Ethnic Nationalism Must Be Replaced by Ethiopian Nationalism

By Tefera Dinberu

Over thirty years ago ideas of narrow nationalism were sown by Weyane that still plays a reactionary role to deter good governance from coming in Ethiopia. It did not have any dream of developing an Ethiopian state but rather the vision to reside on the demise of all Ethiopians. For Weyane, the concept of political organizations associated with people of Oromo, Amhara, Sidama, Wolaiyta, Gambella, Silte, Afar, Adare, Somali, etc. are tools used to advance conflicts. There is a great awakening today that Weyane never planned to resolve any national problems but to create and fan them so that Ethiopians would have unabated or recurring conflicts to so that it contiues to reign.

When people of Gondar were saying loud that the Oromo blood is their blood, OLF was drafting “Oromo Charter” and “Oromo Transitional State” by following the road map of their mentors. People can obviously see that Weyane did not like the spirit of unity blowing over Ethiopia and a few narrow nationalists are also directly or indirectly playing as mercenaries to fulfil its mission of anarchy. OLF politicians should have realized that disintegrating the country cannot bring about any advantage to any nationality or nation.

Although nationality questions revolve around some minority sectors in some parts of the world, especially where repression and backwardness hurts people, it has never been a means of development but a means to satisfy the lust of individual or group power mongers. Ethiopia is a nation where over 80 nationalities lived together, shared common histories and cultural values, fought common enemies and survived to date. People with common destinies would not have any vision other than advancing economic, political, social equality and justice. However, any sectarian thought hampers these common interests. It does not bring about prosperity and peace to the people but would rather be a means of conflicts and anarchy that enables foreign interests and agents to intervene and exploit the weakness.

Political and government structure based on ethnicity is an archaic thinking and can never build democracy but erodes it. The nature of ethnicity is to directly or indirectly prioritize the interest of a certain group over other groups; so, an ethnic organization is discriminatory by its nature. It is futile and outdated to make issues of nationality questions on this 21st century. On this 21st century, an educated person is supposed to understand that no one can stop social relationships by using racial cleavage; any people has the right to speak, write and read in its own language or any other language; any person has the right to choose what to worship and where to live, who to marry, where and how to earn one’s living. This is human right. By the same token, a nation like Ethiopia should have a national language, or as few national languages as possible since any language has the purpose of being a medium of communication but nothing else. A 21st personality is supposed to know that a language can neither be ethnically inherited nor racially be identified. Everybody should have known that Amharic was not made a national language by a decree but came to being so by evolution from centuries of development.

Some Objective Facts

A professional study of a scholar indicated that Amharic and Argoba languages evolved from a common ancestral language that phased out through time as Amharic developed as a lingua franca (a language that is adopted as a common medium between speakers whose native languages are different). Another study by Addis Abeba University Ethiopian Languages Research Center indicated that Amharic evolved as a result of processes of pidginization and creolization. It is assumed to have served as a means of communication between mostly Cushitic speaking soldiers and Semitic speaking officers. In the course of time it became the mother tongue of the children of these soldiers; later peasants also started to speak Amharic. So, the Amhara people did not choose Amharic to be their language but they were called Amhara because history that created the language made them speak it and that is why the Amara people prefer to be identified as Ethiopians instead of an ethnic group. Although the people residing in the present day Menz, Yifat, Gojjam, Gondar, Wollo, etc., spoke Amharic since time immemorial, other indigenous languages, Geez, Sabaean, Aderie, Argoba, Agew, Afar (Adal), Hebrew, Arab, Omotic, Nilotic, Cushitic *including Oromo and other many local languages have contributed to the evolutionary making of Amharic itself. It took over a thousand years for Amharic to develop and eventually become a national language during the Zagwe dynasty. One should be mindful that the Zagwes had their own language but preferred Amharic since it was already in use by the larger people of the country.

