For long, national identity had been a burning issue in Ethiopia as its previous state apparatus failed to accommodate diversity. So far, of all the systems, the current multinational federal system seems to be the most appropriate one in accommodating diversity and addressing the 'national question' as the constitution ensures the right to self-determination of the nations, nationalities and peoples.
But, maximum care need to be given in the exercise of this right, as not doing so would lead to extreme form of ethnic nationalism that would threaten the long held Ethiopian tradition of living in unity and harmony. And the best solution is the promotion of a democratic nationalism.
As it is clearly stipulated in the federal constitution, all the nations, nationalities, and peoples of the country have equal rights. And this right can only be materialized and functional when it is pursued based on mutual respect and the vision to join hands for shared growth and prosperity.
Rarely, contrary to the principles enshrined in the constitution and the principle of democratic nationalism, some try to use the structure of the government ( i.e the multinational federal system where there is two levels of government) and the peoples' constitutional rights to instigate conflicts and pursue their own hidden and destructive agendas.
In recent times, tendencies that hinder the free movement of Ethiopians from one state to the other, which are in total violations of human rights, have been witnessed. And the resulting conflicts have disturbed the long tradition of coexistence among the diverse peoples of Ethiopia.
The cumulated effect this extreme form of nationalism is threatening the spirit of unity in Ethiopia. One of the instances that indicate that wrong form of nationalism is being pursued in Ethiopia is the conflicts that arose between the states that constitute the Federal Republic. Sometimes, the conflicts went as far as giving an impression that there are two states in one country.
The previous arduous struggle of Ethiopians did not have the goals of disintegrating Ethiopia. Instead, its main agenda was the creation of a strong Ethiopian state that protects the sovereignty of its diverse peoples. And the success in creating a multinational state based on the principle of unity in diversity is a testimony to the fact that the peoples of Ethiopia have supported the cause.
What should be underlined is we can only sustain the fruits of the struggle if we carefully practice democratic form of nationalism. And democratic nationalism can be practiced when we not only care about our rights but accept that others also have similar rights just like us, and hence we are duty bound to respect theirs to.
Put it simply, Ethiopia does not have a choice but to embrace multinationalism and democratic nationalism as a vibrant option to accommodate the diverse nationalism sentiments.
As a multinational nation, it is natural that the issue of ethnic identity would have central place in the political life of the country. But if the nationalism sentiment is democratic that accepts diversity, it would by no means threaten unity.
After all, despite this diversity and the multinational nature of the state, the various nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia do also have common and shared values, traditions, culture, history and above all a country with unique and proud history. Promoting these assets would in turn help speed up the ongoing effort of nation building.