In this paper, I will attempt to analyze the downward trend of collective intelligence among Ethiopia’s political leaders and elites. (1) The analysis covers a historical period that begins with the reign of Emperor Menelik II (2) (r. 1889–1913) until the premiership of Abiy Ahmed (since 2018). The study will therefore also cover two other monarchical periods: the era of Empress Zewditu (r. 1916–1930) (3), who was modern Ethiopia’s first female head of state, as well as the period of Emperor Haile Selassie (r. 1930–1974). Subsequently, the analysis will move on to the country’s conflicting experiments with republican governance: the military regime of Socialist Ethiopia, or Derg, (in power from 1974 to 1991) and the ethnic-federalist regime of the EPRDF/TPLF (1991 to 2018). It will conclude with the current regime, in power since 2018.
Essentially, the study is an ongoing project that involves an analysis of policy measures, diplomacy, accountability and governance. Of significant interest are issues of governmental decision-making as well as the resulting aspects of accountability –whether it concerns politicians, civil servants, ordinary citizens– even if not all of them can be covered extensively here. (4) What is important, however, is to establish a conceptual clarity on the core terms being used.
This version of my paper is motivated by the war in Northern Ethiopia and the recent carnage in Western Ethiopia. Reports of fresh attacks against ethnic Amhara civilian communities in the Wollega region, such as one in Gidami, speak of up to 100 civilians being massacred. (5) Predictably, the regional state in the Oromia region claims that it is investigating the matter, without offering much in the process. As was the case in the past, the apparent involvement of government officials is particularly disturbing: these are civil servants acting with the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF – Shane) to slaughter civilians. (6) The pattern of merger between killer-rebels and regional-bureaucrats explains why these massacres are never really investigated, let alone dealt with: as the saying goes, don’t throw stones at your own roof. Equally distressing is the silence of intellectuals, religious and political leaders. Is it a case of apathy or callous indifference? The question needs to be addressed.
The situation is made all the worse by the absence of action on the part of the federal government in the Afar region of Ethiopia and some districts in the Amhara region when the TPLF is undertaking a mechanized military attack in parts of these regions. What the hell is going on? The government’s latest inaction against the TPLF’s invasion of the Afar region, while negotiating with the TPLF through the back door, is worrisome. The Afar people have been left to defend themselves against the TPLF’s terrorist offensive. The government has forfeited its fundamental responsibility of maintaining peace, security, and order. The government’s acquiescence of TPLF onslaught against the Afar people raises doubt about its commitment to defend the national unity and territorial integrity of Ethiopia. It appears that the government is intent on reviving the politically, militarily, and economically emaciated TPLF. A government that fails to provide security to its citizens, consents to lawlessness, and shamelessly intervenes in the judicial process to release war criminals has lost its legitimacy to govern. (7) One argument here is that both the Ethiopian leaders and the warring factions (terrorists) have no the moral and cognitive capacity to ran the second most populous nation in Africa. The second thesis/argument is that dehumanization and the negative discourses against the Amhara population and genuine Ethiopians has transformed into a physical action manifested in atrocity crimes and ethnic cleansing similar to the holocaust in Nazi Germany. During the Holocaust, Nazis referred to Jews as rats. Hutus involved in the Rwanda genocide called Tutsis cockroaches. Slave owners throughout history considered slaves subhuman animals. In Less Than Human, David Livingstone Smith argues that it is important to define and describe dehumanization, because it is what opens the door for cruelty and genocide. When the Nazis described Jews as Untermenschen, or subhumans, they did not mean it metaphorically, says Smith. “They didn’t mean they were like subhumans. They meant they were literally subhuman.” The Nazis were explicit about the status of their victims. They were Untermenschen — subhumans — and as such were excluded from the system of moral rights and obligations that bind humankind together. It is wrong to kill a person, but permissible to exterminate a rat. To the Nazis, all the Jews, Gypsies and others were rats: dangerous, disease-carrying rats. (8) There are similar dangerous discourses against specifically the Amhara population. (9)
The virus of ethnicism has gone so deep that it explains the shocking levels of intellectual laziness and moral apathy so prevalent among Ethiopians today. “If it doesn’t touch me, I don’t care” seems to be the rule. The attacks in Wollega were predictable, and the situation will probably get worse as TPLF seeks to off-set its losses by stirring chaos in other areas of the country.
