer could have supported his claim with proof. I suspect his arguement is those pan Ethiopian organizations are amara organizations. I know because some of the political leaders have said so on the record.
    The truth is Kinijit was mutlitethnic and did not impose its “Amharic speaking, Orthodox Christian Highlander” culture over anyone. So is Ginbot 7 and Andinet. But it is easy and fashionable to criticize both sides.
    My generation, including me blamed the amaras because Haile Sellassie was the ruler. Today’s generation, assuming this is a person of Abiy’s age, blame the Amaras along with the TPLF and the ethnic oppositon,for fabricated charges.
    I support a untited non ethnic federal country where rights including language rights are vested in the individual not to an arbitrarily predefined group.

  6. Dear Derese

    I am amazed and amused at this sophomoric piece of yours. Which political/communal group is currently representing the “those who espoused being Ethiopian as nothing but Amharic speaking, Orthodox Christian Highlander”? I am waiting to hear…

    Abe

  7. Neither homogeneity (ethnic) nor diversity guarantees sustainability. These are identities created in the course of history and lend their existence to a continuous affirmation of groups concerned. Somamlia and USSR are case for one’s study in to the issue. It is economic dynamism and shared vision of the future (contrary to shared history) that sustains the state. The myth that history would bind us together is ahistorical, at best, and and vindictive.

  8. I think Derese’s Vatican needs to issue a clarification.

    Are you saying that Kinijit was not a ‘unity in diversity’ party? If so, you are wrong. Both its party program and speeches by leaders such as Berhanu Nega illustrate that views such as those you have espoused about unity and diversity were reflected in Kinijit.

    Same for Andinet.

    If I may say so in all humility, given Ethiopian sensibilities, I think it was unwise to caricature the ‘Unitary Nationalists’ and ‘anti-colonial liberationists’ to illustrate your point. For two reasons. First, these caricatures hardly exist in reality today. There aren’t that many people like that any more. Second, it’s just not a good way of communication since many people think you’re talking about them – ‘why is he calling us this when we’re not!’

    I think Kinijit’s program was fine. So is Andinet’s. There’s plenty of room in both for group rights of various sorts. Of course, there may have been extremists in Kinijit, but that’s what you get when you have a big tent. That’s diversity! But most importantly, as we all know, it wasn’t Kinijit’s program that got it in trouble! It was this.

    • I total agree with your point. I would also like to comment on the writers’ notion of ‘ideology’ with regard to the political group in power today. If we are trying such kind of serious political analysis, we should also be strict enough to question whether the TPLF-led EPRDF has a clear political ideology for which the leaders are true and trying to practice it in reality. As long as I understand, EPRDF espouse some sort of diversity in Unity, which is not clear for themselves and for other actors too. And it seems they want it that way. To put it another way, the assumption that EPRDF has some kind of cleary ideology is the same as saying that today’s political situation will remain the same if we change the actors (current TPLF’ites and associates). Because the ideology guiding their programe and actions will also determine most of the political outcome regardless of who is holding the office. Is that true?

      My point is the current TPLF-led EPRDF party is not following any clearly defined ‘ideology’, it is neither left, right, center, ….., It is simply an amorphous poitical hoax which is being deployed to prolong the lifetime of a predatory gangster.

  9. Naool Abba-Bia, 3 December 2010 at 7:34 am

    Dere,

    Thank you for the very well thought and crafted article. I really should congratulate your brevity.You don’t look up truthfulness in a book, you look it up in your gut.It would be remiss on my part if I fail to mention that I fully share the sentiments you have transpired. As history educates us well, extremes are doomed to be destructive,whether in Sudan or Nazi Germany or Stalinist USSR.

    I know such articles may not have audience in our political culture(both from the EPRDF , OLF, ONLF, Genbot 7, Andenet or the other opposition). But as Albert Einstein once said “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.”

    We need a strong mehal sefari that recognizes we have a lot in common as Ethiopians but have diversity that adds beauty to our unity. Respecting the language, history and tradition of these groups will strengthen the center. Giving rights to the groups should not make us forget that we have a country that has been a beacon of of for African independence and unity. We need a new generation of politicians that are not prisoners of extremism.

