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When Binary Politics Assaults the Ethiopian Identity

By Teweldebrhan Kifle (tewoldek@yahoo.com)
Tigrai Onlne - March 15, 2014

Right from the outset, I would like to remind readers, who may care to know, that my humble attempt to indulge into such subject of complex nature emanates from a serious personal concern over the recently unleashed assault by some sections of the cyber community on the Ethiopian identity in their bid of countering the old exclusionist political persuasions. I contemplated over these antagonistic views for quite some time now and decided to forward my reflections purely grounded on deeper culminations of personal accounts and sentimental connections as I identify myself as so Tigraian, so Ethiopian and so African.

Now, the Ethiopian identity, I believe, is under severe onslaught by politics of binary, a kind of “take it or leave it”, from both edges of the sword. These antagonistic views tend to be minimalists in nature with one side arguing Ethiopiasim is the only identity that exist, or should prevail now if that is not achieved so far and that at any cost. It rejects, thrashes and relegates the sub-identities that existed through the depth and breadth of this multi-cultural and multi-national country.

Those at the opposite end of the spectrum, on the other hand, counter in a manner that denies the existence of this shimmering identity by reducing it into just a citizenship that only bestows citizens of their civil rights and privileges and at the same time subject them to certain duties and obligations. They push the edge of reason beyond its elastic limits to only come up with absurd expositions tantamount to that identity is not only singular but also is static that never evolve or change in temporal or spatial coordinates.

For example, if a Tigraian or an Oromo migrates to the west and gets naturalized, then, they say, he/she sheds off her Ethiopian citizenship immediately but remains a Tigraian or an Oromo the rest of their lives. Let us, for a moment, accept their claim at face value and challenge them further as to what happens to the child born out of these same immigrant parents. In spite of the parents’ concerted efforts to shield in the child from unavoidable cultural vicissitudes and remain as Tigraian or Oromo as they can, he/she never will have the same level and intensity of attachment towards the values of his/her ancestral origins. Even the parents would find themselves between the rock and a hard place when they realize that their Ethiopian identity is not enough to describe them well leave alone their Tigraian or Oromo identities; willing or not they would be required to be identified as black Africans without necessarily losing their other identities. This example shows that cultural values and identities are layered, mutable, evolved, diluted or strengthened over an expanse of space and with stretch of time as a result of multitudes of socio-political factors and interactions thereof.

Do I need to buttress my assertion of multi-layer-identity with sophisticated social theories? I don’t have the luxury of time and background to venture into such esoteric academic realms. Nevertheless, deep down my heart, my identity as an Ethiopian is unquestionable, lurid and transcends any strands of other sub-or supra identities. I am not suggesting that values and feelings of every Ethiopian should be in complete accord with that of my feelings and values. Not at all. All I am saying is it’s disingenuous at best to deny the existence of this powerful identity that survived against all odds both natural and manmade since eon ago.

How can you know that the Ethiopian identity really exists? Well, let us apply a method. If you are moved by the fact that Ethiopia is the origin of human kind, one of the oldest independent civilization on earth, endowed with rich historical and cultural narratives, scriptures of the two main religions, architectural and archeological wonders, it means that the Ethiopian identity is at work before you knew it. If your heart leaps out as our athletic legends sprint and win, tears rolled down your cheeks in a reflexive manner as the tri-color unfurls high up on the mast while our national anthem is being played at the Olympic arena, this has nothing to do with your civil rights or obligations but with the very identification of yourself as an Ethiopian. Do you fill yourself with abundance of pride and gratitude to inform your friends that belong to other nations that our Ethiopia is the origin of a kind the finest coffee, home of dozens of rivers flowing on year end originating from its highland plateaus and stream down in almost every direction which the Blue Nile is at the top of them all? Did you ever wonder by the gripping panorama of Ras Dashen mountain ranges, the afro alpine frosts of Bale Mountain, the vast grasslands of Nech Sar, the tropical rainforests of Gambela, the deepest and hottest swath bed of Dallol or the mysterious live lava of Erta Ale?

