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The need to revisit our nation building project

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Ethiopian State _ Dereje Yimer
Map source : PanAfrican Vision

Dereje Yimer 

Ethiopian State formation vis-à-vis the European states 

Ethiopian state formation had passed the same route with the European ones. It has some exceptions, however. Let me pinpoint some of them. At the verge of the nineteenth century, the new realm of industrialization had necessitated most European states to be engulfed in grand state formation projects.   Generally, the state machine was launched to search for raw material and labor for the new infant industries. It was also accompanied by the movement of capital. This phenomenon benefited in return the newly incorporated states in all respects. Nevertheless, entrenching the state apparatus was forced to pass a huge hurdle on its path. All threatening forces were expected to be crushed and surrendered at the feet of one powerful ruler. 

Despite the fact that the society benefited from the fruit of industrialization, they were also faced with unimaginable atrocities. Bismark dictum elucidates the gloomy scene at a time. i.e. The wheel of history never moves without blood and iron. Germany came to exist as a sovereign state by blood and iron. The same is true for other European states.  So why did those atrocities fail to be a breeding ground for ethno nationalism like in Ethiopia?  The answer is crystal clear.

The new European states hold the track of nation building immediately after they have gained territorial integrity. This would enable them to bury the grieving historical episode that happened at the time of the state formation process once and for all. It is utterly impossible to sensationalize the historical agony experienced by marginalized society. Democratic political system, science and technology, economic prosperity and urbanization thwart the possible danger of ethnic politics.  Civic nationalism, instead, molds the body politics. As German Sociologist Durkheim argues, societies transcend from Mechanical into Organic solidarity. They prefer to get organized based on ideas rather than primordial identity. 

Without having reviewed the above bare facts, it is hardly possible to reach a concert logical conclusion. We have to underscore the discrepancy between Ethiopian and European state formation Mechanism. Such kinds of comparative studies are significant in terms of providing research outputs to create a better understanding of Ethiopian history. 

What is new in the Ethiopian State formation Project?

According to John Makakis, Ethiopian state formation is unique in all respects as compared to African countries. Ethiopia, unlike African countries, was created through expansion inside out. Ethiopian state formation was launched with the motto of grabbing additional land that could enhance the revenue of the central regime. In contrast to European society, the engulfed society to the central regime hadn’t enjoyed economic blessing. Rather, they were subjugated to the new ruthless feudal system in the form of taxation and oppression. Unfortunately, the succeeding political system couldn’t manage to implement an accommodative political system. In short, the nation building project that must have come after the state formation project hasn’t launched yet. Due to this, the quest for ethnic equality has become a buzzword for more than half a century. 

The economic malady has been deepening from regime to regime. Ethno-nationalists used the frustrating reality on the ground as a flame to stand against the status quo. Had it been the nation building project successful like the European ones, we wouldn’t have faced such an astronomical challenge emanated from ethnic nationalists until the present time.   

The failed attempt 

The TPLF led regime introduced a new constitution and adopted an ethnic federalism, unique in terms of theory and practice, to give a response for a five decades national quest. It paves the way for ethnic groups to exercise linguistic autonomy for the first time in history. Nevertheless, the pillars of federalism, which are self-rule and shared-rule, were ignored by and large. Quenching the thrust of ethnic equality in the political, social and economic realm evaporated into thin air. The vanguard party TPLF/EPRDF had been exercising hegemonic power for more than two decades under the pretext of nation, nationalities and peoples.  

Possible way forward   

Espousing Ethiopian nationalism at the expense of ethnic diversity has been exacerbating the overall existing problems of the country. So, pursuing the same route should not be allowed at any cost. We need a new political system that can accommodate both civic nationalism and ethnic identity at the same time. This grand project is materialized with the help of an open and transparent political system, predominantly known by rule of law. The main task beforehand is building an independent institution that can serve all sections of the society, irrespective of political and cultural differences. Without democratizing the political space in such a way, it is utterly impossible to give a response for both ethnic quest and strengthen the unity of the country.  

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