In contrast to that, after the rise of Imam Ahmad Ibn Ibrahim al Ghazi (Gragn) and his massacre of the male Christian population, since the central state did not have the capacity to keep order and safety in the countryside, Oromo immigrants, by using a gada armed campaign, burnt villages, pillaged displaced indigenous. They forced indigenous people not only to speak Afan Oromo but to be Oromos through assimilation processes known as moogassa, Gudifecha, meedhicha, and harmoa-hodha (Etefa 43-48). They customarily celebrate a ritual known as buta (literally meaning looting) that denotes killing of enemies by men. The Burayu incident that took place last August was similar to typical a raid under gada military expedition. Although they neither created an empire nor destroyed the existing Ethiopian Empire, first they swarmed Bale; then they steadily destroyed kingdoms of Damot, Ganz, Bizama, Janjero, Sharka, Fatagar, Dawaro, Angota, etc. and spread to the whole country as far as Wellega and celebrated Tulu Welel as a symbol of their settlement; they established Gibe kingdoms (Jimma, Limmu-Enarya, Gumma, Gomma, and Gera in 1800-1830 by Mecha Oromoo tribe). The tenanted people were forced to make a covenant with the occupiers – to like what the Oromoos liked, to hate what Oromoos hated, to protect the interest of Oromoos, to believe in what they believed in, and to speak Afaan Oromoo. Oromization took place in the west, south, east, center, and north (Wallo) and previous inhabitants were persuaded or forced to accept Oromoo culture and even Oromoo names (Lewis 38). See “Comment on Melbaa Gada, Author of ‘Oromia, an Introduction to the History of the Oromoo People’. (By Tefera Dinberu)”.

While Amharic grew into a national language through the long process of Ethiopian nation building just like other nations, through this historical period, other languages like Cushitic Agew, and Belew dwindled as Oromo language expanded comparatively in a shorter and recent time in the indigenous Ethiopians who lost most of their identities to the Oromo expansionists through Gada military campaign. Gada phased out when the era of expansion stopped and migrant Oromos started settlements and its administrative part was replaced by religious and other rules. For example, the Ghibe states that were formed in the 19th century did not use gada as an administration system. In later days, gada culture is known for its rituals associated with circumcision when a man reaches 36-40 years old.

Personalities that introduced Kubee to Oromo people could not see that ge’ez was spoken in Cushitic courts of Ethiopia since over 2000 years ago, and that adding Affan Oromo to the Ethiopian national language with geez alphabet could help the unity of the nation.

Anyone who does not see the difference between Amharic speaking elites and the ever-oppressed Amara people needs to be re-educated on the stratification of our society. One has to know how Otto Von Bismarck in Germany, king of Sardinia in Italy, Peter the Great in Russia, and many feudal dictators in other countries of the world built nations through classical military unification or reunification. After rulers like Emperor Caleb (518-527), Amda-tsion(1314-1344), Zara-Yaqob (1434-1468), Gragn (1529-1543), Emperor Tewodros (1855-1868) started reunification of Ethiopia that was decentralized during zemenemesafint; Emperor Yohannis tried to build on and Emperor Menelik who made the last re-unification was successful to deter partial colonial expansion and preserve the present Ethiopia. If that reunification was not accomplished, identities of the present ethnic groups could have been altered and colonialists could have split territories according to their interests where current rhetoric could not have existed at all. However, it was the Ethiopian flag that was used as a symbol of unity against enemies since our ancestors that accepted the tricolor as a gift of God and inherited us this free nation.

While the Ethiopian ruling class used Ge’ez and then Amharic as a national language, likewise, Ethiopian rulers, including the Cushitic Hindeque (Candace) royal dynasty that believed in Christianity since the birth of Jesus Christ used Ge’ez language. Yeju Oromo state leaders of the 18th -19th century from Gandar also used Ge’ez and Amharic as mediums.  Ethiopian Christian tradition covered part of the Sudan, the Horn of Africa, and Saudi Arabia. Ethiopia was open to different faith followers and foreigners like Arabs too. It was the first country in the world to accept Muslim immigrants, or first Hegira, during the life time of Prophet Mohammed. Living testimonies in Adulis, Yeha, Aksum, and remains of Marib dam in Yemen and others testify that. Ethiopian literature goes at least as far back as 2000 B.C. The Ethiopian Yared composed the first three types of chants in the world – Ge’ez, Izil, and Araray more than a thousand years before William Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci were born. Any Ethiopian should have been proud of belonging to such historically rich nation.