In all those parameters I have outlined above, I have observed a decline on Collective Intelligence among Ethiopia’s political elites. My point of departure is that when identifying people that will drive long-term success and significance in particular in leading a nation like Ethiopia, the prerequisite elements to focus upon are: strong mind (high IQ); strong ability to influence people on an emotional level (high EQ); and strong positive character (high CQ).
I do not want to delve into the psychometric elements of the IQ tradition. However, one common thread that I observed during some 30 plus years of careful personality-analysis among leading individuals and groups in ethnic-based activism, and of politicians of narrow nationalism, is that they seem neither to learn from historical experience nor from current ones. Not only do they not anticipate the consequences of their actions, but they also do not understand the complexities that entail nation-state building and the consequences of fomenting discord and animosity among peacefully existing ethnic groups.
Why might less intelligent people be drawn to divisive and conservative ideologies? Because such ideologies feature “structure and order” that make it easier to comprehend a complicated world. Are the ethnicists, narrow nationalists and racists dumb? Current research suggests the answer to both questions may be a qualified yes.(10)
The terms ‘intelligent’ and ‘intelligent behavior’ are difficult to match in the Amharic vocabulary. In Amharic, it simplifies matters to ask what intelligent behaviors are, rather than what intelligence is or who is intelligent,as there is no single term in Amharic representing the generic term ‘intelligence’. What is recognized in the Western world as an entity of intelligence is construed in the Amharic language as distinct. For instance, abstraction, speed, independent problem solving skills, memory skills, reasoning and mental agility may be co-opted into the ‘generic’ term intelligence in English. Indeed, in many non-western languages and cultures, especially Amharic, these terms defy being jammed into one term. It is not only that these terms are distinct in their own ways, but they can also conflict with each other. My empirical data (11) generated in Israel among Ethiopian Jews show that most families have difficulties to construe independent problem solving skills as ‘intelligent behavior’. What appears to be intelligent behavior or a ‘clever approach’ (Bilhategna) for them is co-operative problem-solving. Employing a companion’s support and consulting others are regarded as a wise man’s repertoire. This, I have confirmed in my observation data too. Children often do homework together, and parents usually use the term “Andlay Atinu” (read together) to encourage their children to work or study together, despite differences in grades and task variations.
I partly share Gottfredson’s (1998) (12) conception of intelligence. Intelligence is a very general mental capacity which, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book-learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings-― and hence catching on, making sense of things, or figuring out what to do (p.13). At a collective level (13), it refers to being capable of collaborative and imaginative thinking; it entails social dimension regarding ability of groups [in this case the political elites of Ethiopia] to achieve unity of purpose, action and thought. Teams with high levels of collective intelligence (CQ) achieve a state of interdependence and flow when they are working together.(14)
Ethiopia is currently and increasingly experiencing a cocktail of Arrogance, Ignorance, and Incompetence among its so called political elites. I am talking about recycling of mediocre, incompetent, uninspiring, and, quite possibly, criminal officials in government or civil service, with ethnically based interests. The years of leadership incompetence, weak, ineffective, totalitarian and corrupt government as seen during the past 30 plus years, must give way to strong, effective, corruption-free and solution-driven government with a focus on collective identity rather than exaggerated ‘identity politics’. The strength of every society depends largely on its leadership. The war in Northern Ethiopia and the continued massacre of mainly members of Amhara ethnic group in southern and western Ethiopia are the results or an expression of an ultimate stupidity. (15) “Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than evil,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian. Penning this sentence ten years after the accession of Adolf Hitler to supreme power, these words reflected tough lessons soaked in blood. Bonhoeffer formed part of a small circle of resistance to the dictator in Germany, risking his life for an ideal. It was a dark time in his homeland. Total war had engulfed the world, and a totalitarian regime was controlling the country. Bonhoeffer pondered how this came to be. He thought about the nature of evil, but came to the conclusion it was not evil itself that was the most dangerous enemy of the good. Rather, it was stupidity. (16)
In order to help me capture the episode, I used the reflective writing method. Reflective writing is used in an academic setting to examine responses to a new experience or piece of writing. Reflective writing can also be analytical when applied to critical thinking or processing used in research. Reflection is “a turning back onto a self” where the inquirer is at once both observed and an active observer (Steier, 1995, p. 163) (17), in this case the phenomenon Collective Intelligence along a time dimension. Socrates (Plato, Apology of Socrates, 38a) affirms that a life devoid of reflective thinking is not a full human life, and, on this basis, he conceives education as a process aimed at cultivating the habit of reflection in order to be capable of an in-depth interrogation into the webs of thoughts wherein life is immersed.
