By Daniel Teferra
I would like to share my thoughts on certain points, raised by Dr. Messay Kebede in his commentary, “Ethiopia: Jawar’s New Ploy”. The subject matter of his commentary is a recent interview, given by Mr. Jawar Mohammed about what they both call the “Amhara resistance.”
In the first place, the description, the “Amhara resistance” instead of the Gondar Resistance, is misleading. Gondar consists of various groups besides the Amhara. Secondly, the Gondar Resistance is not about ethnic cleansing and land grabbing to create a separate homeland for an Amhara group. Therefore, the title, Amhara resistance, does not fit the situation.
While I share the concerns raised by Dr. Messay Kebede about the “politics of exclusive identity” in Ethiopia, I am afraid that I do not subscribe to his recommendation of Ethiopianism as a solution to the problem. I will quote his recommendation in its entirety below:
“We must counter the politics of exclusive identity with Ethiopianism as a shared identity. Shared identity goes beyond the recognition and equal treatment of ethnic and religious diversity; it promotes “a pluralism of identities, which cut across each other and work against sharp divisions around one single hardened line of vehement division,” to quote Amartya Sen.”
Dr. Messay Kebede does not define Ethiopianism. He just describes a shared identity. The term Ethiopian is defined in the dictionary. It means “of or pertaining to Ethiopia or to its inhabitants.” The word Ethiopianism, on the other hand, does not exist in the dictionary.
Professor Mesfin Wolde Mariam defines Ethiopiawinet (Ethiopianism) in his 1994 book (written in Amharinya), Ethiopia: From Where to Where? He says Ethiopiawinet is being a constituent member of a society, which is formed by the fusion of a multitude of social groups.
The foregoing may not be that far from the customary definition of Ethiopian citizenship. But Ethiopiawinet also becomes an “exclusive identity” as Professor Mesfin Wolde Mariam goes on to assign Ethiopiawinet specific cultural attributes and values.
In passing, it is worthwhile to mention what some Oromo academics have been espousing lately to further separate Oromos from the rest of the society. They state that Oromos possess a democratic system of their own called gada on which they can build what they call Oromia. But, gada is a patriarchal age-grade group; and consequently, it is incompatible with democracy and modernization imperatives.
As I was reading Dr. Messay Kebede’s article, I had wondered why he did not recommend a democratic Ethiopia “to counter the politics of exclusive identity.” After all, given what is taking place on the ground, a Gondar victory could undermine, in the end, the politics of exclusive identity (that he has so ably analyzed), and thereby open up new perspectives for transition to a democratic Ethiopia.
*Emeritus Professor of Economics at FSU.