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The recent views of certain political elites regarding addressing Ethiopia’s current political turmoil; Mostly not met the ground reality

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

Abdirezak Sahane Elmi
The Author

By Abdirezak Sahane Elmi
Politician and Former Government Official in the Somali Region of Ethiopia.

Introduction:

Ethiopia is a landlocked country located in East Africa, specifically in the Horn of Africa region. Renowned as one of the oldest nations in the world, it boasts a rich history dating back thousands of years. Historians, both native and foreign, affirm Ethiopia’s enduring governance system, setting it apart as one of the few ancient nations still in existence.

In terms of antiquity, two key aspects stand out when discussing Ethiopia. Firstly, it is known as the site where the oldest human skeleton, Lucy, was unearthed. Secondly, Ethiopia’s ancient kingdoms, including the Aksum Empire, are highlighted, with the Aksum Empire flourishing from the 1st to the 7th century. Notably, during this era, predating the birth of Prophet Jesus, King Najashi ruled a kingdom that welcomed companions of Prophet Muhammad during the Hijra.

Throughout its history, Ethiopia has experienced various governance stages, territorial shifts, and demographic changes. However, not all Ethiopians share a connection to the well-documented historical narrative, especially those in regions like Somali, which became part of Ethiopia in the mid-20th century.

Presently, Ethiopia spans an area of 1,100,000 km² and is home to an estimated 120 million people. The country boasts a diverse population comprising over 86 ethnic groups, each with unique languages, cultures, and religious beliefs, including Islam, Christianity (Orthodox, Protestant, Catholic), and Waqefata, as well as individuals with no religious affiliation.

The Ethiopian way of life encompasses three primary groups: agrarians, pastoralists, and urban residents, each with distinct lifestyles. The current governance system follows an ethnic federalism model, with 12 Autonomy   regional governments operating within a democratic framework encompassing legislative, executive, and judiciary branches. Additionally, there are two city administrations under the Federation.

Ethiopia’s Federal Government Structure features two legislative bodies: the House of People’s Representatives and the Federation Council, representing the country’s diverse ethnic groups.

The country operates under a parliamentary system, where the Prime Minister, chosen from the winning party in Federal Parliament elections, leads the government. A ceremonial President serves as the Head of State.

In a significant shift in 2018, leadership in Ethiopia transitioned to the Oromo ethnic group, the largest in terms of population and territory among the country’s 86 ethnic groups. Notably, the previous Prime Minister, though from the Walayta ethnic group, was perceived as a weak leader heavily influenced by TPLF political leaders and elites.

Following the 2018 change, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, born into the Oromo ethnic group, assumed leadership and demonstrated effective governance. While facing political crises post-transition, attributing personal leadership qualities solely to the Prime Minister may be inadequate. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is recognized as a talented and innovative leader with a genuine desire for a prosperous Ethiopia.

Essence of the Article:

Recent statements from certain political elites reflect a desire to address Ethiopia’s ongoing political unrest and conflicts. However, some of these statements may mislead the public, hindering discussions and reconciliation of common goals and national interests.

I will critique the recent ideas put forth by various elites from my own personal point of view.

In my opinion, Jawar Mohammed’s recent interview with Addisstandards does not indicate any significant shift in his political ideology, unlike some Unitary camp activists and media outlets claim. Jawar did not articulate any new political ideology or signal a departure from his previous longstanding advocacy of multinational ethnic federalism for Ethiopia. Instead, he introduced the idea that ethnic federalism is not the only solution for the country’s challenges, suggesting that all perspectives should be considered for the nation’s survival. This does not necessarily indicate a move towards the Unitary camp; rather, it shows that Jawar is considering the bigger picture of saving the country from destruction, which is every citizen’s responsibility.

I was surprised to see some Political elites, You-tubers and activists , in the media interpreting Jawar’s interview in a misleading way due to incorrect translations. They are trying to convince themselves that the federalist forces have lost a key ally if Jawar has indeed changed his views on the country’s structure and is open to exploring alternative options.

