Ethiopia under TPLF does not resemble a unified country with a national purpose. The national unity and pride that Ethiopia once enjoyed, especially under Emperor Haile Selassie, have disappeared. Ethiopia has finally become a collection of isolated and vulnerable ethnic enclaves that are fighting among themselves over land. The fears we all claimed are playing out now.
Looking back to history, Ethiopia was a loose federation of regional kingdoms within a dynastic empire. These regions had vied among themselves to control the State and appropriate the economic surplus. The most successful region was Shawa, which led Ethiopia’s development in the modern world.
Since the early 18th century, Shawa had been able to make a considerable progress, expanding its frontiers under a series of kings. There were two major factors that contributed to the remarkable success of Shawa.
First, Shawa was able to focus on its own development for a long period of time. This was possible because Shawa, cut off by Wello, stayed away from the internecine rivalry that consumed the north during the Era of the Princes, especially.
Second, Shawa was a natural strong-point for access to the rich Sidama/Oromo regions and lucrative trade routes. Consequently, Shawa was able to amass wealth and military might, linking the north with the south through its prosperous Addis Ababa market.
Hence, except for few interruptions, Ethiopia saw a long period of unprecedented unity and prosperity under Shawa. Western education was introduced for the first time, the bureaucracy was modernized and infrastructure was built. Foreign trade and investment were promoted.
However, there were important measures that Shawa did not undertake. Primarily, Shawa failed to free land and the peasantry and to democratize the State. There were major errors made too.
For instance, annexing Eritrea unnecessarily, Shawa spread itself thin. Consequently, it squandered its wealth and awesome military, fighting rebels in Eritrea and Tigre for thirty years. In the end, Eritrea broke away and Tigre controlled the State in Addis Ababa.
What does Tigre’s control mean for Ethiopia’s progress? First, Tigre, unlike Shawa, is a poor region, located farther north, lacking close ethnic and cultural ties with the south. Therefore, its rise to state power was purely a result of military victory.
Still, instead of building on the achievements of Shawa, Tigre turned the clock back. It divided the country ethnically in its own image, thereby planting the seeds of its own demise. For instance, today, TPLF officials and their associates are no longer welcome in “Oromia;” and consequently, they are compelled to rule the entire country by a Martial Law.
Oromia was carved out arbitrarily by TPLF and Oromo nationalists, negating the historical Oromo regions of Arsi, Bale, Wellaga and Illubabor. Oromia is now claiming Addis Ababa as its capital, renaming it Finfine, and as a result threatening the existence of Ethiopia.
On the other hand, tens of millions of multiethnic Ethiopians have been denied equal citizenship in their own country. They are now fighting back for their democratic rights, rallying behind the original flag of Ethiopia, and thereby sending the Tigrean rulers and their associates a strong message.
For instance, it is not unusual to see in Addis Ababa and rural towns, a taxi or truck displaying openly a decal of the original flag of Ethiopia. Some stores in Addis Ababa carry Emperor Haile Selassie’s pictures and copies of His book, “My Life and Ethiopia’s Progress.” From Addis Ababa to Gondar, protestors against TPLF rule are rallying behind the original flag of Ethiopia.
Among all the protests, The Gondar Resistance poses a major threat to the rulers in Addis Ababa. Gondar may not be suppressed easily. First, the people of Gondar are united by a common culture and national hero. They are fiercely independent and proud people.
Second, Gondar had been the seat of Ethiopia for a long period of time in the past. Consequently, patriotism is deeply rooted there. In addition, Gondar could form an alliance with Gojam, Wello and Shawa, to counter effectively Tigre’s dominance.
Such an alliance, if successful, could give the rulers in Addis Ababa an incentive to return Ethiopia to its source, abiding by the traditional boundaries and democratic rights of all the historical regions of the country. Then there will be a new Ethiopia of equal citizens with freedom for development of all individuals, groups and interests.
*Emeritus Professor of Economics.