I am republishing my article from March 2017, to celebrate Ethiopia’s defeat of the invading Italian imperialist army, on the battlefield of Adwa. Ethiopia’s leadership and vision flow from never allowing their country to be colonized. That same min-set is evident today in Ethiopia’s construction of its Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD). All of Africa, and all true friends of Africa are proud of Ethiopia’s victory
Ethiopia’s Prosperity Party: A Revolutionary Necessity
By Lawrence Freeman
January 8, 2020
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has embarked on a bold effort to transform the political terrain of Ethiopia while simultaneously launching new economic reforms. The creation of the new Ethiopian Prosperity Party (PP) replaces the Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front-(EPRDF), founded in 1988. Dissolving the reigning EPRDF and fashioning a new national party, or what some refer to as a Pan-Ethiopian party, is a courageous and daring move, essential for Ethiopia’s future. This emerging nation of over 105 million people, already a leader in economic development, is now embarking on a challenging path to create de novo a national party.
The EPRDF, which had governed Ethiopia since May 1991, was composed of four Regional States, plus the cities of Addis Ababa (the capital), and Dire Dawa. The four regional parties are: the Tigray People’s Liberation Front-(TPLF); the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization-(OPDO) (renamed early this year as Oromo Democratic Party-(ODP); the Amhara National Democratic Movement-(ANDM), (renamed early this year as Amhara Democratic Party-(ADP); and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement-(SEPDM), (a coalition of the 56 ethnic groups).
The EPRDF was fashioned to address Ethiopia’s earlier history of dictatorial and monarchical rule. The designers of the governing party believed that acknowledging ethnic identity, which was not recognized for centuries, would solve the tensions of that time. Recent conflicts in Ethiopia have shown this arrangement to be ineffective.
Of the four parties that comprised the EPRDF, only the TPLF has refused to join the new PP. Already the governing parties representing 5 regions, which were not members of the EPRDF, but were recognized as allies of the EPRDF have joined the PP in preparation for May 2020 elections. They are: 1) Afar National Democratic Party (ANDP); 2) Benishangul-Gumuz Democratic Party (BDP); 3) Somali Democratic Party (SDP); 4) Gambela People’s Democratic Movement (GPDM); and 5) Harari National League (HNL). The PP will be inclusive, intending to represent all communities, inviting Tigrayans, who live in and outside the region to join. The PP program will have Amharic as its working language as per the constitution. However, Afan Oromo, Tigrigna, Somali and Afar will also be the working languages of the new PP.
Prime Minister Abiy’s founding of the PP on December 1, just six months before Ethiopia’s national elections, is fraught with personal risks for the new Prime Minister. However, this endeavor is bursting with the potential to transform politics and social relations in Ethiopian society. Ethiopia has a splendid history thousands of years old, rich with a multiplicity of cultural backgrounds. The PP is intended to harmonize the diversity of the nation with a national non-ethnic based party.
Nationalism: Not Ethnic Nationalism
A sovereign nation-state is not a mosaic of diverse groups competing with each other for control of the government or pursuing administration posts to obtain economic and financial rewards. A sovereign nation should have a national identity and a mission orientation for its people; all its people, regardless of ethnic heritage. Contributing to the distinctive identity of Ethiopia was its military defeat of the Italian Empire in the battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896. Consequently, this victory, uniquely allowed Ethiopia to remain free from colonialism. Although this triumph occurred over one century ago, it is part of the psychological composition of the identity of all Ethiopians; whether they are conscious of its effects or not. Ethiopia’s decades’ long determination to develop from a disadvantaged nation to an aspiring lower middle-income nation with nascent light manufacturing industry is another feature of Ethiopia’s national identity.
Professed ethnonationalism errs in that it attempts to substitute the demands, often for legitimate needs, of one particular group above the interests of all the citizens. A nation-state cannot survive in a Hobbesian war of all against each other to obtain the most goodies for “my people.” Dare we forget the horrors of the ethnically driven tragic Biafran war in Nigeria from 1967-1970, and how geographic-ethnic distinctions have determined every unhealthy aspect of political and social life in Nigeria today?
Recriminations from the past are no excuse for actions today. Decisions concerning the best strategy for securing the future of Ethiopia must be based on how that policy will benefit the well-being of all citizens.
