ZeHabesha Ethiopian News | Latest News for All | 24/7

Misinterpretation of the recent clashes along the border of Ethiopia’s Oromiya and Somali Regions

Tsegaye Tegenu (PhD)


Following the recent clashes along the border of Oromo and Somali National Regions, in which more than 55 people were killed and over 70,000 ethnic Oromos have been displaced, there is rush to a conclusion about Ethiopia’s ethnic based federalism as a failed experiment. Some say that institutionalizing ethnic divisions by means of a constitution was a gamble from the outset. The resent clash and the past sporadic ethnic disputes in other regions in Ethiopia heralds to violent disintegration of the country. One writer wrote that “the real reason for the failure ethnic federalism in those countries was not economic or lack of democracy. It was simply because of the politicization and manipulation of ethnic relations by the ruling regimes, the regional ethnic elites and/or external forces.”

This is a wrong interpretation of the growing phenomena of sporadic ethnic disputes and conflicts in the country. The causes of ethnic conflict in Ethiopia is scarcity of goods and services and lack of democratic institutions necessary for the creation of a diversified and productive economic base. It is necessary to separate the institutional arrangements of ethnic federation from the political ideology used to create it. Federation as a system of power sharing among autonomous units (or tiers of government) can be organized on the basis of different political values such as liberalism, conservatism, socialism and ethnicity. Any type of political ideology can be used for power concentration or decentralization. What matters for the function of the institutional arrangements of federation and decentralization is the presence or absence of democratic governance, the purpose of which is wealth creation and ensuring economic welfare of the people. (for details see “The Model and Making of Ethnic Federalism in Ethiopia: Identifying the Problems to Find the Solution”).

In Ethiopia the idea of ethnic based self-rule came as a result of mistrust of central government. My view is that given the historical nature of the Ethiopian state, the cultural diversity of the people, the social practice and mobilization of kinship, variation in natural resource, size and spatial distribution of the population, ethnic federal arrangement is currently the best alternative solution to jump start economic development in the country. The problem is the absence of good governance (namely, accountability, the rule of law, participation, transparency, representation, and responsiveness). In the presence of competing parties and democratic election and governance, ethnic ideology (advocating differences based on culture and myth) cannot strive and actualize its own form.

The question is what happens to ethnic ideology in the absence of democratic governance? Empirical evidences from Ethiopia show that under such circumstances ethnic political ideology, for that matter any ideology, serves the interest of the power elite and the supporting state institutions. My study on aggregate outputs of the national economy shows a twofold increase in the share of GDP by the economic system controlled by the state. The state economy increased from 20 percent in 1991/92 to 39 percent in 2015. In the same period the share of the economy controlled by the households decreased from 70 percent to 44 percent. (I will come back to the discussion on measuring and accounting the structure of the national economy in another draft).

Since the dawn fall of the Derg regime, the federal government used over 100 economic policy instruments and programs to increase its control over trade, financial market, fiscal relations, production enterprises, public services, etc. This is done in the name of poverty reduction, liberalization, developmental state and growth and transformation plans, among others. Currently the state economy has expanded to such an extent that its’ institutions have literally become inefficient. This is conclusively demonstrated in the 17 strategic studies conducted by the government’s own policy study center (Ethiopian Policy Study and Research Center) in areas of industrial development, urban development, agricultural modernization and good governance. Following these studies the Government has arrested over 150 officials on suspicion of corruption.

At regional and local level, the absence of democratic governance has created autocratic rule by petty officials and powerful minority groups. In land-labor based economy, where the state is the main economic decision making model ethnic clashes and conflicts over scarce resources is imminent. The low level contribution of the private sector to the aggregate national economy (which is about 10%), the monopolization of power by regional and local governments and the consequent alarming conflict between ethnic groups are wake-up calls to EPRDF. To attain the objectives of ethnic federation, implementing consociationalism and democratic governance is not a matter of choice but a necessity.

For comments I can be reached at Tsegaye.tegenu@epmc.se



    I am not concern the clash between Oromos and Somalia, I am more concern the land dispute between Oromos and central Amhara regions, as we all knows the Showa Amhara kings ( Menilike and Haileselassie) had stolen vast fertile land from Oromos and gave to their own Amhara tribe during their reign, now it seems Oromos are awaken asking their stolen land back, this land clash between Oromos and Amharas won’t be easy, it may become full blown war.

  2. I do not know the writer of this commentary Dr.Tsegaye Tegenu in person. I have read some of his scribblings and got the impression that he is the sympathiser or supporter of the TPLF regime. This comment further cements this impression because he denies or overlooks the main cause of the ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia under the TPLF. It has been crystal clear or can not be denied that the divide and conquer politics of the minority rule of the TPLF is the main force behind the ethnic conflicts the country has been experiencing in the past 26 years. Even the TPLF officials and actvists openly brag about the splits and divisions they have created between the Oromos and Amharas. For example the former TPLF regime main communications minister ato Getachew Reda stated in public that the TPLF regime has made the Amhara and Oromo communities like straw (dry grass) and fire. Ethiopians have long known the sinister motives of the TPLF but hearing it from the mouth of the horse was important too. This open statement by this TPLF official refutes or discredits the arguments of Dr. segaye Tegenu and the other TPLF supporters and sympathisers

  3. This guy himself is misrepresenting and distorting the facts and telling us the weyanne version regarding the causes of the ethnic or intercommunal violences in the country. His other writings on issues in Ethiopia indicate that he is the supporter of the weyanne regime. He has the right to do so but should not escape scrutiny and criticism for his distortion and presentation of the weyanne version. The weyanne regime deliberately incites ethnic conflicts to stay in power. Inciting ethnic conflicts and polarization of the country`s communities are the mainstays of the weyanne politics.

