Friday, September 30, 2011

Ethiopia: The Problems with Ethnic Identity Politics

HOAN:Djibouti City
By Andent Tesfaye

Lately we observed in many Ethiopian news outlets an opposition group calling a public meeting and spend time debating whether to collaborate on not to collaborate with the TPLF style ethnic based political groups. The silent majority appears to be reluctant for this type of call. The participation is very low and the meeting hall has been filled well below expectation. Even those who participated seem to be uncomfortable when attending the meeting. For the few who participated, the reason for attending might include for fear of being labeled as chauvinist or retribution by the proponents of the meeting. I also believe that Ethiopians felt hopeless due to ups and downs and the slow pace the movements proceed in the past several years.

Assessing the realties, understanding the political environment and knowing facts should guide everyone to what is right and what is wrong. I posed to myself several questions concerning current political activities of the US based websites and meeting places. Why certain opposition groups are attempting to promote ethnic cause as primary objective? Why they are wasting their energy that could be used against the principal enemy TPLF? Are they considering it as “tactical” support to these groups? Why the political progress within diaspora is very slow? How come the current Government misdeed in the past 20 years has not united the opposition group in Diaspora? Are we going to get engulfed by ethnic politics again? What did we learn from ethnic based politics? What action we should do to change it? Let me elaborate my analysis on last three questions:

1. Is the struggle for democracy to get hijacked by ethnic politics again?

I should start by admitting that the 1970 leftist student political culture is the main cause for creating menacing confusion among students of the time. Marxism and Leninism philosophical theory was a standard guide by which all student members have to accept without asking critical questions. The students believed if they are guided by Marxism and Leninism theory all Ethiopia’s political problems will be solved. We have witnessed how the student movement emerged into contending major political forces. The split was theoretical in nature, but the consequence turned out to be immeasurable. At that hot political era, this political theory created fear and state of confusion. Most Students genuinely could not separate what’s right for Ethiopia from what’s not, particularly on the issue of ethnic rights. The student movement in particular those organized in North America (Ethiopia Student Union in North America) supported ethnic based ideology under a theory “Question of Nationalities as written by Stalin”. The students were uncritical to those political leaders of the time. Fighting for democratic individual rights or fighting for ethnic rights was a dilemma that generation has faced. Although the student movement advanced democratic values, such as land to the tiller etc., but it definitely helped to bring ethnic independence struggle to the center of the fight. The struggle is now at the same stage where it has been in the 70s, still Ethiopians have not resolved the questions of democratic right.
The May 2005 election demonstrated ethnic politics did not and will not resonate with Ethiopian people. It is unnecessary fanning ethnic politics in 2011. In this darkest time where ethnic based ruling government is killing, torturing and jailing the activists, we should send a powerful message. We have to make a repeated effort to create a united struggle. We have to explore alternatives and make commitment to a united struggle. We should call public meeting to promote Ethiopia unity as our vision . The vast majority of Ethiopian people are already badly served by ethnic based political movement. As demonstrated by current government, once ethnic group seized power they are exclusive and destructive. It resulted to the most heinous crimes perpetrated to our people by TPLF ethnic government.
We should not forget the ethnic politics brought the current Ethiopia into tragedy. Obviously fair minded people understand that the ground rule for living together. The ground rule is to recognize that all of us created equally and deserve equal treatment under rule of law, which we have to abide. At this present time, it is too bitter to consume wholesale of ethnic based politic activities.

2. What did we learn from ethnic based politics?

We all agree that ideological conflicts is unavoidable in politics. Each conflict should be resolved in a smarter way prior going off track. When Derg rule replaced by TPLF most people were feeling hopeful for better government. Some tried to develop sincere working relations, while others rejected right away. Those who developed working relationships their frustration bubbles in a short period of time. Before long, TPLF placed Tigray hegemony on other ethnic groups. TPLF demonstrated that it has greatest problem in practicing basic democratic principles and rule of law. It created brutally turbulent living environment by killing peaceful demonstrators the moment it started ruling the country. The common crossroads to work through conflict and differences of opinion and beliefs were thrown out of the window. The supporters must be blindsided by this situation, probably stuck in a pattern of anger and sadness like the rest of us. TPLF has pretended and preached it has answer for everything. It adapted a constitution and it does not even live up to its own constitution. As the dictatorship rule continues, the toll of government crimes day to day is growing. Many innocent citizens were killed in after aftermath of 2005 elections, war broke with Eritrea, giving up port of Assab, arresting journalist, opposition leaders to mention a few. The lists of the TPLF atrocities on other ethnic groups are long indeed and it was direct consequence of ethnic ideology.

3. Actions to be taken

I argue that the primary criteria to work with ethnic based group should be if they accepted as first step to be an Ethiopian. I argue to openly oppose ethnic based political efforts that do not acknowledge the Ethiopian flag and unity. We should continue having the open dialogue beyond ethnic line; continue exposing the current dictatorial government corrupt practice, human rights violation, etc. We all witnessed that the ethnic based political groups ultimate objective is secession. Our tradition, culture, beliefs, pride has no room for ethnic division. They should be rejected in all fronts. Any one in good conscious will not wish to see ethnic politics to repeat.


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