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Ethiopia in Agony: What Hold You Together? Stabilize Horn Africa

June 11, 2021

By Amanuel T Muhzun

Ethiopia’s national unity and territorial integrity must be respected. The international community has a moral obligation to support that principle and show fair cooperation in socioeconomic relations.

Here is an adage of wisdom: John F. Kennedy (1960 – 1963), known as the charismatic President of the United States, in his public speech quoted to what a wise man said. “An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it”.

Understanding nation building

All Ethiopians need to touch the same base in regard to historical process of a nation building. The countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas were all scattered into small ethnic kingdoms, diverse cultural communities, tribal leadership, sultanates and chieftains before they grew to nationhood status. As such, communities in the world have come through conflicts and harmony that include assimilation and intermarriages while articulating their national birthright or beginning of common identity at a point of time and build it over. In more civilized or tolerant societies, there are sharing of concerns and bona-fide negotiations through developing rules of human right and equitable administration that leads a heterogeneous society to resolve its general problems and achieve a complete integration or unity.

Along the way of nation building, many countries have come through expansion-contraction and vice-versa due to domestic rival feudal rulers struggling for manipulation of power, and the bigger impacts of harsh colonial invasions. Of course, all those historical phenomena had subjected many societies across the globe to various suffering, disunity, grudges or resentments that sought reconciliations.

Ethiopia is no exception to the above stated world historical events and related process along the way of its nation building. The country’s territorial integrity has been developed through internal dynamics of diversification and coexistence with its numerous ethnic populations.

There are many ways that Ethiopians do share a long common history of responsibility, struggle and interests. It is very important to develop impartial views to build national harmony by recognizing any positive achievements in the country, no matter which regime made it. They should be acknowledged and deserve special appreciation without betrayal or denial of historical facts. Ethiopia belongs to its people of the past, the present and future generations. The Country is very important and must be preserved.

When it comes to persistent grudges or resentments including those of an ethnic nature, they can be appropriately addressed with historic evidence for truth finding and reconciliation purposes. The word reconciliation by itself has the flavour of forgiveness, restoring justice and rehabilitation. That is important because when real resentments are unresolved or denied sympathy, they are consistent with conflicts and disharmony. That is why reconciliation is about people who resolve their critical problems for a better future.

History should be stated in the right context to provide educational analysis and help reconcile the hindering cycle of competing narratives. It is unacceptable to observe some people engage in orchestrating and disgracing history with disinformation, denials and fallacies of sectarian hypocrisy that stirs-up more differences between our peoples. History can guide how to examine events or experiences in nation building and identify the same kinds of mistake that we do repeat often.

The failure of ethnic federalism

An ethnic based federal system is complex in nature because of multi-ethnic political power structures influencing people towards sectarian identities and deteriorating the cohesion of common national grounds. Ethnic systems tend to develop much more alliance to own ethnic group soliciting for particular political and economic advantages rather than admiring principles belonging to the entire society in a country. Managing ethnic federalism has been complicated and problematic in countries that had implemented and failed the system due to unpopular social and economic issues associated to its principles.

Having said that, there is nothing wrong in following or practicing the social components of own ethnic identity whatever languages, cultures, traditions, museums and multicultural festivals. All those genuine interests of all peoples shall deserve great value by the general public and governments.

The ethnic based administrative structures in Ethiopia have been dividing the socioeconomic life and psychology of Ethiopians. The troublesome nature of the ethnic system has resulted in stressful or controversial administrative guidelines and economic scenarios between Ethiopian federal government authorities and regional officials as well as other peripheries in handling and coordinating the system itself.

Over the last couple of years, there have particularly been tough situations of devastating ethnic centred conflicts and economic hardship across the country that includes unaffordable market hyperinflation rates. In a gradual move, the country is now reaping thorns that the divisive ethnic system has sown over the last thirty years. That was inevitable to occur no matter that some temporary economic development had been made before.