    Galatooma

  10. hahhahahha- u don know about oromiyans. u r good to the level of ur knowledge

  11. Dere u Rock… our dear & best instructor…. it is such spectacular article with best argument and best expression…
    Finally for Bulcha u better read it all over again!!!!!!! because u don’t really get what Dere tiring to enlighten us…

  12. What is the problem with characterizing some political groups “those who espoused being Ethiopian as nothing but Amharic speaking, Orthodox Christian Highlander”

    Why are you guys defending them if you hardly belong to these group? From my point of view at this time these who say one people, one country and one language, in Ethiopia like state are Monolithic period.

  13. Again, I am disappointed by some of the rather emotionally-charged comments above (eg., Bulcha, Jibo, Abe). This it self proves that Derese’s analysis touches cord. Yes, with this polarization, the center may not hold any longer. That is what I took home from the analysis and the comments here. Sad thing to imagine! Isn’t it!

  14. What does it matter mehal seferk yet seferk? Ethiopia Ethiopia nat
    any ways mehalem sefarewu yawu Ethiopiaweewu newu.

    ‘Time to have some mehale sefari’s’ is what I dont get at all. Our capital was mooved from gonder to Addis you know by who. Of cours it was by the king Meles Zenawei is not only Ethiopian leader
    that ever accord in Ethiopia who ever is on power is who ever on power and who ever was on power was who ever on power.

    It use to be the appointed or some time so called appointed and some time the powerfull and people of verity of states besides
    they had their own kings too.

    And lates not forget ameharic has been out national languej for
    so many years so if some body is out to kill Ameharas they might end up killing all Ethiopians at this point. But hope fully that is not the case here.

  15. Derese Getachew 3 December 2010 at 7:50 pm

    Dear Ayyaa Jibo, Abe and Chrystosom

    First things first, I did not state or imply that Kinjit, Andenet or others who espouse the notion of unity were ONLY AMHARAS and ONLY Orthodox Chrisitans..I was not in fact talking about them..I was referring to the narrative of Ethiopia as a Monolith( predominantly shaped by the tigre and amharas and the church) and that version which makes an average ogadeni, most of the Oromo elite or an Anwak or Nuer,at least UNCOMFORTABLE utmost, UNWELCOMED!!If you think this view of Ethiopianness is dead and missing in public discourse, consult the everyday jokes of Amharic and its stereotypes about Oromos, Tigres etcc..If you think this was not the case in Ethiopia, then explain the rise of all kinds of ethnonationalist liberationist movememnts and parties in the country? Did they come just out of the blues????

    One more thing, Steven asked a very good question. Even if i argue andinet and kinijit were parties of the amhara? What is wrong with it? All you gotta do is prove me wrong…why do people get emotionally charged and jump on the wagon of labelling people as ‘divisive”psedudo intellectual’, ‘victim mind’ etc…..Gobez, ewnet keyazin nigigrachin kelem kelem engi barud barud ayshetim..’atinkugn bayinewtun’yaz enargew..

    To my surprise , lal and Kassahun summarized my argument in a small paragraph,

    Kassahun stated it correctly!

    Neither homogeneity (ethnic) nor diversity guarantees sustainability. These are identities created in the course of history and lend their existence to a continuous affirmation of groups concerned. Somamlia and USSR are case for one’s study in to the issue. It is economic dynamism and shared vision of the future (contrary to shared history) that sustains the state. The myth that history would bind us together is ahistorical, at best, and and vindictive..

    Galatooma

  16. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree that there are many ‘Unitary Nationalists’ and ‘anti-colonial liberationists’ left.

    I would say just compare the AAPO of the early 1990′s with Kinijit or Andinet, the EPRDF of the past with the EPRDF today, the OLF of the past and the OLF today, and you’ll see that the old radicalism is decreasing. Presumably these parties are responding, at least to some extent, to changes in public opinion, no?

    The presence of ethnic jokes is nothing on which to base an argument on, no?!

    What’s wrong with arguing that Kinijit and Andinet are Amhara parties? First, given that the EPRDF used such propaganda to attack Kinijit members (Interahamwe, etc.), such argument understandably touches a raw nerve. Second, it’s sort of like asking someone if they stopped beating their wife. You have to prove that they were/are Amhara parties, not the other way around! Third, these parties are so clearly what you call ‘ande-hibret’ that it’s almost not worth talking about.

