Politics Of Lamentation In Ethiopia: Ethnic Elite’s Politics For Resources And Land Through Power Grab – Analysis


Overview of Ethiopian Politics 

Africans have always complained that their resources are looted by colonial powers (in the past), neo-liberal businesses, and domestic embezzlers, among others. In Ethiopia, both history and current affairs inform us that political resentments and politics of lamentation have its root and causation in resource grabs and recourse embezzlement. Ethiopia still proclaims under its constitution that land and other natural resource belong to the state. (1) The state commands the biggest resources in the country and incumbent political elites are the riches of the society. 

Both history and current affairs dictate that those who made it to state power live a comfortable life thereby making competition to assent to power the deadliest route. Before the 17th century, Ethiopia was a noticeable empire. (2) Ethiopia declined and eventually disintegrated after a wave of attacks from the Adal Muslims and shortly after from the Oromo expansionists. In the 17th century, the empire could not hold together the massive land (and attendant benefits) it once administered stretching from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean reaching the present-day Berbera in Hargeisa. (3) As the empire collapsed, a new force came from the southern part of present-day Ethiopia in the form of expansion,  various indigenous people in the south of the empire were either annihilated or engulfed by the expanding Oromo forces. (4)

After the collapse of the empire, the era of the prince (5) ensued which stayed till the middle of the 19th century. The princes were keen on dominating the land, other resources, and the people, and on constant war for more. Later, in the middle of the 19th century, a self-assumed and self-nominated rebel took it upon himself to bring back the glory of the past empire known by the name Kasa, later crowned King of kings Tewdoros II. (6) He tried to change the situation and restore the empire albeit unsuccessful. But his spirit and embodiment of the empire were engraved in the heart and mind of the child he snatched from the Shewan nobility and brought him up. The child grew up to be later known as the famous king of kings Menelik II. (7) Deep in the cover of restoring the empire was resource grab and enjoying absolute command of it. South-center of Ethiopia is not only rich in land and other natural resource but also fragmented society to mount a resistance of meaningful scale. 

Shewa was destined to restore the empire as it was well positioned in terms of location, resources, and people diversity to bring back the lost empire. All factions and groups purporting to self-administer from the north, south, west, and east fought hard not to be subjugated to the central power. Menelik II fought hard by conscripting soldiers mainly from the melting-pot Shewa including the Amharas, the Oromos, Garages, Hadiyas, etc. Indeed, Shewa (8) was beyond ethnic cleavage and a society that could aptly name the melting pot. Indeed, landless youth from the north flocked to Shewa to serve as a soldier and thereby have access to ‘abundant’ resources in the center-south of present-day Ethiopia. By then, the Oromos once a reckonable expanding force have taken major parts of the center-southern part of present-day Ethiopia and are by now native settlers adopting agriculture as the mainstay of life and Abrahamic faiths.

After the inception of Addis Ababa, Shewa became the center of attention and people flocked from all directions and walks of life to the city, mainly to be a soldier and entourage of the royalties. Business flourished in the city, the first modern African city founded by Africans.   Women flocked to the city to do catering, and other services, as wives and to improve their life. The city started as a garrison city and soon transformed itself into the capital of the newly restored empire to its past glory by the king of kings Menelik II. 

Warlords and traditional rulers from Gojam, Wello, Arsi, Welayita, Harara, and many more fought hard to stop the restoration of the empire (or nation-building) and attendant resource grab. However, the diverse, well-trained and logistically well-equipped soldiers of the emperor could not be stopped. Coupled with the wisest administration of the king, success was granted. (9) The expansion of Menelik II could only be checked at the peripheries by colonial British from the far south, French from the east, and Italian from the far north of Ethiopia. Menelik II complacent about his achievement and under the weight of old age as well, could not push further as he would have loved. His plan of inclusion was present-day Somalia, southern Sudan, etc. 

Henceforth, the modern restoration of the old empire became quite contentious among the present-day elites. The politics of lamentation (10) is born largely with the inception and expansion of modern education in Ethiopia and the decolonization movement of Africa. At the core of Ethiopian politics is also resource decolonization, which takes the form of self-administration or federalism. Many African students in then Hailessilase University gave the idea of ethnic subjugation which their Ethiopian counterparts transplanted to the local context. (11) Some equated despotic and feudalistic internal administration, exploitations, and maladministration to the colonial level. Others claim, what else could have been expected from a feudal empire than land-based resource grab, subjugation, and administration based on an agriculture-based economy? How different was the administration of the warlords and customary rules of different parts of Ethiopia before Menelik II? Wasn’t it the same?

