Ethiopia: Tribal politics rides so close to heart
By Mulata Gudata
Politics rises with time and dies with time. Politics has a ‘wind’ – the political wind which blows in different directions at different times. The wind and time of communism held sway across the better part of our glob for the better part of the 20th century before it run out of its wind when its time came to be no more.Unfortunately our country had to be part of that infamous wind for nearly two decades before it went down taking our country with it. Now it is the time and wind of ultra-fast information, globalisation, commercialisms and cooperation all of which do not do well in the confines of boundaries for they are meant to reach out far beyond any limit for the benefit of humanity.
In our context, unfortunately some of us are holding to the option of a fall-apart at the time when the world is coming together into a global village. Yet, as we go against the tide, we are not only in for a rough ride but also doomed to end up with a bleeding nose. We should always remember that our country is deliberately wide open to foreign hands and interests which is set to complicate our effort towards freedom even when we are united, forget all the dreams of going it alone. Unfortunately this is a fact that remains to confront us for a long time to come even after our freedom which all of us should appreciate and stand together with the sole purpose of overcoming it with collective effort. We face a collective challenge that begs for a collective effort to overcome, which in turn calls for tolerance for us to be able to join hands and stand together by minimising our differences.
We should not forget that the more time we allow such irresponsible sell-out of our national interest, by resisting the call to stand together in order to put an end to it in the shortest time possible, at its best the greater is the risk of it for us to remain on the sideline as mere dreamers which we should not allow by way of unwitting complacency, at its worst we go ahead in our divided way and play it out to our own peril. Our presence next to each other is not without any reason as we are meant to be a support for one another far from being the agent of obstruction to each other who harbour more will towards favouring foreign interests wittingly or unwittingly than standing with fellow citizens. Our remedy lies in accepting that gracefully and working towards harmonising our relationship as the civilised society that we are. Call me an alarmist, a pessimist or anything you like, I wish to urge all of us to embrace each other with tolerance with the sole aim of avoiding the internecine blood-bath and civil conflagration out of which none of us has any hope of emerging in one piece.
We are up against a government that has pegged its existence on playing us against each other so much so that they can stop at nothing to manage and execute our difference with the deadliest possible outcome against us. Our unity is the best weapon in our arsenal to counter all those plots and machinations, for they are in charge we are not. What we have in plenty is the strongest will of our people to go to any length to avoid tribal and sectarian clashes and their readiness to pay any sacrifice it takes to overcome the challenge we are facing. We should stand together in order to be able to play the determination of our people to our own advantage not divide, weaken and squander it only to fall and fall badly.
We do not need to look anywhere else to get our lesson against going it alone. Simply look at Syria where Assad is set to remain in power stronger than ever, in spite of all the crisis and hell on earth Syria had to go thru over the last three years, all that not out of Assad’s mass base or popularity but because of the divided and fragmented opposition that has remained in no attractive shape even for those who want to support and help them against Assad’s brutal minority government. What other source of a sobering lessen do we need apart from such copycat of ours. The only difference if any is that, theirs has been actively and tragically unfolding for as long as we have seen it so far with no end in sight while ours is waiting to begin.
We were divide and remained that way for over two decades, made ready to go for each others’throat with the slightest stroke of a ‘button’ but thanks to our peoples’ wisdom and ability to see thru all those sinister motives and motivations, they have managed to remain together peacefully by avoiding the worst that they were being prodded and prompted to make happen to each other. All we need is build on the example of our Muslim and Christian community, who have successfully avoided igniting sectarian conflict they were openly pushed into making it happen as a result of dirty tricks such as burning churches and throwing the Holy Koran into pit latrines.
On the side of politics, thank God our political wind reached its zenith along tribal line in early 1990s and turned around full circle before we went down the catastrophic path our approach could have espoused. Again thank God we had time to reflect long enough now that we should know what to aim for and how to get there. On one hand the role of time cannot be easily discounted from among many factors that lead to the political wind of the Oromo people in lager part to clearly show the inclination of taking a slightly different direction away from ultra-tribal towards the moderate one. On the other hand, time has also played a great role in making the rest of Ethiopians to be willing to accept what they would not at all be willing to consider in normal circumstances.
