Monday, January 30, 2006

Oh! Ethiopia

By Ephrem Madebo

Ethiopia is a country where Political, social, and economic inequality are century old trends that resurface as one dictator is replaced by another. In the last four decades Ethiopia has politically been unstable, its economy in shambles, and the country has socially been higgledy-piggledy. Ethiopia, the second most populace black nation on the planet, has always been crammed with poverty, starvation, and social injustice. The principal problem of Ethiopia has always been the existence of Ethno-nationalist groups who make use of governmental power to create and enforce public policies that advance ethno-nationalist objectives. In almost all cases, ethno-nationalist polices undermine the rule of law; and most awfully, constitutional laws are neither enforced nor drafted with equal protection in mind.

In 1990, when ‘Woyane’ changed its name from TPLF to EPRDF and got closer to Addis Ababa, its primary catchphrase was freedom and equality. Today, fifteen years later, TPLF builds University College in Mekele and kills University students in Addis Ababa. TPLF brazenly channels international aid funds and other resources from the other parts of Ethiopia to its own power base. For example, in Tigray zone, there is one hospital for every 286,143 people, where as in Amahara and Debub zone, there is one hospital for every 1,011,452 people (Source: In today’s Ethiopia, the majority of the larger economic firms are either entirely or partially owned by the TPLF elites. TPLF is a ruling party, a trading corporation, and a legislative and a judicial body.

Ethiopia is a country of many nationalities where the unequal distribution of power and wealth is rampant and seemingly interminable. From Emperor Menelik, the architect of modern Ethiopia, to Meles Zenawi, the disintegrating agent of Ethiopia; every Ethiopian regime has used the resources of the south to benefit the few, keeping the South in an invariable state of melancholy and teeth gnashing. In the last one hundred years, the role of the South in the national decision making process was next to nothing. In 1974 and 1991 when those on power were dazed, and when a short time governmental power vacuum was created; the South has never been close to filling the vacuum. Today, the Ethiopian political spectrum is jam-packed by self-acclaimed, elegant, and devious groups who promise true democracy for Ethiopians. In a land where promises are never kept, the South should never be swindled again.

Most political parties of the last four decades failed to succeed because they overlooked the political history of Ethiopia. Main stream Ethiopians usually dismiss the existence of a century old power struggle between the politically dominant North and the dominated South. Even toady, in the era of information technology, when Southerners articulate the Ethiopian problem from the Southern perspective, their ideas are mocked and domed as divisive and untimely, furthermore, the comprehensive ideas of Southern intellectuals are reduced to ethnic issues. In the contrary, remnants of the old system praise the wickedness of the feudal system as a blessed act of nation building. For example, a recent article on ethiomedia web site (, compared the Lewis & Clark continental expedition with Emperor Menelik’s expansion to South Ethiopia. This is what the writer said:

“Neftegnoch’ are respected, and names of great Neftegnoch such as Lewis & Clark are made immortal. Lewis & Clark extended the frontiers of America from coast to coast in the same way the Ethiopian pioneers once did to Africa. But, for reasons unknown, the ancient ‘Neftegnoch’ failed to create the Continent of Ethiopia and Africa is today what we believe it should not be”.

The writer failed to let us know what happened to millions of Native Americans after the Lewis & Clark expedition, and he disregarded the history of how the so called pioneer ‘Neftegnoch’ treated the people of the South for almost a century. The writer not only fails to tell us the truth, but he also tried to justify the system that reduced Southerners to sub humans by calling the builders of the system “Pioneers”. Such neglect, failure, and disregard to spell out the truth should not be attributed to being na├»ve or lack of knowledge because it is an out-and-out denial of history.

Why did some intellectuals, groups, and political parties of the last four decades fail to see the root cause of Ethiopia’s problem? What is Ethiopia’s root problem? As I tried to mention above, Ethno-nationalist groups who make use of governmental power to create and enforce public policies that advance ethno-nationalist objectives are the root causes of all of Ethiopia’s problems. Most Ethiopians thought all problems associated with land ownership were resolved by the 1975 rural land proclamation, yet today 31 years after the landmark proclamation, the land tenure system is a major problem in Ethiopia. Today, many Ethiopians inside and outside Ethiopia are fighting hard to bring an end to the TPLF regime; but will replacing TPLF by it self really solve Ethiopia’s problem? If the answer is yes, in the last 30 years Ethiopia has seen three different governments come and go, but none of them solved the root problem of Ethiopia. In my opinion, most Ethiopians agree on the issue of purging TPLF, the problem comes on the question of the replacement. In fact, the fundamental point of departure between the different opposition groups lies on who should replace the TPLF regime.

The main stream Ethiopian political pitch is composed of individuals, groups, and political parties who exhibit one of the following characteristics:

  • Deny the existence of problems: These are people who deny or question the history of the North-South domination in Ethiopia. To these people, modern Ethiopia was formed by the good will of individuals, groups, and nationalities that co-existed harmoniously.
  • Muffle Problems: These are people who clearly understand the political history of Ethiopia, but muffle the root problems in search of short cut to political power.
  • Run from problems: These are people who acknowledge the existence of problems, but they try to solve the problems by just running away from them. The creed of this class of people is: ‘Let us forget the past’ and be united to fight TPLF.
If one denies the existence of problems, it will absolutely be impossible to solve them; the TPLF regime can certainly be avoided, but the struggle continues unless problems are exhaustively discussed and the body that replaces TPLF is put together with a mutual consensus of all Ethiopians. One can muffle problems for a little while, but eventually the muffled problems will explode and create more damage. Finally, no matter how far one runs away from problems, the problems will always follow him/her. Obviously, one can not solve problems by dwelling in the past; likewise, no problem can be solved without knowing its root and uprooting it.

