Ethiopia: What's the Essence of PM Abiy's Concept of "Medemer"?


Prime Minister Abiy's catchword "Medemer" has brought about diverse interest groups from home and abroad for same cause.

Intellectuals and citizens alike have been debating on Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed's concept of "medemer," the Amharic equivalent for addition, but contextually used to mean synergy. And it seems there are diverse understandings of the concept.

While some see it as a solution to ethnic compartmentalization by strengthening the once seemingly fragile national unity, others argue there is still huge discrepancy in fully comprehending the very concept among Ethiopians.

Over the past couple of decades, there have been two opposing political views, held by ethnic federalists and unionists in Ethiopia.

The former claim that the survival of the Federal Republic can only be maintained by respecting the full-right to self determination of the peoples of Ethiopia, which they claim is guaranteed by article 39 of the Constitution.

On the other hand, the latter see this stance as a threat to the age long unity of Ethiopia and claim that from time to time, ethnic centered ideologies have become willing to compromise national unity for the sake of narrow ethnic interests.

It is clear that as the views are polarized, there was a need for a new kind of thinking to reconcile these extreme views and bring together their advocates to the same table. And it is at that time the concept of "medemer" came into public knowledge by the reformist Prime Minister.

As to Temesgen Tessema, Law Lecturer at Wollo University, "medemer" is a concept borne out of strong emotion and desire for unity. But, he sees it as being different concept form 'unity in diversity'.

"Self-administration is the constitutional rights of the peoples of Ethiopia. And it is through their will that they formed the Federal Republic," he opines. "And the two concepts are different. While "medemer" is more of an emotional concept that created public euphoria, the latter is a right legally guaranteed by the Constitution to the nations and nationalities of Ethiopia."

"But, it does not mean that "medemer," as an emotional concept has no value. When the new Primer came to power, the nation was on the verge of collapse and it is this concept that saved the country from disintegration," he underscores.

As to him, ethnic federalism is the end result the negotiation between political parties that represent diverse interests in 1991. Obviously, when countries face the danger of collapse, they take federalism as the only option and establish a federalism system, Temsegen emphasizes.

While there is nothing wrong with that, the mistake in Ethiopia's case, as to him, was the fact that they (the negotiating parties during the transitional period in 1991) ratified a document that allows self-determination up to secession.

Their aim was to save the country from disintegration. But how come they ended up endorsing an article that allows secession," asks Temesegene.

"Being this the case, as I see it, the new concept of "medemer" would not easily replace or complement the constitutional concept of self-determination up to secession," Temesgen argues.

Indeed, the peoples of Ethiopia have been exercising the concept of "medemer" by living in harmony under the federal system. "But within "medemer", the concept of unity is boldly reflected."

Mohammed Girma, who has a background in political philosophy, in his article 'The promises and challenges of 'medemer' stated that Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed uses the catchword to capture his proposed solution to the problem of ethnic compartmentalization.

Some, as to him, have taken the notion of "medemer" to a whole new level. They see it as a deliberate action of informing the people to bear in mind that "medemer" is an invitation, not an absolute obligation, to come together around a common cause, which is Ethiopia, as to Mohammed.

"In fact, one can argue that "medemer" is a concept borne out of Ethiopians' deep disenchantment with both unification and ethnic-based federalisation by means of coercion. As Ethiopians know all too well, both political arrangements have produced deep mutual mistrust and perpetual othering of one another," Mohammed opined.

" "Medemer", the way Abiy portrayed it, does not assume the undoing of one's ethnic or cultural peculiarity. In fact, it calls for a keen understanding of one's interest and political orientation, and yet, being intentional about weaving together one's unique contribution with that of the others to transform the mosaic into a melting pot."

Sultan Kassim, Law Lecturer at Haromaya University says the fundamental issues in the federal system are self-rule and shared-rule.

Self-rule provides the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia with the right to run their own affairs. On the other hand, shared-rule, allow them to live in harmony through the federal government they jointly form. Simply, shared-rule refers to joint administration, Sultan states.

Unless it is interpreted in a different context, "medemer" is a concept of adding new values by overcoming the idea of disintegration to cultivate the value of unity and togetherness. It states the importance of strengthening unity, and in the federal system shared-rule.

As to him, the country has not been working adequately on shared rule as it has been doing on self-rule. "For instance people are well aware of article 39 of the constitution which states self determination than article 88 which elaborates about shared rule," he says.

"If we say the federalism system is a must to Ethiopia's survival, both the self and share rules should be applied equally."

In his article Ethiopia: Unity in Diversity versus Diversity in Unity, Messay Kebede quoting Maimire Mennasemay of Dawson's College argued that unity in diversity is a "diversity-centric," slogan in that it gives primacy to ethnic identities and conceives of unity as an agglomeration of sovereign and static ethnic groups. Instead of "unity in diversity," his article proposes the "unity-centric" formula of "diversity in unity."

"Indeed, the suggested formulation no longer seeks the petrification of ethnic identities; rather, it promotes unity through the development of norms transcending particularisms. Not only does it thus give primacy to unity, but it also turns unity into the framework of diversity."

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