By Hailu Asegid (PhD.)
In a truly representative democracy, the majority rules, and the rights of minorities are respected and well accommodated. On the contrary, in today’s Ethiopia, minority rules and the rights of majorities are grossly violated, and not at all accommodated.
After the end of the cold war, there has been a growing trend in some parts of the world, especially in Africa that minorities came to control political power, and majorities in these countries are subject to minority rule. This ethnicisation of politics is part of global government structures emerged when nation states are undermined by the forces of globalization.
Countries that don’t seem to be affected by this trend are mainly the democratic and stable societies of Europe and North America. These countries have been able to establish strong democratic institutions and political culture that kept in check the disproportionate allocation of political power. In such societies, the political majority rules and the rights of political minority is respected and adequately represented, leaving very little room for violent conflicts.
My purpose in writing this article is not to focus up on all the countries where minorities dominate, but to focus on one country where ethnicisation of politics and minority domination seem to be the rule rather than the exception. The current Ethiopian government led by the TPLF (Tigrean People Liberation Front) is using ethnicity as a basis to govern the country and consolidate its grip on power. Minority-based governments are essentially undemocratic and rely mainly on brute force and deceptive ideology to stay in power indefinitely. This trend has caused massive popular discontent and bloody conflicts as the discriminated try to assert their rights for participation in the political process, as witnessed in the Arab spring. We have seen this incident in Rwanda, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and many more. The recent fighting in South Sudan between Dinka and Nuer tribes indicates a continuation of the trend in ethnicisation of politics in Africa, particularly in North and east Africa. One such country where this trend is seen and has had a free rein is Ethiopia.
The current governance arrangement in Ethiopia is designed to make one ethnic group dominant over all other ethnic groups in Ethiopia, particularly on the majority ethnic groups of Oromo and amhara origin. Under the current political system in Ethiopia, the majority ethnic groups, mainly the Oromo and the amhara are discriminated against and effectively excluded in many ways compared to other minority ethnic groups. Bringing genuine democracy in Ethiopia requires a collective effort where by members of majority ethnic groups fight for their rights along with other minority ethnic groups.
Why EPRDF exist?
There is something deceptive about the nature of EPRDF or commonly known as the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, and what purpose it serves to its TPLF master. We tend to think of EPRDF as an umbrella organization fairly representing all ethnic groups in Ethiopia. But a deeper look at its creation indicates that EPRDF was created for a purpose, and this purpose is TPLF domination over all other ethnic groups in Ethiopia.
It has always been the TPLF’S main strategy to make the Ethiopian people think that EPRDF is a truly coalition government which represents every ethnic group in the country. But, if one goes a little deeper, it is easy to see the dominance of TPLF in the grand EPRDF project. Actually, EPRDF is created to make sure there is no proportional representation in the political life of Ethiopia. Why did the TPLF need to create EPRDF? First, to suit its agenda of ethnic federation by making it look like it is a representative system of government. It is mainly a political calculation which aims at compensating for the numbers disadvantage of the tigrean ethnic group. Second, EPRDF exists to give advantage to the TPLF to exercise control over all social groups by forging alliance with other minority groups and by coopting individuals from majority ethnic groups in Ethiopia.
Strategies for Domination
Individuals from minority groups are deliberately given preferential treatment over members of majority Ethnic groups. One of the strategies TPLF uses to dominate majority ethnic groups is through disproportionate representation at all levels of government by minority social groups. Minority groups are more empowered than majority social and ethnic groups at federal, local and national levels. This is reflected in such institutions as the army, ministerial offices, municipalities, business, e.t.c. This pattern is seen in almost all aspects of social, economic, political and military life. Compared to their size, the majority groups are under-represented. They are the weakest link in the grand EPRDF project. Generally, majority ethnic groups in Ethiopia are underrepresented, under developed and under scrutiny compared to minority groups. They do not also enjoy true leadership, as some members of TPLF come to control them. Behind TPLF domination is a military force where in lies the true power of the TPLF.