When Ethiopia is in need of constructive ideas and practical measures to exit the impasse of ethnic federalism and poverty, most politicians and the elites including the so-called intellectuals are incapable or short-sighted in balancing the setbacks that have always been destabilizing effects to the Ethiopian people.  

Despite detailed writings of constructive opinions and perspectives from the intelligentsia and uproar from the Ethiopian public, the previous government of TPLF/EPRDF (Tigray People Liberation Front/Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front) did not embrace the opportunities to reform both the Constitution and uncomfortable government policies. There were enough reasons or learned experiences on the ground to improve the poor vision of those retarded incumbents and correct the big mistakes of the ethnic system when that government had full control over the whole country.

This writer had analysed the facts on the ground shortly before the so-called national election of May 2015 in an article (Ethiopia: Wishing Peaceful and Transparent Election for Policy Reforms) posted on nazret.com, which may still be helpful in future national discourse.

The commentary article stressed that federalism based on ethnic mentality would not even help to the people of Tigray where TPLF (the main actor of ethnic federalism) is from. It must be understood that a large number of people from Tigray Region live in all parts of the country with considerable rate of intermarriages like millions of other Ethiopians do. It must be noted that the ethnic policy in Ethiopia sidelines or neglects identity and political rights of mixed ethnic heritage and minority people within ethnic regional states.

The commentary also advised correcting the hegemonies of election formulas that sidelined inclusive participations in Ethiopia; so when reliable oppositions fail to win, they would at least get some visible seats in the country’s parliament by any appropriate standards.

The commentary said that despite the TPLF/EPRDF government appeared to be potent in military and security apparatus, the amalgamation and strength between incumbents would not continue if critical national issues were ignored. Challenges from various formal and rebel oppositions could also continue.

I had also proposed that some necessary providence of amnesty or even a kind of quid pro quo for mistakes that may have been financial or political faults committed by government incumbents and possibly by opposition figures or entities including in the diaspora should be negotiated while conceding wrong doings and responsibilities for the sake of peaceful transition of power. My commentary added that it is not worthy to carry the “Pandora’s box” when it is possible to make constitutional and policy reforms.

A catch up to those points of views and perspectives could have preserved the considerable economic gains made in the country and moved forward without having to face the nation-wide crisis we witness today. I feel destress that there were ignored recommendations for a peaceful transfer of power with dignity and some immunity that could have led to achieve reliable stability and economic progress in Ethiopia.

Unfortunately, the TPLF leadership was very reluctant to adjust itself to the transfer of power made in the country and to cooperate in a necessary or proposed changes with dignity, which greatly contributed to huge human and material losses to Ethiopia that include Tigray as the main battlefield in the country. Eventually however, a wise political discourse and social reconciliation that include restorative justice are required to settle all the harsh consequences with respect to Ethiopia’s national integrity.

Public engagement and harmony

Ethiopia is still a poor country facing various internal and external challenges. There are Ethiopians in all walks of life that are motivated for social peace and national unity. There are many timid or coward whisperers too. The situation in the country is demanding courage, significant public engagement and cooperation. Ethiopia’s national peace and economic achievement will depend on the strength and unity of its own people. Support from the international community is also important. All forms of appropriate capacity building including institutions are required to hold the country together. National affairs would not have to rely on the shoulders of a government only. The general public has to help constructively.

When it comes to raising public awareness, there are a few credible media platforms mostly websites where a number of constructive intellectual resources are available to benefit the general reader. There are reasonable analysis and perspectives written in depth to influence government policies for better alternatives. People are expected to develop the habit of visiting dependable media outlets and learn more about national concerns. It is knowledge that brings common understanding and the feeling of national responsibility. It improves our meeting of minds and help in resolving national issues together.