  17. Sorry Eskender I though this article was by you. But I meant every thing I said to the writer (Derese Gatachwu), as it seems positive
    article it is also very negative to ward Ethiopia. Sorry to say that
    If he didn’t mean it that way but I am just being honest about what it sounds like to me and I think it is very rude. They think they can make us feel bad about being Amehara and christian high lander and and so on, and ………..how does that work?………..can we go against who they are? I bet we can but again why would any body do that?

    Do you get the sprinkle’s here? well late me make it clear for you, It says they haven’t been having any high lander or christian or Amara or Tigiray or Agewu …… you know the mehal
    sefaree in other word shewa in other word again the Ethiopian people in particular the ones that are capable of leadership.

  18. Derese Getachew 4 December 2010 at 8:36 pm

    Dear Chrysostom

    I like the sober interlocutor in you my dear friend..I respect that we agree to disagree

    You are right about the decline in the radicalism within the parties( call them AAPO, EPRDF or OLF).Even consider the paper of Dr Berhanu Nega at the OSA meeting ..it was an attempt to revisit the tenets of liberalism and argue more or less that, the issue of collective rights can be addressed within a liberal democratic framework..( this is very different from the Kinjit position we knew of pre 2005!)All of these, in fact, prove my point that people are trying to come to the centre!! But can you argue that, without assuming there are EXTREME positions?

    I raised the case of ethnic “jokes”( i even wonder whether they are jokes because in a country like the US saying such jokes could land one in prison!!) to refute the arguments that it is the ELITE which invents these discourses, divides up the public blah blah..So the “public” is sanitized from ethnic bigotry?Soo there is no condescendence and sometimes blatant ‘denial” about the issue of ethnic oppression in Ethiopia?

    As far as Kinjit/Andenet, and their being “ande-hibret” parties is concerned, i wish them good luck!!!But where is there andenet? You obviously know what happened to the “andenet” of kinijit? You see what is happeneing to the “andenet” of UDJ?.. will take my hats off when they start practising what they preach!

  19. The article ‘would the center holds’ is curious itself. The center always has been the defensive posture of Ethiopian rulers (all dictators) from foreign invaders and historical accident or adventure of one or other regional totalitarian groups to consolidate central power (common with all dictatorial regimes). It also depends on the geographical location of the group, foreign influence or support, access to institutions (religion, government, non government), and economic and social interaction with other groups.

    In the last four decade the pseudo intellectual adapted Marxist philosophy how our society should organize with the aim of only holding regional or central power (which ever one comes first) and came up with bizarre excuses to have one or another by threatening to destroy the whole if they do not get their way.

    Through out history, until Kinijit showed up, none of them allowed the people of Ethiopia to exercise their right to speak for themselves. When the people did, under the difficult situations in May 2005 thinking it is safe, the ethnic peddlers like Woyane and the rest could not swallow the verdict and continued peddling the same thing Ethiopians rejected hands down and look for excuses. Some like you say Kinjit was Amhara…, others go as far as claiming “their ethnic groups’ are their own “property” through isolation and scare tactics; reducing them not capable of thinking for themselves-an insult to their rights of association in their free will.

    We learned the ruling regime and all political groups were/are not willing to bring about the liberty of the people of Ethiopia but use them as pawns to remain or climb to regional or central power of corruption and subjugation.

    Speaking of ‘ewnet keyazin’ how is the truth going to come out when our people are intimidated by Woyne and the like of ethnic and conflict peddlers from freely telling the truth what they feel about their country and their compatriots by exercising their free speech?

    Please keep your intellectual historical adventure for yourself for now and focuses on how to free our people. You can have your day in front of free people in the open so that we can get to the real truth one way or another to look forward in the future.

    Truth will only come out when people are free to tell it, as it is not when self anointed intellectuals preach it. In fact, our so called intellectuals reduced knowledge and truth so low peddling their petty interests in the service of tyranny; it has no more meaning and purpose to the lives of our people any more beside more conflicts and division.

    With Love,

    Your Ethiopian brother

    • Derese Getachew 6 December 2010 at 7:32 pm

      Addis

      Good luck with with ‘liberating’ the people to tell the truth!! Yes “Truth will only come out when people are free to tell it, as it is not when self anointed intellectuals preach it.” Just make sure the ‘liberation’ project does not turn into an ‘oppression’ one- as history in Ethioia showed it time and again!!