Collective Intelligence during four major political periods
Collective intelligence is a shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals. One may inquire, how can this collective intelligence be measured? Does ‘group learning’ translate to ‘group intelligence’? Can we use existing psychometric tests (e.g. IQ tests) to measure and predict cognitive differences in groups of leaders or rulers? What makes one group of rulers or political elites more intelligent than another? Do groups made up of highly intelligent members demonstrate higher ‘collective intelligence’ and outperform groups made up of low or moderate intelligence members? Was Emperor Menelik’s leadership circle more intelligent than the groups of rulers rallying behind the current leaders of Ethiopia? What reliable methods or tools are available to reach that daring conclusion?
I abstain to delve into disputes. I am loosely interested in the concept of collective intelligence as opposed to collective stupidity in certain group-motivated actions or inaction. Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups is being accumulated. (18) I still need to systematically examine how it works and how it is measured for groups of people in particular, in relation to leadership qualities. I personally believe in a collective consciousness that is available to us all and can be accessed no matter what our level of “intelligence”.
Our collective intelligence can be limited to our family, tribe, and social group, or can be expanded to include a greater wisdom that we are all connected. That some groups lack in this wisdom is, I believe, collective stupidity. My observation is that the massacres or pogroms committed against civilians in some regions of Ethiopia, based on the victims’ ethnicity and religion, is a manifestation of collective absurdity. It seems that our collective stupidity prevalent within the leadership circle is driving us to the brink of catastrophe in Ethiopia. This has mainly to do with the political elite’s ignorance, incompetence andmalevolence behavior. The ongoing war in Northern Ethiopia and the weekly ethnic based massacre in the Oromia region are a vivid manifestation of these three elements. There is a lack of solid collective intelligence or strong mind (high IQ), strong ability to influence people on an emotional level (high EQ), and strong positive character (high CQ) at a leadership-level, the strata opens room for: 1. Egoism; 2. Machiavellianism; 3. Moral disengagement;4. Narcissism;5. Psychological entitlement; 6. Psychopathy; 7. Sadism; 8. Self-interest; and 9. Spitefulness. Ethiopia has witnessed plenty of the kind of those middle-level and upper-level political rulers over the past 40 plus years. It is a justified conclusion that the leaders or their ardent supporters appear to have some of these traits of malevolence or The Dark factor.
My analysis shows that ignorance, sinister motives, low moral intelligence, self-aggrandizement (inferiority complex) and conscientious stupidity are the common denominators to or attributes of all those groups of rulers who ruled Ethiopia during most of the last 40 plus years. My conclusion is based on the dimensions of Governmental decision-making, Political Accountability, Bureaucratic Accountability, Citizen Accountability, Legal Accountability, and Professional Accountability. Although Ethiopia was a traditional society, Emperor Menelik’s leadership circle outperforms by far the succeeding regimes in those measures. Both the social and physical infrastructures were undeveloped, though.
The collective intelligence among the political elites of Emperor Haile Selassie was diversified, solid and expansive. Modern education was expanded. However, the so called modern education brought with it ideas that are anomalous to the nation Ethiopia or anathema, or things accursed to damnation or destruction, such as questioning the very foundation of Ethiopia, non-religious ideas based notions such as communism, socialism, Marxism Leninism etc. In spite of the tension in the political strata, there was some level of accountability in all those dimensions mentioned above. Some policy measures were taken but they lacked rigor. However regarding diplomatic knowledge, Haile Selassie’s era was unparalleled. The era of Emperor Haile Selassie contributed significantly to the decolonization of Africa. The formation of OAU was one outcome of his majesty’s diligent leadership.
In those days, many students learned classical Christian education via Geez or traditional religious institutions. Islamic institutions performed their share in their own ways. I believe that the “Orthodoxy” approach in education may ‘ground’ students in the sense that “classical learning teaches “rightly ordered thinking,” so that there is a connection with the “rightly ordered mind” that is essential to mental health” (19). There is now research (20) that demonstrates the superiority of Classical Christian Education by almost every standard–academically, socially, spiritually, psychologically–to the alternatives. The classically-educated showed strong results in holding to orthodox Christian theology and moral convictions. They also score the highest in being willing to take action when they see injustice. Emperors Menelik and Haile Selassie’s era were relatively high in the realms of classic learning (God Fearing learning) and fairness, as I was told by my parents and grandparents.