As the empire went on, questions came to the forefront in the 1950/60s student movement. The question of class-based subjugation and land-based exploitation. And the question of ethnic subjugation, ethnic-based cultural domination, the claim of denial to use one’s language, self-administration, and religion as well. The two interdependent questions were half-cooked and subjected the nation to extreme measures resulting in land ownership of the state and ethnic federalism respectively. But, the lamentation did not stop yet. 

Be that as it may, constructing the internal issues of exploitation and cultural imperialism and equating them to colonial rule was far taken. The ethnolinguistic group lamentation is being used for political mobilization. In each corner of Ethiopia, the subjugation, exploitation, and domination by the north and Shewan’s nobilities were not only exaggerated but equated to colonial rule comparable to the British and French. But, the empire defended Ethiopia and its people from colonial rule preserving the plurality of its culture and religion. The empire also preserved the dignity of the people from colonial degrading treatment and humiliation, at times ethnic extermination. (12)

Ethiopia did not suffer colonial rule. It still speaks its indigenous languages, enjoys its multiple cultures, enjoys its specific African percepts, and above all, it stood unique in Africa by not being colonized. Besides, Ethiopia is still an icon of black freedom (13) and the embryo of Africa’s independent movement. These were all because of the empire and its ability to bring people together to fight and ward off colonial rules. Ironically, we are fighting today over our plurality and being unable to properly manage it. The politics of ethnic lamentation is self-denial which curses its past and takes its forefather who fought hard and preserved their language and culture for the enemy. 

Ethiopia’s history and its use of propaganda 

Ethiopia is one nation where political conservativeness and elites divide are extreme. Ethiopians are also often called a ‘divided society’ (14) just judging by a plurality of cultures, religions, and languages. More particularly, a divided society is a society where a certain identity such as ethnicity, religion, or culture has political saliency. However, the divide is more on the side of the elite than the societal. Ethiopia’s society is more integrated in terms of intermarriage, livelihood, religion, culture, language, and urban life than any society in Africa. Ethiopia is also the oldest nation in Africa and as such a long-lasting intermingled society. The politics of lamentation work on factors that are dividers than connectors. There are more connecting factors in Ethiopia than dividing factors. 

The connecting factors can be analyzed from different arrays. For instance, connecting factors come from the cultural similarity (food, cloth, house construction, farming method, lingua franca, etc.) and similar physical features of most of the people in Ethiopia. Be that as it may, elites divide along with fictitious rhetoric, historic facts, myths, and ill-conceived and miss-calculated political benefits often forged into captivating propaganda. The elite divide is massive and unparallel to any other nation in Africa. The politics of lamentation is the arch-foe of Ethiopia. The divide is championed and spearheaded by elites from the far North and Center-south of Ethiopia.  And, their theory of deconstructing Ethiopia and the other opposing side is a prisoner of counter narrations along with the theory of nation-building. (15)

Of all the areas and communities of Ethiopia, three localities are massive sources of hardliners, deconstructionists, (16) and liberation movement leaders. These are Eritrea, Tigray, and Welega. The communities in these regions are highly mobilized along with grievances against the central government of different eras and against the nation called Ethiopia. The narration of the grievances is not only taken for grant but built on historic events, facts, and myths fashioned into captivating propaganda. Poverty is singled out and blamed on central power resource grab. Every social vice is explained along with the political mobilization and used for the same end. The lamentation runs not only in literature but also in music and oral folklore. Accordingly, these three areas are also sources and embodiments of the most impactful liberation fronts: these are, EPLF, (17) TPLF, (18) and OLF (19) respectively.

Based on the lamentations which include historic facts and myths fashioned into captivating propaganda, liberation movements had been established and bitter wars were fought. Eritrea had already won the struggle for freedom and was ceded away in 1993. However, the remaining two are not that clear on their demands. TPLF is veering its eyes on dominating the entire nation and fashioning it after its desire. The Tigray elite’s competition and preoccupation are focused on and are with the Amhara elites and the orthodox church. The Welega-led movement (claiming to include the entire Oromo people in the name of OLF) is more along the Eritrean route. 

