Friday, February 4

Don't Believe The Hype

the ethnic and radical varieties of delusion

One thing for Ethiopians and foreigners to be constantly aware of when considering ethnicity in the recent past and present is the minefield set by ethnic opportunists. When ethnic politicians say that their party speaks for a whole people, it is always without the consent of those people.

The Tigrayan people, for example, have far more in common with their fellow Ethiopians of every region and tribe than they do with today's TPLF elite. By demanding absolute conformity and national discipline of the variety of Lenin's 'democratic centralism' today's rulers want Tigrayans to be isolated and unable to look outside of the party structure for common cause with anyone.

The 'leaders' contrive and manipulate enmity and then cynically charge critics with being the real tribalists. Revolutionaries of every stripe think that 'the people' (be they Ethiopians in general, Tigrayan, Oromo, Amhara or others) are a fundamentally ignorant herd that must be defined by the passing fancy and personal interests of the revolutionary class.

We shall see below that ethnic manipulation is just another destructive aspect of Marxist-Leninist politics and Ethio-radicalism.

Don't Believe Their Tribal / Radical Hype!

what are the root causes of the hype?

We noted some of Messay Kebede's interesting ideas in the post Revolutionary Spirit Hangover to try and understand why much of an educated generation of Ethiopians made the leap into the arms of the most radical leaders available. The theory discussed was one of 'belief substitution'. Basically, it was a dash from the most powerful and resented of traditional beliefs straight into Communism with no pause to think in between.

Recently he penned "Bringing reason back to Ethiopian politics" as a companion piece to the original article and elaborates on his theory about why so many educated Ethiopians became so much more destructively radicalized than the educated youth and intellectuals of other countries .

This is a read as revealing as it is just plain sad. A veritable catalog of how a generation in the very flower of youth and possibility destroyed all that they could not understand. He finds as we find convincing a deadly linkage between radical and ethnic solutions.

Let us finally see what Ato Messay has to say.
One basic assumption of my approach is that those explanations deriving the radicalization of students from the socioeconomic conditions of Haile Selassie's regime are basically insufficient and ultimately wrong. True, these conditions were appalling and the society was more and more polarized. But however brutal and deep the contradictions were, they were not enough to account for the rise of revolutionary convictions for the simple reason that a sensible approach would have advised reformist solutions. For a sound mind, the more momentous the problems, the more cautious the approach should be.

The point, however, is that active members of Ethiopia's educated circles simply rejected reformist solutions even before they discussed them. The standpoint reflected an a priori commitment to radical solutions that was derived neither from facts nor from sober examinations. Hence my conclusion: there was a need, most probably unconscious, for revolutionary beliefs. There was something in that generation that longed for radical solutions.

Many studies suggest that an increasing number of Ethiopian students and intellectuals became Marxist-Leninists because Marxism was a fashion, a worldwide phenomenon at that time. The rising generation understandably defined itself by embracing the dominant ideology of the time. The suggestion is not without a grain of truth, but so presented it begs the question. For something to be accepted as a fashion, it must first be valorized and judged fit to express and satisfy the aspirations of those who adopt it. Fashions are not simply imposed; they are welcomed to the extent that they respond to the expectations of a given generation.
Many student movements like those in India did not become fashionably Communist even though many feel that social problems are the cause of radicalism. India had severe problems but educated Indians rejected radical change.
There is no escaping: the attraction comes from a definite psychological need that we must decipher. The need is more emotional than rational, more unconscious than conscious, more multifarious than one-sided. In a word, Ethiopian students and intellectuals became enamored with Marxism-Leninism because it appeased a deep trauma that was eating them up. To determine this unconscious longing for a radical ideology is to uncover one of the deep causes of the revolution.

This is not the place to embark on the arduous process of detecting and analyzing the trauma. Instead, I ask the reader to pay attention to the crucial relevance of such an approach. Unless we bring the deep distress to light and become aware of it, the unpleasant fact is that unconscious and emotional drives control decisions and political views, be they those of the ruling party, opposition parties or private individuals. We need to detect the hidden sickness so as to find the cure that can give us back the rational control of our decisions and positions.