The Battle of Adwa, led by Emperor Menelik, was a turning point in world history. Previously, European countries had generally thought of themselves as superior to virtually all countries, including then long-established empires, elsewhere in the world. But now, at the Battle of Adwa, an African nation did successfully defend itself against a military aggressive invasion by a European country. The colonized people in Africa, Asia, and the Americas undoubtedly took emboldening note as well as encouragement of Menelik’s defeat of the European aggressor. Indeed, the days of Europe’s colonial supremacy in the world were thus numbered.
It is significant that Menelik was not just a strategist and intelligent leader. He was also kind-hearted and god-fearing, and had a strong ability to influence people on an emotional level (high EQ):
Taking in to consideration many of the good things he accomplished to his people and country, Ethiopia, one can say that Menelik-II was a kind-hearted leader. Though there are a few individuals who do not agree with this, what history testifies is that Emperor Menelik is exceptionally among the type of individuals with compassionate nature. The Battle of Embabo is one of the incidents we can pick to show his kindness. At this battlefield Menelik and King of Gojam, Tekle-Haimanot fought furiously. Tekle-Haimanot demonstrated prowess commonly expected from an Ethiopian warrior and unfortunately he was wounded and captured. Up on his capture, he was not cuffed as per a special order given by Menelik. This was done to show respect to the captured king. Then he was taken to Menelik. Up on his arrival, Menelik got to his feet from his throne, hugged and kissed him. “My brother, it is God’s will that we have met alive,” said Menelik. Later on, Menelik announced that he was the one who should treat the wounded king, Tekle-Haimanot. He washed and wiped the sore of Tekle-Haimanot… Immediately after, Menelik commanded for the release of all captured soldiers of Tekle-Haimanot. In the meantime, while chatting, Menelik asked Tekle-Haimanot what he would have done if he was the one who had captured Menelik. Tekle-Haimanot responded bluntly that he would have cut his flesh in to pieces and given to vultures.
Menelik also showed respect to King Kawo Tona of Wolaita after the latter was captured at a big war held between the two. King Tona was believed to be one of the greatest warriors and powerful last king of Wolaita. After being wounded and captured, he was taken to Menelik who rose to his feet and hugged him saying, “my brother, you forced us to kill the people in vain”. After the bloody war, Menelik commanded that all the cattle taken by his troops should be returned to the people of Wolaita. Then he appointed Kawo Tona to govern that part of the country. Similarly, Menelik pardoned many of his prominent officials who had betrayed him and joined the enemy side. This is just to show how kind-hearted Menelik was. (21)
What is most saddening is the continuous defamation of the character and reputation of Emperor Menelik, as well as belittling the Adwa victory, by Tigrean cadres and extremist Oromo nationalists. The victory is the pride of black people. As the only African nation to successfully resist European conquest during the scramble for Africa, Ethiopia became a pre-eminent symbol of the pan-African movement and international opposition to colonialism. The battle of Adwa not only saved Ethiopia from colonization by Rome, but also raised the status of an African country to an equal partner in the world community. (22) The victory was achieved by the combined efforts of The Oromos, the Tigreans, the Amharas and the rest of Ethiopia. It is a pride of everybody Ethiopian. Why do then the tribalists want to delete that glorious history? Is it not due to an utter lack of moral intelligence and complete disregard for the truth?! “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” ― Aldous Huxley, Complete Essays 2, 1926-29.