With time we have all mellowed out to be able to meet each other at the middle ground. And this fact leaves our political ground very fertile for cultivating a true democracy that should base itself on the platform of thoroughly reformed outstanding socio-political issues. Yet, the last two decades we have been on holiday reflecting meant that the Woyanes have had their exclusive time at the national cake working very hard at compromising our national interest enriching a small clique of like-minded men and women – which is also fair enough when we gave them the chance. But the sad part of it would be if we allow them needlessly any more time as we dither and drag our feet.
In moderating the Oromo politics the group lead by General Kamal Galchu became the first to break the ‘taboo’ by offering to work with other Ethiopians within the Ethiopian unity. As we all witnessed, it was seen greeted with a high level of welcome by our people serving as a good indicator of the fact that our people need and approve any effort made towards resolving our differences amicably. And then came the very founders of the OLF now ODF though this group is yet to reveal its proffered modus operandi of coalition or alliance inevitably expected of the nature of political approach they have opted for.
The inherent mistake in the approach to Oromo politics from the very inception meant the failure we have seen so far and staying along the same course would mean another grave mistake. By moving to rectify that the ODF group has taken a commendably bold move that has to be not only welcomed by all Ethiopians but also encouraged and supported. Obviously the Woyanes not only want us stay divided but also tirelessly work hard at any given opportunity to ensure our division for they owe their existence to our divided and weakened sorry situation. If we keep walking along the path they want us, we are not at all walking well. The message here is short and clear: simply say no to the ‘recommendation’ of dictators by doing the opposite of what they want us to do – join hands and stand together with tolerance and unconditional focus on our common interest. Nothing is common to any society than the quest for freedom, equality, security, peace and stability as well as the unyielding and unrelenting endeavour to overcome poverty.
Just look away and around our political landscape, to our brothers and sisters from Gambela who are somehow better placed to wiggle out of the union by easily avoiding the inevitable pain and turmoil if our country were to go bust, with the benefit of their location on the extreme peripheries and the relative safety of the other side of their geographic location. They are clearly coming out saying we should stick together and work towards a democratic and new Ethiopia in which we all are free, equal and happy.
Multiple bonds such as blood ties, our diverse and intricate social mix, our physical look-alike, natural geography, historic background no matter from which perspective we look at it, our ‘addiction’ to Enjera, our major three faiths: Christianity, Islam and traditional beliefs as well as our economic needs and interests tie us together and they are not easy bonds for us to playfully break free and let go. What we need is not many boundaries between us but boundless love and affection for each other in which we see one another as an indispensible piece and an important part of the larger picture.
As usual, before the finishing line, I want to ask all Ethiopians one crucial question: who among us does not wish for our social woes to go away just over night for us to be able to wake up the next morning to find our self in the love and affection that prevailed our land before the tribal hell started seeping its toxic breeze in our direction since early 1990s? The answer is obvious: we all wish it happens today not even the next day.
Then I say we can make it happen, here is how: before anything we should appreciate the fact that the moment all our leaders (at least a significant group for there are simply too many to expect all to agree which may sound a bit naive) mange to reach an acceptable deal on the modus vivendi and step onto the platform to announce it, our tribal sentiment automatically begins not to cool down but just freezes. Our people have incredible innate potential for forgiveness and reconciliation and that is one of many things that make us proud of our self. We have hope only in the fact that forgiveness and national reconciliation are the way of putting to rest conflicts like ours that spans a long period of time and involves a wide range of crimes committed against the nation and its innocent citizens.
Yet, before we reach there or to help our self reach there, here is one simple thing we all can start doing just now: refuse to see or say anything negative (politically) about any other group or community that has the potential of tingling our already charged tribal sentiment, and start ‘singing’ everything good about one another to set our self into the mood of that genuine love and friendliness we crave. It is a natural social law that we cannot expect others to love us as we talk ill of them for tribal politics rides so close to heart and remains too important to let down by failing to reciprocate any presumed attack.
The nature of the tribal trouble we are trapped in is such that a villain to one camp is a hero in the other. When a Dachasa is vilified the Lelisas, the Gurmesas, the Jamals and the Kamals of our land are all ears. In the same breath, when a Demelash is demonised the Debebes, the Demekes and the Asefas of our land are all ears. Folks, times have changed a lot. We got to be mindful of issues related to our opposite camps. We should not miss the crucial point that the individuals with the ability to help us reach out to each other and move forward are the same ones who can be the rallying point towards fuelling our conflict when we gravely fail to know how to carefully handle and work with them, literally from all camps.
