By Addissu Admas
In his widely read and discussed book Greater Ethiopia, Donald N. Levine (1931-2015), former professor of sociology at the University of Chicago and an Ethiopianist of exceptional acumen, wrote not only on the possibility, but most importantly, on the “sustainability of a multi ethnic society” in Ethiopia. As Levine noted with some irony in the preface to the revised edition of his book in 2000, the original version of his book appeared on the very day Emperor Haile Selassie I was deposed on September 12, 1974. However, neither the dethronement of the Emperor and the subsequent regimes, nor the ideologies that sustained them, made him change his original belief in the viability and sustainability of an Ethiopia that is “a multi-ethnic society”. Indeed, this was one of his main reasons for republishing his book some twenty-six years later.
Prof. Levine believed that the ideological glue that sustained Ethiopia’s unity were, successively, what he called the “Solomonid ideology” under the imperial regime which maintained that Ethiopia as a whole was an ancient kingdom that traces her origin to the union between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba as illustrated in the Kebre Negast. The Derg regime, which sought to unite the peoples of Ethiopia under the banner of Marxism, while the EPRDF regime, especially under Meles Zenawi, wanted to implement the never-quite-implemented ideas of Stalin contained in his Marxism and the National Question (1913). Had Prof. Levine been alive today, he would be hard-pressed to identify any form of “unifying ideology”, except the degeneration of the previous one into a fascistoid “rivendication” of past glories, “presumed exceptionalism”, or an amalgam of badly digested ideas that we are witnessing today.
As a genuine friend and lover of most things Ethiopian, prof. Levine hoped earnestly that Ethiopians could “neutralize the tendencies toward Balkanization” through promotion of “organizations based on multiethnic coalitions”, and by instituting organizations that are devoted to dealing with global economic social and cultural matters”, and by being “active in institutions that are “group-blind”. He believed that celebrating, rather than denigrating our peculiar cultural traits – for example, by co-opting: “the Oromo capacity for democratic political organization, …[by promoting] the historic Amhara-Tigrean creation of a multi-ethnic polity….[by encouraging] the industry of the Gurage and Beta Israel, the artistry of Harar and Dorze, and the myriad contributions of all the elements of Talakadu Ityopia”) – does far more to promote, not only the sustainability of our multicultural nation, but its welfare and stability.
It is clear that, following this line of thought, Ethiopia needs a new ideology that re-affirms not only the possibility, but also the necessity of maintaining our multi-ethnic nation. Oromummaa, an ideology conceived and promoted by expatriate Oromo intellectuals, is by design too divisive, hegemonist and partisan to be of any use for holding the nation, let alone promote stability, peace and prosperity. Rather than celebrating and promoting our diversity, it appears to advocate assimilation and incorporation of “the others”, on the dubious presumption that Amharanization had done the same under emperors Menelik II and Haile Selassie I. Or, perhaps, it is motivated by the unjustifiable premise that TPLF had intended a new Ethiopia under Tigray’s supremacy. However, two wrongs do not make a right!
The reality is, despite the majoritarian status of the Oromo, they, like all the members of other ethnicities of Ethiopia, want to live in peace, go about their business without being molested by rogue officials, and live under a fair rule of law that does not infringe on their basic rights. When ideologues fail to deliver on what the people truly need, they continue to feed them myths that have no relevance to their lives, in the unlikely chance that it will sooth their stomachs and psyches.
In the absence of unifying or organizing ideology, what Ethiopians need to focus is on creating together without distinction of ethnicity or religion, a state that aims to extricate its people from poverty, attempts to eliminate all forms of banditry, insecurity, anarchism, corruption, etc… Focusing to eliminate pragmatically all these ills collectively as a national program will have for sure a unifying and stabilizing effect as would any well-conceived, well-intentioned and well-implemented ideology.
What we have become instead is victims all to an ideology that will not only never deliver anything positive for Ethiopia, but not even to the very people it was intended to benefit. If it ever was construed as an ideology, Amharanization never succeeded to benefit the very people it was intended to benefit, since to this day, after nearly a century of Showan hegemony, the Amhara are not in any way distinguishable in wealth than the rest of Ethiopians. Their only notable advantage, if that is indeed one, is to have their language recognized as the working federal language.
The Derg’s attempt to unify around the destruction of the feudal system and the expropriation of land and urban rental properties a la Soviet socialism, and its futile attempt to equalize Ethiopian society, resulted only in equalizing all in poverty. All this made even more dire by its constant war against the liberation fronts.
The ideology of Tigrean exceptionalism and nearly thirty years of preferential treatment of Tigray and Tigreans, has only led to a violent, cruel and destructive war that has brought death and destruction more on the Tigrean populace than the confectioners of that ideology, i.e. the TPLF.
Today Oromummaa, besides being an ideology concocted in some “intellectual lab” abroad, is having the effect of generating more heat and hatred than a genuine point of discussion on our pressing problems. It will in fact succeed in leading us to at least the very edge of our dissolution, if not throw us over the precipice. The reason for this is simple. If it can hold its sway over its base, i.e. the Oromo people, as it intends to do, we will be witnessing the end of Ethiopia we have known for over a century.
It is the hope of every Ethiopian of goodwill that this destructive ideology is not embraced, not even by a minority of Oromos, and much less by PM Abiy, unless he does not mind presiding over the dissolution of this historically and culturally rich nation. This is far from what he had intimated when he came to power. On the contrary, he appears to want to preside over a unified, strong and prosperous nation. What he needs to do is revisit with open mind the ideology that promotes, and not destroy the unity of Ethiopia. The way has already been indicated for him to follow. What he needs is to pursue it with determination.
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