During recent years Ethiopia has gone through enormous changes. Some of these changes could be relevant for the future of the country while others, if not systematically handled, could lead to unrepairable damage.
Many Ethiopians have during the last two to three decades strongly been demanding their rights to use their own language, exercise their cultural and religious practices. Equally there are other Ethiopians that consider this demand for self and ethnic identity as destructive for the unity of the country. The later groups claim ethnic federalism as an evil for all problems the country is facing today.
The tendencies I observe among the two groups are that the first group beyond claiming the linguistic and cultural rights, would view citizens by dividing them as those into members of its own linguistic and/or cultural group and the “others”. These “others” could be friends or enemies. There is a tendency to restrict resources and opportunities to ones own group and some fringe benefits to groups considered as “friends”. The group seems to work hard to stop those who are considered as “enemies” from getting any benefits.
The second major group refrains from what it calls “ethnic federalism”. Some sub-groups affiliated to this group, deny any ethnic, linguistic or culturally based oppressions during the past in the country. They consider this a fabrication by some elites of the ethnic groups claiming the problem. According to them, for the sake of peace, the ethnic federalism in the country should be forbidden and the country should return to the previous geographical administrative system.
One worrying situation is the extensive use of mass media and social media to campaign for these two extreme views. These groups, instead of listening to each other to find out on what bases claims are made from the opposing side, are claiming their side is the only owner of the truth. They are not only accusing each other, they are spreading hate propaganda about each other.
One example for such a conflict is the different interpretation of history by some groups of Amhara and Oromos. According to this Oromo elites, Ethiopian leaders of Amhara origin have during the last 150 years subjugated the Oromo people by force to accept the system they established to oppress them. To them the Amhara ruling class committed genocide on the Oromo people, took their land and made them surfs and forbid them using their language and exercising their culture and their religious rites.
Some Amhara groups deny this historical interpretation of the Oromos. According to them, no genocide took place, no land was confiscated, and no system that dominated the Oromos and other minorities in Ethiopia existed. Few even claim, that former kings and rulers are clean of this accusations, while others believe they did what was necessary for their time. Arguments of these groups are deeper and more detailed than what I can handle in this short text. Elites of both side have their facts for what they claim was right and wrong.
What is getting worst is that the oral and text-based arguments between these groups in different medias is developing in the wrong direction. Using weapons, killing each other and destroying properties are being the order of the day. Some people believe that instead of dialogue and negotiation fighting each other with arms will solve their problems and lead to long lasting solutions. I argue, based on the realities of the African continent and experiences from other parts of the world, that the use of violence can lead to temporary success and calm but never lead to lasting peace. Instead, it will leave a long-lasting wound with the people and gradual splitting of the country into small fractions.
The sad reality is, when you talk to people from different sides, they are not ready to have a balanced view of the reality. They claim the suffering, the killing and property destruction that affected only their ethnic groups. They rather would avoid hearing the suffering and the pain of others. It is not uncommon for them to judge those who would like to see the situation in a balanced way as their enemies. Those who are talking sense in the social media usually will be victimized by the army of ignorant and blind followers of warmongerers. Instead of arguments against their ideas, they are insulted for how they look like, for their age, for the form of their body, for the way they are dressed, for not forming a family, and other unrelated issues.
Ethiopians of this generation from all the different ethnic, linguistic, cultural, etc groups have a choice. One choice is to continue on the road the extremist groups are leading them, hurting each other, destroying property and finally putting the country in to an endless civil war and splitting. The other alternative is to say no to violence, and attempt to resolve problems facing the country through dialogue and peaceful negotiations.
Preferences to violence and hatred for each other is first conceived and developed in peoples minds. Trust, love for each other and peaceful thinking would also develop in peoples mind. Ethiopians need to recognize that in the future no group is going to dominate the others and lead the country peacefully. As there will be resistance to dominance, there is a need to listen to each other, to listen to people whose historical understanding varies from ours, those who inherited the history of the suffering of their ancestors. Those who also say these sufferings never happened are victims of a historical fallacy. Listen to all before judging.
While there are current histories of inflecting pain on each other, some of the conflicting issues are historical. This generation is not the one that inflected the 150 years back pain and it is not either this generation that suffered that pain. We need to limit our responsibility for what happened to and what was done by our parents, grandparents and great grandparents’ generation. There is a need for discussing the past officially and openly and then close the files while keeping historical memories and finally leave issue to historians and universities to continue their researching and writing on it. Knowledge of the past can help us not to repeat similar mistakes the previous generation have done but it should not be a shackle that hinders us to go ahead. Solving our major problems that we inherited from the past and developing a culture of listening to each other, respect for each other and cooperation to build a brighter future for this and coming generation is a responsibility for all.