Why Deny Ethiopian National Identity ? (Tedla Woldeyohannes, Ph.D.)

The State vs the Citizens

Going forward, in my view, an open and honest national conversation on this topic is absolutely important. A government can facilitate such a national conversation. [Note: I did not say “the government”—the regime in power.] However, to be realistic, a government can hardly control what people believe about others in such a way that ethnic stereotypes and false beliefs about others will somehow go away. That is an impossible task for any government. The role of the state or a government and citizens must be clear and distinguished. The government in the case of Ethiopia can and does impose some policies and institutions with an intention to benefit some people who belong to the ethnic group of the regime in power as it is the case for the current regime in power. In my view, the present Ethiopian government is the WORST example of the past governments in our history. Consequently, the regime in power itself and its predecessors are part of the inherited problems we, as a society, need to deal with. In this connection, to fight the regime in power for its unjust policies and institutions must be distinguished from addressing issues of grievances with fellow citizens. There is no readily available formal platform for citizens to address historical grievances which I am aware of. To facilitate inter-ethnic reconciliations we need to create platforms where citizens can address social ills they caused to one another in a realistic manner, when that is possible. I am just making a suggestion in general terms. It is for all of us concerned citizens to work out on a sketch and details of how we can go about seeking and achieving reconciliation and peace among fellow citizens.

Finally, in my view, the Ethiopian government is the greatest obstacle for any progress we want to make as a people. If we have a government that listens to the grievances of its citizens and responds to the cries of its citizens, Ethiopia as a country can be a place where the citizens from any ethnic group can live together in peace and with dignity. A response to all the injustices and crimes committed against the Oromos, the Amharas, and other ethnic groups in Ethiopia, in my view, need not lead to denial of Ethiopian national identity. What must be denied is the legitimacy of the brutal regime in power which never had legitimacy to govern Ethiopia in the first place. There is no compelling reason why a democratically elected government in Ethiopia cannot meet the just demands of the Oromo people, or the Amharas, and other oppressed people in Ethiopia. The fight, going forward, should be against the regime that brutalizes citizens from any ethnic group whom the government believes are threats to its grip to power.

To make a case for an all-inclusive Ethiopian national identity on the premise that Ethiopian national identity has never been all-inclusive for citizens from all ethnic groups comes down to this: The reason that some ethnic groups, more than others, have been subjected to unjust treatments, that they have been deprived of their rights politically and economically including the marginalization of their languages and cultures is due to the governments that have ruled Ethiopia over generations. Hence, a realistic response to such injustices and oppression is fighting the regime in power to bring about a much needed change for all the oppressed people in Ethiopia. Rejecting Ethiopiawinet as oppressive or exclusive and unjust to some ethnic groups need not be the name of the struggle since there is no Ethiopiawinet, or institutionalized Ethiopian national identity that commits acts of injustice and oppression against some ethnic groups or others. The real oppressor, which is the enemy of all oppressed Ethiopians, is the Ethiopian government, which is not synonymous with Ethiopiawinet or Ethiopian national identity. Ethiopiawinet need not be identified with the Ethiopian government because the two are not identical. For example, Ethiopiawinet will not go away when the regime in power goes away. Denying legitimacy to the brutal regime in power, which is what the people of Ethiopia need, must be distinguished from denying Ethiopian national identity [categorical or qualified] since there is no compelling reason to deny the latter when there are compelling reasons to deny the legitimacy of the former. It is very important to have a clear understanding of what Ethiopian national identity is, but we do not need to settle this debate in order to fight the number one enemy of the Ethiopian people about which we do have a clear understanding. Seeking an answer to the question regarding what Ethiopiawinet consists in need not distract us from fighting the enemy of the people of Ethiopia with urgency and resolve as one people.

Tedla Woldeyohannes teaches philosophy at Southwestern Illinois College and can be reached at twoldeyo@slu.edu

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