Below, you will find the key points discussed in Jawar Mohamed’s interview.

1. Jawar’s Perspective on State Collapse and Resilience 

Jawar recognized the role that a long history of statehood can play in enhancing a country’s resilience. But, he cautioned against assuming that it automatically safeguards against state collapse. Instead, he stressed the significance of establishing a strong bureaucracy, adaptable institutions, and effective revenue collection and territorial control.

2. Embracing Progressive Patriotism in Ethiopian Politics 

Jawar promoted the concept of “progressive patriotism” as a means to navigate Ethiopia’s intricate political terrain. He underlined the importance of striking a balance between ethnic mobilization and undue glorification of the state. While acknowledging the role of ethnicity in political mobilization, Jawar underscored the need to manage diversity effectively to steer clear of extreme ethnic biases.

3. The Transition from Multinationalism to Multiculturalism within the Ruling Class [1]:

Jawar criticized the ruling Prosperity Party’s inconsistent approach to handling diversity. He pointed out their vacillation between advocating for a return to a unitary system and upholding the existing multinational federal structure. Jawar argued that a radical departure from Ethiopia’s multinational federalism would pose more challenges than solutions.

4. Ethiopia’s Economic Evolution and the Rise of the Parastatal Bourgeois Class 

Jawar delved into Ethiopia’s shift from a state-dominated developmental economy to one controlled by a parastatal bourgeois class. He expressed apprehensions regarding the concentration of economic power among a select few individuals closely linked to the ruling elite. This transformation raises concerns about equitable economic progress and the potential for heightened inequality.

5. Unpacking the Political Economy of Conflict in Ethiopia.

Jawar drew attention to the increasing prevalence of the political economy of conflict in Ethiopia, particularly in regions like Oromia. He discussed the complexities of reintegrating combatants into civilian life through Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) initiatives. Jawar questioned whether the incentives provided by these programs would suffice to persuade combatants to abandon insurgency.

However, the interview of Jawar Mohammed offered valuable perspectives on various facets of Ethiopian politics, spanning from state collapse and progressive patriotism to the ruling class’s stance on diversity, economic transitions, and the political economy of conflict. Jawar’s insights shed light on the challenges and prospects that Ethiopia faces in its pursuit of stability, unity, and inclusive development.

In my opinion, Jawar’s new proposal of “Progressive Patriotism” is not contrary to the current ground reality of the country. I understand that he introduced this new idea to bridge the gap between the two opposing ideas of unitary and multinational federalist forces, aiming to address the country’s future sustainability with the collective efforts of all citizens.

It is clear that two conflicting ideologies are dominating the political landscape of our nation, causing significant division and hindering the establishment of a unified political and economic community. While some intellectuals attribute this failure to the current constitution, I believe that the constitution itself is not the root cause of the existing political challenges. The lack of effective implementation of the constitution and the absence of a clear political roadmap by the country’s elites are major contributing factors to the ongoing turmoil and unrest.

Unfounded claims of the Unitary Camp:

There are certain voices within the unitary camp that argue Ethiopia was better off before the establishment of federalism in 1991. Such claims are baseless, as it is well-known that prior to the introduction of the federal system, Ethiopia was a nation dominated by a few ethnic groups, while many other ethnicities were not acknowledged as citizens. Additionally, previous rulers labeled groups like the Somalis and Oromos as foreign immigrants. It is concerning that these outdated ideas persist and seek to influence the country’s governance. It is crucial to acknowledge that we are living in the 21st century, and the era of colonization is long gone. No nation has the right to subjugate another, whether through neocolonialism or any other means.

I align with Jawar on the concept of “Progressive Patriotism,” which I find more promising than the proposal presented in the article I read from https://borkena.com  advocating for “Constitutional Patriotism.” I disagree with the author’s viewpoints, as some of the theories and suggestions put forth may not be practical in our context. For instance, the insistence that regions with autonomy must adopt multiple working languages is not feasible. Furthermore, the author wrongly implies that federalism negatively impacts citizens’ mindset and their love for their country and ethnicities.

