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Ethiopia: OLF and Ethiopian Sovereignty



  10:57:07 pm, by admin   , 2049 words  
Categories: Ethiopia

Ethiopia: OLF and Ethiopian Sovereignty

Ethiopia: OLF and Ethiopian Sovereignty

By Zerihun Abebe

Recently there is a growing debate within OLF’s regarding its stand on the question of a democratic Ethiopian unity and there seem to be a revitalization of the question of ethno-nationalism and Ethiopian sovereignty among the Diaspora. There are now a group of individuals who officially identified themselves and recognized by others as member or supporter of OLF but their membership or affiliation is contested by some other group of individuals who consider themselves more authentic than the other. I argue that the recent development within OLF and other Ethiopian political forces demonstrates yet again the very nature of the post-1991 Ethiopian politics which is characterized by fragmentation and disputes. And this fragmentation is a result of the historical state formation and inter-group relationship in what is now called the Ethiopian region. Rather than the solution, the current EPRDF is part of the problem. This is because though it dismantled the historical Amhara-Tigre culture dominated Ethiopian nationalism; EPRDF didn’t institutionalize an alternative, all inclusive and democratic form of Ethiopian nationalism where all Ethiopians across ethnic, linguistic and religious boundaries identify themselves as a part of one state. In fact EPRDF gives trifling importance to what unite the various Peoples in the country under a single Ethiopian state and this I think is a suicidal political project.

The post-1991 Ethiopia is characterized by two main features; on the one hand there have increasingly emerged various groups with voices articulated in terms of ethnic ideology. These voices use ethnicity or questions of identity as their mobilizing force. Ethnic based political mobilization did in fact begin as early as the 1960s. Yet the post-1991 situation displayed an increasing number of ethnic-based political groups some of which had no earlier history at all. There are on the other hand those (not in fact homogeneous and expressed in various forms) who deny or (if at all they do) give secondary or marginal importance to issue of identity along cultural and religious lines. This group emphasizes Ethiopian unity vis-a-vis ethnicity or identity politics. These two elements though are influenced by the post-socialist world in which both globalization and fragmentation are central, they should mainly be seen as being results of the very unfinished modern Ethiopian nation-state building project commonly associated with Menelik and Hailselassie. As such they clearly define the contemporary Ethiopian politics impasse and the way out is striking the delicate balance between Ethiopian ethnicities and nationalism. In another language what I am suggesting is that rather than promoting a pro-unity OLF group of individuals vis-à-vis anti-unity OLF-ones, the best solution is to work more to create a rational and national consensus among all forces that challenge the viability of one, democratic and all inclusive Ethiopian state.

Rational consensus is at the heart of the solution for such deadlock. The anti-unity forces should come up with how to resolve their question within a general and all-inclusive Ethiopia because freedom from the so called ‘national oppression’, as it is commonly called, doesn’t necessarily lead to human right and equality because oppression by its nature is multi-faceted and demand more than ethnic mobilization. If the Oromo speaking people will be lead by their ethnic fellows this doesn’t guarantee freedom and human right for all Oromo individuals since collective right doesn’t immediately translate into individual right. The necessity of a sovereign and democratic state power doesn’t come from the fact that human beings share similar culture or language but rather human individuals by their very nature may come in conflict with other individuals that a sovereign state is the only viable legal and moral authority to guarantee freedom. At the end of the day what matters most is a system that guarantees individual freedom, the right to have any kind of faith, gender equality, minority right and all these cannot be achieved through ethnic based movement. On the other hand those who promote Ethiopian nationalism or unity should also consider the way to accommodate ethnicity or ethno-nationalism because the post-1991 political development in Ethiopia shows an attempt to impose European like national-state project has reached its dead-end and there is no go back. This means in as much as Ethiopian consciousness (shared identities, practices and subjectivities across boundaries) is a historically established social and cultural force, ethno-nationalist consciousness is not a figment of individual’s imagination and needs to be recognized as an aspect of, if not central to Ethiopian social and political configuration.

