As the wheels of time turn, generations come and go and so do their institutions and system of governance with which they are remembered. With a bit of luck, some countries get (somewhere in their history) generations that are able to establish effective institutions with capable leadership. Others happen to be in the opposite situation and their leaders fail to form a common national interest. Though there are many other factors, this is one of the main characters that distinguish developed nations from the less developed ones.
Like many third world countries, our country undeniably went through decades of repressive and irresponsible governments that led their people to prolonged civil wars and political instability. Our leaders were un-responsive to our needs and consequently, tarnished our image internationally to the extent that the name Ethiopia became synonymous with hunger and starvation. Responsible for years of oppression, power abuse, resources miss-management and grave human rights violations, our previous governments divided us isolating large sections of our people from the rest of the country. They failed to recognize our ethnic origin and following cultural differences and therefore, denied the rights of many nationalities.
Open political debates, free exchange and /or expression of ideas and constructive criticisms were strange in our history let alone legally accepted opposition political organizations. Indeed, if the country was a mother land for some, it was a graveyard for
0thers. If it had fed some, it poisoned others.
To understand the situation better, one needs to visit the Somali Region where permanent state of emergence was fully operational for more than half a century and the security forces had shoot-to-kill mandate. Until mid-1991 Somalis in the region needed to get a written permission with limited dates (exactly visa) from one district to its neighbor. Non-Somalis had represented their constituencies in Addis Ababa. Worse still, at times, to become a Somali was crime enough for one to be arrested and even charged. Probably other regions had similar experiences.
Consequently, violent resistant was unfortunately the only option available for those who wanted to struggle against such an unjust and unjustifiably horrific practices. In this process, hundreds of thousands if not millions died and successive governments spent an awful lot of the much-needed money to silence the resistance. Negotiation, civilized dialogues and win-win approaches were extremely uncommon, if not absolutely non-existent.
It was through this painful process that ultimately unseated the Dergue regime and brought EPRDF to power over twentyfive years back. When it came to office, EPRDF announced its commitment to satisfy the political and social needs of Nations, Nationalitiesand Peoples in the country. Understandably, it was an uphill task and thorny challenge that needed to be carefully handled.
Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic country that has unfortunately, more dividing factors than uniting ones. We have various languages, cultures, religions and even values. Though bitter it may taste, the reality is that our national bond has been weak and needed to be carefully strengthened with equality and recognition of our differences within the state.
Probably, with this end in view, EPRDF not only facilitated but also played a leading and significant role in the adoption of the current Federal constitution. It guaranteed the rights of every Ethiopian citizen as well as that of the different ethnic groups. To accommodate the particular needs of the various peoples that make up Ethiopia, the constitution established nine (9) regional governments with (legally) equal status. This avoids the supremacy of one group over the others or one imposing its values on the other. Further, the constitution, by recognizing our differences it was able to turn them into national resources.
A sizable number of Ethiopian elites oppose the constitution arguing that it divides us into a number of hostile ethnic groups. But we need to know that it is neither the constitution nor the EPRDF that divided us into such groups but nature. Article 39 of the constitution has specifically been a bone of contention for the last decade. But is the article a resource or constraint to our national unity?
In answering that question, I would, without hesitation, define the articles as a main source of unity. Let me remind you that in the last quarter of 1994 (some several months before the adoption of the constitution) our late PM, then the president of the Transitional Government, met Ogaden elders in Gode. The meeting was arranged in an atmosphere of secrecy lest secessionist influence their position. However, they (elders) urged the PM to give their independence immediately. In the late 1997, the late PM again visited Gode, with the intention to share the pain with the flood-stricken communities. In the process, he also managed to meet with the traditional community leaders and other respected elders. Though majority of the elders were among those of 1994, what they told the PM was the opposite. Why then did they change their previous stand? Another good example is the fact that during the Ethio-Eritrea war, Somalis fought the other side of the border with the belief of national defense-it has no historical precedence in our country. Similar actions had also been witnessed in other secession-prone areas, lately known as developing regions.
Whether positive or otherwise, it is after the inclusion of this article in the constitution that millions confidently and publicly say that they are indeed Ethiopians. If all these do not represent unity, then what will? Though the word “unity” may mean differently to different individuals or group, it should not necessarily mean speaking with one language, having one culture and practicing one religion.
Somalis are one of the most secession-minded communities in our country. However, their fear was legitimate and they consider this article as a guarantor. Within the constitution, they feel confidence and rest assured that their rights will be protected and respected. They do not mind to remain Ethiopian as long as the provisions of the constitution upholds. Then why do some people oppose this article if their intention is really to see a united Ethiopia with equal opportunities for all its various ethnic groups.
This constitution enabled Ethiopians to conduct fair and free elections in the history of this nation. Those elections were commendable and were of great achievement for all Ethiopian citizens irrespective of their regions of origin. In fact, they came as a result of a long and bitter struggle undertaken by all Ethiopianswith EPRDF being the goal scorer.