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Unity Overrides Everything! – By Professor Messay Kebede

Those who closely follow current events in Ethiopia, especially those who honestly wonder, like me, why other ethnic groups, especially the Amhara who are the number one target and victim of the TPLF since it seized power in 1992, are not joining the Oromo uprisings, cannot but feel that a crucial ingredient of the whole situation is eluding their grasp. How otherwise could one explain the hesitation of other ethnic groups when it is but obvious that (1) the TPLF would lose control of the situation if the protest spreads and takes a national dimension; (2) without a national expansion of the protests, the TPLF will end up by violently crushing the Oromo rebellion, the outcome of which will lead to a tightening of control and repression? In other words, it is of no interest to any ethic group that the Oromo uprising be defeated. Why, then, are other ethnic groups going against their own interest by their reluctance to join the ongoing Oromo protests?
Only one answer seems to make sense, namely, that other ethnic groups see some kind of threat in the Oromo uprisings. By threat I mean that other ethnic groups fear the possibility of a generalized unrest leading to ethnic conflicts, which can easily turn into civil war. The fear is legitimate: anyone who underestimates the possibility of ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia subsequent to a weakening of the central power is either an enemy of Ethiopia or a fool. But the tragedy of the situation is that, even if one is perfectly aware of the danger of ethnic conflicts, one cannot also miss the fact that Ethiopia does not have much choice
Indeed, the continuation of the TPLF’s rule does not decrease the danger. On the contrary, it makes conflicts inevitable: as people lose all faith in the possibility of change in Ethiopia, they perforce begin to think exclusively in terms of ethnic solidarity, if not of secession. The TPLF’s constant political and economic hegemony and its ingrained policy of undermining Ethiopian legacy can only cement the drift toward ethnic fragmentation and animosity. The best and only policy to counter the trend of fragmentation is democratic change: only the sharing of economic and political power through real decentralization and self-rule can create a common interest and turn secessionist tendency into an irrational and self-damaging option, obvious as it is that prosperity and democracy are better achieved with larger entities that harbor diversity in addition to offering more material and human resources.
The current events and the absence of any other choice than democratic change make one thing perfectly clear, namely, that the most important issue is no longer how to get rid of the TPLF, but how to forge the unity of opposition forces. The overthrow of the TPLF has become a secondary issue in that it is still an issue because divisions of opposition forces persist, and not because of the strength of the TPLF. Let there be no misunderstanding: I am not saying that removing the TPLF no longer requires sustained and bloody confrontations with many ups and downs and huge sacrifices. According to me, those who think that the TPLF is on its last legs are mistaken. Instead, what I maintain is that the primary condition of a successful fight against the TPLF is unity. What the current situation demonstrates is that the TPLF prevail because it does not encounter a national opposition. It draws its main strength from the fragmentation of opposition forces, which therefore should become the primary concern.
I know that since the TPLF seized power, most of us have been preaching unity as the sine qua non for defeating it. Nothing is therefore new in what I am saying. Yet, it is one thing to advocate unity, quite another to see with our own eyes how disunity makes us all powerless and victims. The daily sight of the repressive machine of the regime charging on peaceful Oromo protesters shows that unity is no longer a political choice; it has become a necessity. That for which we are fighting, to wit, the recognition of ethnic identity and self-rule, has turned into the very reason of our submission to the hegemonic power of the TPLF. This inversion of our legitimate aspiration into self-imprisonment requires that we transit to unity as a necessary step to realize our aspiration. For unity has indeed become the condition by which we get rid of hegemonic rule, the very rule that antagonizes our aspiration toward self-rule. From unity to regionalism and back again to unity that integrates regionalism: such seems to be the ideal path awaiting Ethiopia.
unity 2
This much is then absolutely true: unless we remove the TPLF and replace it by a democratic system, which, in turn, requires unity, whatever we want is unachievable. National unity has changed into the very condition that we need to implement our goals, be they national or ethnic. Since both self-rule and national integration are impossible under a dictatorial rule, unity emerges as the condition by which alone we can remove that rule. As the above image shows, unless the one hand grabs the other, both individuals will fall. So that, the only thing that matters now is what we need to do for the peoples of Ethiopia to grab each other’s hands, and the rest will follow.


