Perceived Subordination or Genuinely Made Claim?

April 14, 2008

In his recent two part article titled "URGENT NEED FOR RECONCILATION BASED ON CONFESSION AND ATONEMENT," Mathza calls for a "lasting peace and unity in diversity" in Ethiopia through "identifying and admitting the wrongs committed in the past and being committed at present." At the outset of his writing, Mathza reminds his readers about the possibility that his writing "would convey the opposite" of what he intended. If for nothing else, that precautionary note by the writer alone compels a careful reader, as soon as starting reading, to be left with the question of why he would be suspicious about how his article is conveyed, if he were making his claims genuinely. Thus, from the outset, the reader is bound to look for Mathza's worries in his article, perhaps more so than for his presumably genuine claims.

His call is for a lasting peace and unity in Ethiopia against a backdrop of the threat of the disintegration of Ethiopia, which is likely to lead to the destabilization of the region if it were let to occur. It has become obvious that the call for peace and stability in Ethiopia and in the Horn of Africa region is building momentum from corner to corner and seems to get the international community's support. Arguably, the Tigray region of Ethiopia may be likened to the gambling state of Nevada in the U.S. to the extent that it is a conclave between the long coast state of California to the west and the vast expanse of the other states to the east as Tigray is located between Eritrea with its long Red Sea coast and the rest of Ethiopia. Tigray is likely to lose the most from Ethiopia's disintegration and the region's destabilization. Seemingly a Tigrayan voice, as demonstrated in his article, Mathza should be well positioned to understand the benefits of peace and stability for his own state that destabilization is a less than legitimate bargaining option for it. In other words, Tigray may not be the beneficiary of the destabilization of the region and can not come to the bargaining table for unity and stability as if any other option it has is better than that.

In the same article where he calls for lasting peace and unity against the backdrop of the threat of disunity, Mathza elucidates that Yohannes IV, a Tigrayan king, "did the most to preserve Ethiopia's independence and territorial integrity," unwittingly contradicting his threat of disunity, which is inconsistent with the determination of the king he is defending. In what appears to be an expression of bitterness, he suggests that there are Ethiopians who "deny the Ethiopianess of Tigrayans," which goes without saying that Mathza is bent to defend his Ethiopianess and those of the Tigrayans, again unwittingly contradicting his threat of disunity. Furthermore, he refutes his own threat by suggesting that "the country [Ethiopia] is not divided as the diehards would want us to believe."

We can only contemplate if it is the understanding of this reality that led Mathza to argue against himself about how his message would likely be conveyed to his readers before he wrote it. If there is any sentiment left that Tigray would benefit more by separation from Ethiopia, it should be brought to the public for deliberation so that the weight of any claim can be put on the balance.

Granted that a point has been made above, what Mathza's long analysis boils down to is an expression of grudge against past Ethiopian rulers from a perceived or self-imposed position of subordination. This expression comes through in his assertion that the "Tigrayan misery started over a century ago…" He also dwells on the intrigues between Ethiopian kings Yohannes IV and Menelik II of a century ago. It is a fact that both kings have fought for Ethiopia against foreign forces, King Yonannes IV at Metema where he died and Menelik II at Adwa where he defeated the Italian army. It is also a fact that these self-appointed kings were feudal lords who ruled over their subjects as feudal lords. Somehow, Mathza has tried to tie the intrigues between the two Ethiopian kings to the present day call for peace and stability in Ethiopia, which should not be defined by the intrigues between the two kings.

Instead of getting bogged down on the deeds and misdeeds of historical Ethiopian rulers, what Ethiopian politicians of Mathza's mindset need to be reminded is the value of lasting peace and unity for the people. Compared to the long history of the land and the people, the deeds and misdeeds of the past one hundred years of Ethiopian history and historical figures are but a small chapter in a voluminous Ethiopian encyclopedia. It is the understanding of this encyclopedia of the past and its continuity into the future that should have been at the center of Mathza's table.

There is no argument that the contributions and failures of the various segments of the people and historical figures of Ethiopia should be given a proper place. However, the perception of being subordinate because of the failures of one segment and the achievements of another segment should not be the cause to define the entire encyclopedia. Ethiopia's long history, arguably starting from the time of Lucy, is bound to be characterized by the people and the land or geographic characteristics. As Prof. Donald N. Levine notes in his Greater Ethiopia book, the northern part of Ethiopia became a frontier for the interaction of Ethiopian culture with the cultures beyond its geography a long time ago. Inevitably, such natural geographic setup alone is bound to entail its advantages and disadvantages.

The Aksumite Civilization had the advantage of proximity to the ancient trading posts of Rome, Persia, and the Indian Subcontinent. It also faced a devastating blow by the expansion of Islam across the Red Sea from the Middle East. A segment of Ethiopia to the south of Aksum gave refuge to the survivors of this devastation after which a dynasty rose with sentiments reflective of the Aksumite Civilization. When the Ottoman empire waged its proxy war in East Africa in the sixteenth century, the descendants of the dynasty and their hosts fought together to repulse this war. When the Italian army landed at the northern frontier of Ethiopia with the intent to colonize it, Ethiopians from farther south led the trek to the frontier and defeated them.

In the recent phenomenon in East Africa that was a threat to the peace and stability of the region, it was the watchful eyes of a segment of Ethiopia that was far from the northern frontier that spearheaded the call to avert the phenomenon. Less than twenty years after taking power in Ethiopia and less than eight years after the end of the Ethiopia-Eritrea war, Meles Zenawi, who oversaw the death of more than 70,000 Ethiopian soldiers in this war, said recently “one stupid war is enough” in an interview with Newsweek. This is a classic bookcase failure by a leade, but this should not mean that Tigray as a region should be responsible for the actions of a leader from there.

While such significant entries have their places in the Ethiopian encyclopedia in one way or another, the evaluation of such contributions should be left to history no less than the perception of subordination and the presumed political utility from it. Mathza is not alone in the pursuit of political utility from the wrong premise. After promising his supporters with the word "liberation" around the 2005 legislative elections in Ethiopia, Bulcha Demeksa of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement recently said his party decided to stay in Ethiopia's local and parliamentary by-elections this month because "dropping out would fuel separatist forces in Ethiopia's heavily-populated Oromo region."

What is bound to enrich the Ethiopian encyclopedia is the originality of the inserts and the consistency in guarding them. The benefit of geography may favor one segment over another in terms of offering it a fertile ground for the springing of original inserts, thus giving it a marginal advantage. The latest sign of such original inserts is the emergence of appreciating one's own faith traditions. For whatever they are worth, expression in Afan Oromo, such as "Nuti Waaqatti malee ilmoo namaatti hin amannu," "Erga Kiristinnaan dhufee seexanni Biyya Oromo dhufe," and "Nama barri itti naanna'e dubartiin otoo hin ciisiin deessi itti fakkaata" are original that are likely to become inserts in the Ethiopian encyclopedia.

Instead of lamenting about the achievements of other Ethiopians and cultivating a sense of subordination because of historical events, Ethiopians with the mindset of Mathza would probably benefit themselves and their people by making efforts to produce their original ideas, cultivating the original ideas of other Ethiopians, and celebrating the achievements of all. There is no reason why Miruts Yifter should feel subordinate to the achievements of Haile Gebreselassie, and Haile Gabreselassie should feel subordinate to the achievements of Kenenisa Bekele when all of them can celebrate their individual achievements and the achievements of all. The legitimate quest for meaningful political decentralization by all groups should not lead to picking one piece of history and running with it for a perceived political utility by placing oneself in a subordinate position.

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