Medemer and Synergy
In his acceptance speech for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Prime Minister Abiy spoke of the philosophy of the Medemer.
He said: “Medemer, an Amharic word, signifies synergy, convergence, and teamwork for a common destiny. Medemer is a homegrown idea that is reflected in our political, social, and economic life. I’d like to think of ‘Medemer’ as a social compact for Ethiopians to build a just, egalitarian, democratic, and humane society by pulling together our resources for our collective survival and prosperity…At its core, Medemer is a covenant of peace that seeks unity in our common humanity.” One could appropriately, add for the “common good” of humankind.
Our “common humanity” exists in all of us. We are all born in the image of the Creator. All human beings are universally related by our endowed powers of creative mentation, more commonly known as reason. What distinguishes all human beings from the animal species is our mental power to discover new scientific and cultural principles embedded in our universe. All of us homo sapiens, regardless of where we were born, or any physical characteristics, are substantially more alike than we are different. Therefore, our needs, desires, and aspirations in life are similar. All human beings not only share a common interest to enhance our lives, but we also share a desire for a better future for our posterity. There is no class of superior people, who have more rights than others due to privileges of birth, religion, or skin color. Each of us are placed here on earth to contribute to the common good of our common humanity using our individual talents.
If we accept synergy to mean cooperation and collaboration to achieve an enhanced effect, then let us act synergistically to ensure a prosperous Ethiopia that provides for all its citizens.
The Constitution and Sidama
Inherent problems of the 1995 Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia are evident in the November 2019 referendum conferring autonomy to Sidama. Ethiopia’s constitution stipulates that with this lawful vote, the people of Sidama, the fifth largest ethnic group, will become the tenth ethnic regional state. Eight of the existing nine regional states are governed by the dominant ethnic group of that geographical region. However, the Sidama people reside in Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region–(SNNPR), where many other small ethnic groups (around 56) also exist.
The Preamble of Ethiopia’s Constitution properly emphasizes the conception of a united nation with a common purpose and goal for all its people. It deliberates on “advancing our economic and social development,” “common interest….and the emergence of a common outlook,” and “to live as one economic community.” Article 14 resonates with the US Constitution, stating: “Every person has the inviolable right to life the security of person and liberty.” The same principle is echoed in Article 43 of the Constitution: The Right to Development. “The basic aim of development activities shall be to enhance the capacity of citizens for development and to meet their basic needs.”
The drawback to the Constitution begins in Article 8:Sovereignty of the People, where sovereign powers are divided up between “Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia.” This is an obvious compromise to ethnicity. In truth; there is only one Ethiopian people and only one Ethiopian nation. The divisions in Ethiopian society are made explicit in Article39: “Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has an unconditional right to self-determination, including the right of secession……the right to a full measure of self-government…” This separation of Ethiopians into multiple groups, outlined in the Constitution, is the seed for the tensions gripping Ethiopia today.
In the aftermath of the Sidama referendum, Ethiopia potentially faces a conundrum. Will other ethnic minorities now choose to follow the same path as Sidama in calling for autonomy as delineated in the Constitution? It appears so. In addition to Sidama Zone*, which is now claiming to be the 10th state, there are other Zones in the Southern Region that want to follow the same route to statehood. To quote William Shakespeare, “there’s the rub.” Clearly the Ethiopian Constitution, despite the best intentions, has proven to be unsuccessful in governing this multi-ethnic nation.
The Challenging Course Ahead
The emergence of a national party such as the PP can commence the process of uniting the nation by moving away from a society where ethnic interests are placed above the welfare of the nation. Ultimately the problematic features of the Ethiopian Constitution will have to be revisited. Not to address this thorny issue will allow instigators to use ethnicity to disrupt what is most necessary for Ethiopia to move forward; a healthy process of dialogue and debate on the future of Ethiopia.
This discourse should include a discussion by the Ethiopian people on changing the structure of ethnic-based parties. For example, Ghana’s Constitution stipulates that “Every political party shall have a national character, and membership shall not be based on ethnic, religious, regional or other sectional divisions.” That no political party shall be formed “(a) on ethnic, gender, religion regional, professional or other sectional divisions; or (b) which uses words, slogans or symbols which could arouse ethnic, gender, religious, regional professional or other sectional divisions.”