To establish a united Ethiopia, the people of Ethiopia should enter in to a social contract with each other. The most important precondition for a social contract is a lasting trust among the different nationalities that constitute the nation of Ethiopia. No trust can develop between people when one group denies, muffles, or runs away from a problem that the other group acknowledges and works hard to resolve. In all political settings, where trust or contracts are the vital issues, different groups and political parties have repeatedly been observed reducing themselves from the national agenda to egoistic group or individual agenda. This infectious disease is not limited to individuals; it is widespread among influential political parties that are expected to lead the country. ONC, SEPDC, and the trendy CUD are not free from such a syndrome. In fact, the inability of UEDF and CUD to work together as political allies is mainly characterized by the dread of who controls power. Immediately and following the May 2005 election, the focus of CUD and UEDF was not fully centered on EPRDF, they were rather infatuated with a personal agenda of putting their own person in the most powerful spot. Had UEDF and CUD worked together before and after the election, they could have put the first legal resident in Ethiopia’s executive mansion. The imprudent political and economic relations of the past hundred years have drained the trust that one group has for the other. In 1991, OLF was part of the transition government, however, it pulled itself out of the TG because the TPLF gang wanted a total control of the country by itself; ever since, the political relationship between OLF and other opposition groups was exemplified by lack of trust. Ethiopia needs a vanguard party that establishes trust, harmony, and an all rounded equal relationship between Ethiopians of different background.

Currently, the Ethiopian people are determined to get rid of the TPLF gangs, what they lack is a vanguard party that leads them to victory. I do believe we still don’t have a single trusted party which is strong enough to lead Ethiopians to victory. In the May 2005 election, ONC and other Oromo groups won few parliamentary seats in the Oromya zone; but, OLF, arguably the greatest name among the Oromos was not even in the picture. In the South, the bungled SEPDC failed to extrapolate its landmark victory of five years earlier. If one goes back and assesses the May 2005 election, the Oromya and the Southern zones were the two main places where EPRDF had relatively strong footing compared to UEDF and CUD. With the exception of the three densely populated localities of Wolayta, Kembata, and Hadya, the South was plagued by a political vacuum. Poor leadership and lack of democratic culture made the Southern Ethiopian People Democratic Coalition (SEPDC) a bystander on its own turf. Obviously, CUD made unmatched attempt to reach the people of the South, but its appeal to the Southern voters was optimistically answered only in few urban centers like Awassa. The Oromos are disgruntled with TPLF the same way the Amaharas are, but why did CUD fail to secure comparable number of votes in Oromya zone as it did in the Amahara zone? All in all, why is CUD less popular among the Oromos?

Trust is a vital component in the creation of a true democratic Ethiopia, when a true democratic Ethiopia is formed with the unconditioned free will of all Ethiopians, and when the constitutional separation of power is properly enforced; legal and democratic institutions will flourish in all parts of the country paving the way for the restoration of political equilibrium between the different regions of the country. In a true democracy, most people conduct themselves rationally; no individual, group, or region will have a reason to change its behavior given the choices of all other individuals, groups, or regions. In a true democratic Ethiopia, the existence of a transparent judicial system and the prevalence of checks and balances between the different branches of the government will deter people from resorting to violence to resolve political differences.

Today, there are a large number of players in the political environment of Ethiopia; some are coalitions (CUD and UEDF), others are liberation fronts (OLF, ONLF, and TPLF), and yet some others are regional mass based political organizations (SEPDC, ONC and TAND). More or less, all of the above political players represent people; some are large stakeholders representing a larger section of the population. All of these political organizations have the responsibility of ensuring a lasting peace, freedom, and justice to the Ethiopian people and they are accountable for the actions they take and fail to take; but none of the political parties can claim to have a historical responsibility of single handedly carrying the yoke of the struggle. The group effort of CUD and UEDF shortly before and immediately after the May 2005 election was praised by many Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopians, but instead of expanding their popular base by inviting other stakeholders to the political forum, the group effort of CUD and UEDF diminished as one distrusted the other. It is absolutely important to acknowledge that neither CUD nor UEDF can successfully wage their struggle without entertaining the Oromo, the Ogaden, the Afar, the Benshangul etc questions at the national level. I do have respect to ONC and other Oromo parties, but at the mean time, I have trouble visualizing the future mode of being of the Oromo people in the absence of the biggest player, the OLF. The current leaders of CUD, UEDF and other opposition groups have the responsibility of bringing OLF to the national political forum. At the mean time, the OLF leaders should take their own initiative to solve the Ethiopian problem with their brothers. Disregarding dialogues and resorting to the use of gun might ensure a temporary political power like TPLF, but it will never solve political differences.

Over all, people have similar interests and wishes. The over all interest of the oppressed people of Ethiopia is similar; North or South, we are all Ethiopians and we live in the context of each other. Southerners have been Ethiopians for many years, but did not participate in the national decision making process. Obviously, as most Ethiopians understand, the Ethiopian South and North do not share identical historical background. The South was denied of political power, has a forgotten language and a neglected culture. Such differences and the hideous parts of our history should not be denied, it should be uncovered and discussed. The past should be used as a bridge to bring Ethiopians together. Those who rebuff the past are doing nothing, but building a wall that keeps people apart. History is a lesson that educates us to hold on to the beneficial occurrences of the past and avoid adverse experiences from unfolding again. We can’t simply leave the past to historians; we all should deal with it. Historical coincidence has placed us at a crucial time in our country’s history; we face a huge task of liberating our people from all kind of oppression once and for all. This overwhelming task needs the coordinated effort of all oppressed people. Let’s rise together and find solution for the deep-seated problem of Ethiopia. Let’s run to save our country from falling apart, not for power!

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