I suggest you stand by the bridge of the floodgate of the Blue Nile at Lake Tana, preferably in the rainy season, and observe the surge of water emerging beneath, muddied with red earth carrying millions of tons of our topsoil downstream in such overwhelming vortex of abundance. Test yourself: if you are enraged by the fact that Ethiopians have never utilized a drop of the Blue Nile for millennia but carried the brunt of wars initiated by forces coveting to conquer the source of Nile and knowing that the best we could do has been singing the ever insipid mantra “Abay Abay… , ya’ager sisay”, repeating the tale of “The son of Blue Nile is direly in thirst, Yabay lij W’ha temaw”, rest assured that your identity is Ethiopian to the core.

This too shall come to pass. Now Ethiopians of all creeds are roaring up behind the newfound symbol: the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam for a reason. It has been a grand patriotic display that converged Ethiopianism in a profoundly unique manner, an expression of pent-up anger and hope deferred for hundreds of years. Does this move you in inch?


How about the epic display of our grand-grand fathers when they crushed colonial powers at Adowa, and expansionists at Metema, Gura’e, Gundet etc through sheer bravery and patriotic zeal and handed us down unblemished and most coveted history? What do you think had been in the minds of the fallen heroes who paid the ultimate at the mountain ranges of Degahabur, Jigjiga, Karamara, and the low lands of Ogaden while protecting the nation from the expansionist ambition of the then Ziad Bare’s “Greater Somalia” project, or those martyred in the escarpments and deep gorges of Naqfa, Qarura, Afabaet, Badme, Tzerona,, Zalambesa Aiga, Bure and all?

Does the unparalleled bravery displayed by the Kagnew Battalions at the battlefields of the Korean Campaign alongside the Allied Forces strike few of your nerves in the gray matter? For those heroes, it is recorded, falling in captivity was characteristically unEthiopian and no wonder the only country, among the troop contributing countries of the time, that didn’t register even a single POW as witnessed at the end of the war was Ethiopia.

What is so special about the Defence Forces of FRDE when epically crushed the back of the then UIC and that of Al Shabab where a super-power had failed to achieve and now the world is talking about the rebirth of the once failed state, Somalia? It’s nothing but the remarkable calumniation of longstanding heroism and a culture of selfless services being passed on from generation to generation. It’s this identification with the ever thriving Ethiopian patriotism that our defence forces accomplish their mission in a manner that leaves no room for losing or defeat. That’s how Ethiopianism is being carried forward and spread to all over the nations of the world through our heroes and heroines in uniform, heroes and heroines in sportswear: full- shoed, halfshoed or barefoot, our contribution to greater humanity through our finest produces that fit well to discriminating palates. That’s how Ethiopia had been the spiritual sanctuary of the African Diaspora when slavery robed humanity with impunity.

But Ethiopiansim is not all that rosy either. It’s also vividly alive in our national shames too. I am reminded of my Ethiopian identity when millions of fellow Ethiopians had been exposed to the threats of famine, hundreds of thousands of them being perished, when we become synonyms with famine and civil war and made it to the record as profound as that of the Oxford Dictionary. My Ethiopian identity still kicks in with full gear uninhibited by the waves of emaciated bones of deprived fellow children as displayed on news channels or become a talking stock before millions of magnanimous world citizens glued before their screens and chanting “do they know it is Christmas” while extending us their solidarity in the hours of need. Such is the Ethiopian identity: an amalgamation of good and bad, up and down, depravity and abundance, selflessness and bravery, shame and glory.

Still you feel unmoved by any of the above? That’s pretty fine. Your apathy has nothing to do with the “absence” of the Ethiopian identity. It’s only that you need time to evolve and fully embrace it without any danger of compromising your sub-identities. That’s the call of the new Ethiopia. The identity of the new Ethiopia in the making is accommodative and democratic where diversity is celebrated. There is nothing you gain by staying out and I encourage you check your premises that keep you remain only in the protected shell of sub-identities.

Long Live Ethiopia and Ethiopian Patriotism!!