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Ethiopians: Patriotism is Neither Uncritical Way of viewing our History nor Playing the Politics of Ethno-Nationalism

The way I understand Patriotism, Critical way of Vowing our History and Ethno-Nationalism

by T.Goshu

In the real sense of the term, patriotism is not equal to nationalism and national feelings. It is true that both concepts have essentially common characteristics, the main one being love for one’s country and the devotion to defend one’s country from external aggressors and invaders.

Nationalism in general and ethno-nationalism in particular is highly vulnerable to causing unintended consequences such as deadly conflicts and even totally devastating wars if they are not handled rationally, wisely and constructively. The two devastating world wars, wars of invasions, wars between and among nations (countries), and civil wars had been and are being incited, instigated, and in one way or another fueled by those politicians who deceivingly manipulate the very idea of nationalism in general and ethno-nationalism in particular.

That is why it is fair to say that nationalism and  more particularly ethno-nationalism do suffer from elements of belligerency and aggression, fanatical (zealous) type of patriotism, chauvinism , narrowness , negatively complex behaviors (superior or inferior), extreme attention to history, language , tradition , parochial identity of politics . Consequently, the very essence of national pride on the basis of citizenship (real sense of patriotism) is badly compromised.

There is no any other sound evidence for the very messy and dangerous trend of the two extreme attitudes of nationalism than we currently are facing.  Our politics painfully suffers from serious delusion because of those politicians of our time who categorically positioned themselves into two extreme political standings; the notion of uncritical Ethioiawinet and a highly toxic ethno-nationalism. It is very difficult if not impossible to find a real sense pf patriotism in these highly distorted political attitudes and behaviors.

Neither am I saying that nationalism and ethno-nationalism are bad as such nor they should not be raised and treated as important issues in the process of our efforts for the realization of truly democratic nationalism/patriotism. Needless to say, as trying to suppress or ignore the very historical and political reasons for the emergence and development of the two extreme attitudes of nationalism is wrong, not challenging those politicians who badly manipulate these very sensitive political issues for the sake of their self-centered  political consumption is equally wrong. I strongly believe that it was and is very possible to properly and amicably deal with these issues of our common political life if it were not the wickedly senseless political ambitions of our politicians both in power and those who stupidly are waiting for their turn of taking power regardless of what kind of system to be set up.

We frequently and proudly use the word Patriotism not only in our political rhetoric and discourse but also in our day to day conversations. I strongly believe that this tradition of expressing gratitude to what our forefathers and foremothers have done is something that should be passed down from generation to generation not only as a glorious thing of the past but also as a well-tested value of one’s love for his or her motherland . Needless to say, this great value of patriotism must firmly be uphold not only by the contemporary generation but also by generations to come.

On the other hand, it has to be underscored that the present generation and the generations to come cannot afford not to make their own history of patriotism though the challenges they may encounter could be different both in terms of time, circumstances and objectives.

Patriotism in Ethiopian history is mainly characterized by the history of coming together regardless of ethnic and religious background (identity) against external invaders and intruders, and preserving a sovereign country (Ethiopia).

On the other hand, Patriotism of our time (this generation) is mainly characterized by huge and much more complex historic tasks and responsibilities.   It goes without saying that standing   together against tyrannical ruling elites and striving for internal political freedom, reign of justice and rule of law, dignity, the prevalence of peace and shared prosperity is much more difficult than rallying the people to courageously engage their external enemies which is typically true to Ethiopian history.

In the real sense of the term, patriotism of our time has to do a lot with the struggle for freedom, justice/rule of law, civil liberties, human dignity and shared prosperity. It essentially includes:

.  Love for one’s country in which citizens can live with freedom, justice and dignity.

. Shared affection, shared dream and shared destiny.

. More emphasis on common values and beliefs than different localized traditions and beliefs.

.To be proud of one’s country for what it provides us with.

. Constructive and friendly engagement with those who may have views and ideas different from ours.

. Genuine belief that all people are equal and they deserve dignified way of life.

.  To be tolerant to differing views and criticism.

. Open mindedness for reconciliation and compromise whenever it is necessary.

. Willingness and ability to share ideas and views with others as this kind of attitude gives us opportunity to learn from one other and to make what is wrong right.

