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Which Way Ethiopia? A Statewide Citizenship or Ethnic Based Nations and Nationalities?

Sewale Belew – [email protected]
November 29, 2022.

The problem put into context: Ethiopia stands at a cross-road

In the past, during the reigns prior to TPLF’s regime, Ethiopians consistently protected or safeguarded their long-term interests throughout time despite changes in government. At the moment, Ethiopia is standing on a cross-road challenged by choice of fitting directions for it to become a united territorial entity. Terms introduced by TPLF leadership and its deputies, such as nations, states, nation states, nationalism, and national interest, are all loaded terms, which necessitate proper discussion on arriving at working definitions for the future Ethiopia.

In Ethiopia, each region is mostly autonomous, with its own police force and militia. Regional governments are largely divided along entrenched ethnic lines. Long-standing tensions between regions have led to ethno-nationalist clashes there. The TPLF, which ruled the country for more than three decades before Abiy came to power in 2018, has been designated a terrorist group by the current government. Eventually, after becoming prime minister, Abiy worked to dismantle the power of the TPLF, announced the rearrangement of the ruling coalition that TPLF founded [i.e., the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRDF)], comprised of four parties – into a single, new Prosperity Party (PP) – ostracizing the TPLF in the process.

Initially, what the originators of the idea of “Nations and Nationalities scheme” in TPLF’s ideology conceivably failed to envisage, was quickly and easily understood by others, including those neighboring countries beyond the Ethiopian state borders. A case in point worth mentioning is, the recent TPLF and its EPRDF political machinery breakdown that pushed the entire country and especially the northern and western regions of Ethiopia into the brink of civil war fueled by ethnic strife. With great effort and major sacrifices these flames are attempted to be extinguished. Yet, to date, the issue about citizens’ freedom of movement and access to resources within the bounds of Ethiopia remains a major problem and has not yet been fully resolved.

Since the seizure of power by TPLF and its affiliate groups in 1990, the situation in Ethiopia has become totally ethnic-led that made the country unstable due to lots of civil strife. In my view, all the chaos observed thus far, mainly due to the deceptive ethnic-led legislation of Article 39 in the national constitution. This constitutional legislation has made the situation entirely different from the Ethiopia we knew as a state in the past. Events that have been taking place in terms of ethnic feud and migration problems stand directly related to Article 39 and the deliberate prohibition by the TPLF regime to express or publicize Ethiopian citizenship among its citizens. Adding fuel to alragdy burning geopolitical situation, The TPLF unilaterally annexed Welkait-Tsegedie region as Western Tigray. The main goal behind this annexation is to ensure TPLF’s primary aim of obtaining a direct border access with the Sudan. The TPLF also annexed areas from the other regions to expand the areal coverage of Tigray much bigger.

Beyond the deliberate destruction of Ethiopian citizenship and sense of national pride and patriotism, which emerged in its original form in the 19th century, this sinister ethnically bounded geopolitical limitation legislated by the TPLF was followed by the inevitable degradation of the Ethiopian state, social and economic institutions in the pretext of enunciating regional nations and nationalities. Terms that TPLF introduced, such as nations, states, nation states, nationalism, and national interest, are all loaded terms that were devised to enrich the few top-echelons among the TPLF-leadership group and its deputies to get full control of resources for their own individual pocketing purposes. These actions opened up a huge national development gap among regions throughout the entire post-TPLF reign of Ethiopia.

When the TPLF leaders and their EPRDF-deputies (purely guided and monitored by TPLF) declared the peoples’ sovereignty in 1993, they started up the process of building “11-ethnic-led regional states” within the Federal Republic of Ethiopia itself. Due to the heated fighting about EPRDF’s ‘Democratic Centralism’ approach as its center of political gravity the federal republic state, itself working toward ‘Democratic Centralism’ in turn, brought pressure to bear on EPRDF’s opponents within the EPRDF-party. The TPLF party affiliates began a behind-the-scenes struggle with the Tigray regional areas, promising them a higher “ethnic-state status “by snatching back areas that they claimed historically belonging to Tigray deep into the neighboring regions. Since 1993, all those regional representatives involved within the EPRDF operatives have been simply passing the blame to the TPLF Leadership. But one thing became solid and apparent – the TPLF concocted actions led equally and inevitably to both the downfall of the sense of Ethiopian citizenship and openly propagated ethnic-led national separatism under a legislated act. This TPLF-action lacked both courage and responsibility as well as the political will to uphold Ethiopia as a united motherland country that is territorially integrated steadfastly and consistently for all its citizens regardless of religious belief, or ethnic background.

