(Of my amateurish political writings in Nairobi. This was posted on www.dekialula.com)
A reading on the 18th century history of France could provide us with the
information that it was the illumination by the great thinkers -(like Rousseau, Montesquie and Voltaire) that enabled the oppressed French people to topple the Bourbon descendants, once and for all, who had been claiming to have heavenly mandate to rule the people. The illumination shined inother places as well.
The illumination was important in that it enabled people ask the question ‘why’ to the elite regarding the way they handle the affairs of the nation. The myth ‘rulers are like the ambassadors of God on earth’ gave way to the reality ‘men are created equal and they are equal everywhere’, ‘A government is instituted by the people to serve the interest of the people and if a government turns away from the interest of the people it should be replaced by another one.’This fact came to be known by the
cross section of population.It was in light of this flowering idea that the 18th century was crowned with the prestigious name of ‘the age of reason’.What happened in France in the 18th century implies that any major change is always preceded by effective mobilization.
In the case of Ethiopia, politicians with chronic deficiency of reason, rationality and with immense greed for power have been creating confusion and political darkness singling out the failures in the history of the nation-and overemphasizing it in way to help them come to power. And that has generated a lot of problem. In order for this confusion be conquered Ethiopian intellectuals need to make an orchestrated movement like that of the enlightenment movement in France and break their silence. I have noticed that some scholars have started giving out what they have to shed light on the confusion created by the current political elite. While I appreciate
the rising intellectual interest to illuminate on the political darkness brought about by shortsighted politicians under the guise of history, I would advise this group to think about the possible ways of delivering their ideas and provoking thought where it counts more -in Ethiopia- since very insignificant number of people have email access. We also need not forget the fact the more than 80 percent of the population is illiterate.
Coming to the why of this article, I read the article by Dr.Maimire Mennasemay posted on Ethiomedia.com. And I have a little comment on it and a few questions. He has categorized the political history of Ethiopia in to three trajectories- assimilation, fragmentation and integration. He has also pointed out that the existence of historical wounds associated with the process of state formation. Well that is right. But I uphold the opinion that if we are to judge the wounds or (mourn them as he puts it), we need to consider the downsides which are part and parcels of state building process in any feudal society. And if reasonably and rationally judged -and of course with consistent consideration of the time frame, the nature of
feudal politics and the level of political thinking attained at the time -we could
comfortably arrive at the conclusion that the historical wounds do not deserve such an emphasis.
Some groups of political elite tend to make the wounds appear big or deep by over-mentioning the agents who caused the wound. But we need to be more interested on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions than on the ‘who’ question since whoever with a feudal mentality and with a project of state building could have done the same thing. The ‘historical wound’ appears big or deep not because it is big or deep in itself but because the wound is being touched by infectious political hands (with selfish motive of making the wounds as a way of coming to power than healing them) there by getting deeper and bigger. I personally prefer the word failure to ‘wound’. And the failures of the past are not as such complicated and they could be rectified. What it needs is a curing political hand, not infectious political hand. In fact genuine political activist, I believe,should ground his political motive on this basis and with a vision to bring about harmony, not disorder. Unfortunately, the politicians have been seriously affected with power-syndrome and over-touching the wound only to
help them come to power.