Compare Menelik’s strategy to the leadership styles and utter stupidity of TPLF’s political elite, (23) which received its final blow last month. As Mountain (Dec. 31, 2020) stated in his recent article entitled The Final Hours of Ethiopia’s TPLF Regime: ‘With their army destroyed and their last, best troops wiped out in one morning on the outskirts of their capital Mekele the last remnants of the leadership of Ethiopia’s TPLF regime were forced to retreat to the secret Hagarasalam underground bunkers near the capital. Built by the notoriously paranoid and cowardly TPLF godfather Meles Zenawi, the Hagarasalam bunkers were the bolt hole of desperation, a place to hide through thick and thin of warfare in safety. (24) No engineer that helped build this secret underground bunker system lived to tell the story’. (25)
As everybody knows, The Northern Command has been stationed in the Tigray region for more than two decades, to serve and protect the people of Tigray from external military threats. In the early hours of 4th November, TPLF forces carried out an unprovoked attack on a federal military base located in Mekelle city. According to the Prime Minister, that attack had been aimed at large-scale looting of military equipment and indiscriminate killings of the soldiers and officers stationed in the military camp. (26) It was that midnight attack on that army camp that plunged Ethiopia into a deadly armed conflict and the destruction, death and displacement of civilian populations is indescribable. (see my previous work on that) (27)
In today’s world of mass communication, gruesome content has become just about as normalized in our society as any other piece of information. However, some atrocious crimes of war are so staggering that they simply defy comprehension even to a most desensitized individual. The monstrous attack on the military base and the barbaric murders committed therein actually defy comprehension. The dreadful testimony about that specific attack by Tigrean members of the military base, against their own compatriots from other ethnic groups, is virtually beyond comprehension. Imagine, soldiers were killed while still in their pyjamas! (28) All this tells us these political elites who gave the order are not only merciless cold blooded evil but also unintelligent creatures. On Nov. 9, 2020, at least 717 people in the town of Mai Kadra were brutally murdered in homes they shared with fellow seasonal workers and their families, according to the Amhara Association. The victims were largely Amhara. “They killed hundreds of people, beating them with batons [and] sticks, stabbing them with knives, machetes and hatchets, and strangling them with ropes,” the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission found following an investigation into the attack. “It has been made apparent that the attack was ethnicity-based and specifically targeted men the attackers profiled through, amongst other things, identification cards, as Amharas,” the report added. (29) This is again the work of TPLF. ‘With the fall of TPLF in late November came the consequent failure of US policy in the Horn of Africa. Since then, the Western media has, retroactively and proactively, forwarded a number of allegations of crimes against the people of Tigray perpetrated by the Ethiopian and Eritrean militaries. Eritrea has served as the primary scapegoat’. (30) The United States of America had been recently issuing infuriating statements against Ethiopia which many Ethiopians understood as an effort to rescue TPLF, and secede the Tigray region of Ethiopia, in what is believed to be a bid to maintain geopolitical interest along the Red Sea region. (31)
A recent report — Disinformation in Tigray: Manufacturing Consent For a Secessionist War (Published on May 9, 2021) by New Africa Institute — vividly showed the tragedy that is unfolding. The report has shown in careful detail that TPLF, by its own admission, started the Tigray conflict by attacking the Northern Command on November 4, 2020 with the goal of triggering a irredentist, ethnic secessionist war or—at the minimum—returning to power in Addis Ababa through military means. Given the unpopular, immoral, irrational and unjustifiable nature of unilateral secession of an ethnic state in a multiethnic Ethiopia, TPLF requires the use of disinformation to manufacture consent for its secessionist war against the Ethiopian people. (32) In short, the TPLF’s strategy is doomed to fail because it is thick-witted, unintelligent, vacuous, and witless by any standard. A very recent TPLF clandestine meeting discussed how to win the war, declare independence (Borkena, 2021-06-08).
….. the six days long meeting has reportedly discussed several strategies which TPLF deemed important to achieve the political objectives – independent Tigray. The strategies focus on instigating inter-ethnic violence in different parts of Ethiopia and also transforming ethnic Tigray nationalism along radical lines. Addis Ababa is included in the strategy. TPLF envisions to incite radical ethnic Oromo nationalists exclusive claim of the city – “Finfine Kegna” (an oromigna phrase to mean Addis Ababa ours). The meeting reportedly discussed that ethnic Tigreans have to support radical Oromo nationalist claims to make the city part of the Oromia region. (33)
On the part of the Ethiopian government, diplomacy, political caliber and Public Relations or Communication work is almost absent; if any, it is ‘infantile’. It never fails to astonish me that much of what we have learned from applying the science of the mind to the context of work does not seem to have made much of an impact on the world of politics. Politicians, by definition, are leaders – so we should apply leadership theories to our assessments of their performance. Politicians’ day job is politics, but surely they need to bring the right knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSAs) – things that we would measure in any other job to see if people are suited to what they do. (34) According to my observation, the Ethiopian foreign affairs office and its embassies abroad are staffed by/with cadres and unmotivated bureaucrats appointed not on the basis of merit or credentials but ethnic affinity/politics. A major tragedy for the nation. This gap has created a fertile ground for the traditional foes of the country —e.g. Egypt, Sudan and some Arab countries including the USA—to dismantle the Great nation and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Simo-Pekka Parviainen (18.5.2021), (35) correctly stated that failure to contain this Egyptian unacceptable belligerence is tied to wider geopolitics of the Middle-East, where the US supports the current military dictatorship in Cairo as part of wider US security posture to secure its interests in the region including protection of Israel. Manifestations of this were most crudely in display in September 2020, when Trump Administration tried to pressure Ethiopia in Nile issue clearly taking Cairo side and trying unsuccessfully to pressure its main ally in Horn of Africa: Ethiopia.