On the other hand, Ethiopia as a state have not yet vanished; regardless of TPLF’s strong attempts for nearly three decades, that kept Ethiopia as a weakened state. as an institution was critically weakened. Although the EPRDF concocted political pillars of public order gave way, Ethiopia as a country and the sense of declaring Ethiopian citizenship by individuals remained intact by the moral will of the Ethiopian public. Apparently, there will come a day when Ethiopians of all walks of life shall overcome the currently ongoing internal civil strife and feuds, a day when ethnic-led activist groups see themselves as a single entity, as one people, as citizens of Ethiopia. We can actually think through this day as the rebirth of Ethiopia Russia as a civil-citizenship led nation.

Historically, Ethiopia has remained as a diversified, and not a mono-ethnic state. Over centuries, Ethiopia reached to where it is at the moment as a multinational state, in which different ethnic groups have had to mingle, interact and connect with each other – in domestic and professional environments, and in society as families, friends and community members. Hundreds of ethnic groups live in their respective native lands of origin alongside the Amhara, Oromo, and Tigre (the 3-ethnic groups that have had mobility within the bound s of the country). The development of vast land areas throughout Ethiopia’s past history has been a joint event between many different peoples. After all, we are all equal in front of God.

The need for a strategic approach

What we need now is a national strategic approach that embraces an all-inclusive citizenship and Ethiopian-nationalism concerns. Regardless of their ethnic origins, any individual living in Ethiopia should be clearly attentive of their faith and their devotion and love for Ethiopia. In particular, we must be upholding the Ethiopian citizenship as our main pillar and be proud of it as loyal citizens. Also, we should hold Ethiopia’s past, its values and build on all the good deeds of our previous ancestors, and steer clear of politicizing differences that weaken our ethnically diversified people’s unity, that reveal our weaknesses, and damage the reputation of Ethiopia as a stable nation.

We must deliberate to work toward an all-inclusive national dialogue in order to address fundamental issues that create gaps and weaken our national strength as citizens of Ethiopia. Collectively we should iron-out TPLF-instigated ethnically divisive rules. As such, no one has the right to exert issues of ethnic and religious matters upon all citizens as limiting factors and to become above the constitutionally legislated state law. That said, on its part, the constitutionally legislated law of Ethiopia must also take account of ethnic and religious concerns so that equity, fraternity and access to national prosperity are treated fairly to all individual citizens. Individuals should be free to move, live and work freely anywhere within the bounds of the country.

In principle, as responsible citizens, we need to always reflect Ethiopia’s main aspirations to combat poverty and realize prosperity for its citizens. It is about this specific feature of the sustenance of the Ethiopian state, where no ethnic group is looked upon as enemy and its life are strangled for vague and false reasons; an Ethiopian state where every citizen is given the freedom to breathe and live in their places of choice; an Ethiopian state in which every citizen is privileged and reunited with each other; an Ethiopian state in which, everyone is allowed to freely pray and work as they choose; and an Ethiopian state in which possibilities are given to select the best talent from each for the political, economic and social development of the Ethiopian state.

The diversified Ethiopian peoples’ social fabrics are the cornerstones of beauty and the fixative elements that bond together this unique Ethiopian civilization. But all kinds of disturbances by Ethiopia’s known enemies are initiated to their best to snatch these connecting cornerstone from Ethiopia, through deceptive-talks about the nations and nationalities right to self-determination, by boldly encouraging ethnic / tribal / purity” and the need to “complete what was started by TPLF/EPRDF’s constitutional Article 39; with the clandestine aim of the elimination of the Ethiopian empire that has been feeding off the various nations and nationalities. What TPLF/EPRDF followers and its deputies really need in the end is to make the Ethiopian diversified cultural people destroy their homeland with their own hands.

I am swayed that the persistent efforts of activists of the “right to self-determination of nations and nationalities” to preach the idea of a “national” or mono-ethnic mini-state replacing the Ethiopian national state contradict our thousand-year history in bondage. Moreover, this is a shortcut to destroying the Ethiopian people and the Ethiopian identity of citizenship as well as statehood. If left alone, this trend will not only destroy Ethiopia, but also abolish any viable, sovereign statehood within the African continent.

When activists of the “right to self-determination jump to raise their voices high by shouting, “Self-determination to the people of Tigray!” Self-determination to the people of Oromia!” then, the next day the rally cry will be: Self-determination to the people of Amhara!” “Self-determination to the people of Afar!” Self-determination to the people of Somali!”  “Self-determination to the people of Sidama!” “Self-determination to the people of Wolyita!”, Self-determination to the people of Gurage!” etc. This was the formula used by the TPLF/EPRDF instigators who dreamt of the collapse of Ethiopia as a solid nation. As for this ill-famed concept of self-determination, a slogan used by all kinds of past and present politicians who have fought for power and geopolitical dividends in Ethiopia, from the TPLF/EPRDF founders like: Abboy Sebhat Nega, Legesse (Meles) Zenawi, Seyum Mesfin up to their OLF-deputies.

