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The Responsibility of Majoritarian Ethnicities

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By Addissu Admas

Like many countries in the world, Ethiopia is home to numerous different ethnic groups. By common estimation, around 80 of them. However, unlike most other countries, Ethiopia is not overwhelmingly dominated by one single ethnic group with numerous smaller other ethnic groups; for example, like China where the Han ethnic group constitutes 91% of the total population, and Russia where Russians make up 77% of the population. Ethiopia’s case is unusual, since rather than having one super-majoritarian ethnic group, she has relatively large ethnic groups that could be tiered in the following way. The two majoritarian ethnic groups would be the Oromo and the Amhara, which respectively are 35 and 27 percent of the total population of Ethiopia, followed by the two big minoritarian ethnicities, the Somali and the Tegaru at approximately 6% each. In the third tier are those smaller minorities such as the Sidama, Gurage, Wolaita, Hadiya, Afar and Gamo who range each from a high 4% to a low of 1.5% of the total population. Most of the remaining ethnic groups, some 70 of them, number less than half a million people each. Together, they constitute some 13% of Ethiopia’s population.

Since in Ethiopia there has never been an supermajority ethnic group that controls all the instruments of power, the economy and culture as in China or Russia, there was always an expectation, seldom expressed openly but nonetheless persistent, that Ethiopia had to be governed in a manner that reflected her ethnic and religious heterogeneity. The problem has been that this expectation was not only never fulfilled to everyone’s satisfaction, but was never even addressed in the proper way.

During the imperial era, under both Atse Menelik II and Atse Haile Selassie I, the Amhara, especially the Showan, tended to govern the subjugated populations through a combination of individual, marital and military alliances tending more to assimilationism and appeasement. Where these did not succeed, through outright military dominance. This is what led most irredentist intellectuals to compare, erroneously in my opinion, Amhara dominance to European colonialism. It became, in fact, the battle cry of most liberation fronts from the 1960s onward. I do not want to stop here to refute the validity of their comparison. Suffice to say that European colonialism was motivated, initiated, and expanded by totally other reasons- and means. Calling Amhara dominance colonialism not only misses the point, but impedes a genuine inquiry and understanding. The point is that there was indeed Amhara dominance and Amharanization has been the preferred mode of governance. Let us not forget that until the advent of modern education, and thus the emergence of an awareness of alternative modes of governance, the only known form of government to nearly all Ethiopians without distinction of ethnicity, culture or religion, was the autocratic type; and that is one that subscribed to subjugation by force. This was not the sole modus operandi of the Amhara alone. The Oromo and other larger minorities have made recourse to it equally; e.g. the process of Oromo-ization or Tegaru-zation in the past as well as in the present. This may not have characterized as such the intra-ethnic relations in all cases, but it has certainly defined the inter-ethnic relations of all concerned. For example, the Oromo Gadaa system of governance is essentially democratic, but it is not so as concerns their subjugated peoples! Thus, not only the Amhara, but also the Oromo have resorted to identical autocratic methods of governance of other ethnicities. This is the reason why the recent history of Ethiopia has been seen as a succession of periods where one ethnicity emerges as the hegemonic one. That is why we have the tendency of speaking of the “ascendance” of one particular ethnicity over all Ethiopians. In this regard, the expression ጊዚአቸው ነው (it is their time) is an expression we often hear stated with the resentment that accompanies it. It is as if this is a course of historic progression that must be accepted as being “natural” and inevitable; where in fact it is neither natural nor inevitable.

That Ethiopia must recognize her ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic diversity has not been a point of contention at least since the Revolution of 1974 (አብዮት). Neither is it something that can be minimized by a revisionist history. What we have not succeeded is to accommodate our differences as to make them functional without fringe parties trying to undermine and blow it up. We have, in theory, a constitution that not only acknowledges our complex diversity, but attempts, at least in the spirit of the letter, to devise a credible solution. However, the fact of the matter remains that no law in Ethiopia has been applied objectively and fairly under any administration and under all circumstances without the existing regime twisting and turning it to satisfy its own agenda or benefit certain parties. What Ethiopia suffers from is not lack of reasonable laws, but a lack of good faith and political will to implement them with the required objectivity and fairness. The current constitution may not need to be overhauled wholesale. However, it may need amendments to prevent it from being manipulated by the power that be. What it ultimately needs is, in fact, fair and good faith implementation.

