Print this page

The great political divides in Ethiopia: how easy to bridge?

 The origin of the divides

The origin of the political divides in Ethiopia is how people define being and becoming an “Ethiopian”. There are mainly two ways: (1) one way of being and becoming an Ethiopian is by having or being able to get an Ethiopian passport (citizenship), and (2) the other way relates to how people interpret history, heritage, and culture. However, there isn’t universal agreement on what it means to be an Ethiopian based on history, heritage and culture. This is because different ethnic groups claim different history, different heritage, and cultural traditions. Moreover, different ownership attitudes and perceptions are common on few shared histories and traditions. Consequently, groups in power often impose their own history, heritage and culture and equate it with Ethiopian. I believe that makes the seed of the great political divides in the country. But most evidently, the conflict between political elites caused by their hegemonic practices is the root cause of the great political divides in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia: a nation state or a multinational state?

Politically active Ethiopians can be roughly categorized into territorial unity nationalists vs ethno-nationalists ideal and antagonistic types.

The territorial unity nationalists believe that Ethiopia is a nation state with unified and indivisible territory. They believe “Ethiopian” is both a nationality and a citizenship identity. This group also considers the questions of nations and nationalities as a threat to Ethiopian territorial unity.

On the other hand, the ethno-nationalists believe that Ethiopia is a multinational, multilingual and multicultural state. They also believe “Ethiopian” is citizenship identity and that each nation in the country has its own nationality. They argue fully answering the question of nationalities is a prerequisite for democracy and continuity of Ethiopia as a country. The best governance structure, they argues is regional autonomy and democratic federalism.


The political divide was intensified under the TPLF/EPRDF

The arrival of the TPLF in the 1990 opened a narrow window for nations and nationalities to express their historical grievances. However, TPLF manipulated these grievances and the disagreement on a range of political and social issues has risen sharply over the last two decades. The political divides has intensified over time with the TPLF policy of pitting brothers against brothers. They created an ideal label called “narrow nationalists” and “chauvinists” to maintain the political divides. This partisan divergence in the country is now beyond the realm of the political debate. The more that people`s social lives and identity become intertwined with this political divides, hostilities increase and people face more challenges to co-exist.


Election of Abiy Ahmed: the arrival of the desired

Ethiopia achieved remarkable records on economic growth for over two decades. The authoritarian economic model that the government embraced has benefited particularly government affiliated business and foreign companies while poverty rates are exponentially increasing in the country. This increasing poverty, and the relentlessness of the government has created sour dissatisfaction and forced the young generation in Oromia (Qeerroo/Qarree) to take it to the streets in 2015. The government responded with brutal forces but that only expanded the protests in the country. The young people from Amhara region joined the protest with their respective demands in 2016. The youth signaled unity and cooperation that demonstration were taking place across the country in one day. The government on the other hand continued to use lethal forces and state of emergencies to suppress decent.

Finally, the political divide also entered the structure of the ruling party. Few OPDO members took a firm position to stand with the Oromo people. These brave and determined individuals aka #TeamLama convinced the member of the central committee in OPDO. They make it clear to the OPDO high ranks and the people that it is time to join and side with the people. Their determination shortly landed them in high rank government position. TPLF resisted and tried to suppress but it was too late. A year later, #TeamLama shakes the EPRDF central committee and managed to garner significant support from the public. Finally, Dr. Abiy Ahmed one of the few front member of #TeamLama becomes the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. His election was favorably accepted by many Ethiopians but over time it is being celebrated.


But there is a great divide on Abiy too

It is our sad reality that even things that are ostensibly not political are still subject to emotion driven political divides in Ethiopia. This is particularly very common among the Ethiopian diaspora. Abiy Ahmed is already the victim of this politicization. It is undeniable that Abiy Ahmed is the product of the people’s power but the interpretation couldn't escape the old great political divides in the country.

The Qeerroos and Qarrees in Oromia believe, Abiy Ahmed is one of them. They believe that he is a statue of the fallen heroes and heroines. They also believe that Abiy is where he is because he is capable to answer the demands of the Oromos and the Ethiopian nations and nationalities.

On the other hand, people on the other side of the great divides believe, Abiy Ahmed is the statue of Ethiopian unity as one nation. They believe he will dismantle the ethnic federalism installed by the TPLF and reinstate Ethiopia as one and indivisible nation.


Can Abiy Bridge the great divides in Ethiopia?

Since he assumed power in April, Abiy Ahmed has awakened his country Ethiopia and the East African region. He instituted significant reforms in the country and promised much more. He released thousands of political prisoners, introduced policies to dilute state control over the economy, reconciled the Ethiopian Orthodox church synods, united the diaspora community with their country and among each others, invited opposition political parties to return home, making peace with Eritrea and strengthened diplomacy with other neighboring countries.

It is also clear that Abiy Ahmed understands the great political divides in Ethiopia in general and among the Ethiopian diaspora in particular. It seems that he is developing an innovative political approach to deal with this divides. His catchy but also buzzword mottos like “Medemer (synergy)” and “break/demolishing the walls - building the bridge” are indicative that he is planning to bridge the divides in the country. He has also indicated multiple time in his speeches that each group needs a separate treatment before they come out of their shells and start to entertain groups on the other side of the divides.

It looks like he is planning for a fundamental psychological, social, spiritual and political bridging in the country. But the success of this grand plan very much depends on the willingness and contribution of each and every Ethiopian. Ethiopians need to ask an urgent question: “are we ready for this grand bridging project?”

Read 8655 times Last modified on Tuesday, 14 August 2018 08:44