      So intellectuals are ‘self-anointed’ ? and ALL of them have “reduced knowledge and truth so low peddling their petty interests in the service of tyranny; it has no more meaning and purpose to the lives of our people any more beside more conflicts and division.” How do you recommend to liberate them??

  20. I now see the point you were trying to make with the ‘ethnic jokes’, which is that whatever ethnic tensions exist in the elite are to a large extent the reflection of ethnic tension or bigotry in the public.

    I agree with this. It’s the extent of the tension or bigotry we disagree on.

    But keep in mind that just as politics in general amplifies negative public sentiments, same with this. By the time it reaches the elite, it gets worse than it is at the grassroots.

    I also caution inter-societal comparison. Consider the difference in the way societies in North America and South America handle race relations. Consider for example that in American history, being black would automatically exclude one from the elite of any institution. Americans discriminated efficiently! Whereas in Ethiopia one could rise to even the rank of Emperor having been immediately descended from slaves. That doesn’t mean things were good in Ethiopia, but one must keep things in context.

    Yes, of course, ethnic jokes designed at belittling others are bad, by any moral compass. But again, one must be careful not to read too much into it. (I’m not saying you are reading too much into it – I just wanted to make the point.)

    What happened to Kinijit and what is happening to Andinet? Like I said in my first comment, I think it has little to do with ideologies.

    Note that usually, Ethiopians tend to fight over petty personal issues and then try to give their conflict a veneer of respectability by claiming it’s about ideology or respecting rules or some such thing.

    But they didn’t even bother much in these conflicts. Clearly these were personality conflicts, as I said before, caused by a poor communication and conflict resolution culture.

    I understand and agree with you that the ‘ethnic question’ is important in Ethiopia. But for me, the above is the single largest barrier there is on our road to democracy, not the ethnic question, or for that matter poverty, or anything else.

  21. For your information Dr Birhanu’s presentation at OSA is more or less the same thing Kinjit has been saying during the election campaign. The main message was ‘by respecting and protecting all individual rights it is tautologically clear that collective rights are secure’.
    I greatly appreciate the blogger’s efforts for providing us with a glimpse of seasoned and educated politcal analysis of the situation in Ethiopia (particularly for a novice in politics like me). However, I advise them to be very meticulous and cautious so that people will not be misguided. Some of the writings tacitly promote the status quo by strengthening the pretenses of TPLF’ites. Last time a blogger compared Meles with Mao, as if Meles is an ideologue and a true leader of a country (every one knows he is a supremacist in the guise of liberator). It was a huge PR work for Meles though the writer might have not perceived it. This time around the article attempts to portray EPRDF as a party with defined and clear ideology and tried to compare it with the ideologies of oppositions. We know that the TPLF-led EPRDF is a treacherous and undisciplined group whose main objective is plundering the country’s resource and promoting the hidden agenda of narrow tribalism. Believe me, if EPRDF has a clear political goal and practicaly stick to it, I would have given it much respect though I will not be a supporter.

  22. Dear Derese Getachew,

    Dear Derese Getachew
    I sense your replies as being less certain as compared to your pronouncements such as “Given all these,
    Ethiopia’s experiment has its own silver linings. First and foremost, like it or not, the Ethiopian polity
    now has a trajectory of political parties straddling two extremes. The first are Unitary nationalists
    people. Those who espoused being Ethiopian as nothing but Amharic speaking, Orthodox Christian
    Highlander. Their Ethiopia is a monolith; one that imposes its political and cultural fiat over such a multi-
    ethnic entity.”

    Given your endeavor I expected support for this broad and authoritative statement. With the word
    “now” the statement becomes even more significant as it tows the EPRDF line that those who oppose it
    are either the narrow nationalists or the chauvinists. I am certain you do not mean that but that is what
    you wrote. I suggest there is no fact that supports this fact. The last vestiges of such a fore was EDU and
    arguably AAPO – both long gone. I invite you and others to provide their supporting facts.

    There is a statement that we can all agree with that Kasahun put succinctly: Neither homogeneity
    (ethnic) nor diversity guarantees sustainability. But this is not news. The issue is what is the best
    vision/way to keep a diverse country to stay together? To answer this question we need to agree with
    what we know will not work: unitary totalitarian/authoritarian state and ethnic federal state. Not only
    historical but also our own lifetime experience has shown the futility of these forms of governance.
    I believe the cure lies in individual liberty irrespective of ethnicity, religion or any other identity. Only
    when each one of us guard our inalienable rights jealously will we be free. So a federal (not an ethnic)
    state where rights(including language rights) are vested to the individual is the one to consider.