. Willingness and courage to take responsibility and accountability whenever it is necessary.

. Willingness and ability to see things beyond one’s short –term interests and gains. In other words, statesmanship attitude and skill is so crucial.

.  To be cognizant of political freedom and economic success as sources of national pride.

Unless we want to remain victims of uncritical (passive) way of viewing our history, the generations of independent Ethiopia have terribly failed to make their own history of patriotism (making the dream for democratic freedom a reality). Yes, it is painfully unfortunate that, particularly the generation of the second half of the 20th century has badly failed to make meaningful and effective connection between patriotism for political independence (sovereignty and territorial integrity) and patriotism for internal political freedom, justice, human dignity and all other elements of civil liberty.  This can mainly be attributed to our political culture which has entirely been under political systems which had no any space for the emergence and development of original, critical and transformative ideas.

Jan Phillips, the author of The Art of Original Thinking (2006) is quite right when she argues, “Our parents, our teachers, our ministries, Priests, and rabbis were shaping us in their image so that we would fit in, conform to contours of the established culture. They wanted us to be safe. They were not promoting original thinking, not imaging us in questions of why and how.”

Ruling classes throughout our political history have systematically manipulated the “culture of stay safe” (culture of ignorance) as the most effective means, which has of course been reinforced by the use of ruthless machineries of government.

As history is neither static nor always in favor of tyrannical and despotic rulers, it one way or another creates its own forces of change.  The question is how those forces of change are organized and for what purpose. Sometimes those forces may have a well-organized posture but with a wrong purpose; and sometimes they may be with the right purpose but poor organizational posture. This of course depends on the level of the self-awareness (consciousness) of the society we belong to and the objective realities we operate in. This has been a very serious challenge throughout our political history.

The coup attempt of the 1952 led by Mengistu and Girmame Neway and others who companied with them was the first serious challenge an absolute monarchical political system had face. Yes, it was the first of its kind not only in terms of posing serious challenge to the terribly despotic regime but also in terms of posing a very serious question to the political culture of “stay safe” (ignorance). We may argue for or against. But one thing remains undeniably true. And that truth is that those relatively well enlightened citizens courageously challenged the long standing indoctrination of a highly falsified theory which was used to legitimize the monarchy by declaring that as God is absolute, so is God-anointed  head of the monarchy. The attempt did take place in a society which had been under an absolute control of the monarchy and in an operation (coup attempt) that was not well-defined, well- analyzed, well-planned and well-coordinated manner and in a society with a very low level of political awareness.

Sadly enough, the attempt was ruthlessly and mercilessly decimated in the name of patriotism, saving the throne which stood resistant to reform of any kind. By the time our rulers try to savagely suppress Peoples’ aspiration and movement for internal political freedom and the prevalence of justice, they abuse if not put the very essence of patriotism up side down. Yes, by the time our rulers ruthlessly try to subdue peoples’ dreams and demands for freedom, justice and dignity; the very essence pf national pride is badly compromised.

I am not blindly undermining the positive things achieved during the reigns of Emperor Haile Selassie and his predecessors. What I am saying is that because they terribly failed to use the patriotic performances of our forefathers and foremothers as a complementary value of undertaking internal political freedom and justice, they directly contributed to not only the continuation of undemocratic politics as we know, but also to the coming into being of a much more devastating military regime.

The political history of a despotic and conspiratorial reign of the monarch was replaced by a junta which destroyed the incredibly brilliant and freedom-loving generation in the name of building a democratic socialist Ethiopia (socialist patriotism). The junta turned patriotic nationalism totally upside down when it convinced itself that killing a generation and strengthening its power were essentially in line with safeguarding the country’s interest and security.   I do not know what to safeguard if the decisive factors (innocent citizens) of a country are arbitrarily harassed, intimidated, arrested, tortured, disappeared, and massacred by those ruling elites who claim they represent the people. Needless to say, this has been and continued to be the most disturbing paradox of our political history.