Indeed, TPLF after being ousted from power in 2018 is also back to guerrilla fighting and this time around fighting for independence, at least it is so claimed. OLF is currently way fragmented and a faction of it is engaged in an insurgency for independence. EPLF on the other hand is in an unholy marriage with the Ethiopian government. It has become one of the most formidable allies of the premier Abiy Ahmed Ali regime. It has also played a critical role in bringing the total ousting from the power of TPLF. But, the relationship is not based on agreed legal principles and overt political dialogue. The showdown is inevitable when serious talks about the future relationship begin. The signs of deteriorating relations are already visible.  No liberation movement can settle for politics of compromise. 

Therefore, the idea of this thesis is to figure out the sources and extent of politics of lamentation in Ethiopia and to suggest ways forward toward more inclusive politics. The question is why and what can be done to stop the age-old political mobilization along the line of victimhood. Or should it be stopped? Can autonomy of some kind solve the problem without disintegrating the nation?

Politics of Lamentation:  facts and myths on resource grabs 

Eretria: Colonial thesis

Eretria came with the colonial thesis claiming that colonial history has forged different societies and interests in Eretria.  The reversal of its federal arrangement in 1952 (20) sparked a liberation movement and served as a massive source of lamentation. The UN-brokered federal arrangement had been reversed by Hailesillasie Regime which fueled the indignation and political mobilization depicting Ethiopia as a new colonizer worse than Italy. Itlay colonized that section of Ethiopia for more than six decades. EPLF formed a guerrilla group that fought hard for about three decades and managed to topple the regime in Addis Ababa in 1991. Eritrea was ceded from Ethiopia via the active facilitation of the then-incumbent TPLF-led government after a couple of years. 

Eretria’s hard-won independence didn’t pay off. What did they ultimately benefit from the independence? One glaring triumph sarcastically is managing to install a dedicator comparable to North Korea. The second achievement was waging the fiercest war the region has ever witnessed with Ethiopia. Third, is the wave of migration, constant military conscription of the youth, and sheer poverty. Eretria was one of the most economically vibrant and modernized areas of Ethiopia before the war of independence at the time of the imperial regime and even colonial times. Eritreans used to dominate the business in Ethiopia and even the intelligentsia. 

What could have been solved by restoring the federal arrangement, they went for separation. The ceding away as it was a curse for Ethiopia did not come as a blessing as forecasted and as per the propaganda. Ethiopia lost its sizable area, people, and worst of all access to the sea. Eritreans lost their bigger market, investment, and massive benefit from their ports not to say disbanding Ethiopia’s big family. The situation was mutually debilitating. Both Eritrea and Ethiopia are languishing under poverty and recurring conflict. 

Tigray: Restoring the lost hegemony

Tigray and the tegarus claim that they lost their political domination via the Amhara elites and want not only to avenge but also reclaim their rightful places. TPLF was the dominant force in the guerrilla struggle that built on Shabia’s struggle for independence. The existing EPLF forces fighting the imperial regime (21) then joined forces with the newcomer in the field in 1975/76 and continued the resistance against the heirs of the imperial regime. This time a communist-oriented dead sure unionist government called Derg.  And, the joint EPLF/TPLF front struggle took a little over 17 years to topple the military regime in Ethiopia with the help of the West. Once they won the war and made their way to the throne, the EPLF domination was not welcome by TPLF. TPLF came out to be the boss of all ethno-separatists groups and made them subservient.

The thesis of the TPLF liberation movement was that Tigray is marginalized not only by central power but also from its hard-earned history and was overshadowed by the Amhara elite who fashioned the state after their culture and interest. This according to the TPLF happened after the death of Yohanis IV and the enthronement of Menelik II. Their goal was to break the Amhara elite once and for all, and if this is unattainable to disintegrate the nation. Unfortunately, their death came at the hand of Premier Abiy who is primarily from the Oromo ethnic group thought to rather an ally. 

Welega (Oromo): Cultural and religious domination 

Welega on the other hand comes from the angle of cultural and religious domination via the protestant movement and builds its lamentation along with political and economic marginalization and speaks for the entire Oromo people.  The claim rounds that Oromo is the marginalized highland and the invisible present. Again, the claim begins with the enthronement of Menelik II and its way of administration. The use of the Amharic language, Orthodox religion, and resource grabs have been mottled as proof of the Amhara culture’s dominance and marginalization of the Oromo people.

