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HomeOpinionPriming Constitutional Principles and Values over Jawar's Proposal for Progressive Patriotism

Priming Constitutional Principles and Values over Jawar’s Proposal for Progressive Patriotism

Jawar Progressive patriotism
Jawar Mohammed (Pic : file/screenshot from Arts TV)

Introduction

There appears to be a rush to present workable resolutions to this perilous political sojourn. A few examples include the lengthy interview that Jawar Mohammed gave to the Addis Standard Quarterly Journal (ASQJ), in which he advocates for “Progressive Patriotism” as a means of ensuring the viability of the state; Lidetu Ayalew’s proposal for a “Transitional Government” where he calls for a concerted effort amongst prominent political parties and elites in the country, and ‘A Citizen-Centred Roadmap for Systemic Political Transition in Ethiopia’ by the Imbylta Group-Congress of Ethiopian Civic Associations (CECA). Discussions are simmering, and feedback and criticisms are looming, to name a few examples Dr. Yonas Biru criticises Jawar’s interviews and Lidetu’s proposal, and Moges Zewdu’s rejoinder article (upcoming) to Jawar’s proposal. 

The reason Jawar picked the topic of patriotism is, I suspect, and as many of you can also recognize, that he has perceived the prevailing affective disorientation that our society is submerged due to the unscrupulous ethnonationalist movements rising in the country. This problem has been with us since its very inception in Ethiopia’s political history, however, the recent political growth in passionate politics, often discussed in relation to ethnic politics and the accompanying misfortunes, has caused the agitation/upset in our socio-political interactions. It is to be noted that the organizing principles for any forms of pre-political associations, to which ethnic-based forms of politics its arrangements belong, is affect. It is the energy that moves in between us linking one another in the formation of a family or community or a keen-knotted interest group, fastening us all together with a feeling of being, belonging, and partaking. Affect is the currency that is deployed to mobilize the people for any political end, aspired by a group or national interest. Affect is also the main currency mobilized by greedy elites, and it is also the main incentive behind tech giants in the field of digital media.

I contend that Ethiopia’s current dilemma stems from affective disorientation caused by recent agitation in our contentious ethnopolitics. By providing a brief perspective on the concept and theoretical foundation of affect, I argue that Jowar’s proposal for progressive patriotism lacks connection to our conditions of affective disorientation on the ground. By critically examining the problem with progressive patriotism, which is attributed as an ideal solution to other social and environmental issues, such as environmental conservation and science and technology development, I propose constitutional patriotism: a salvation against  ethnonationalism, a treatment to moral panic, and a tool for organizing the political mass to build a more robust and participatory peace and democracy, and foster a sense of ownership and investment in the political processes. 

My interest in “affect” stems mostly from my own conviction that Ethiopians are currently experiencing from affective disorders, i.e., the source of many other problems that need to be addressed soon. This is a huge claim that requires some unpacking, but I only need to mention a few direct causal factors, like political polarizations and the pervasive social and political mistrust between affective (ethnic) groups, the two-years long full-fledged civil war, the ongoing political unrest in Oromia and Amhara regions, the dire economic conditions; as well as, some indirect issues including bizarre political assassinations, a lack of defined national political and economic roadmaps, information disorders and a dearth of information liberations. Having acknowledged these conditions of our life, I will step into interrogating why the extant constitutional jurisdictions exacerbate the problem, if not the ultimate source in the first place. A recent discussion among scholars, political elites, and lay political analysts has focused on the necessity of re-evaluating our political culture considering the uncertain trajectories our nation has followed since the establishment of federal form of government structures. 

Throughout my arguments, I will maintain a spirit of kindness but also approach with a sense of scepticism.

Affect, its essence!

Affect is simply the capacity to affect or be affected (Spinoza in Brian Massumi, 1988). In psychology and neuroscience, the term “affect” refers to the experience of feeling or emotion, including both positive and negative states such as happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and excitement. In psychology, affect refers to the emotional experience or feeling associated with an idea, object, or event. Affects can be positive, negative, or neutral, and can range from mild to intense. It is a fundamental aspect of human experience and plays a critical role in shaping perception, cognition, behaviour, and social interactions.

As mentioned earlier, it is the energy that binds us to something or somebody. It creates possibilities of attachments to something such as a place that we call it home (ለምሳሌ፣ እትብቴ የተቀበረበት አገሬ) or homophilic attachment to fellow tribe members that we call them friends or relatives (መወለድ ቋንቋ ነው). Affect is just unanimous energy that resides inside of us, and it is nameless and tasteless, but we can only feel its intensities and momentum as we swing between different pathos: events, fortunes, or accidents. It is this energy that leaves us in a psychological state, like optimism or despondence, or the urge to hug someone or partake in mob justice. Affect becomes an emotion when we assign it a referential name (such as happy or sad). Simply said, emotion is an identified/named affective energy.

Affect, the free-floating power (our invisible body?)

The power of affect is infinite, and everyone has that potential to affect or be affected by it. It is only to be controlled and measured once it is named or given a reference, e.g., anger or excitement! In other words, affect is an immeasurable potential, but emotions are. Affect is also about movements such that affective experiences involve a movement (of energy), creating a surface of attachment between bodies because expressed affect (emotions) are either sympathized for or disparage forever. Thus, in our everyday life, we consume affect, wittingly or otherwise. (see my article on “How Ethiopia’s PM D Abiy Ahmed used affective energies to achieve his …”) It is also this power/capacity/energy that we are talking about whose production and modulation plays a significant role in the success of any political wars, be it a war of political manoeuvrings or positioning, as Dr Dagne explicates Granschi’s theory in the current case of Ethiopia. Political affect can also be manipulated by political actors through spreading affective appeals in political messaging and advertising. For example, political ads or documentary films may use emotional appeals to evoke fear, anger, or hope, to shape people’s affective responses to a particular issue or candidate.

Embodying affective energies

One of the ideal places people often experience the vitality of their affective life is inside churches at times of holy communion shops or in a classroom during a complex mathematical exam. The former can more likely be associated with optimism that may have “an aura of the spiritual, to signal some capacity for self-transcendence or form of consciousness different from physical events” (Scarry 1985,106), whereas the latter is associated with feelings of panic or frustrations. For example, if you just ask me why Prophet Eyu Chufa, owner, and leader of Christ Army Church in Ethiopia, amassed such a sizable number of followers in his church, I will most likely respond that it was due to affect, particularly affect that is connected to objects of spiritual optimism. Ask yourself why you would prefer “Toyota” branded cars over other brands if I were to give you an example of other instances of affective operations in your life. If you have ever wondered what the analogy of the church and the classroom may have got to do with politics, I invite you to explore theories of affective politics.

Affective disorientation 

The affective atmosphere in Ethiopia politics has undergone significant shifts over time, particularly since the introduction of the 1995 Ethiopian constitution. Prior to the constitution, the affective geography of Ethiopia was characterised by stability and relative peace. People’s consciousness of race and identity was deep but had not yet been fully capitalised upon by the ruling regimes. However, after the constitution’s implementation, ethnic federalism led to an increase in race consciousness and quest for self-determination. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) played a crucial role in this transformation through its rigorous political training and cadre memberships, offering national workshops and cascading its policy directions and implementations even at the kebele level. Despite some instances of ethnic conflicts and violence, the overall atmosphere remained relatively stable due to strong law enforcement institutions and active measures by the TPLF.

