Ethiopia: ethnic challenges to national unity

Is the genie out of the bottle? In a piece entitled ‘Ethiopia uncorked’, Leake Tewele explains how the lifting of authoritarian rule has ‘unfrozen’ conflicts that had lain dormant

1.4bn people were displaced by conflict in the first half of 2018, highest single country count in the world

Partly to blame: the 1991 constitutional settlement which created a federation of ethnic-based ‘homelands’ for groups such as the Oromo and the Somali… at the expense of minority rights in those regions.

Those minorities are pushing back since Abiy’s started to dismantle of key parts of the security state.

The old EPRDF imposed a particular order on a range of longstanding and complex disputes and, in many cases, no doubt favouring allied factions. The fragmentation and loss of control of the center and renegotiations with various groups now means everything is up for grabs, says Tom Lavers of Manchester University.

Writing in the New York Times, Ugandan academic Mahmood Mamdani also points to the ethnic settlement as is the leading driver of conflict in Ethiopia :

Ethnic federalism also unleashed a struggle for supremacy among the Big Three: the Tigray, the Amhara and the Oromo. Although the ruling E.P.R.D.F. is a coalition of four parties, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front representing the Tigray minority has been in the driving seat since the 1991 revolution. The Amhara, dominant before 1991, and the Oromo, the largest ethnic group in the country, complained they were being treated as subordinate minorities.

This misses the point, says Kalundi Serumaga, who thinks that the ‘national question’ has been cast backwards since the colonial era ended: rather than seeing a group like the Oromo as a political unit that pre-dated colonisiation, all groups end up being problematised as ‘ethnicities’.

Is there, he wonders, really, such a thing as ‘national identity’ that sprung to life fully formed at independence, a good by-product of the European-planted state, and that it is African ‘tribalism’ that destroys it. In other words, European-invented African tribalism spoils the one good thing (nationalism) that Europe brought to Africa.

Instead, Serumaga pushes for a greater political engagement with ethnicities as states themselves. Why are 34 million Oromo in Ethiopia an ‘ethnicity’, and 5.77 million Danes a ‘nation’?

A worrying comparison: Yugoslavia was at the southern fringe of the USSR empire; frozen conflicts thawed by the end of the Cold War killed over 100,000 people. Ethiopia is Africa’s only indigenous empire; can it avoid a similar fate?

Source: Dehai Eritrea Online

Ethiopia: ethnic challenges to national unity

Is the genie out of the bottle? In a piece entitled ‘Ethiopia uncorked’, Leake Tewele explains how the lifting of authoritarian rule has ‘unfrozen’ conflicts that had lain dormant

1.4bn people were displaced by conflict in the first half of 2018, highest single country count in the world

Partly to blame: the 1991 constitutional settlement which created a federation of ethnic-based ‘homelands’ for groups such as the Oromo and the Somali… at the expense of minority rights in those regions.

Those minorities are pushing back since Abiy’s started to dismantle of key parts of the security state.

The old EPRDF imposed a particular order on a range of longstanding and complex disputes and, in many cases, no doubt favouring allied factions. The fragmentation and loss of control of the center and renegotiations with various groups now means everything is up for grabs, says Tom Lavers of Manchester University.

Writing in the New York Times, Ugandan academic Mahmood Mamdani also points to the ethnic settlement as is the leading driver of conflict in Ethiopia :

Ethnic federalism also unleashed a struggle for supremacy among the Big Three: the Tigray, the Amhara and the Oromo. Although the ruling E.P.R.D.F. is a coalition of four parties, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front representing the Tigray minority has been in the driving seat since the 1991 revolution. The Amhara, dominant before 1991, and the Oromo, the largest ethnic group in the country, complained they were being treated as subordinate minorities.

This misses the point, says Kalundi Serumaga, who thinks that the ‘national question’ has been cast backwards since the colonial era ended: rather than seeing a group like the Oromo as a political unit that pre-dated colonisiation, all groups end up being problematised as ‘ethnicities’.

Is there, he wonders, really, such a thing as ‘national identity’ that sprung to life fully formed at independence, a good by-product of the European-planted state, and that it is African ‘tribalism’ that destroys it. In other words, European-invented African tribalism spoils the one good thing (nationalism) that Europe brought to Africa.

Instead, Serumaga pushes for a greater political engagement with ethnicities as states themselves. Why are 34 million Oromo in Ethiopia an ‘ethnicity’, and 5.77 million Danes a ‘nation’?

A worrying comparison: Yugoslavia was at the southern fringe of the USSR empire; frozen conflicts thawed by the end of the Cold War killed over 100,000 people. Ethiopia is Africa’s only indigenous empire; can it avoid a similar fate?

Source: Dehai Eritrea Online