TPLF knows that it has lost the ideological battle in the eyes of the people of Ethiopia. The ideological bond among EPRDF members is loose, and it relies on their military power to stay in power which has left largely unchallenged thus far.
Co-opting Members of Majority
TPLF created minority elite group within the majority, and co-opted them in the governance structure. Those coopted into the leadership group are not truly representative of the majority ethnic groups. In fact, in the case of the amhara, some of the leaders that represent them are not from the amhara ethnic group, individuals like bereket Simeon have another ethnic origin.
Inciting violence between majority Ethnic Groups
The second strategy TPLF uses to control majority social groups is by sowing seeds of discord and hostility among the Oromo and the amhara ethnic groups. This has been the hallmark of TPLF’s policy of ethnic federalism. This policy has been effectively implemented for the last two decades until recently relatively successfully.
The Oromo-amhara relationship until recently marred by a rhetoric that appears to be irreconcilable and ever-widening. Unfortunately, TPLF used this difference to fuel hatred and common misunderstanding between members of the two groups as part of its divide and subdue policy.
Empowering the Minority against the Majority
The other major strategy TPLF used is forming alliance of minority ethnic groups in the country against minority ethnic groups, mainly the amhara and Oromo ethnic groups. This is aimed at overcoming the numbers disadvantage vis-a-vis the majority groups. This coalition has been effectively used to control and intimidate Amharas and Oromos.
This is also seen in the preferential treatment members of the minority ethnic groups get from the TPLF. Why do minorities get large quotas for training militias than majority groups, such as more militia from the Somali or gerba than the oromia, more militia from tigray than amhara..and so on. Why is the Somali militia giving a hard time for ormoos living next door? Because they are better trained and equipped and armed and supported by TPLF than the ormos who are disempowered. Does TPLF has a majority phobia? Yes it looks like they have this phobia and wanted to counteract this by empowering minorities against the majority ethnic groups. This shows that majority ethnic groups in Ethiopia are not properly represented in Ethiopia.
Are the coopted minority groups are happy with the TPLF policy? Are members of minority ethnic groups are better off now than before? It is important to realize that the EPRDF is spearheaded by TPLF in collaboration with members of minority ethnic groups. TPLF, until recently, has been selling this policy to minority social groups, and allowed elite groups to unduly benefit from the country’s resources to have them on board. This can be seen from the unaudited federal budgetary support to regions like afar, Somali and other minority regions in the country.
This doesn’t however mean that minority social groups benefited as they should. In fact, minorities have been used as an instrument of the TPLF to implement its destructive policies on the majority ethnic groups in general, and on their own people in particular. The recent uprising of minority groups in the south Region like Dawro, Gamugofa, kucha, Sidama, and Guraghe are instances of fallout with the current policies of the TPLF. These zones have been asking for their rights to self-determination while playing by the rules, but the rules didn’t serve them which shows the rights and aspirations of minorities too are far from being fulfilled.
The only beneficiaries from this government are those that belong to the Tigrean elite group and the regime loyalists from other ethnic groups. There is ample evidence that every aspect of life in Ethiopia is visibly dominated by individuals from a single ethnic group. What can be done to ensure that real democracy and stability can be real in Ethiopia?
The Way Forward
Bringing equal representation of both minority and majority ethnic groups in Ethiopia requires changing the current political arrangement by peaceful means or otherwise. There is no better alternative to promoting and ultimately achieving this goal than creating a united Amara and Oromo front against the TPLF-led minority coalition.
The latest initiatives need to be encouraged. I am a firm believer that if the two groups join, they can make a big difference in bringing change in Ethiopia towards democracy and rule of law. Will opposition forces like OLF and Patriotic front rise up to this challenge? Time will tell. Only a democracy based on proportional representation can accommodate the diverse interests of both minority and majority ethnic groups in the country with more than 80 million ethnic groups.