    Negati

  23. “It is economic dynamism and shared vision of the future (contrary to shared history) that sustains the state. The myth that history would bind us together is ahistorical, at best, and and vindictive.”

    This is an excellent quote. But at the same time, so is this, by Donald Levine, in Wax and Gold:

    “The negation of all those sentiments acquired in childhood leaves a man adrift, a prey to random images and destructive impulses… The most productive and liberating sort of social change is that build on continuity with the past.”

  24. And after all can the center can hold? Yes it can.

  25. Dear Dere, thanks a lot for your reflection. My question is how long shall we continue to find solutions in ideologies which are not founded into our context. I agree with you that Marxism-Leninism has failed to give answer for the problem we had and I also feel that Liberalism is still short of core elements that may contribute to the better future we aspire for. Still, as an ideology, if we take liberalism it will be the elite who will be conversant to its ideals and practice it on the public and history is a witness that the elite (be it the intellectuals, socio-economic or political)is always self-centered and ridicules other perspectives. If we go to the extent of analyzing every aspect of ‘our history’, why are we not capable of looking for the solutions from inside..than to borrow perspectives and knowledge frameworks from others. I believe that there can be good elements to be taken from Liberalism and also from other ideologies but still the best has to come from inside…..let’s not void ourselves, I would say… rather get ready to do it differently in our own way.

    • Derese Getachew 6 December 2010 at 5:56 pm

      Eyob

      I believe we have our own knoweldge system, perspectives and ways of looking at society, power and economic relations!!It is very important to consult our own epistemic and onthological realms!!!! Yes you are absolutely right that we should begin from ‘within’..But let us also remember that ideas travel..both on their 1) merit( for instance the idea of universal human rights is one acceptable to all even though it was enshrined in teh post world war ii western context!! remember more than two third of the world was a colony when the west enshrined these concepts! But we use them now for their merits!) 2) ideas travel by means( modern higher education and current global order means its very difficult to trace where western ideas stop and non-western ideas begin!!! Honestly, it is very difficult..My take on this is ‘selective appropriation’- as my Addis Ababa Univeristy’s famous logo says ” Khulu Hamekiru Weze Senaye Atsiniuu!” Test Everythign and Consider what is worthy!.. BUt I agree you flagged a very important point!scuss more about this…

    • Eyob,
      What is the difference between elites “finding the solution from the inside” and elites borrowing “perspectives and frameworks of knowledge from the outside” if our assumption is that they are “self-centered”? A self-centered group by definition looks for ideas and tools that further its interest. Or do you have a proposal which limits the power of elites during the deliberative process of discovering home-grown solutions? And how does that work practically in the context of the structure of power relationship we have?

  26. What happend to the rest of my comment?

  27. Derese Getachew 6 December 2010 at 5:29 pm

    Dear Jibbo

    I am glad to hear that AAPO and EDU and all the sentiments they upheld are LONG GONE..Hope they dont resurrect!

    Dear Abebe

    I think you are taking both this article and Abiy Teklemariam’s article about about Meles and Mao out of context?!!!–they were not written for the purpose you mentioned or suspected they were..I am not surprised since its very Ethiopian to read too much into the script( the wax and gold syndrome)

    Well I thought( and i remember having discussions with other people) that Dr Berhanu’s paper signalled a shift of opinion about the issue of collective rights and liberalism’s place in addressing them! I could be WRONG about it..You may know better!

    Chrysostom

    Continuity with the past suits me, only if ways are found to rectify( negate) the negations of the past!Otherwise, there is no continuity but SIMPLY THE PAST!

  28. Dear Derese Getachew,
    you are beating a dead horse here. If it ever existed at all in Ethiopia, (beyond the heady idealist chat fuelled fantasy of a lost generation,and a cloak for the Talakoo Sera of Woyane,),the idea of Ethnic Federalism as a functional political framework for Ethiopia, indeed anywhere in the world, is now dead and buried.

