Ethnic Federalism, Ethiopia’s Most Serious Existential Problem

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Ethnic federalism is the mother of all social, political, economic problems of Ethiopia today. It was devised by the TPLF for the single purpose of creating perpetual geographic division and disunion among the Ethiopian people by corralling them like cattle into insular “nations and nationalities”. It gives these “nations and nationalities” each the switch box for their own nuclear weapon of mass destruction to literally blow up themselves and the entire country into smithereens.

By Alemayehu G Mariam,

The “PREAMBLE” to the dictatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) constitution provides a ready answer: “We the Nations, Nationalities and People of Ethiopia…” have written the constitution to 1) “secure the right to self-determination” for “people of the nations and nationalities”, 2) ensure the territorial insularity (separateness) of the “people of the nations and nationalities” so that they can “live with our rich and proud cultural legacies” 3) “rectify historically unjust relationships”, and 4) facilitate “liv[ing] as one economic community”. (See also Art. 39.)

I shall argue and supply evidence to support my contention that Ethiopia’s young generation should reject wholly TPLF’s “ethnic federalism”.

The summary of my argument is as follows:

“Ethnic federalism” is the “kinder and gentler” name for the new and improved apartheid in the 21st century Africa. The TPLF’s “kilil” (Kilil-istan) is a modern version of apartheid’s Bantustan, an ethnic reservation. When the minority white apartheid government created the Bantustans in South Africa, their principal aim was to create a “homeland” for the “peoples” of South Africa based on race, language, geography, ethnicity, culture, etc. The ultimate aim was the preparation of the Bantustans to one day become their own countries (exercise “self-determination”). The whites would have their own country as well, unsurprisingly, in full possession of the most productive land in the country.

The Amharic word “kilil” as “ክልል” in the context of “ethnic federalism” signifies an area of land designated specifically for the exclusive use and management of members of a group sharing similar language, history, culture, etc.

“Kilil” signifies an enclosure, a defined boundary, territory and land mass. The TPLF designed, devised, invented, contrived and blueprinted its “ethnic federalism” for the single purpose of creating perpetual geographic division and disunion among the Ethiopian people by corralling them like cattle into insular “nations and nationalities”.

By constitutionally segregating the people of Ethiopia into communal, linguistic, cultural and regional groups, the TPLF put a clever plan that would permanently and irreversibly destroy the social glue and fabric of tolerance, harmony and understanding that has kept the Ethiopian people united as one people for millenia.

Under the so-called Article 39, the ultimate aim of TPLF’s ethnic federalism is to ethnically divide Ethiopia and make it the proverbial Humpty Dumpty who “sat on a wall, and had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

When Ethiopia falls from the “kilil” walls the TPLF has created, it will not be the king’s horses and men who will put her back together. It will be Ethiopia’s young generation inspired by God who will!

I believe the most serious existential problem (the mother of all social, political, economic problems) of Ethiopia today is, without question, “ethnic federalism”.

The TPLF understood that five separate fingers on a hand are far less powerful than the clenched fist that is formed when the five fingers come together in the center of the palm. The T-TPLF constitutionalized “ethnic federalism” as permanent strategy to keep the “five fingers” of Ethiopia from ever coming together to make a fist in TPLF’s face and to rule perpetually by keeping the fingers separate.

Ethiopia’s young generation must critically understand, evaluate and decide whether they want to accept TPLF’s “ethnic federalism”.

First and foremost, I challenge the youth to declare whether they agree with the bedrock assumptions of the TPLF on “Ethiopia”.

Assumption No. 1. There is no Ethiopian nation.

There is no such thing as an Ethiopian nation because Ethiopia is an aggregation of “nations, nationalities and peoples.” There is only a make believe confederation of “nations and nationalities” trapped in a mythical land called “Ethiopia” just waiting, yearning and itching to breakup into tribal chieftaincies and principalities. The whole is not greater than the sum of its parts because the parts could never amount to a whole.

The TPLF constitution self-proclaims to be a weapon for “rectifying historical injustices”. It arms the “nations and nationalities” with the nuclear option of “self-determination” for the “rectification” of perceived historical injustices.

The “nations and nationalities” are each given the switch box for their own nuclear weapon of mass destruction and literally blow up themselves and the entire country into smithereens.

