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Current Ethiopian Affairs: Ethnic Conflict, State-Level Confrontational Politics, and anti-Tigray Frenzy

Ghelawdewos Araia, PhD                                  November 26, 2018


In this essay, I will systematically address the current messy Ethiopian affairs by employing the interpretive methodology in order to further elucidate the intricate Ethiopian phenomenon. Although I am using my own interpretation and explanation, it should be known that the interpretive method was first introduced by Max Weber in the late 19th to early 20th centuries. The interpretive method is intended to reconstruct the objective and subjective rationality, to meaningfully understand human behavior and motives, and to study social trends and problems.

In order to successfully analyze and critically examine the Ethiopian situation, thus, I will first depend on my own previous writings that are relevant to this essay, and then proceed to interpreting the Ethiopian crisis. On July 4, 2018, in an article entitled “The Ascendance of a New Regime and Contradictory Policies and Measures in Ethiopian Politics”, I argued that that the present crisis is engendered due to the following reasons: 1) “They [Ethiopians] have no knowledge of the rich and proud history of Ethiopia; 2) they lack political consciousness; 3) they are unable to make linkage with the legacy of the patriotic pan-Ethiopian movements (e.g. the Ethiopian Student Movement); 4)they have lost the common Ethiopian identity and embraced rather a much narrower identity.”1     

The above rationale and more specifically the four ingredients as contributing factors to the crisis were further reinforced in my other article, “Political Leadership and Political Economy in Contemporary Ethiopian Politics”. The central theme of the article is by and large summarized as follows:

In this article, I will discuss the basic tenets of political leadership and political economy in the context of the current crisis in Ethiopia and in light of the ethnic-based disturbances that are quite enigmatic to explain, but for all intents and purposes it looks that ethno-nationalist tendencies and practices targeting certain ethnic groups, are artificially inseminated by some forces who wish to see Ethiopia torn apart by civil wars. I am of the opinion that these disturbances will eventually subside and the ulterior motives of the obscure forces will fail, but at this juncture of their history, Ethiopians are required to stand in unison and cannot afford to stand by and watch when a nation-wide crisis hovers over Ethiopia.2   

Despite my reflections and critical observations of the Ethiopian situation and my fervent wish of a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Ethiopia, however, the crisis continued unabated and got worse in some parts of the country, and it is manifested in the killings of thousands and displacement of millions of Ethiopians. At this point, quite frankly, I got desperate and terrified and I hurriedly composed one Amharic article entitled ታሪካችሁን ብታውቁ ምን ያህል አንድ ሕዝብ መሆናችሁን ትገነዘባላችሁ፡ ልዩ መልእክት ለኢትዮጵያ ወጣቶችና ለዩኒቨርሲቲ ተማሪዎች (“If you know your history, you would recognize that you are indeed one people: special message to the Ethiopian youth and university students)3

Although I was desperate, as stated above, the hope in me and my faith in the Ethiopian people was not squandered yet, and I was able to contribute another article whose title is self-explanatory:  “Like the Benu-Bird, Ethiopia Must Rise from the Ashes,” and this is what I argued then:

Ethiopia is a great nation that has proved to itself and the world its resilience against trying circumstances and outright colonial attempts and subjugations. For this reason and other factors, the country remained a jewel in the crown for Africa and pride as well as symbol of independence for the Black Diaspora. Ironically, however, the present generation of Ethiopians seems to suffer from amnesia to the greatness of Ethiopia and the patriotic pan-Ethiopian agenda of its forebears, and on the contrary they have wittingly or unwittingly embraced narrow ethno-national proclivities; hence, the present ethnic-warfare that has afflicted much of Ethiopia.4 

In a recent interview of Abate Kisho, former President of the Southern Ethiopian Nationalities and Peoples, with Walta TV, when asked by the interviewer, “why they could not envision the present ethnic conflict when they planned to demarcate Ethiopia into ethnic/language regional states” (not verbatim), he responded by saying, “no we had no vision of that…we couldn’t see it” (not verbatim); he was being candid and frank, but the dearth of vision was a collective EPRDF deficiency; the ruling party was simply unable to forecast the consequences of ethnocentric politics. However, with an average IQ and some rational intelligence (endowed to all human beings), I was able to predict the aftermath of ethnically divided Ethiopia; here is an excerpt of it:   