Although dotted with historical facts, the narration and counter narration is quite aggressive. Some groups, often dubbed unionists, claim that Oromos played a central role in the unification and nation-building effort of King Menelik II. (22) While the secessionist camp (23) chose to believe that Menelik is nothing but a brute ‘colonizer’ of the Oromo people. Given the feudal character of the imperial regime and resource-focused administration, the secessionist camp capitalizes on exploitation and identity-based subjugation. The unionist camp also lists, in counter narration, names of Oromo giants in the history of the nation-building and formation of modern Ethiopia. The unionist camp capitalizes on the fact that in the nation-building and engulfing of the center-south of Ethiopia to the core north of Ethiopia, people in the center-south also played an active role in restoring lost empires of the golden age of the nation underlining common heritages and empire. 

Yet again, the separatists claim that Ethiopians had no common history and heritage and go to the extent that Oromos and others southern people were independent nations. Some even claim that they had their kingdom and even empires. (24) There are many ethnic groups in Ethiopia enjoying distinct characteristics. However, there is also a glaring common thread suggesting common history and social fabrics.

Nation Building: how did Ethiopia come about?

How modern Ethiopia is put together is not only controversial but also affects the political scene of today. Ethiopia was unified via the barrel of guns and of course, most of the countries in the world were the result of war. One cannot name a nation that was created via negotiation and roundtable talks at least in the past. Great empires were born of war and died of war. The USA is a result of a fierce war between federalists and separatists. Germany, Italy, Spain, England, etc. were shaped and forged by war. Lamenting about past wars for inclusion or separation is vanity. Ethiopia was also born of fierce war.

In Ethiopia, given the colonial and domination theses, there is also an antithesis that has been serving as an elite divide over the future of the nation. On the camp of the unionist, it reiterated that the effort of nation-building cannot be given to a single ethnic group or any part of the nation. Although it might vary in intensity and level, all [ethnic] groups in Ethiopia had contributed and affixed their signature to the nation-building effort of Ethiopia. The role of the Tigray and Oromo (Shewa Oromo) cannot be underplayed or underrated. 

Referring to the era of princes where Ethiopia was fragmented, the imperial regime’s campaign (from Towdros II on) was about going back to the glory of the past. Eventually, Menelik’s expansion culminated in the formation of present-day Ethiopia in terms of its size and shape. In the deconstructionist camp, the narration diverges from a colonial thesis to resorting to the past glory of their specific community. The divide of the elites began here and went to extreme views in the 1960/the 1970s in the form of ethnic-based movements and national unionist movements. 

The lamentation of the ethnic-based movement and fixation on deconstructing Ethiopia is taken to the helm by groups like TPLF and OLF. EPLF on the other hand focused its struggle for independence on the account of a colonial thesis based on its previous history of the colony and UN-brokered federation. The federation was reversed by the last imperial regime which triggered a war of independence akin to the rest of Africa. 

Politics of lamentation: Thesis, antithesis, and synthesis 

Hegelian dialectic method of historical and philosophical progress that postulates (1) a beginning proposition called a thesis, (2) a negation of that thesis called the antithesis, and (3) a synthesis whereby the two conflicting ideas are reconciled to form a new proposition. The colonial and domination thesis on the one hand and, the joint national building antithesis on the other hand are at war in Ethiopia. Finding the synthesis is a battle up the hill. Perhaps the solution can come from the synthesis. The politics of compromise is the synthesis in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia needs to work hard on bringing to the table all these, anti-theses and find a workable and negotiated synthesis. It is agonizing that the dead are living on in the living politics and affecting our common destiny. We can learn from history but dwelling in it too much is robbing us [the living] of our present capabilities and future potentials. (25) We should pause, and reach negotiated solutions. 

Political mobilization: taken too far and dogmatized 

The political mobilization of people in Eretria, Tigray, and Welega (expanding to the rest of Oromia by the day) started almost at the beginning of the 20th century and got stronger in the mid of the 20th century. The Eritrean side was born of colonial dynamism. Why are we not defended while the rest of Ethiopia was protected? We must be different. We chose to be different. 

