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


Taye Negussie (PhD)
Following the general election of 1948, the Afrikaners dominated National Party officially legislated a racially segregated system of government–racial federations–in South Africa, the infamous apartheid system that came to an end in 1994.
The year that saw the coming to an end of the racial federations in South Africa, in a manner of curious coincidence, heralded the birth of another fairly similar form of ethnically segregated system of government–ethnic federations – in Ethiopia.
The main argument of this piece is that there are some striking parallels–at least in basic assumptions and guiding ideological framework – between the racial federationsof the defunct South African apartheid system and the current ethnic federations in Ethiopia.
And, the affinity encompasses so many dimensions.  For starters, the term “apartheid”–an  Afrikaans’ word meaning “the state of being apart”, or “apart-hood”  used to segregate races in South Africa–is semantically analogous to that of the Amharic word “Killil” which also literally means “apart-hood” or a “restricted area” as is being employed to designate the ethnic-based regional states.
Secondly, the rationale of the National Party for establishing a state of racial federationswas that South Africa did not comprise a single nation, instead it was made up of four distinct racial groups: “white”, “black”, “colored” and “Indian”. And, the government divided these groups into 13 “nations” or “racial federations”.  The “black” group alone was divided into ten ethnic-based self-governing homelands called Bantustansdestined with the prospect of becoming a separate nation-state.
Similarly, in legislating the constitution the ruling Ethiopian People Democratic Front (EPRDF) reasoned that Ethiopia is not a single nation but rather an entity (though not defined clearly) that comprises ostensibly self-contained numerous “nations, nationalities and peoples”.
Subsequently, all these “nations, nationalities and peoples” were organized into 9 “autonomous” regional states and two city governments; whereupon, each regional state being endowed with its own respective constitution and flag, as their prospective nationhood is legislated in Article 39 of the Ethiopian constitution which promulgates the “unconditional right of every nation, nationality and people to self-determination, including the right to session”.
Thus, the assumption and mode of organization underlying South African apartheid–thehomeland system –as well, strongly resonates with the assumption and regional structuring of Ethiopia’s ethnic-based federation.
Thirdly, the South African government attempted to justify apartheid on the ground that the different races in South Africa needed to be separated for the process of integration and the subsequent racial assimilation had brought about a “loss of racial identity” and the disempowerment of the Afrikaners in the political and economic sphere. Hence, racial apartness was the pivotal political and legal doctrine of apartheid.
In similar vein, the ideological rhetoric of ethnic federalism in Ethiopia has apparently been rooted in the belief that an integrated and unitary Ethiopian state formed out of the “forced” incorporation of otherwise “autonomous” ethnic entities had resulted in the “loss of cultural identity” and disempowerment on the part of the oppressed “nation, nationalities and peoples” in the larger political and economic sphere. Hence, the politics of “ethnic differences” and “cultural identity” has constituted the core principle of Ethiopia’s ethnic federation.
Fourth, in apartheid South Africa, sports like football and many other segregation practices were used to institutionalize and instill the racial mentality among the population; likewise, in today’s Ethiopia various sport games such as the annual All Ethiopian Sports Game, the festival of “nation, nationalities and people’s” day, insistent glorification of ethnocentrism and the practice of, if you will, ethnocracy (assigning people to formal positions on the basis of their ethnicity rather than their ability) and some other subtle strategies have been widely used to implant ethnic mentality amongst the populace.
Aside from these stark similarities, nevertheless, there appears to be some subtle divergences between South African racial federation and the Ethiopian ethnic federationwith regard to their official approaches of segregation. Yet, ultimately the effects arising out of these seemingly divergent approaches remain the same.
For instance, while there was a formalized racial classification in South Africa that introduced an identity card for all persons specifying their racial group, in the case of Ethiopia, there has been no such formal law to formalize ethnic classification; instead, while issuing a residential identity card, it seems implicitly imperative for each resident to specify his/her “nation, nationality and people”– effectively an ethnic identity – on the identity card.

