Ethiopia: The Dichotomy Between Citizenship and Ethnicity in Ethiopian Politics

More than any year in Ethiopian history, issues relating to citizenship and ethnicities have continued to gain currency in modern Ethiopian political life. Though this is not unique to Ethiopia, the two issues have continued to determine the fundamental trends in the socio-economic and political developments in modern Ethiopia.

Misconceptions on the content of the constitution and the federal system along with the ramifications in ethnic-based political organizations and associations coupled with a lower understanding of the political system among ordinary citizens in rural and urban settings of the country have contributed to further polarization of views at the national level.

What are the main reasons behind the confusion between citizenship and ethnicity? Some of this emanates from deliberate prioritization of ethnicity by the previous ruling party while the rest is related to historical realties which are neither correctly recorded nor addressed in a democratic manner. Whatever the case is ethnicity in Ethiopia is politically and legally determined by the principles of statehood which defines citizenship.

While being a citizen of any country one would naturally belong to a certain ethnic group. This would therefore imply that there is no contradiction in real life between the two. The actual contradiction lies in the subjective and distorted understanding of the relationship between the two.

On theoretical grounds, wrong conceptions of democracy and the principle of self-determination of nations and nationalities and peoples up to session along with deliberate abuse of the constitutional rights as provided in article 39/1 of the constitution has created a practical complication in the practical political life among the peoples of Ethiopia breeding animosity at all levels.

Although the degree of historical and socio-psychological makeup varies between nations, nationalities and peoples, the constitution seems to provide equal rights to every nation, nationality and peoples in the country to recede with no precondition whatsoever. This in my opinion is one of the main reasons why ethnic issues are confused with the rights of every citizen.

Between 1970 and early 80s, issues of ethnicity were far more pronounced among the educated elite and young students who were disenchanted with the imperial and military regimes. Actions taken by the Derg in the so-called Red Terror, the war in Eretria and the establishment of various ethnic-based liberation fronts all appealed to the youth who were over-politicized.

The current disparity and confusion of the issues of citizenship, ethnicity and identity has provided a good ground for internal and external forces to clandestinely interfere with the internal affairs of the country by initiating political assassination and deliberate destructions of economic networks in the country.

Despite the political differences and perceptions on both ethnicity and citizenship, all Ethiopians seem to agree on two issues. The construction and completion of GERD and philanthropic responses in supporting those affected by the spread of the virus are being conducted outside and independent of the bounds of ethnicity and social status. Such stances of support for the needy Ethiopians by fellow citizens are helping to shape up not only mutual self-support of citizens but are also paving the way for democratic and citizen based nationalism.

The existence of more than 80 nations, nationalities and peoples in this country interestingly coincides with the number of political parties registered both at the federal and regional levels. This implies that party life in Ethiopia follows ethnic lines and ethnicity promoting ideologies. The growing number of registered political parties may seem to indicate the expansion of democracy in the country but could also be viewed as a dangerous trend in further complicating the already volatile political contradictions in the country.

As stated above citizenship is either acquired by law or affirmed by birth and is related to being a citizen of a country while ethnicity is inconceivable, without a legal recognition as a citizen. In reality therefore, the difference between the two is theoretical.

The ongoing reform in Ethiopia demands and is based on two important pillars of unity and peace. However democratic unity does not mean identically formed society. There is always a natural difference in identity in unity. This diversity could have been a source of strength for countries like Ethiopia.

On the other hand, filling government bureaucracy in a meritocratic manner instead of focusing on ethnic representation could affect the delivery of quality services and become a breeding ground for nepotism and parochial style of placements in government technical and administrative nomenclature.

Extremist political views that are expressed by individuals and political parties will only help to set obstacles for democratic relations between the peoples of Ethiopia and serve the interests of those who wish to see weaker and balkanized Ethioia. The peoples of Ethiopia have common enemies against whom they should fight in unison. Ethnic diversity is a natural phenomenon in Ethiopia but using divisive conspiracy to destabilize the country to weaken the reform program will only be against the interest of those who wish to assert their identity in a peaceful and democratic manner.

Editor's Note: The views entertained in this article do not necessarily reflect the stance of The Ethiopian Herald

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