Ethiopian government celebrated what it calls “Nations,Nationalities and People’s Day” yesterday in Harar town in South Eastern Ethiopia. It was celebrated for the 11th time.
Sudan’s president Al-Bashir, Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti and President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia reportedly attended it.Sudan’s Al-Bashir usually attends Tigray People’s Liberation Front annual festival in Tigray. Relation between him and TPLF leaders goes back to the guerrilla times of Tigray People’s Liberation Front ; it garnered logistic support from his government during the fight against the then Ethiopian government.
“Nations,Nationalities and People’s Day”
The concept is believed to be, theoretically, from Marxist tradition. Practically, the way it is adopted by the ruling party, which is in fact monopolistic capitalist in the context of Ethiopia -as things stand now, is in a way to serve consolidation of power as a kind of ideological buffer zone against the brick wall Ethiopianism which was perceived to be delegitimizing for the ethno-nationalist Tigray People Liberation Front.
People with a good measure of familiarity with legal concepts find the very description “Nations,Nationalities and People’s Day” in the constitution perplexing. It is as if Ethiopian people is divisible into different forms of sovereign entity – at least three as implied in it.
For the government in power, the festival mean much.There is visible effort to capitalize on it as an achievement of extraordinary sort and one of the measures of the ruling party’s “revolution.”
However, it is entirely different matter when it comes to the feelings and attitudes of Ethiopians towards ceremonial and nominal government orchestrated events like “Nations,Nationalities and People’s Day.”
For quite some time since taking over power, the regime deliberately – through intensive propaganda and policy measures – demonized unity as a work of conservatism and cause for the oppression of “Nations,Nationalities and Peoples” in Ethiopia in the past. On the contrary, the regime stepped up effort to inculcate the primacy of ethnic identity over national identity and Ethiopia as an entity was relegated to secondary importance and only as an upshot of “agreement” between “Nations,Nationalities and Peoples.” The constitution is essentially predicated on that premise and even granted “Nations,Nationalities and Peoples” the right to self-determination including secession. The Federal structure is instituted on the basis of ethnicity and the support structures are meant to promote ethnicity. In the mind of people in government power, event like “Nations,Nationalities and People’s Day” is good enough to piece together ethnic-nationalism.
As intended through ethnic federalism, TPLF consolidated its power,created unprecedented wealth for Tigreans and created a country where Ethiopians found themselves as oppressed second-class citizens.
In the course of time, the trend gave rise to stiff resistance. The recent country wide protest, which TPLF survived through widespread arbitrary killings and mass arrest, is evidently an embodiment of resistance to TPLF. It could also be seen as upshot of ethnic politics – just the beginning.
With the pretext of language based ethnic Federalism, Tigray region pursued territorial expansionist agenda in a way to incorporate cultivable land in north central and north western Ethiopia, not to mention consideration of military strategy in the event that Ethiopians fight back to attain the dignity of Ethiopian citizenship and to recover the looted resources. For example, one of the factors that ignited the tension in Northwest Ethiopia was the move to recover Wolqaite, historically part of Gonder which is instituted as part of Amhara regional state,from Tigray.
In central Ethiopia, major setback to TPLF proposed master plan for the capital Addis Ababa is fundamentally ethnic politics which TPLF exploited for a long time as a means to sustain power. Radical Oromo groups have been pushing secessionist agenda and there are indications that radical forces exploited ethnic federal structures to mobilize grassroots. TPLF project the popular protest partly as an outcome of administrative grievance and partly as a work of “anti-peace forces.”
Elsewhere in Ethiopia, the ethnic sentiment did not effect what TPLF intended when it pushed pushed ethnic politics down the throats of Ethiopians. It is proving to be an impediment to TPLF.
Oddly ,or not, enough, the message in this year’s “Nations,Nationalities and People’s Day” was a plea for unity -something that one would not expect from this government. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalege called for ethnic groups to embrace Ethiopian spirit. Limited doses of rhetoric that appeals to Ethiopian Nationalism began to appear in media outlet that are controlled by the regime. But the federal structure is designed primarily to serve ethnic politics and to ensure the superiority of Tigray- the base of the elites in power.