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Tyranny of Size in a Fragile Democracy: The Ethiopian Case

By Mogos Asghedom Adwa
Tigrai Online, March 19, 2018

Tyranny of Size in a Fragile Ethiopoian Democracy Ignorant Ethiopian extremists think that the mere fact their larger population inhabits a larger Ethiopian landmass is a God given right to dominate other people


Interpretive Imperatives

Tyranny: If you Google the word tyranny, you get the following three illustrative meanings: (a) cruel and oppressive government or rule; (b) a nation under cruel and oppressive government; and (c) cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary use of political power. You can use all or one to describe the type of democracy the greedy sellouts (traitors), extremists, ethnocentric nationalists, and chauvinists are struggling to impose on all Ethiopians.

Ethnocentrism is a dangerous mentality. It means judging another culture solely by the values, norms, and standards of one's own culture. Ethnocentric individuals judge other groups relative to their own ethnic group or culture, especially regarding language, behavior, customs, religion, and all sorts of benefits (social, economic, and political). Ethnocentrism may be overt or subtle.

People born into a particular culture who grow up absorbing the values and behaviors of that particular culture are bound to develop a worldview that considers their culture to be the rule everyone must follow. When they experience other cultures that have different values and normal behaviors, they consider the behavioral patterns in the other cultures as inappropriate, because they think that their cultural traditions and history are superior to those of others. This attitude has tragic consequences. The extremists must trade their behavior very carefully.

Abuse and misuse of democracy: Originating from ancient Greek Philosophy, democracy means government of the people for the people by the people. It projects to the mind a great mystifying goodwill for all. To whatever extent it sounds and feels mysterious, however, it is just a human construct. That is why a democratic governance system remains an elusive human endeavor.

A true democracy is a socially sanctioned, constitutionally enshrined, and legally enforced system of social contract, which is a legally binding agreement between the governing and the governed in an adaptive effective governance system. Its overarching goal is to foster justice for all through an equitable and a genuine sustainable development.

However, we ought to be mindful that there are and there always will be self-serving greedy individuals or groups that are more than willing to serve interests of external forces. Paid “subsistence-minimum wages”, they are always willing to be messengers and mercenary dogs of war to destroy their Motherland, Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s total biosphere belongs to all Ethiopians: Some ignorant extremists think that the mere fact their larger population inhabits a larger Ethiopian landmass is a God given right to dominate and subjugate other nations, nationalities, and peoples in all aspects of life, including cultural, social, economic, and political. They abuse and misuse the majority rule principles of democracy. They invoke democracy to mobilize their gullible youth in the homeland to fight and die for them, while they, with their families, enjoy luxurious lifestyles, devouring American hamburger day-in-day-out. They are determined to make Ethiopia a failed State, as one of the tragically failed nations, such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Libya, and South Sudan. These failed countries are spoils of the West’s Neoliberal Imperialism of this 21st Century. What the extremists do not seem to understand is that other nations, nationalities, and peoples are monitoring their daily behavior; that they are under the radar of the national security system; and that they might face a day of reckoning from an annihilating power of the true national heroes and heroines.


Three Distinctly Different Successive Governance Systems: A Comparative Sketch

This is a very sketchy note intended to provoke thoughts of those Ethiopians who witnessed it all, like myself. How the three distinctly different Ethiopia’s governance systems that of the Imperial Era of Emperor Haile Selassie, that of the Marxist-Leninist Military Junta, and that of the current Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) are highlighted. We can compare the weaknesses and strengths (if any). Those of us, who witnessed and are witnessing it all, do not need special academic credentials to compare them, because we have been and are the subjects.

The Imperial Era (1930–1974)

Absolute political power was vested in the Emperor Because the 1931 Constitution was deemed not giving enough power to him, a new constitution was enshrined in 1955. This constitution declared Emperor Haile Selassie as a descendant of King Solomon of Israel and Ethiopia’s Queen of Sheba; his primacy was exercised through appointment of officials; control of the armed forces and foreign affairs; and oversight of the judiciary. Parliament was empowered only to approve treaties; the Emperor had the final say: he had an absolute power to dissolve the Parliament.

Executive power was vested in the Emperor. The “Ministers of the Empire” derived their authority from His Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie, the Elect of God, the King of Kings, and the Lion of Judah. This sounds laughable-funny title of a national leader. However, in a country of ignorance, chronic poverty, subjugation, and much more social ills, that type of title was acceptable; and was used as one of the instruments of suppression. That long-funny title was intended to mystify his human nature, some spirit sent from the Heavens. Formation of political parties was out of question. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church was defined as the State’s Church; and its organization and administration were made subject to secular law. The Church retained autonomy only in matters of monastic life and spiritual affairs. But, its influential role as instrument of governance was highly significant. Entitlements to all fertile lands of Ethiopia were given to those who served the Emperor.