Yet, the Ethiopian people persistently made their Ethiopian citizenship stand loud and clear. At its core, the Ethiopian peoples’ self-determination is to remain a multiethnic Ethiopian civilizes’ state wrapped up with Ethiopian identity and its diversified cultural values. As such, time and again, the Ethiopian people have clearly confirmed their choice during their thousand-year history, not through votes, ballots, or referendums, but solely with their collective bondage, bravery, blood, sweat and tears. For this stand, they have selflessly sacrificed their lives, their legs, and their limbs at war fronts for the territorial integrity of Ethiopia at all historical moments.

A common statewide citizenship ties

The hitherto Ethiopian historical and cultural experience of the Ethiopian state development is distinct in its own stand. The Ethiopian heritage has been and still remains to be a multiethnic society; bonded by marriage as a united people. This fact makes the Ethiopian statehood a diversified or multidimensional by its type and gives Ethiopians as citizens’ unique opportunities for a statewide development in many spheres.

However, when a multiethnic society of Ethiopia is infected with the virus of nationalism, it loses its core citizenship ties and its main strength and stability. That is why we must objectively understand the sweeping results of spoiling those who are trying to incite mono-ethnic strife and hatred towards the Ethiopian people of other cultures and faiths.

Several serious questions come to mind when we look at TPLF’s actions in power. Had the TPLF-leadership was thinking through well-enough would it instigate ethnic identity and ask individuals to bear ethnic ID-cards replacing Ethiopian nationality? Had the TPLF-leadership known what its long range societal plans were, would it engage the Tigray people into ethnic feud by envisaging “Greater Tigray” with false pretext of facing genocidal attacks? Had the TPLF-leadership was well aware of the long-range geopolitical and economic consequences of having a sea-port both for the people of Tigray and for the rest of the Ethiopian population, would it give away to the Eritrean government without any consent taken from the Ethiopian or Tigray population? Had the TPLF-leadership was well-concerned of the impact of signing a binding agreement in Algiers, would it cause the death of 80,000 soldiers? Had the TPLF-leadership was well-concerned of the impact of coexistence and bondage with its neighboring communities would it boldly dare to wage ethnic feuds and skirmishes throughout the country? Had the TPLF-leadership known what its long range societal plans were, why not groom would be leaders among the Tigray youth group so that they can become bearers of the torch of change?

The records of TPLF and its EPRDF deputies prove that TPLF was not that well aware of what it was looking for the future of people in Tigray and people in the rest of the country. With TPLF’s armed presence and its recent 3-skirmishes waged against the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea, we are simply left in an open danger and doubt about the regional stability. TPLF is destructive and leaves the people of Tigray and those in habitants in the region bounding Tigray to upcoming war dangers.

Civil peace and ethnic accord are always at constant movement and dialogue that require inputs through hard work by the joint efforts of the central state and the diversified society. As institutions, these two must make very gentle decisions and balanced and wise policies capable of ensuring Ethiopia’s sole unity in diversity. State and local authorities must not only respect joint and shared obligations, but also try to find common values that promote national advancement. Confidence in our ability to achieve the pleasant development of a multicultural society is based on our diversified culture, heroic bondage in history and our type of Ethiopian citizenship identity. After all, in the eye of the beholder, we are all considered as Ethiopians or Africans irrespective of our specific origin of ethnicity.

As evidenced by the historical existence of Ethiopia for several thousand years in the past, our main goal today should be to unite and bind together the Ethiopian society and cultures, where there are no conflicts of ethnicities. Every citizen should feel at home in Ethiopia, where “belonging” to Ethiopia is determined by a common culture and shared values that tie us all as statewide citizens of Ethiopia. Hostile forces from within and outside the country have been trying to break it, and yet, Ethiopia has survived. This bondage needs to be supported, strengthened and protected.

Education plays a huge role in this. The available choice of educational programs, the variety of curricula, is, without doubt, a major achievement.  At the same time, this variety should be based on sanctified values, as well as a basic knowledge and understanding of the world around us and the trends of globalization. The civic goal of the education system is to provide each citizen with the necessary amount of cultural knowledge, upon which the foundations of national self-identity as an Ethiopian is clearly based. Primarily, the current education programs should emphasize important subjects such as the Ethiopian main languages, the Ethiopian literature and the Ethiopian history – taught within the context of the global wealth of all ethnic traditions and cultures.

