By Keffyalew Gebremedhin, The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
I have had the opportunity to go through Dr. Gelawdewos Araia’s 25-page Pan-Ethiopian Agenda Vs Sectarian Ethnocentric Politics of August 4, 2016, appearing on Tigrai Online.
I have pondered over his analysis and have been fully cognizant of his concerns about the dangerous time our country is in. Further, I have considered his proposal for the establishment of “a task force with a dynamic ad hoc committee of Ethiopian intellectuals, professionals, and ordinary patriotic citizens.”
The responsibility of this body is enormous, and its goal(s) a tall order, i.e., “preserving Ethiopian unity by promoting a pan-Ethiopian agenda”. To be honest, I am not certain if Dr. Gelawdewos Araia is serious in proposing this, especially when he knows with exactitude that it would hardly reach fruition with the Stalinist Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in power.
In fact, his article on this now and that of Retired Army Chief of Staff Gen. Tsadkan Gebretensay share some similar themes and concerns. These have impressed upon me the fact that the driver behind this is the plight of the country as much as the psychologically adverse environment and insecurity our Tigrean compatriots live in at present.
In fact, Gen. Tsadkan discusses this problem extensively, from which I would pick the following part to bring closer our understanding of their problem and concerns. He writes:
- “የትግራይ ሕዝብ በስርዓቱ እላፊ ተጠቃሚ እንደሆነ ተደርጎ ይወራል፣ ይታያል። ተጨባጭ ሁኔታው ደግሞ ከዚህ የተለየ ነው። በርግጥ ሁኔታውን ሕዝብን በማጣላት እንጠቀማለን ብለው የሚመኙ ፀረ ዴሞክራሲ ሃይሎች ያራግቡታል። እነዚህን ሃይሎች ካሰቡትና ከተመኙት ውጭ ማሳመን አይቻልም። ግን ደግሞ ተጨባጭ የሕዝቦች መራራቅ አለ። ይህ ለምን መጣ? እንዴት እንፍታው ብሎ ማሰብና መወያየት ተገቢ ነው።”
Out there is the story that the people of Tigray have been beneficiaries of the current system in Ethiopia. The reality is different however. Certainly, expecting to benefit from putting wedges between people, anti-democratic forces have given further lease of life to this rumor. There is no way of convincing them out of what they hold as their truth and belief. On the other hand, there is the reality of people being apart from each other. Why has that come? That is why it is essential to deliberate on this and discuss how to address the problem.
To the question why this article, Gelawdewos Araia intimates to readers that he has taken it upon himself to present an initiative to find ways to protect Ethiopia from the dangers of, as he puts it, “overblown ethno-nationalism”, or from the “more negative and toxic agenda of ethno-nationalists.” Deliberate or inadvertent, his pan-Ethiopian agenda seems to sync well with the goal of addressing the above concerns about the dangers before Tigreans, as Gen. Tsadkan has suggested – indicating a shared mind.
It is possible that there could also be a long-term goal of this. To a degree, it would help counter the persistent hostilities the TPLF has been facing from the majority of Ethiopians. The writer touches upon it rather as untested medicament against hatred of a government or political party, its leaders, or its members, which became the drive behind this article, possibly shared assignments distributed to accomplish this task.
Perhaps his amplification of the dangers he has identified seems to shed light, when he notes:
“An inflated and overblown ethno-nationalism is dangerous and it can lead to animosity and civil strife. By contrast, the Ethiopian identity incorporates a pan-Ethiopian psychological makeup and there is no room for disliking, hating, and/or resenting other ethnic groups. It logically follows, thus, that the pan-Ethiopian agenda, at least theoretically, accommodates the interests of all nationalities on equal footing.”
That stated, I must boldly point out to the writer that this must be a task either he did not have his heart into; or it could be a community undertaking to rescue the TPLF from its present impasse. All the same, he has come across without his usual equanimity of mind, for which he has been known.
