Ethiopia: Where Does Ethnic Politics Take Us?

A unit of the Oromo Liberation Front retreating after weeks of fighting. Oromo militancy was the major reason for the recent change of government in Ethiopia.

Lately, the issue of ethnic politics is being fanned in the social media and by ordinary citizens, who take top leadership for a way of optimizing benefits for own ethnic group. If the top political position is taken by a leader from X ethnic group, it is not few who consider the unfolding a God-sent opportunity. Using this as a ground, The Ethiopian Herald had contacted scholars about their reflections.

Abebaw Ayalew, is historian at Addis Ababa University. For him, ethnic politics was not as such characteristic of Ethiopian politics. "If we go back to medieval times, 1890s and 20th century ethnic-based politics had no place in the heart of leaders. Whoever comes to power was considered as a leader who represents the whole society not a particular group.

In those days the Amhara king does not necessarily represent the Amhara people. An Oromo ruler does not necessarily represent the Oromos. Leaders used to represent the whole Ethiopia. This system had been the case for almost a century in Ethiopian history.

Ethiopian politics has become ethinisized beginning from 1991 when EPRDF implemented an administration system based on ethnic and language identities.

Administrative divisions have become largely dependent on ethnic identity," says Professor Abebaw.

He added, "For that simple matter, most people started to manifest a particular privilege and ownership. Most people living in a particular state started to consider administrative division as a means for political autonomy and ownership of property, land, resources and everything."

This system has led to the development of a bent considering a particular leader (in this case a Prime minister) represents solely a For instance, during the time of the late Prime Minister's administration some who hail from his background started to claim "This is our time. We must have a privilege."

This trend seems to have continued during the time of the former Prime Minister Hialemariam Dessalegn, but with a lesser degree. Because, under pressure, he was not as such powerful in exercising his authority. But, some people from the South have take it for granted that it is their time to have a special privilege in terms of economic advantage and political posts. But this is the understanding of the ordinary people. It does not include the majority.

This type of people dream to have special privilege in terms of economy and political posts,among others .

Professor Abebaw recommends that the political system of the country should detach itself from ethnicity. What is more, political leaders have to play a leading role in convincing citizens that they are representing Ethiopia not a single ethnic group.

The ruling EPRDF party has to reform itself. It has to adjust itself in terms of the political interest of the majority. Not necessarily ethnic identity.

As long as political parties including the incumbent are following the same trend the problem will be there. Rectifying this has to be the an assignment of opposition parties. They have to reflect the interest of the people not the interest of a particular group. After all the fundamental question of Ethiopians is democracy.

Kassu Chamiso, is a lecturer of History at Arba Minch University. According to him, divide and rule was the strategy of colonizers. It is the legacy of colonialism. But it is still at work in most African countries.

Ethnic-based administration had been applied by colonizers to dived and rule their subjects. But it had caused challenges for themselves. After decolonization, the African politicians have tried to sustain the divisive ploy. But for most of them, it has become a time bomb. For instance, the Ethio-Ertrean conflict is not simply a conflict of two countries. It is a repercussion of the colonial legacy.

Girmay Haleform is the other Historian at Aksum University. He believes that ethnic -based politics has never been profitable. Ethiopia is not suitable for such type of system.

"Ethnic based politics does not properly work in Ethiopia as Ethiopians have developed a century-old culture of living in harmony and tolerance."

Ethnic-based politics is not a problem by itself. The problem is when people abuse the system. They way they perceive it will distort the real meaning.

This is particularly true for ordinary people who associate political position with special privileges for particular ethnic group.

In parliamentary system, the people will elect their prime minister indirectly through their representatives. He might hail form Oromo, Tigre, Amhara Kembata or any Ethnic group. But, the moment he assumes power, he is no more representing a particular ethnic group. He represents the whole nation.

Emlalu Fisha, is a legal professional and member of Semayawi party. According to him, Ethnic politics is costing the country a lot of things.

We are talking about the greatness and Renaissance of Ethiopia. At the same time we are focusing on ethnic-based politics. If the system is not run in consonance with a democratic system, it will be a challenge for our greatness.

Whenever a given political party comes into position it has to join the system representing the majority not a particular group.

The political system has to respond to economic and political injustices. The country should not be built on ethnic-based party.

He suggests that the nation needs a political institution that embraces all members of the society free from ethnicity. Political parties have to be responsible and liable for their deeds. Civil societies and medias have also a responsibility in promoting a political system that is free from ethnic-based political system.

Scholars have also responsibility in this regard, says Emlalu."There are some scholars who observably are buckling under influences. They are seen giving up the concept of Ethiopians to pursue ethnic -based politics. We need to dissuade them to fight for the truth. We have divided the nation with ethnicity lines within two decades. It is not too late to mend things and unify the people within the shortest time possible."

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