State policy with regard to culture must provide appropriate guidelines to the media such as television, social media, cinema, the Internet and mass culture in general, which shape public consciousness and set rules and patterns of youth activities. Overall, the government has a right, and a duty, to focus its efforts and resources toward resolving the social and public challenges it has identified. Shaping the mindset of the youth generation that binds the nation together is one of these challenges.

Schools should play a persuasive cultural reform at every level from school teaching to historical documentation, with the main aim to shape an understanding of the Ethiopian history in which councils from each ethnic group can be seen to have a place. They must see where they belong in that process and see themselves as heirs to the modern outlook on Ethiopian history – tragic and controversial as it may be, but still it is the history for all Ethiopians collectively.

The parliamentary discussion to come up with a national policy strategically focusing on the youth group based on civic patriotism is highly appreciable. Involving the youth oin a voluntary military service would let them know their country better. There is no need for anyone among the youth to forget their respective religion or ethnicity. But they should identify themselves primarily as Ethiopian citizens and take pride in that. No one has the right to put their ethnic or religious interests above the nationally legislated laws of Ethiopia. Yet, simultaneously, the Ethiopian national laws must take into account the specific characteristics of different ethnic and religious groups within the bounds of Ethiopia.

At the end of the day, one of the strategic parameters that should be measured for Ethiopia’s eternal peace and prosperity is to abolish Article 39 of the national constitution. This article is an exclusionary act that restricts the free movement of citizens and provision of facilities by imposing ethnic boundaries on regions. To overcome the ethnic-led challenges we have faced so far, Ethiopians collectively need determination, strength and perseverance. As one people, we must work together to heal the damage that has already been done to various communities. And to eliminate racially poisoned violence and suffering, we must opt to strengthen our citizenship bondage.

The need for strong systemic institutions

The government’s systemic problems frequently surface in the form of interethnic tensions. Currently, when considering ethnic conflict in Ethiopia, there is a direct link between unsettled socioeconomic resources’ problems, an unjust law enforcement system, and governmentally entangled officials and corruption. If we look at the history of recent interethnic overindulgences within and among regions, like, Tigray, Amhara, Afar, Oromia, and Southern nations, trigger points that can easily arouse ethnic skirmishes are practically everywhere. In each case one can witness a sharp response to human rights abuses, injustice, irresponsibility and inaction on the part of the local government officials. Likewise, swallowed by ethnic arrogances and pride, there is huge lack of faith in every citizens’ equality before the law and in the inevitability of punishment for criminals. More and more, the Ethiopian public is convinced that most government officials are ethnic-led and heavily corrupt and that there is no legal defender of the truth.

When people start complaining that their civic rights as Ethiopian citizens are being trespassed upon, this means that the government agencies are failing in their direct duties and obligations. That means the government appointees are not ready to defend the lives, the rights or the security of the civic society. The government should be ready to consider each case involving any ethnic issue on its own merit, with the facts clarified and the mutual grievances settled. Where there are no sufficient facts, the investigation process should be made public because the lack of information can breed rumors that can only make things worse. The government should be protective of inhabitants with different cultural and historical traditions. Ethnic quarrel with aggressive, provocative, disrespectful, behaviors should meet with a legitimate response on the part of the government authorities.  As government representatives, they cannot behave as indifferent of the feud. They should be liable for breaches of the legislated rules.

It is also necessary to strengthen the judicial system and establishing effective law enforcement agencies in Ethiopia that operate uniformly. Without this systemic reform there can be no objectivity in resolving inter-community disputes as both safe and fair. Incompetent, corrupt courts and police centers will always cause a backlash and antagonize the society’s views towards the state machinery. This also leads to the flourishing of gang culture in cities and towns and the shadow economy among the black marketers themselves.

Looking back at what OLF-Shene has been affecting in rural communities thus far, the central government must not allow isolated ethnic communities to emerge in which criminal codes prevail over the law. This would be a violation of the rights of the local inhabitants themselves – both by the crime bosses and by the corrupt local authorities. Ethnicity-related crimes grow and flourish within widespread corruption. Under the law, criminal groups tied to ethnicities or clans are no different from any other criminal groups. Ethnicity-led crime is not just a rule-of-law matter; crucially, it has a national security aspect as well. That means the ongoing ethnic feud problems throughout Ethiopia must thus be tackled in a timely manner.

As Ethiopians, people have lived together for many centuries bonded as victorious in the most terrible civil wars defending the national integrity. As such, Ethiopians of all walks of life will continue to exist side by side. To those who want and try to divide Ethiopia ethnically, what can be said is – obviously, this can happen in your dreams.

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