EthioPoint: Ethiopians Analysis | Research Articles

Unveiling Lies: EPRDF on Ethiopian Nationalism and Identity

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by Amsale Aberra

Amsale Getnet Aberra
Amsale Getnet Aberra

I recently came across a summary of a report submitted by the government of Ethiopia to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in the year 2009. The EPRDF as a party to the convention is required to submit periodic reports to the Secretary General to show the steps it has taken not promote racial discrimination and protect citizens from such discrimination and to fulfill its obligations through legislative, judicial, and administrative actions. Thus, the governments, in its report stated that, “[a]n individual’s ethnicity (in Ethiopia) is recognized on the self-identification of such person or his/her origin of birth. A person is entitled to identify himself as having mixed ethnicity or even not to identify himself as belonging to a particular ethnic group and identify himself as an Ethiopian.” [1]
The lies from the EPRDF government was unbearable to me because as millions of Ethiopians, I am a living witness that we, the citizens are not allowed to identify ourselves as simply Ethiopian in our Kebele issued identification cards. I am also a living witness that citizens are not freely able to move to a region where they are an ethnic minority and be able to establish a residence and equally compete with members of the majority ethnic groups to find gainful employment, which is a clear violation of the EPRDF constitution.
If I may briefly mention my own experience with ethnicity in Ethiopia, as someone who was born and raised in the capital city of Ethiopia, I had the opportunity really experience the multicultural Ethiopia at a micro level. Although I spoke Amharic at home and with my neighbor’s children, I knew that in my neighbor’s homes Tigrinya, Afan Oromo,and Sidamo languages were spoken. I can tell my readers clearly now that growing up I, as millions of Ethiopians never knew myself as nothing but an Ethiopian.
However, the day I turned sixteen was the time I went to the kebele to get an ID card and experienced the racial segregation and profiling the EPRDF had in place. I specifically remember when the woman, a government employee asked me for my ethnic group. At first I thought she was asking for my native language and I said “Amharic”. Then she asked “biher” again and I answered Ethiopian. Then she angrily said that she was not asking for my nationality. That was the point I stopped trying to explain myself. She then asked me where my father was born and I told her where that was and that was the day that I was profiled as being a member of a certain ethnic group and was told that my Ethiopian identity was less important for the government who wants to keep on use the “divide and conquer” card as long as possible. (Here I would like to mention that Ethiopia is one of the very few countries in the world where ethnicity classification is displayed in national ID cards. Rwanda was one of such countries and we all know the devastating and irreversible damages such a policy brought into the country)
A few years after the incident mentioned above, I went to a University to study law at one of the government owned universities in one of the ethnically divided regions. According to my identification card, I do not belong to the ethnic majority living where the university is located. I believe in the 5 years that I studied at the law school, I have witnessed over 7 ethnic conflicts among students who were divided merely because they were from “different ethnic groups.” Although I do know that the governments have its hand in such clashes, I also know that some students truly believed that they were different from one another because they were labelled or labelled themselves as different. Unfortunately, I do also know that such conflicts have become the norm in different universities throughout the country.
A couple of years after graduating from law school, I had the opportunity to take a course in peace studies at a University in Europe. Then, the professor asked each of us to draw a flower with five petals. On each petal we were asked us to write our identities and on the circle of the flower we were asked to write our most important identity. Doing such exercise with the class made me look back to the identity that was imposed upon me while living in my country Ethiopia. I realized that according to the EPRDF policy, my or any Ethiopian citizens’ most important identity would be his or her ethnicity. Such a realization to me really brought nothing but sadness. While the rest of the world is embracing unity, nationalism based on one country of citizenship or even an identity of global citizenship, we are still forced to live in the barbaric mindset forcing us into believing that we are different, even though we are all citizens of the same country and are results of an Ethiopian nationalism.
The discrimination and segregation faced by citizens to gain employment and enjoy favorable conditions of work in regions that they are not from is of no our current Ethiopia. It is also our reality that Ethiopian citizens are being discrimination against because of their actual or perceived affiliation with ethnically based political groups. One of the mechanisms that the government promotes its policy of divide and conquer is subjecting ethnic minorities to its  “villagization” (forced relocation) program which has a clear negative impact of breaking up families, violating their constitutionally guaranteed right to family and their right to an adequate standard of living.
At this point, although I would hate to predict a negative outcome for my country, I am also afraid that the polarization and segregation policies of the EPRDF might lead our country on the road to genocide. I am afraid that in the current Ethiopia children are thought to celebrate their ethnic identities instead of embracing or understanding an Ethiopian nationalism and  these children will soon get to an age where they can understand that being an Ethiopian is not enough to reach one’s potentials in the EPRDF Ethiopia. It is also quite unfortunate that smart and young people like Jewar Mohammed are trying to legitimize their argument of an ethnic identity above anything else mostly based on the past persecution “one’s people had faced.” Although I am not a historian by profession and it is not the purpose of my current piece, I believe reconciliation is the way to go to form a stronger nation, instead of grudge. I believe it is especially true in a country like Ethiopia where inter-racial (ethnic marriages) are practiced which have resulted in the millions of us having parents who came from different regions of the country, speaking different languages and according us multiple “ethnic identities.”
As a concluding remark, I would like to reach out to my fellow country women and men and state my frustration that the government is continuing to cheat its people and the international community into believing that we, the citizens can keep our Ethiopian identity while living in our country. This, as all know is a complete and utter lie in our present day Ethiopia.

[1]  UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Reports submitted by States parties under article 9 of the Convention : International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination : reports of States parties due in 2007 : Ethiopia, 11 March 2009, CERD/C/ETH/7-16, available at: [accessed 3 January 2014]