NES COMMENTARY. No.25
Network of Ethiopian Scholars (NES)
October 31, 2008
The Significance of Ethiopia’s History of National Resistance for African Unity and Dignity (Part II)
“Our liberty is meaningless unless all Africans are free.” Emperor Haile Selassie Speech at the Launch of the OAU in 1963
“African nationalism is meaningless, dangerous, and anachronistic, if it is not at the same time pan-Africanism.” Julius K .Neyerere
“Borders are scratched across the hearts of men,
By strangers with a calm, judicial pen
And when the borders bleed, we watch with dread
The lines of ink across the map turn red.” Anonymous
In part I we have introduced the book entitled Abyssinia: The Powder Barrel, a book on the most burning question of the day. What is revealing is how far this fascist writer estimated the power of Ethiopia’s national resistance and its meaning and significance for wider Africa and indeed the world. This is not something that we Ethiopians have been made aware of. So we continue from Part I and present both the various statements from the fascist author and what we can glean from it as lessons with respect to its contemporary resonance to Ethiopia’s uncertain future.
2. It is the Success of the Ethiopian Anti-Colonial Struggle the Fascists Wanted to Bury.
It seems that Ethiopia stood for African unity roughly from the end of the era of the princes to the coming of the military regime in 1974 objectively by the resistance it put up against the world colonial-imperial system! In the Post World War II period Ethiopia did have clear policies as well to do many things to support other African freedom fighters from training Mandela and others to providing scholarships to many fellow African brothers and sisters.
Emperor Haile Selassie worked closely with Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, where in the Long Walk to Freedom, former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela relates his conversation with Julius Neyerere where support from Ghana to the ANC and not just to other parties like the PAC in South Africa will come quickly if Mandela gets the support of Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie to win Ghana’s support.
It seems the Pan-African agenda continued under the post-war imperial regime too, where like Dr. Nkrumah, Emperor Haile Selassie appeared to say Ethiopia’s national independence is incomplete without the entire Africa’s full independence and freedom from colonialism! Subsequent Ethiopian politicians have not expressed even a fraction of that vision and understanding linking Ethiopia’s destiny with Africa’s destiny as that expressed by the late Ethiopian emperor.
Ethiopia’s incoherence of its relation with Africa came after the ideological period replaced the patriotic and African national era after 1974. After 1974, “ pro –former Soviet Union ally eliciting internationalism, and after 1991 ethnic federalism” replaced Ethiopian- African patriotism where the virtues of love and brotherhood and concern for African anti-colonialism were subordinated to the degradation of preferred alliance with the former Soviet Union (1974-1991), and later the narrow selfish politics of ethnic and vernacular identity(1991-?). No wonder, today Ethiopia’s relation with the rest of Africa mirrors the incoherence of its internal inter community relations. What is there from Ethiopia to spread to the rest of Africa, ethnic division, split and war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, war with Somalia, identity politics and division under the guise of self-determination?
If Ethiopia’s politics since 1974 is a mirror, what the rest Africa sees in it is not a model or example of her heroic national resistance exemplified from the period of the end of the Era of the Princes to 1974, but a problem to avoid that came with the strange and alien notion of fanning and exacerbating differences, ethnicism and the confounding complexities in identity politics that have together resulted in a virulent mostly anti- African and ant-Ethiopian unity politics today! This negative politics of drawing ethnic borders has been pursued by the political and intellectual useless elite that are still at large ruining the nation that has a distinguished and recognised record for playing a pivotal role as a leading promoter of African dignity, self-respect and historical identity in particular whilst providing a historical example for the entire anti-colonial and anti-imperial world struggle in general.
The book also reveals inadvertently the epic nature of the Ethiopian national resistance. The positive data of national resistance is not only good for Ethiopia but also even more important to recover the full dignity and humanity of Africans the world over, which is still yet to be fully attained in spite of the progress made thus far.
3. The Significance of the pre-1974 Period of Ethiopian History
To be sure the period from the end of the era of the princes to 1974 was not without its gross deficiencies that has no doubt contributed to the emergence of the ideological period since 1974.Owing to the many social inequities and feudal injustices and unfair rules, the deficiencies in social justice, human rights and democracy was stark. The feudal class relation was a big constraint to promoting sustainably the patriotic virtue that Ethiopia exemplified by its history of national resistance to spread African unification by positioning Ethiopia as a leader.
Whilst recognising their gross deficiencies in terms of lack of social justice and democracy, we must nevertheless caution all not to allow these evident deficiencies to eclipse and override the virtues they had by placing Ethiopia firmly on the world map to promote African unity by a national resistance with such powerful meaning to African history and African destiny.
Despite the feudal constraints, the national awareness of linking Ethiopia’s national destiny with Africa was fully appreciated. In the pre-1974 period, we must acknowledge this whatever our views are on the deficiencies and oppressions that we are right to denounce from that period.
Those who oppose feudalism did go to the extreme extent of devaluing this important national achievement and used the thesis used by the fascists of the self-determination of oppressed nationalities or tribes to undermine the Ethiopian-African combined patriotic national project. What in reality was needed was to change feudalism by building on the Ethiopian-African national patriotic combined project, and not use the excuses of fighting feudalism at the expense of a united national Ethiopian-African project for doing so by unleashing dissipative and disintegrative impulses legitimised by borrowed ideology.
