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Remedies and Practical Opportunities in Building our Modern Ethiopia

Google map of Ethiopia and the region

Wes Maru (PhD, CEng)

This apolitical and non-academic piece is intended to provide remedies and practical opportunities in “building our modern (but 3000 years old) Ethiopia” by investing in and invigorating our human and cultural capital to exploit our natural resources, which is passed on to us through the sacrifices of our forefathers and foremothers for millennia.  

However, as I write today, Ethiopia is being defended again by the bloods and lives of our brothers and sisters.  Our gratitude for their sacrifices is limitless and showing reverence must be their first reward.  Even more so, for those who paid the ultimate price, may their soul rest in peace. 

At the same time, an inexplicable news came out from the government of Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali that one hand declares it won the war, hardly, and while on the other is pardoning prisoner politicians that were accused of inciting violence or being active combatants for the terrorist TPLF.  The reasons given to arrive at these decisions are hardly convincing and may open a political chasm that may have profound consequences.  As Ethiopians flock to say #NoMore to neo-colonialists, they should remind their government too.  This will be addressed in a separate piece, but we stress that the old maxim “No Justice, No Peace” holds true about the pardoning. Ignoring it will prove catastrophic.

Yet, this article will still address a large subject – namely, building and defending a nation concurrently.  To provide better context and readability, the article is organised in two sections. 

In the first section, the scourge of ethnic politics having devastating consequences in the very social fabric of our society particularly at family and neighbourhood level is explored.  How it piled on mistrust among families and neighbourhoods, even within the same ethnic group that it claims to stand for.  It also delves into why ethnic politics, as an imported colonial virus to enslave us turned into an ideology of freedom by bringing our national identity in a denigrating sharp focus. It primarily attacked our Ethiopianess by scapegoating what they call it “the expansionist Amhara”, favouring banana republics instead to keep us divided, weak and poor as the colonialists intended.  Ethnic politics is also part of the weapons for our hidden enemies – namely, Begging and Handouts, which kept our country in a bottomless pit for generations.  Of course, although by design, both ethnicity and begging are partly our own faults. They have become the demons haunting us and the perceptions narrative intertwined with our country Ethiopia (and Africa).  We need to extricate ourselves from these demons but only through smart leadership, public participation and particularly through socially responsible business enterprises.

The second section delves into how the diaspora, who now contribute the highest component of the nation’s forex, could collectively create business-oriented investment and knowledge transfer to alleviate our current predicament.  This is distinct from the usually romantic and short-lived movement for diaspora contributions for “people and country”, which is characterised by small but helpful handouts that we are witnessing today.  What this article suggests is a bold initiative based on a more sustained large-scale collaboration and engagement that can be realised through long-term and meaningful direct diaspora investment (DDI) to create personal wealth and development for our nation.  The sustained transfer of skills and much needed forex investment by the diaspora in a form of IMF alternative bank will bring a new vista in how diaspora wealth can be used at home – but to create more wealth both for the diaspora and to our nation.  Of course, for a DDI of this magnitude to work, it must be met with a corresponding commitment by the government of Ethiopia (GoE) to introduce conducive legislations for investment particularly to get rid of corruption.  In addition, the GoE also should device a strategic lead in strengthening our defence forces and technologies in partnership with business investments in the sector.  For example, the GoE’s ten-year agricultural sector development plan is an encouraging leadership that should be supported.  For a nation with almost 85% of its population engaged in agricultural production, the 36% contribution to the GDP is small. Worse still, the importation of significant agricultural produces is unnecessarily easting up the much-needed forex reserve.  Without a fundamental transformation in the agricultural sector, Ethiopia’s social and economic destiny will remain uncertain, and it will be hard to break free from begging and handouts.

Part I : The Scourge of Ethnic Politics

Ethiopia is currently fighting for its survival from its historical enemies.  While the war is waged from afar, the fighting and blood shedding is among Ethiopia’s own children, where on one side are those who turn mercenaries and are hellbent on their mother’s destruction while on the other are those heroes who are becoming martyrs every day for its preservation.

In 1991, a power vacuum was created by the Soviet styled communist Derg, who brutalised its own people and lost complete popular support particularly once the advancing separatist Eritrean People Liberation Front (EPLF) controlled the port city of Massawa.  For Derg, that defeat made it like a house of cards while it brought the mercenary TPLF, a ruthless Albanian styled communist guerrilla group, a bounty of power.

However, after TPLF took power and for the following 27 years, it become hungrier for more power and started to inflate its contribution in the overthrow of the Derg by cultivating a mythical invincibility, a false belief that now put them in hot waters.