Assumption No. 2. There is no Ethiopian culture.

There are diversity of cultures that are self-contained and mutually exclusive. The whole idea of unity in diversity in TPLF’s ethnic federalism is the practice of diversity in exclusivity, animosity and insensitivity.

Assumption No. 3. There is no Ethiopian history.

A people without a history is a people without a past and without a future. TPLF mastermind the late Meles Zenawi in 1993 told an interviewer, “Ethiopia is only 100 years old. Those who claim otherwise are indulging themselves in fairy tales.”

According to TPLF’s ethnic federalism, there is only the history of “nations, nationalities and peoples.”

Assumption No. 4. There is no Ethiopian national identity.

National identity is one’s sense of belonging to one state or to one nation. It is the sense of a nation as a cohesive whole, as represented by distinctive traditions, culture, language and politics. As far as I have been able to determine, Ethiopians are the only people in the world who are officially required by “law” to state their ethnicity in their interactions with regime authorities. Could there be a greater insult, a greater humiliation for a citizen of a country to be required to declare his/her ethnicity every time they seek to get public services?!

Surveys show British citizens “feel British”. The French people “feel French”. The same for Brazilians, Indians, Egyptians and so on.

The American people “feel American” before they feel African American, Polish American, Japanese American and so on.

Under the crushing boots of the TPLF, do people living in Ethiopia “feel Ethiopian”? Do they even feel “Oromo Ethiopian”, “Amhara Ethiopian”, “Tigrean Ethiopian” and so on?

Or do they just feel their ethnicity without their nationality, without their humanity?

Assumption No. 5. There is no “Ethiopian flag”.

There is no Ethiopian flag as a symbol of national identity, pride and patriotism. Meles Zenawi in response to questions put to him about TPLF position on the flag repeatedly said the “Ethiopian flag is a piece of rag.”

The vast majority of Americans respect and take pride in their flag. They nicknamed their flag “Old Glory”. In most public, sporting and patriotic events, they sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” as they raise Old Glory. In the last three lines of the lyrics, they sing: “And this be our motto – ‘In God is our trust,’/ And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave/ O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” That essentially defines “feeling American” for most Americans regardless of which corner of the world they or their ancestors came from.

Do “Ethiopians” feel the same way about a green, yellow and red flag with a blue pentagram in the middle of it? Why can’t Ethiopia be “land of the free and the home of the brave”? I don’t think the Americans have a monopoly on that.

(Just as an aside: I have never been able to figure out why the TPLF used a pentagram (a star encased in a circle) in the middle of their flag. The pentagram is the quintessential global symbol of the followers of the Prince of Darkness. No other country in the world has a flag with a pentagram in it. How odd, indeed!)

Assumption No. 6. There is no “Ethiopian Dream”.

There is only a TPLF nightmare. The TPLF controls the economy, the politics and society. No one can inhale or exhale without the TPLF breathing down their backs. One can’t dream in a nightmare!

To understand TPLF’s ethnic federalism as modern day apartheid, Ethiopia’s young generation must study the history of apartheid laws creating and maintaining Bantustans in South Africa.

The TPLF devised their “ethnic federalism” straight out of the apartheid playbook. In fact, ethnic federalism is a kinder and gentler version of South Africa’s apartheid state based on separate development of the people of South Africa.

My aim here is not to show discrete similarities and differences between Apartheid laws and TPLF “Proclamations”. If need be, I can do that with ease, expedition and pleasure. But I am merely trying to make the simple point that the white minority government in South Africa took calculated legislative measure to dispossess the majority Black African population and completely dominate the economy just like what the TPLF is doing in Ethiopia today by completely owning the land in the country.

The 1995 TPLF constitution declares, “The right to ownership of rural and urban land, as well as of all natural resources, is exclusively vested in the State and in the peoples of Ethiopia. Land is a common property of the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia and shall not be subject to sale or to other means of exchange.” (Article 40(3).)

If the state has exclusive ownership of rural and urban land in Ethiopia, then the obvious question is: Who has exclusive and complete ownership of the state in Ethiopia today?

Who has exclusively owned and operated the state in Ethiopia for the past 25 years?

Professor Alemayehu G Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino.