By Teshome M. Borago
The current border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea has reignited discussions about which side of the war we should support. This question is directly related to whether peaceful or armed struggle is the right path to end tyranny in Ethiopia. We have a tough choice. Should we support the Eritrean regime that took our Asab port and divided our Ethio brothers & sisters on both sides of Mareb river? Or should we support the TPLF regime that institutionalized tribalism, rigged elections and killed thousands of pro-democracy Ethiopians? Unfortunately, we are forced to choose the lesser of two evils.
One major factor that should influence our decision is the current “Ethiopian” constitution.
Whose constitution is it exactly? Which groups does it benefit?
The answers to these vital questions can be found by analyzing who are its supporters. Who wrote it? Who wants to keep it? A careful look into this matter shows us that the current TPLF-run constitution is fully supported by tribal opposition political organizationsinside and outside Ethiopia. For example, top OLF and Oromo opposition leaders like Negasso Gidada, Ibsa Gutema, Lencho Lata and others contributed to the creation of our current constitution. Therefore, they agree with TPLF in principle “on paper” (they disagree only on the implementation.) For instance, tribal opposition leaders like OFC chairman Dr. Merera Gudina said his party fully supports ethnic-federalism, and Bulcha Demeksa once said he prefers “communal ownership” of land; not privatization. So In essence, the TPLF, OFC, OPDO,UEDF, OLF etc are all one and the same. In fact, the whole “Oromo protests” tribal movement earlier this year was actually a demand for TPLF to respect its own constitution. The Oromo-protests opposed the ”Addis Ababa master plan” because they view “Oromia state” as a tribal enclave to be settled exclusively by ethnic Oromos. Imagine how crazy it would be if the states in America were divided and renamed “German land,” “Jewish land,” “Irish land,” “Asian land,” “Black land” etc. Unfortunately, this is the sad reality in Ethiopia today and the new generation of our children have been brainwashed & indoctrinated to think this way.
As the result, the current constitution exists to benefit the TPLF and to satisfy tribal and ethnocentric opposition groups. It was no surprise that most of the OLF leadership changed their name to ODF with a hope to work together with TPLF. It was no surprise that Dr. Gudina and Dr. Beyene Petros (tribal opposition leaders) decided to stay inside TPLF parliament while Dr. Berhanu & Judge Birtukan Mideksa (nationalist opposition) was imprisoned in 2005. It is clear: the tribal opposition groups want minor and incremental changes in Ethiopia. In contrast, our nationalist opposition groups (like CUD & Ginbot 7) want major and radical changes. So the current constitution is not created by us or for us. The constitution is NOT ours.
In summary, the TPLF constitution and its ethnic-federalism system rejects the fundamental human rights of at least two large populations in Ethiopia.
- 1) the millions of mixed Ethiopians whose parents or great-grandparents are each the byproduct of more than one ethnic group.
- 2) the millions of non-mixed Ethiopians who are tagged ethnic labels by TPLF without their will.
Both these two groups identify themselves as Ethiopians and Ethiopians ONLY. Both these two population groups have rejected the TPLF constitution since the first day. We rejected ethnic-federalism and our CUD party won the 2005 national election with that platform. That 2005 election was actually a referendum on ethnic-federalism.The TPLF learned a tough lesson: that “Ethiopiawinet” itself is an ethnic identity for most Ethiopians…That we are NOT a collection of hyphenated Ethiopians. We proved that we are the silent majority. After that 2005 election embarrassment, the TPLF government said no more free elections, no more free media and the OLF also attacked our CUD party by insulting it as “neo-nafxanya.”
Here are the facts…Interethnic intermarriages have been occurring in Ethiopia for many centuries, long before Emperor Menelik (the person TPLF & OLF hate) and long before Karl Marx (the person TPLF & OLF worship) was born. In fact, the Oromo historian and authorMohammed Hassan published a new book in 2015 that showed how current Oromo speakers have lived alongside other Ethiopians since the 13th century. His book is another evidence that the current ethnic lines and divisions created by TPLF/OPDO & OLF are artificial and impractical.
