Monday, April 09, 2007

The North-South Divide

By Fikru Helebo

In the comments section under the "Ethiopian Naming System" posting a few weeks ago, one of the commentators opined the following regarding the north/south reference I had made in the posting:

...the talk of "north" and "south" is of course imprecise in view of how people over the centuries have settled, inter-married, traded or warred. I am certain Fikru’s caption "A Southern Perspective on Ethiopian Current Affairs" is simply an attempt to enrich our conversation and not to create a superficial distinction.
No, I beg to differ with the gentleman; the reference to "A Southern Perspective" in the caption of this blog is not an attempt to create a superficial distinction between the Ethiopian north and south. I believe the north-south divide in Ethiopia is real and it is one of the main driving forces behind the current political struggle underway in the country. Let me explain.

Ethiopia, like many countries around the world, is made up of dozens of cultural groups who have unique customs of their own and lumping these cultural groups in two groups as I did in the posting mentioned above risks oversimplifying the complex nature of ethnic affiliation and self-identification. Broadly speaking, however, I think it is fair to say that there exists an observable north-south cultural divide in Ethiopia which results primarily from the linguistic groups that dominate the two geographical areas: the north being dominated by speakers of Semitic languages and the south by speakers of Cushitic languages.

In the last century or so, this cultural divide has been roughly matched by a concomitant political divide which has generally made northerners "the rulers" and southerners "the ruled". So, when I use 'north'/'northerner' or 'south'/'southerner' terminologies in a generic sense in the Ethiopian political/cultural context, as I did in the above mentioned posting, it is to reflect this reality.

Often times on this blog I use the term "South" to refer to the region called Southern Nations and Nationalities Peoples Region (SNNPR) of today's Ethiopia and the term "Southerners" to refer to the people who inhabit this region. In this context, "South"/"Southerners" does not include Somalis, Oromos and other people from the south since they have their own separate regions. As I have suggested previously on this blog, the SNNPR is an artificial region that is created by the current regime without the consent of the people of the region, and its viability may not last beyond the life time of the regime. However, the SNNPR is a real place at this moment in time and I will make use of the terminology as long as the region exists.

This brings me to the reason why I chose the caption "A Southern Perspective on Ethiopian Current Affairs" for this blog. The reason is simple: it is to emphasize to the reader that this blog attempts to give a perspective (one among many) on Ethiopian affairs that is authentically Southern/southern, i.e. a perspective from folks who were born and raised in today's Southern Ethiopia. This is not to say that the opinions offered here are uniquely Southern/southern, which in most cases aren't, and that the opinions expressed here are representative of Southern/southern Ethiopia, which is not the claim. It is also not an attempt to suggest that non-Southern views are not entertained on Enset blog (they are most certainly welcome).
I just feel that there is a need to accentuate Southern/southern perspective in the Ethiopian political ideas market place -- thus the caption.

Today's Southern Ethiopia and the greater southern portion of the country is home to diverse people groups and it would be ludicrous on my part to suggest that the perspective offered on Enset blog is anything but a sample among the many Southern/southern perspectives out there. I would like to think, however, that the views expressed here are a more sound and representative sample of Southern/southern perspectives than what one can find else where on the net. I am sure you will understand my bias on this :)

True, like the gentleman I quoted at the top said, people from the north and south have intermingled with one another in different ways for centuries and a simple distinction such as the one I employed may not give a complete or accurate picture of the complex relationships that exist among the diverse groups of today's Ethiopia. It is also worth noting that groups from the north and the south actually have more cultural things in common with one another than they have differences as the similarity of the naming systems they use amply illustrate.


Anonymous said...

I strongly regiect your comments about the north south devide in Ethiopia as this is only the European view of the human being and only reciently is this become an issue to us.if we have the time to study every language in the worled it would have similarits to atlist one or many languages in the worled .But this European idelogy of viewing the human being as nothing but an animal with the ability of speech.According to darwinism there are diffrent species of human beings as there are diffrent species of sharks, flies,horses,or raindeer ets...this teachings of charls darwin is now accepted by the whole worled as the fact about life in general and any one with a diffrent view is seen as an uneducated fool, the biggest evidence Darwin presented is similarits in shape texture and sound etc... but the dengers of accepting this theory of evolution specially when it comes to humans, it raises the question of which specious is the best or which specious has more tools to use to servive. This is exactky what you progected in your views the northerners are semetic and the southerners ane Cushetitc but you have no evidence to back your comment than reserchs of some Darwinst European scentists . Darwins theory is used by Hitler in the past to justfy the Aryan supiriority to other humans,and led to the Holocuest in the end.To conclude my comment I advise you to choose your wordes carefully in the future and not to pick on what makes people diffrent but what similarities do people have.and we are all breathing thanks to the will of God.

Anonymous said...

Fikru must have read too much into my comments. I was not denigrating the use of the caption "Southern Perspective." In fact, I was commending Fikru for attempting to "enrich our conversation." Please re-read the piece.

The context was that a "pro-EPRDF" gentleman in Europe sent Fikru an email stating that "Northerner's" had imposed naming system on the South.

The gentleman's statement apparently lacked some basic facts, suggesting that he was out to grind an ideological/ethnic axe. I believed Fikru's intention was not that.

My remarks were meant to correct that imbalance or at least to solicit further explanation.

I am not in denial that there is a "southern" perspective. I understand as well as any of my fellow Ethiopians that Fikru's perspective is different from a Lendado, a Hagos, a Tola, a Amberber, a Shalemo, etc.

I also recognize that there is an "eastern," a "western," "qolegna," "degegna," a "poor woman's" and a "rich man's" perspectives. In other words, whether on a macro- or micro-level we are a people(s) with diversity of opinion. That indeed is good. The point is, however, what we want to do with this diversity. In the past, attempt was made to misrecognize such diversity and instead to "impose" homogeneity; it was a failure. We are now witnessing the opposite of policies of the recent past. This time the motive is more sinister than in the past.

That is why we need to discuss issues such as this one. And Fikru is doing a good job of raising them.

enset said...

Anonymous of 4/19:

I did not feel your comment, which I quoted, was a denigration, but I thought it was an attempt to wish away the differences between the Ethiopian north and south. So I wanted to use this opportunity to explain why the north-south divide matters in Ethiopian politics.

Yes, indeed, there are various prisms ("eastern", "western", "qolegna", "degegna", "poor woman's", "rich man's" etc...) thru which Ethiopians view the politics of the nation and they are all valid perspectives that need to be listened to. My argument here is that the historical events that have shaped modern Ethiopia have put more political significance on a "northern" or "southern" perspective than those you mentioned and thus the north-south divide.

You have eloquently expressed the issues surrounding diversity with which I concur.

Anonymous of 4/18:

Obviously, you have not carefully read what I wrote. If you did, you would not have lectured me about dwelling on our differences.

Anonymous said...

The North/South divide in Ethiopia is quite real. A quick literature review of Ethiopian history of the last century starting from Menelik's reign paints a grim picture of cultural and economic domination of the south by northern semitic groups(especially the Amaharas). This southward expansion of the neftegnas into the southern turf had all the negative hallmarks of colonialism. The southern people were divided into serfdoms and their best prime lands seized by amhara negtegnas who migrated from shewa highlands and further up north. Southern people were treated as second-citizens in their own country. Their cultures were mocked, their women raped at will and their kids
taught about the supermacy of the amaharas and, hence subtly implying the inherent inferiority of the south.

To downplay or dilute this ugly legacy for the sake of promoting a political perpective or otherwise is betrayal to one's own people.