Turning to the content of the article, I note for instance, it takes liberty, in usual manner, to pass judgment on regions or a group of people, which I consider self-defeating. In fact, it sounds someone has here borrowed a page from the TPLF propaganda book.
In contrast, equally troubling is the fact that several paragraphs of the article are replete with praises for Tigray and the role it has played in Ethiopia’s evolution from the dawn of Axum to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) 1991 victory against the Dergue regime. Unfortunately, the negativity he has reserved to some members of the society, by implication, accuses them harshly of sort of being the country’s compasses to its destruction; in my opinion this is extremely unkind and uncalled for.
That in perspective, Dr. Gelawdewos Araia’s recommended solutions are two: (a) evolving and nurturing pan-Ethiopian nationalism; and, (b) denying room to narrow ethnic nationalism. As these stand, they seem innocuous and acceptable to everyone.
However, the problem here is the implied portrayal of Tigreans as pan-Ethiopianists; it is hardly consistent with the current politics and the TPLF’s governance reality of our country, nepotistic, as it has been.
The initial difficulty any reader would face with these objectives is how their objectives can be attained; in our society, there is the received wisdom that the TPLF-inspired Tigrean chauvinism and the privileges it has accorded its proponents and their allies are meant to exclusively empower them over the country. Because of that, even in the article the author gives the TPLF a pass, although he is aware that such privileges have poisoned relations within our society, thereby becoming root causes of Ethiopia’s fundamental problems today.
Surely, the writer criticizes the TPLF for its anti-democratic policies, like everyone else; but not for the TPLF turning to transacting key jobs in government for support and loyalty, power and, promotions – even at this very point, when Ethiopian society is up in arms because of the injustices these have engendered.
Nonetheless, I welcome Dr. Araia’s contribution in particular, if in the manner he is suggesting he sees realistic possibilities to gain the trust of those that he wants to coopt to work on this project under the current political, economic and social environment. In terms of ideas, the appeal of his “pan-Ethiopian agenda” is, “at least theoretically, accommodates the interests of all nationalities on equal footing”, he admits.
To be frank, I am not as optimistic as he seems to be. For instance, we could agree that a day after the publication of his article, we all witnessed last weekend from activist social medias as many Ethiopian lives and properties were destroyed and are still being destroyed this Monday. This is despite the regime’s efforts to stop citizens from expressing their frustrations and grievances, in keeping with the threats issued by the prime minister last Friday.
The problem with the TPLF is that, by doing what it should not have, has now given more impetus for the people of Gondar, Amhara and Oromia, perhaps others too to follow and raise their fists, to finally tell the Front’s strongmen “enough is enough.”
In the days of the student movement at HSIU, I was there about which Gelawdewos has nostalgically made reference regarding the solidity of Ethiopian solidarity. Let me say in this connection that I have become all the more optimistic now in seeing Oromo and Amhara protesters expressing mutual solidarity.
I hope in earnest that Dr. Gelawdewos Araia would agree with me that these protests are not the work of bank robbers; nor are the protesters mercenaries hired by Eritrea, as the TPLF regime often foolishly characterizes them; or is it a design of Oromo narrow ethnic nationalists.
This latter characterization of the Oromos is intended to disparage Oromos, while at the same time it is intended in his article to jack up propaganda value to the TPLF. Unfortunately, the man who tells us that he is out on a peace mission to help guide Ethiopians along the path of peace, reconciliation and friendship, has chosen in his article to single out the Oromos for a vehement attack as narrow ethnic centrists. He accuses them of being unwilling “to communicate in Amharic, the official lingua franca of Ethiopia;” who have “adopted Latin alphabets (that the majority of Oromo peasants don’t understand) for Afan Oromo as opposed to Geez Fidel (Ethiopian alphabets that most Oromo are familiar with and understand).” Doesn’t this apply to those Tigreans who do not speak, or do not want to Amharic?
