- “We only have one Ethiopia…
The issue of land in Ethiopia is very serious. Very serious. The source of wealth in this country is land. The source of wealth in this country is land. (Repeats.) It is land. (Land is the foundation) of Ethiopia, from the beginning (of time), since she was established. If we look at the revolutions of the past, the beginning and end of all things in Ethiopia is land. Everything else is secondary. The issue of land is not something to be taken lightly. It is an issue of identity. Land is the foundation of the economy. We all know how each individual Ethiopian is tied to the land. If we don’t deliberate the issue of land properly, if this country does not help us according to our abilities, if we don’t start doing the right thing now [with land], we could do whatever we want, but in the end [we’ll fail]…
Obbo Lemma Megerssa, Oromiya President, April 2017, addressing among other things, T-TPLF crony capitalism, corruption and abuse of power in Oromiya.
Author’s Note: This is a two-part commentary intended to elaborate and propose fresh ideas to advance the current peaceful democratic struggle in Ethiopia. In Part I here, I examine the political situation in Ethiopia as a problem of internal colonialism driven by the voracious and insatiable appetite of Thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF) for land– urban land, rural land, any kind of land. I examine the T-TPLF’s system of internal colonialism and its outcome of ethnic oppression, subordination and exploitation of majority groups in a comparative perspective with South Africa.
In the forthcoming Part II of this commentary, I propose my “philosophy of Ethiopiawinet (Ethiopian-ness”)” as a fail safe antidote to the T-TPLF’s internal colonial rule.
A couple of weeks ago, the T-TPLF regime made a public statement expressing “doubt” about my Ethiopiawinet (Ethiopian-ness.) I was quite amused to have my Ethiopian-ness doubted by a gang of cut-and-paste, wannabe-Ethiopians-because-Ethiopia-is-a-good-marketing-brand-to-panhandle-aid-money-and-get-billions-in-loans.
I provided a full response to the doubting T-TPLF bosses in my commentary, “I, PROUD ETHIOPIAN: My Reply to the T-TPLF Birthers Doubting My Ethiopiawinet (Ethiopian-ness).” I must say that a response to the scurrilous vulgarity of a gang of thieves and mercenary thugs is unimportant in the grand scheme of things. I could not care less what a bunch of ignorant bush thugs in designer suits think about me or my Ethiopaiwinet.
But I care deeply about Ethiopiawinet, beyond measure. By “doubting” my Ethiopiawinet, the T-TPLF effectively challenged me not only to rise up and defend Ethiopiawinet but also articulate what Ethiopiawinet means to me.
It is a challenge I accept wholeheartedly in Part II of this commentary. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than tutoring a gang of savages who know and understand brutality and atrocity in the ways of civilized Ethiopiawinet, or Ethiopian exceptionalism.
In Part II of this commentary, I shall argue that the only way the T-TPLF’s internal colonial rule could be defeated — the kryptonite, the ultimate weapon to deliver the self-proclaimed T-TPLF Übermenschen (“supermen”) into the trash bin of history — is through a living expression of Ethiopiawinet.
My message of Ethiopiawinet is particularly aimed at Ethiopia’s young people of all ethnic, regional, religious and linguistic stripes who have skin in the game, the ones who are keeping the struggle alive by sacrificing everything including their lives.
For the record: I want to go on record wholeheartedly endorsing the October 18, 2017 U.S. Embassy official statement “encourage[ing] all Ethiopians to continue to express their views peacefully, and encourage Ethiopian authorities to permit peaceful expression of views.
Why am I doing this?
I have been asked of late why I am so intensely and relentlessly against the T-TPLF regime?
I have no personal animus against the T-TPLF or any of its leaders or members. I have often said that I could be their number 1 fan if they conformed their conduct to the rule of law, practiced good governance and respected the human rights of all Ethiopians. That pledge still stands.
I have no political ambition. I have said many times that I have nothing but contempt for those who crave power. Love of power without the power of love for those who are oppressed, without deep concern for the pain and suffering of the powerless, voiceless and defenseless is the height of hypocrisy. It would be the height of absurdity and irony for a man who stumbled into a career of speaking truth to power to aspire power.
I regard myself a public intellectual and human rights advocate. Nothing more. I do the best I can to draw upon universal values of human rights and advocate them on behalf of the Ethiopian people so that they could live like all free people in the world, unafraid to express themselves, unbowed by those who believe might is right and to be feared by their government instead of the other way around. I am aware of my blind spots and do not claim to have all the answers. In fact, I have no answers but I am overflowing with questions. To the T-TPLF and their cronies who consider my views “extremist”, I would remind them in the words of Barry Goldwater, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” Silence in the face of tyranny is complicity in atrocity.
