Ethiopia should build on its long and proud history as a nation rather than allowing itself to be fragmented by ethnic divisions, argues Mammo Muchie, in a reflection on the country’s past and future.
‘This is my plea to the new generation of African leaders and African peoples: work for unity with firm conviction that without unity there is no future for Africa…I reject the glorification of the nation-state, which we have inherited from colonialism, and the artificial nations we are trying to forge from that inheritance. We are all Africans trying to be Ghanaians or Tanzanians. Fortunately for Africa we have not been completely successful…Unity will not make us rich, but it can make it difficult for Africa and the African peoples to be disregarded and humiliated. And it will therefore increase the effectiveness of the decisions we make and try to implement for our development. My generation led Africa to political freedom. The current generation of leaders and peoples of Africa must pick up the flickering torch of African freedom, refuel it with their enthusiasm and determination, and carry it forward.’ – Julius Nyerere, First president of Tanzania
‘The present consolidation of African states within the former colonial frontiers runs counter to much of what had been both predicted and desired during the colonial era. It was widely assumed that as soon as Africans came to freedom they would sweep aside the arbitrary boundaries imposed by the imperialists which cut across tribes and overrode the dictates of geography and economics. The continent had been partitioned to meet colonial convenience, but it would now be reshaped to realize its natural contours and return to its natural essence.’ – Rupert Emerson,1962)
‘...Constructing a nation from scratch: We know we don’t have the knowledge. We know we do not have the resources. We know we do not have the experience. Our conclusion is: let’s face it.’ – Isaias Afewerki, current president of Eritrea (quoted from National Geographic, June 1996, p.87)
Failure to defend Ethiopia’s history, is also a failure to live up to the worthy expectations of all those who derive so much spiritual energy from the idea of Ethiopia as a free provider to the world of the ‘resistance-liberation logocentric imagination’ that is much needed as a tangible resource still in vulnerable and penetrable Africa. Ethiopia is synonymous with the very idea of a de-colonising imagination. Its history of successful resistance is the timeless bearer of this alternative decolonising logo for the spread of the African world’s liberation imagination. Ethiopia- as an anti-colonial symbol- is very relevant today, as it was yesterday and will be too in the future. The significance of Ethiopia’s history now, at a time when Africa is being re-threatened with war needs to be appreciated. Its importance during this time when the former colonial powers are returning to Africa with military aggression cannot be lost to both those willing to resist the new aggression and those who commit this latest aggression. At the core of Africawinet is this Ethiopiawinet that is a bearer of dignity and resistance to the repeated humiliation Africa is confronted with by external aggression.
Ethiopiawinet is at the core of the African renaissance. It is also at the core for ending Africa’s repeated humiliation. This is because African unity can be anchored with a value and dignity that Ethiopiawinet attained over 500 years of resistance. This achievement by the Ethiopian-Africans that resisted all forms of humiliation is a positive data for building Africa’s united future and to bring back the African unity first agenda to the fore today. It is for these reasons we respect our ancestors, whatever their shortcomings, and problems they were unable to solve in their life times and left behind for future generations to settle. They left the timeless inspiring resources to build Africa’s united future. The positive data they left us in the Ethiopian history remains to this day a relevant asset to build Africa’s much united future. Ethiopians now and in the future must always value and treasure this great historical achievement and not play the current ugly, divisive and cynical ethnic games that the selfish ruling elite play by dividing and degrading this core provider of Africa’s overall liberation imagination into vernacular-ethnic enclaves. Ethiopians as Africans and not as degraded ethnie must unite and strive to make ethnicism as a past by coming together with foresight and sense of history. They should do it now and not tomorrow to restore the historical imagination that will make a difference to the African world as a whole!
1. WHAT IS ETHIOPIAWINET?
Ethiopiawinet should be built and developed from the following characteristics Ethiopia has to this day:
a) Long history-perhaps as long as Persia’s and China’s
b) An internally generated civilisation (written, art, architecture, music, religion and so on)
c) A history of resisting and scoring victories against economically and politico- militarily superior forces
d) A unique psychological make up where the notion of the divine and the sacred graces every activity that the people engage in.