In welega again the colonial forces using cultural and religious differences injected Protestantism along with the idea of the Oromo subjugation and marginalization rhetoric. Based on the feudal regime’s general character and agriculture-based economy, finding the true causes of exploitation was not difficult. Yet again, the exploitation is singled out from the general context (in time and space) and was capitalized in the form of ethnolinguistic politics. The aliens used it to spread their religion to pave a way for colonial powers thereby also effectively tackling resistance from the dominant church by then. 

In Tigray again, the agitation started upon the death of Yohanis IV and the ensuing power struggle. As power gravitated to the south, Tigray started lamenting and the lamination took at a later time ethnic dimension. TPLF took it to the climax blaming every misfortune of the Tigrayans on the Amhara elites by extension Amhara people. It also worked hard that other ethnic groups in Ethiopia should also advance the same reading and lamentation. (26) The center of attention and points of negative rallying was the Amharic language (lingua franca) and the orthodox church. Ironically, close to 100% of Tigrayan are followers of the orthodox church. 

The result of the reading of history in the eyes of political goals and power struggles is damaging. In furtherance of their causes, the liberation movement stressed deconstructing Ethiopia. The political mobilization is so stiff, persistent, and tougher by generation, that it is almost taken the strength of religious dogma. Every narration and propaganda was taken for grant. Names and colors were identified to form Tigray or Oromo psychics. Counter narration to the rally points of the political mobilization has been tried, at times involving brute force but the result was not satisfactory.

Again, after the assumption of power by the deconstructionists, the true equality of ethnic groups is far from being realized. The counter move of the unionists is growing by the day and depicting anything ethnic as destructive and treachery. 

More autonomy, self-rule, and property rights for the mass: the future road 

Near-complete autonomy for the troubled areas and working on economic and cultural prosperity angle is a clear path. Slowly but steadily working on counter narration in curriculum targeting the new generation toward the importance of the nation and national feelings is key. Believing that nation-building is a work in progress matters. The past generation might bring us to a certain level but making a strong and prosperous and cohesive nation requires intergenerational effort. Less emphasis on history that divides and more emphasis on history that connects people should be given by the government of now and the future incumbent. One way to diffuse the politics of lamentation, identity-based agitation, and group mob mentality is a property rights regime. It is essential to make the individual the center of politics and the unit of resource ownership. 

Ethiopia needs to redefine its system of land and natural resources (NRs) philosophy and administration. Land and other NRs are key factors for development and social cohesion. It is also key to defusing group agitation and mob. The resources of the nation need to be used to concertize human dignity and further can be used towards respect for and ensuring fundamental rights and freedoms.  Rights without economic strength are just a paper tiger both for the individual and groups. As such the individual cannot be agitated by destructive mob politics for one simple reason, property owners require a rule of law and security. 

Human dignity is inviolable. (27) And, the amendment endeavored in the FDRE constitution should capitalize on the inviolability of human dignity. Yet again, the inviolability of human dignity is also a vanity without instruments that enable it to fight poverty and other disempowerments. Freedom from want is the core aspect of the inviolability of human dignity. At the core of group-based mob and politics of lamentation is a resource grab. The individual would be enslaved where resources are grabbed by either the state or ethno-warlords. 

In the context of Ethiopia, respect for, realization, and implementation of fundamental rights and liberties of individuals and groups depend to a larger degree on individuals’ and groups’ capability to fulfill these rights on their own. The effective and efficient use of land and other NRs in this respect is pivotal. Where individual and neatly defined groups (community) own property, they make sure that peace is lasting, and ensuring security is the ultimate purpose of the state.

Most fundamental rights and liberties depend on material resources for their implementation and realization. What is the practical meaning of rights to life, liberty, health, work, education, shelter, etc. without the means to fulfill these rights either on your own or with the help of a state system where for good cause as an individual, you fail? The track record of many nations in the world confirms that nations with strong propertyrights protection systems fare well in human rights projects and implementing MDGs and now SDGs.

Indeed, the foundation for broad-based property creation and protection depends on the effective and sustainable utilization of land and other natural resources. The land is basic in the realization of a host of fundamental rights and liberties. Access to land (28) and respect for property rights thereto enables individuals and groups to command resources and this fact is instrumental in taking their rights seriously. The individual is primally responsible for his or her protection and fulfillment of rights. The government is needed to create enabling conditions in terms of providing security, capacity building, property rights protection, etc. 