The lack of vibrant Ethiopian nationalism creates a fertile environment for those who want to manipulate misplaced ethnic passions. The danger presents itself during times of social or economic stress, when the population’s frustrations can be channeled along ethnic fault lines, manipulating Ethiopians to act against their true self-interest: progress for the nation of Ethiopia. Opportunistic ringleaders will attempt to misdirect the population against each other via competing ethnicities, instead of uniting society behind a national policy. A policy of economic growth that includes a strategy to generate employment opportunities for the millions of youth preparing to enter the workforce is in the vital interests of all citizens.
Of course, it will take time for people to shed their desire to control policy making through ethnic-based parties. It is an existential moment for Ethiopia, and a national grounded PP is a needed first step. It should be understood, that a sovereign nation, whose national mission is to promote the general welfare of its people does not require the elimination of historical cultures. On the contrary, the uniqueness and beauty of each ethnic culture can be synergistically woven into an elevated national character that transcends ethnicity.
*Zone is the middle tire next to the regional state in the governing structure that is also formed under ethnic lines the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR).
Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com
This article was published in the March 2017 Newsletter of the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington DC. If you read the headlines of the European press following Italy’s defeat in 1896, you will see that this battle shook the foundations of European Imperialism to its core.
Victory at Adwa- A Victory for Africa
March 1, 2017
The battle of Adwa is probably the most renowned and historic battle in Ethiopian history. This celebrated victory by the Ethiopian army helped define the future of their nation, as one of only two non-colonized countries in Africa. The defeat of a European colonial empire by an African country, following the “Scramble for Africa” after the 1884-1885 Berlin conference a decade earlier, is not only a source of enduring pride and nationalism for Ethiopians, but also an inspiration to other Africans, who took up the fight for independence six decades later. Some historians suggest that this victory also led to the idea for the Pan-African movement. As a result, it is no surprise that on May 25 1963, Ethiopia under the rule of Emperor Haile Selassie was a founding member of the Organization of African States-OAS.
Adwa, also known as Adowa, and in Italian Adua, was the capital of the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia. A late comer to grabbing territory in Africa, Italy began colonizing Somaliland and Eritrea in the 1880s. It was from the vantage point of Eritrea from where Italy launched its campaign against Ethiopia. The immediate pretext of the invasion was a dispute of Article 17 of the 1889 Treaty of Wuchale. Italy insisted that the treaty stated that Ethiopia had to submit to its imperial authority, thus effectively making Ethiopia a colony of the Kingdom of Italy. The Ethiopians resisted Italy’s military enforcement of its version of the treaty, leading to the outbreak of war in December 1894, with the Italian imperialists occupying Adwa and moving further south into Ethiopian territory. On March 1, 1896, King Menelik II, who, commanded a force of over 70,000, defeated the Italian army, killing 7,000 of their soldiers, wounding 1,500, and capturing 3,000 prisoners, routing their enemy, and forcing them to retreat back to their colony of Eritrea. It has been speculated that, if Menelik had pursued the retreating Italian troops, and driven them off of the continent, it might have prevented a second Italian invasion. On October 3, 1935, Italy led by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, launched its second military incursion into sovereign Ethiopia territory. Five years later in 1941, Ethiopia once again drove the Italian invaders out of their country. The 1896 defeat of a European nation, considered an advanced country, by Ethiopia, viewed as a backward Africa country, led to riots on the streets of Italy and well deserved consternation in the capitals of European powers.
Without taking the time now to review the ninety years of Ethiopian history following this famous battle, the military defeat of Ethiopia’s dictatorial Derg Regime in 1991 brings us to the beginning of contemporary Ethiopia. When the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front-EPRDF assumed control of the government in 1991, it was led by the now deceased, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who initiated the economic policies that have guided Ethiopia for over 25 years. It was Meles Zenawi’s intellectual leadership, in particular his understanding of the indispensable role of the state in fostering economic development that distinguishes Ethiopia today from all other sub-Saharan African nations. For him the state was not “a night watchman,” but rather an active participant promoting economic growth for the benefit of its people. Ethiopia is a poor country. with a population approaching one hundred million, not endowed with rich mineral or hydrocarbon resources, and repeatedly struck by drought. Yet it has emerged in recent years with a rapidly growing economy. This is the result of Zenawi’s legacy that created a leadership with a self-conscious commitment to use the powers of the state to build an integrated infrastructure platform, which has served to drive the economy forward. This is clearly evident in Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation Plans I and II, which set ambitious economic goals five years into the future, along with its proposed thirty year road construction plan. Since the EPRDF took over the responsibility of governing the nation, more than thirty new universities have been created, graduating more students that can be easily employed.
