10 February 2018

Ethiopia: Harmony Between Multiple Identities, Only Through Efficient State

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In our contemporary politics, we have not rigorously understood the role of ethnic and national consciousness. We are locked in a battle with one another because of a misunderstanding. But this confusion can be corrected if seen through a philosophical lens.

Ethnic consciousness is mediated by positive ethnicity and national consciousness, both of which are deeply intertwined. And if secured to the former, it can serve as an essential foundation of culture.

By positive ethnicity, I understand a state where pride is taken in one's geographical belonging, where one's lingo-cultural group, language, the dances, the music and the cuisine are all taken as expressions of diversity.

I have always been honoured to have been born on Ethiopian lands, where the ravines and the valleys inspire in me a great depth of thought. I am humbled by the lofty mountains designed to nurture spirituality, which is manifest in that these places are the birthplaces of great thinkers.

Landing at the Bole International Airport to visit my homeland, I was quickly reminded of the roaring sound of the saxophone and the sharpness and power of the trumpet in classical Ethiopian instrumental music such as Tizita. How tirelessly I wish that I could master all our ethnic dances and admire the cuisine that often accompanies them.

And there lay the subtleties of culture for me, if by culture, one can understand that positive and seamless mix of ethnic consciousness with the national one. This intermingling cannot take place without a celebration of what constitutes culture, such as language, dance, music, cuisine and artefacts. They provide the human with the possibility of consciousness itself.

For they are the fundamentals, they are embedded in ethnic consciousness. They demand us to use all our five senses, as when we listen to music, see the mountains, smell the flowers, taste the food and touch beauty on the dance floors.

At the most basic level, Ethiopian pride is present in the ethnic consciousness inspired by the tools that make up culture. They are transmitted via the senses, as when an Ethiopian cannot help but hit the dance floor upon hearing a tune and begin shaking the body to maximum joy.

The joy occurs precisely because there is an event to be enjoyed as ethnic consciousness has produced the appropriate and stimulating media of joy. It lies in the music, the dance, the cuisine, and beautiful people.

National consciousness, unlike ethnic consciousness, is a cultural construct. Whereas the other is natural to the self, national consciousness is a product of cultural construction and is mediated by the artificial body, called the state. It is the state and its various institutions which organise citizens to develop a relationship with other ethnicities and enjoy their diversity under conditions of peace and prosperity.

National consciousness is, in fact, nothing more than a politically organised relationship. Citizens live in such a state with one another as ethnically conscious members of lingo-cultural groups. The task of the state then is to be critically vigilant about negative ethnicity, where individuals single out their lingo-cultural group as superior to that of others.

The task of a good state is making a collective effort of educating citizens to protect themselves from negative ethnicity. Leaders, thus, should instil in themselves positive ethnicity by way of respecting what constitutes a culture for various lingo-cultural groups.

Past Ethiopian governments, though, were insensitive to specific groups, if not actively hostile. Future Ethiopian states should thus respect positive ethnicity. This must happen to meet economic needs and extend political and social rights to all through constitutional stipulation and effective public policies. The rights of nationalities as expressions of positive ethnicity and means of practising diversity under safe and secure conditions of freedom ought to publicly be articulated and defended.

Federalism is the political form by which positive ethnicity is elevated to a national right as an expression of being Ethiopian, defended by an efficient Ethiopian state. There cannot be a national consciousness without ethnic consciousness. Similarly, the latter exists specifically because there is a superstructure in which multiple lingo-cultural groups can be mutually dependent.

A strategic and well-organised state led by upright, just, compassionate and patient leaders can orchestrate a political environment in which individuals feel safe and secure to exercise their positive ethnicity.

(Phd)teodros Kiros (Phd) Is a Professor of Philosophy At Berklee College of Music and Non- Resident Du Bois Fellow At Harvard University Who Has Authored the Books Zara Yacob and Self-Construction and the Formation of Human Values: Truth, Language and Desire.

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