It must be pointed out that in 1991, the people of Ethiopia have sadly lost their fellow Eritreans while happily rid of dictator Mengistu.  However, the TPLF crocodiles that the people of Ethiopia helped to seize power turned out to be the most pernicious of all leaders in the nation’s thousands of years history.  As mercenaries for our historical (neo)colonial enemies and Egypt, they religiously implemented the colonial divide and rule play book to destroy Ethiopia (and all Africa) into banana republics.  To keep the wishes of their neo-colonialist masters and Egypt, who suitably wanted to keep us divided, weak and poor so that they can exploit Africa’s rich resources unchallenged, these mercenary oligarchs die to feast on their masters’ crumbs, which is of course monumentally large. That is how Africa is so rich.

At the centre of TPLF’s ideology is federal governance based on ethnicity, with the TPLF authored constitution serving as the only modern-day apartheid on Earth to ravage Ethiopia.  The constitution from its inception was defective to build a nation by enshrining cessation as a prelude for Ethiopia’s disintegration.  This was not by accident but by design as TPLF got the greenlight from its masters to destabilise Africa, where Egypt, in cahoots with the neo-colonialists, have served as the hatching grounds for liberation fronts for nearly a century.

1.    Is ethnic politics an imported virus for enslavement or freedom?

To understand our historical enemies deleterious project as well as to accentuate any lingering doubt on our lived experiences and tremendous harm ethnic politics afflicted on our nation, it is worth to connect the dots.

While many terms are used to define people’s groups in our long human history, the adjective ethnic (as in ethnic group) is however a purposeful 19th century construct, feeding the ideology that led to the Berlin Conference of 1884 dubbed “Scramble for Africa Project”, which regulated the colonisation and trade in Africa by European powers.

Although the word ethnic is derived from the Greek term ethnos and the corresponding adjective ethnikos, denoting any nonspecific collective like warriors or bees, in Italy, it was mostly used in respect of “collectives” outside their city states, sometimes with derogatory connotation.  The reason for this is particularly vital for all Ethiopians to understand.

After the fall of Rome in AD 476, Italy was fragmented in numerous city-states and regional polities until its unification in 1861. Despite contributing famous personalities in arts and music as well as the renaissance that spread to the rest of Europe, bringing a renewed interest in humanism, science and exploration with the start of the modern era, Italy remained politically fragmented and ruled by foreigner Kings over the ages.

Machiavelli, in his celebrated book “The Prince”, looked forward to a time and a political leader who would unite Italy to free her from the devastating 1040 years of lived experience of ethnic or City-State politics.  At that time, Italians only know government through ethnic proxy but without citizenship and senate as it was practiced in the Roman Empire.  Italians also know well that ethnic based governance to be the highest psychological ailment of human condition that you don’t wish on any other human being unless you hate them to the core.  Unfortunately, after Machiavelli’s time, they continued in this excruciating experience for another 350 years until its unification in 1871, a process that took 23 years of political acrobatics and bloodshed.

So, when the Italians came with the hope of conquering Ethiopia both in 1896 and 1935, they came well prepared with the two most powerful biological and psychological weapons they know well at that time – namely, Rinderpest and Ethnicity.  The former devastated the cattle and agricultural industry of our ancestors.  It is argued by some that the effect of rinderpest may even have forced King Menelik unable to capitalise on the victory of Adwa to free our fellow Eritreans from Italian colonial rule, a harrowing subjugation that even denied them the opportunity of education no higher than the 4th grade.  It is one of the blunders in our otherwise glorious history, where we miscalculated in giving up our fellow Eritreans to languish under colonialism for almost half a century.  Who knows if we are doing the same in Tigray today?

Italy once more attempted to use the ethnic poison more effectively during its 1935 occupation of Ethiopia.  The abandoned Eritrea was used as one of the devastating launching pads, where the battle of Michew decidedly led for Emperor Haile-Selassie to scot-free into exile, leaving our heroic fathers and mothers to the brunt of fascist Italy’s wrath.  While fascist Italy formulated ethnic federal states so that we could remain divided, weak, and poor, our forefathers have a different idea.  Even without a King and the luxury of formal government and today’s technology to organise and communicate, they fought with bravery and resolve to derail Italy’s dream of East African Empire because they were united under the banner of Ethiopianism.

But, years later, ethnic politics engulfed us for what it seems a never-ending cycle of abyss because a generation of well-read but uneducated Ethiopians, the likes of Wallelign Mekonnen, sadly re-engineered the Italian ethnic ideology of enslavement as an ideology of freedom.  Foolishly, the student movements were expecting to hatch a dove out of a serpent’s egg.  It proved to be a catastrophic undertaking that has become the root of all our ills for all to see now.  

Can we correct our current predicament? The signs during the current government are positive compared to the years of TPLF rule but it remains precarious and sometimes unclear.  It requires participation and contribution from all of us to support the change, not necessarily as politicians but as agents of an enduring change.  

