My Takes on the Ethiopian Dam and the Addis Ababa Master Plan, Messay Kebede

The second issue I want to deal with is the riots caused by the expansion plan of Addis Ababa into Oromo territory. University students from various towns located in Oromia have expressed their opposition to the expansion plan by engaging in peaceful demonstrations. Undoubtedly, a number of legitimate questions can be raised against the plan, the most important being the utility of such an expansion. Why expand Addis Abba further when already its disparity with other towns is only too wide? Why not use the available resources to expand other towns that badly need to grow? This focus on Addis Ababa seems to be a continuation of the policy of make-believe, so dear to dictatorial regimes. It is more about impressing tourists, foreign visitors, and supporters than implementing a policy of development that really benefits the country as a whole. More importantly, the plan does no more than expand what Addis Ababa has effectively become, namely, the secluded island of exclusive enrichment for the cronies of the regime.

Another legitimate concern has to do with the fate of the Oromo peasants who surround the town. Unsurprisingly, the government insists that the plan promotes the integrated development of Addis Ababa and its surroundings. But seeing the government’s previous records of forced displacement of peasants with no or inadequate compensation in other regions of Ethiopia, there is no reason to suppose that a different fate awaits Oromo peasants. One more time, what matters is not the declared good intention, but the reality of an implementation devoid of established process of accountability. Any more than in the case of the dam, Oromo students have little reason to take at face value what the government is saying or promising.

The irony of the whole case is that the regime is reaping what it has sown. The creation of ethnic regions and their definition as sovereign nations could only backfire at the plan to expand Addis Ababa into a territory considered as the exclusive property of the Oromo. In principle, the invention of nations within the Ethiopian state considerably limits the authority of the central government so that Oromo students are within their rights accorded by the ethnonationalist constitution of the TPLF. The crackdown on the students is just another proof that the TPLF has done nothing but trample its own constitution since it came to power. Accordingly, what is absolutely unacceptable is the violent repression of the students who did nothing but use their recognized right to express their demands in a peaceful way. This savage repression, which caused many deaths, should be emphatically denounced by all Ethiopians.

That said, it must be at the same time clear that the condemnation of repression does not mean the endorsement of ethnic politics and borders. Indeed, from what I have read so far, Oromo students oppose the expansion because it violates the sovereignty of Oromia. For unionists, this is not the right reason and they should say so openly. They must condemn the violation of Oromo students’ right to protest peacefully, but they also must make quite clear that the condemnation is not an approval of killil politics.

I take this opportunity to ask unionists to become more aggressively engaged in favor of Ethiopian unity. It is high time that unionists drop their timid approach to unity in the hope that their timidity will decrease the secessionist tendency of Oromo nationalists. Especially, the Amhara elite must shake off their sense of guilt over the marginalization and mistreatment of Oromo under the previous Amhara dominated regimes. The fall of these regimes, which would not have been possible without the active and multifarious participation of Amhara elites and people, exonerates, so to speak, the Amhara and celebrates their decisive input in the rise of a new Ethiopia in which ethnic groups with their language and characteristics will flourish in conjunction with their Ethiopianness. EPRDF and other ethnonationalist groups present the new Ethiopia as a political reality born against the will of the Amhara when we all know that nothing would have been possible without the primary rise of Amhara students and elites against the imperial regime. Indeed, the time has come to raise the mere defense of Ethiopian unity to the offensive level and this change begins with the work of unifying the unionist base and laying out a clear vision of what the new Ethiopia will be. Our rallying motto should be: unity in diversity versus diversity in disintegration!

Wake Up Unionists!

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