| Destiny of a Nation with Perpetual Struggle
Segid G. Michael
Generally, one would say that life is a perpetual struggle at individual and national levels. But, the degree (imporatnce) and extent vary with the problem or problems humans face. Individuals struggle for their rights and freedoms within their nation state, if that state is governed by a body that upholds rule of law. Similarly, nations rise against oppressive political system to fight for self determination and to free themselves from dehumanizing abject poverty and total deprivation.
The goal of this piece is to provide a historical synopsis (reminder) of the Ethiopian socio-economic and political landscape that led to the birth of armed national struggles for self determination. It focuses on the exploitative production relations that prevailed during the aristocratic feudal system of Emperor Haile Selassie. That is a good start, because that was the system, which paved the way to the barbaric rule of the military-communist junta. As a start, a crude social stratification (classification) of the Ethiopian society is in order.
During the aristocratic-feudalism era of Emperor H. Sellassie, as it was historically, it was easy to classify the Ethiopian society into: (i) royal, (ii) elite, (iii) patriarchate (which was the religio-cultural instrument of the monarch), (iv) comprador, (v) bourgeoisie, (vi) feudal, (vii) peasant, (viii) the working class (e.g., factory, office, farm, and shop workers), (ix) the proletariat (e.g., house-maids, casual labourers, and house guards), and (x) the lumpen, whose survival heavily depended upon shoe-shining, luggage carrying, loading and unloading commercial trucks, etc. Now, it should be easy to observe what percentage of the total Ethiopian population was subjected to an abject poverty and total human right violation.
Until the revolution of 1974, the non-producers remained the possessors of the means of production (e.g., land and capital). These absentee feudalists and capitalists extracted surplus of labour through a host of pressures, including force. Surplus extraction took the form of courvee labour, tribute, rents, cash, and sharecropping. A whole array of political and ideological institutions (“rules of the game”) was necessary to these social and economic disparities. Coercion and the structure of the law played the major role. In Ethiopia, a country that had an extremely complex land tenure system, these instruments of oppression and exploitation were excessively used.
Land tenure outside the sparsely populated pastoralist areas fell under two categories: The first category, in the north and central provinces, as they were called then, land ownership was vested with the kinship group under the rist land tenure system. Rist land was not alienated and there was no land market to speak of. The most fertile lands were taken up by imperial land grants to the nobility as gult (especial term for an imperial grant land). The Crown also granted other portions of the fertile lands to the Monophysite Coptic Church. In effect, it was the six social classes given above: the royal, the elite, the patriarchate, the bourgeoisie, the comprador, and the feudalists who owned the most fertile agricultural land during Emperor H. Selassie’s era. All were not producers, but all extracted different benefits from the peasantry in terms of: tribute, products, rents, services, and courvee labour. Thus, the classic feudal trinity of nobleman, priest, and peasant, was well described by these facts, which existed in Ethiopia up to the demise of the King in 1974.
The second category of land ownership applied to the southern provinces, and had come into force in the last quarter of the 19th century following Menilik II’s conquest of these areas. Imperial allocation of land - gult rights - to the Amhara nobility and the elevation of local balabat (chiefs) to landlord status, expanded the feudal frontier to the southern border. It also turned the peasants into tenants under the terms given above (courvee labour, rents, tribute, and share-cropping). The subjugation of all non-Amhara Ethiopians by the Amhara nobility, and the high premium which the ruling class placed on Amharic culture in the interest of its own cohesion, making Amharic the sole national language, ensured that class and national struggles were strictly checked.
While at it, there is a history of a failed-grandiose Amharanization national project of the 1960s and 1970s that must be told. That project was the translation from English to Amharic all science, geography, and history textbooks of the school system (primary to secondary) at the cost of billions of Birr. This was one of the many self-serving, misguided, and misallocation of scarce national resources: An assimilaton project gone terribly wrong. In effect, this and the many similar actions that were designed to drive other Ethiopian nations and nationalities down to second and third class citizens of their own country must be told so that they will never be repeated by any governing body.
The Role of Religion Religion was used by the monarchy as an instrument of sustaining aristocratic feudalism. The Ethiopian empire, which emerged into the 20th century bureaucratic state, was not politically integrated. It was a plural society characterized by (a) domination of cultural minorities; (b) gross inequality in terms of wealth, power and privileges; and (c) sharp contradictions among nationalities. As the society began to modernize, class, intra-class, and ethnic affinities were added to already existing social cleavages. As was typical of pre-modern bureaucratic empires, order was maintained by manipulation, regulation, and domination. In addition to the charisma associated with the Imperial Throne and its occupant, several other traditional institutions were sources of power and privileges in the Ethiopian society. The Church, the aristocratic law, and the complex feudalistic land tenure system were the major ones.
The role of religious institutions as the sources of political power and of monarchical legitimacy was deeply rooted in the history of the Ethiopian society. Monarchs had customarily relied upon the church to pacify the masses. They acquired the public image of being charismatic leaders, the embodiments, and the upholders of the culture and sacred traditions of their societies. Emperor Haile Sellassie ensured the support of the church by awarding certain rights and privileges that were upheld by the authorities of the State. These included land and other property rights from time to time expanded through imperial grants and gifts from various members of the aristocracy, as well as permission to collect taxes from and to sharecropping with peasants.
The Derg and the Double Talker Chauvist Elements After the primitive monarchical system of Emperor Haile Selasie, came the savage brutality of the Derg, whose historic barbarism at Hawzien, Tigrai, will remain recorded in our history books for eternity. It will keep reminding the heroes and heroines who destroyed the Derg’s savagery to promise to their people that Hawzien will never happen again in the land of Woyane Tigrai.
It is so disquieting and very disturbing to see so many residual elements of the Aristocracy and the Derg eras refusing to accept the modern realities of Ethiopia, where all nations and nationalities are struggling to forge a united front to win the war against all ills of humankind. The behaviour of these elements is not surprising, because we know who they are. What is amazing is the hypocritical behaviour of some countries and their so called NGOs that are staffed with warms of spies. On the other hand, it is encouraging to notice that the Ethiopian leadership is aware of the hypocrisy of those countries and the activities of their NGOs, which have become nothing, but instruments of a new type, “modern”, neocolonialism.
In summary, long recorded human history tells us that nations are always on the look out against their internal and external adversaries. There has never been and never will be absolute peace in a nation state. That is why nations establish strong national defense forces before anything else. Obviously, this reality applies to the Ethiopian nations and nationalities. In the case of Tigrai, for example, there will never be complacency. The present generation will transfer the torch of Woyane to the next generation, which in turn will transfer it to its next generation, then that way to eternity. This, of course, will require perpetual struggle against external and internal enemies. The long Ethiopian history (of 3,000 years???) has taught us that destiny of all Ethiopian nations and nationalities can only be protected with perpetual struggle. Let the enemies serve as catalysts for forging a united front to win the war against poverty, ignorance, and environmental degradation; and, thereby, to live in peace and harmony in a democratically united Ethiopia. Anything less would be unworthy of the memory of our martyrs.
Victory to All Who Love, Peace, Equality, and Harmony
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