There are quite significant prerequisites to hold Ethiopia together and achieve harmonious socioeconomic progress. Such as: when Ethiopians make important changes in behavioural mindset and acquire enough understanding about the internal and external dynamics threatening their own country; When Ethiopians show the wisdom and responsibility to admit mistakes and get into constructive conflict resolution via national dialogues, rather than rivalling between ethnicities and entities; When there is collective imagination that Ethiopians of all ethnic communities and cultures can be subjected to unbearable aftermaths of consistent instability and much more poverty unless the agonizing situation is resolved carefully; When Ethiopians are ready for extensive public engagement to defend their own country at any time; When Ethiopian political leaders exercise enough authority with full loyalty to public affairs in managing the situation from within and from outside intruders.

Holding Ethiopia together is also about respect and use attractive names of places or persons, customs of wisdom, traditions, social arts and proverbs of any ethnic community in the country in harmony with other domestic languages including the Amharic lingua franca. For example, in mid of May 2021, the Addis Ababa Administration Mayoral Office coordinated an interesting ceremony in which two high schools in Addis Ababa were each named officially on behalf of a local name in the Somali and Benshangul (Metekel) Regional Administrations in Ethiopia. Encouraging the benefit of intermarriages between various ethnic communities will also increase societal integration and harmony in Ethiopia to pacify generations. Such interrelations can accelerate the acquisition of   common values by inspiring the sense of full equality and is unity in diversity.

Let us not underestimate that there are a number of charity organizations, especially from the Ethiopian youth demography who coordinate material resources from the country and the diaspora to support or accommodate the poor and the less fortunate. I would like to include that several Eritreans are contributing to those charities. Such positive activities require ethical responsibility, and are well appreciated for lifting up the livelihoods of many ordinary people while increasing our social harmony.

Elections and building national consensus

In Ethiopia, some political parties are ambitious for a pan Ethiopian democracy and a sharing of values; some other parties want to stick with ethnic federalism taking sectarian advantages of the Constitution despite its gross failure; while some are interested in showing sympathy with rhetoric for minor reforms; and there are a few groups of instability who are made instrumental to drag Ethiopia down.

The forthcoming national elections scheduled to begin in the end of June 2021 would make good sense if those competing political parties debate significant national issues with competence. As such, political parties with clear programs promising to make substantial reforms over the Constitution and wrong government policies will attract to a large part of Ethiopian voters. Great mass turnout to cast ballots free of ethnic or sectarian motives should be encouraged.

I think the Electoral Board of Ethiopia is putting forth much effort to conclude the election process successfully in a country lacking stability. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who leads the ‘Prosperity Party’ has repeatedly announced that he wishes to see a peaceful atmosphere and a fairly inclusive election outcome in this 6th national election. German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her official visit to Ethiopia in October 2016 told the then Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in addis Ababa, “In a democracy there always needs to be an opposition that has a voice in the best case in parliament.”

Ethiopia is suffering mostly from the mendacious nature of an ethnic based federal system. Safe election mechanisms are essential for Ethiopia during the voting process and afterwards to lead the country towards reconciliation, social harmony and a good economic future for generations. Rural and urban areas in the country require stability and confidence from a government. To alleviate corruption and establish a fair economic distribution including employment opportunities are in demand across the country. Retention of major national assets while attracting genuine investments and sufficient international diplomacy will raise the confidence of Ethiopians. In those regards, opposition parties with better insights into their manifestos deserve to earn visible seats in a national parliament by any appropriate standards, and should do worthwhile work to win the next elections in the country.

We learned from the experience of 2005 election, no matter who was at fault, the wrong reaction of the opposition was the abandoning of its own legitimacy to join the national parliament which might have been a stepping stone to eventually achieve the state power. Remember: government incumbents are very interested in attitudes and intensions of their opponents.