What is surprising to hear is a professor of the 21st century branding the Ethiopian language as an instrument of oppression and Amara nation as an oppressive ruling class. However, the class that rather existed in any group including Amara, Oromo, Afar, Wolaiyta, Tigre, etc., in denominations like chiqa-shum, naftagna, balabat, kawona (Wolayta), qoro (Oromoo), makabantu (Afar), and others made up the oppressive feudal system. Class is a group of people with superior social, political, and economic status. Ethnicity has never been a class in the world. To identify Amara as a class, Amaras must be superior in all the three aspects. But since these did not identify Amara alone at any time, rebellion of oppressed peasants in different Amara regions of Gojjam, Wollo, and Gondar took place for decades and it was the starvation of Amara along with Tigre that brought about the 1974 revolution and downfall of the monarch, head of the feudal system. In no time did the Amharic language lift up the standard of living of poor Gondere’s, Gojjames, Menzes, Bulgies, Welloyes, and others. They speak Amharic but remain the poorest people in underdeveloped parts of the country. It is very wrong to condemn Amharic or Amhara people due to their association with Ethiopian nation building as nation building did not exist without preserving it from foreign occupiers by paying blood and bones. Ethiopian troops had to use the medium of the state; and all Ethiopians played equal role in making Ethiopia. Now the question is how to build a democratic system and take the people out of all abyss of poverty.

 

The other sectarian outlook is that OLF and its proponents identify Addis Ababa with Oromia. A recent statement of Oromo organizations puts Addis Ababa as Oromian land. What surprised many farsighted Ethiopians is that some  reputed and educated Oromo personalities inclined to that view point. These elites should have understood that for over 100 years Addis Abeba was and still is a capital city, the seat of the Ethiopian state leaders, center of business and national economy, residence of low and high ranking federal military officials, tradesmen, state employees including regional representatives from all sectors of Ethiopia. It was structured as one of the Ethiopian provinces.  People from all corners of Ethiopia lived in it, contributed to its development by running business and paying taxes; bore and raised children and buried their dead in the city. Addis Abeba also used to serve as a city state before Oromiya regional state was formed in 1991. Encyclopedia Britannica states the nature of cities like Addis Ababa, “City-state, a political system consisting of an independent city having sovereignty over contiguous territory and serving as a centre and leader of political, economic, and cultural life.”

“Finance and Governance of Capital Cities in Federal Systems”, that conducts international financial structure study of cities has made a series of studies on Abuja, Addis Ababa, Canberra, Delhi, Mexico, and Washington DC categorized them as federal districts and identified their common role as follows:

– National seat of government not under jurisdiction of any one state/province

– Extent of federal control ranges from Abuja (tightly controlled by federal    government) to Canberra (largely an autonomous city-state)

– Issues of local democratic and accountability deficit

– Limited fiscal autonomy

– Direct access to federal funds

– Combine local and state functions

 

 

So, the nationalists contradict this worldwide known fact.

 

Conclusion

Ethnic nationalism is incompatible with democracy. That concept of nationalism favors power mongering that emanate from tribal identification of a people in the lust for power devoid of any farsighted vision of peace and prosperity that can come from a united people that in turn can develop a great nation. Such outlooks fan nationalism that directly or indirectly deny coherence in diversity and deter political organizations from coming to common terms on common issues. So, intellectuals of the 21st century are supposed to be unprejudiced, humanist, and pragmatists with the vision of seeing Ethiopians in the pace of the whole planet.