Furthermore, while apartheid South Africa enacted and enforced laws that put an end to mixed racial settlements, to the contrary, the Ethiopian law provides citizens with the right to live and work anywhere of their choice. Yet, despite the legal provision, the intolerable sense of alienation and feeling of second-class citizen that many practically go through while living in “un-destined” areas would impel them to relocate either to their “destined” areas or the ethnically undetermined Addis Ababa city; hence, it comes as no surprise to see Addis Ababa today chocking with ever exploding population and settlement congestion, officially unacknowledged though.
Finally, when South African apartheid regime faced strong opposition and resistance, the government was compelled to pass a hugely repressive anti-communist law (before the ascendance of African National Congress (ANC), dissenters against the system of racial segregation were then labeled “communists”). Here too, the similarity is quite evident in that the recent Ethiopia’s infamous “anti-terrorist law” which critics regard as a manipulative law that targets dissenting voices against the regime’s policies may be equated with that of the South African  “anti-communist law”, while the label of “communists” to that of “terrorists”.
Thus, given all these momentous parallels between the South African racial federations–racial apartheid –and Ethiopia’s ethnic federation – though with some subtle differences in form rather than essence – it may not, therefore, be quite an exaggeration to consider Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism a semblance of ‘ethnic apartheid’, especially given that it is now quite common to apply the term ‘apartheid’ to every kind of segregation established by state authority based on certain ideological prejudices.
Despite this remarkable symmetry between Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism and once an outcast and the world’s pariah state of South African apartheid system, yet neither many of the citizens themselves nor the rest of the world do seem to have noticed the affinity between the two political systems, probably thinking that an apartheid system is applicable only to a matter of segregation based on skin-color differential.
The recent public grievances allegedly against a newly proposed ‘Master Plan for Addis Ababa and Oromia special Zone’  and  the government’s harsh reactions, among others, could be viewed as a tell-tale sign of the inherent weakness and danger associated with Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism. The nature of the incidences clearly shows that it’s far more than a mere glitch in otherwise just political system; it betokens  the underlying fault with a sinisterly motivated ethnic federation–an affirmation that what Ethiopia really needs is historically well-informed, truly pluralistic (ethnically, religiously or otherwise), unprejudiced, cooperative, compassionate, sincerely democratic and forward-looking federal governance.

Read Aloud:   Live the Life of Asrat!


  1. I did my comment on it but I found it no where. Anyway, the comment that I wrote some three days ago reads as follows ” This comparison is displaying the ugly face of EPRDF/TPLF and I take off my hate for Taye(Dr.)

  2. Let’s try again if you will post this. Be transparent then there are no issues.
    June 28, 2014 – 6:45 pm
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    The reason you did not see your comment for 3 days is as we all know this site as well as a few such as EthioMedia are consistantly playing us for a fool managing the opposing view towards the current rotten regime in a way to create a soft landing.
    No good will come of it as it is to late to be managed Seydeferseh AyeTerameh.
    time is up for the regime weather one likes it or not the Avalanche is to large to dismantle. I feel for the poor northerns that got used as a base and as a buffer against their own neighbours and countrymen for the benefit and interest of the very few Adawa Gang.
    We may even end up as a failed state before things clear up

  3. I am not sure about the underlying message of the article. Who suffered? Who got hammered while our commentators were sitting on the sidelines giggling and happy. This article flashes a cynsiter idea of the old intellectuals who got even at every turn of a bad governance to promote their political agenda. I tell you Mr. writer this is not going to win any heart or mind for you in the Ethiopian Empire. You are just promoting your own political agenda to come back and saddle yourself on the shoulders of the Ethiopian masses. It is like seeing two ugly monkeys betting each other that one is more beautiful than the other. Both of you are as ugly as a monkey could be.I read an article by another educated of ours condemning giving back some kind of money to Americans who suffered under slavery under the rule of white racists government in America. He was saying also we should not really talk about the past to redeem ourselves from our historical mistakes. That was maddening. He even said Heroshima’s bombing might be
    correct. I do not get it when he talks about the justification of the destructive power of atomic bomb and its powerful effects upon the bodies of the punished. His fact were trying to justify the rules of King Minilik-the butcher of the Oromos. We are butchered again under the current government and this writer is trying to exploit the current dismal situations of the Oromos for his own political agenda.
    This writer is condemning the current government for its acts against the Oromo people yet his implication is saying that since this government is wrong and killed Oromos assure us we the old system sympathizers are good to rule again. I will tell you this the Oromos have been suffering for centuries under past and present rule under single ethnic dominance; that dominance will not come back to us. We will free ourselves without the help of such intellectuals who want to bring back the old system by condemning the current government as if they are arguing for people of the Empire. Yes current government is as fascistic as Apatheid and it will not survive.
    The majority south Africans had liberated themselves from the yokes of Apartheid and the majorities of the Ethiopian Empire will unite and liberate themselves and including the killers ethnic groups but not political devilish intellectuals. There is not a choice between two evils. Our Oromo good will prevail in the future.
    Sabbata Dubbii

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.