The period after the revolution (1974) belittled the importance of spiritual aspects of societal life, dismantled the old way of life in the name of “cultural revolution” and created a soulless generation. According to Rev. Michael P. Orsi (September 9, 2020) (36), the truth is this: Wherever socialism has been tried, invariably it has turned into communism. And because communism is atheistic, the end result has always been tyranny, suffering, and death. Some 100 million people have been killed over the course of communism’s march through Russia, Eastern Europe, China, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and other parts of the world. Why such a toll in blood? Because communism recognizes no higher moral principle than raw power. Without God to limit human action, any action considered necessary to achieving ideological goals is acceptable. Human beings become nothing more than expendable pieces to be used in pursuing the utopian society which communism promises to create. I do partly agree with Orsi. The Ethiopian rulers shaped by this ideology have created havoc to that ancient country.
The Derg claimed to be communist; and the TPLF claimed to be communist, of Albanian variety. The EPRDF was guided by the so called revolutionary democracy along the above lines. This platform created a fertile ground for the depletion of the nation’s intelligentsia pool (in the positive non-pejorative sense). Meritocracy, credentials and talent were secondary criteria. They established and presided over a ruthlessly backward social system, in accordance to whose organization people were chosen and moved into positions of success, power, and influence not on the basis of their demonstrated abilities and merit — criteria which became, in particular under post Derg regimes, irrelevant things of the past.
Without morality, humankind is stripped of the restraint necessary to maintain social harmony. The traditional spiritual practice’s principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance were antithetical to the atheistic rule of the communist regime. Communism and socialism in Ethiopia was able to step into the breach and provide social control by dominating even the most minute corners of our lives. Without tradition, people forget their heritage, their culture, and the ways of life that make them human. And without religion, people lose the path through which they could temper their inner character and save themselves from spiritual destruction. (37)
I argue that the grave leadership incompetence and a moral excesses of the so-called communist and socialist regimes have contributed to the current crises in Ethiopia, because people with low moral intelligence grabbed power. Beheshtifar, Esmaeli, and Moghadam (2011) (38) claim that moral intelligence is the “ʻcentral intelligence’ for all humans.” It is considered a distinct form of intelligence, independent of both emotional and cognitive intelligence. Lennick and Kiel, authors of Moral Intelligence and the originators of the term, identified four competencies of moral intelligence: integrity, responsibility, forgiveness, and compassion. (39) Ethno nationalists in Ethiopia lack these skills and values, and their moral scores are shockingly low. Lies and devilish thought pervades people with deficit moral intelligence. Many of our ethno nationalists are infected with this endemic. Aklog Birara (2019) dubbed them or their actions the Great Wall of Lies. Historical, political, socioeconomic and cultural ignorance among Ethiopia’s intellectuals, political and social “elites” is at its peak. It is guided by relentless misinformation, hatemongering and by identity politics that has no boundaries. Deliberate ignorance and misinformation concerning the historical and nation-building roles of the Amhara is amongst the most damming, unsettling, destabilizing and dangerous phenomenon in the world. (40) The fate of millions of Ethiopians, particularly of ‘Amhara origin’, is currently in the hands of ethnic-fascist mobs who have an ambivalent relationship with the government. In this, they resemble Rwanda’s Interahamwe militias in the build-up to the final genocide in April 1994, who had close links with government officials but were also vehemently opposed to its supposedly ‘moderate’ policies with regards to the country’s Tutsi minority. In the context of Ethiopia, the Qeerroo militias had once sided with Abiy Ahmed in his drive for power, caught in his many promises of an Oromo wonderland in which there were no more ‘settlers’ milking the land. It was a textbook case of genocide propaganda from the very beginning, but Abiy Ahmed was happy to embrace it: these ethnic-fascists were, after all, his core constituency, and in the months of Abiymania he went out of the way to praise them and their leadership. Note toxic leadership! To understand and prevent toxic leadership, one has to do more than study the leader. A leader alone, no matter how cleverly devious or fiendish, cannot last long. A toxic leadership triangle—destructive leaders, susceptible followers, and conducive environments—combine to produce the poisonous results. Yet, a great deal of the research on toxicity largely disregards the role of followers and organizational environments. (41)
In a political campaign, an anti-ethnic Amhara speech (42) broadcast by the Oromo Media Network (OMN) sparked anger among many Ethiopians, especially with the ethnic Amhara people.