So why I am doing what I am doing year after year, after year….?
For the same reason Nelson Mandela did what he did throughout his life without fail and fatigue. “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land [of Ethiopia] will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. Let freedom reign! The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement! God bless [Ethiopia] Africa!”
I want the young people of Ethiopia, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, region, language or any other factor to understand that their struggle is not against each other — Oromo against Amhara, Amhara against Tigre, Anuak against Nuer, Somali against Oromo and Amhara, Southern Ethiopians against Northern Ethiopians, Western Ethiopians against Eastern Ethiopians, Ethiopian Christians against Ethiopian Muslims – but against a system of ethnic internal colonialism that expropriates their ancestral lands and exploits ethnic, linguistic, regional and religious differences to impose a system of domination on them in perpetuity. I want them to understand that there are vastly more things that bring us together than keep us apart(heid). I want them to believe their best days are yet to come, and the present black apartheid system is just a fleeting moment of tragedy in history.
What is done, undone and not done today determines what will be done, could be done or should be done tomorrow. I am guided by Einstein’s admonition that “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” The role of the intellectual and human rights advocate is to elaborate, to name and shame and to speak truth to power. It is said that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” I believe much is expected of me. It is my moral duty to use my knowledge and skills in the service of the Ethiopian people, particularly the young people. Specifically, it is my duty to do everything I can to divert Ethiopia from what I foresee to be strife and conflict and articulate a vision of a just society in which ethnic, religious, linguistic and regional issues are as important as the color of one’s eye. I believe the only creed that will guide us out of the wilderness of T-TPLF’s internal colonialism is Ethiopiawinet.
The T-TPLF’s internal colonialism in Ethiopia
The concept of internal colonialism has many formulations. Scholars have used the concept to examine a variety of issues including “uneven development” within a country, structural political and economic inequalities between regions within a nation-state and South African system of apartheid. I am using the concept herein to examine the pattern of dominance and exploitation by an ethnic minority regime and its crony capitalist ruling elites to dominate, subordinate and exploit majority populations by controlling the land.
For the past 26 years, the T-TPLF bosses have been the black minority apartheid masters of Ethiopia. They established their economic and political dominance first and foremost by creating and fully exploiting a system of internal colonies called “kilils” (ethnic homelands) in much the same way as the minority white apartheid regime created “bantustans” (black homelands) in South Africa to establish and maintain its apartheid system.
The South African apartheid regime created ten Bantustans (black homelands) with the singular aim of geographically dismembering and fragmenting the black majority and psychologically isolating them from each other while simultaneously and de-nationalizing them to deprive them of a common identity and establish a regime of white supremacy. Using a strategy of divide and rule and machining sure the society is riven by ethnic and religious divisions and actively promoting tribal consciousness, the minority white apartheid regime for over four decades succeeded in controlling and exploiting the black African majority population.
Following the South African model, the T-TPLF created 9 kilils (kililistans or ethnic homelands) and two “chartered cities” in Ethiopia to geographically dismember and fragment, psychologically isolate, denationalize and disempower the black majority population and establish a hegemonic regime of ethnic supremacy. The T-TPLF’s internal colonialism for the last 26 years succeeded through a systematic campaign of de-Ethiopianization which similar to the way the colonial masters de-nationalized their colonies and created artificial ethnic and other boundaries (kilil homelands) and imposed their version of ethnic identities on the diverse people of Ethiopia.
South Africa’s racial/ethnic apartheid system was based on the white minority regime’s determination to control the land and through control of the land control the identity, citizenship, residence, political, social and economic rights of the majority black population. The identity of South Africans was determined principally by their relationship to the land. The minority whites owned all of the productive lands and black South Africans were virtually landless. The keystone and pillar of minority white apartheid internal colonial rule in South Africa was the unequal distribution and ownership of land and the consequent dispossession and economic disempowerment of the black majority by a variety of “legal” means.
Just as in apartheid South Africa, the T-TPLF has used land to control the majority populations in Ethiopia. Land is at the core of the T-TPLF’s system of internal colonialism. Confiscation of land. Expropriation of land. Land grabs. Displacement from the land. Dispossession of land. Ownership of land. Use of land. Occupation of land. Control of land. Unequal distribution of land. Land grabs by whites and evictions and displacement of the black majority population for decades created a landless class of Africans.
