By Mammo Muchie
A year on from Ethiopia’s new millennium, Mammo Muchie highlights the country’s historic role as the cradle of African nationalism. Arguing that reparations remain due from the period of fascist Italy’s occupation in the 1930s, Muchie stresses that it is only through rediscovering her essential civic-nationalism that Ethiopia will locate her glory and re-energise African nationalism.
Exactly a year ago, Ethiopia said goodbye to the old millennium and welcomed a new one. Today, this 11 September, 2009, starts Ethiopia’s long walk to a third millennium. It remains open whether this third millennium will prove to be a period in which problems are resolved, people are fed and cared for, and the nation is free and united under the principle of civic-nationalism and patriotism. Is it the time for the making or re-making of Ethiopia as a nation to go strong, free and united with hope for the vast expansion of its possibilities?
Time to end the politics that keeps the country humiliated with unending hunger, disease and ignorance. Time to end the scar of ethnic divisions, human-made disasters, knowledge deficits and rule by tyranny! Time to create a sustainable political system where open, transparent, just, free and honest governance reigns supreme across the breadth and depth of the land by employing principles of solidarity, justice and the expansion of human rights, and not the crazy scramble of using anything and any means to seize power for self-interest, for the individual or a section of a community or a portion of the people, even if this means breaking and degrading Ethiopia as a united entity, identity, history, civilisation and nation!
This is indeed time to pause and reflect whether Ethiopia can move in a new direction or remain on the beaten path of the past and its present divisive trajectory. This new beginning at this significant moment can refresh us with the ululation of ‘inquitatash!’ (‘happy new Ethiopian year’) during this millennium plus one day, means making a new millennial new year resolution for all Ethiopians to come to a historic unity over the defining principle that matters to Ethiopia’s timeless survival, that is, to upholding Ethiopian nationalism as a defence of African national dignity and the African national spirit, national purpose and national passion. Today, nothing less and nothing more is imperative than standing for Ethiopian nationalism as the cradle of African nationalism. Ethiopians, East, West, North, Central and South must unite under one civic-Ethiopian patriotic and national purpose, strategy, passion and project.
NEW YEAR RESOLUTION NO. 1: DEBUNK ALL POLITICS THAT FRAGMENTS AND DIVIDES ETHIOPIA
It is ironic to see how self-absorbed and inward looking Ethiopians have become specially those who dabble in politics, and who fight for power to pursue one or another political opinion, position, project or programme. Ethiopia has suffered from a politics that destroys what it should use as a resource to build itself and African dignity. Its history should not be rejected by those who put first their self- or group interest. Its history must be appropriated properly and justly. It must not be condemned. It must be used as something from which to learn. Today’s generation must have an intelligent commerce with the past. Successive political groups have railed against Ethiopia’s historical achievement that other fellow Africans respect, instead of using it as a resource to build a united future for all the people living within it.
It is indeed odd to find some Ethiopians who fight the idea and reality of Ethiopia and who carelessly undermine a nation that has been seen by Africans as the birthplace of their nationalism to advance forward African peoples’ sacred and still incomplete quest to reclaim their humanity, justice, full rights, dignity, solidarity and liberty.
The best present for all Ethiopians today is to send the message loud and clear to all near and far: Some Ethiopians who deny their ‘Ethiopian-ness’, who fight, undermine, ethnicise, vernacularise, racialise, segment, fragment and divide Ethiopia are not just undermining their nation and the history that Africans have used from that Ethiopian data to feed their national imagination. They must be informed with clarity and confidence that they are indeed undermining the African nationalist imagination by attacking the Ethiopian effort to attain historic national unity from its diversity. They are undermining the birthplace of African nationalism to quote Africa’s own tried and proved son, Nelson Mandela. They are undermining indeed the role played by Ethiopia in constituting the historic unity of African nationalism.
Today the Ethiopians from Eritrea, Tigray, Gambella, to the Oromo lands and so on, who share the collective historical achievement of Ethiopia, that Africans the world over respect, constitute a majority. Those who connive directly and indirectly to undermine Ethiopia (and also Africa) are very few along with their internal and external allies.
At this millennium plus one moment, it is time we put foward a resolution to isolate these divisive and negative forces, by strongly underscoring the national historicity of Ethiopia’s diversity by recognising also that this historicity is the birthplace of African nationalism. Let Ethiopians convert their mathematical majority into a political majority with a strong sense of history and purpose. Let them all resolve and proudly stand up denouncing and condemning those who have been destabilsing Ethiopia’s future by undermining the historic unity of its diversity with the added affront to fellow Africans and their human dignity.