Some argue that EPRDF is the solution and its ethnic federalism is an alternative. The problem with the EPRDF structure is that first, it is essentially based on group-centered ideology at the expense of the significance of individual freedom. Despite the fact that individual right is recognized in the Ethiopian constitution, the real politics gives priority and precedence to collective, cultural or linguistic rights. In addition EPRDF is not open and transparent. It is still secretive, unknowable and vague group. Whose ever fault it is there is for example no free civil society or media or institution (in the sense that it is a non-EPRDF controlled, or affiliated or sympathized ) that can make EPRDF and its officials accountable for what they did and what they are doing now. EPRDF doesn’t trust other than itself. Its officials and supporters wrongly claim that their party is a self-correcting machine and doesn’t need non-EPRDF elements for its functioning as a guarantor of Ethiopian sovereignty. Second, EPRDF though seemed to embrace ethno-nationalism; in actual fact its essential feature seemed similar to the century old type of Abyssinian state-system where the center co-opted local or ethnic elites from the margin. There is in fact a difference but it is mainly a difference in scale and complexity rather than in the core system or substance.
EPRDF supporters argue that EPRDF is in the right truck because it is in the business of eradicating poverty. Eradicating poverty is in fact an essential part of human development. Yet I argue that political growth is as equally important as economic growth that emphasizing the one at the expense of the other doesn’t lead to sustainable development. This argument is based on the general notion that neither matter nor consciousness determines social being that both are equally important for human social and political development. The main point I want to make is that political symbolism or the consciousness of sharing a common identity and belonging within a state which monopolizes violence as a legal institution in the international community of states is an essential element in achieving development not only because it kindles group loyalty but also because of its ability to encompass the full dimensions of human spiritual possibilities and make them conscious of their social and political existence within their Ager. EPRDF doesn’t build Ethiopia in which each and every individual living in current day Ethiopia claim their loyalty as citizens of the state. There is no sufficient effort made by EPRDF official to build a new political symbol, which embraces and represents the positive common values, history, symbols and rights of all Ethiopian citizens.

This process has facilitated the competing elitism and greater fragmentation we witness along different social boundaries such as religious, ethnic and local. The fact that EPRDF hasn’t worked for national and rational consensus means that it doesn’t legitimize its control of federal state power on an alternative consciousness shared by all Ethiopians. EPRDF’s control of state power neither is legitimized by shared democratic values not only because it is not democratic but also because the Ethiopian elites as well as the mass have to go a great length to develop and materialize democratic practices. Hence different political and religious groups of individuals emerge and assert their extreme position (both pro and anti unity) only to undermine Ethiopian sovereignty. In fact if one looks the pattern one can notice an increase in split and fragmentation especially following the coming into power of the TPLF-led EPRDF group. A number of major examples could be mentioned in this regard. For instance TPLF once seemed a solid group but now we have noticed its fragmentation following an internal splinter group which charge TPLF of devaluing Ethiopian sovereignty. ONLF and OLF are also a part of this pattern. Some group of the ONLF have already joined EPRDF by accepting the latter’s claims of running a unified Ethiopia even though in actual fact what we have now under EPRDF is a conglomeration of ethnic or nationality groups led by ethnic-elites who are tightly controlled from the center. The same holds to the various Ethiopian religious groups where we see one religion is divided into different competing and sometimes conflicting groups in which the question Ethiopian sovereignty vis-à-vis the question of identity and modernity is part of the problem.