The TGE’s [Transitional Government of Ethiopia] policy of Kilil and self-determination is commendable, but the consequence of fragmentation as a result of new wave of ethnic political consciousness, and the inability of some minority nationalities to become economically and politically viable, would ultimately preoccupy Ethiopians to otherwise unforeseen problem.5

Nevertheless, my prediction reflected mostly the possibility of ethnic conflicts and civil wars but not the complete breakdown of law and order and the inability or incapacity (or perhaps reluctance) of the Government to restore the rule of law. Currently, with the breakdown of law and order, Articles 14, 15, 16, and 17 of the Ethiopian constitution are violated. These Articles respectively are about rights of life, security, and liberty; now, Ethiopians are being killed everywhere and they have neither security nor guarantee against arbitrary arrest (Article 17 #2)

Articles 19 and 20 (1) of the constitution are about rights of person arrested and rights of person accused, but they are not enforced when it comes to practical matters of arrests and accusations. A good example of this constitutional order (disorder) is the arbitrary arrest of Major General Kinfe Dagnew, former director of the state-owned Metals and Engineering Corporation (Metec). I would not be in a position to advocate on behalf of General Kinfe, for I don’t know him nor do I have any knowledge of what he did when he was director of Metec. However, I could reasonably assume that the General run the company along with board members chaired by Demeke Mekonnen, the Vice President of Ethiopia. Knife could not administer such a large military-industrial complex with 17 subsidiaries and 19,000 employees without the knowledge of the Board members and the Vice President, and also without the involvement of other subservient managers in the hierarchy of Metec. Therefore, Kinfe should not be the only wrong doer if at all he committed such misconduct; Demeke Mekonnen should equally be charged for the operation of Metec and the improper behavior of its top officials. The VP might defend himself by saying, “I was not aware of…and/or I had no knowledge of…” but that would not be a good defense in the court of law (especially if the court is independent): not knowing is tantamount to lack of responsibility when one, in fact, is hired and assigned to oversee a giant company like Metec.

According to Article 46 (2) of the constitution, “States shall be delimited on the basis of settlement patterns, language, identity, and consent of the peoples concerned.” I personally recall the distribution of the draft constitution among the people (including Diaspora Ethiopians) for discussion and feedback, but there was no such thing as “consent of the peoples”; in the final analysis, it was the Government’s arbitrary decision that delimited the regional states, and the present ethno-national skirmishes and conflicts are directly correlated with the formation of the Kilils.

Article 51 (1), which states that the Federal Government “shall protect and defend the constitution” was clearly and egregiously violated in an extravaganza massive Bahir Dar demonstration that was presided over by Degu Andargachew, president of the Amhara Regional State and Demeke Mekonnen, the Vice President of Ethiopia. Both leaders conveyed a clear message to the Ethiopian people that they would not be governed by the present constitution; both leaders must have forgotten that the constitution is the supreme law of Ethiopia; and unless and until it is amended or fully abrogated by the parliament and the Ethiopian people, it will continue to serve as the highest law of the land.

Before and after the Bahir Dar showdown, however, Degu Andargachew violated the Ethiopian constitution by allowing hooligan forces to attack innocent Tigrayans in Gondar, Bahir Dar, Woldia, Bati, Tana Beles, and Metema; he should be charged and tried in the court of law for the murder of Ethiopian citizens in the Amhara Regional State.

Article 55 (16) of the constitution states, the House of Peoples’ Representatives “shall, on its own initiative, request a joint session of the House of Federation and the House of Peoples’ Representatives to take appropriate measures when State authorities are unable to arrest violations of human rights within their jurisdiction. It shall, on the basis of the joint decision of the House, give directives to the concerned State authorities.”