Much in the same manner, Gen. Tsadkan Gebretensay also in his recent articlehttp://www.aigaforum.com/documents/General_Tsadkan-on-current-politics-082416-amharic.pdf on the situation in the country, has singularly focused on the Oromos. We see in his article that he welcomes the use of force, and, by implication the on-going losses of human lives in Oromia. Clearly, the idea is the TPLF would remain in power. This appears in the scenario part of his article, where he sates:
- “በኦሮምያ ተፈጥሮ የነበረው የህዝብ አመፅ የመንግስት መዋቅር ላይ በተለይ በክልሉ መንግስታዊ መዋቅር ላይ ፈጥሮት የነበረ ጫና በጣም ከፍተኛ ነው። በፌዴራል መንግስት የፀጥታ ሃይሎች ጣልቃገብነት ነው አመፁ የቆመው። አመፁ በስፋትም በግዜም ቢቀጥል ኖሮ በተጨማሪም ሌሎች ተጓዳኝ የህዝብ አመፆች ቢነሱ ኖሮ በማዕከላዊ መንግስት ላይ ሊፈጠር ይችል የነበረው ችግር መገመት አይከብድም።”
“The pressure the Oromia protest has created on the Oromia regional government structure is very strong. It was stopped only with the intervention of federal forces. If the protest has continued to expand, over time possibly if other similar protests had arisen, the problem this would have created on the central government would not be difficult to imagine.”
How could murder of citizens be justified by any one, much less by those that claim are working on finding a solution in view of the country angling in the direction of more repression and more angry popular responses? What is not captured here is that such measures may give unquiet lease of life, more instability generating poorer economic performance. This is not something Ethiopia needs, nor affords.
And yet, as pointer to what needs to be done, his proposals as the tools, Dr. Gelawdewos Araia enlists the help Emile Durkheim, the father of modern sociology, to shed more light on inter-cultural and inter-communal relations. In that regard, he picks up in his article ‘organic solidarity cohesion’ repeatedly as means of accommodating ‘differentiation and interdependence.’ I am not certain that this is an honest approach.
To my understanding, Durkheim’s work rather has more depth and is noted for its focus on integration and coherence, especially as pertains to the topic under discussion. Unfortunately in the process of the ‘social stratification’– the Durkheim special area of interests – all TPLF efforts have been geared to ensuring its control over everything, itself permanently on the saddle. This is not supposed to be the road together to multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies.
Ethiopia belongs to all its citizens. I want peace for my country; I want all Ethiopians to live in their country as equal citizens, their dignity as human beings and their human rights respected and protected. That is why I see two problems regarding the implementation of his proposal.
Firstly, given how the TPLF thinks and has been operating in these past 25 years, after imposing itself as the ruling party, there would be no certainty for the Ethiopian people that the ad hoc committee the writer proposes would not be used as a backdoor for the TPLF. We have all been fully aware of the political objectives to which the Front has been attaching priority importance – perpetuity in power!
Secondly, the looking glass through which Gelawdewos Araia has examined the specific problem of narrow ethnic nationalism in Ethiopia is chock-full with old biases, which he has attributed its authorship to Oromos. Yes, I would have been happier if Oromos did not adopt the Latin letters. Yes, I would have liked under a federal system all Ethiopian citizens learned to speak and communicate in the official language. In the first place, this would have made it easier for all Ethiopians to do things they want, especially in terms of businesses.
As far as official activities are concerned, such as being sued or suing, that handicap would be remedied through a responsible federal government providing them with translation services.
As a person who is proposing solutions to the current Ethiopian problems – not that I am justifying it – I am disappointed that his article has not made any effort to closely examine why what he is disapproving of in the Oromos, for instance, happened.
Gelawdewos Araia has also closed his eyes to the sins of the TPLF in strictly keeping even the Ethiopian Orthodox Church under its appointee ‘patriarchs’ since it has seized power.
Who would forget the words of Sebhat Nega, who because of TPLF control of the Church said in public in 2013 “አማራንና ኦርቶዶክስ ቤተ ክርስቲያንን እንዳይነሱ አድርገን ቀብረናቸዋል” [We have once and for all buried Amhara & Orthodox Christianity] is rather an indication of the Front’s political objective?