  1. Dr. Mesay
    Let me first say this. The farmers revolt against TPLF is right. The question is how do we address the the farmers question. There are a lot of people who shout Oromia is kiegna. There are people like Dr. Tsegaye Ararsa who say Addis Ababans are foreigners; they do not belong here. Addis Ababans must be nice to live in Addis Under Oromia rule since Addis Ababa belongs to Oromia. I am one who hate woyane to its bone. However I am not fool to that extent on the claim that Addis Ababa belongs to Oromia only and others are foreigners. My friend you know history more than me. The Jews claimed their ancestral land after 2000 years. Where were Oromos prior to the 16th century? Were Addis Ababa an occupied land by Oromo farmers when Tyitu first came? No Ethiopian population was so low that there was plenty of vacant space. Even during the Derg the land in the suburbs of Addis Ababa was largely vacant. You can check farmers taxation paper or look at a historical satellite imagery. Nobody displaced anybody to build Addis Ababa except the TPLF. Many oromos have a mind set that Oromia belongs to the oromos only. That is wrong. The issue of the rights of the Oromo farmers is just and should not to be addressed through Oromia to Oromos slogan. That kind of approach is aimed to exclude others. It can however be addressed through property rights. Period. This is a win win solution to the farmers to the central government as well. The city will grow without having to beg OPDO and violet people’s right. The issue of right violation is not limited to the oromo farmers. Plenty of people in the heart of Addis Ababa are being evicted from their ancestral land holdings only to give it to the rich. You came to America and can buy property and can be protected and be respected. Anybody who supports Oromia for Oromos, are weak thinkers. Dr. Tsgaye Ararsa tried to cover up by stating that the right of people and individuals is respected by the constitution and Addis Ababians can live peacefully under Oromia as a new master. My friend, you ones told me that Stalin said it does not matter who elects who, but what matters is who counted the votes. Are we fooling ourselves to think we will live peacefully in Addis giving Addis to Oromia in a silver plat? If yes, that means we did not learn from history, even recent history. How many Ethiopians were displaced in the last 25 years from different kilils including Oromia? The constitution was there. The rulers of kilils decided who to live, and not the constitution. Ethiopia is not America where you can beat the state or kilils by the court of law. Scholars, why would it be right to give special advantage to Oromia in Addis. Addis Ababa was built by all Ethiopians. There is no special contribution by the OPDO’s. When 96% of Crimeans voted to join Russia, Europe and America cried foul because Russia is no Ukraine. Addis Ababa is no Oromia nor Addis Abebans were consulted to give special advantage to Oromia. There is no even any rational to do so except to allow Oromia to build offices and other facilities if they want which I believe is of no use unless the goal is to claim Addis in the long run The most important of a country is to maintain the rule of law and make sure the rights of everyone is respected. This even comes before democracy. When I live in the west, it is not democracy which I cherish first but the Rule of Law most importantly. Ethiopians must first settle their difference on how to make Ethiopia a home of everyone, a binding law for any state in the future. There must be change of attitude by the Oromos.