Land tenure system the key feature of feudalism: 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: (a) corvée labour (unpaid labour service) required of the peasants imposed on them by the nobility, feudalists, and aristocrats), (b) tribute, (c) rents, (d) cash, and (e) share-cropping. A whole array of political and ideological institutions was necessary to enforce these socially, economically, and politically exploitative relations. Coercion and the structure of the law played the major role. The country 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 was vested with kinship group under the Rist land tenure system,, while the second was called Gult, a special term for an Imperial grant land. The Crown also granted fertile lands to the Monophysite Coptic Church, which was the most effective instrument of silencing the masses.

Sins of cultural assimilation:  Culture is a shared way of life and the most important identity of a given society. Traditional knowledge, history, norms, values, language, faith, customs, folkways, mores (moral/ethical rules), arts and entertainment (theatre, music, dance, literature, movie, and paintings), buildings, architecture, dress, food, and similar specifications define national culture. As a shared way of life, culture is a vehicle for: (a) building social capital, which is the foundation of social cohesion and stability, which usher in genuine sustainable development, (b) environmental quality and sustainability, and (c) resilient communities, and much more benefits that improve human well-being. During the Imperial Era, however, a process of cultural assimilation and dehumanization - deprivation of all requirements for human dignity, self-esteem, and freedom – were institutionalized political norms of the feudal aristocratic rule of Emperor Haile Selassie.

None Amhara nations, nationalities, and peoples were denied their fundamental rights, freedoms, and culture. Let it be clear here, however, that the Amhara masses, the ordinary Amhara people like most of us all, had nothing to do with the evil acts of the Imperial elite class. The ruling class strictly enforced the assimilative process of Amharanization. It used this process as an instrument of subjugation and domination in order to divide and rule Ethiopians. The outcome was that neither an Amhara nor a non-Amhara community benefited from the cruelty of assimilation, dehumanization, exploitation, impoverishment, and pacification strategies of the Imperial Rule. All Ethiopian masses were victims of the shameful-abject poverty, which brought the unceremonious demise of the Emperor.

The Tragic Era of the Marxist-Leninist Military Junta (1974 – 1991)

In 1974, a revolution the Ethiopian working class, teachers, students, and an assortment of the petty bourgeoisie elements, overthrew the aristocratic feudal system of the Emperor. Gone with the Emperor were the archaic feudal land tenure system, the monarchical monopoly of political power, and the nascent national bourgeoisie, which clung tenaciously to the imperial coat tails, with an unusual political myopia to the very end.


To the absolute dismay of the Ethiopian people, however, the national defence forces betrayed the popular revolution. Using its KGB apparatus, the Soviet Union, which was anxiously looking for a foothold in the Horn of Africa to counter balance the sphere of influence of the West, infiltrated the civilian Revolutionary Council and the newly coordinated National Defence Council. The KGB of the Soviet Union helped the soldiers, most of whom illiterate, to take over the political power from the civilian council of internationally and nationally highly regarded intellectuals. Most of the intellectuals who openly opposed involvement of the Soviet Union were executed summarily; some were imprisoned, while others were lucky to flee the country to save their lives. Highly bureaucratised, command and control socio-economic programs were proclaimed. By several military decrees that were full of hysteria and paranoia, a number of social, economic, and institutional changes were made to please the Soviets: land was nationalized; State farms were established; forced resettlements and collectivisation were implemented; peasants were taxed heavily; all private financial institutions (banks) and industries were nationalized; and all private rental houses and apartments were expropriated.

The military junta used a network of strictly controlled institutional arrangements to stay in power at any cost, fighting a devastating civil war. Failure of the misguided policies, the civil war, drought, and famine were the causes of the 1984/85 catastrophe to which the people of this ancient country were subjected. Consequently, the Russian Communism superstructure collapsed on May 20th, 1991, when the democratic forces victoriously captured the capital city, Addis Ababa. What next?

Birth of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (1991–Present)

Twilight of a democratic developmental State flickered on May 20th, 1991 throughout the Ethiopian State’s landscape. Democratic forces that waged a bitter war for 17 years defeated the military junta that ruled Ethiopia since 1974. When they realized that they were on the verge of victory, the democratic forces had formed a united front known as Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF); and were ready with their version of governance system to rule the country. To that end, however, there was a reconciliation and consensus building process: In July 1991, the EPRDF convened a national conference attended by representatives of some 20 political organizations to discuss Ethiopia’s political future and to establish a transitional government.

After winning well-coordinated elections, the EPRDF formed a government. At the outset, it had made it clear that it was determined to make history of its own by transforming the social, economic, and political landscape of the country.  A brand new Ethiopian Constitution was proclaimed in May 1994. The following introductory paragraphs capture the full spirit of that Constitution:

We, the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia:

Strongly committed, in full and free exercise of our right to self-determination, to building a political community founded on the rule of law and capable of ensuring a lasting peace, guaranteeing a democratic order, and advancing our economic and social development;

Firmly convinced that the fulfillment of this objective requires full respect of individual and people's fundamental freedoms and rights to live together on the basis of equality and without any religious or cultural discrimination;

Further convinced that by continuing to live with our rich and proud cultural legacies in territories we have long inhabited, have, through continuous interaction on various levels and forms of life, built up common interests and have also contributed to the emergence of a common outlook;

Fully cognizant that our common destiny can best be served by rectifying historically unjust relationships and by further promoting our shared interests;

Convinced that to live as one economic community is necessary in order to create sustainable and mutually supportive conditions for ensuring respect for our rights and freedoms;

Determined to consolidate, as a lasting legacy, the peace, and the prospect of a democratic order which our struggles and sacrifices have brought about;

Have, therefore, ratified, on 8 December 1994, this constitution through representatives we have duly elected for this purpose as an instrument that binds us in a mutual commitment to fulfill the objectives and the principles set forth above.