The video that became viral in various social media platforms displayed a young lady speaking in Afan Oromo language sending messages that all ethnic Oromo people must not live with other ethnic people and engaged in any form of social contracts, especially with the Neftegnas (nickname of inhabitants of Amhara origin). “Our struggle starts with an Oromo husband who is married to Habesha (non-ethnic-Oromo) lady. An Oromo husband who is married with Habesha wife or vice versa must divorce even if they have children,” she said during a special event organized by the station itself. The young lady told the participants: “ethnic Oromo persons must not be married with non-Oromo persons. Those who already married with a man or woman belonging to other ethnic groups should come to their senses and divorce,” She went on to say, “Don’t intermingle with others and bring the dirt to the Oromo communities. The Qeerroo struggle will be on those Oromo persons who engage themselves with the Neftegna.” “Come on, get marry us (ethnic Oromo girls). Those of you who are our beautiful girls who married Nefetegna persons get a divorce today,” she added. The lady, clearly ignorant of the weight and substance of the matter she was talking about, was cheered by the participants including by prominent political figures from Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), an organization many believed stood for a genuine change in Ethiopia until a couple of years ago.
Tribalism was an urge our forefathers assumed we could overcome. And so it has become our greatest vulnerability as we see it currently in Ethiopian politics and elsewhere. Research shows that inter-ethnic marriages teach social tolerance, greater ability to treat with understanding the dating women and men of different respective national or ethnic origins and backgrounds, and accordingly contribute to the improvement of relations between countries and ethnic groups. Why do we hate? Hatred has to be learned, according to experts. “We are all born with the capacity for aggression as well as compassion. Which tendencies we embrace requires mindful choice by individuals, families, communities and our culture in general. The key to overcoming hate is education: at home, in schools, and in the community.” This wisdom appears to be disintegrated in some parts of the Oromo region among some groups (The political elites) of this otherwise proud and culturally rich ethnic group. The collective stupidity that we observe among some groups of this ethnic group, is very much a function of uncritical acceptance of slanted reporting that twists or omits relevant facts about Ethiopian history, making it impossible to arrive at intelligent conclusions. Listen to Shimelis Abdisa Leaked audio: Prosperity Party and Oromo hegemony (43) in Ethiopia and Taye Denda’s or Adanech Abebe’s (Mayor of Addis Ababa City) controversial statements from time to time, potentially inciting genocide or civil unrest. They are too many of them within the Oromo political strata. In all these the Prime Minister shows three faces Pastoral face, Political face and Actorial face. Although it seemed Ethiopia’s millions of young citizens could not get enough of him, the shadow to his shining light was impossible to ignore. In less than three years, Ethiopians witnessed his near-perfect political performance –Abiy the Actor– and had been bombarded with his acts of preaching –Abiy the Pastor. But his popularity was eroding, not least of all because of his unwillingness to tackle the weekly mass-killings (including the destructive war in the Northern Ethiopia characterized by dubious military strategy, moral decadence and political incompetence that were bringing the country to its knees. With the honeymoon period over, the prime minister vowed to defend his power with more than style and good words. The time had come for Ethiopians to meet Abiy the Prince –and he would have made Machiavelli very proud indeed. (44)
For many Ethiopians and foreign observers, the most striking element of the news coverage of the Tigray war was the fact that it took such an obvious anti-government point of view. The idea that media outlets fail to grasp the complexities of a conflict is hardly news, but the bias in favour of the TPLF was striking nonetheless. We can certainly point the finger at Abiy Ahmed: the story of a ‘Nobel Peace Prize laureate’ waging war is simply too good to refuse. Who cares about wars in other parts of Africa? They are too messy and convoluted. Mr. Saint turning out to be a Dr. Devil is a far juicier story. What every single media outlet failed to consider are the opponents in this terrible war. Variously described as rebels or as the elected government of Tigray region, their questionable track-record during their 30 years in power are never mentioned.
