Paulos Milkias Ph.D.
This is a brief rejoinder to Dr. Hambisa Belina’s article which appeared in the January 29, 2024 Ethiopian Insight with the rhetorical question, titled, “Is Ethiopia’s disintegration an inevitable and necessary evil?” The author’s anti Ethiopian statements in the article are totally outrageous. To start with, Dr.Hambisa’s proposition that Ethiopia’s disintegration is not only Inevitable but Necessary is a long shot. It is also malicious.
Dr.Hambisa states that Potential harms of disintegration must be weighed against consequences of holding a country by force, a problem that even the most developed nations of the West are facing or have faced in their historical journey. Take the current struggle of the United Kingdom against the Irish Republican Army, the demand of secession from Britain by the Scottish National Party (SNP,) the ruckus forced on Spain by the Catalan separatists, as well as the secessionist Basque group, the ETA (Basque Homeland and Liberty party) which has pugnaciously fought the central government in Madrid for half a century. the demand for independence from Denmark by the Faroe Islands, the Venetian independence movement in Italy, the .sporadic uprisings of separatist movements in France – in particular, in Brittany, Corsica and the Basque region.
But our greatest lesson due to its enormous and momentous magnitude should come from the American Civil War. of 1861-1865, which tore apart the United States, leaving a trail of destruction and loss in its wake. The tenacity of nationalist leaders, such as Abraham Lincoln, saved America from total disintegration. Nevertheless, it cost the lives of some 750,000 fighters. The American civil war also caused heavy economic devastation to the agriculture based South leading to widespread poverty and infrastructure destruction. The North likewise suffered paramount economic losses due to the costs of the war effort.
There was significant social disruption since sundry communities all across the country were torn apart by the conflict. Families were divided since men enlisted to fight on opposing sides, leading to emotional and psychological scars that lasted for generations. Infrastructure damage due to the war was very vast. Railways, bridges, roads, and buildings were ravaged beyond belief. The war also created a humanitarian crisis of colossal proportions, with millions of people displaced, injured, or left destitute. Civilians endured food shortages and outbreaks of disease.
The civil war in the end left enormous Psychological Impact on the U.S.: Overall, the American Civil War exacted a heavy toll leaving scars that would take decades to heal but the legacy of the sacrifice shaped American society and politics to make it the richest and most powerful nation in the world today.
To suggest that disintegration will produce a better outcome than what has transpired in Ethiopia over the last century and a half is an oximoronic idea..Dr. Hambisa hopes for “smooth and orderly birthing of new democratic states’after Ethiopia was dismantled. But what if the so called .New and Democratic States, he suggests, end up being Bantustans, a la defunct Apartheid South Africa or today’s Somaliland that hangs by a thread in limbo?
Dr. Hambisa suggests that today, western powers entertain commitment to holding Ethiopia together. But this is another oxymoronic idea. Can the author present proof for this banal statement? Their plan is actually not to keep a strong, united Ethiopia. On the contrary, the west would like to see Ethiopia, and for that matter the whole of Africa, dismantled for the purpose of divide et impera.
Dr. Hambisa approaches the subject nonchalantly, but breaking Ethiopia apart definitely has serious consequences. Take the case of India breaking up into two in 1947 just at its ;independence from Britain. The partition of India in 1947 into two separate nations, India and Pakistan (including East Pakistan, which later became Bangladesh), based on religious lines (Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan), led to numerous negative consequences which are:
1. The division triggered one of the largest mass exodus in human history, with millions of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs fleeing their homes to move to the side of the border that aligned with their religious identity. This resulted in widespread displacement, communal violence, and huge loss of life.
2.The subdivision led to communal riots and violence between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, resulting in significant loss of life and property. Estimates of the death toll vary widely, but it is believed to have been in the millions.
3.The community severance disrupted trade and economic activities, particularly in regions where groups had coexisted for centuries. Businesses were abandoned, and infrastructure was damaged, leading to economic instability in the aftermath of the separation.
4.The breakup created deep social divisions along religious lines, initiating mistrust and animosity between communities that had previously lived together peacefully. These divisions continue to impact social cohesion in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh today.
5. The severance necessitated the division of administrative structures, including government institutions, law enforcement agencies, and public services, which posed significant challenges in terms of governance and administration.