After the Constitution’s official proclamation, the EPRDF initiated several strategic directions, including: (i) giving priority to peasant agriculture; (ii) enhancing the quality of the labour force; (iii) supporting hitherto neglected communities, which were identified in the Constitution as nationalities and peoples; (iv) devolution of State power to the Regional States; (vi) attaining self-sufficiency in food; (vii) determining an effective socioeconomic developmental role for the State; (viii) encouraging foreign investment by creating a free market economy and a conducive social, economic, and political climate; (ix) encouraging and supporting State governments to give priority to environmental rehabilitation and rural development; and (x) letting peasant farmers free to make their own economic decisions than had ever been before.

These and similar strategic policy directions created twilight of hope for peace and prosperity. Although not described as such, to the keenly honest observer, a uniquely Ethiopian an adaptive democratic developmental State that fosters learning-by-doing was born. However, the Front defeated itself: a quagmire of absolute corruption overwhelmed it. EPRDF became highly vulnerable to the wishes and actions of the externally funded narrow nationalist extremists and traitors, who targeted Tigrai and Tigraians to their savagery and racist massacres and destruction of properties in the Oromia and Amhara Regional States. Thousands of Tigraians were killed; some were internally displaced; and others were deported. Was there a national government?

Tragedies of Arrogance, Ignorance, and Greed

As pointed out in the introductory paragraph, blind faith in size has tragic consequences. The extremist elements do not seem to be able to predict the hell their actions might take them, because their arrogance, ignorance, and monetary greed have blinded them. These residual human elements do not hesitate to abuse and misuse the meaning of democracy to fulfil their wild ambitions to dominate and subjugate other nations, nationalities, and peoples. They do not understand that true democracy has multiple guiding principles, which include primacy of the rule of law, accountability, transparency, collective decision-making, equality, collective voice (universal suffrage), civil liberties and civil rights, strong nationalism, and obligations to serve the masses.  

In the recent Ethiopian case, however, there is mounting evidence that extremist elements abused and misused the true meaning of democracy. For example, fragility of the EPRDF’s governance apparatus exposed Tigraians to the savagery of the Amhara and Oromo bandits. For example (to save the reader’s time), it was shocking to hear and watch through multiple media outlets that Tigraians, in their own country, being harassed, bitten, and killed in Bahir Dar and Gondar cities. From their hideouts in Asmara, Eritrea, the terrorist organization built underground network of flash-mob hooligans; and unleashed genocidal rampages during the months of July and August 2016 against Tigraians, who lived for generations in their own Motherland, Ethiopia’s Amhara Regional State. For the mere fact that they were Tigraians, hundreds were mobbed and massacred; their properties were ransacked and torched; and more than 8,000 of them, including mothers and their children, were forced to escape to neighboring North Sudan. Although smaller in magnitude, Tigraians were subjected to similar atrocities in the Oromia Regional State also.

The Federal and the Amhara and Oromia Regional governments failed to protect citizens, the Tigraians. Why? Big question: history will tell. In any case, the people of Tigrai’s patience, farsightedness, and perseverance were and are admirable, deserving the highest national medal. They did not rise up in anger instantaneously to retaliate, although they were capable of doing just that. Their history teaches us that they know very well when to hit back hard to score decisive victories; and when not to do so.

The people of Tigrai understood very well that the above highlighted tragedies in the Amhara and Oromo regions were provocations of the extremists who wished for a nationwide social upheaval and eventual downfall of the current government. They failed miserably, thanks to the Tigraian culture of bravery, farsightedness, and cool headedness. As they say, taking high moral ground pays-off more than retaliatory immediate reactions like the cowards. Thus, Tigraian patriotism remains intact; Ethiopia is in peace; and the wishes of all Ethiopia’s enemies, such as Ginbot-7, Shaébia, and some of the Arab countries –particularly Egypt’s – were dashed. By the way, the Egyptians need to be reminded to re-read and learn lessons from the humiliating defeats their ancestors were subjected to at the battlefields of Gundet, Guraé, Senhit, and Aylet in the hands of Raési Alula Aba-Nega, the only African general who scored this type of series of victories in one region, Eritrea.


In closing, self-serving chauvinist elements of the Amhara and Oromo ethnicity, who have become messengers of Ethiopia’s enemies, will never succeed in blocking Ethiopia’s pathways to a complete renaissance under the modern federal democratic republic governance system. This is a unique governance model, which uniquely fits well to Ethiopia’s geographic, sociocultural, history, economic, and political features. It has started to respond to the wishes of all Ethiopians. It is worth fighting for its sustainability!

The only best pathways to prosperity:

Believing in unity in diversity

Living in peace and harmony


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