There has been a lot of chatter among the intelligentsia lately of how Ethiopia is on her way to being Balkanized and will in time succumb to the same fate that befell Yugoslavia in 1992. But there is no need to look towards Europe to understand what is taking place in Ethiopia, a more apt comparison and a key to unraveling the ethnic strife that is developing back home is found by analyzing the history of South Africa during the era of apartheid.
“Afrikaners were able to dominate the vast majority of South Africans by segregating society based on skin color. Promising to keep “white” people apart from “blacks” and “coloured” people—apartheid literally means “hoods apart”—the racist National Party, under the guidance of Daniel François Malan, created Bantustans (homelands) in order to ghettoize the nation based on ethnicity.
What is missed by most people these days about the system of apartheid is that it was designed to divide “black” people as much as it was meant to keep “blacks” and “whites” apart. By creating homelands for each tribe, the National Party shattered 95% of South Africans along ethnic lines and then instigated violence between communities. Instead of uniting to take on their common oppressors, the Zulus, Xhosa, Sotho and the rest of South Africa’s tribes frequently clashed with each other. A fraction of society lorded over the rest by slicing and dicing the general public and engineering a caste system.
If this sounds familiar to Ethiopians, that’s because the TPLF co-opted apartheid in 1991 and launched it under a new brand. Ethnic federalism is nothing more than apartheid with a facelift; instead of calling tribal homelands “Bantustans”, Meles Zenawi and his cohorts called them “ethnic zones”. The intended outcome was no different than what the National Party had in mind when they implemented Apartheid in South Africa; the TPFL junta (which eventually became the EPRDF) hoped to reign for a thousand years by ghettoizing Ethiopia and fostering sectarianism throughout the land.
Ethnic federalism, aka Neo-Apartheid, has worked perfectly as planned; a country that twice repelled fascist aggression thanks to the unity of our ancestors has been decimated by a virus of ethnocentrism is buckling Ethiopia at her knees. Over the past 27 years, a pervasive campaign that stoked ethnic differences and fanned animosity based on tribal lines created a schism among Ethiopians. Even though the vast majority of Ethiopians are byproducts of two or more “tribes”, ethnic grievances and radicalism is eating away at our shared identity. The heroic victory at Adwa is being erased every day by tribal activists who have no problem stepping on Ethiopia in order to elevate their clan.
Fast forward to 2019 and the same ethnic apartheid that was installed by Meles Zenawi is still in place in Ethiopia. Instead of dismantling this malicious system of ethnic segregation, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made the strategic decision to keep the status quo. What we are witnessing in Ethiopia is a manifestation of the objectives that the TPLF and their foreign interlocutors had all along. A virulent strain of zeregnenet (tribalism) has taken root in a land that existed intact for more than 3,000 years and threatens to blow the country apart based on the very ethnic lines that were drawn up by the designers of “ethnic federalism”.
In order to quicken the demise of Ethiopia, hateful demagogues like Jawar Mohammed have been unleashed to rile up tensions and incite violence along ethnic lines. Sadly, instead of countering the malice of ethnic firebrands with national unity, too many have decided to follow in the footsteps of zealots by becoming chauvinistic as well. Where our forefathers fought and died for Ethiopia, now there is a growing circus of tribal chieftains who insist on advertising their ethnicity and diminishing the very essence of Ethiopiawinet.
In all honesty, it repulses me hearing anyone ranting about the injustices that are happening to Ahmara, Oromo, Tigray, Sidama or Somali people, as if only their tribe felt the heat of injustice in the past or only their community suffers in the present. We are letting selfishness and political myopia subvert our national treasure—the diversity of the 88 communities in Ethiopia—into a weakness by incessantly focusing on tribe. Though we should honor or differences and celebrate our unique cultures, forgetting Ethiopia and only caring about ethnicity is a pathway to our dissolution as a nation.
If we do not snap out of this fixation on tribalism, what we will hand our children is Oromostan, Ahmarastan, Tigraystan and the death of Ethiopia in the process. If this day comes to pass, the outcome will be the metastasizing of poverty, displacement and bloodshed. Though tribal ministers condition their followers to believe otherwise, the final destination of separatism is not prosperity but shared famine. We would be speaking Italian right now if our ancestors did not unite as Ethiopians and defeat would be colonizers at Adwa. If we choose to go at it alone and continue the policy of “hoods apart”, the national language we will be speaking soon enough is collective depression.
There is only one way to redemption for Ethiopia, if we do not return to our roots of unity and seek collective prosperity, what we will end up with connective tribulation. When we see children, we never ask them if they are Oromo, Amhara, Tigray neither do we measure our compassion towards them based on their background.Tribalism is a disease that is sickening the whole of society, if we are to heal as a nation we must dismantle "ethnic federalism" in #Ethiopia the same way South Africans razed apartheid. Click To Tweet
Lij Teodrose Fikremariam is the Chair of Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy. He is the direct descendant of Atse Tewodros II, the once Emperor of Ethiopia who united a fractured nation during Zemene Mesafint (age of princes) and imbued Ethiopia with a sense of togetherness that enabled them to eventually defeat Italy at the battle of Adwa. Lij Teodrose was born in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia but grew up in America. He has a Bachelor of Arts from George Mason University and an Masters of Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. Lij Teodrose believes in one Ethiopia and that a nation can only be judged by the wellness of the least among us.