The philosophy of a nation on property rights in land and other natural resources defines its human rights project and sustainable development goals. (29) In Ethiopia, property rights to land are not only shaky but also land is an instrument of domination, social division, political manipulation, and targeting. (30) The politics of lamentation and its fixation on subjugation is to switch places, the new elites do not essentially curse exploitation and corruption. The elites focus on the identity of the corrupt and the state. If the corrupt and the state machinery are on their side, it is alright.

Indeed, the administration of land rights in Ethiopia has recently become a factor for violence, massive conflict, and massive eviction throughout. The FDRE constitution not only declares that land belongs to the people and the government, but also stresses that the ownership belongs to the nation, nationalities, and peoples (NNPS) of Ethiopia. NNPs of Ethiopia are grouped with defined identities (31) based on which regional and sub-regional administrations are designed. (32) The ethnic elites are enjoying para-state and modern landlordism. 

Regional governments have been granted the right to administer land (33) which means they define access often based on the identity of the people. Ethnic federalism is rooted in the land regimes of the nation. The ‘native vs. settler’ (34) dichotomy resulted in massive conflict and a massive number of IDPs in Ethiopia. Ethiopia needs to change its course. (35) The new landlords are creating a crisis and profiting from it. The solution comes from the property rights of people and the community.

Ethiopia requires a multi-tenure land regime and an effective land administration system. Land in Ethiopia needs to belong to the individual, indigenous society, (36) and the public. Indeed, the individual, society, and public must be distinctly identified, registered, and subject to rights and duties concerning owning or holding land and other NRs.

In clear parlance, land can be owned privately, communally, and publicly (via the government). However, in all three models of ownership, the land market needs to be active either in selling, renting, leasing, or other models of a transaction as appropriate.  Private property in land can be designed where the land value is so high, and its economic contribution is huge, for example, in urban land and its surroundings, in cash crop areas, and even in irrigable lands.

Communal land (37) is where a ‘distinct’ community enjoys existing traditional land administration institutions and rules, and aspires to keep itself as such, wishes not to be disturbed by central state politics and power allocations. Yet again, the land rental market can easily be kindled here too. Communal land needs to be registered in the name of the community and be certified as such. The community must enjoy legal personality to transact with its land in rent or other systems of the land market. Besides, common land (38) in highland Ethiopia, in urban settings, and other areas needs to be registered and certified in the name of the community or their representatives. 

Public land (39) is where the previous two fails to cover, the state can hold land on behalf of the people of Ethiopia but continually withdraws itself as the situation warrant the change of ownership either to private or community. 

Alternatively, the high-land farming community can also continue with use rights but is limited by time and open to market principles. For example, an individual holding can be extended for 30 years of use rights which can be transferred in any way possible. However, the administration of property rights on the land needs to be supported with a proper land market system and taxation rules.

In Ethiopia, Land and other NRs need to be an instrument of development, and social cohesion, and a key factor in meeting SDGs. The Bottomline, poverty is the antithesis of both human rights and sustainable development. The FDRE constitution concerning land and other NRs provision needs to be amended in a way that enables human rights projects and adds to the capability of individuals and groups to fulfill their rights and define their destiny. 

Conclusion and recommendation

The politics of lamentation in Ethiopia is rooted in resource grabs and past episodes. The current elites, from all indications, enjoy being the new landlords in the name of the state. Corruption and state grab are not essentially abhorred but the identity of the power wielder matters. Ethiopia is a divided society because the elites come from troubled sections of the country. Indeed, Ethiopia has synthesis in the middle part of it, especially in Shewa where most of the people reside. Land and other NRs governance in Ethiopia is a serious challenge. Politicizing land is the preoccupation of both governments and ethno-activists of the nation. Suitable land governance and property rights have never been sanctioned in Ethiopia towards forging robust tenures, functioning land administration systems, formalization, and property rights.  It is high time for the nation to rethink its land and NR policy in the framework of multiple land tenure systems, robust property rights, and enabling a market system that aids the installation of a good resource governance system.  The constitutional policy reconsideration must also consult environmental sustainability, the UN, and African Union Framework.