I see a characteristic illustration of the persistent presence of emotional forces in the last Ethio-Eritrean war. Many observers, expatriate as well as native, have vainly tried to understand the rationales for the war. After elaborate attempts, they are forced to admit that it was an irrational war that, alas, cost the life of thousands of people. Given that the leadership that initiated this war originated on both sides from the radical Ethiopian student movement, it is worthwhile to inquiry into the psychology of that generation to understand the war.

The generation ethnicized politics on the grounds that the main problem is to bring down the Amhara domination, which it perceived as the sole culprit for all of Ethiopia's ills. The paradox is that the overthrow of Amhara domination took the roundabout way of a commitment to a radical ideology. Most supportive of ethnicization were Tigrean and Eritrean students, who also became furiously radicalized. Yet the radicalization strongly questioned and rejected the traditional Tigrean and Eritrean societies and values as well as leaders, thereby lowering the grudge against the Amhara domination to a secondary concern. People struggled to defend Tigray and Eritrea by values and social programs that were foreign in addition to being more disruptive than Haile Selassie's autocratic incursions.

The ethnicization of Marxism-Leninism shows that the real reason for the radicalization of Tigrean and Eritrean students was no so much the famous Amhara domination as a deeper grudge against the Tigrean and Eritrean older generation, the very one that bowed to Haile Selassie's autocracy. How else can one explain that the removal of Amhara domination was judged worthwhile only on condition Tigray became socialist, and of the wildest type at that? Young Tigreans and Eritreans could hope to remove the humiliation only by outdoing the failed generation and by throwing away its social system and values. That is why the movement was never about democratizing the Ethiopian society, still less restoring the Tigrean legacy. It was about demolishing the Amhara oppressor as well as the Tigrean upper class. For angered Tigreans, it had to be total revolution or nothing; for Eritreans, independence alone was acceptable.
The author goes on to discuss the recent Ethio-Eritrean war, described by someone as "two bald men fighting over a comb", in terms of the old revolutionary rivalries and their shame-honor obsession to erase old perceived humiliations.
Everything was done to avoid all avenues leading to a peaceful settlement. When finally the war broke out and the one party had the upper hand after huge human and material sacrifices, a peaceful settlement in which neither party gained anything was quickly agreed upon. Clearly, the military confrontation was caused neither by interests nor by anything that we can call rational. Because neither party wants to recognize the deep emotional roots of the war, another showdown is most likely to take place because the defeated party is now tortured by the implication that its independence is a TPLF gift after all.

Another case of a political position sustained by a deep emotional trauma is OLF's claim to independence. Nobody can find any rational reason for this claim, all the more so as it comes from a party that professes to represent the majority of the people and the richest region of the country [claiming] independence instead of defending the right of the majority is anything but logical. What guides OLF's position is not reason but the need to eradicate humiliation by going back into the past and demolishing Menelik's empire. Only thus can the deep trauma of defeat and humiliation be removed.
Like all ethnic parties the OLF(Oromo Liberation Front) trades on ethnicity and claims to represent all of its ethnic group. It was an initial member of the EPRDF coalition but soon realized that the whole party and incoming government was really just the TPLF with very junior hangers on from other ethnic parties. It is clear that the TPLF made it impossible for them to participate in the political system without total subservience and the ruling TPLF created a junior Oromo party to 'represent' all Oromos.

A history of the OLF and whether or not they had seccessionist tendencies or if they abandoned them at any point is for another time. However, their opting out of Ethiopia rather than competing for the center is a function of their sense of ongoing total disenfranchisement. Because of the current system we may never know if the OLF could have been part of a united Ethiopian government.
Nowhere is this need to appease a trauma better illustrated than by the fanatical consensus of ethnic parties on the right to self-determination that even includes secession. Politically, the principle is utterly unsound and unworkable; its function is to assuage the emotional trauma that Menelik's southern expansion caused. When the whole issue is to emancipate ourselves from the emotional residues that cloud our judgments, strange is the way we sink deeper by still refusing to admit how radicalism fooled us. All nations have resulted from expansions and conquests, the difference being that those nations that overcame the trauma of conquest by channeling it into constructive works, especially economic pursuits, have achieved great success. Emotional trauma is good provided it does not devour us.