Fragmentation doesn’t come from the outside though it is facilitated by external factors. External factors could have in fact contributed but if one looks into how division and factions emerge in the political and religious fields in contemporary Ethiopia – internal actors, organization and dynamics are the ultimate reasons. I argue ultimately fragmentation among Ethiopian social and political groups is a function both of the history of inter-ethnic relations and state formation in what is now called Ethiopia that the main question is how to come up with a new idea which combines these historical realities rather than dichotomizing them as irreconcilable entities. There are generally tow aspects here. On the one hand the historical state formation in Ethiopia, though was not fully successful, had resulted in the creation of shared consciousness and subjectivities across ethnic and linguistic boundaries. There is more an Oromo speaking peasant share with his Amhara or Tigre peasants especially in respect to everyday life rituals, plough agriculture, religious practices, anti-colonial subjectivities and mentalities in a way different from other African countries etc… On the other hand at the same time, the fact that historical Ethiopian state formation was not fully successful means that there are always ethnic consciousness and identities that go against any homogenizing political project. This includes distinct languages, myth origins, descent systems, and other cultural aspects. Fragmentation among contemporary Ethiopian political elites ultimately boils down to these two contradictory but interrelated forces.

The way out from this predicament is developing a synthesis that transform the two without reducing the one vis-à-vis the other. But this is not an easy task. It needs a new notion of Ethiopia. It needs what I call rational innocence, or critical but open-mindedness and open heart. It demands a centrist view with civility and a post-modern thinking, which rejects any extremist ideology while embracing individual human right and diversity as the basis for democratic citizenship building. A best solution for contemporary Ethiopia is to create a state in which its citizens share some legal and ideological values as well as enjoy their respective distinct ethiopianess that may manifest itself in terms of diversified languages, local narratives and cultures. True, Ethiopian history is contested. But the notion that all our past is not shared or it is bad lacks candor and is irresponsible. We have both good and bad histories, heroes and values. If there is the political will from the respective elites there is still a lot good that the various Peoples in Ethiopia share both in their history and present and that defines them as a distinct community or Ager vis-à-vis Peoples in other African countries.

If we see the recent development within the OLF from this perspective there is nothing major and new we learn regarding OLF and Ethiopian sovereignty. In fact the fact that there are now Oromo elites, who unconditionally accept Ethiopian sovereignty, is a positive step and should be encouraged. There is nothing inherently negative in such move regardless of the personal motives of the individuals who promotes this position. Nevertheless, if we see the bigger picture still Ethiopian politics at large remains in elites’ quagmire where the elites from all sides in diversified fields still fail to develop an all inclusive and well-thought-out new Ethiopia or state system that gives a viable alternative from the past and the present towards a promising future in achieving peace, stability and certainty to ordinary Peoples.

The writer is a Research Fellow, University of Bergen, Norwaycould and can be reached at


Comment from: john john [Visitor]
john john

We hear you loud and clear the current fedral system is much better than the old system which left us to hunger,poverty illitracey etc for thousend years. Regarding OLF bandist history will judge them for what they have done.

01/13/12 @ 23:54
Comment from: XYZ [Visitor]

“The way out from this predicament is developing a synthesis that TRANSFORM the two …”

You may try to transform a few individual’s mindset (as you did recently), but you would need to put together billions of super computers to design a synthesis protocol to challenge an organization with whom 40 Million people identify themselves with. Is that feasible?

“…create a state in which its citizens share SOME legal and ideological values …”

But oromos want to build their own state in which their citizens share SAME legal and idealogical values.

“True, Ethiopian history is contested".

So we invite to you to recognize and accept the UNCONTESTED history oromo people and land?

01/14/12 @ 00:04
Comment from: Gragn Ahmed [Visitor]
Gragn Ahmed

Well, I think the writer now has for first time acknowledged the issue of religion. In some diaspora their attitudes is to promote unity through one language and one religion. For me ethnic is secondary as a factor for Ethiopianess. I identify my self as Muslim Ethiopian first then may be as Amhara if I have to fill mandatory diversity form. Other wise, my issue with diaspora is really irrelevant because people fight much on ethnic issue. In my view ethnicity was irrelevant when Gragn Ahmed fought the North mainly coptic christians. His soldiers came from Afar Harar and mostly from Somali.

At any rate, The Oromo or whatever struggle is very narrow minded.

As the righter said individual right issue is never within radar of Diaspora nor Weyane.

