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Ethiopia: The damages of politicizing ethnicity

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07/24/12

  07:29:31 am, by admin, 906 words  
Categories: Ethiopia

Ethiopia: The damages of politicizing ethnicity

Ethiopia: The damages of politicizing ethnicity

By Mubarak Keder

Ethnic diversity has been understood, by some as one of the causes for slow economic development, poor governance and political instability in most African countries. Ethnic diversity by itself, however, does not result in political and economic problems of a country, rather it is the politicization of ethnicity that will entail these problems. Taking this into account, after getting their independence, many African countries work to diffuse the significance of ethnicity in the political sphere. For this reason, banning ethnic parties and any other identity based parties in general become a common practice in many sub-saharan countries around the 1990’s.

On the contrary to this understanding by most African countries, when TPLF (Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front) took power in 1991, in Ethiopia, it championed the idea of ethnic based politics. Instead of transforming the organization to form a national based political party, they encouraged the formation of ethnic based political parties by forming a coalition of their own ethnically disintegrated political parties.

As any ethnic based party in a highly multi ethnic country TPLF encountered a major setback at the early stage to rule the country, that was: the constituent of TPLF was not large enough to make up a majority and establish a government on its own. It overcome this problem , effectively, in a way it would be able to form a coalition with other ethnic groups while maintaining the ethnic groups disunited politically to prevent cross-ethnic unified opposition. To this effect, it formed a mere satellite parties in Amhara, Oromia and Southern region to form EPRDF(Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front).

Keeping ethnic groups separated is a technique to keep opposition from unifying, adopted from the colonial rule as, example of Kenya, pointed out by Anke Weber, “the creation of closed and cut off ethnic units enabled the British colonialists to effectively rule the Kenyan population without having to fear a united resistance.”

Unfortunately, politicizing ethnicity did not stop at establishing a government. The country’s federal system is, wholly, defined by ethnic line rather than regional territories. The ethnic federalism structuring of the country’s political system is manifested on the House of Federation, which rather than regional basis as a constituent uses ethnicity to allocate seats in the house. As a result , the multi ethnic federal territories of Dire Dawa and Addis Ababa have no representation in the House of Federation. This division of ethnicities become even more apparent by the “right for secession” clause included in the constitution , which fed into ethno nationalism.

As Alem Habtu (Ethnic Federalism in Ethiopia: background, present conditions and future prospects) well put it, “the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia starts with the words: ‘we the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia’. This phrase indicates that all ethnic groups as collectives rather than individual citizens are, in principle, the authors of the constitution. Thus Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism is federalism based on ethnic communities as the constituent units and foundations of the federal state.” He further noted, “Ethnicity has been emphasized at the risk of undermining the concept of citizenship. For example, Addis Ababa is a federal city, official identification requires ethnic identification, although the latter is irrelevant in a federal city.”

One of the main problems that come with politicizing ethnicity is that: when opposition groups react to structural inequality towards their ethnic groups - each of them perceive marginalizing , specially to their group - they come out as organization which stand for the that single ethnicity than the national interest.

Generally speaking, political parties adjust their variables in a way it would optimize vote. In a political system where the ethnic parameter is inconsequential, parties will have to work on competing policy proposals for the country in order to appeal to voters. Therefore, in such cases voters base their decision on the policy that appeal to them and ultimately the party with better policy plan will get the most vote. Contrarily, where politicization of ethnicity is predominant, appealing to the general public using alternative policy and strategies, is not crucial on optimizing vote. Instead, the parties simply count on votes from their respective ethnic groups. Due to this reason, ethnic based political parties are , for the most part, ineffective in putting forward competing policy proposals for the country. This in combination have a far reaching effect on the country’s development and political progress as the parties’ and consequently, the system’s failure to provide the best among various policy proposals is going to be directly projected on the countries wide ranging policies and their implementation.

When we look at the Ethiopian opposition in light of politicization of ethnicity, they are characterized as fragmented: large in number and small in size. They are, with a few exception, following the trend of organizing along ethnic line ; one of the main reason for this being the cultural and structural inequalities various ethnic groups faced since the imperial regimes.

Despite their justification to organize in this pattern, ethnic parties and politicization of ethnicity are viewed as backward and impediment for a country’s development in a wide spectrum. Moreover, it is a treat to go forward as a unified country. So, it is the responsibility of the oppositions to put an end to this trend and make the change to being politically progressive if they are going to get rid of the current tyrant rule and lead the country as a just, unified one nation.

3 comments

Comment from: obsaa [Visitor]
obsaa

Ethiopia is like a building founded on very poor and unstable basement. When the empire was first formed by Minilik II some 130 years ago all nations and nationalities(other than tigres and amharas)were occupied by force and since then they were being seen and treated as second class citzens in their own country. It is those “first class citzens"which should be blamed for what ever is going wrong regarding ethnicity,not the other way round.

07/24/12 @ 09:17
Comment from: Sibru [Visitor]
Sibru

The fact is that, as a very tiny minority in the Ethiopian context, TPLF or the people it aspired to “liberate” from the rest of Ethiopia, is not in a position to comfortably lead and govern the Country. The minority is always fearful of its own shadows; insignificant minority is even worse! And for TPLF, this fear is at stake. Accordingly, they have to re-institutionalize the very “Divide and Rule” concept adapted by the Fascists some eight decades ago in this Country of ours and TPLF even adapted the same regionalized mapping of the Country (except that they patched the fertile western sector from Gondar into Tigrai and, further, strategically made a “non-landlocked Tigrai” by extending their western frontiers to Sudan.

Menilik, on the other hand, adopted a policy of unity, as did his followers to the time of Derg. In our good youth days of the forties and fifties, we more or less forgot about ethnicity. Thanks to TPLF this concept is back in the society – and someone like Obsaa are fueling it to justify their refugee status (of course, economic one).

07/24/12 @ 12:17
Comment from: WoyneToHell [Visitor]  
WoyneToHell

Mr. Sibru.

Please do not treat us like children. If you want to blame anyone please blame none other than your so called Leaders that is Menelik and Haile.if you can remember 40’s and 50’s please be honest with yourself. Gone are the days when certain ethinic group ate considered inferiors than the rest of the country. I am in no way advocating for these murderers (TPLF) but atleast I am not fooling myself. Ideas like One Nation,One Language under One God should and must not be tolerated. Every and each religion should be able to practice whatever they want. I REPEAT AGAIN !!!!! THEIR WILL BE NO DOMINANCE BY ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX. they were for the country and they will be bad for the country if given the opportunity. Religion and state should be two separate entity.
And to you Obsa, I couldn’t agree with you more, if they are looking for someone to blame you need not to go past Menelik and stupid hailesilasse.

07/28/12 @ 18:47

rebtel

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