In collaboration with China, Ethiopia operates the first electrified train in sub-Saharan Africa, traveling 750 kilometers in seven hours from Addis Ababa to Djibouti, establishing a port to export Ethiopia’s products. Their highway system consisting of toll roads, highways, and all weather roads will connect their light manufacturing industries to the port in Djibouti via their new rail line. As a result of coherent policy planning in energy infrastructure, the Gibe III hydroelectric power plant has now added 1,872 of megawatts to the country’s electricity grid, and over the next two years, the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) will add an additional 6,000 megawatts, making Ethiopia the second largest producer of power in sub-Saharan Africa, behind South Africa. The next step to develop the Horn of Africa is for Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya to extend their rail lines to become the eastern leg of an East-West railroad. Thus would transform Africa by connecting the Gulf of Eden/Indian Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean , creating an economic corridor that would literally revolutionize the economic power of the continent; contributing to the ending of poverty, hunger, and war.
One cannot deny the success of Ethiopia’s unique path of development, nor can one omit the important role contributed to this process by Ethiopia’s successful resistance to foreign occupation; thus never having to suffer the dehumanizing effects of colonialism.
Mahmood Mamdani raises proactive questions on the role ethnicity in Africa and Ethiopia in particular. (See excerpts and article below).
Africa has been plagued to this day by two legacies from colonialism (British): 1) the intentional failure to build infrastructure; 2) the deliberate fostering of ethnicity. Historical literature is replete with evidence of the British creation of ethnic and/or native administrative units as a central feature of their divide and rule colonial policy. Lord Frederick Lugard, who authored the infamous “indirect rule” stratagem, implemented his scheme in Nigeria when he became the Govern General Nigeria in 1914, and ruled the North and South differently. Similarly, the British cultivated the North versus South conflict in Sudan with their separate Southern policy exemplified by their 1922 Passport and Ordinance Act. There are more examples available.
Accentuating ethnic, tribal, religious, and geographical distinctions is used as a means to thwart the creation of sovereign Nation States, particularly in Africa. A functioning Nation State is not founded on a collection of minorities, or even a majority. Instead, it is created on principles that define its responsibilities to provide for the general welfare of its citizens and their posterity, which must include nurturing the creative potential of each child. Nation States transcend differences within their populations by uniting all their people in a common mission, not only to develop their nation, but to contribute to the future of mankind as well.
Ethiopia uniquely evaded colonization with its 1896 military victory against the Italian army in Adwa, led by Menelik II. Yet as Mamdani points out, Ethiopian Federalism accommodates ethnicity, which is divisive today, and is being used to undermine the central-federal government. By following the core economic thesis of Meles Zenawi’s “Developmental State” Ethiopia has embarked on a bold campaign to transform their country through government directed investment in infrastructure, while protecting their economy from being invaded by foreign financial predators. As a result of Ethiopia’s relative success among African nations in performing this necessary Nation State function, it has become the “enemy” to those forces-internal and external-that oppose development of African nations. Not surprisingly in the last six months there have been renewed efforts to liberalize-deregulate Ethiopia’s financial system in an attempt to weaken its commitment to the “Developmental State” model.
Therefore, the suggestion of a new kind of non-ethnic federalism is a conception that could lead to strengthening the institution of the Nation State in Africa.
“Ethiopians used to think of themselves as Africans of a special kind, who were not colonized, but the country today resembles a quintessential African system, marked by ethnic mobilization for ethnic gains.
In most of Africa, ethnicity was politicized when the British turned the ethnic group into a unit of local administration, which they termed “indirect rule.” Every bit of the colony came to be defined as an ethnic homeland, where an ethnic authority enforced an ethnically defined customary law that conferred privileges on those deemed indigenous at the expense of non-indigenous minorities.
An interesting book worth reading by Mahmood Mamdani is: “Saviors and survivors.” It about Sudan and Darfur, but also discusses the creation of ethnic groups.