Unfortunately we have been seen killing each other and uprooting communities merely because of the madness that dowels in tribalism. Compared to all that, sometimes off-the-cuff remarks of a sensitive nature should be seen as meaning nothing until such time when we will be able to claim to have resolved our differences. By this I do not mean that we should encourage them until such time but I challenge all of us to focus our time and energy on the fire and stop chasing the smoke for we stand a grave danger, in the process, of missing out on what can be a vital asset.
We need to acknowledge the fact that the younger generations, particularly those who are below 30 years of age, grew under the atmosphere that only groomed them to think and act in the interest of their tribe far removed from the sense of the larger national pride. This being the case, it would be unfair if we rush to condemn them when we see them excelling in the field they are taught to think and act well. As a remedy to this, all we need is a better understanding and a good grasp of the reality of our situation to be able to make conscious efforts towards tolerance even when we know their ideals and aspirations starkly contradicts with our expectations. For condemnation and denigration are not the solutions but the resolution of the issues that keep the tribal sentiment alive, fuelled and burning.
We should always remember that the individuals who stand out leading our tribal camps are the same ones who will help to unify us and play a key role in the rise of our nation once again when our socio-political issues are resolved and the dust settled. We need to focus on treating the underlying disease not the symptom by trying to reach out to each other with tolerance in order to minimise the risk of running out of steam even before we get off the ground and reach anywhere.
But thank God we are at liberty to bash and vilify all the villains of our land the likes of Sibhat Negas, Bereket Simons, Siyum Mesfins, Demeke Mekonnens, Girma Birus and so on because these have left their tribes to obey the urge of their big bellies by being in the infamous government we have today and once they are there they belong to all of us and to no tribe. Even though they claim to represent the tribe in whose name they have gone into ‘market’ they have no ground of legitimacy what so ever to their claim since they are unelected representatives who are known to the world for stealing votes. So we should recognise them for what they truly represent -themselves and their big bellies – and keep giving them their dues by telling them and the wider world that they are criminals who should belong behind bars secure with a big locker far from public office.
In the recent past, I had the chance to listen to Mengistu’s interview on ESAT radio program which left me with a feeling of déjà vu all along. Here was the usual Mengistu, true to character and unrepentant as hell 22 solid years after he let loose and took cover in Zimbabwe, with no qualms in his attempt to denigrate Mandela’s achievement as unfair compromise. For our former dictator one is not a winner unless one does the complete-kill and takes it all to make peace. Unfortunately some Ethiopians still remain cheated about the motives of this man. Mengistu had more love for power than the country for which he exploited our national sentiment. This is a pure and simple fact. This is a man who started out with a killing spree and remained in power beating war drums for 17 solid years with no will for ending the war. I am ashamed to hear him still proudly clutching to the term, ‘abiot’. Once a monster always a monster!
We opposed, condemned, demonised and fought Mengistu Hilemariam and the government he led whenever we got the opportunity until the last minute. Nothing makes the ones in our government of today any different as long as they keep on lording on us with the shameful and ugly government that does not have the gut to be moved into standing up for the protection of its citizens when they are abused and brutalised in a foreign land. Ours is a government distinguished for its corrupt ways, marginalisation of the majority, deprivation of freedom of expression, abuse of human right, treasonable compromise of national interest and uprooting of poor citizens to make way for foreign interests for which we are not expected to extol and praise any member of the gang that is using it as a vehicle for greed satisfaction and self aggrandisement as if there is no tomorrow.
A less informed friend of mine could not believe me about the 100,000 tone coffee I quoted in my previous article until I showed him a YouTube video as evidence. But thank God we are beyond any reasonable doubt that no coin of it and other loots went to the benefit of the Trigryan poor mass, in whose name the TPLF went into business, as it did into the overseas dubious accounts of the gang that holds our country hostage which should partly serve as evidence when we loudly warn against extreme tribalism as no benefit to our ordinary people.
Finally, I want to end this long article with some quotations and a sentence of mine that follows:
When people are divided, the only solution is agreement. -John Hume
The power of dictatorships comes from the willing obedience of the people they govern, if the people can develop techniques of withholding their consent, a regime will crumble,” Dr Gene Sharp, the author of From Dictatorship to Democracy, once said.
So, I should say, the onus remains on our leaders and intellectuals to come up with the techniques with tolerance and agreement!