    Telling a lie repeatedly about Ethiopian history does not make it the truth. And half baked ideas like a GM ande-hibret or lame attempts to glorify the much culturally despised (in all Ethiopian cultures) unprincipled stand of the mehal sefari will not fly in Ethiopia. This generation will make up their mind about their own manifest destiny will be without the help of racist history recyclers such as yourself and of course without WOyane.

    Don’t even think they will read this drivel and accept it without realizing the true aims of this insiduous banter.. For starters..it is not based on fact and there are no figures. Gone are the days when rhetoric such as yours could rouse the rabble. This is a computerised, googling number crunching generation. THey do not get emotional by self regarding rhetoric neither are they impressed by long words in English.Certain no one in Ethiopia would accept the attempted resurrection of the poltically dead or the recycling of hatred by rehashing rewritten history.

    If i may suggest you first know your own centre before attempting to prescribe a poltical centre for Ethiopia and predict her demise if that prescription is not accepted. Ante bilo speculater..LOL!! Have you not heard of Tamrat Gelta..we have finished with big Tenkway such as yourself.

    There is no mystery abut the magnetism that holds Ethiopia and her politics together, that is her proud peaceful SELF GOVERNING.people. Intermarried, inter relgious and loving despite hate mongers like you. Delusional though you may be, you my friend, do not represent the people of Ethiopia. Neither do your new found former-woyane friends nor your poltically bankrupt secessionst buddies. Until we remove woyane and know what the people of Ethiopia want, we are left with nothing to measure their desire but one day..that day is May 15 2005.

    What we know for a fact is that on May 15 2005 Ethnic Federalism died in Ethiopia. NOw..5 years later it is THE MAJOIRTY, the likes of multi-ethnic nationalist individuals like that lion, Judge BIrtukan Mideksa who represent our bright woyane free future. But you sir are a relic destined for the musuems this generation will build once they are free from Woyane and all their baggage, some which you are attempting to preserve and peddle here. Mettnay le hodih..
    Ityopia Le Zelalem Tinoralech.

  29. All the hoopla of the so called intellectuals is hogwash, I am sick of it. The only thing their education did is magnified victimization, instigate conflicts and look for an excuses for their failure. Instead of power mongering they should sitdown and solve the basic needs of our people. The ethnic peddlers are getting worst by the day integrated by Woyane and their liberators to no where.

    In a country with 80 % plus of the population with no shoes on their feet they are agitated as victims of those with no shoes on their feet, while the intellectuals use them as barging chips.

    Frankly, pick any uneducated peasant farmer any where in Ethiopia he/she has more common sense and a better solution for our problem than all the learned men combined; only if they were free to exercise their God given freedom we can not see better future for our people.

    After educating thousands of functionally illiterate intellectuals what did our people got? Displacement, famine, hatred, corruption, disease, killing to the name the few. What do our intellectuals did? Lectures and write ups against each other to no where.

    That said, because we are too lazy to lift the heavy weight, timid to speak the truth and scared to stand-up against corruption and tyranny with in, we look for an excuse and an easy way out for our inadequacies by philosophizing and blaming others.

    Derese,

    You said “Just make sure the ‘liberation’ project does not turn into an ‘oppression’ one- as history in Ethiopia showed it time and again!!”

    If you were not fixated on victimization you would open your mind to see the bigger picture. Just because a bunch of hoodlums call themselves liberators do you expect them to do what they say when they capture power? Indeed, you are naive about human nature. I am liberated from tribalism and victimhood, and I am not looking back; I see you as one of me, until you see me as one of you we will never be liberated. For that reason alone I am determined to bring down Woyane and its like, but the problem is I can not do it with out you.

    “How do you recommend to liberate them??”

    It is a good and noble question. The answer is when I make those closest to me accountable for their action or inaction against my people. Have you ever done that with those who claim to liberate you?

    My brother, you can scream all you want to justify your mind set but, often our worst enemies are those near us. Give them an inch they will take a yard. Time and time again we learned those who claim to liberate us turned out worst than those who subjugate us. Humans’ nature dictates unchecked power is a recipe for voluntary prison. While they are pointing you towards the known and unknown enemy to divert you, they are preparing you for a slaughter house.

    Tell me which of the two recent liberators of ‘their people’ you want to emulate. It is not true when they say ‘what you do not know does not hurt’, it does; ask those under the rule of the so called liberators.