However, during the downfall of the TPLF and the emergence of popular political movements like the Oromara, Ethiopia began to experience mild affective disorientation. Activists, political pundits, and ordinary citizens began using emotive narratives and mob justice as their primary political tools. This period was marked by instability and chaos, culminating in Abiy Ahmed’s rise to power as the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Abiy remained attenuated as his political ideologies and aspirations kept following the existing streams of affective polarization, often using emotive narratives that further polarized the population between Ethiopianists and ethnofederalists. Critics of his leadership such as Yonas Biru (Dr) claim that Abiy Ahmed lacks the ability to persuade the elite in making concessions, whereas Dagnachew (a moderate critic) expresses his concern that Abiy may fancy military solutions for matters that might easily be resolved by political deliberations. However, both appear to stay away from tapping affective dimensions, and here I claim that Abiy could possibly be the first prime minister of Ethiopia who produces and relies heavily on affect in his political leaderships. I also claim that Ethiopians have never been flooded by excessive affect as much as they are today in the context of their political life. There is no better example than the Tigray to show how excessive affect can further polarise the populace. An instance that added to the affective disorientation of the people by fostering hate, promoting distorting and extreme narratives, and inciting violence. 

Crowd psychologists argue that affectively disorganized people/bodies are vulnerable to any form of political mobilization either for destruction or construction. It is in this context that I address Jawar’s proposal for progressive patriotism. 

The problem with progressive nationalism

Simply put, progressive patriotism refers to the quality of being a patriot (modern?), showing favour to and vigorous support for an improved or more advanced condition. In this definition of patriotism. This definition excludes the feeling of love, devotion, and attachment to a nation or state.

The primary problem with progressive patriotism is in its ambiguity to offer us what could be regarded as ‘progressive,’ who is progressive, or which culture, idea, or action is considered progressive and modern that is ought to be promoted and pursued for, and which one is regressive and traditional that demands abonnement? The term “progressive” can be misleading. While it implies forward-thinking and positive change, its actual implementation may not always align with these ideals. “Can there be a progressive patriotism?” in the first place, asks Harry Blain. Particularly in present-day politics, both local and global, which is mainly populated by emotions and deceptions, concepts and processes like progress and development remain ambiguous. For instance, as political currency, in practice, some regimes use the label “progressive” or “prosperity” to legitimize their actions, even when those actions serve their own interests rather than the greater good. 

In promoting progressive patriotism, we should critically examine whether such measures genuinely promote progress or merely maintain the status quo. Often, measures taken by ruling regimes are aimed at consolidating and legitimizing their authority. These measures may not necessarily benefit the entire population but rather serve the regime’s self-interest. The etymology of the concept goes hand in hand with patriotic nationalism in its ambition to reconcile cultural nationalism with liberal values. However, the prefix in Jawar’s proposal of a “progressive patriotism” aligns with Abiy’s ambitions for ‘prosperity’? According to Harry Blain, “Progressive patriotic politics defines the national interest as the common good. It is patriotic because its focus is on the nation and its people. It is progressive because it is inclusive, seeking fairness, prosperity, and security for all.” In my opinion, Jawar is utilizing his political ingenuity as he pretends to advocate a new political culture while having an obligation to address the divided and already confused Ethiopian political populace in favour of the ruling regime’s need to gain control over them. 

Progressive patriotism, however well-intentioned it may appear, presents certain difficulties, even if we accept the advice at face value, such as ignoring uncomfortable truths, risk of patronizing, undermining transnational solidarities, and cultural authoritarianism. It is beyond the scope of this article to go and explain what each of these challenges means in the concept of progressive patriotism and in the context of Ethiopian politics. However, between the first and the last, one can imagine that ignoring and glossing over less favourable aspects of a nation’s past may slip us into cultural authoritarianism, where a dominant culture may impose its values and norms on others, leading to a lack of genuine diversity and inclusiveness. Thus, our culture of patriotism must address class and ethnic divisions. 

While patriotism can unite people, it should not ignore socioeconomic disparities or perpetuate inter-group tensions. A truly progressive approach considers the well-being of all citizens, regardless of their background. Moreover, the present situation in Ethiopia is complex. The multipolarized affective atmosphere, disorientation, and lack of peace and stability pose significant challenges. Will Jawar’s proposal of progressive patriotism can actively work toward healing divisions, promoting dialogue, and fostering genuine unity for the nation’s well-being, when the very definition of progressive patriotism ignores the feeling of love, devotion, and loyalty to a nation? Remember, the commitment in progressive patriotism is primarily for improved or more advanced conditions, not even for the constitution or to a social contract that upholds the entire population in some kinds of shared commitment or obligation.

