Thursday, August 5

On the Pitfalls of Ethnic Politics

Ethiopia is a nation of myriad ethnic groups and diverse regions. Today, participation in political (and increasingly social and economic) life is defined by the government, and indeed by the national constitution, in ethnic or regional terms. This has predictably negative consequences for national stability and development.

The preamble to the Ethiopian Constitution begins with
"We, the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia"

In comparison here are the first words of the preambles to several other diverse world constitutions
We, the people of South Africa
We, the representatives of the Brazilian People
We, the People of the United States
We, the multinational people of the Russian Federation
It is odd that at the very start of such a defining document the existence of a singularly Ethiopian national identity is denied and there is no evidence of a desire that one eventually be forged. The Ethiopian Constitution sees Ethiopia only in terms of geography. We can name no other country in the world that so devalues its own identity and legitimacy.

Constitutions speak to the questions of national existence. They are important because they define a country's legitimacy in terms of the will of its people and the ideal they aspire too. In addition they set out the base of the rule of law to achieve those aims.

Sub-Article 5 of Article 39 says that
A "Nation, Nationality or People" for the purpose of this Constitution, is a group of people who have or share large measure of a common culture or similar customs, mutual intelligibility of language, belief in a common or related identities, a common psychological make-up, and who inhabit an identifiable, predominantly contiguous territory.
That definition could be defined so narrowly or widely that it is meaningless.

Sub-Article 4 goes on to say that
The right to self-determination, including secession, of every Nation, Nationality and People shall come into effect:
(a) When a demand for secession has been approved by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Legislative Council of the Nation, Nationality or People concerned;
(b) When the Federal Government has organized a referendum which must take place within three years from the time it received the concerned council's decision for secession;
(c) When the demand for secession is supported by majority vote in the referendum;
(d) When the Federal Government will have transferred its powers to the council of the Nation, Nationality or People who has voted to secede; and
(e) When the division of assets is effected in a manner prescribed by law.
If other nations labored under such constitutional mandates then every possible human grouping would have the right to secede at will. This would include many absurd and tragic consequences. While satisfying the logic of Article 39 that clique of nerdy kids who always sit at the same table in their school cafeteria could have a seat at the U.N. The entire existence of the U.S. would not be legitimate because the Confederacy would have slipped out of the Union, preserving the evil of slavery, with just a few neat legal maneuvers.

Article 47 names the constituent states of Ethiopia - all are defined by and named for their numerically dominant resident ethnic group. Sub-Article 1 lists them
(1)Member States of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia are the Following:
1) The State of Tigray
2) The State of Afar
3) The State of Amhara
4) The State of Oromia
5) The State of Somalia
6) The State of Benshangul/Gumuz
7) The State of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples
8) The State of the Gambela Peoples
9) The State of the Harari People
(2) Nations, Nationalities and Peoples within the States enumerated in sub-article 1 of this article have the right to establish, at any time, their own States.
This article also reveals in sub-Article 2 how infinitely smaller divisions can be created at the will of any progressively smaller 'Nation, Nationality and People'.

Can every possible 'Nation, Nationality and People' really become independent at will?

Of course not - practical realities would intrude.

The destructive power of thousands of men with guns and tanks are included among those practical realities. In addition all local offices for each actual and potential 'Nation, Nationality and People' are appointed by the ruling party or elected from a very short list of ruling party approved candidates.

Every country on earth would have no dream of prospering or even of existing with such a founding document ... that is if they took the whole business of constitutions and the rule of law at all seriously. The Ethiopian constitution is not meant to matter in terms of law or spirit beyond its appearance to foreigners who will not look at it too closely.

The consequences for the Ethiopians in terms of social, economic and political development are tragic.

The rulers of Ethiopia are popularly imagined to have their roots in an ethnic liberation front and in Marxist-Leninism. This is only half true. The former is only an excuse for a small like minded group to draw others to their own cause by trick or by force. The latter is proven means of focusing their own will to power

Such atavistic ties to ethnicity and ideology serve only the cause of power. The Ethiopian Constitution reflects that atavism.

ethiopundit is not denying the importance of ethnicity. It is a profound and necessarily respected aspect of every person. However, that aspect of identity is often manipulated for selfish ends with the classic aim of divide and rule. By falsely wrapping themselves in a tribal mantle ethnic politicians seek to protect themselves from legitimate opposition.

Thus involuntary enmities and artificial loyalties against self interest are manufactured. Ethnic politics does serve the interests of a very few whose security in power trumps all other considerations.

To paraphrase Samuel Johnson - for the political classes 'ethnicity is the last refuge of a scoundrel'.

ethiopundit will not fall for the baited trap of assigning millions characteristics that are shared only within a ruling class that misfortune has placed in everyone's way.

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