The COVID-19 virus pandemic and its mutating variants is a good and timely example for the scourge of imported ethnic virus that is rampant in our country.  But, before prescribing a vaccine for our ethnic virus, it is instructive to further elucidate how our identity and social fabric have been eroded in the name of ethnic federalism.  Our current identity amnesia is because of a divide and rule neo-colonialist playbook used by ethnic mercenaries through mistrust within family and neighbourhood. These politicians suppression the very nature of human enlightenment by arguing language based (ethnic) identity to be cardinal above all things while identity by its very nature is a continuum.

a.     Why Family and Neighbourhood Responsibility is being eroded?

Now is a high and opportune time for all Ethiopians to return to the days of “Neighbourhood Responsibility” that served us so well as the basic fabric of our culture and national unity for centuries.

The greatest tragedy during the Tigrean People Liberation Front (TPLF) rule is how divided we have become, not only through ethnic lines but also by the shame and scourge of the TPLF divide and rule “one-for-five” draconian rule that permeates in eroding neighbourhood trust.  As Ethiopians, we were solidly grounded in taking care of our neighbours’ children as our own, not only in feeding them but in guiding them too.  But TPLF’s “one-for-five” animal-farm like spying game made us to be suspicious of our own shadows and become filled with animosity against our neighbours.  The result of this twenty-seven years of social engineering is not only the eroding of our proud Ethiopian culture but also the very essence of our humanity itself.  The loss of trust means we were crippled in carrying out large scale collaboration as a community, society or as a nation.  As such, we failed miserably to protect and safeguard our neighbours.  If we can’t protect our neighbours, we can’t even protect our own families either – becoming an easy pray for potential enemies.  This if fresh in our memories because every time it was rumoured or observed TPLF fighters were approaching our villages and towns, we run away instead of defending our neighbourhood collectively.  No judgement here, as most of us have done the same.  But this piece is about how are we going to fix it and feel secure within our community again?

Our core value of neighbourhood and national identity might have been supressed and eroded while we were held hostages by TPLF for twenty-seven years.  Coupled with the last three years of chaos, this moment must be held as an opportunity to awaken neighbourhood responsibility and trust as a fabric of our national unity.  Each of us need to get our acts together to build our country in unison.

A nation that was known as a starlight not only for Africa but also for all oppressed people globally has come into question for its survival in our times.  This is not right.  A key difference is that our forefathers took personal and neighbourhood responsibilities seriously and marched to fight for their nation as one.  They fought with full of trust in themselves, their neighbours, and all their fellow Ethiopians because they know their families will be taken care of if they are not fortunate enough to return alive. 

As a majority religious and God-fearing nation, it is imperative to point out that all the major religious teachings compel us to love and trust our neighbours, which is no coincidence. It must be the simplest step we need to take to correct the mistrust and build our community as it should have been because it is one of our key foundations as a nation.  We need to reconcile as a family and as neighbours, and ultimately as a nation without delay, both for us and our children’s future.

b.     Why is Ethiopian Citizenship Identity attacked by the ethnic political elites?

In the modern world, the most important group identity is country citizenship, which is associated with legal rights and responsibilities under the constitution of the given country.  From our recent lived experience, the TPLF authored constitution is known to be defective but was the right one to ensure the disintegration of Ethiopia as we know it.  It led us to the current catastrophic failures and requires fundamental improvement as a priority.  Rather than making ethnicity the primary core value of national identity, the constitution ought to be based on humanity first to ensure the protection and safeguard of the lives of citizens using a democratic government.  The inalienable citizen’s human and democratic rights together with the principles of equality, equity, fairness for individual and collective developments – including ethnic rights should be the binding principle that could bring us as united Ethiopians.

Change in the constitution alone will not make the very complicated process of nation building or nation revitalisation any simpler.  However, a constitution with humanity as its core value will set a firm foundation for democracy and economic development to escape from our current and past abyss.

The ethnic virus, which was unleashed by the Italians in the 1880s and 1930s has been both under dormancy and mutation for many years.  But it was the Ethiopian (socialist) Student Movement of the 1960/70 that gave it a new lease of life.  These inexperienced groups tried to use ethnicity irresponsibly to achieve their socialist goals.  But it was hijacked by extremist mercenaries and backfired spectacularly, making most of them its first casualties.

It must be at everyone’s fingertip that ethnic politics was designed by the Italians to divide and enslave us.  It is true todays as it was 125 years ago.  However, the fact that it was ripe to be manipulated by the then student movement and Meles’s TPLF means that there is at least an underlying problem in our Ethiopia past and present, which must be corrected through education and dialogue for our collective benefits. 

