By Dr. Magn Nyang, Minnesota, U.S.A - Creating one big harmonious United Democratic Ethiopia after Zenawi’s regime-but how, with its diverse ethnic groups? In the first part of this paper, I will present my analysis of forced unity and its consequences. I will argue that unifying ethnic groups by decree has resulted in institutions that are not suited to achieving cooperative agreements among the various groups. Instead, ethnic groups in Ethiopia lived and continue to live in what I would like to call Prisoner’s Dilemma Situations.
All previous institutional arrangements in Ethiopia have been disappointing. All indicators show that such institutional arrangements are not suited to harmonize the interests of heterogeneous groups. Thus, in the second part of this paper, I will discuss how to harmonize conflicting interests of various ethnic groups to create a truly united democratic Ethiopia after the departure of Meles Zenawi’s regime.
Unity by force and its consequences
Many tribal communities existed independently before Menilek II left his kingdom in Northern Shewa to conquer them. These communities frequently consisted of thousands of members or even millions and possessed well-developed cultures and languages and clear tribal consciousness. In the process, without due regard to ethnicity, culture, or even the existing institutions of government, different ethnic groups were united under the kingdom of Menilek II. The various groups did not participate in deciding which other groups to unite with nor did they have an opportunity to agree on the nature of their relationship with these other groups.
Menilek’s forced unification disrupted long established kingdoms and tribal governments, and also disrupted existing trade networks and other inter-ethnic linkages. This superficial unity was not only arbitrary but also lacked any strong unifying factors. Once forcefully united, Amhara’s language and culture was imposed on these various ethnic groups. And when Dej. Tafari Makonnen was coroneted on November 2, 1930 as Emperor Haile Selessie, the Amhara’s hegemony continued.
In early 1940s, he imposed unfair land taxations on Tigray people. In 1943-44,Tigrian peasants revolted against what they considered as Amhara’s domination. It took the British Royal air support to destroy the first Woyane insurrection. In 1957 Emperor Haile Selessie ordered Amharic, a language unknown to the Somalis to be taught in all schools in Ogaden. In 1963, Somalis rebels attacked Ethiopian military positions, leaving the nationals in control of much of Ogden. In early 1960, Eritrea autonomous status was stripped away by the Emperor. Eritrean government was replaced by Eritrean administration. Use of the Amharic language and other attributes of the official culture were imposed on the population. In July 1960, Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) was established to fight for independence. Haile Selessie regime also used force in Bale and Sidamo between 1963 and 1970 to quash the Oromo and Sidamo rebellion. The Oromo and people of Sidamo were fighting against unfair land and animals’ taxation.
The rebellions in Tigray, Eritera, Ogden, Bale, and Sidamo revealed that the government had not undertaken equal distribution of social and economic programs to all ethnic groups. Most institutions such as schools and hospitals were built in Addis Ababa and the North. The Oromo, Somalis, and Southerners were isolated from modern amenities.
And when Mengistu Haile Mariam hijacked what was students’ movement and consolidated power in 1976, instead of taking a lesson from his predecessors, he considered concentration of power to be a necessary condition to maintain unity. In fact, he considered decentralization of power as political risk because it could reinforce tribal loyalty at the expense of loyalty to the nation. Therefore, he established a unitary government system. Nonetheless, the presumed benefits of unitary government have proved illusionary. All 17 years of Mengistu’s regime were marked by internal strife, military coups, and civil wars.
Although an argument for establishing centralized unitary state was that such institutional arrangement would help unify the various ethnic groups, the Ethiopians experience with unitary state has been disappointing. The experiment with unitary state showed that such institutional arrangement was not suited to harmonize the interests of heterogeneous groups in Ethiopia. Under unitary governance, Ethiopia’s various ethnic groups became special interests that competed for transfers from the central government. Members of a particular ethnic group considered themselves different from those of other groups and have an interest in increasing the welfare of their members relative to that of other groups. Because of the concentration of power in unitary state, the leadership can redistribute resources from some ethnic groups to others. Consequently, a tendency exists for tribal groups to compete for the control of the instruments of transfer because such control assures the controlling group a consistent flow of transfers. Tribal competition for control of the instruments of transfer has had disastrous result in Ethiopia.