There is no better example of the T-TPLF’s internal colonialism than the so-called “Addis Ababa Master Plan”, which was specifically designed to strategically incorporate municipalities and unincorporated areas surrounding the capital into a rapidly developing metropolitan economy controlled and dominated by crony T-TPLF capitalists. Like the European colonial powers of yesteryears, the T-TPLF used extreme violence to grab the land of struggling Oromo farmers. Human Rights Watch reported that since mid-November 2015, T-TPLF “security forces [had] shot dozens of protesters in Shewa and Wollega zones, west of Addis Ababa”; and in the town of Walliso security forces fired “into crowds of protesters leaving bodies lying in the street.” That was the modus operandi of the minority white apartheid regime in South Africa as well. (See my January 20, 2016, July 1, 2017 and July 16, 2017 commentaries for a more complete analysis of the mechanics of T-TPLF internal colonialism by expropriation in Oromiya.)
Over the past 26 years, the T-TPLF’s system of internal colonialism has created four classes of citizens in Ethiopia based singularly on their relationship to land. The first-class citizens are those who take anybody’s land because they can. They are the Ubermenschen (“supermen”) who are in total control of the political, economic and military institutions and exercise unbridled power in taking land of poor and struggling farmers in the name of “development”, “economic growth” and “progress”. The second-class citizens are those who are given land by the first-class citizens. The second-class citizens are the cheerleaders, underlings, henchman, flunkies, lackey, hangers-on and sycophants of the first-class citizens. The third-class citizens are those who are spectators watching the theater of land takeaways and giveaways. These are the citizens who silently watch the first and second-class citizens eating at the table and thrown crumbs in the form of a few square meters (mètres carrés) return for their servile silence. The fourth-class citizens are the vast majority of Ethiopians whose lands are taken away – the land of their ancestors, the land where they were born and umbilical cord cut and buried, the land where they hope to die with dignity. These are the sub-citizens who are dispossessed and expelled from the land because they are considered Untermenschen (“sub-human”) and undeserving of land rights.
Apartheid (which in Afrikaans means “apartness”), the ideology of the white National Party (NP) government, was legalized in South Africa in 1948. Apartheid called for the separate development of the different racial groups in South Africa based on physical segregation on designated land. The ideology of the T-TPLF and its front organization the “Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is “ethnic federalism”, which like apartheid means “ethnic apartness” or kilil, which in Amharic means “reserve” (as in a reservation) or separate land enclosure/boundary (ethnic homeland). The structure of the T-TPLF’s internal colonialism based on ethnic federalism is accurately described by Siraw Megibaru Temesgen’s:
- Ethnic federalism has been exploited to plant division among ethnic groups so as to institutionalize and facilitate rule by the TPLF and other politically affiliated groups, representing a small proportion of the population. Under the cover of ethnic federalism, the “divide and rule strategy” of the TPLF/EPRDF regime, weaken interregional and interethnic cooperation, and exacerbate conflict. The strategic government action to crack-down unity over cross-cutting cleavages such as religion, common historical experiences and national feelings increases the vulnerability and risk of interethnic conflict and national disintegration.
Prof. Ted Vestal similarly argued
- Another aspect of the EPRDF’s [the bogus organizational shell used by the TPLF to project an image of pluralism] strategy is to establish a governing system of ethnic federalism emphasizing rights of ‘nations, nationalities, and peoples.’ This high-sounding principle, cribbed from Lenin, is more Machiavellian than Wilsonian however. If the outnumbered Tigrayans who direct the EPRDF/FDRE can keep other ethnic groups divided and roiled against each other in ethno-xenophobias or content to manage affairs in their own limited bailiwicks, then larger matters can be subsumed by the one governing party. Thus, what the EPRDF views as the false ideology of nationalism for a ‘Greater Ethiopia’ can be kept in check and its proponents divided and conquered.
The T-TPLF’s bogus ethnic federalism is nothing more than Lord Lugard’s indirect rule system using existing power structures or creating make-believe independent institutions.
The problems of ethnic division and tribalism are not new to Ethiopia or Africa. Walter Rodney talked about it in “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”. Rodney argued that even though ethnic differences exist on the African continent, they were not necessarily political differences. They were politicized by certain African elites who have created ethnic lines to aggrandize power and amass wealth for themselves and their cronies. But Rodney also pointed out the most devastating long-term effects of colonialism in blocking the further evolution of national identity and solidarity and destruction of institutions necessary for coalescing fragmented loyalties. He explained that “because ethnic and regional loyalties which go under the name of ‘tribalism’ could not be effectively resolved by the colonial state, they tended to fester and grow in unhealthy forms. Indeed, the colonial powers sometimes saw the value of stimulating the internal ‘tribal’ jealousies so as to keep the colonised from dealing with their principal contradiction with the European overlords — i.e., the classic technique of divide and rule.”