Over and above the written letters of the Constitution, what has been lacking sorely in Ethiopia is the spirit of nation building: the idea that the personal destiny of every Ethiopian is tied to the nation’s; that a single ethnicity cannot dominate the entire nation in every sector and at every level and expect peace and stability. We have seen how regimes founded on these premises have failed spectacularly within and without Ethiopia. There  must be a mind-set that we are in this predicament together, and that we can only emerge from it together.

Ethiopia, to remind both the majoritarian and larger minoritarian ethnicities, is not a commodity that passes from one ethnicity to another, from a losing party to a winning party, to be “exploited and enjoyed” at the expense of other ethnic groups until another ethnic group ascends. There is no “our time has come” or “their time has passed”. If one thinks in these terms, Ethiopia would not be any better than an insignificant agglomeration of squabbling nationalities, and not a nation with a remarkable history. Thus, we cannot go on with the policies of resentment, rancor and spite. They beget neither stability, peace, much less prosperity, but constant hatred and diffidence. In the battle of “majoritarian ethnicities”, clear alignment is expected often from minoritarian ethnicities. Not their loyalty to the nation, but their loyalty to the hegemonic group is required and tested relentlessly. Their very existence is rendered precarious and they are at the mercy of their ethnic overlords. This is not the intent of the constitution and neither of all Ethiopians of good will.

The greatness of a person lies in his/her magnanimity; in the literal sense of the word, this signifies “having a big soul”, suggesting loftiness of spirit, eschewing all forms of meanness. No fascist, no ethnocentrist, no tribalist, no one who “others” those who do not belong to one’s group can ever be called magnanimous because his or her soul is too small to accommodate or include “the other”. The same can be said of a majoritarian group in a nation. If its intent is to seek only the advantage, privilege and superiority of its members at the expense, disadvantage and suffering of minorities, not only will it be ignoring its expected historic responsibility, but it will signify that it has not been able to rise to its status as a mature majoritarian people. Or, following the analogy, to merge as a magnanimous group.

Ethiopia has never existed, as far as history can tell, as a nation of one single ethnicity. She has always been a nation formed of various ethnicities. There has of course been differences in the size and number of ethnicities that constitute her through the course of her history. However, there was an unwritten covenant that even though her varying ethnicities may have had constant squabbles over land, grazing fields and water resources, they were constantly ready to face together their common enemy, without ever questioning that they were members of the same nation.

 Let me reiterate one point: Ethiopians cannot afford to go the way of former Yugoslavia. Not only are we abjectly poor collectively, but also and more to the point, separately in our individual enclaves. Not only we lack collectively the economic, political and intellectual infrastructure, but these resources are unequally and haphazardly distributed among the Killils. If the Slovenians, Croatians, Bosnians, Serbians, etc…. have been able to go their separate ways, all be it through violent internecine war, it is because they have known in their past distinct national identities and because they possessed sufficient resources separately to sustain themselves. If, out of pure insanity, Ethiopians, especially the majoritarian and greater minoritarian ethnicities were to go their separate ways, not only it would be disastrous for the smaller minorities, but it would be even worse for themselves.

          Ethiopians, whether they belong to a majoritarian or minoritarian ethnicity must be aware that they cannot entertain the possibility of going the Yugoslavian way because it means quite simply going the way of our neighbor to the east. Our only and sole preoccupation should be to eliminate the mentality of ascendency of one ethnic group over the others using all the means at our disposal. It is imperative that we find a mode of co-existence that both reflects and respects our equality, and fosters our fraternity and liberty. 