Since Ethiopia is one of the oldest countries in the whole world, it is very rich in the history of internal conflicts over resources; especially when there is poverty and poor government, even the same people in small villages fight against each other over springs, water wells, grazing grass or farmlands, etc. Of course expansionists and internal power mongers used religion and language to divide people, but cultural differences had never become problems among the common people anywhere in Ethiopia. Out of this centuries old history, local skirmishes that used to take place in our society, people have many good and bad things to recite. However, as our late African leader, Nelson Mandela, said, we should not worry about the past but about the future. We cannot live in the past; so instead of developing one or another type of condemnation of past deeds, leaving all the past to history, we need to think and rethink about what our people need. As current politicians condemn chauvinism, discrimination, bigotry, inequality, and injustices, and all types of repression, they should work to eradicate these and to enshrine the people with equality and justice instead of planting newer types of discrimination, inequality, injustice, and chauvinism.

 

Any people would like to live in peace and harmony with any other people in its neighbors and would rather like to advance a better standard of living. No people essentially hate any other people, nor their languages. So, if the common problem is poverty and lack of good governance, the objective of genuine politicians should have been to come together and make alliances in order to combat and resolve these problems and build democracy and technology. The Weyane dictatorship existed for 27 years because its life was based on the division of the people. Most politicians became demagogues trying to stubbornly adhere to their absurd old dreams of getting chairs somewhere in the state structure in isolation from the rest, others dreamt of authority in a utopian ideal Platonic state. Weyane has never been a state that stood for any morality, ethics, or values. It has not cared to qualify any qualities or standards of state leadership since it did not have any national interest; it orchestrated conflicts and terrorism on the people it claimed to administer. It usurped the nation for over 27 years and remained still unsatisfied in its greed. It is the shortsightedness of our politicians that helped the brutal regime to stay on state power for so long. We need to contest such persisting poverty of philosophy.

 

Social or political differences are natural; but democracy is a means to manage differences where different sectors of the people constitute to form a common government. No society should cult and rely on strong politicians but on strong popular organizations and strong government where balance of power is used to keep all dictatorial elements at bay. Cult is excessive admiration like believing in personalities due to feeling of exaltation rather than objective things they do on the ground. Trends of personality cult can end up in making one a dictator. In a federal democratic form of government repelling forces are contained in an equilibrium by a balance of power in the state structure. Therefore, opposition parties should harmoniously lead the nation of all Ethiopian people for equality, justice, prosperity, harmony and peace. Harmony among opposition groups entices harmony of the people that can be realized under federalism. No one would like a form of chauvinism to be replaced by another chauvinism.  A political organization that does not work in harmony with other Ethiopian opposition organizations for common objectives cannot demonstrate to the people that it can be part of a federal system of state leadership and hence cannot get support not only among other groups but even from the people it assumes to represent. In other words a party that does not respect other major or minor groups cannot be free from chauvinism and hence from neo-hegemony or dictatorship that is obstacle to a peaceful relationship and hence democratic leadership.

We should learn from South Sudan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, and other countries to avoid any chaos and rather build a “United States of Ethiopia”. Strong leadership emanates from strong partnership. If this is realized, it will deter not only local dictatorship but also foreign foragers.

 

  • The concept of chauvinism must be replaced by pride since any society has its own pride based on its values.
  • And any manifestation of hate must be changed into love and heroism that advances common pride and common values.
  • Political organizations with denomination of “Front” must revise their program and change the expression and idea; because that sense puts part or the rest of the people in a confrontational state that can be unfriendly.
  • So, Article 39 of the constitution of EPRDF needs revision as it lets a regional state to see itself as separate from the whole in terms of economic, social and political developments; it and creates suspicion in any national decision of the country; so it is very difficult to keep the unity of the people and build a great country based on reliable democracy; instead of that, a democratic atmosphere in which political parties compete on how to better satisfy interests of the Ethiopian people must be created.

 

So, although political organizations may hold different plans as to how to advance democracy, economic and social developments, they must have a common vision that all people dream of peace, prosperity, equality, and justice – similar to the American dream – democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity and equality.

 

Tefera Dinberu

2 COMMENTS

  1. “Gowwaa kofalchiisanii ilkaan lakkaawu!” runs an Oromo proverb.
    You exposed only how little and shallow your knowledge is!

  2. So is this a crying plea to make the Amhara language and culture the default culture?
    What if someone one doesn’t want the Ethiopia you envision?
    Is that a problem for you?

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