Elections should not focus on a grabbing of power, but on broad-minded national unity and popular interests. It is worthwhile to see this gracious country survive the backwardness of ethnic divisions and begin to work for cohesive democratic social relations to achieve a stable economy for all Ethiopians. Then, in a worst scenario relating to the forthcoming election, the ruling party and each opposition block has to consider a power share and some concession on programs during this complicated political discourse. Give and take agreements to reflect proportional representation are necessary during this critical moment as not to let Ethiopia down. All parties must carry the responsibility and accountability of serving Ethiopia’s integrity, the economy and social affairs.  The country needs articulated statesmen to draw out insightful provisions and proper measures suiting national unity in diversity.

Major reforms to the Constitution is in demand

Geographic Federalism is narrated as the decentralization of power, while ethnic based federalism is decentralized in a much more complex political spectrum. Federalism must not be a dogma of decentralization of power when there are fears of destructive social polarities. In this regard, centralization of power to a sufficient degree will be necessary to hold the Ethiopian population and the central government together.

Ethiopia’s ethnic system has now brought various challenges in demographic characteristics and sectarian psychological makeups experiencing the scramble of natural resources including lands. However, there are ample reasons for Ethiopia to reconfigure the nine ethnic based regions to suit equality and stability. There is real demand to discuss this core issue in future country’s parliament in consultation with other insightful entities. The situation is tough that reforms over the Constitution and administrative reconfigurations would have to respond to objective conditions and responsibility for common stability.

Therefore, the best remedy for Ethiopia is to make substantial reforms over the December 1994 Constitution and uncomfortable government policies to hold the country together. There has always been a great demand to correct that constitution. Public satisfaction grows in constitutional stability rather than reiterating the exclusionary habit of seeking to draft another new constitution and let it destabilize over and over again. In fact, the Constitution has important universal laws or principles that require proper implementation. Constitutional developers and policy makers have the opportunity to seek the best options in dealing with overall national concerns. The issue is to transform Ethiopia and move forward together.  

Take note that, although Ethiopia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty has been well recognized for many generations, most of the traditional feudal ruling domains in the country were officially delineated into provinces and districts during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie claiming suitability to administration including taxation, and that was reconfigured by the Dergue regime. Many countries in the world make reconfigurations to their local territories. Why not Ethiopia today?

All the regional states have a moral responsibility to cooperate with reconfiguration or shaping up those ethnic cleavages into many diversified administrations with equal stipulations in human affairs and property rights. Regions would have to relinquish certain political powers to the Federal Government and promote mutual stability for generations. It should be possible to make at least a moderate reconfiguration and adopt manageable local administrative territories to suit socioeconomic harmony and work culture for all Ethiopians. Rules and regulations friendly to national democratic institutions that include law enforcement units can be established to accommodate specific cultural behaviours in some areas of local communities.

In this context of gradual administrative reconfiguration, if regional constitutions are a choice to continue, they would have to be negotiated to hold only certain rights such as taxations, social services as well as urban and rural enhancements. There is no need to insist on discriminative ethnic rules that obstruct public safety and mutual progress. Any central federal government in office ought to have enough power and access to collect revenues and taxes across the country for national developments and help those in need. A well reformed Ethiopian federal constitution must be the supreme law in the country that represents all administrative zones equally. Therefore, any regional administration may choose not to have its own constitution.

When it comes to political elections, all Ethiopian citizens of universal suffrage ought to have the rights to elect and be elected anywhere in the country. Local areas that are debatable or contentious may have to be directly linked to a federal government providing equal rights in political and economic affairs.

There should be inclusive and trustworthy Federal Armed Forces in Ethiopia. The militias and special force in all the regional administrations that are in good standing would have to have the opportunity to join the Federal Armed Forces to serve the integrity of their country. Well-disciplined federal police forces and related services are necessary in all administrative peripheries in the country for safe national economic development and to increase public confidence.