On the other side of the story, the brilliant and freedom-loving generation failed to patriotically come together and fight in unison against those groups of armed forces who well understood how to manipulate peoples’ discontent with an absolute monarchy and how to consolidate their power by taking certain steps of change such as the land tenure system. The generation became victim of falling apart when it engaged in the controversy of whether it was right to work with the junta as the result of this positive step or not. As Dr. Merera Gudina argues in his book, Challenges of Ethiopian History and Conflicting Dreams (Amharic 2016), our political culture has suffered and continued   to suffer from generations of paradox. Yes, it is painfully paradoxical to see a generation which claims to have the same aspiration (for freedom and justice) and the same shared destiny (making those aspiration real- a society of liberty, peace and prosperity) falling apart at the time when the country was and is in desperate need of  help.

The minority ethno-centric tyranny (TPLF) has manipulated and exploited the very political culture of not only having “conflicting dreams” of the generation but also the political mentality of measuring one’s success against the failure of another. This very unfortunate political environment has given TPLF a chance to create, grow and expend its own economic and business monopoly which constantly and effectively feeds ruthless machineries of its government with necessary supplies.

I do not think it is necessary for me to dwell on how TPLF/EPRDF is a dehumanizing and destructing force of which the country has never gone through. It is good and necessary to remain well-informed about the immeasurable consequences this force of dehumanization and destruction can cause if it is not get rid of, not just retrained. But keep decrying stories of horror committed by TPLF and its cronies is proven to be a terrible failure for the last quarter of a century. I do believe that there is a compelling reason to look into the failure of this generation to learn from what went wrong in the past and to behave and act as a generation the 21st century.

I am not underestimating those patriots and heroes of our time who left their decent and comfortable life styles  and are paying huge sacrifices in order to see the people of Ethiopia enjoying the fruits  of the very essence of being human ( freedom, liberty and dignity). What I am strongly arguing is that this generation desperately needs to go beyond decrying the politics of total dehumanization. Yes, there is an absolute need for this generation to go beyond   conducting emotion-driven movements which are highly vulnerable to being easily stifled by ruthless state machineries under the total control of TPLF.

Ture, the people are totally sick and tired of the notoriously ruthless ethno-centric TPLF/EPRDF. Yes, the youth is in a state of despair and well aware that the root cause of the untold sufferings and hopelessness is TPLF, and they are already active forces of the resistance movement. Yes, the poverty –stricken farmers (peasants) have reached a point where they could not shoulder the incredible level of ethno-centric political suppression and economic plunder which has made them less human. They now are fighting against the total injustice they could not tolerate any more either by joining the already organized and operational forces of freedom or by organizing themselves and playing a complementary role in the process of the struggle aimed at not only to remove TPLF but also to establish a democratic system .

The recent political action taken by some opposition forces is truly encouraging.  The newly formed movement consisting of Arbegnoch-Ginbot 7, the Oromo Democratic Front, and Afar People’s Party and the Sidama People’s Democratic Movement is truly a significant step. With all the ongoing serious challenges and the challenges we may face ahead, the only and the best strategy of shortening the suffering of the people and ensuring a democratic change is to be committed to scarifying self-centered or parochial interest for the sake of achieving what is best for all citizens.

In the midst of these and other truly inspiring political undertakings, we began to hear notoriously distractive voices of individuals or groupings in the diaspora. These individuals or groupings have made their wicked intentions clear when they go against Arbegnoch-Ginot 7 and the coming together of some opposition forces including those former senior founding members of OLF.

It is outrageously absurd to launch a campaign against ESAT, which has proven itself for being the only media in terms of reaching the people with a well collected, analyzed, and organized information, professionally prepared news and views, and other programs quite relevant to the political and cultural aspects of Ethiopia.

It is quite desirable and right to challenge any political or media organization with rationally critical, convincingly substantiated and genuinely constructive approach and line of argument.  This is because it would be stupidly wrong to expect the impossibility of making mistakes and having weaknesses even in an organization operating in a relatively conducive environment let alone dealing with an extremely hostile situation in our country.  But standing against an organization(s) with no any substantiated ground can be attributed undesirable ulterior motives. Our political history is not short of very troubling attitudes and behaviors. To mention a few : “if I do not do it, let it fail “; “If I cannot fulfil my voracious self-interest or ambition, better to let it down” ; “if I don’t like a  person(s) , I do not want to buy his or her idea whatever it sounds good”;  and soon and so forth.