The Unrealistic Critics by Moges Zewdu

The response I read on https://www.ethiopia-insight.com/author/mogeszewdu/, written by Moges Zewdu, criticizes the interview of Jawar Mohamed with Addisstandard. It is filled with harsh emotions, blaming and labeling Jawar as someone who has not thoroughly studied the country’s problems. Additionally, the author of this article tries to explain that Jawar’s recent interview resulted from understanding the negative effects of multinational and ethnic politics, suggesting that Jawar is feeling the repercussions of ethnic politics after his imprisonment. This accusation seems below the belt.

Another unfounded point in the author’s viewpoint in this article is the assertion that all political parties in Ethiopia are federalistic. The author states, ‘However, my empirical finding is that almost every organized political actor in Ethiopia is federalist, not unitarist, including Prosperity Party, Ezema, Balderas, National Movement of Amhara, Enat Party, Equality and Justice Party, Hibir Ethiopia, Ethiopian Democratic Party, and the new incarnation of Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party. In the case of the ruling party, the party’s manifesto supports “ህብረ-ብሄራዊ ፌዴራሊዝም”—“multinational federalism”.

This information is absolutely wrong. The parties listed are mostly unitary ideologist parties, except for Prosperity Party, Movement of Amhara, and Equality and Justice Party. All others are extreme unitary and citizen politics carriers.

Certainly, the notion that the Ruling Party refers to the Prosperity Party as embracing Multinational Federalism is accurate. I believe this is why the PP is gaining more widespread acceptance than other parties. They seem to grasp that the only viable path to solving the country’s future challenges lies in upholding Multinational Federalism. As a federalist supporter, I wholeheartedly endorse their efforts to uphold this factual ideology through practical implementation.

Also I strongly disagree with Moges’ notion that ‘Federalism is not inherently divisive, but ethnic federalism is.’ He argues that recognizing the nations’ rights to autonomy regions and administrations is bad faith, which makes his notion more disastrous, hateful , and unrealistic. The fact is that neither ethnic federalism nor federalism are divisive; rather, unitary systems and denial of the existence of Ethiopian nations and nationalities, along with the desire to revert to previous unitary systems that marginalized other ethnic groups, are the main factors contributing to Ethiopia’s ongoing political unrest.

Additionally, I disagree with his conclusion that ‘As we look ahead, the starting point in our soul-searching endeavor should be determining who we are and what we envision for the future. To this end, overhauling the constitution is non-negotiable.’ He seems to speak as a representative of all Ethiopians, asserting that overhauling the constitution is non-negotiable. In this conclusion, he underestimates the 86 nations, nationalities, and peoples who hold the constitution dear to their hearts.

However, Both authors overlook the fact that after the introduction of the federal system in Ethiopia, communities such as those in the Somali Regional State began to identify as Ethiopians, whereas prior to that, they did not feel part of the nation due to various historical reasons. The author’s inclination towards central government authority over federalism fails to consider the past oppressions and denial of citizen rights experienced by certain groups, leading them to reject the idea of reverting to a centralized form of government. This sentiment is not exclusive to the Somali community but resonates with many other nations and nationalities across the country.

Conclusion: Political elites, scholars, activists, and all political actors in Ethiopia must be realistic and acknowledge the current ground realities that cannot be changed. Moving forward, it is imperative that Ethiopian nations and nationalities do not revert to the oppressive, one-ethnic dominance system of the early 20th century. The only viable option is to respectfully agree to disagree and work towards implementing the will of the majority of the Ethiopian people, which includes upholding the current constitution and ethnic federalism, as well as establishing strong government institutions that can serve all citizens with respect and equality. Let us avoid animosity and division, which only serve to undermine our nation, and instead unite to prevent external forces from exploiting our country.

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

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1 COMMENT

  1. The author’s article is from a point of view that could differ from others. That is absolutely alright. He has the inalienable right to his opinion/conclusion. I am very pleased and excited to see differing ideas are hosted by this esteemed website.
    Banning or killing ideas is the worst thing a country can do itself. Keep writing brother.

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