By Tesfu Telahoun Abebe – At its very best, patriotic sentiments are the positive expression of national pride and the shared affirmation of the collective’s place among the community of nations. In this regard Ethiopians have been deservedly patriotic throughout the ages. This powerful sentiment is alive (if not well) even in the present day reality of fractious tribalism, conflicting communal identities and a rash of egomaniacal muckrakers.
The tangible and measurable dip in constructive patriotism and the rise of narrow tribal nationalism and traitorous politics did not happen by chance or overnight. To our collective woe and tragedy, the chaos has been deviously ‘engineered’ into the national psyche by a blasphemous ‘constitution’. This extraordinary document is brazen and destructive instrument of division crafted by a ruthless, inhuman and methodically criminal grouping – the intolerable TPLF (Tigray Peoples Liberation Front).
This aberration in Ethiopian and indeed African and world political history is a spiteful group which is vowing vengeance for having been stripped of a once omnipotent position by threatening to tear away Tigray province from Ethiopia. How may this inconceivably dastardly plan play out? Is the TPLF bluffing and if so to what end? And, is the group really as confident as it wants us to believe that, secession from their motherland genuinely has appeal among the people of Tigray?
The Ethiopian state has against all odds survived in one form or another throughout the millennia. Over the course of this virtually timeless existence it has seen the rise and fall of countless peer civilizations, world encompassing empires and kingdoms as well as modern nation states. It has stood proudly beside scores of newly independent African states which it assisted in their various liberation struggles.
Ethiopia’s territorial footprint has not always remained fixed (like virtually all other nation-states) and it has waxed and waned depending on domestic and global developments and events. A case in point is the most recent redrawing of Ethiopia’s international borders when in 1994; the province of Eritrea broke away in what has turned out to be a reckless and failed exercise in statehood. One would have imagined that the costly blunder by the EPLF would serve as a cautionary lesson for the TPLF.
After all, the world has yet to see a secessionist group establish any sort of even nominally successful or viable state. South Sudan, Somaliland, Puntland, S Yemen, the former republics of the USSR, Eritrea, Eastern Ukraine, N Cyprus, virtually all of former Yugoslavia and other secessions and violent separations have only succeeded in fostering nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ when a broader unity was in place.
Ask one of the hundreds of thousands of Eritreans currently exiled in Ethiopia and he or she will tell you that splitting away from Ethiopia had been a terrible idea. This debacle continues to scar the people of Eritrea and yes, Ethiopians too-witness how many of our compatriots continue to be consumed by scavengers of the Sahara and the sharks of the Mediterranean-if they ever escape the cruelty of Arab and Berber human traffickers or Yemeni human organ extractors.
To a not insignificant portion of scholars “Ethiopia” has historically meant all of Africa south of Egypt and Libya and variously also included a large chunk of the Arabian Peninsula. This perspective of ‘Ethiopia’ was so prevalent that the earliest maps had referred to the Atlantic sea off West Africa as ‘Oceanus Aethiopica’. Such scholarly debates may occupy the inquisitive mind of an obscure British historian or a German geographic cartographer but are largely archaic and academic. However, here in Ethiopia proper, in this day and age, the evolution of Ethiopia over the millennia and especially in contemporary times is far from being an archaic issue.
This fluctuating geographic footprint is in fact a matter of serious controversy not least in Ethiopia itself where currently a relatively few agitators in some communities strive to associate themselves as being ‘victims’ of this historical contraction and expansion of the Ethiopian state.
Nearly all of the ethno-centric politics expounded over the last 50 years by self proclaimed ‘liberation’ groups is derived from a hastily devised conclusion that Ethiopia was (or still is?) a colonial power which swallowed up scores of once independent micro-states, sultanates and tribal structures. They go so far as to posit that this history’ of Ethiopian ‘imperialism and colonialism’ entitles them to independence just like the many former European colonies turned independent African states.
Not for a minute do they pause to reflect on exactly why only Ethiopia was able to preserve its sovereignty even as the rest of the ENTIRE continent was swallowed up by Arab and European colonizers.
It is true that Ethiopia has greatly benefitted from its warrior traditions and prowess and bravery in warfare has always been highly regarded. This was reflected in social standing and personal status as these directly corresponded to one’s reputation and role in the order of battle. Ethiopia’s rugged landscape was also part of national defense and our generals fully exploited the terrain.
So, we have a martial tradition, our warriors are brave and our terrain is difficult for our enemies but suited to our ways of waging war. Can these be the keys to how Ethiopia remained in a perpetual state of sovereignty? If so, then does it mean that, the rest of Africa had no idea of how to defend themselves-their fighters were cowards and their terrains wee not conducive for defense-thereby forcing them to hand over their countries to any invader that fancies their land?
Of course not! Valiant warriors of the kingdoms of Kongo, Azania, Zimbabwe, Berber entities, Sudan’s Mahdists, Omar Mukhtar’s Libyans, the countless tribes of what are today Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Kenya among others; they all fought the invading and or encroaching forces of colonialism.
Heroes were made during those ancient wars against the white man and his darker counterpart the Arab. To this day these national heroes live on in the hearts and minds of modern Malians, Guineans and Angolans as songs, national anthems and national iconography. There was no cowardice on the part of our African brothers and sisters and furthermore; Ethiopia’s diverse topography, weather and relative difficult accessibility is not unique as it is part of the equally challenging geography found all over the continent.
And yet, only Ethiopia succeeded in preserving its independence. The only reasonable explanation is that Ethiopians from all tribal, language and religious identities fought as one collective and not as hundreds of different units each with its own concerns and inclinations. The secret of Ethiopia’s success is that it had created a strong central authority which competently mobilizes vast and diverse defense forces from far and wide towards a common defense against a common threat.
Our African brothers and sisters fought for their particular clan territory, ancestral villages and sacred land or tribe, not as a nation-state of diverse communities. IT was rather easy for European and Arab colonizers to pick off one sultanate, chiefdom and kingship after another until the entire territory was in their hands.
It is this priceless legacy of unity that the TPLF has been hell bent on destroying during forty-odd years of journeying into the depths of treason.