We believe that given a free dialogue, all Ethiopians will rise to the defence of Ethiopia as a united nation, as one people, as a historical unity built from diversity, and most importantly, as the birthplace of African nationalism. To all Ethiopians on 11 September 2008, on Ethiopia’s New Year Day, we say unite and rise above all the petty divisions and restore Ethiopia’s role as the most authentic historical source for furthering Africa’s national project and purpose.
RESOLUTION NO. 2: THE DEMAND TO COMPENSATE ETHIOPIA IS JUST!
After we wrote in the Network of Ethiopian Scholars (NES) 21 demanding Ethiopia be compensated by its ex-colonial master, there were various reactions from different sources. Some tried to suggest that Ethiopia has been compensated already. But there were others who wrote to us, whatever the overtures from latter day Italian regimes, far from getting full compensation, Italy’s loot from Ethiopia has not been fully recovered yet: “Badoglio took half of the silver in the then Bank of Ethiopia, and over 100 cases of loot, which enabled him to build his palacious house in Rome, while Graziani personally took 70 cases. Italy has still not returned the most important part of Ethiopia’s looted National Archives – the Ministry of the Pen Correspondence between Ethiopia and Italy – or the small aeroplane Tsehai assembled in Addis Ababa.”(1)
Far from the material losses to Italy by Ethiopia, the tragedy that continues to afflict Ethiopia today is that the ethnic and vernacular divisive politics was fully experimented upon during the fascist aggression. This disintegrative politics was planted as a cancer in Ethiopia by the Italian fascist aggression. For this divisive cancer that they left behind, no repayment can be enough! The fascist strategy was founded on ‘political subversion’ of Ethiopia starting since 1933! Ethiopia’s historic national unity was deliberately subverted with the aim was of bringing about the country’s complete disintegration. Mussolini, and his generals De Bono, Badoglio and Grazziani and others bribed, cajoled, fought and subverted the various internal chiefs in order to bring about the compete ethnic and vernacular disintegration of Ethiopia. The cancer they planted still plagues Ethiopia and indeed like other colonial powers that have done similar things in other parts of Africa, its remedy has remained elusive to Ethiopia as well even, sadly, to this day.
When Ethiopia fell under fascist occupation, the hope of African nationalism at the time also turned into despair. There cannot be enough monetary compensation to this outrage against Africa too! What is fascinating is to read today how those who have struggled their whole lives for African national dignity and identity reacted to the fascist aggression against Ethiopia in 1935! It is edifying to hear their morally uplifting, committed, determined and honest reactions and feelings.
In his autobiography Dr. Kwame Nkrumah relates his reaction to the fascist assault against Ethiopia. He was in London at the time of the savage attack on the way to the United States, when he saw the newspaper poster ‘Mussolini Invades Ethiopia.’ He said he was immediately and naturally seized by a strong outrage:
‘At that moment’, it was almost as if the whole of London had declared war on me personally. For the next few minutes I could do nothing but glare at each impassive face, wondering if these people could realise the wickedness of colonialism, and praying that the day might come when I could play my part in bringing about the downfall of such a system. My nationalism surged to the fore; I was ready to go to hell itself, if need be, in order to achieve my object.’(2)
Nelson Mandela felt a similar outrage: ‘I was seventeen when Mussolini attacked Ethiopia, an invasion that spurred not only my hatred of that despot but of fascism in general.’(3)
For many Africans the world over Mussolini’s fascist aggression, that was opposed by only a few countries, amongst them notably Haiti and Mexico, in 1935 proved a ‘turning point in African history.’ The only un-colonised nation in Africa was threatened with colonial enslavement. This radicalised Africans the world over creating strong African national movement and sentiment with a readiness to preserve what Ethiopia symbolised as a country that resisted successfully direct colonial enslavement. Were Ethiopia to succumb to the same fate that others had done in Africa, it appeared to them that their dream to be strong, free and proud would be subverted and may not be indeed realised. Other Africans fought for Ethiopia to preserve that hope that they too would be free if they fought to keep Ethiopia as a free and historically united nation.
They felt that their future independence was tied to the destiny of forestalling Ethiopia’s fascist colonial subjugation. It is a historically recorded matter that Africans across the continent tried to rally support under difficult conditions and those people of African origin scattered around the world tried to supply both military and financial support for Ethiopia’s anti-colonial struggles.