The newly formed coalition (Ethiopian Democratic National Movement)  has made officially clear that its agreed up on basic principles are: Recognize Ethiopia as sovereign country of all citizens; and agree to live together in this sovereign homeland with a real sense of freedom, justice, equal opportunity, mutual respect, and shared prosperity.  To my understating, this is what leadership is all about – learn from others and from circumstances and make necessary changes, and make the life of an organization or movement vibrant and much more effective. Here is what Jan Philips has to argue about what leadership does mean in the real sense of the term.  “When I think of those leaders, I think of those who drew us after them, whose energy field, like that of a magnet, extends beyond the body itself, attracting others to the brightness of their lights.”

Unfortunately enough, this highly commendable political move could not win the hearts and minds of those who seem victims of the bankruptcy of  doing politics for good.

That is why it is fair to say that those individuals or groupings particularly those who began making noises about the birth of parochial “Amhara nationalism” are either politically stupid or with some sort of ulterior motives (“let me try this way if it works out for me”).

Let me procced to my case in point.

A Case in Point

Following the recent unprecedented resistance movement in Ethiopia in general and particularly in the regional states of Amhara and Oromia to the minority ethno-centric tyranny, we are witnessing not only truly encouraging trends and progresses but also “hot and brand new political phenomenon.” To be straightforwardly clear, we do hear big noises of individuals and groupings whose mission is said to be “liberating the Amharas first.”

As any genuinely concerned ordinary Ethiopian, I do read who writes what and do listen to who says what on Ethiopian politics. I recently listen to what two of the “Amahara liberators”, Ato Anteneh Mulugeta of “Amhara Medihin” and Ato Kassaw Tafera of “Bete Amhara” on the SBS Amharic Radio program on December 11, 2016.

Frankly speaking, as the way these fellowmen presented themselves and the way they argued clearly shows that there is no any element of substance in the real sense of doing politics, I have to say that their politics of “Amahara liberation first’ will not go beyond the dirty and stupid politics of certain groupings which pop up whenever they believe that the situation looks suitable for playing some sort of political drama.

If you ask me for what purpose they do it, I would say that it is for some sorts of ambitious ulterior motives:  jumping in when they foolishly believe that the ruling party seem about to fall and think that it is the right time to claim their “fair share” in the “new government”; or trying the other way round –  getting ready if the ruling party maintains its power by inviting loyal oppositions to participate in its “updated” style of governing; or organizing fundraisings and claim their “fair incentives” which seems part time earning ( the notion of “relieving” the very bored life style is included here); or doing the dirty job of TPLF which is of course lucrative political business. Needless to say, it is these kinds of horrifying attitudes and behaviors which contributed to the untold sufferings of the people for the last quarter of a century which still seems not ending.

Ato Kassaw Tefera has made his political stupidity or hypocrisy of ulterior motives crystal clear when he “proudly” talked about his plan B. Mind you genuinely concerned Ethiopians, plan B is putting the very survival of Ethiopia under big “IF’. That is to mean that IF the “Amhara nationalism” cannot come into terms with other “nationalisms”, an independent state of Amhara will come into being as one of so many kingdoms of ethnicity. Imagine fellow Ethiopians how the very fate of a country like Ethiopia could be determined by these kind of terribly idiotic individuals or groupings.

Ato Anteneh Mulugeta of “Amhara Medhin”, the former “very important person of Arbegnoch Ginbot 7” tells us that the reason for dismembering himself from Arb- G7 is its stand against Amharas.  I wish he could prove his case by telling us where, when, who, how and at what level of the ranking of the movement the agenda on against the Amhara was set and discussed, and agreed up on to do so. I am just trying to highlight how he considers his listeners or the people of Ethiopia stupid enough to be convinced by his notoriously cynical and disingenuous words of mouth.

Anteneh claims that he has a great deal of experience. That is good. But he did not tell us what kind of experience. If he is telling us that what is he doing now is the product of his “wonderful” experience, he must have the courage to critically look into his own soul.