For starters, a shift from the current politics requires a deep understanding of people’s “group identity”, which is rather a continuum at different levels. For example, a normal person’s “image and identity” about the “people group” s/he may attach or belong to are not innate but learned from experiences after birth and continues to change.  Each group or society has its own group identity.  In addition, a person’s network has many levels within his own group and outside – from family, relatives, geographic location, religion, sexual orientation, language to race.  Which identity becomes the most important to an individual is usually determined by circumstances. 

For example, a person born in my favourite town Dembi Dolo is likely to think religious affiliations such as being Protestant or Orthodox Christianity or Muslim to be important characters although the town is also known for its goldsmith and tej. Then, when staying at Agaro, which is the trading centre of coffee, the person is also likely to think cash crop farmers, particularly coffee producers, to be important characters than other farmers.  When staying at Jimma, the person is likely to think Oromos (ethnicity) to be an important character than other minority ethnic groups who settled there for various reasons.  When staying in the modern city of Adamma, the identity of those from the countryside is likely to be an important character.  When staying at the nation’s capital Addis Ababa, the identity of people from similar profession, religious group or even a common interest like tennis may compete as important characters.  However, Addis Ababa, as the melting pot of Ethiopia and Africa, citizenry is likely to be a more common important character than any other multitudes of ethnic groups or other identities.  When staying in London, United Kingdom, the identity of (diaspora) Ethiopians is likely to be an important character among most (non-Ethiopian diaspora) residents and tourists as well as native British people.  When staying in Cambridge, United Kingdom, the identity of people of African origin could be important characters, however rare.  If the person is young, anyone with a common interest is likely to be a more important character as Cambridge is dominated by international students, mainly from China and India.  These samples of identity levels indicate the framework of “an articulated hierarchy of relational alterities” in identity analysis.

The reason why the person from Dembi Dolo recognised citizenry and common interest at different levels than the current average Ethiopian is due to the continuum nature of the person’s identity developed over the years due to education and exposure.  Of course, both the exposure and education require significant intelligence to truly realise the distinction between ethnic compartmentalisation and national identity.  As smart the person from Dembi Dolo is, his/her ability to see even beyond our planet into our galaxy, where our planet appears as a speck of dust in our Milky Way is most likely.  For such a person, the most that is likely to resonate are Earth and Humanity. From such a helicopter view, s/he must be counting the blessing or the good fortune that this fragile blue marble planet endowed on us by supporting life to exist. This must compel one to strive to live in harmony and prosperity. 

If the person accepts humanity first, the humanity identity continuum could be followed by many routes – for example, African, Ethiopian, wo/man, Oromo, Christian and other identity continuums – including profession, sexuality etc.  Similarly, it could be followed by wo/men, black/white/yellow, socialist/capitalist/libertarian/tribalist etc.  The identity typology could be many.  As is the case in the modern world, for the person from Dembi Dolo too, being Ethiopian is likely to be the prime identity to exhibit despite the likelihood being labelled by New Yorkers and Jimmians as African and Oromo, respectively.  Nothing could be taken away from the person’s identity continuum. S/he remains Ethiopian first without rejecting being African (more global group) and Oromo (localised group) at the same time.  Acceptance of multiple identity is a sign of human exploration. For the person from Dembi Dolo, s/he remains the most enlightened until all follow, as they will. Those ethnic political elites, who would like to see us in a compartmentalised identity cell as a make-or-break option of all identities, have one primordial objective as demonstrated by TPLF and OLA.  They would like to hold us hostages, literally taking away our human spirit of exploration so that we will remain in their ethnic ideological cocoon.

Therefore, the children of Ethiopia at all ages may need to be thought identity as a continuum – a universal character of humanity.  There is no singularity because group identity is a continuum and therefore individuals and groups must be both proud and adaptable how they identify themselves.  But citizenship is what we share as one people in our diversity –our limitless and cardinal projection to the world beyond our shores and borders.  The citizenship education must inculcate Ethiopia’s unity and beauty in its diversity. 

Rather than attacking our Ethiopian identity in favour of what is to be an internally one identity typology such as ethnicity, more steps could be taken to strengthen cohesion in our unity.  For example, instead of the regional language of school instruction alone that is practised today, the introduction of a legislation to teach school children additional two more compulsory languages each from Ethiopia (any chosen) and two foreign languages (five in total) could bring us closer. It may catalyse national cohesion, effective commerce, and knowledge/culture hybridisation.  Introducing students to 3-4 foreign languages in addition to their mother tongue is common in the economically developed countries.  While these countries do so to keep their global business competitiveness, Ethiopians need it for their collective survival.  The ability to enjoy the many varieties of music, literature, and folklores in our land that expresses both our happiness and sorrows will only bind us together with while developing mutual respect.  Language helps us to understand our diversity in Unity while strengthening Ethiopia’s unity in diversity.  Segregating communities based on the language they speak alone is purely a 21st century apartheid.

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