  4. For those who never had to live within a region where inter ethnic deadly conflicts had happened, this may be a little difficult to understand. Those of us who happened to be born and live at least our formative years like me know and understand very well about such violence just because we had seen and experienced through it all. It was happening since there were Oromos, Afars and Issas living in close encounters. It was happening during the Emperor’s times and he did not create it. It happened during the demonic Mengistu’s time and he rather ignored it altogether. I had heard that one of the members of the Derg was successful in organizing a meeting for truce between the warring Afar and Issa tribes at the town of Chiro in the mid 1970’s. That Derg member was later eaten up by that cannibal Mengistu. So the problem has been there for ages. But the shift in geopolitical landscape that took place during the last 150 years seemed to have perpetuated it. I will leave the details to those countrymen experts in the science of history but I will talk from experience. Those who grew up around the old railway lines between Dire Dawa and Awash remember who used to be in their majority at every railway station in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. I had my early elementary education up to the 3rd grade at a makeshift school at one of those stations. That school was later shut down due to lack of sizable number of students. But I remember going to a one elementary school at the next railway station for reasons I still don’t know. May be it was their style of a jamboree we know here. I still remember vividly the student ethnic background from the railway station of Afdem(Aware). They were members of the Afar tribe in their majority. I have heard that some of those Afar students from that town are now very successful business men and statesmen in the neighboring Djibouti. We competed in various athletic games including soccer. I remember how our tiny school was having trouble finding enough students to compete in the soccer game. And when did participate, it was a ‘massacre’. Just picture the 1986 Chicago Bears or Brett Favre’s Cheese Heads or Tom Brady’s Patriots playing an elementary school football team. Just like that. Now I am told that Afdem is in the Somali jurisdiction. Every Afar resident has been driven out by force after the 1960’s. Now I know and understand that demographics are made to change over time but to see one in my lifetime was a jaw dropping event for me. Drought is just another fuel but not the real reason behind it all. For many cattle rustlers it is an extremely lucrative business. That has been the case since the establishment of outposts by the British at Berbera and the French at Djibouti. That has been an on-going factor for the unabated deadly rustling. One of my friends who is a member of a Mamasan Issa clan once told me that a cow or a bull that was rustled away from the vicinity of Asabot today can be found on the butcher’s chopping block in Djibouti in just a week. Or even in Aden, Sanaa and Hodeidah in less than a month. And that friend knows what he is talking about very, very well. This includes sheep and goats. One other fueling factor is the population explosion in all these ethnic groups. They have been multiplying irresponsibly for decades now with no means of making a living for their children. So children will continue to march on the same tracks established by their hatchers. They are not rustling with spears any more. They are not rustling with bolt action rifles in their hands any more. They are armed to the teeth with AK-47’s and from what I am reading now they even have RPG’s in their arsenal. These rustlers have grown with a culture that sees settled way of farmer’s lives in contempt. That is why I don’t believe disarming the offenders is the only solution but just a part of it. Unless the out of control population is dealt with a kibosh and that may not be possible without societal transformation, this violence is going to grow by leaps and bounds. We know hear victims in their ten’s but sooner if not later we should prepare ourselves to hear the number of victims reaching in their ten’s and hundreds of thousands. The area where the violence takes place could spread like a wild fire covering areas which we may think now it will be impossible or will never get there. Sooner or later external demons like the Wahhabis may come in with their deep pockets to establish an outpost that they have been dreaming for centuries. Others from a well known next door may also intensify their fanning of such divisive violence. Again this violence is not something that has just been created. Even the current ethnic regional administrative arrangement is not the one that made it up. Such conflicts used to be confined out at remote locations far away from major populated towns but now it is slowly engulfing them. Today it may be Mulu, Butuji, Arbaa, Awaday or Chinakson. Tomorrow it will be Chiro, Hirna, Doba, Wachoo, Beddesaa, Boke Tiko. Awash, Adama, Dire Dawa, Harar and even Addis(Finfine) may be in the cross hairs of similar mayhem soon or later. You mark my word for it. My daily prayer is for me not live to see that day on this good earth. I never felt hopeless and helpless in my entire life such as now on hearing this senseless violence. Thanks to the corrupt system that has been ravaging the society since the 1970’s, the power and pragmatism of traditional elders seems to have been successfully washed away. They had been called reactionaries and butchered by the demonic Mengistu and they have been forced to wither away by the strong hand policies of the current regime also. Some of you who read this comment may find me to be hopeless or a doomsday monger. But I am not totally hapless. I am still finding a refuge in the capabilities of The Almighty Our Creator. His Has His Own Mysterious Way To Bring Peace Among Warring Factions!!! That is why I am praying. I am praying for the level heads to somehow prevail. Those of you who are steadfast believers in the power of prayers with clean heart, please join me every day in my prayers. Let’s join hands and pray to The Almighty!!! That country is sitting on a 100 million powder keg. As I have been all along that all it needs is for someone to make the wrong move. Cattle rustling and bloodletting that comes with it can be a perfect flint to spark a raging inferno. And that is and will not be funny. Not funny at all!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.