Ethiopian authorities have chosen lawlessness – even in Addis Ababa, where a number of citizens going about their daily business have been liquidated by them. In most of the country, by attitude and deed, the government is deliberately ‘absent without leave.’ Meanwhile, it has reportedly brought into the capital a large number of Oromos to alter its demography. Ethiopians have a long-standing default attitude of trusting governments. I am one of them. These days, federal forces often tell people in advance of an attack that they will protect them. This is clearly to lull them into a false sense of security, for soon afterwards the massacre starts. Even when witnessing the killings, so-called security forces are willing to turn a blind eye, sometimes waving in a friendly manner to the killers. When victims beg the government military to help before they are killed, the response is typically ‘Without orders, we can’t get involved,’ as happened in the Shashamene area in July 2020 (45). And the latest one is the massacre in Gidami district of Wollega (earlier this week). We have to remember that Abiy’s generation of younger cadres was tutored by TPLF/EPRDF, whose internal constitution and agenda influenced the whole of EPRDF, including each constituent party. So it should not be a surprise that OPDO/PP is pursuing the logic of the same programme against the Orthodox Church and the Amhara, though it is also doing so way beyond just the Orthodox and the Amhara. (46)
A June 29, 2021 unilateral cease-fire declared by Premier Ahmed was scoffed at as a “sick joke” by rebel leaders. Ever since – in addition to the thousands killed in the war – social and economic infrastructure has been totally or partially damaged, including schools, universities, health institutions, and other facilities. The cost has yet to be assessed in full, but experts estimate the destruction must have cost the Horn of Africa nation billions of dollars. The Amhara region is the most devastated. (47) ‘Fighters affiliated with the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) deliberately killed dozens of people, gang-raped dozens of women and girls – some as young as 14 – and looted private and public property in two areas of northern Ethiopia’s Amhara region, Amnesty International said in a new report released today’. (48)
This frighteningly high human and financial costs of war can persist for generations after the fighting and bombing stop if it ever stops. In my view this is the ‘decline’ of Collective Judgment among the Ethiopian ‘political elites’: An unfolding tragedy of epic proportions.
Conclusion and the way forward
This all makes me think that we should develop our collective intelligence, primarily among our political elites –and as soon as possible. We need ways to better reflect together, to develop positive responses to our shared circumstances, and to co-create our common future as Ethiopians. The bad news is that our adversarial, fragmentary political culture actually impedes us in these destructive efforts. The good news is that effective tools exist, which, if we use them well, could move us beyond the stupefying dynamics of our ethnic-based political culture that has been pervading Ethiopia during the past thirty years. Under normal circumstances, collective intelligence uses diversity and some conflict to generate greater understanding and mutual coexistence as opposed to violence and murder. Handled properly, diversity alerts us to new perspectives and possibilities, and ‘healthy conflict’ stimulates rapid collective learning. These are treasures to be utilized, not merely obstacles to be avoided or problems to be solved. Concerted effort is needed to combat false and distorted information.
There is a possibility to reverse the collective stupidity engulfing the region into collective intelligence by empowering the good wills of the elderly, of women and overall wise members of the community. When identifying people that will drive long-term success and significance in particular in leading a nation like Ethiopia and its multitude of nationalities, the elements needed to achieve this are collective intelligence as a sum of a strong mind (high IQ); a strong ability to influence people on an emotional level (high EQ) A strong positive character (high CQ). This is what I mean with the title ‘Get Dirty or Die Trying’ – a spin on the hip-hop slogan get rich or die trying. Either we, as concerned members of society, ‘get dirty’ in our involvement (that is to say, ‘get to work’ like a builder, like a farmer, like a baker) or Ethiopian society may well simply ‘die trying’ to extricate itself from the poison of ethnic chauvinism.
Ethiopia, and in particular Addis Ababa, is a cosmopolitan society where many ethnically or racially’ and religiously diverse people have lived peacefully for many years. Along the course of history, many cities like Harar and Addis Ababa have been a melting pot and today’s Ethiopians resemble their ancestors in their immense tolerance of ethnical differences in spite of some derailed politicians and ethnic-nationalist activists’ barrages of fake narratives and treacherous and sinister motives. What gives the cohesion of the country is an esprit de corps based on a traditional culture, which in turn derives its solidity from the roots of a rich history as well as a common fate for all committed to live here. It is intelligent people and talented politicians who understand the dynamics of this fact and can save the country from succumbing to protracted civil war which can be so difficult to bring to an end.