Monday, February 6, 2023
HomeOpinionIt is Time for us to Move Away from Ethnic Politics

It is Time for us to Move Away from Ethnic Politics

“Ethnic politics has no moral to fly Ethiopians to the future. All the messes we are having today are in one way or the other associated to ethnic politics.”

The author, Belayneh Begajo (Courtesy of the author)


Diversity is the beauty of nature and ethnicity is one of the many ways of natural beauty that we see in ourselves. Ethnic diversity needs to be recognized and institutionalize without it being politicized. The sources of ethnic diversity Lays in the similarities and differences of language and culture between peoples. When we think of ethnicity we think of language and culture. The question is then why we are so obsessed with ethnicity or the rights of language and culture to the extent of politicization? Is the right of ethnicity different from other rights or is the right of ethnicity superior to other human rights such as education rights? Ethnicity is so much politicized in Ethiopia and it is taking the toll on all of us as a nation. We have to change our thoughts and policies on ethnicity. The rights of ethnicity should be given equal weight to the rights of education, health, water, social and economic development, etc. As we all want a best education system institutionalized for our children, we need to envisage an institutionalized system that encourages the development of people’s languages and culture and their self-administration.

History proves that politicization of ethnicity is not good for any country. Politicization of an issue, any issue for that matter including ethnicity is dangerous for national unity and stable political games. Politicization of ethnicity creates an environment where people attach everything to ethnicity and ethnicity to everything; politicization fires up people’s mind and makes them sensitive to every other lines of arguments and automatically mobilizes them for confrontation; politicization of ethnicity takes away rationality and blindly pushes people to burn their common goods. The more ethnicity is politicized the more tensions, mistrust and hatred grows like wild fires. Politicization of ethnicity attracts the attentions of every citizen and unnecessarily takes away their golden times and resources. Politicization of ethnicity burns up the inspirations and long-term visions of the nations. Politicization of Ethnicity distorts the bigger picture of national interests and engages people to focus on the piecemeal thoughts and interest of individuals and groups. Politicization of ethnicity is the root causes of our poverty and backwardness. We Ethiopians have paid our lives, energies and our future on ethnic politics and still we are consumed by it day in day out. Poverty is not lack of resources, or skilled human power or any other thing but the sustained ethnic politics that has consumed our visions, energies, times and resources for years. Ethnic politics has dragged the country into wars, conflicts, displacements and had eaten up the lives and inspirations of millions of generations for the past 100 years. 

We have to solve the issue of ethnicity once and for all and move away from it. All Ethiopian ethnic groups, their languages and culture have been with us for many years and yet we have not designed a policy that addresses the demands of ethnicity. On contrary the issue went out of control and politicized as we see it today in our daily lives. The scale of politicization we experienced over the last 27 years has no comparison. Currently we are even seeing an accelerated pace of politicization of ethnicity process than any other time in our History. Ethnic politics has no moral to fly Ethiopians to the future. All the messes we are having today are in one way or the other associated to ethnic politics. At some point in our history, ethnic politics was implicit and at some other time it was explicit. Today ethnic politics seems everything. The reign of one ethnic political system over the others, the oppression of one ethnic group over others was not a secrete and it was part of our history for generations. Since the time of Menlik even before, most Ethiopians feel that the regime of the time belonged to one ethnic group and oppressed the others. Similar sentiment was there during the regime of Haileselase, Mengistu/Derge, EPRDF and till today. Today ethnic politics reached to the tipping points to the extent of threatening national interest and unity.

We have to learn from our past mistakes and we must question ourselves as to why we are still dragging ourselves in the mud of ethnic politics. Oftentimes we travel around the world to learn from other country experiences on a number of issues and yet we are not willing to learn from the political mistakes we have been piling up one over the other for the past 100 years. We are repeating the same mistakes again and again. Human beings are different from other beings for their ability of maneuverability. Living creatures other than human being are perfect doing the same thing again and again as they are created in a very fixed way but we as human beings are created with the ability to maneuver over times and learn from past mistakes and move away to new approaches, thinking and strategies.

We have to establish a consensus on key past political mistakes and set new visions for our future and start building a foundation that is unshakable. We have to be genuine to ourselves that all our past mistakes are squarely lay on Ethnic politics and the solution should not be a continued politicization of ethnicity. We have to change our paradigms from ethnic politics to institutionalization of people’s demands and enforcing those demands based on the rule of law. 

The recent trends that people are taking the rule of law into their hands in the name of democracy are the other dimensions of ethnic politics. In the name of democracy, we can’t override the rule of law. Democracy is democracy only when it is ruled by law. Democracy is about to speak, to know, to see, and to hear; in other words, democracy is part of our life and our life by design sustains by the rule law. Democracy without the rule of law is not democracy but something else or we can call it demon-cracy, the democracy of the demon. Democracy is not always a means to achieve something else but it is on its own right a goal to be sought. In many instances, we observed that people use democracy as a means and when democracy is used as a means there is high possibility that democracy can be abused in a way to achieve other personal/group goals. 

