By Yohannes Berhe, Ottowa, Canada
July 20, 2016
“Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come” the great Victor Hugo uttered these enduring words more than a century ago. And yet, one would be hard pressed to find more fitting words to describe the crises currently unfolding in Ethiopia. A few months back it was the southern part of the nation (Oromigna speaking area of the nation to be precise) that was engulfed in a vast array of spontaneous protests against the TPLF dominated regime. The most recent one is Gonder, one of the northernmost and oldest regions of Ethiopia. Given the most stifling political environment and the complete shutdown of the political space, this worrisome development is not at all surprising. Added to the total lack of democratic legitimacy, the officially sanctioned ethnic policy is an aggravating factor that is pushing our country into uncharted water. The focus of my commentary is indeed to underscore the danger of this hyper-ethnicized political environment as far as the Tigrayan community is concerned.
Why single out Tigrayans when we have a slew of EPRDF/TPLF supporters that hail from other ethnic groups as well? It is true there are enough sycophants and peddlers of lies from all ethnic groups that profit handsomely from the system. In fact, without these turncoats the EPRDF/TPLF regime might not have survived this long. However, there are several elements that put the Tigrayan community in unfortunate if not lamentable situations, hence, throws unwanted and unavoidable spotlight on their actions or inactions.
First, in a highly volatile social and political situation it is difficult to totally avoid identity based discourse, let alone one that is sanctioned and fomented by a governing body that use it as a divide and rule policy.
Second, in an unjust society wealth confers access to political power. In today’s Ethiopia ethnicity confers political power, which is easily convertible to wealth. In any society what irks people’s feeling more than anything else is an unfair political and social arrangement for the sole purpose of economic gain. In a poor country such as Ethiopia where there are meager resources to begin with, the resentment can be profoundly felt.
I am not in any way suggesting that all Tigrayans are benefiting by virtue of their ethnic affiliation, but if we are being candid about the current social and political arrangement in Ethiopia, it wouldn’t be difficult to recognize the fact that ethnic Tigrayans are disproportionately afforded the opportunity the system makes it available. A cursory observation of major business owners around the country attests to this fact. Of course, there is also the case of EFFORT -Endowment Fund for The Rehabilitation of Tigray; an entity that epitomizes the rampant corruption and the unprecedented appropriation of the nation’s resources by a minority group through rent seeking and monopoly power.
Finally, the indisputable reality is the fact that the majority of those who are currently wielding the coercive power in Ethiopia are members of the TPLF, which claims to represent the province of Tigray.
Certainly, guilt by association is not only unwarranted to say the least, but it is also morally repugnant. Race and ethnicity is an involuntary membership, an ascribed status that no one should be judged on. However, we have to be realistic. We are not merely dealing with philosophical and moral abstraction. We humans are tribal by nature. It is an unfortunate reality of the world we live in that ethnic affiliation with those who are wielding power can be both an asset and liability. Which raises the question of moral stance of a non-voluntary group in whose name, supposedly, crime is committed.
Furthermore, even without the incessant TPLF’s propaganda of fear and hate, the dehumanizing condition of extreme poverty exasperate the us-versus-them thinking. This is indeed the reason why I think Tigrayans involvement in the struggle for democracy should be front and centre. It is very important that they should openly and unreservedly condemn the crimes being committed in their name. Staying silent in the face of growing TPLF’s atrocities is no longer an option.
It is easy to become engrossed in ethnic triumphalism or to find comfort in seeing someone of our own heritage in a position of power and influence. However, this comfort becomes a moral abdication when is traded for one’s humanity. One has to make a conscious and deliberate effort to untangle himself/herself from this parochial state of mind.
So, what can Tigrayans do in order to ‘reclaim’ their rightful place in the struggle for democracy?
First, you should unequivocally condemn the crime being committed by EPRDF/TPLF regime both as organized group and as part of the growing chorus of opposition groups.
Second, you should withdraw any material or moral support to the members of the regime in order to force them to accept the will of the Ethiopian people through all inclusive and verifiable democratic process.
Third, you should use the propensity of the regime to be partial toward you by virtue of your ethnic affiliation, to conduct covert and overt actions, hence, to expose their crimes and further undermine their authority.
Fourth, you should not take part in any gathering that is directly or indirectly sponsored by the regime to advance their divide and conquer agenda.
Fifth, you must openly and unequivocally denounce the separatist and loud fringe among you who like to spout racist bile against others.
I am cognizant of the fact that in spite of all these suggestions, there will always be those who will remain mistrustful of your motives and actions. However, one has to understand the fact that after 25 years of TPLF’s steady diet of lies and hate propaganda it will not be an easy task to rebuild the broken trust among us. Nonetheless, you are taking a principle position and fighting for a just cause that will be seen as a gesture of solidarity with fellow Ethiopians while differentiating the very few who are committing the crime from the majority of Tigrayans who are themselves the victims.
On the other side, there will also be those -the die-hard supporters of the regime -who will continue to sound an upbeat tone how things are good for the country and even better for Tigrayans and continue their fear mongering in order to drum up support. No matter how they try to slice and dice it however, the status quo is unsustainable. No regime has survived the wrath of the majority of population and no amount of violence, deceit and coercive control can stop the march for freedom. There is also the issue of representation and the complexity of governing a society with competing interest such as Ethiopia. No matter how benevolent and resolute any one group might be, our country’s problems are very complex and exceedingly difficult to entrust them to any single entity let alone a minority group. Solving our intractable problem involves creating an effective and inclusive political system that can at least be seen by all elements within the society as legitimate. It is no longer a question whether the EPRDF/TPLF regime will collapse, but when. The unmistakable signs of gathering storms of protests are all around us. TPLF honchos and their supporters will tell us that the growing uprisings around the country are misguided actions by a small group of criminal elements. They might even try to quell it by force, but we all can clearly see the writing on the wall. The head-in-the-sand approach of the regime and its supporters does little to ease the gathering storm, or to quench the thirst for freedom.
For the last 25 years EPRDF/TPLF has used your name to stoke the fires of hatred and disunite our country while all along debasing your character and undermining your long and proud legacy – the very foundation of our country. No one’s interest, least of all Tigrayans, will be served if our country plunges into the abyss. Don’t let, what might be the definitive chapter of your glorious history be written by a gang of thieves and racist, who don’t hesitate to sell you down the river at the slightest opportunity.