By Getahun Tafesse
A banana is a banana. A banana has, however, different colors, flavors, and texture in different stages of its life. On one extreme, the raw banana is green and firm whereas on the other extreme the ripe banana is yellow and soft. In between these two, the color undergoes gradual changes in different stages – a full green fruit first goes pale green, then green yellow, yellow with green tips, bright yellow, pale yellow and yellow with brown spots. Similarly, the banana softens as it ripens.
People in different societies or ethnicities are essentially the same. However, people in one categorical group (a community/ society or ethnicity) share similar cultural attributes and social values which could be different from another group’s social attributes and values. These attributes and values are not static but dynamic, evolving and changing overtime within a group and relative to other groups. At a given point in time, different social groups are likely to be found in different stages of maturity though all are likely to go through the same evolutionary change processes going from raw to ripe stages of development. Over time a given society or social group or ethnic group becomes more democratic, civil, respectful of individual rights and inclined to dialogue than use of force, i.e., as it matures it softens. A simple example – it was not that far long when we used to witness people fighting to get into a public transport of taxis or buses which gave way to current civilized long que respecting the right of an individual for first come first served service principle. Force gave way to principle. As a society matures it begins to respect individual rights including human rights and citizens increasingly abide by rule of law.
A banana conflict arises when the yellow banana feels different and superior to the green banana and vice versa. The green banana may feel it has the natural color and strength, looking at the yellow banana as unnatural and odd (as hellish in the extreme), without realizing that it is going to look and become the same as the yellow banana overtime. Similarly, the yellow banana may feel it has unique color, texture and test superior to that of a green banana, without realizing that it was just similar and same like the green banana just a while back.
Social groups compare and compete among themselves with a tendency usually to grandiose self and undermine (in the extreme demonize) the other. In actual fact and essence people here or there in this group or in the other are by nature the same. There are no intrinsic differences in the sense that one group is bad, dumb or evil and the other group good, smart or saint. In my opinion, the differences in shared values between different social groups (reflected also in individual characteristics and behaviors of the respective groups) are mainly driven by environmental factors under which living is earned by the different groups. The most important environmental factor, in developing country context, is the relative conduciveness of the natural setting for societal livelihood – i.e., fertile land, easy availability of water (rainfall, lakes and rivers), good vegetation, etc. the abundance availability of which could induce a given society to live a relaxed, communal and shared life whereas lack of these or harsh living conditions could induce another society to lead a pressurized, tense, individualistic and competitive life. These factors govern societal and, therefore, individual members values and behaviors. Other factors such as degree of exposure to other cultures, religion, education, etc. also shape societal values and behaviors but the most determining factor, in our context, is likely to be the natural surrounding environment setting.
Now, the rightful question is how environmental factors govern different social groups to pass through similar paths of societal development overtime. The demography factor here is the most important. Societies all over the world are likely to pass from early stage of development characterized by low population density and nature dependent lifestyle (underscored by abundance of land, vegetation/ forest and rainfall) to a latter stage of development characterized by high population density or pressure and consequent adoption of technology dependent lifestyle (underscored by land scarcity, high deforestations, shortage of rainfall and, therefore, use of modern systems and technologies to cope up with population pressure and livelihood challenges). In the process of this transition, society evolves from relaxed, communal and shared life to a pressurized, individualistic and competitive lifestyle.
A banana conflict could manifest at individual or societal level and could be one explanatory factor in most conflicts that occur between individuals, ethnic groups, and even wars between countries. People may be found in the same calendar period but could be in different stages of maturity, which could be referred to as maturage. So, in a particular calendar period, societies as well as individuals could be in different maturage. For example, two individuals both aged 21 could be in different maturage. Similarly, two social groups residing in the same country and same calendar period could be found in different maturage.
The individualistic and opportunistic behavior of individuals in the latter stage of societal development could become the source of irritation and disgust for individuals in the early stage of societal development. On the other hand, the laid-back easy lifestyle and communal behavior of individuals in the earlier stage could similarly become a source of irritation and disgust to individuals in the latter group. These differences are rooted in the society values individuals are brought up and usually untamed even by higher level of education. It is not easy and probably inappropriate to put a value judgment on superiority of one state versus the other state. Here the aim is to point to a source of societal conflict without making value or otherwise judgment on which is a better state, i.e., both the raw and ripe banana are considered appropriate and justified for their context. There is no inherent superiority of one over the other.
