By Aklog Birara (DR)
The democratizing and integrative role of urbanization
A major demographic trend that makes the formation of multiethnic parties compelling is rapid urbanization. If and when supported by an integrated and inclusive rural modernization and rapid industrialization policy that empowers domestic partners and unleashes potential, urbanization breaks superficial barriers. It forces citizens to think nationally, and internationally and to cooperate in the use of limited natural resources—water, electricity, lands, physical and social infrastructure– as efficiently and equitably as possible. African nations are urbanizing at a rapid rate but not industrializing at the required rate. Nevertheless, national cohesion in these and other countries is the norm and not the exception.
In 2018, Habitat identified “Eight key trends that define two decades of global urbanization” that are revolutionary. “Small and medium cities now account for 59 percent of the world’s population and are growing at the fastest rates.” Among the centers of rapid urbanization is Sub-Saharan Africa of which Ethiopia is a part. Addis Ababa depicts this trend. This world-wide trend tells us that Addis Ababa does not belong to a single ethnic group at all. On the contrary, this seat of the African Union and numerous international and regional organizations belong to all Ethiopians. All Ethiopians contributed to its liberation from Italian fascism; and they together reconstructed it using their collective resources. The poor from all ethnic and religious groups seized the opportunity of open access and moved to “their capital” in droves. The future belongs to those who break barriers to socioeconomic, cultural, spiritual and political inclusion and the welfare of each and every citizen.
Until most recently when numerous colleges, universities and other center of higher education were open throughout the country, Addis Ababa served as a magnet of higher education and learning as well as a destination of choice in terms of job opportunities and advancement. Consequently, Addis Ababa became a cosmopolitan city by forcing citizens to downplay ethnic identify and embrace diversity.
Urbanization is also about power sharing
So, the TPLF’s recent effort to appease and placate the Oromo population by granting “favorable treatment and setting aside special zones” goes against the powerful and inevitable trend of rapid industrialization that is essential for stainable growth and development; and inevitable urbanization that ethnic elites can’t stop even if they wish. “As cities grow, and spread out over the land, they have been the recipients of a worldwide trend to devolve power from the national to the local level.” I accept this trend of urbanization that requires devolution of power to citizens. Given this inevitable trend, Ethiopia’s government leaders should have opted to grant Addis Ababa total administrative autonomy rather than playing the ethnic card to pit the Oromo against the Amhara.
Rural modernization, well-planned and integrated industrialization as well as rapid urbanization that draws citizens from all segments of society, including the rural poor to cities and towns, strengthens the democratization process measurably.
Habitat concludes this inevitable and healthy trend this way. “The fact that so many states have chosen to move along the path of decentralization constitutes a remarkable phenomenon” in the world today. Ethiopia’s rulers are therefore fighting a losing battle that sends contradictory signals. On the one hand, they argue that the country is growing and industrializing fast. On the other, they keep creating artificial barriers that segregate the population into Apartheid like enclaves. In doing so, they refuse to accept the notion that no group can control a demographic trend that demands greater freedom and autonomy in policy and decision-making. By definition, freedom is indivisible and must apply to each citizen. The proposition of strengthening and prolonging the life of a minority ethnic party by fracturing and subduing ethnic and religious groups is a losing proposition. It is anti-inclusive development. It is anti- empowerment. It counters the trend of integrated and national industrialization as well as decentralization that Ethiopia must pursue in its own self-interest. It is therefore anti-national and anti- democracy.
Fracturing people into smaller and smaller ethnic groups for the sole purpose of dominating them creates far reaching unintended consequences that no one can predict.
In my assessment, the TPLF is determined to reduce the Oromo population to several component pieces in order to suit its narrow political and economic needs today. If you look north of Addis Ababa, the TPLF has been diminishing the Amhara population by legitimizing smaller and less threatening ethnic enclaves, by annexing lands from indigenous people and by committing ethnic cleansing and genocide. Either way, the losers or victims are the majority of Ethiopians. This is why the Amhara and Oromo should never fall victim to this trickery of perpetual divide and rule!
It is time for those who believe in Ethiopia’s durability, the prosperity of all its citizens and in the unity with diversity of its 104 million people to ask these questions and answer them. “For how long can the TPLF get away with the trickster of reducing ethnic groups to pieces by fabricating and promoting new ethnic identities, hate and division, especially among the Amhara and Oromo people? Who benefits and who loses from perpetual division and hatred? Is it not in the interest of all Ethiopians, including Tigreans, to focus on the bigger challenges of eradicating poverty, disease, hunger, intellectual, financial and other flight, environmental degradation and the like by creating a democratic and empowered society? No one will answer these and other questions in political economy but us!!
After half a century of internal fighting, including civil wars, Ethiopians should know the answers. Equally, the diplomatic and donor community in Ethiopia should begin to listen to ordinary Ethiopians by talking to them directly instead of listening to their tormentors or to the “good Samaritans” they post in Addis Ababa. Ethiopians do not need lectures any more. For too long, these “good Samaritans” whose profession and survival compels them to side with the worst of tyrants and state thieves have given the world community a false image of “remarkable stability and growth.” I wish this was true. I wish Ethiopia was not a beggar nation!!
I urge both Ethiopians and the donor and diplomatic community to reject ethnic elite manipulations of facts and trends. Because the data of remarkable growth is not true. Data is manipulated regularly in support of the ruling party, the government and state; and in pursuit of personal and family wealth.
Given this dire and suffocating environment, “Who defends the public good and the welfare of the vast majority of Ethiopians?”
Donors and diplomats face a moral hazard in Ethiopia
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By Aklog Birara (DR)