Also, we have to know that We need collective rights as well such as giving security to religious identity language identity and ethnic identity. Simply Modeling Ethiopia after Menelik will hurt us more. We in diaspora talk about heros but never reevaluate their governing style. Most of them will not be relevant to today’s challenges. In my view Gragn Ahmed Model had some interesting unifying elements. To this we can add Arabic language as common language which would be valuable alternative to fighting over our own language.

01/14/12 @ 00:41
Comment from: Dejazmach Habesha [Visitor]
Dejazmach Habesha

Too long. Too incomprehensible to understand what the author is talking about. I think i covered half the article before i was conpletely lost. I get that he wants to criticize EPRDF but i dont understand his reasoning, soo long and drawn out to the point it doesnt make sense and you forget what the subject of this article was. i thought this article was about OLF.

Poor article. Zerihun, back to the drawing board.

nazretoch you have really run out of bloggers. This is the best you can produce? How about allowing a pro EPRDF blogger to have his articles posted here?

Why do you block and censor opposing views then vote eskinder nega man of the year?

So your no better than who you criticize. Oh yeah we are transforming Ethiopia and fighting poverty, while youre not.


01/14/12 @ 02:57
Comment from: [Member]

Well thought out writing. The way to go to create a New Ethiopia is indeed
to be open minded and develop a fresh consciousness to oneness while embracing the diversity that is Ethiopia.

If we all have the will to do this we can overcome any obstacles. But specially the politicians must be true to such beliefs.

Blessings to Ethiopia

01/14/12 @ 04:07
Comment from: Agerwedad [Visitor]

Thank you for such a sobering article! My personal view has always been that although there is nothing wrong with embracing ones ethnicity, history, tradition etc., most of us fail to understand that the only viable way is ingraining individual rights, freedom of speech, association and representative government in our society.

Being ruled by one’s ethnic group member is no guarantee to personal freedom and democracy. We only have to look at the fate of Somalia and even Eritrea to see that Ethnic or linguistic homogeneity is no guarantee of rights, peace or even prosperity. Why can’t we coalesce around our common beliefs and wishes; Human rights, equality, freedom of speech and democracy? After all, isn’t this what we all crave for.

However, we also have to acknowledge the fact that wrongs were committed in the past, unfortunately we cannot change the past. With that said we can insure that the mistakes of the past and the present never happen again in the future by putting in place a legal system and structure to serve as checks and balances. Lastly we should also understand that not everybody can easily embrace the ethnic agenda. Speaking personally my parents come from two different ethnic groups and I have always been curious where I would be placed :)

01/14/12 @ 04:51
Comment from: Ordofa [Visitor]


I like you arguments. You are the few and rational person who should be listen by all sides.

01/14/12 @ 07:34
Comment from: Zabarga Agena [Visitor]
Zabarga Agena

Ethiopian politics have always been ans till being identity and nationalist Ethnic politics. Deny that to the death because you have serious cases to hide and serious fortunes to hunt.

I am not an Oromo, neither an Amhara but I must say the fact that Under King Menelik, king Haile Selassie and dictator Mengistu Amhra elites exclusively constructed a system in which they can exclusively conquer, capture and exploit all the other none Amhara peoples. Naturally they themselves both before and still now call it Ethiopian unity and Ethiopian sovereignty simply to deflect attention from their exclusive minority tyranny as well for the purpose of shaming and keep enslaving the victims.

Regarding their almost century long massacres and genocides history will judge them for what they have done.

01/14/12 @ 13:31
Comment from: [Member]

This is the rational approach. We need to know the history of the ethnic groups to accomodate them. If we do not know the history of the Oromos, we will find it difficult to represent their interests. The ethnic federalism we see today is counterproductive because it stands against the integration of our people. We need to have a federal system like USA or Germany (civic or administrative federal system). Ethiopia should be divided into smaller federal regions or state ( about 25 small managable federal states will do). Which ever way we go, the federal system is inavoidable. I personallyprefer a democratic unitary republic. But the ethnicization of politics and the mistrust among some ethnic groups might be an obstacle to establish a unitary democratic state. In the long term, the nitary state will be more productive because it enables us to merge more and to haave one national language (lingua franca).