There is a strong need to promote Ethiopian patriotism where love for Ethiopia means also love for Africa without hating anyone, any other country, nation, people, or race, religion, ethnic group and gender more than ever now. The national project is positive to ones own nation, it does not have anything to do with spreading hate to any other nation.
In this effort to change the paradigm from ethnic narrow nihilism into broader Ethiopian-African patriotism, the relevance of what Ethiopia did through its epic history of non-surrender and non-capitulation to the colonial system remains hugely significant and meaningful for the present and future. Historical memory is useful to excavate to build the patriotic agenda and push it forward without any apologies or concessions to any special group interest.
2. The Fascist Formula: Either Colonise and Humiliate Ethiopia or Permanently Disable Ethiopia by fanning inter-ethnic strife!
The book openly and disgustingly advocates the destruction of Ethiopia by whipping inter tribal contradictions against what it calls the ‘Amhara ‘and ’Abyssinian imperialism’.
The writer decried: “Actually, there is no such thing as a unified Abyssinian people, but merely an Amharic minority amounting to about 20% of the total population” (P.70)
He continued to argue that if Italy were to fail to colonise the country, Ethiopia must remain permanently weakened and crippled by making sure deep distrust and animosity is spread through the veins and arteries of every ‘tribe’ in Ethiopia.
It is not against class; it is not against feudalism that the fascist writer railed against, but against what he calls the ‘Amhara’ as a people. It is not even directed at the ruling class drawn from them. It is a whole people as a people who were marked and targeted by inciting others to rebel and overcome them for possible extinction. Nothing short of the destruction of the ‘Amhara’ has been advocated with such careless and casual sociological classification and the deeply unattractive ideology of fascism to exterminate a whole community. It is the hate politics that preceded the dropping of exterminator poison gas on the areas inhabited predominantly by Amharic language speakers. It is a crime that has not found any proper historical justice and redress to this day.
The hideous fascist author writes using very much the language that we see bandied about by Ethiopia’s own home grown contemporary ethnic entrepreneurs: “ For it should always be remembered that the majority of the peoples constituting the population of Ethiopia are themselves the oppressed, while the ruling Amharic Abyssinians are the oppressors” (p.79).
The formula of advocating ‘self-determination for the oppressed tribes’ was to realise the objective of planting and sowing inters- tribal strife internally in Ethiopia without end.
The writer expresses the “Abyssinian colonial thesis” to advocate and justify territorial as opposed to cultural and social ‘self-determination with dry and cold cynicism!
He said: “Emperor Menelik established his rule over peoples and tribes differing entirely from each other in race, religion and history. The Italians thus had just as much right to the ruleship of Ethiopia as the Abyssinians.”(Emphasis added!) p.54
Translated into the current situation, it means anyone has a right to rule the various communities in Ethiopia as long as the communities can be dispersed and are not united to put up a common front of resistance against those who wanted to rule them by dividing them either internally or externally.
Finally, the writer admonishes the colonial world to go for the complete ‘eradication’ of Ethiopia, which he described in his own words as “this plague-spot in East Africa” (p.52)
4. Concluding Remark
Ethiopia’s history is known by its enemies and friends outside Ethiopia as having produced a ‘ resistance-liberation historical logo’ not only for Ethiopia, but also Africa and even the previously colonized world as well.
Many nations and peoples outside contributed to the Ethiopian struggle knowing full well the meaning and significance of the resistance and liberation logo that Ethiopia’s history provided in the mortal confrontation between Ethiopia and the colonial system.
What remains troubling is the self-understanding of the current generation of Ethiopians to the history made by previous generations. More often than not the tendency is to denigrate that history and not build from what is worthy to create a future that is even more worthy and historical. This generation lacks historical appreciation, depth and imagination and keeps conflating internal oppressions with the larger imperial and colonial menace that Ethiopia successfully countered by resisting at various levels including diplomatic and non-diplomatic efforts.
This must change now. But all should invest in making the effort to change. There is no value in creating more useless elites by creating more divisions. What kind of elites did the division of Eritrea and Ethiopia bring? Can we truly say that they ruling elites are useful as we have them now? If, by using the self-determination of nationalities, peoples and nation’s politics, we create a number of useless elites to miss–run the breakaway states, are we contributing to a future that guarantees well being or ill being to the people?
It is remarkable to see how the current politics since the 1970s uses a divisive and fracturing politics where those who came to power managed to do so by saying either we get territorial self-determination for ones identified nationality together with others or we go it alone. Some still continue to stress of going it alone and seem to prefer to be alone territorially more than to come together to forge a shared collective history and destiny together.
Some are supported by those who went alone and made their own states and to this day continue to incite and fan inter-community strife while claiming they stand for one Ethiopia
According to the previous World Bank president the African ruling elites spend 5 billion dollars on travel alone annually while India spends a mere 20 million dollars. One wonders what spending billions on travel will do for Africa’s well being by the ruling elites. Do these rulers unite and offer a strong Africa perspective to whatever challenges Africa face today?
If Ethiopia splits, the budget for the travel of the useless classes of rulers will rise but the people’s condition is likely to remain unaltered. Ethiopians must go back to their history in order to create even a stronger history and civilisation on the foundation of unity in their diversity.