Nation-Building in Ethiopia: In Search of an Enduring Direction

Preludial Ramp

Let’s use a navigating device to oversimplify a concept. You mounted a GPS direction device onto your car. You trusted the device to take you where you needed to be. You fed it with necessary data for de-parture and destination points. However, you made a couple of mis-takes on your way. Now, you must have been happy you had the smart device on with you. It helped you figure out the best way for-ward from where you happened to be after every mistake you made. The GPS just “recalculated” the direction from there without repri-manding you for the bad decisions. No matter how many mistakes you made, it tirelessly recalculated your way out, and eventually helped you arrive at your destination. There are just two profound characters of the GPS device you may never stop admiring about: never took inventory of mistakes nor quit helping you get reposi-tioned to move forward.

One of the most underrated stories in Ethiopian history is perhaps one of the fiercest resistances by the Sebat-Bet Guraghe and Qebena people against Emperor Minilik II’s nineteenth century state expan-sion towards south and southwest. The strength of the resistance and the price paid by both sides were so enormous that it needed to be marked as one of Ethiopia’s famous historical resistance battles.King Minilik II prevailed only after conducting series of punitive and overwhelming attacks. Conventionally speaking, it could have gener-ated a bitter and painful story and legacy played out between the win-ner and the wronged or any perception thereof. Typically, the victim would always wait for an opportunity to try to even out score or at least keep delegitimizing the past and crying about entitlement to some kind of redress. This is a path the Guraghes did not choose. They transformed the defeat into a new path, a path of integrating themselves into the national equation. They even produced some of the most distinguished military leaders of the state. They shifted their focus and put their minds and hearts at excelling in business and trade, and became successful at growing and spreading their unri-valed influence over Ethiopia’s social and economic fabric, and eve-ryone else speaking of them with awe and envy.

When Emperor Haile Selassie I wanted to reduce the then dominat-ing number of Armenians, Greeks and Yemeni business people in the Ethiopian economic and market sector, he may have had consid-erations of competence dictating him to set his eyes particularly on the Guraghe society. The Emperor pumped a lot of stimulus money to the GuraThe Guraghes transformed themselves to working hard, succeeding and feeling at home everywhere in Ethiopia…transcending every political system of the day!ghe business society towards achieving that goal and he never regretted it. Who can deny the economic role of the Guraghes in today’s Ethiopia! They transformed themselves to working hard, succeeding and feeling at home everywhere in Ethiopia. Look at them where they are today and how they built their settled and comfortable status transcending every political sys-tem of the day in Ethiopia. Would they be able to be where they are today if they were consumed about the grudge of defeat at the hands of Minilik’s army and spent themselves in trying to correct and re-dress the past in the spirit of exacting in the same way they perceived they had been wronged? The answer may be in the experience of other ethnic groups.

On October 22 and 23, 2016, there were two parallel political confer-ences held by diaspora Ethiopians: one in London and the other in Washington D.C. The London conference’s central theme was about unmaking and remaking Ethiopia afresh to “reposition the Oromo ethnicity in a footing that it deserves.” The Washington D.C. confer-ence, on the other hand, focused on preparing Ethiopia for another transition and a new constitution. The Oromo groups had always felt victimized from Ethiopia’s state expansions and continue to be mar-ginalized by not playing a role and exercising power in the polity pro-portionate to their numbers. It seems that they will keep on pressing for such status in which the state’s continuity and existentiality are redefined and measured by the changes effected. The antithesis of this is the other demands coming from some Amhara elites whereby the fixation seems to revolve around keeping the all-too-familiar Ethiopian narrative of national unity, which may also mean reversing ethnic federalism. On another layer of perception or misperception, the interest of some Tigray élites is promoting ‘federated kilils’ whereby selective changes and continuities are advanced over others. If the nation was a vehicle and all these mobilized elite groups were the co- or shift drivers, imagine how chaotic and dangerous that would be! Compare and contrast these with the Guraghes who have positioned themselves where they can always excel and maximize their gains no matter what. In the end, it is these Guraghes who will grow nonstop, contribute more to the nation-building process and craft a bigger power for themselves to even influence national affairs.

The State and Ethnicity: Which One to Secure First?

In 1997, RAND Corporation published a book titled Identifying Poten-tial Ethnic Conflicts by Sandra Joireman and Thomas Szayna outlining a model for anticipating the occurrence of communitarian and ethnic conflicts. The book predicted a possible conflict between the current state and the two major ethnicity groups in Ethiopia. Note that the study was prepared to exclusively serve the intelligence community in their tasks to identify, prevent or exploit ethnic conflicts to advance American interests. The real time data and interpretations in the pub-lication, as a case study, clearly showed how it could be applied as a model to identify and predict ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia. The model claims to be not a mechanistic tool but a process-based device about understanding the logic and dynamics of ethnic violence, ethnic grievances and possible ethnic strife. If equipped with such a knowledge tool, all intelligence communities and analysts too can use the model to predict and possibly prevent communitarian or ethnic conflicts.

The model had run Ethiopia’s realities in a forward-looking showcase deciphering the nature of the relationship between the state and ma-jor biggest ethnic groups in 1997. It predicted a conflict of the state and the Amhara ethnic group as a primary scenario, and a conflict between the state and the Oromo ethnic group as another possible scenario. The model even went as far as flagging the likely synergy of the two ethnic groups’ movements on challenging the state jointly.
In that particular model, the Ethiopian state was judged as “type C state”. The capacity of such types of states is characterized as more inclusive, less sustainable and less coercive. Based on the assess-ments, the mobilized Amhara group was judged to be a “type D group”. The capacities of such a group are defined as less inclusive, more sustainable, and more cohesive. The mobilized Oromo group was judged to be “type E group”, which is characterized as more in-clusive, less sustainable and less coercive. What is interesting here is the preferences of the state and the groups’ modus operandi when deal-ing against each other under a crisis.

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