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9 COMMENTS

  1. True. this is the pitfalls that even the so,-called majoritarian group are missing and minoritarians has abused and twisted when they ascend onto state power like Tograins. I definitely would say there is no an absolute majority group in Ethiopian but majority of many minorities. It is only and a ranked order at best. And sooner the rabid ethnic politicians and intellectuals understand that fact the better. Alll the same, the tranny of majoritarianism isn’t necessarily better than tranny of minorijatrianism as w e have seen it.
    In will weekend society and would lead a group or personal despotism and disintegration of the nation’state eventually. Also , as you rightly put it, there is no need of new laws and new progressive constitutions as some would argue ad nauseam in Ethiopia. They have been in place since the Derg times but it only needs using in a good faith on the part of leaders and politicians and doing few remedies here and there if need be.

  2. True. this is the pitfalls that even the so,-called majoritarian group are missing and minoritarians has abused and twisted when they ascendded onto state power like Tigrains. I definitely would say there is no an absolute majority group in Ethiopian but majority of many minorities. It is only a ranked order at best and sooner the rabid ethnic politicians and intellectuals understand this fact the better. Alll the same, the tranny of majoritarianism won’t be necessarily better than tranny of minorijatrianism as we have seen it before . It will weaken society and would lead a group or personal despotism and total disintegration of the nation’state eventually. Also , as you rightly put it, there is no need of new progressive laws and super constitutions in Ethiopia as some would argue ad nauseam lately . They have been in place since the Derg times but it only needs using in a good faith and good judgment on the part of leaders and politicians and doing few remedies here and there if need be

  3. “The two majoritarian ethnic groups would be the Oromo and the Amhara, which respectively are 35 and 27 percent of the total population of Ethiopia”.

    Editor,

    The author of this article may be unknowingly and unwittingly propagated this myth of Oromo majority at 35%. For the past 32 years, the ethno apartheid system prevailing in Ethiopia has deliberately undercounted the Amhara population by as many as 10,000,000 per budget year. In itself, this numerical undercounting or misrepresentation may be considered not outright inimical by the unobserving or inattentive masses that are far too many. However, this outright fraudulent scheme is the tactic the former TPLF used to siphon billions and billions of birr out of the budget of the so called Amhara region, denying the basic rights of Amhara women, children, men and elderly to equal representation under the law, including proportional parliamentary seats. Currently the Abiy led Oromumma PP is playing the same tune and running its ethno apartheid state denying the Amhara and other ethnic groups, namely those forcefully lumped under SNNPR. It is ironic that the TPLF and OLF architects of the current ethno apartheid constitution who shed crocodiles tears 24/7 about minority rights did not even bother to recognize the territorial integriy of these mosaic ethnic groups and unceremoniously refer to them not by their “ethnic identities” but as if they are a pile of people called SNNPRs. Who gave the authority to TPLF and OLF to name all these people or categorize them under SNNPR???

    Let’s revisit some hard facts and look straight at quite a few bitter truth pills to swallow. Per the 1984 Ethiopian census conducted by the Ethiopian Central Statistics authority funded by the UN, here are the basics:

    1) In 1984 the two so called ethnic majorities, the Oromo and Amhara constituted at most 57.4% of the population (at 29.1% and 28.3% respectively). Per the author’s claim, the Amhara now stand at 27% and the Oromo have jumped up by nearly 6%. Recall birth rates and migratory patterns of a nation remain relatively constant or change in similar trends following past patterns.

    Here are the historical injustices, inequities and misrepresentation further expounded. In 1984, the Guraghe constituted about 4.4% of the Ethiopian population. Their physical count was recorded at 1,855,905 In contrast, the BenShangul Gumuz population was only 40,000, constituting less than 1% of the Ethiopian population at only 0.8%.

    For nearly 35 years now, the Guraghe who under both the Imperial Government and Mengistu regime had autonomous territory have been denied the Killil status both by the TPLF and now by the Abiy Oromumma regime.