6.The mass migration resulting from the separation of Pakistan (and Bangladesh) from India led to a refugee crisis, with millions of people forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in unfamiliar territories. This strained resources and created humanitarian challenges for all three countries.
7.The partition also resulted in contentious border demarcations, particularly in the Punjab and Bengal regions, leading to ongoing border disputes between India and Pakistan, which have sparked several wars and continue to be sources of tension, the most notorious one being the unending dispute in Kashmir..
8.The division left a legacy of hostility and mistrust between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, shaping their foreign policies and interactions for decades to come. The unresolved issues stemming from partition continue to impact bilateral relations between the three countries, the first two developing nuclear weapons and thus watching each other warily and living with a tenuous balance of terror.
Dr. Hambisa’s assertion that the main argument in favor of striving for an orderly disintegration relates to the cycle of war created by constant efforts to hold Ethiopia together is spurious . Ethiopia was not kept together by force. It was kept together by a natural centrifugal force. There were times when the country was splintered into war-lord enclaves as during the Zemene Mesafint but it came together through what can be depicted as miraculous when Tewodros II arose in 1855 and reunited the country.
Another spurious point raised by Dr. Hambisa is that Ethiopia was created as a dependent colonial empire with the assistance of European imperial powers parallel to the multipronged wars of conquest waged by Emperor Menelik II in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is clearly far off the mark. The European Imperialists attempted to splinter Ethiopia into tiny enclaves based on languages, not to unite it as a sovereign entity. In its short five-year occupation, that was exactly what Fascist Italy did [ironically to be replicated by Meles Zenawi and his minions in 1995).
How preposterous that Dr.Hambisa should go to the level of asserting that during Menelik’s reign, “the fragmented Abyssinian states,” when centralized, came to wield state power and settled their people (meaning Amharas) in the territories of Oromia, Somali, Wolaita, Sidama, and other southern nations and nationalities. Here he is, of course, obliquely referring to the Neftegna phenomenon. Yes, there were selective settlements in the reunited regions to keep law and order, but the Neftegnas (meaning gun-bearing men) were not only Amharas. They, in fact, comprised a motley collection of other ethnic groups- particularly Shoan Oromos. So, implying that the Amharas misappropriated the Southern inhabitants is to say the least, a spurious allegation. In the majority of cases, local land owners known as balabbats controlled the property of their region since siso [one-third] of all southern lands measured by qalad were kept by the balabbats, be they Oromos, Somalis, Wolaitas, Sidamas, or any other people of southern nations and nationalities.
Dr. Hambisa asserts that Ethiopia’s leaders, from Menelik II to Haile Selassie I, Mengistu Hailemariam, Meles Zenawi, Hailemariam Desalegn, and Abiy Ahmed, have all confronted the seeming impossibility of holding Ethiopia together without resorting to brute force. Granted, but can the author mention any sovereign nation in the world that does not use force to protect its territorial integrity?
Dr. Hambisa states that the Fanno group that arose following the end of the Tigray war (3 November 2020 to 3 November 2022.) feared being forced to return the” lands unconstitutionally annexed from Tigray,” so they turned their guns against the Abiy regime. What a preposterous idea. As the former governor of Tigray, Leul Ras Mengesha Seyoum testified Wolkait, Tegede, and Raya were never part of Tigray. The annexation to make them part of Tigray came about only after the EPRDF controlled by Meles’ Hiwahat party promulgated it in 1995.
Dr. Hambisa jumps to site global examples and thus points out that regions like Quebec in Canada have peacefully held referendums on the question of secession. Yes, but Canada has a working not a sham democracy. Last but not least, Dr. Hambisa deliberately refrains from pointing out that in both referendums, the people of Quebec chose to remain part of a United Canada. I firmly believe that under the right circumstances, with democracy guaranteed, all Hbashas ( i.e., Ethiopians and Eritreans) would follow the example of Quebec, and we would return back to the federal structure laid in 1952, which was illegally subverted in 1960. thus leading to the start of the Eritrean War of Independence in 1961.Venceremos! If not us, our progeny shall overcome all obstacles and live in peace in the united legendary land of Prester john…
About The Author
Paulos Milkias, Ph.D.[McGill] , is Professor of Political Science Concordia University, Montreal, Canada
Hambisa Belina’s article which this rejoinder rebuts is found at the
following website: https://www.ethiopia-insight.com/2024/01/29/is-ethiopias-
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