With regard to the historical analysis of the writer (Dr.Maimire) I am not clear as to why he, under the domain he categorized as fragmentation trajectory, has mentioned Imam Ahmed and Zemene Mesafint along with (or equating them with) the current EPRDF regime. Ahmed Ibn Ibrahim al-Gazi never pursued a fragmentation policy. All he wanted was a strong Muslim kingdom under his leadership. His political career started as leader of a resistance to the expanding Christian highland kings. Gaining more and more strength he sought to create a strong Muslim Empire and the faith Islam served him as an ideology in a much similar way the Christian highland kings used Christianity as ideology to expand the territory. In fact, he has acquired some assistance from the Turks but that was not at the expense of Ethiopia. On the contrary, at some point he even refused military assistance from the Turks in anticipation that the Turks might be encouraged to exercise political and economic influence in the future. Yes, His campaign has caused human and material destruction for he had pursued a scorched earth policy in some instances and campaigns of such magnitude can never be free of such incidents, especially that time. Yet, we need to see bright side of his campaign. It has caused the entrenchment of Islam, which was limited to the peripheral parts in the south east and adjacent areas, to the interior parts of Ethiopia there by making the followers the two faiths (Christianity and Islam) more close than they had been in the past. So in my view his campaign has turned out to be a cohesive factor. Therefore it can not be equated with the EPRDF regime or be categorized under a fragmentation trajectory.
Dr. Maimire has also included the element “ethnicity” under his classification of fragmentation trajectory. But I very much doubt that ethnicity was as such a fragmentary factor in the past. It was, rather,regionalism that was a stronger divisive factor even during the period of Zemene Mesafint (Era of Princes) to the extent that there were smaller competing regions with in a region. In fact there were some instances whereby the then regionalism overlapped with a language group like in the case of Tigre. But we still had divisive regional line with in Tigray itself as Inderta, Temben and the like. And that does not imply that the
fragmentation was on the basis of ethnicity. The other cardinal point we should
underline is that the regional feudal lords would have been elated if they had the
capacity to create a greater sphere of influence. They were limited to a small area because they had no capacity to effectively establish themselves as overlord with a power to collect tribute efficiently. What I can make out of this point is that unlike EPRDF, fragmentation during the period of Zemene Mesafint was more on regional basis than on ethnicity, if not ethnicity was nonexistent. Emphasis on ethnic politics is a recent phenomenon (less than half a century) and perhaps it was introduced by politicians who viewed ethnicity as a lucrative way to power.
Concerning the assimilation process, yes, there had been some resistance towards it. But there are also co-operation to assimilation process. And the process should not be understood as if many ethnic groups assimilated to a single ethnic group. That is absolutely wrong. It had been multi-directional. If we are to face the question of which assimilation process was dominant (and on which group), it will be tiresome to sort it out. So the only point I can accept is that there had been a process of
state formation concomitant with incorporation of territories and integrating it with the kingdom. This task was accomplished by feudallords and with a feudal mind, and it can never be free from some problems. But I am not condoning the downsides. Let alone the feudal lords, the contemporary politicians who claim to have a political skill and knowledge are committing a mistake far greater in magnitude (for the sake of attaining power) than what had been done by the feudal lords. As for me the politicians have failed to prove that they are better than the feudal leaders because they are not interested in bringing justice, harmony and stability.
Why are not they interested in bringing justice and that kind of stuff?
This question reminds me of my introductory philosophy course. I am not sure
whether I correctly remember it. Plato, One of the great philosophers ,in the ‘republic’, took up the questions ‘what is justice’ and ‘who is just’? After raising some points in connection with the subject-justice-he began to explain human soul as comprising of three parts- appetite, spirit and reason. Then he explained appetite as having the attribute of greed-greed for power, greed for wealth and the like. And Spirit as having attributes connected with courage. The third component-reason-,he said, is interested in things good and just. If the proportion of appetite is higher in the soul, it is likely for a man to be unjust. The same is true for spirit for it may bring about aggressiveness and a wild behavior. But if the proportion of reason is high, it is unlikely for a man to be unjust for
reason has the power to regulate both appetite and spirit. This is the
reason behind why the politicians have been unjust in our case. So we need
to remind them to regulate their appetite and spirit. And they can only do
this if they can maximize the composition of reason in their soul so that
it can regulate their greed for power, for wealth and control their spirit as well. Once they can manage to climb to the summit of reason they can clearly see unreasonable, irrational and unjust objects in the way they handle the politics. That way they can clearly see the problem and the solution of the political mess up in the country.
By Dimetros Birku
can be reached at -email@example.com