The Ethiopian Herald, BY FITSUM GETACHEW
It is not a secret that the just commemorated 25th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide had its basic origin in ethnic politics. What once you used to be called ‘tribalism’ now more often known as ethnic’ or ‘nationality’ division seems to be a curse everywhere. We have seen in recent history alone when the former Yugoslavia disintegrated and what was condemned as ‘ethnic cleansing’ took place provoking massacres that have left deep scars on the psyche of millions of Europeans.
It was a huge embarrassment that Europeans had to live with. After all, it was something they had reserved mainly to backward societies such as the ones found in Africa! It is indeed difficult to understand fully human nature. It is difficult to accept that people can hate another one based only on their ‘origin’ or faith.
It would have been excused if this had happened centuries ago when the level of education and knowledge of history was very limited. But how can one relive the past chapters of history which would belong to only history books by now? What is the difference between human beings (capable of thinking, learning from the past and susceptible of improvement or progress) and animals which cannot learn or grow mentally? When you bring this case to the African continent, you find out that it has really been a curse of the peoples inhabiting it.
Few countries in Africa have been free of issues that have something to do with ‘identity’. The entire political scene of the continent appears to be determined by who comes from where and who belongs to which ethnic group. In many cases, parties are formed on an ethnic basis and the politics become a matter of to which ethnic group does this party or its chief belong.
Parties that are based on identity have little significance in real political stance. One simply becomes a member of that party just because it is formed by that ethnic group. We learn from history that Ethiopia has never been divided into ethnic lines until the TPLF-EPRDF government took over the military which had abolished the centuries-old monarchical system.
It is true that the main problem with African governments including Ethiopia was the absence of democracy. The essence of democracy intended beyond the idea of only ‘one man one vote’, but also how that vote is determined and counted. If there are no independent democratic institutions, the whole idea of democracy becomes a sham.
The fairness of true democracy emanates from the way it is built. Democratic institutions such as an independent electoral board, a strong and independent judiciary, free human right commission, independent civil society, and media are the backbone. Without these conditions fulfilled it would be just lip service to talk about freedom, justice, and rule of law. Ethiopia has had its share of tyrannical governments beginning from the old imperial days to the military junta and finally a façade of democracy with the coalition of EPRDF.
But none of the previous governments had any intention of dividing the country only along ethnic lines or language differences and try to rule the country feeding on those diversities. The official rationale of their rule was the right to self-determination of nations, but in reality, it was a plot to capitalize on enhanced divisions and an attempt to control the entire country. Eventually, it resulted to have been a systematic robbing of an elite at the expense of even what they call are their own constituencies. The previous government was found to be notoriously corrupt in all senses and benefited only their affiliates.
There was no respect for human rights and people who dared to challenge the system were treated roughly. Suspicion and hatred were what was propagated. Division among ethnic groups was the base of their survival. In the past year, a sense of hope has been felt by people as there were some fundamental changes in the system. However, what has been built up for decades has left behind a lot of wreckage that is very difficult to manage.
The division was preached extensively and to extreme levels. The national identity that thrived for centuries and kept the country intact was dismissed as fiction. New narratives motivated by hate were disseminated. This has incurred a lot of loss on the psyche of an entire generation of youths who were brought up with the wrong values. That is what we are now faced with. One of the strongest qualities of the current prime minister is his insistence that focusing on divisions or trying to divide the country along ethnic and religious or linguist lines is just deplorable.
We need to work in unison healing our sick feelings for our neighbor who is in another group but with the same feelings and aspirations. That is why we need to underline the feelings of and forgiveness. However, it appears that there are groups still very convinced that they can continue to disseminate old narratives that feed only into hatred and division to advance their politics.
They continue to engage in violence and cause massive losses in human life and property besides the displacement of hundreds of thousands. These are people who are still living in the past and would like to benefit from chaos and disintegration. In the recent press conference the premier gave to the media and the address he made at the Millennium Hall on the occasion of the one year anniversary of the change in government, the premier has repeatedly underlined that extremist ideas are bound to fade away leaving the space to more moderate and reasonable views.
Ideas and the unity of the people of Ethiopia were the basis of a great nation that can even aspire to be the pride of the continent. He cited the example of the tragic Rwandan Genocide which just commemorated its 25th anniversary and warned that such episodes should never happen again. It was time that the entire world learns from the tragic experience of Rwanda as it was based on ethnic hatred and division fomented by extremist elements.
Then it was the radio stations that were the main promoters of such atrocities. Today the dangers are even greater because there are more modern and sophisticated means of disseminating not only false narratives but even fabricated and well-orchestrated rhetoric supported by videos and images in both the mainstream as well as social media. The times are very dangerous because many people are prone to falling into the trap of such stories especially the youths who have been exposed to only such stories.
It is a generation of youths who have been feeding with the idea of the ethnic group rather than citizenship and union. The way the federal system has been formed is also a consecration to this idea of subjecting one’s identity to a certain ethnic group rather than first thinking in terms of nationality or citizenship in a state.
Ethiopia has lived through centuries of history that has not made any distinction among language groups or religious sects. They were never considered an obstacle for cohabitation and there were even intermarriages. That is why the kind of political system that was used as a basis during the past three decades or so has resulted to be poisonously motivated by political greed. How would one describe the fact that there are now 107 registered political parties in contention for power! Are there 100 policies or outlooks that would serve to solve the perennial problems of their constituencies? This means that there are potentially 107 chairpersons who aspire to be tsars.
If it was differently oriented these people would have rather focused on issues and prepared their platforms and organization on ideologies and ways of tackling the age-old problems of the people. Can anyone imagine what would happen if the United States opted to form parties along with ethnic or group belongings? There would be two hundred or even more parties! This is not the case, fortunately, because the main parties in the US are only two and there are no restrictions in terms of being a member of this or that party. It is ideas that truly matter and not origin or identity.
How long will it take for Africans and especially Ethiopians to appreciate and adopt such a democratic frame of mind? This is a million dollar question. But it has to start somewhere and maybe the current beginnings will encourage us to change instead of slowly descending to subhuman levels when one kills his brother for the sake of power. It is really a shame that there are still attacks against innocent civilians in the name of whatever political objectives.
Trying to push the country towards chaos in order to satisfy our bestial instincts is really a disgrace. Ethiopians, however, will not give in to such provocative acts of certain mentally disturbed people who still dwell in the past depriving their brothers and sisters of the benefits of a changed day and a changed life, aspiring towards progress and prosperity.