By Yared Gebremeden
Unity and diversity are among the most sensitive issues in the economic, social and political schemes of a nation. Proper handling of these social assets will bring about peace, stability and socioeconomic progress to a nation in particular and to the world in general. On the contrary, mismanagement, misunderstanding, and misinterpretation of these issues will lead to forth instability. To my surprise, people at different times and in various spectrum raise issues of diversity and unity as confusing phenomenons. However, for me these issues are not that much confusing by their mere presence, but it is misunderstanding of the concepts by individuals or groups that may lead to confusion.
First let me begin my premises with why diversity become an issue in the sociopolitical context of many multinational countries including Ethiopia. For many decades if not for centuries, diversity in Ethiopia was the most denied and neglected issue by the past regimes under the disguise of unity.
That suppression had caused long lasting bloody conflicts in the country. After decades of struggle, the issue of diversity has got recognition with the ratification of FDRE constitution. As stated in several books the concept of diversity is highly related with terms like acceptance and respect. It also advocates an understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizes individual differences in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. It is an exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding of each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual and cultural and linguistic groups.
When we see the Ethiopian context before 25 years, diversity is the most ignored issue under the umbrella of unity. People were not given the proper right to express themselves and enjoy their uniqueness. The other important point to consider is that all individuals in the world even identical twins could not necessarily be expected to be exact and similar. Individualistic differences in all dimensions are also included under the issue of diversity. But, during the past rules, Ethiopia has not been accommodating the issue of diversity.
These days the issue of diversity is recognized and treated in the multinational federalism, which is the right step to take. Entertaining diversity and acting differently are human natures. Like I mentioned in the above examples of the sport teams wearing similar uniforms for the same goal, diverse people would live in harmony having a common goal and consensus. The teams in the sporting event may have diverse culture, language and thinking, abilities and so forth. But they play for a team only because they have the same goal.
For me, unity is also like a sport team wearing uniformly. According to the definition from vocabulary. Com dictionary, unity is to be together with someone or something. It’s the opposite of being divided. When a group of people act as one and hold common goals, they’re displaying unity. When people are bickering and are disorganized, the concept of unity loses its ground.
What I believe and am thinking right now is that Ethiopia should always keep the balance between unity and diversity. This two issues are the concrete factors that has enabled Ethiopia to live in harmony for over two decades. But if not properly handled, they could be a threat to the nation. To put my point in a simplified manner “We Ethiopians are diverse, but one”. This is to mean that we can’t deny the differences we have in different aspects. We have both individual and cultural differences and so forth. That is beautiful by itself and a strength not a weakness at all. We should not also deny the fact that we are one. We all are Ethiopians. Human beings of any color, race or origin are one scientifically. We all are proved to be the same origin . And we all have the same ancestors religiously (Adam and Eve). We could say we are one but happened to be diverse some time in the human history. We are diverse in many ways but one.
Then why conflicts arise at different times in diverse societies including Ethiopia. That I think has two roots. One is due to the fact that the issues are not treated in a balanced manner. Theses things should be put in an equilibrium. One should not tend to swallow the other. If one is echoed or capitalized more than the other, it tends to raise issues. Hence, we have to see the issues of diversity and unity always as two pieces of the same coin.
The other point I would like to recommend is that we can build our oneness and togetherness through giving the proper recognition to our diverse identity. I believe that there are many issues that are bringing us together in the socioeconomic and political realms. Bigger macroeconomic development projects like the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) , the constitution of Ethiopia which is a common binding document for its people, our long harmonious history and livelihood are the undeniable facts that move us towards living a united manner to live in harmony. These are the energizing factors to lead all citizens to actively engage in building the nation together. The other major important point is that the government and the people of Ethiopia should keep their previous discussion to bring about consensus in all aspects of life. After all we have one nation and we are building it as one.
In a nutshell, unity and diversity are issues that should always go together under an equilibrium position. One should not be superior than the other. Both are important factors to the peace and peace building process of our nation. Diversity could not be denied at any circumstance as it is a natural phenomenon. Unity is possible even if we have diverse identities like a football team having diverse identities working for the same goal wearing the same uniforms. We are diverse but should be unified on the process of building our democracy and national development affairs.