Both the T-TPLF and white apartheid regime overlords used ethnicity as a political line that cannot be crossed and as a political fulcrum on which all things political, social, economic and cultural pivot. Like the minority white apartheid regime in South Africa, the T-TPLF overlords have built their political and economic power by literally owning all of the land in the country (Art. 40 of the T-TPLF constitution) and by totally controlling political power (the T-TPLF “won” the May 2015 election by 100 percent and reinforces its dictatorial rule by the barrel of the gun), monopolizing the private sector (T-TPLF controlled interlocking syndicates maintain complete monopoly over the economy) and operating a vast patronage and neo-patrimonial system in which employment, educational and other opportunities are exchanged for political support and allegiance.
The T-TPLF says the “government owns the land”, or in their constitutional mumbo-jumbo (Art. 40), “Land is a common property of the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia and shall not be subject to sale or to other means of exchange”; and “All sovereign power resides in the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia.” (Art 8.) The only “sovereign power” in Ethiopia today is the T-TPLF which controls 100 percent of the land. (As one T-TPLF party boss said, “We don’t give land to those who are not loyal to us.”) But the T-TPLF also owns 100 percent of the “parliament” which makes the “laws” on land. The T-TPLF owns 100 percent of the top military leadership positions, 100 percent of the security forces, 100 percent of the top businesses and 100 percent of the top civil service jobs and political appointments. Because the T-TPLF owns all the land in Ethiopia, it hands it out for free (ok, for pennies) to Indian, Saudi, Turkish, Chinese and other “investors”, who often have under-the-table arrangements with T-TPLF bosses. (See my July 16, 2017 commentary, “Ethiopia: Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Keeping One’s Land”, for further details.)
Land and the “legal” basis of white minority racial apartheid internal colonialism system
At the foundation of South Africa’s racial/ethnic apartheid internal colonial system was land. In 1994 when black majority rule became a reality in South Africa, 87 percent of the land was owned by whites.
The foundation for apartheid in South Africa was laid down in the Natives’ Land Act, 1913 (Act No. 27 of 1913), decades before its official introduction in 1948. The Land Act became the principal legal tool for the systematic land dispossession of the Black majority by the white minority controlled State and severely restricted the black African majority’s right to own land only in the “native reserves”. The Group Areas Act Group Areas Act 1950 later consolidated by Group Areas Act 36 of 1966 formalized residential segregation by race in South Africa. This Act empowered the minority white regime to designate rural and urban land for exclusive ownership by whites, colored, and Indians, but made no legal provisions for land to be owned or occupied exclusively by the majority black population.
The Population Registration Act of 1950 (PRA) of South Africa required that each inhabitant of South Africa be classified and recorded in the population register according to their race and ethnic group. That PRA became the foundation of the apartheid system which served to segregate and facilitate political and economic discrimination against the majority black population and other non-whites.
The Bantu Authorities Act of 1951 (BAA) (Act No. 68 of 1951; subsequently renamed the Black Authorities Act, 1951) was enacted to grant authority to traditional tribal leaders in their homelands. The BAA defined “Black areas”, “chiefs”, “tribal authorities” and established their powers, functions, duties and jurisdictions. The BAA created the legal basis for self-determination of the various ethnic and linguistic tribes into traditional homeland reserve areas and established tribal, regional and territorial authorities. The Bantu Authorities Act, 1951(“Black Authorities Act, 1951”) created the legal basis for the deportation of blacks into designated homeland reserve areas and established tribal, regional and territorial authorities. The Group Areas Act of 1950 (as re-enacted in the Group Areas Act of 1966), divided South Africa into separate areas for whites and blacks and gave the government the power to forcibly remove people from areas not designated for their particular tribal and racial group.
The Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act of 1959 (PBSA) (Act No 46) set up 8 (later expanded to 10) distinct “Bantu Homelands” out of the existing reserves, each with a degree of self-government based on a hierarchical system of headmen, chiefs, paramount chiefs, and territorial authorities in the black areas. The governments of the homelands were given limited powers of taxation, control public works, and issue licenses and adjudicate disputes. The central aim of the PBSA was to eventually grant independence to the homelands, expatriate them from South African citizenship and provide the white minority population virtual majority power. The Bantu Homelands Constitution Act, 1971 authorized the white minority regime to grant independence to any “Homeland” as determined by the South African apartheid government. The “Homelands” act was designed to ultimately convert traditional tribal lands into “fully fledged independent Bantustan states” with the power of self-determination, eventually granting “independence” to Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei between 1976 and 1981.
Bantustanization sought to divide the majority black Africans into smaller discrete populations they could divide and rule them. The minority whites believed they could eliminate any practical possibility of black South African unity if they could succeed in creating a bantustanized ethnic identity in which black South Africans feel estranged against each other. As a result of bantustanization, less than 15 percent of the land was “reserved” as homelands for black South Africans.
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