Remember: any economic progress made in an ethnic based system is insecure due to the weak foundation of socioeconomic relations between people in the same country leading to collateral damage. It can sooner or later cause much damage to hard earned economies and social integrity between generations; especially during a government transition or socioeconomic crisis.  That is why there has been great importance to reform the Constitution and restructure the ethnic federal system to have well improved or integrated democratic governance and prevent Ethiopia from the presumptions of deeply rooted ethnic conflicts and disintegration.

Stabilizing the Horn for economic opportunity

The Horn of Africa is located at an international strategic maritime access to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. It has been one of the most conflict ridden zones in the world where its peoples are poor due to the lack of stability to use natural resources. The countries in the Horn are members of IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) with outlined perspectives for social harmony and economic integration. Meanwhile, the organization looks debilitated to help resolve conflict of interests within the region, such as the Sudanese Army penetration into the Ethiopian territory.

The Nile River has a big influence across the greater African region and beyond that horizon. I am well confident in analysing the facts and perspectives in my publications of mid-February 2021 with ethiopoint/zehabesha.com website about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the Nile hydrology in general, as well as some recommendations to exit the predicament. When it comes to stability requirements in the Horn of Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan will have to share their concerns through a fair communique to reach short-term and long-term water use provisions. The Nile waters dispute would not require arrogance and partisan politics. Ethiopia in particular has to move safely through this complicated regional hydro-political issue.

Ethiopia deserves peace and cooperation with all her neighbours more than other international relations. Peace and socioeconomic destiny between Ethiopia and Eritrea are intertwined with each other demanding full understanding and commitment to achieve reliable peace and shared livelihoods. That is not an old mentality or outdated view by any cumulative standard and the new generation must understand the importance of regional economic co-existence and stability.

Kenya and Somalia have been in conflict with each other over a maritime territory in the Indian Ocean for several decades. This border dispute has got international attention at the court in Hague, Netherlands. The case demands a mutual solution with geopolitical consideration to defuse tension and contribute peace to our region.

There is a good  example for regional stability that the East African Community, which are six states of the Nile Basin (Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and the new member South Sudan) have been working for decades towards a comprehensive Federation of political union through people to people relations and socioeconomic integration. Kenya and Uganda are also members of IGAD, while the other members of the Federation are development partners in the greater region.

Africa has a lot to learn about the sensitive nature of ethnic politics from several countries in the world. Our neighbour brothers Sudan, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen would have to learn well that ethnic or tribal based political systems can sooner or later cause much damage to hard earned economies and social integrity between peoples. Stability between the neighbouring countries in the greater region has also been demanding.

The countries of the Horn have to realize together that Africa is on the way to establish a common market and free trade zones for better economic and social development in the continent. For example, the Trans-Africa Highway Network is intended to promote trade and socio-economic progress to the African continent through various dimensions. In this regard, the Cairo – Cape Town land route is considered to be the longest highway according to the African indicative plan. There is also a design named the Chad – Djibouti route among other continental perspectives within the Trans-Africa Highway Network.

Common security across the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean that include cooperation with the Middle East are important geopolitical areas among other international factors to help stabilize the greater African region. Commercial roads and maritime cooperation between many countries are on the rise influencing the whole region. Peoples in the Horn of Africa need peace and mutual economic cooperation, and not the diplomacy of destabilization and unethical journalism. The situation is more about multiple economic and ideological interests in the presumption of market and natural resources to which the Horn of Africa is required to approach those global trends.

Some statements in this piece are excerpted from the previous articles of this writer discussing universal nation building, an ethnic federal system and national election experiences, while appealing for constitution and government policy reforms to Ethiopia. As such, the following link from September 2017 would help motivated readers in recognizing national concerns in general and the need for policy reforms in particular, as Ethiopia is seeking for the way out from multiple crises.

We trust in the aspiration for reconciliation!

June 11, 2021

Amanuel T Muhzun (atmwiseup@hotmail.com)


Ethiopia Experiencing Ethnic Federalism: Could Inclusive Parliament and Policy Reforms Prevent Crises?

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