    • My comment addresses itself to the concern by Abegaz, which is directed against Oromos with slogan that “shout Oromia is kiegna” (https://zehabesha.com/unity-overrides-everything-by-professor-messay-kebede/#comments). Yes, I agree that there are bound to be some that think like that in every kilil, sadly as recent years have shown us.
      These are victims and their thinking a legacy of the outmoded feudal order in Ethiopia’s past; no doubt such thinking and actions have caused historical injuries to Oromos as well as many others in Ethiopia. The shocking irony is that the TPLF loves it and has used it to peddle hatred and divisions among Ethiopians, thereby aggravating the situation.
      I hope Ato Abegaz would agree with me that the solution to this problem is to educate Ethiopians to fight that backward legacy and the TPLF at the same time to ensure that future governance of Ethiopia and Ethiopians is built on principles and structures founded on peace, freedom and equality of citizens, which he also seems to aspire.
      Let me now turn to Ato Abegaz’s other contention, it being my prompt for this response. It is his misplaced accusation against Dr. Tsegaye Ararssa, alleging that he has said “Addis Ababans are foreigners”. I would strongly state here that, irrespective of how far and fast he walks heels over head towards such a goal – to start with I doubt he has such intentions nor a desire in a way you present it – he cannot attain that!
      To his credit, my understanding of the notion ‘foreigners’ originates from – if at all Dr. Tsegaye Ararssa has pronounced it as such in his latest interview – the theory of federalism, constitutional law and human rights laws as applied to a country or countries such as Ethiopia with multiplicities of states and ethno-nationalities to address their problems of peace and good governance. It comes as part of an effort in the search for possible solutions and building of a workable system that accommodates the rights and needs of citizens on a priority basis.
      It is possibly in the light of discussing federalism that, therefore, Tsegaye could have used that term. Our national experience has shown us that those rights and freedoms have been mirage in the sky the TPLF’s national program being what it is, having hugely failed to deliver any of that beyond form.
      Constitutional lawyers anticipate that genuine federalism can create conditions that help prevent: (a) conflicts (b) denial of the rights and freedoms of the people must be ensured and respected irrespective of wherever they are domiciled, and (c) political castration of national institutions and governmental structures designed to create conditions to promote “social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”
      You will notice above I am avoiding the ”s” at the end of the ‘Ethiopian people’ – as I have always done in my writings. It is my attempt to underline our unity as Ethiopians under federalism within defined territories, areas and under their respective governments, although it has not worked for Ethiopia thus far. Where it works, this would not have allowed the TPLF’s denial of our rights as Oromos, Amharas, Tigrayans, a non-Oromo living in Oromia, or non-Amharas living in Amhara, non-Tigrayans living in Tigray, etc.
      Think of it, what more could be more revealing of TPLF’s mean and nasty political goals for Ethiopia than the bloody conflict that claimed lives in Gondar between Amharas and Qimants with the Front’s insinuation, carried out simultaneously during its massacres in Oromia?
      Note that on the question of nomenclature – looking from the example of others – despite the United States having 50 states and state governments, it refers itself as the people of the United States – not the “peoples” of the United States. This also goes for Canada, Switzerland’s governance under independent cantonal administrations, etc. It is only TPLF’s nincompoops that are in love with divisiveness, constantly addressing Ethiopians as the “peoples of Ethiopia”! We know the reason for that – shame on a group that still masquerades as ‘liberator’ while peddling discrimination and separateness even bearing the name the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)!
      Therefore, let us not miss the point that, in his attempt to put in context the essence/objective of the Addis Abeba Master Plan and the so-called ‘special interests’ between Addis Abeba and Oromia region, Dr. Tsegaye Regassa also as much has amplified the rights of non-Oromos as Ethiopians residing in the region, although the discussion in this case is/was that of the Oromos.
      I have accepted with total conviction his informed explanation, logic in law and earnestness, when he suggested that these rights be promptly defined by law, accordingly recognized and respected by the government of Oromia and the federal government simultaneously, if I understood him right. While not being the silver bullet, he has also explained that the federal government must ensure that this happens under the compact within each region – the ultimate goal being recognition of the rights and freedoms of citizens to live in peace and dignity in the places of their choosing, as citizens of federal Ethiopia.
      Dr. Tsegaye Ararssa – a sedate reader of Ethiopian reality and interpreter of the constitutional law – explained the essence and meaning of a true federal arrangement. For the Oromos and many non-Oromo students of constitutional law, the present TPLF dispensation, aka, Ethiopia’s federal system of 1994, has only made – as Tsegaye put it in an interview on ESAT (Jan 17/2016) – the federal government as an entity without territory that looks for home for the capital city (Addis Abeba) ended up being the host, while granting guest status to Oromia and its people in their own home.
      The driving force behind this is not the needs of Ethiopia for a capital city per se. Primarily, TPLF’s aim is to satisfy the needs of its quarter century-old political aristocracy from Tigray, i.e., the hunger of its nouveau riche the consideration that is no less colonial in its ambition.
      This has put the TPLF on collision course with Ethiopians, due to its bungling of what ought to be its priority as the power behind the ‘federal ‘government’. In other words, it should have been its duty first and foremost to ensure in consultation with the regions realization of the full human rights and freedoms of the people. The front has instead supplanted fulfilling this role by its own interests of consolidating power for its selfish end of becoming the dominant ethnic group within the Ethiopian state.This has put the TPLF on collision course with Ethiopians, due to its bungling of what ought to be its priority as the power behind the ‘federal ‘government’, whose duty it should have been to first and foremost ensure realization of the full human rights and freedoms of the people. The front has instead supplanted it by its own interests of consolidating power to become the dominant ethnic group within the Ethiopian state.
      Ethiopians realize that and also I gather from the different pronouncements and writings of Dr. Tsegaye Ararssa that the aspirations of the Ethiopian people for respect of their rights, freedoms and fulfillment of the goals of the nation’s institutions as guarantors and the objectives they are established for have not been realized in the 20 years Ethiopia has been under the federal arrangement. This is due to TPLF’s political shenanigans and its reliance on state’s capacity to unleash violence becoming the obstacles.
      Let me reiterate here that in the case of Oromia, note that Tsegaye is among the first to argue that the constitution (and anything subsequent by way of regulations, if any) has thus fallen short in addressing the needs of Ethiopian Oromos, as we saw in the controversies surrounding the so-called Addis Abeba Master Plan.
      Most importantly, he observes, this failure has also denied other Ethiopians of their rights as individuals that live in Oromia, who otherwise ought to have special laws recognizing their rights as Ethiopians living in this part of the constituent state and within the federal arrangement and its territory.

