Transcending unity delusion: A generational shift to a more perfect union

It was almost a month later that I found out about an article written by a pseudonym “Teshome Debalke” in a reply to my July piece titled “Why do Ethiopia’s terrorists hold British passports?” This supposed response fails to address my arguments and instead bores the reader in petty ad hominem attack. He pitied me by saying – “It is amazing what 23 years of growing up in the bubble of the Woyane ethnic Apartheid can do to young mind” – well, I can’t argue with him on that since perhaps he is talking from experience. After all he spent much more than 23 years in the bubble of “Ethiopia Tikdem”.

I would have ignored it if it was not for a single sentence about my “kilil” (region). That line led me to write this piece about the shallow “unity” sermons of our right wing politicians. It was a slip of a tongue that revealed the true colors of the writer and the political camp he belongs to. ethiopian federalsim

A deceitful shrill

Teshome wonders why I didn’t disclose “which region I belong to” in my article. This may puzzle a newbie for Ethiopian far-right politics since the issue of “region” is irrelevant to the topic of my article. A true democrat is expected to weigh an opinion objectively, regardless of the authors’ identity. The expectation of objectivity will be even more for someone who denies the notion of our ethnic diversity and claims to believe we all are one people.

But this is nothing new for the rest of us who know the right wing sermon of “one Ethiopia” is as fake as a 20$ iphone. The peddlers of this fake “unity”, which are a collection of individuals from almost all Ethiopian nations, are more obsessed with people’s ethnic origin unlike most of us that settled the issue two decades ago by agreeing to build “one economic community” in our march towards a more perfect union.

A politics of self-contradiction

Anyone with good reasoning can see through the self-contradictory arguments of our right wing politicians. To review some of those may help in uncovering their doublespeak which usually arises from a deliberate attempt to deceive and sometimes from an affliction of doublethink. 

Despite their deafening “we are all one people” shrill, they persistently provide us context deficient data to “prove” dominance of one ethnic group. They come up with conspiracy theories painting this group as a national security threat. Campaigns of character assassinations on government officials and high profile Ethiopians almost exclusively focus on those that are members of this ethnic group, however few they maybe. They are not interested in hiding their selective attack so much so that most of them can’t even name a quarter of the 15+ ministers who are not a Tigrean.

They lament about a piece of land they say was incorporated into Tigrai region while simultaneously saying we are one people and the federal structure is irrelevant. It’s only fair to ask why it bothers them if that area is part of Tigrai. Why they keep silent about other areas that were “incorporated” into other regions is another possible question.

They tell us we should “acquire” port of Assab, Eritrea’s sole economic asset, while stating their “love” to Eritreans and preach us of a future unity with them. If we are one people and we are bound to be together, then why not wait instead of spoiling our coming reunion by taking away their economic resource? Shouldn’t our “love” for Eritrean people lead us into respecting their sovereignty and work towards a friendly relation that fosters shared development?

They cry favoritism off a handful of factories built in Tigrai when there is much more elsewhere. And they still audaciously claim to consider all regions as their own. The current policy of equitable regional distribution on federal projects and the context of those handful factories render their complaint nothing more than a screech. Then why do they make this absurd claims is one possible question. It raises even more questions if we, for the sake of argument, consider their claim of favoritism as valid. Why would, where in Ethiopia, the government builds a factory bother them if it is not due to their regional mindset? If they were set on doing away the federal structure, where a factory is built isn’t supposed to trouble them as long as it makes economic sense. Let’s see it from another angle. Nationalist groups elsewhere usually support a policy of utilizing limited national capital by making public investment decision on the sole basis of economic sense; which may entail concentration of certain sectors in same area. That’s why unitary states find it is easier to adopt an unbalanced growth model. Apparently our unitarists are just closet ethno-nationalists with hegemonic ambitions.

They preach we shall take only merit not ethnicity into consideration when we assign people into administrative positions. However, tallying positions held by Tigreans is their favorite activity.

They brazenly reject the existence of the entire nation of Amhara and make a U-turn to claim a “disappearance” of 2.3 million (yes million) people from the same nation they argued to not exist.

They tell us they respect all ethnic groups and their languages while they show visible distaste for someone who chooses to use his mother tongue in his daily life.

They plead us to let go of historical grievances while reminding us of it by celebrating the perpetrators.

They display a patriot-than-thou attitude while standing with enemies of Ethiopia in her quest for a fair share of the Nile.

They cite data from international institutions to show the worse economic state of Ethiopia and then reject those same institutions when the data applauds the economy.

We can go on and on but I think this suffices to show my point, that the logical inconsistency of the right-wing politicians arises not from the lack of logical reasoning but the necessity to hide their ethno-centric hegemonic agenda.

With an adherence to an Orwellian notion of controlling the past, their leaders and influencers labor day and night writing volumes after volumes in an attempt to take apart the historical legacy of Tigrai. The historical animosity of the unitarists towards Tigreans due to their eminent share in the history of Ethiopia coupled with the blame they award them for the significant role they played in ending their “golden century” makes them primary targets.

The hostility however is by no means exclusive for Tigreans; it is extended for any self-respecting and culturally conscious Ethiopian. The empowerment of nations and the rise of a new generation that believes in our multicultural union is what keeps them up at night.

They warned us (and still do) of an impending disintegration of Ethiopia as a result of the multicultural federalism. However, despite their doomsday prediction, we are stronger than ever. We are a regional stabilizer instead of a Yugoslavia.

Turkish playwright Mehmet Murat gives an apt advice for these people. “If you have missed the sunset, try to catch the moonrise”. It is never late to embrace the new Ethiopia and work for a more perfect union.

The last 23 years maybe, as Teshome put it, a “journey in the darkness” for them. For most of us though it was a walk to democracy, a march to development and a leap to a real unity. The New Ethiopia is one that a “little boy” like me can get post-grad education before he reaches thirty. Even more, the New Ethiopia is one that someone from ethnic and religious minority can hold the highest office of the nation, and that, Mr. Teshome, is what Hailemariam Desalegn proved.


Fetsum Berhane is an Ethiopian resident, economist researcher and a blogger on HornAffairs.