    BenShangul Gumuz region is a political, fictitious construct of the TPLF regime, created by stealing lands that traditionally and historically settled in by the Amhara populace. Because the geographical terrain did not allow the separatist ambition of TPLF in its pipe dream of making greater Tigray, a population and ethnic group called the BenShangul Gumuz who are literally 1/40 the population of the Guraghe were given autonomous status through theft.

    In his recent visit, Abiy Ahmed pulled out of thin air that the Gurage cannot be granted the killil status they aspired for and guaranteed in the current Ethiopian constitution Abiy and his cadres bark about ad nauseam 24/7. The reader is here encouraged to dig further deep. For every BenShangul Gumuz ethnic minority there are 40 Guraghes denied self governance, autonomy, territorial and cultural integrity. Whyare the Gurages denied self autonomous killil? Because Oromia just like Greater Tigray is a fictitious land created by Oromumma fanatics and ideologues by stealing land that traditionally was settled in by the Guraghe, Wolayta, Kambata and on and on.

    The Abiy regime is a failed regime that has not been able to be impartial, fair, respectable, accountable and equitable. Abiy and his Oromumma cadres and sycophants and yes men and women, will never be able to advance the causes of the Ethiopian people. Rampant embezzlement, corruption, marginalization, theft, forgery, criminality, lawlessness, we are above the law attitude by his Oromumma goons and cadres, the constant failure to hold criminals in his bosom accountable before the law, the Abiy regime has lost the respect and trust of many globally. Abiy is unreliable, his wishy washy character, brazen insolence, lack of shame, absence of self awareness, overestimation of his “cleverness” which is actually more of shamelessness and uncontrollable lust for power and dominance over anybody opposing or criticizing his inadequacies, failures, immorality, incorrigibility and inhumanity make him singularly unfit for the position he is way over his head in and the inevitable failure and imminent disaster are unavoidable and written all over the wall. God save Ethiopia and her beautiful people. Hopefully, after end of this disaster, Ethiopians will correct course, learn from this saga and take is a teaching and learning moment and move on, forward.

    • Amharic speakers are not the majority and have never been the majority. I suggest you travel throughout our country, to every corner, so you can see the truth on the ground. In fact, Amarigna is losing it’s significance and is now largely unnecessary. There may be a day when Afaan Oromo becomes the new working language. Both the Eastern regions and the North/South Sudanese borders are reluctant to learn Amharic. I guess it really is the beginning of the end.

      • My dear friend:
        Never mind. Forget the statistics. In a country like Ethiopia, people must learn primarily own ethnic language and secondarily at least one of the two big languages. Meaning the Amhara should learn afanoromo and the Oromo should learn amharic. The remaining regions decide which big language shall be introduced in the region.
        At the end of the day: Ethiopians shall be able to communicate with eachother with an Ethiopian language (no European language).
        Ethiopians should be able to move and work live freely in Ethiopia with peace and no hatred among ethnics.
        I hope we may get a generation free from hatered one day.

    • Sir
      By 1984 consensus : is it in Ethiopian Calendar ? I would appreciate.
      I remember Woyane conducted in 1992 or 1993 (European calendar) a population count and was very reluctant to diieclose the figures, because the real numbers did not confirm the political narrative.

  4. I read news yesterday that the current regime and the ‘OLA’ have agreed to meet in Tanzania to sort things out that will lead to a truce. I applaud both sides for overcoming their prejudices and decide to give peace a chance. Guns must go permanently silent. The people of Western Oromia do not deserve war and destruction. Their youth should have been going to schools and places of work instead of being marched into awaiting infernos. It should have been browsing on its cell phones in stead of being trained to master AK47’s. So this is an opportunity for peace those upright citizens have been denied for several years now. We should all stand united in applauding this agreement to meet for a dialogue. We should refrain from beating the drums of war from our comfy homes thousands of miles away from the places of agony. We should stifle from such abhorrent behavior.

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