    With love,

  30. Dear Derese
    Yet again this is a very instructive piece and it is to be expected that people would have different understanding and different opinion on it. That is only natural and healthy. Let me pull two threads out of the article and the subsequent comments. First, the issue of change and continuity. When I am confronted with this question I always try to project myself fifty or hundred years in the future and try to imagine how I would see and write the history of this period if I were a historian. In other words what are the changes I see in 2010 from 1910 or 1810 Ethiopia? Where was power located before and where is it held now. How is it that despite several decades of Marxist Leninist ideology of EPRP, the Derg, or TPLF or the ‘anti colonial’ struggle of OLF the country is still for all intents and purposes in the hands of northerners with a clear link to our feudal past? Which one is the more compelling factor here-our history of domination, or our quest for freedom and equality? The most interesting part for me here is that those who are in power now are actually the Christian highlanders though not the Amharic speaking ones. But that does not change the equation for me. Yes they have adapted a far left ideology which ostensibly propagates the right to self determination but this is more tactical than strategic. We have often observed how EPRDF trying to play the middleman scaring nationalists that it is the only thing that could stop dismemberment of the country while it scares the ethno centrists that they are surely faced with the resurgence of Amhara dominance if it were not for EPRDF. This takes me to the second thread. Do we really have a middle ground ‘mehal sefari’ or in fact do we need that middle ground. In my opinion this question is a direct result of our history particularity the history of the 60s and 70s which blew the ethnic question out of proportion. While there has definitely been cultural suppression on the one hand and promotion of a certain culture as the national culture on the other, trying to explain the dynamics of Ethiopian politics only within this parameters left a very big gap in our understanding of the problems and consequently of our capacity to find solutions. At the risk of oversimplifying the issue I would say that the inequality in Ethiopia was based on as much or even more on economic factors (predominantly land ownership) as much as it was on social domination. Derg took a fundamental measure when it nationalized land but immediately reversed it when it assumed complete control of it thereby changing the Ethiopian peasantry from being serfs to the feudal lords to being serfs for the government. EPRDF also, despite its rhetoric, has done nothing to change this situation. Hence, my question is, is it possible to find a middle ground when such fundamental issues are still not addressed?

  31. Derese Getachew 7 December 2010 at 9:49 pm

    Debela

    I wish I had the answers for these questions!!But these are questions that need to be asked and answered definitely!! So I take my hats off for you for raising them!!

  32. Quotes:

    1. “As Langston Hughes once put it, there is nothing more explosive than “a dream deferred!” ”

    The author quotes a US American and tries to impose US American values and experience on us Ethiopians. Ethiopians not necessarily have to behave like US Americans in the same situations.

    2. “The prospect of a secular, democratic and federal Sudan (Gharang’s “New Sudan”) became far more unachievable. Just as the harsh, undemocratic and violent excesses of Addis Ababa fanned, and fuelled Eritrean resentments; ”

    The author blames Ethiopian governments for the “liberation struggle” of Eritreans, and not immature,misled and misinformed Eritreans,external powers like the Egyptians,US Americans and others.

    3. “Many in Sudan are asking a simple question: “will the center hold?” ”

    It appears the author got the idea and the title for his article from a conversation with a Sudanese friend. Well we have to watch what is happening around us but we dont have to wish every bad and destructive thing happening elsewhere for our country.

    4. “And he asks in his most recent book (2010), “We must now look deep into our national soul, as it were, and reexamine what held us together. What was the glue that held things together in our case?” I am sure you are suspecting of an Ethiopian interlocutor-some average “neftenyaa” who drums about the dismemberment of his motherland, Ethiopia. No dear reader, the author is Bereket Habtesellasie (2010) the pariah of Eritrean Nationalism in his latest book, “Wounded Nation”.”

    Here the author insults the reader as neftenyaa and then to flatter him as “dear reader” in the next sentence which is a bit schizophrenic and dishonest.

    5. “Eritrean scholars are asking, “Will the center hold?” ”

    Read comment to quote number3.

    6. ““Ethiopia is not a banana republic. It is the only stable state we are speaking of in the Horn!” ”

    Here he lets you think he is a woyane supporter.Watch also his usage of the term EPRDF when we all know that the ruling group in Ethiopia is TPLF.
    Since the woyane regime is the puppet of USA this author appears to work for US American interest by promoting the woyane regime.