State impunity is emblematic of the Ethiopian government. Impunity is best described in the manner the government is constituted. The only real power is accumulated in the hands of the executive (few ethnic elites) who run it whimsically. This is leading the nation down the path of a slippery slope to chaos or disruption of peace and tranquility. People complain and resent corrupt practices and manifestations of such practices in their daily lives. The county’s 60% of the 120 million people are under the age of 24 and are largely unemployed. Factors plaguing the nations are unemployment of youths, discriminatory job opportunities, absence of clear marks between political parties and the government, undermining the private economic sector, corruption, usurping government jobs for ethnic-party goals, and abuses & absence of rule of law. These are factors that are being exploited for political mobilization and politics of lamentation spiraling to conflict and war. The government is well advised to change and reform. The power circles must be able to see beyond factionalism, ethnicity, and short-lived political gains. The following needs to be taken seriously:

Ethiopia needs to encourage multiparty politics and allow different voices in the parliament so that the policies and laws will be deliberated upon well before it is enacted. The upper house (HF) needs to be given law-making power thereby bringing about a bicameral law-making process and abating the party influence in the lower house. The judiciary needs to be independent and must also be an independent body via its ruling which uphold rights than deny them the same. Besides, institutions of rule of law need to come out strong and be truly independent to ensure good governance and accountable government. The press must also be encouraged than being stifled to bring about good governance. Above all institutions of rule of law, property rights, and transparency must be strengthened and professionalized against politicization and manipulation.

About the author:

Endnotes: Daniel Behailu (Ph.D.) is a land governance policy advisor and associate professor of law

  1.  Article 40 of the FDRE Constitution, 1995.
  2.  Richard Pankhurst (1979) Ethiopian Medieval and Post-Medieval Capitals: Their Development and Principal Features, Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa, 14:1, 1-19. 
  3.  Richard Pankhurst, Ibid
  4.  Donald N. Levine, (200). Greater Ethiopia The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society (Second Edition, The University of Chicago Press)
  5.  Mordechai Abir. London: Longmans, (1968). Ethiopia: The Era of the Princes. The Challenge of Islam and the Re-Unification of the Christian Empire, 1769–1855. (Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 January 2012)
  6.  Tareke, Gebru & Zewde, Bahru & Pool, David. (2002). A History of Modern Ethiopia 1855-1991. The International Journal of African Historical Studies. 35. 587. 
  7.  Paulos Gnogno, (1959). The history of King Menelik II (Amharic version) 
  8.  Alain Gascon, (2009) Shäwa, Ethiopia’s Prussia. Its Expansion, Disappearance and Partition, Edited by Svein Ege, and other, Proceedings of the 16th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies Volume 1.
  9.  See correspondences and the content of the letters in the book by Paulos Gnogno, (2003). ‘5000 letters of Menelik II, Published by Aster Nega. 
  10.  For a phycological explanation of politics of lamentation refer to, Wasson S. (2010) Afterword: The Politics of Lamentation. In: Urban Gothic of the Second World War. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230274891_7
  11.  Bahru Zewde (2017) The Quest for Socialist Utopia: The Ethiopian Student Movement, c. 1960-1974. (Easter African serious)
  12.   Read the book by Dean W. Arnold, (2019), Unknown empire, Dean wrote Duce Mussolini once vowed to free Ethiopia of its people in a popular address to residents of the Rome city and illegal poisonous gases and mass extermination was part of the strategy. 
  13.  The victory of Adowa was the first victory of blacks over whites in a conventional battle which was in 1896.
  14.  Semir Yusuf (2020) Constitutional design options for Ethiopia: managing ethnic divisions, (institute for security studies).
  15.  Semir Yusus, Ibid
  16.  These are a group of elites who object to the reading of the history of the nation and attribute it to the Amhara community. They claim that Ethiopian people of diverse background have no common and shared history. 
  17.  The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) was an armed organization that fought for the independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia. The EPLF was created in 1970 following a split from the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), another organization fighting for Eritrea’s independence.
  18.  Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was established in1975 and became a guerrilla army, launched a successful rebellion, and eventually ruled Ethiopia forming a loose coalition called EPRDF from 1991-to 2018.
  19.   OLF (Oromo liberation front) was established in 1973 to promote Oromo “self-determination” or independence. 
  20.   Biziouras, Nikolaos (2013). “The Genesis of the Modern Eritrean Struggle (1942–1961)”. The Journal of the Middle East and Africa
  21.  The communist Derg regime, which ruled from 1974 to 1991, nationalized all means of production, including land, housing, farms, and industry.
  22.  Ras Gobena Dache is one among the giants of history and was also war minister of the King, others in likes of Balcha Aba-safo, Habtegiorisis Dinegde could be mentioned as well. 
  23.  The secessionist camp is led by OLF, and its elite sympathizers.
  24.  The Hadiya, Wolayita, Dawaro etc. were kingdoms. 
  25. Abiy Ahmed, (2019) መደመር (Medemer) (Amharic Edition)
  26.  Sarah Vaughan, (2003). Ethnicity and Power in Ethiopia, Ph.D. thesis at the university Edinburgh 
  27.  Poverty primarily violates human dignity. Poverty is rooted in Ethiopia via a denial of property rights on the land. Core literature here is Hernando De Seto’s book entitled ‘mystery of capital’, and Amartya Sen’s book on, ‘freedom as development’. Besides, Desalegn Ramato’s publication on ‘land and the state’ in Ethiopia informs one how poverty is rooted artificial among Ethiopian people. Freedom from want is the key issue here.
  28.  Given the present situation of Ethiopia, the youth is ever excluded from accessing land for two reasons, demographic pressure and prohibition of land redistribution owing to land fragmentation which is fast becoming rural crisis. 
  29.  SDGs are implemented via NDCs, and Ethiopia needs to show how it can contribute nationally via its land regime.
  30.  The cumulative reading of the preamble, article 8, 39, 40, 47, 51, and 52 of the FDRE constitution informs one to what extent the land issues are designed for conflict and power monopoly than an instrument of development and social cohesion. 
  31.  Article 39(5) of the FDRE constitution. 
  32.  Hence, the recent eviction and massive conflict based on the cliché ‘natives vs. settlers’ dichotomy among citizens of the same nation. 
  33.  FAO defines land administration as ‘the process of determining, recording and disseminating information about ownership, value and use of land and its associated resources.’
  34.  The meaning and general context of Indigenous society as understood (via AU and UN instruments) are quite different to the native’s construction of Amhara, Tigire, Oromo etc. via the FDRE constitution under article 39. 
  35.  Indeed the ‘land to the tiller’ revolution was based on an equity thesis which no more is serving its original purpose owing to demographic change, climate issues, and development demands of the nation.
  36.  Indigenous societies are society with a distinct culture and with manifest less interest in the central political power game, for example the Borena. Guji, somali, afar, tribes in south Omo ,Gambella, BG, and etc. 
  37.  Yet again, there are communal lands in the farming highland community of Ethiopia, and even in the urban settings.
  38.  Common land could be land for grave yards, parks, community land among farming community, etc.
  39.  Public land is normally a chunk of land owned and administered by the state, for example, forest land, ecologically sensitive and tourism nodes, wetlands, mountains, etc., where held in the name of the community either have risk or that there is no distinct community. 