  2. How come people do not see this current uprising is not going back no matter what Wayane does; because it has impacted many lives and the determination is far and wide among the oromo people and their supporters. If those arm-chair elites and politicians do not get off their butts and agitate for common goals with this popular uprising, then the cost may be higher as time goes by. These young people will not back off and the result will be what wayane envisioned; that is the fragmentation of Ethiopia without any power to attack or resist their Republic of Tigray. Do you recall what happened to Yugoslavia? If the Serbs would see the problem and started accommodating but not fight every constituent,the wheels of history would not go into the directions it did.
    So wake up guys and together to fight for freedom, justice, equality and democracy.

  3. Dr. Mesay in his article stated “The TPLF’s constant political and economic hegemony and its ingrained policy of undermining Ethiopian legacy can only cement the drift toward ethnic fragmentation and animosity.“ It seems that this is the future. But, it is not. This has already happened and is happening right now. The animosity has been already cemented among the elite who are vocal now and who will claim the political power tomorrow. Ethnicities have been already fragmented both physically and mentally. There are lots and lots of political, social and economic manifestations inside and outside Ethiopia that show this. Believe it or not no one is listening for rationale and understanding now. We are exactly in the “era of the princes“ once again. Those who are ready will grab it. Those who are not will lose it. If those who grabbed the power are good people then they will unite us, if not, another bloodshed will continue because the other alternative is not feasible and sustainable. The Amhara and other ethnicities are not supporting “Oromo protest“ en-mass not because of the reasons you indicated. But, other ethnicities, especially the Amhara already sensed this and feel they are not yet ready for the challenge. If you flip this the Oromo elite and those who are supporting are feeling they are up for the challenge. Hopefully, they are not taking advantage of the situation Amhara is “weak“ and other ethnicities are minority. And remember the Amhara are confronted with multidimensional threats. Survival, land give away to Sudan, Wolkayite and Kimant issues are few of them. The Amhara and other ethnicities are not asleep. They are not yet up for the challenge. From all the clues one can tell they will be soon.

  4. “From unity to regionalism and back again to unity that integrates regionalism: such seems to be the ideal path awaiting Ethiopia.“ This statement feels like a prophecy with the current political situation.

  5. Selam, Dr. Messay:
    Good political analysis is one that is realist, fully cognizant of the alignment of the various contending forces. You have a tendency to over-intellectualize such things but usually dispel common misconceptions for which we are all grateful. This piece, however, is arguably your worst. It disengeneously betrays your entrapment in gossa politics and thereby your gross underestimation of the political savviness of your readership.
    Let me explain:
    1. You seem to think that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is a good principle. It is not. The enemy of my enemy may very well be my enemy. The various Oromo organizations (OPDO, OLF and its variants, OFC, etc.) which are mobilizing the the Oromo youth to confront TPLF have an anti- or non-Ethiopian political agenda, not to mention some of the worst acts of ethnic cleansing and disenfranchisement of non-Oromo in the so-called Oromia.
    2. This movement you are asking us all to support has no qualms with the TPLF Constitution or with the territorial division of the country under the aegis of the TPLF, OLF, and EPLF. In other words, the majority of Ethiopians view it rightly as power grab to create Woyane II. Only the politically naive or the wilfully ignorant like you can reduce this movement to the Master Plan or to a fight for the rights of all Ethiopians. It is not, and the demonstrators have said so.
    3. Unity presupposes that there a shared vision about a post-EPRDF Ethiopia and enough trust that all stakeholders will honestly work toward that goal. You say nothing about the basis of “unity” nor do you critically characterize the the exclusionary aspiration of the Oromo political class. Empty moralizing does us no good.
    These considerations should dissipate your feigned bafflement about why the majority of Oromos, let alone two-thirds of the rest of the Ethiopian population, fear the latest manifestation of the internecine struggle among ethnicist forces. It is a tragedy that the Oromo youth are being sacrificed to advance the interests of the very same Oromo elite who took the lion’s share the Oromo land in the vicinity of Addis Ababa and all the stagnating cities and towns in the Oromia. When the resistance by the Oromo or anyone else flies the Ethiopian flag and stop threatening other Ethiopians can we have a pan-Ethiopian movement headed by gallant forces–be they Oromo, Amhara, Somali, or Tigre.

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