Here is another fact… Ethiopiawinet and the millions of Ethiopians born from multiple ethnicities are the glue holding our society together. They are the real reason why there is relative peace in Ethiopia despite all the ethnic hatred and provocations of the TPLF and OLF. If it was not for mixed Ethiopians, we would already have many Rwanda-like genocides occurring every month. No past or future agreement or paper can ever protect the social, historical, cultural and political bonds of Ethiopia’s diverse population more than the endless interethnic intermarriages that happened for many centuries.
Despite all of these facts and history, the current government and its constitution have waged war on our multiethnic identity.
The bottomline is We have a sociopolitical crisis in Ethiopia. For TPLF/OPDO/OLF, language is everything. So They do not understand that identity is more than language. (i.e. there are millions who speak Amharic but belong to non-Amhara tribe or millions who speak Oromiffa today but used to be non-Oromo tribe centuries ago) The TPLF/OPDO/OLF do not comprehend that identity is fluid and complex. So one of the radical changes we need to make in Ethiopia is to completely reverse the indoctrination campaign executed by TPLF the last 25 years. It will take a lot of years and effort but we must do it. We have to use social media, websites and television stations like ESAT to dispute the TPLF & OLF propaganda about our identities. We have to refuse the simplified Oromo, Amhara and other hyphenated labels imposed on us; and embrace our multi-ethnic Ethiopian identity. We are Ethiopians, period! For most of us, Ethiopia is not just our country or our nationality; it is also our ethnic identity. For us, Ethiopia is almost like an ethnic name because it is the only cultural, political, psychological and social identity we ever had. The current TPLF constitution supported by all these tribal “opposition” groups does not recognize our identity.
The current constitution views all Ethiopians only as hyphenated Ethiopians. In 1915, former US President Theodore Roosevelt said,
<<“There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. The one sure way of bringing this nation (America) to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities”>>
President Roosevelt was correct, and the same way, I warn that hyphenated Ethiopianism will also destroy our country. In Ethiopia, I believe we have to create a new constitution that respects the will of both hyphenated Ethiopians and non-hyphenated Ethiopians. The so-called “right to self-determination” is not reserved exclusively for hyphenated Ethiopians. Tens of millions of our people who are mixed or choose to self-identify as ethnic Ethiopians have equal human rights.
The only way forward is for the current ethnic-federalism system to be scraped completely and replaced by another all-inclusive federalism. TPLF and the tribal opposition parties want to maintain the status quo and make minor tweaks or small changes. For us, we need to make big changes.
The dilemma is that “peaceful struggle” will not produce big radical changes in Ethiopia. We need a reset button with a transitional government to redraw Ethiopia so that we create a NEW ETHIOPIA. We need a new Ethiopia that still recognizes the rights of Oromos, Amaras, Tigres etc as well as the rights of mixed Ethiopians and other Ethiopians who do NOT want narrow hyphenated identities.
This is where we come full circle to the current Ethio-Eritrea conflict. We have to exploit every opportunity and we can not put all our eggs in one basket. Therefore, Dr. Berhanu’s plan to use all options necessary, including armed struggle, will gain widespread support. Pro-democracy Ethiopians, activist and donors should ask, what other neighboring countries is Ginbot 7 investing at? What about internally infiltrating the TPLF army from all directions? We have to put all options on the table and put pressure on the government. Our movement should also be at the grassroots level so we should support anti-tribalism civic groups like the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE) and the Gosaye Ethiopia Movement (GEM), among others. We have to combine Dr. Berhanu’s military strategy with a more comprehensive political, social media, economic and diplomatic offensive. Just as President Roosevelt nipped “Hyphenated Americanism” in the bud a hundred years ago, we must stop & contain hyphenated Ethiopianism and tribalism before it destroys our country and spreads through out Africa like a cancer. We can achieve this goal by creating awareness in our society and by establishing a new all-inclusive Ethiopian government for all people and by the people; not just for the select few.