Understanding our past is precisely putting ourselves in the position of reclaiming the conscious and rational control of our social and individual life. Many of the events and developments of present-day Ethiopia appear incomprehensible because we respond to deep unconscious traumas, not to our real interests. Unless we bring these disturbances to light, our troubles will never end. Who can deny the invariable eruption of irrational, emotional hiccups that cause so many misunderstandings and suspicions each time Amhara, Tigrean, and Oromo intellectuals meet to talk about Ethiopia and its problems?
This article is an interesting read as history and for the theory it puts forward (there has to be some deep seated reason to explain an entire generation's mass delusion). It is fascinating as well for the sense of avoidable tragedy, past - present - and future, underlying it.

from ... On the Origins Of The TPLF

This following passage is from a previous post on the origins of the TPLF based on a thoughtful and frank article written by one of its founders, Aregawi Berhe. The degree of ethnicization that radical politics took on is seen. After a history of the early days of the movement ... the author continues his analysis with an account of the role of leftist ideology in all aspects of the student movement including in particular the views of Marx, Lenin and Stalin on ethno-national movements.

These ideas were used to redefine Ethiopia. The words of Wallelign Mekonen (an Amhara from Wollo region)in 1969 reflect the feelings of many of the era's educated youths "Ethiopia was not a nation, but a collection of nationalities ruled by the Amharas. To be an Ethiopian, you will have to wear an Amhara mask".

The ethno-national struggle was to have far reaching implications far beyond that envisioned from ideology alone.
Those who saw the ethno-national struggle as a tactic to achieve equality within a united Ethiopia and not as a strategy for secession were unaware of the turns and zigzags that ethno-nationalist mobilization could take. They were not able to see that ‘The more politicized ethnicity becomes, the more it dominates other expressions of identity, eclipsing class, occupational, and ideological solidarities’, and that ethnic struggles can become ominous. The young revolutionaries focused only on the positive contribution of ethno-nationalist mobilization as the most effective and shortest way to uproot the oppressive system. Their attitude was in conformity with Horowitz [?], when he wrote that ‘Ethnic affiliations provide a sense of security in a divided society, as well as a source of trust, certainty, reciprocal help, and protection against neglect of one’s interests by strangers’.
In addition, in the early days, no mention of Communism was made to peasants - that is until the opinions of peasants no longer mattered. The problem with manipulating ethnicity is that it is like playing with fire. It measurably harms development at best and is even more harmful when emphasized and it lays waste to democratic prospects before they can be attempted.

for radicals, ethnicity is tool to reach power. the only ethnic group they are worried about is literally inside their own skin

The entire ethnic component of radical solutions has roots far back in Marx and Engels onto Lenin, Stalin and Mao. The Soviet constitutions, like the Ethiopian Consititution today was based on the 'voluntary association' of disparite peoples. Every group like the Ukranians, Tibetans or Chechens who resisted suffered brutal repression, genocide, mass expulsions to Siberia or ethnic cleansing.

Like most of Marxist-Leninist justifications, the whole ethnic issue was a scam. Liberal, democratic and traditional elements could be weakened at no cost by appeals to ethnicity that would never be honored. Ethiopia's ongoing experience with radicalism and opportunistic ethnicity is the greatest con job of all.

The totalitarian search for enemies to blame is evident in Ethiopian radicalism as well. For the Dergue the enemies were defined by class and later ethnicity when the Eritrean and Tigrayan movements grew strong. For the current government the Amhara are the enemy of choice. This piece Human Rights Abuses in Ethiopia by Theodore Vestal is revealing of this factor
The ethnically divisive policies of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) have led to the escalation of ethnic tensions in the country. In particular, the Tigrean cadres who are veterans of the Tigrean People's Liberation Front (TPLF) have played a central role in arousing hatred against, first, Amhara citizens, stigmatized as responsible for past inequalities in the country, and later, virtually all other ethnic groups.
In another work he has this to say
When the Woyane [the name of an early Tigrayan rebellion against Imperial rule, later used generically for Tigrayan rebellion] came to power in Ethiopia as the TPLF in 1991, their resentment [of the way the rebellion was put down by bombing] was manifested in official and unofficial discrimination and harassment of the Amhara. Indeed, one aspect of the ethnic federalism of the FDRE is but a thinly disguised license to encourage hatred of the Amharas.
It is also important to keep in mind that the first victims of this ugly ethnic politics has been the Tigrayan people who suffered under previous governments, who fought and died to overthrow the Dergue and who now find themselves chained by the democratic centralism of the TPLF that has no desire to see them ever make common cause with any other Ethiopians.

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