One promising alternative solution is another type of nationalism called as ‘constitutional patriotism’ (ሕገ መንግሥታዊ አገር ወዳድነት/ጀግንነት), which emphasizes a shared commitment to upholding the principles and values of the constitution, rather than loyalty to a particular ethnic or cultural group or to illusive notion of progress/advance. Constitutional patriotism can serve as a unifying force that transcends ethnic divisions or cosmopolitanism and promotes a shared sense of civic identity and responsibility. By emphasizing the importance of citizenship and shared constitutional values, rather than ethnic identity, constitutional patriotism has the potential to promote a more inclusive and equitable society.

Meaning of constitutional patriotism

Constitutional patriotism (CP) is a political concept that refers to a sense of national identity, loyalty, and political attachment should be based on the norms and values of a pluralistic liberal democratic constitution rather than to a tribal, national culture or cosmopolitan society (ሕገ መንግሥታዊ አገር ወዳድነት ሰዎች ከአንድ ብሔር ወይም ብሔራዊ ባህል ወይም ኮስሞፖሊታንት ማኅበረሰብ ይልቅ የብዝሃነት ሊበራል ዲሞክራሲያዊ ሕገ መንግሥት ደንቦችና እሴቶች ጋር ፖለቲካዊ ትስስር መፍጠር አለባቸው የሚለው ሐሳብ ነው።). The concept of constitutional patriotism emerged in the aftermath of World War II, as a response to the rise of nationalism and ethnic conflict in Europe. It was developed by political philosophers such as Jürgen Habermas and Karl Jaspers, who saw it to promote European integration and prevent the recurrence of war and conflict.

Unlike the other forms of nationalism, CP stems from the combination of pluralistic culture and liberal democratic elements. It emphasizes the importance of shared political values and institutions, such as democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, as the basis for a sense of national unity and loyalty. CP plays its roles both at the level of individual psychology and at the level of collective identification. The idea is that individuals and groups can share a sense of identity and belonging based on their commitment to common political values and institutions, rather than to their ethnic or cultural backgrounds. This deviates from our conventional interpretation of patriotism and its connection to blood and bones, making place for patriotism among people from all backgrounds, including educators, athletes, diplomats, teachers, scientists, and soldiers. Thus, it balances the interests of both ethnonationalists and civic nationalists whilst emphasizing the importance of civic engagement and participation, as well as the need to protect and defend the constitutional principles and institutions that underpin a democratic society. 

Overall, constitutional patriotism is seen to promote a sense of national unity and loyalty that is based on objective constitutional values and institutions rather than illusive liberal values and modernization. It advocates for constitution- based loyalty rather than on divisive ethnic or cultural identities, it is an important concept in the context of multicultural societies, where the promotion of diversity and inclusion requires a commitment to common constitutional principles and values. 

In this analysis, I advocate for the implementation of constitutional patriotism through both people-based initiatives and constitutional revisions. I am not underestimating the power of progressive patriotism; I am rather considering it as a subset of constitutional patriotism because the force in progress is already inherent in a progressive constitution and its political institutions. However, in an affectively disoriented society, where emotion, not reason, govern the political opinion an action of the people, and of course of the government, promoting progressive patriotism, in my opinion, is akin to hiding the joker in the popular card game or being blind to the elephant in the house. Numerous people have previously made calls for constitutional amendments, which I also take, and as an anthropologist and a citizen, I am aware of the need for involving the populace to achieve greater and more long-term change. Classical examples of countries effectively practicing constitutional patriotism include Switzerland, Spain, United states, United Kingdom; and supranational institutions such as the European Union.