01/14/12 @ 15:31
Comment from: Oro2012 [Visitor]

As long as Amhara and tigre superiority in the so called myth crafted Ethiopia country, there will be no real democracy.

nothing is fore ever!!!

Forgate self elected fake OLF Based in Asmara AND North America.

Oromia shall be free!!!

01/14/12 @ 16:25
Comment from: Haile [Visitor]

Thank you Nazrets for posting such sobering artcile.

I am sure ‘Dejazmach Habesha’ you must be weyane and as a weyane you showed your frustration.

The ideas and arguments propsed are rational and clear. As Agerwedad rightly said it is a sobering article.

I hope there are more resonable and independent writer likes you who prpose such great ideas.

thanak you zerihun!

01/14/12 @ 17:13
Comment from: TewuSemaWogene [Visitor]

This article has some good points for both the pro n anti woyanes. In my opinion the best solution for future leaders is to teach n promot togetherness among diffrent ethnic groups.we have to learn from woyans mistakes.ethnic based governence is not the way to go if we ought to have a true united ethiopia.the woyane did not only fail the whole ethiopia but also the tigres by alinating them from the rest

01/15/12 @ 05:31
Comment from: weye [Visitor]

The writer’s purpose is to criticize the Rubhber Stamp party EPRDF while hiding the main architect TPLF. I wonder what his reasoning for this? We all know the reason EPRDF is formed is to pretend to show there are multi ethnic groups participating in Ethiopia’s politics when in fact the brain is TPLF. Although I like his analysis, the writer was very careful in not discussing TPLF

01/15/12 @ 06:14
Comment from: obsaa [Visitor]

Real unity is far to come among Ethiopians. Unless Hebeshas(both Amhjaras and Tigres)stop thier political tricks Oromos, Somalis, Sidamas, Afaris, etc will never work with this crook people. It is enough to mention two examples to support my argument:
1. G7 is attempting to form a fake OLF by gathering gangesters fired from the real OLF. Today oromos have many intelectuals who follow up day and night the mischieves mharas and Tigres are trying to do against oromos. Come with pure mind and heart to negotiation table. Otherwise Ethiopia cannot be repaired any more. It remains a failed state and the oppressed people will be liberated.

2. Tigres formed a fake Oromo political group called OPDO 20 years backl to use it as a TPLF wing in Oromia.

01/15/12 @ 09:14
Comment from: mwteshie [Visitor]

you are Educated habasha,three dimensional.Historically most of habash are monodimensional

01/15/12 @ 11:58
Comment from: Jony [Visitor]

I am supporter of EPRDF but i still apreciate the writer because he makes sense. It is a very good article. He is logical and not hateful or subjective like the extremisst diaspora group. His text is marked by seriousness and solemnity,Thank you nazretocch for indeed such sobering article.

01/15/12 @ 17:14
Comment from: Gudeta [Visitor]

I always belive that a minority free, democratic ethiopia where my right both as an oromo and as Ethiopian citizen is respected is a best model to ethiopia. Thank you zerihun. I am sure you are not a part of weyane or the old generation of EPRP or so called one religion, one language and one culture elite group.

01/16/12 @ 04:36
Comment from: mortar [Visitor]

Since the time it announced so called amendment of OLF program the splinter OLF has been the most hated political organization among oromos. I prefer OPDO to this splinter OLF. OPDO has more useful prgram for Oromos than the splinter group. OPDO has at least accepted the right for self determination.

01/16/12 @ 08:08
Comment from: Agonafer [Visitor]

How did this division came about?

How can we solve the problem which is created by this division between these two group of Oromo Liberation Front cliques?

Both cliques should be officially identified and recognized as member or supporter of OLF without their membership or affiliation being contested by some other clique within OLF who consider themselves more authentic.

I say we Oromos are very concerned about the future of Oromiya we forget what we learnt from our elders and historians. Oromo people need to pause for a minute and look back in history and learn from it so we can move on as one .

01/16/12 @ 08:47



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