The individual, the state and the nation use for their lives divine presence whether they are Christians, Muslims, Judaic and even Pagans. The state had its own ethos and had its own ‘Fetah Negist’ and ‘Kibre Negist.’ In war we note how the idea of the divine is invoked to give courage to the troops when they charge (e.g. Giorgis’s participation in Adwa!) and in victory the people show humility by referring that all their power is due to God.
Whether we like it or not religion is a way of life to the rural majority of the population. And the change we want, the modernisation we seek is to make life better for the majority of the rural areas. We do not go and preach Jeffersonian democracy or Marxism to them. If we are serious we go and learn from them and build on their beliefs and make modernisation sensible by translating it into the language and way of life they are used to. This is how Japan, Korea and others did it by appreciating their context but not rejecting it like the strange ruling elites that replaced the traditional system are doing now!
Even China with its Marxism did not reject Menicusian, Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist values which the population had. They tried to Sinnify their modernist weapon Marxism so that the people can embrace it. Like everything else which came into contact with China, Marxism became absorbed rather than the other way round! They call it Marxism which Chinese characteristics and in reality in China Marxism was not used like in Ethiopia. Mao Tse Tung started by investigating first the peasant movement in Hunan where he was born, not by throwing half-baked and non-comprehended phrases from Lenin and Stalin. He did not select phrases that insult to persecute and even kill his comrades as it happened in Ethiopia. Never forget in Ethiopia after people were killed, the strangest things also have taken place where apparently along with the dead body was placed 'I was a dog' and I deserve to be killed -- or some strange ani-Ethiopian and anti-humane things were done! When a person dies in Ethiopian culture, one always tries to remember the good the person did by trying to forget the bad the person did. This is the noble culture that was inherited from Ethiopia’s past that was abused by doing these strange things to dead bodies!
There is an Ethiopian value system from our tradition that we need to bring back and blend with modernisation. The core ideas are the four key principles of Ethiopiawinet. We need to treasure them, not fight Ethiopiawinet! What makes the person from the South to those in the North connect mysteriously is this shared experience which was passed on from the wider Ethiopian culture confluence and communication.
2. THE MISTAKES OF OUR GENERATION
Our generation was engaged in intellectual copying. We ignored both history and reality and embarked on a journey that has cost Ethiopia dearly. Basically we said because Marx, Engels and Lenin are right, Emperor Twedros, Yohannes, Menelik and Haile Selassie are wrong. This was a very dogmatic logic, ignoring both historical evidence and reality. Did we not pay a price badly for this. We still do. We better ground ourselves from our own history, our own challenges and how to change society by a process of grounded appreciative theorising. We did not do this. We need to bring back the anti- colonial and anti- imperialist and nationalist imagination coming naturally from Ethiopia’s history that continues to be treasured by Africans the world over.
Our generation rejected this by mounting two major myths: a) the Dergue employing Jacobin-Stalinist terror tried to force its hackneyed “Marxism” down the throat of the bewildered population, b) the various ethnic based fractional movements echoing rhetorics from China, Albania, Vietnam and so on tried to create ideologies of Tigreanism, Eritreanism, Oromoism and recently Amharism and anything and everything but Ethiopianism. They even have ethnic flags. We have many flags in Ethiopia now, not one flag that I see every day also in much of Africa and the rest of the world. Others are proud to use the Ethiopian flag, whilst the ruling ethnic elite diversify the number of flags to entrench ethnicism and undermine Ethiopian history.
Ethiopia is in a strange paradox: Ethiopia reminds me of Wittgenstein’s prescient remark of a nation being run by elites who are trying to disrupt its future by climbing through the chimney and the window of ethnic fragmentation, when all along the Ethiopiawinet as Africawinet door to build its glorious future has been wide open.
What is wrong with holding on and inheriting our Ethiopia and add modernisation, renewal and democratisation without breaking the framework and subtracting the nation and parcelling the state? Do we need to regress by relying on the politicisation of culture, language and blood to blackmail our way into power with Ethiopia as it is or by breaking it up altogether?
I believe the best and most possible cultural rights and expression for all the ethnic communities without subjecting them to ethnic cleansing and other violence is feasible with a healthy Ethiopiawinet. I do not see why we should not organise by affirming Ethiopawinet and maintain active local engagement wherever we come from. The key is to democratise the state, individual and the nation by affirming and not being condescending to the past.
The theory of the nation which decomposes Ethiopia by weaving the myths of Tigreanism, Eritreanism, Oromoism and so on goes counter to the core experience of the people, their long history, tradition, character and above all their historically evolved nationhood and state formation.