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Jawar Mohammed’s proposal for “Progressive Patriotism” is a well-intentioned attempt to address Ethiopia’s complex political issues. However, its practicality is questionable given the current and historical political landscape of Ethiopia.

    1. Ambiguity and Implementation Challenges:
    The concept of progressive patriotism is inherently ambiguous. It lacks clear definitions of what constitutes “progressive” and who determines these criteria. In a country as diverse and divided as Ethiopia, this ambiguity can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts over what progress means for different ethnic and political groups.

    2. Historical and Ethnic Tensions:
    Ethiopia’s political history is deeply intertwined with ethnonationalist movements. The 1995 constitution introduced ethnic federalism, which, while intended to promote self-determination, has also heightened ethnic consciousness and divisions. Jawar’s proposal does not sufficiently address these deep-seated tensions or provide a clear path to reconcile them.

    3. Affect and Emotional Politics:
    Ethiopia’s political climate is heavily influenced by affective disorientation, where emotions rather than rational discourse drive political actions. Progressive patriotism, which relies on abstract ideals of progress, may not resonate with a populace currently polarized by ethnic and emotional divides. Without addressing the underlying emotional and psychological factors, the proposal risks being seen as disconnected from the realities on the ground.

    4. Risk of Cultural Authoritarianism:
    By focusing on what is deemed “progressive,” there is a risk of imposing certain cultural norms and values on diverse groups, leading to cultural authoritarianism. This could further alienate communities and exacerbate existing divisions, rather than fostering the intended unity.

    5. Need for Inclusive and Concrete Solutions:
    An alternative approach, such as constitutional patriotism, which emphasizes loyalty to democratic principles and the constitution, may be more practical. This concept provides a concrete framework for unifying diverse groups based on shared political values rather than abstract notions of progress. It encourages civic engagement and the protection of democratic institutions, which are crucial for long-term stability and unity.

    Conclusion:
    While Jawar’s proposal for progressive patriotism offers a visionary approach, its practicality is limited by the current and historical political context of Ethiopia. A more grounded approach, focusing on constitutional patriotism, may offer a clearer and more inclusive path towards national unity and stability.

  2. In his recent interview, Jawar employed physics terms to categorize Ethiopian political factions into “centrifugal force” for left-wing and “centripetal force” for right-wing groups. He criticized both forces but seemed biased against the left-wing, ethnonationalist groups, framing them as destabilizing and extreme, while mildly critiquing the right-wing centripetal forces. This unfair portrayal overlooks the historical context of state-building actions by the centripetal forces that led to reactionary ethnonationalist movements.

    Jawar’s attempt to appeal to right-wing politicians by disparaging ethnonationalist freedom fighters, including those from his own party, is seen as unnecessary and harmful. He criticizes the Prosperity Party (PP) for its attempts to sanitize historical atrocities and demonize the history of various ethnic groups, such as the Oromo. This revisionist history undermines the legitimate struggles of past freedom fighters who aimed to democratize, not dismantle, the state.

    Jawar’s use of Oromo nationalism during the Qerro struggle highlights its power as a mobilizing force for positive change. However, his recent criticism of nationalism as a dangerous tool is inconsistent and risks alienating his supporters. Nationalism should not be belittled or misused for political convenience, as it has a clear and justifiable goal.

    Regarding the PP, Jawar’s stance lacks a clear strategy for reconciling different political forces and initiating a democratic transition. Ethiopia’s unity and democratic state-building require adherence to democratic values like equality, freedom, rule of law, and pluralism. The PP’s undemocratic leadership and failure to democratize the current federal system may lead to further conflict and instability.

    Jawar’s appeal to the PP for reform and negotiation with armed groups is seen as overly simplistic. The state’s role in negotiations is not equal to that of armed groups, and blaming both parties equally undermines this fact. His recent equivocal stance on the PP leaves his supporters uncertain about his political direction. For detail read this opinion https://borkena.com/2024/06/10/ethiopia-jawars-dissent-bias-towards-ethnonationalism-and-equivocal-stance-on-pp/

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