As long as we stick to ethnic politics, the possibility of establishing trust between ethnic groups is slim. As a human being there is always a temptation that ethnicity thought dominates the relationship and decision-making processes in the political spectrums. There is always a temptation that politicians will in one way or the other tend to hide themselves under the pit of ethnicity during good times and bad times. Today we vividly see such temptations in Amhara, Tigray, Oromia, Somali and in all parts of Ethiopia that politicians are retreating back to their old caves of Ethnicity. Ethnic politics is dangerous for us as a nation. 

The path of ethnic based politics clearly and presently tested for the last 27 years and terribly failed. Ethnic political thinking is by its very nature discriminatory and dangerously contradicts with the broader and bigger national interests and in many instances overrides the interest of other ethnic groups and individual rights. Ethnic based political thinking creates incompatible economic and social environments, irreconcilable and contradicting interests between peoples. Ethnic based identity politics breeds multiple tragedies of the commons on national interest. 

We have to agree as a nation on key fundamental principles to address the demands of ethnic politics and move forward with institutional arrangements to enforce those demands. If we agree on the principles of equality, justice, democracy, basic human rights, non-discrimination, common interest and so on than what more can we do with ethnic politics? The constitution we have today with all its limitations can be used as a starting point to move away from ethnic politics and start institutionalizing peoples demands on the basis of principles. I am tempted to suggest the following principles as a way forward to provoke further dialogues and move away from ethnic politics and pave the way for citizen politics: 

(1) Principle 1: the principle of equality of all languages and culture, i.e., according to constitution article 5/1, any one’s language and culture is equal to any other language and culture. (2) Principle 2: The principle of developing one’s language and culture without discriminating others. According to constitution article 39/2 and 91/1 all ethnic groups have the right to develop their respective languages and culture without discriminating others. (3) Principle 3: Principle of ownership and Accountability for it. Every ethnic group is responsible to develop its own respective languages and culture. In other words, in the decentralized federal system of government, the local administration is responsible for the development of their respective local languages and culture. (4) Principle 4: The principle of institutionalization of demands and enforcement: On the basis of equality and according to constitution article 91/1 and 51, the federal government has the authority to define an overall legal frameworks, institutional arrangement and policy directions for the development of Ethiopian languages and culture just as we used to do for the demands of education, health etc. and (5) Principle 5: The principle of convenience and self-administration. The decentralized federal administrative system need to be established on the basis of convenience for the people, for their settlements and interests; geographic convenience for economic development and administrative convenience for public services. 

Belayneh Begajo is an economist by profession and he can be reached at

Editor’s note : To publish articles on this site, please send submission to

Join the conversation. Like borkena on Facebook and get Ethiopian News updates regularly. As well, you may get Ethiopia News by following us on twitter @zborkena



  1. Subject: “ It is Time for us to Move Away from Ethnic Politics” By BELAYNEH BEGAJO, March 21, 2021

    Humble Commentary, 22 March 2021
    Thank You, Ato Belayneh for raising the subject. Indeed ‘belayneh”, true to the Amharic meaning

    Going into the subject matter, the time was over due a long >>> long >>> long time ago.
    “Ethnic Politics” has always been a DEAFENING & DESTRUCTIVE TRUMPET
    Ethiopia will NEVER, NEVER, NEVER be a FREE DEMOCRATIC COUNTRY unless “ETHNICITY” is deliberately and openly PLACED on its CORNER. Ethnicity — needless to say — is a NATURAL FACT that can never be ‘eradicated’, but CAN BE KEPT at its PROPER place. THE END

  2. This article reminded me of my own views a year or so ago. The flaws of ethnic politics enshrined in the constitution clearly disenfranchises a minority ethnic group in a majority ethnic state. It took a while to realize this observation together with the views in this article were behind the curve (respectfully) and wallowing in a distracting home work assignment. The current constitution makes sense looking at it from an Ethno-Racist point of view. After reading the clearly written Anti-Amhara objective of the TPLF Manifesto, it made perfect sense the ethnic politics together with the constitution is an implementation of this objective. Amhara’s are by far the largest Ethnic minority living in an ethnic majority state. Look at the 2007 consensus. Probably by now 5 to 6 million Amhara’s live outside their ethnic state. So what we have is a DELIBERATE constitutionally doctored disenfranchisement of a targeted ethnicity. Note also Amhara land taken by TPLF and some given away to Beninshangul-Gumuz (and then disowning Agew & Amhara ownership of the ethnic state), plus the narration and erection of the Anole Monument in Arusi together with putting it in Oromo school curriculum are all package of the same Anti-Amhara objective/policy.

    Today, the unfortunate reality is however hopeful or wishful we may be, an ethno-centric leaning current govt. of Ethiopia together with it’s large hate preached Oromo constituency is not going to accept equal rights for non-Oromo’s in Oromo land. In fact what we are witnessing today is the right to life even guaranteed under the current constitution being ignored. The large swath of land the current constitution gives to Oromos is a huge “Kebele bet”. And if you can show me a person who is leasing a kebele bet for nothing and is willing to share it with its rightful owner, then may be the current constitution can change. Keep in mind the opposite is happening, aggressive push of Oromo’s expanding in other ethnic states such as Beninshangul-Gumuz and southern states.

    The solution is to DEMAND change, organize, be active, catch up and consistently apply pressure for change to come. Plus engage our representatives.

    Below is a starter yet a clear one page constitution dear Ethiopia needs. Hopefully what we are witnessing now is not a prelude of what is yet to come.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here