In Ethiopia societal divisions and conflicts have their roots in economic, political, social and historical domains. An economist would be inclined to single out economic factors as the dominant factors explaining the current state of affairs in the country. A historian is likely to identify historical factors, a politician’s political factors, a sociologist’s social issues as the most important explaining factors. Nonetheless economic factors are the closest most influential to people’s daily life and, as such, are likely to be the predominant factors governing societal behaviors and values.
The relative easiness of earning a livelihood differs across geographic areas and, therefore, across social groups in Ethiopia though in subtle and perhaps less apparent ways. Such differences constitute social fault lines that make nation building difficult. The differences also transpire in differences of mode of life, cultural/ social values, norms and political opinions which have potential to create violent conflicts among the different sections of the society. Currently, the natural process of societal change from the traditional and communal system to the so-called modern and individual right based system is happening in Ethiopia albeit at a different scale and speed across different social groups, which is creating a banana conflict. Ethiopia is currently under transition which makes the banana conflicts fierce and violent.
A fundamental question that can be raised is if the different social groups in Ethiopia have co-lived peacefully for a long period in the past, why the conflict now? When the size of the population was small and land was abundant, complemented with dense forest and abundant rainfall, people co-lived peacefully and were welcoming others. Free movement of labor in the past also mitigated constraints on one part and complemented gaps in the other part. For example, Oromos in the lowland Shewa area gladly welcomed Amharas from highlands that were moving downward to lowlands on account of land shortages as they were seen from the advantage of having new neighbors/ friends given that resource was not a major constraint. Similarly, Oromos in the earlier past expanding to new areas faced little resistance from local groups as resource was not a major constraint. In other words, different social groups co-existed and mingled peacefully because resource (especially land) was not a constraint.
Hence, green banana and yellow banana societies could intermingle and live peacefully in a normal setting, at least with conflicts being minimal and subtle. However, in an extraordinary period the conflict could be violent and destructive. Extraordinary in the sense that livelihood pressure is pushed to extreme seemingly reaching a matter of life and death situation during which societal tolerance will be reduced to none or minimal level. Such a state will be exposed also to internal and external influences which will aggravate the tension and conflict along social fault lines. During this period, people tend to hide in their social or ethnic group associating themselves against the other social or ethnic group.
As Ethiopia’s population size continued to grow passing the 100 million-mark, population pressure and resource scarcity became more acute. People in different geographic areas are pushed to the survival stage, holding on to resources literally becoming a matter of life and death. The severity and frequency of drought, for example, has been growing in different parts of Ethiopia with communities’ resilience capacity increasingly eroded overtime. Severity of livelihood challenges are not faced, however, to an equal degree across the different sections of Ethiopian society. This created societies that are found at different stages of societal development, i.e., pale green, green yellow, yellow with green tips, bright yellow, pale yellow and yellow with brown spots. Individuals from each group hold different values and norms which in turn lead into different political opinions or stands. The most severe conflict manifests in the conflict between political elites that come from stark green and stark yellow societies, i.e., elites that come from communal form of society vs elites that come from individualistic society.
The societal differences, while in short term could lead into violent conflicts, are likely to evaporate in the long term as environmental degradation spreads and survival mode of life become a commonly shared attribute across all societies in the country. The current wide-ranging conflicts witnessed in Ethiopia are likely to subside over the long term as different sections of the society find a common ground facilitated by growing similarity in felt livelihood pressure. Severity of livelihood is rapidly engulfing all sections of society in Ethiopia which will eventually lead to commonly shared values of respect for individual rights, rule of law and good governance. Nation building in Ethiopia will be facilitated by growing similarity in livelihood challenges faced across the different sections of the society.
Indeed, on the ground, the objective livelihood conditions are increasingly becoming similar across different social groups in the country. This will contribute to narrowing differences in cultural values and behaviors across the different sections of the society. This in turn will facilitate nation building. In a way, the current wide-ranging conflicts going on in the country are part of the underlying process for national unity. The conflicts eventually will bring or help develop shared values, which will be the basis for building the Ethiopian nation.
Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com
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