The demand for compensation for Ethiopia is not just a matter to recover monetary redress. It is above all a struggle to excavate the root of our current malaise and redress the political injustices that Ethiopia continues to suffer to this day by forces that try to create a rupture between Ethiopia’s proud history and the struggle to recover Africa’s full national dignity by the historical unity of Ethiopia’s diversity with the rest of Africa. The demand must continue and must be redoubled. All who believe in Ethiopia must struggle to right the historic injustice that Ethiopia continues to suffer by revisiting Ethiopia’s negative and limiting encounter with the colonial experience since the 15th century!
RESOLUTION NO.3: TRANSFORM POLITICS FROM THE ART OF DESTRUCTION TO THE ART OF THE POSSIBLE!
When political groups split into nine or ten groups, it is very often nothing to do with having major differences in principles. Those who say they uphold Ethiopia, who are also the majority, can live within one broad political front, against those who have tried, like Italian fascism before them did, to decompose the nation into different ethnic and vernacular nations, nationalities and peoples. It is ironic those that profess division of the Ethiopian nation as the birthplace of African nationalism tell us they have a front to club them together with the counter-intuitive politics of keeping Ethiopia’s survival by dividing it, whilst those who uphold Ethiopian unity and joined forces to do election together have scattered now!
It is important that all those who say they stand for Ethiopia’s historic unity in its diversity form a united front and strongly re-establish Ethiopia’s place as the cradle of African nationalism without too much procrastination.
Ideally those that oppose Ethiopian civic-nationalism can also form a front and a clear contest can emerge where opposed ideologies, national sentiments and programmes can oppose each other by creating the principle of competition with consultation and the vice versa, provided there is a prior agreement on a workable and tolerable level playing field for the play out of the parties forming a front around civic nationalism and those opposing it with vernacular-ethnic nationalism.
That is the only possible concession to ethnic nationalism that can be tolerated, that is to say, provided there is a democratic and clear playing field, a contestation involving the struggles that are freely conducted for the votes, voices and choices of the people can be mounted. There is no doubt civic-nationalism and African nationalism will win over ethnic-vernacular nationalism in Ethiopia as a springboard to re-energise African nationalism.
The national politics must gravitate towards these two broad positions: those who uphold Ethiopia’s civic-nationalism versus those who uphold the country’s vernacular-ethnic nationalism. A clear democratic space must be created where those who win can govern so that the problem of transition from tyranny to democratic governance that has been so elusive for Ethiopia can be achieved without continuing further the suffering and enormous sacrifice incurred over centuries.
The millennium plus one should be a time to realise the richness of Ethiopia’s history as the cradle of African nationalism.
Those who reject this history must be resisted. The majority that stand for Ethiopia’s civic nationalism must not be indifferent. All must work over time to gain time to establish Ethiopia as part of the story of the recovery of African identity and dignity.
The political subversion of dividing Ethiopia has been one of the ugly legacies of Italian fascist aggression against Ethiopia. The struggle to compensate Ethiopia is a struggle to understand and expunge this cancer from Ethiopian political life. The demand must continue.
As those who stand for Ethiopia’s historic unity with diversity are the majority, there is an urgent need for all those engaged in civic-nationalism to form a united front and confront those who dabble in vernacular- and ethnic-nationalism to prevent and subvert Ethiopia’s history as the critical resource for Africa’s national identity, as already has been amply recognised.
If, as in South Africa after the crime of apartheid fascism, there can emerge a unitary state with civic-nationalism, there is no reason why Ethiopia cannot try to form a unitary state on the debris of ethnic-federalism, provided there is the political will, the determination, the imagination and the historic sense and civilisation to attain this ideal. Let Ethiopia upgrade into civic-nationalism and patriotism and not degrade into vernacular-nationalism. Let Ethiopia form a unitary state on the basis of civic nationalism. Only when it attains its various components’ historic unity on a civic- national basis or foundation can Ethiopia recover to re-energise and sustain by stimulating African national dignity ever more and more.
Let us make a millennium plus one resolution to convert the struggle by any means necessary since the European Scramble for Africa (or even earlier starting in the 15th century if necessary), to finding solutions by any means necessary from today to sustain the long-term future of Ethiopia as a united people, nation and country! Let us all resolve Ethiopia must live on as a cradle of African nationalism that it is as is inscribed in history!
(1) Richard Pankhurst, e-Mail communication, 9 September 2008.
(2) Quoted in John. H. Brown, Public Diplomacy Press Review, USC Centre for Public Diplomacy, 22 May 2004.
(3) Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, p.402.
* Mammo Muchie is the chairperson of the Network of Ethiopian Scholars (NES) and a professor at Aalborg University.