The Fate of Ethiopia Must be Decided by Ethiopians
A commentary on Gregory Stanton’s Speech

Ghelawdewos Araia, Ph.D.
IDEA Viewpoint
Nov. 15 2010

I have argued many times in the past that the fate of Ethiopia must be decided by Ethiopians and not by foreign elements lurking among Ethiopians and posing as friends. I do not, however, oppose all foreigners (ferenj or kwaja), who, in one form or another, were involved in Ethiopian affairs. There were and are indeed well meaning and sincere non-Ethiopians who dedicated their time and life for Ethiopia, but ultimately Ethiopians must decide the future of Ethiopia, as is also the case in other free societies.

This commentary is aimed at the recent speech of Dr. Gregory Stanton to an Ethiopian audience and also at Ethiopians who dearly love their country and who want to make a difference in the future of a better Ethiopia. It is also aimed at Ethiopians who are either unable to fathom the reality of their own society and the complexity of global inputs, or are easily hoodwinked, uncritically accepted divisive ideas, and have applauded to potentially harmful diatribes.

First I like to make my position clear that I respect anybody’s opinion even if it is in contradistinction or diametrically opposite to that of mine, and that is what a democratic culture needs to be and it is in the latter spirit that I acknowledge Dr. Stanton’s entitlement to his opinion. This is the level of discourse I like to bolster in this commentary as opposed to polemics and quid pro quo politics.

Stanton’s opening speech was quite palatable to my political opinion, and I want to extend credit to him for attempting to foster “trans-ethnic” politics and for saying, “you are Ethiopians, and not Amharas and Tigrayans.” And to be sure, it is this kind of thinking that Ethiopians should entertain at this juncture of their history.

Based on the above opening remarks of Dr. Stanton, I had a cursory understanding of the tenet of his speech as an advocacy for Ethiopian unity. But, all of a sudden the speaker began making annoying quirks with respect to Tigrayans and their role in current Ethiopian politics. His speech was inundated with disconnected flashes of themes including the “massive massacre” in Gambella; the best land in Gamblella that is being sold to foreign investors; and what he calls the “internal colonization” of Ethiopia by Tigrayans.

Dr. Stanton attempted to substantiate his thesis of a “Tigrayan regime trying to colonize the best of Ethiopia” by his argument stated as “effectively a Tigrayan take over of the whole country.” Furthermore, in an omen anticipating sign, the speaker said, “whom do you think is going to pay for all these?” and he answers it himself by saying “the Tigrayans.” “I am worried for the Tigrayans,” says Stanton, “who could become victims [of genocide]” themselves.

First and foremost, the speaker’s claims are spectacularly implausible as to lack of credibility. Secondly, the Tigrayans are not colonizers and they are not presiding over “internal colonization.” The latter concept is paradigmatically bankrupt and meaningless in any given historical context. It is beyond the scope of this Viewpoint to delve into classical political economy on colonization, but for interested individuals it is suffice to make reference to the European colonial adventure in Africa accompanied by the expansion of commodity products, capital, and technology. But even Europe’s hegemony over Africa was not really a total monopoly on the modus vivendi of Africans. On the contrary, Africans continued to influence and determine the course of their social life in spite of European scrutiny. Ethiopia, far from becoming a European-type hegemon, is a poor Third World country and governed by a relatively weak state, and contextually speaking thus the government could not possibly control all aspects of life of Ethiopians. Same logic applies to all developing countries.

With respect to the Gambella massacre, Dr. Stanton has a point. A massacre took place on December 13, 2003. I am of the opinion that the Gambella incident must be re-investigated and after a corpus delicti has been established the perpetrators must be brought before justice. However, to charge all Tigrayans as responsible for the massacre in Gambella is not only hopelessly false, but it is also against reason and history.

In the last two decades, among Diaspora Ethiopians that I have labeled ‘enclave opposition’ (see, it has become standard practice to attribute all Ethiopian problems to Tigray. The same dominant framework of thinking also prevailed during the reign of Haile Selassie, whereby the Amharas were collectively charged as oppressors and exploiters. Some five years ago, I wrote an article in Amharic entitled La’ Ethiopia Ya’mi’bej strategy meqe’yes Ya’ hu’laçhin ha’la’finet Naw (It is our collective responsibility to design a strategy for the best interest of Ethiopia), and in that article, I argued, “in Haile Sealssie’s government it is the top officials, the dignitaries, and the Neftegna (landlords) that were the beneficiaries and not the ordinary Amharas in Showa, Wollo, Gondar, and Gojjam.” I strongly believe the same logic applies to Tigrayans today.

It is based on my conviction and political philosophy that I challenge Gregory Stanton’s rather flawed pieces of a puzzle that don’t seem to fit together in his speech to an Ethiopian audience. I do not want to question the sincerity of Stanton and my hunch and intuition tell me that he does not have any ulterior motives. But his anti-Tigrayan sentiment (notwithstanding his nice-sounding nostrum of ‘I am worried for the Tigrayans’) is hardly a remedy for Ethiopia’s complex problems.

At the end of his speech, Dr. Stanton called upon Ethiopians to unite and strategize and concluded by saying, “the best antidote to genocide is democracy.” I agree with his concluding remarks, but I found the overall inconsistency in his speech startling. One cannot hope to unite Ethiopians when s/he preaches ethnic cleansing. I am not saying that the speaker is in favor of ethnic cleansing in Ethiopia, for that would contradict the mission and objectives of his organization, Genocide Watch. Nevertheless, I still insist that singling out one ethnic group or nationality as responsible for Ethiopia’s ills is tantamount to inciting ethnic cleansing.

Quite frankly and candidly, I want to extend the benefit of the doubt to Dr. Stanton with respect to his speech, though I also want to underscore that his organization should not err in policy in the future and foment anti-Tigrayan (or any other ethnic group for that matter) sentiments. The speaker, on the contrary, should have told his audience, in no uncertain terms, that they must make distinction between a seating government and a given nationality, and that the people of Tigray have nothing to do with the massacre in Gambella. It is simple logic: the majority of Tigrayans who reside in Tigray and elsewhere in Ethiopia don’t really understand what took place in Gambella, let alone be accomplice to the crime.

Ethiopia belongs to all Ethiopians and I strongly believe that all Ethiopians, without ethnic distinction, must reside in all Ethiopia without any restriction. If Ethiopians can extend hospitality to non-Ethiopian refugees and accommodate them in their midst, why should it be difficult for them to embrace their own brethren? Ethiopians must interact within themselves in terms of much richer and varied spectrum of opportunities that can actually enable Ethiopia to emerge as a vibrant and strong nation. If, on the contrary, Ethiopians are engaged in finger pointing at one another and unleash ethnic cleansing against their respective communities, it is highly probable that a bloodletting civil war could ensue and this could be a first encounter in the history of their country. All of us who love our country and our people should not permit such a curse to happen under our watch.

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