By Medassa Yimer Mohammed – Over the past few years several ethnic based violence and killings have been major headlines of both local and the international media. Why is this happening in the East African country with some 80 tribes and ethnic groups, which has history of thousands of years of statehood history of living together in harmony? What is the significance of Ethiopia’s upcoming June general election? What makes this one different from all the five previous general elections? Will the election result end the ethnic based attacks? I will try to look into these and related issues in this article.
Looking into the past few perhaps several years’ political developments in the country may help us answer this question and get the big picture. Of course the root cause for today’s ethnic based attacks go back about five decades. It all started in the 1970s when a guerilla fighters group known as Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), inscribed in its manifesto that the Amhara ethnic group is the enemy of all other ethnic groups in Ethiopia.
This rebel group with the help of some Arab and Western countries and the CIA managed to come to power in 1991 forming a coalition named Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Not long after it officially declared ethnic federalism in Ethiopia with new controversial constitution and formation of ethnic based regions. Each of these regions can become independent state as per Article of 39 of the constitution.
In addition to the federal constitution, each of the ten regions including the new Sidama region, have their own constitution. Some of these regional constitutions directly associates one region with a certain ethnic group and tribes considering people from other ethnic groups living in the area as aliens. As a result all those that govern a specific region has to be from those ethnic who are perceived as owners of the land and the region. This has left the rest of Ethiopians from other ethnic group insecure and under the mercy of ‘the owners of the region’. So this is the root cause of the current ethic based attacks.
Now you may ask, why such ethnic based attacks were not occurring since 1991. Why are we hearing such ethnic targeted attacks over the past few years?
The answer is simple. There were indeed many well designed and systematically executed ethnic attacks in different regions of the country. But not well reported. Why? Because the people and the media were silenced by the authoritarian and brutal TPLF-dominated ruling coalition, which was on power until April 2018.
After the power of TPLF-dominated EPRDF has ended by the struggle of Ethiopians within the coalition and outside, the masterminds of ethnic politics in Ethiopia began acting like mad dog. They vowed to return back to gorilla fighting in their old age of 70s and 80s and they did.
But too old physically and mentally most of them killed within a few months of the military operation by the federal government to maintain rule and constitutional order in Tigray Region. But does this led to the end of ethnic based attacks in Ethiopia. Not yet. This is because the toxic constitution and ethnic federalism, which makes one Ethiopian first class citizen and the other second class is still in effect.
In addition, the billions of dollars robbed by the former corrupted TPLF-dominated EPRDF stashed in foreign banks is being spent in buying international media and lobbyists to portray the reform and ongoing restoring constitutional order in Tigray region, as attack on Tigray ethnic people and an action that leads east Africa region into instability.
Until these supporters of TPLF and who have been managing the stolen money abroad run out of cash, they are likely to continue sponsoring similar ethnic based attacks.
But most of all do whatever they can with whoever they think is a historical enemy of Ethiopia to create chaos and instability dreaming that they will bring back their British colonial style of ethnic based minority rule in Ethiopia.
It is within this context that Ethiopia will be holding its general election during the first month of June 2021. When we look at the lection from the number of candidates, which the political parties have brought aboard, indeed ethnic politics is diminishing in Ethiopia.
The top three political parties, which have the largest number of candidates including the ruling Prosperity Party that merged the former three members of EPRDF excluding TPLF, are not ethnic based political parties. This by itself signals that the next Ethiopian parliament seats will be dominated by MPs who represent ideas and ideologies.
Does that mean tribal and ethnic issues will not be agenda in Ethiopia? I don’t think so at least for the coming five years until the legitimate government makes adjustments and referendums on those controversial articles of the constitution and the current arrangements of federalism and formation of regions in Ethiopia.
And what will be the result of the upcoming election? For that we have to wait and see. But if you ask me to guess, I can tell that there will be no such a thing called the ruling party has won 99 percent like it used to be. If I am a prophet I prophesize that up to 70 percent of the vote may go to the Prosperity Party at federal parliament level. And remember I am not yet a prophet.
And remember this election of Ethiopia is not about replacing one political group with another. It is about bringing a legitimate political party that can detoxify the ethnic politics by fixing the loopholes in the constitution and help all Ethiopians to have equal vote wherever they live at least during the election after this one. In my opinion that is the significance of the election. That is what makes this election different from all the five general elections took place in the past 25 years.
Am I saying there will be no serious competition during the upcoming June election and there might be consensus among the major competing political parties? I don’t know!