Tigranya speakers felt
left out and created Tigrayan People Libration Front (TPLF) on February
18, 1975 to control power. Now that they control the instrument of
transfer, they are increasing the welfare of their members relative to
that of other ethnic groups. The ongoing conflicts between Tigre,
Amhara, Oromo, Anyuaks, Somalis, and the Southern peoples are but a few
of the cases where members of one tribe continue to inflict serious
atrocities against members of other groups. This competition for
political control is now resulting in tribal conflicts, guerrilla
warfare, and civil unrests. Such outcomes, plus the non-optimal public
policies designed to benefit some groups at the expense of others,
translate into poor economic performance. No wonder, Ethiopia has
remained on the list of beggar countries for as long as I remembered.
There is convincing evidence showing that Mengistu’s ’s unitary governance and Meles’ ethnic based false federalism put Ethiopians in prisoner’s dilemma situations which resulted in competition for control of power instead of cooperative outcomes. It is clear that the observed crises in Ethiopia reflect institutional failures, and for Ethiopia to emerge from this state of affairs, it will be necessary to establish institutions that facilitate the achievement of cooperative solutions in prisoner’s dilemma situations.
This paper advances the
idea that the most pressing institutional problem confronting Ethiopia
has to do with the internal organization of its state. Since its
founding, Ethiopia has never used political arrangements that are suited
to solving prisoner’s dilemma problems. The paper argues that to
harmonize conflicting interests of various ethnic groups, Ethiopia
should adopt institutional arrangements that will promote cooperation
instead of competition among its various ethnic groups.
How can we harmonize the interests of various ethnic groups and create a truly united democratic Ethiopia?
Ethiopia has some 88 distinct ethnic groups. Most of these groups don’t know each other due to poor political arrangements by previous leaders. I was born in Gambella, South West Ethiopia, and I am yet to meet an Agaw person from northern Ethiopia, or even Omo person from Southern Ethiopia. When people don’t have contact with each other, they tend to develop negative attitudes and prejudices. To transform the antagonisms fed by prejudice and negative attitudes into attitudes that promote harmony, the next Ethiopians’ government will have to create noncompetitive contact between various ethnic groups. Programs that will promote much needed interaction and cooperation will have to be created. Groups’ exchange programs such as students, men, women, farmers, and so on will have to be created all over Ethiopia. At these exchanges, groups will be given superordinate goals-shared goals that override their differences and that can be achieved only through cooperation.
Cooperation has positive effects. It will lead people to define a new, inclusive group that dissolves their former subgroups. When members of different groups are set not on opposite sides, but alternately around the table to work together for common goals, such experiences change “us” and “them” into “we.” Those once perceived as being in another group now are seen as part of one’s own group. Consequently, less prejudice is expressed toward others. As Ethiopia’s diverse ethnic groups engage in mutually beneficial trade, as they work to protect their common destiny in that fragile neighborhood, and as they become more aware that their hopes and fears are shared, they can change misperceptions that feed conflict into a solidarity based on common interests. Working toward shared goals will enable Ethiopia’s diverse ethnic groups to discover unity in their common values and superordinate identity.
The second thing that the
next government in Ethiopia needs to do is expand the content of
history books. History books should teach students common history and
ideas that tie all Ethiopians together. Common goals such as fair
treatment for all, higher moral standards, and so on needs to be taught
in schools. Once so many of shared goals are understood, Ethiopia’s
diverse groups will be spared ethnic tribal competition. Although
diversity commands attention, working toward shared goals reminds us
that we are more alike than different.
God bless Ethiopia!
Dr. Magn Nyang can be reached at: email@example.com