Why is it then that the Ethiopian parliament was unable to take appropriate measures against human violations in the States when the latter in fact violate the constitution and were reluctant to protect citizens from violent attacks? Is it because the Government as a whole is incapacitated or it is potentially capable but not willing to take measures? The latter interpretation, of course, a cynical interpretation of the Government’s behavior, but it is to some degree justifiable vis-à-vis citizens’ suspicion of the Federal police and the police forces of the respective regional states which are good for nothing in the midst of the crisis.

If one reads sub-articles 4, 6, and 9 of Article 62 between lines, it is abundantly clear that the Government has a constitutional obligation to maintain unity among Ethiopians, iron out their differences if any; and protect the constitution. Sadly, the Government seems to have opted for shying away from its obligations and the oath of officials before the parliament is meant for ceremonial consumption and not to “serve and protect” Ethiopian citizens.

The other contradiction that one observers in the Government is the fact that it is unwilling to implement and enforce Article 93 on the declaration of state of emergency. It is simply astounding when the Government is reluctant to declare state of emergency when the entire Ethiopian nation is in chaos and citizens are being killed and internally displaced.

Now, the question remains: who is behind the conflicts in Ethiopia? One could come with different interpretations in an attempt to find an answer for the above question, and as indicated in the first paragraph of this essay, one resorts to  looking for motives at a time when the crisis of ethnic conflicts are complicated and deeply intriguing. In all the conflicts, namely, Oromo vs. Gudji; Somali vs. Oromo; Sidama vs. Wolita; the expulsion of the Amhara from Beni-Shangul Gumuz Regional State; and the Burayu incident, the victims unequivocally said, “we don’t know the forces who came to our neighborhood, killed our love ones and also burned our property”. The reaction of the people who became targets in the conflict compels us to come up with a plausible interpretation of the actions of unknown, disguised, and camouflaged forces operating everywhere in Ethiopia with the sole purpose of destabilizing the country.

On top of the mission of destabilizing Ethiopia, one obvious but devious agenda is the anti-Tigray movement. Before I delve into this matter, however, I like to make my position clear with respect to identity: Although I am from Tigray by ethnic identity, I have always maintained and reasoned that the overarching Ethiopian identity must transcend all ethnic affiliations, because a pan-Ethiopian agenda in all its facets could guarantee the unity of the Ethiopian people and the survival of the regional states, without which they could not exist let alone operate as autonomous entities.

Whence does the anti-Tigray frenzy come from? This too requires interpretation, although compared to the general conflicts it is much easier to decipher and understand. There are five possible interpretations to the anti-Tigray movement: 1) for the last two decades, the so-called of the Ethiopian Diaspora have been campaigning against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the people of Tigray, without making distinction between the two; they portrayed the people of Tigray as minority 6% of the Ethiopian population who don’t deserve to govern Ethiopia; some extremists even advocated for the isolation of Tigray and even committing genocide or pogrom against the people of Tigray; 2) the uprising in the Oromia region (mainly around Ambo)  and Amhara region (mainly around Gondar) were successfully infiltrated by the Diaspora Ethiopian opposition (operating from Eritrea); 3) the EPRDF itself was gradually but effectively undermined by its own top officials that were surreptitiously connected to the opposition and foreign forces; 4) the core of the TPLF leadership that were in favor of the developmental state and who were in good terms with China were to be eliminated or isolated; 5) the geopolitics of the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea zone, in which the Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates wanted a relatively acquiescent Ethiopian leadership in order to promote their strategic interests, and for this reason alone the “recalcitrant” or “unrepentant” TPLF must be weakened, encircled, or eliminated.

Given the above five interpretations, it is possible that the Amhara Regional State could provoke border wars with Tigray, but it may backfire due to unforeseen historical circumstances, and also for the following reasons: 1) the anti-Tigray frenzy, by default, has united the people of Tigray more than any time in their history; witness the most recent demonstrations of the people of Tigray in various parts of Tigray including Setit Humera, Adwa, Aksum, Tembien, and Alamata; the slogans in all demonstrations were in favor of rule of law and the brotherhood and unity of the Ethiopian people; 2) the people of Tigray have a profound sense of their history (this applies to other Ethiopians as well) and a solid and unwavering experience of struggle; 3) while the enemies of Tigray wished to encircle and isolate Tigray, a new and unexpected historical event has occurred on either side of the Ethiopian and Eritrean border. Immediately after the border was opened officially, peace was restored and trade exchanges began in earnest; Eritreans literally flocked into Tigray and declared their oneness with the people of Tigray. The fact that the two peoples reaffirmed their unity is not surprising because the Eritrean and Tigrayan (Ethiopian) people are kith and kin, and in terms of ethnicity, the major linguistic groups found in Tigray/Ethiopia like Tegrawot, Kunama, Saho, and Afar are also found in Eritrea; 4) with the exception of the Amhara Regional State, all other regional states of Ethiopia are in solidarity with Tigray although technically they may not be able to operate in unison due to their disadvantaged positions; 5) the historical roots of the Amhara and Tigray people are one and the same; these two prominent Ethiopian people in many ways are the same: their languages evolved out of Geez; their traditional costumes, their religion (Orthodox and Islam), their traditional foods and culinary, and their physiognomy are the same and indistinguishable; it is therefore futile to try to create discord among these brotherly people, and the anti-Tigray frenzy ultimately will fail; 6) all regional states, with the exception of the Amhara Regional State are in favor of the present official Ethiopian flag with a star in the middle of it, because they believe it represents the nine regional states and all nationalities of Ethiopia; 7) the Amhara Regional State or more specifically the Degu-led administration could face challenges: a) from other Amhara organizations, including the Amhara National Movement; and b) from the re-ignited Kemant (Agaw) movement that has already entertained the idea of its own Kilil beyond the special zone right it had achieved years back. This would become a grand preoccupation for the Amhara State, let alone engage itself in protracted war with Tigray.

By way of concluding, I like to use this opportunity and send my two-penny worth advice to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Dr, Abiye Ahmed: Give priority to peace and stability of Ethiopia; and by consulting with the Council of Ministers, the parliament, and your own party, the EPRDF, find ways and means to immediately stop the conflicts by either deploying the Federal police or by declaring state of emergency; address the Ethiopian people once more by emphasizing the unity of the people and the nation, and by condemning ethnic conflicts and flagrant ethnic animosities and clashes; tell the Ethiopian people that there is no contradiction between the relations among the people; reassure Ethiopians that your leadership will continue the advancement of Ethiopia by injecting some reforms but without undermining the development agendas of the previous regimes; reassure Ethiopians that you’re the leader of all Ethiopians and not of a certain sectarian group and make them believe you that you would not be selective and discriminatory in either appointing individuals to an official capacity, or responding to their demands and their proposals; in point of fact, some proposals have been sent to you by some Ethiopians but you did not get back to them; you ought to respond to them.

Finally, I would be remiss if I don’t mention two positive initiatives that I witnessed while I write this essay: 1) The peace mission of Ethiopian women from all nine regional state is quite humbling, uplifting, and full of promise; 2) the Deputy Mayor of Addis Ababa, Ato Takele Uma Benti, sojourn to Bahir Dar and his address to the audience on the unity of the Ethiopian people and his emphasis on Ethiopiawinet is very encouraging at a time when Ethiopia is in turmoil.

Long Live Ethiopia!

 

Notes:

1.      Ghelawdewos Araia, “The Ascendance of a New Regime and Contradictory Measures and Policies in Ethiopian Politics,” July 4, 2018

www.africanidea.org/Ascendnce_Contradictory_measures_Ethiopia.html

2.      Ghelawdewos Araia, “Political Leadership and Political Economy in Contemporary Ethiopian Politics”, August 16, 2018

 www.africanidea.org/Contemporary_Ethiopian_politics.html

3.      ገላውዴዎስ አርአያ “ታሪካችሁን ብታውቁ ምን ያህል አንድ ሕዝብ መሆናችሁን ትገነዘባላችሁ” ነሐሴ ፴ ፪ ሺ ፲

www.africanidea.org/Ethiopian_youth_know_your _history.pdf

4.      IDEA Editorial, “Like the Benu-Bird, Ethiopia Must Rise from the Ashes”, 9/24/2018

5.      Ghelawdewos Araia, Ethiopia: The Political Economy of Transition, University Press of America, 1995, p. 166

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