  33. Ato Getachew,with respect. Kassahun did not summarize your argument. He blew a great big whole in it. There are many other woyane- themed blanket statements at the center of your argument that DO NOT HOLD. For example, you say: One of the easiest challenges for the EPRDF was to deconstruct Ethiopian nationalism.

    Woyane has not deconstructed Ethiopian nationalism. All the evidence suggest the contrary. It is Ethiopian nationalism that has withstood the demolition men from Deddebit, successfully demining ethnic explosives and standing so firm that people mehal sefari like you have to be deployed, waving white flags talking about the compromise of tehadisso andenet-beher party. What is your asking for? You are asking for watered down nationialists to accept watered down ethnic federalism nothing more. This patheticily disguised Woyane plea of yours would not have been necessary if Woyane had dismantled Nationalism as you suggest. Dinkem Deconstruct..You are on your last legs. And let me add more hard truths that million of nationalists Ethiopians already understand: ዘረኝነትና ቂም በቀልን ከ ፍቅርና አንድነት ጋር መቀላለል አይቻልም

    For your information Getachew, nationalism is STILL the default mode of the majority of Ethiopians today, after 20 years of sustained Woyane assuault. Indeed there were times Woyane completely surrendered to Ethiopian nationalism, like during the Badme war. When it is possible for a moment of freedom, at every opportunity and every possible political space we see Ethiopian nationalism out in full force as we did in the 2005 election when nationalism defeated Woyane’s ethnic federalist system SOUNDLY. Far from deconstructing Ethiopian Nationalism Woyane has retreated, hiding from it, in Menelik palace behind Agazi troops and bullet proof glass, pretending not to notice the elephant in the room.

    It is because Woyane has failed to deconstruct Ethiopian nationalism that it’s stalwarts is still in combat and bunker mode. The hate filled rhetoric now stripped bare so that the agenda is clear for every Ethiopian to see: that a forcibly imposed foreign ethnic federalism is nothing but a cover for WOyane and his masters to divide the Ethiopian people and loot.

    Today we see ethnic federalism only helps to make it easier for Woyane to plunder unchecked and sell off land to foreigners with impunity. That is why after 20 years in power Ethiopian nationalism is stronger today, now more than ever, because it is always our nationalism that has kept us free and independent. Yes, you are right to fear a resurgance. Be very afraid. Ethiopian nationalism is not finished yet with Woyane and their mehal sefari supporters like you. You and your likes are on your last legs.

  34. Dear Getachew Derese, You say Ethiopian polity now has a trajectory of political parties straddling two extremes. This implies some sort of political vibrancy and movement in Ethiopian politics. This is another Woyane lie disguising the fact that TPLF marxist leninst ideology is bankrupt and its ethnic federalist philosophy has it’s back to the wall. We have no trajectory to speak of because Ethiopia is a one giant gulag run by a cruel dictatorship, a one party state run by kleptocrats. THere is no political space for any trajectory and your bi-polar premise and call for mehal safari mediation only reflects Woyanes desperate last ditch attempt to stop the ticking clock. Clearly this paper you wrote is an attempt to buy Woyane breathing space and throw them an ideological life line. Unfortunately, it is too little too late. This generation has never lost sight of a united Ethiopia and they are ready for their Woyane-free future. For Woyane and your generation the time for ethnic experiments is over. And that includes your ande-hibret-ye koom kizhet

    By the way, what do you mean “the rise of all kinds of ethno-nationalist liberationist movememnts and parties in the country” Don’t you mean THE RISE AND FALL? LOL!! The rise and fall of these movements that you insist are out there (as does Woyane who supported/supoprts some and created others) is a subject for another paper. We would have to look first and foremost OUTSIDE Ethiopia for historical explanations and Woyane itslef for more recent analysis. But like I said, that is another, DEAD topic of the long gone past.Let the dead bury the dead.

    For those of us Ethiopians, young and old, in the majority,whose unitary outlook is not just based on political parties but far far beyond that- (IT IS BASED ON THE MIXED ETHNIC ETHIOPIAN BLOOD IN OUR VEINS)- for those of us who feel the multi-ethnic Ethiopian “oneness” that you deny, our Ethiopian national nationalistic future is so so bright we gotta wear shades.

  35. Derese Getachew 10 December 2010 at 6:30 pm

    Good Luck!

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