He tries hard to justify his “political philosophy of Amhara nationalism” of the 21st century by arriving at terribly delusional conclusions:

  • It is impossible at this time for the Amharas to do politics as Ethiopians”: It is a very outrageous insult to the Amahars who never compromised their Ethiopian identity regardless of the challenge they had to face either externally or internally to tell them to endorse the politics of ethnicity /politics of “pure” race a) which has been and still is the bed-rock of the political game of TPLF/EPRDF b) which has been tried by so many ethnic based political actors for the last quarter of a century but terribly failed to protect their meaningful survival let alone defending the people they claim to represent c) which is the political recipe of being vulnerable to the continuation of the political agenda and practice of  isolate and attack  of TPLF/EPRDF d) which sounds the total denial of the powerfully cohesive values  we share throughout our history  despite some serious weaknesses we encountered.
  • It is impossible for the Amahras to  do politics as part of multi-national organization because this excludes the Amharas”: I really do not know how this politics of exclusion in our political history is peculiar to the Amhara or this or that ethnic group. True, TPLF has tried to convince other ethnic groups that it has to be harsh on the Amahars than any other ethnic group as if this generation of Amhara is responsible for the wrong doings of past regimes in the name Amhara. But this does not justify the politics of let Amhara nationalism override Ethiopian nationalism.  This kind of erroneous political attitude takes us to a highly fallacious conclusion – if Amhara or any other ethnic group is victim of the politics of exclusion, the best thing to do is to do the same which is totally nonsensical.
  • Our struggle is to create a generation of Amhara for the Amhara”: What he is saying is that one of the greatest mission of “Amhara nationalism” of his type is not only to get this generation organized by itself and for itself, but also to institute the indoctrination of Amahara nationalism over Ethiopian nationalism. Fellow Ethiopians, I hate to say but I have to say that I am not surprised to hear this kind of political stupidity from my fellow Ethiopians who convinced themselves that politics is just a game with no need of logical and critical thinking, reasoning power and wisdom of problem solving. But I have to say that it is painfully disturbing to witness the innocent people of Ethiopia being deliberately deceived and misled by those who just prattle on about politics. This is absolutely unpatriotic.  I strongly argue that any Ethiopian with his or her right mind cannot and should not allow this kind of political stupidity and cynicism to go unchallenged.

On the other hand, It must be noted that given the challenge of creating a well-informed society because of the total absence of exercising the right of information, the vulnerability of the people to sensational/emotional political rhetoric, and what percentage of the population is politically or otherwise literate; those “new breed liberators of the Amhara” may have their own temporary impact on the ongoing genuine struggle. That is why it would be absolutely necessary for genuinely concerned Ethiopians to engage those individuals or groupings critically, rationally and seriously to the extent of calling a spade a spade.  The political game of making the Ethiopian political arena the breeding ground of groupings which badly manipulate the differences we have and the challenges we face for their own voracious self-interests must be tackled with a real and practical sense of patriotism.

“Let’s take heed (think deep) how creating organizations (parties) in our own respective ethnicity (nationality) as if Ethiopians have no shared history, culture and hope (dream); and promoting distorted ideas could create a serious trouble even to our ethnic group (nationality) we claim we do love.” Yaltehedbet Menged (Amharic 2013), Andualem Aragie, one of those truly heroic Ethiopians who are paying huge sacrifices for the very sake of freedom and justice.

Jan Philips strongly agrees with Andualem when she says, “Isolation is death. Relationship is survival, resilience, regeneration.” 

This was exactly the voices of Ethiopians in general and the Amharas and the Oromos in particular which clearly and loudly echoed throughout the country and beyond the horizon. Yes, those voices have sent a powerful and clear message to politicians, particularly to those who consider themselves “leaders” of this or that ethnic group without showing any meaningful political performance.

That is why it is fair to say that the powerful message, “the blood shed of innocent Oromos is our blood! The blood shed of the Amharas is our blood!” has fallen on deaf ears and blind minds of  those who could not learn from what went wrong for the last two decades and not willing to reconsider their failed political thinking and practice.  Disgracefully enough, those “new liberators of Amharas” are most welcomed by those individuals and groupings such as Ato Jawar Mehmed and his network who stupidly work hard against those who sincerely believe in the necessity of making concerted efforts in order to create a situation in which the politics of ethnic identity and national (Ethiopian identity) cannot and should not be sources of hatred and division if they are dealt with appropriately,  fairly and amicably or spirits. The good thing is that as the people are sick and tired of parochial and hate political attitudes of individuals and groupings, those individuals or groupings will have no significant negative influence in the process of creating a system of democracy, equality, and shared prosperity.

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