Open Letter to H.E. Ato Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy Prime Minister of Ethiopia
By Woldehawariat, email@example.com
Tigrai Online, Ethiopian News, Nov. 11, 2016
I write this piece as concerned citizen. I do not belong to any organized entity nor do I harbor any politically charged agenda. In this, I just seek to air my opinion-which I hope makes sense- on what I think is good for the country.
I learned from some Ethiopian news websites that you have been appointed to chair the Population and Housing Census Commission of Ethiopia, which is scheduled to collect the decennial demographic data in November 2017. I believe this is a huge responsibility and hope that you will execute it with the most diligence such a role deserves.
I think it is fair to say that the concepts of ‘ethnicity’, ‘tribes’, ‘nations and nationalities’ are poorly understood and badly implemented. Today, the ethnic tag has reached such a defining moment that even well intentioned development projects could not be continued. Such untoward consequences can only be expected to haunt the country even more.
I believe this is the time to look back and that you have this great opportunity to contribute to straighten the misconstrued issue.
Let me start from my encounter. Just the other day, I was having a sort of group chat with some fellow Ethiopians and the course of the conversation slowly progressed into that ethnic thing. It actually flared up when one of us was talking about childhood time and experiences. To shortcut a long story, he said his mother hails from tribe X and has a father from tribe Y. No surprises here. But the way he feels about it is quite interesting. This is what he said. In the last two censuses that he had the opportunity to be counted, as you can imagine, he was asked to name of the tribe he identifies with. Fortunately or unfortunately, he was intelligent enough to feel what such a seemingly easy question meant to him. So, this is how he told us he did it: He said he gave the name of the tribe X in the first census and then changed his identity to his father’s tribe Y in the 2007 census. For the 2017 census, he said he will revert his ethnic label back to tribe X. He boldly told us that he plans to continue to alternate between tribes X and Y every time such a census comes up.
Incidentally, nearly all of us happened to be of a mixed ethnic background. After a heated kind of friendly debate, we agreed that what he was doing all along is correct, given the circumstances, and we agreed to alternate our tribal affiliations like him come every census. Of course, this simple scheme still could not work for many of us for it assumes that parent X is 100% X and parent Y to be 100% from Y tribe, which is a far cry from reality.
Did my friend commit a crime by alternating his tribal identity in his attempt to reflect his true lineage?
Won’t it be biologically wrong and immoral to select and stick to one tribal designation when one is in fact made of genes derived from multiples tribes? I believe your government can help solve this trauma by coming up with a better alternative to reflect the common identities of people of mixed race.
Today, I am writing to ask you to make a common designation for people of mixed biological origin. To begin with, I say this for I believe it is a matter of democratic right. I believe your party does not have to wait to witness demonstrations, riots, and sustain damages to recognize this fundamental right. Just make this option available, and let the people decide. Nobody will lose anything from this. In fact, if you think about it everybody stands to gain.
Second, this is something real and present. In here, we are talking about millions and millions of Ethiopians. In the opinion of this author, probably the vast majority of Ethiopians will fall into this category.
Third, it works. It is something tried and tested. For example, in many countries of Latin American and the Caribbean, such a collective designation has been in use for a long time. We can learn a lot from the experiences of these nations.
Fourth, it is unifying. Perhaps because of this, the kind of tribe based violence rampant in the heavily tribalized Horn of Africa is not common in countries where a unifying term is used.
Dear Deputy Prime Minister,
All things considered, I believe this can have a far reaching positive consequence for the stability, unity and prosperity of the country. The recent riot your government witnessed and the destructions it produced is a proof on what a wrongly perceived and badly implemented ethnic tag could do.
It might go even further, the last mishap in counting the Amhara population might have to do with mixed peoples switching their tribal identity in turns. And who knows where the next surprises the upcoming census will come from. People of mixed race cannot be tribalically stable unless a better unifying term is devised to accommodate such groups of Ethiopians.