The Lenin-Stalin notion of the nation which the fractionalisers have imported their divisive politics from to Ethiopia is too scholastic, mechanistic, and deterministic. Itemising factors of language, territory, psychological make up and unleashing every petty nationalist bigot to search how his ethnic group might fulfil one or the other factor in full or in part is one of the most unattractive ventures which corrupts science and social practice at the same time.
Neither the ethnicism of Tigreans, Oromos and so on and nor Stalin’s shopping list definition of a nation are relevant to the Ethiopian situation. They cannot be a higher reality to the experience of our people. An experience where there was injustice along with civilisation, a history of epic resistance and a unique psychological make up involving the concept of the sacred in the every day living of all Ethiopians. The attack on this divinely graced Ethiopianet ” wukabi gefafi new” (is de-spiritualising/demeaning!)! It has been said that the longer we look back in the history of a nation, the further we can look forward or forge ahead in building a collective future. It has also been claimed that history is to a nation as a memory is to an individual. For an individual to lose memory is to lose a grip of reality. It has been a maxim held by African sages: ’They lost their history, so they lost everything.’ A nation, if it wishes to remain a nation must not be denied its right and indeed privilege to make a conception of history that yields direction and a future and insulates it from falling into a directionless and chaotic path like present day Somalia.
Arguably, contemporary challenges and demands must be taken into account into a nation’s history-making processes, but they must also be confronted to avoid the mindless rejection of Ethiopia’s historical achievements and the intelligent learning from the innumerable failures that is necessary to do individually and collectively as a people. Anything made at the expense of making a nation lose its historical identity, which is not, incidentally constituted from more than the sum of the arithmetic additions of a sum of languages, religions, territory, number of people in an ethnic group, and other variables is to undermine the ontological foundation of Ethiopia as an idea, a dream, project and nation.
Those who wish to opt out make not only themselves suffer, but also those who wish to remain with a positive and constructive rather than destructive and negative appreciation of Ethiopia’s long history. We have seen what came of Eritrea after leaving Ethiopia? We were told Eritrea would be the South East Asian tiger, but is it that now? Is that what has become of Eritrea by the EPLF’s and TPLF’s gratuitous saying good bye to Eritrea’s core history which is tied with an umbilical chord with Ethiopia’s long social-economic history. History provides self-knowledge to a nation and that self-understanding is a necessary condition to undertake any meaningful development. Lack of consciousness of a nation’s history is not simply an intellectual failure. It can be a moral failure as it can expose unnecessarily a nation to unpredictable danger and suffering. We owe it to our ancestors who bequeathed a nation with history to avoid extremism, negotiate out of our conflicts, and find mechanisms to make social peace amongst individuals, communities and personalities.
It is with a larger purpose and depth of thinking, commitment and dedication that we should cherish both the long memory and current meaning to us of being Ethiopian. There is intrinsic merit to preserve this ancient nation, and not give in to the degrading mantra of ethnic enclosures that has degraded civic Ethiopian citizenship to a particularly virulent and limiting concept of the ethnically defined and vernacularly fenced off citizen. This primordially and biologically condemned citizen must be fully liberated to emerge as the Ethiopian citizen par excellence. There can be no compromise on the Ethiopian and African framework for citizen expression and engagement. Everything is negotiable once the framework is accepted. There can be no negotiation with those who arrogantly and impudently call Ethiopia a fiction and an invention. Without the idea of Ethiopia, there is no idea of a future. Let us not forget that Ethiopia was the first non-European country that defeated a European power. The Japanese sent delegations to learn how Ethiopians organised to defeat a European imperial power. Many Africans in the Diaspora from America to the West Indies were inspired to continue the struggle for liberation owing to this historic achievement. Ethiopia can achieve even more by doing away with tyranny and poverty for good provided it overcomes the pettiness of its politics and reach out to the grand vision of historical presence.
I ask all of you to memorise!
The world fears time
Time fears history
History fears Ethiopia!
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* This article was first published in NES COMMENTARY. No.36, Network of Ethiopian Scholars (NES), April 24, 2011.
* Mammo Muchie is DST/NRF research professor of Innovation Studies, Professor DIR, Aalborg University and senior research associate, SLPTMD, Oxford University, UK.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.