One thought on “Politics Of Lamentation In Ethiopia: Ethnic Elite’s Politics For Resources And Land Through Power Grab – Analysis

  • November 29, 2022 at 10:32 am

    I am thankful to your text in which I can have a quick revision of who who were, who we are and the way forward to improve the politics of Ethiopia. Politics of lamentation particularly when it comes to deconstructing our country is demotivating. It is the intelligentsia who is stirring this agenda and putting us all at risk. In Ethiopia as you have clearly put the then elites i.e. 1950’s and 60’s planted sense of ‘we are marginalized, we are under presented, we are second citizen in our lands….’. After some generations, look the youth we are having here and there today. “With the exception of the Amhara youth, there are innumerable individuals having hatred for Ethiopianism or national politics” in all regions, not forgetting what we observe in big towns of the country, which is a little bit different. In many big cities and towns of Ethiopia we can find generation which is from different identity and enjoy talking about unionist issues instead of ethnicism.” I am among those who promote shared values rather than ethnic divisions for Ethiopians. As you clearly critiqued, this ethno-linguistic regime benefited the elites who are in authority to do their business – land grabbing and having a thick bank account at the expense of the ethnic they belong to. What thing to add here is in Ethiopia people do not seem to consume critical information whether educated or not, mob thinking is a headache for me. One can find a number of individuals to a given rhetoric without examining it carefully for being written/told by a person he/she things belongs to him/her – in terms of birth place, ethnicity, religion or etc.

    Any way let God give you longevity and health. And wish you to have room in advising hardworking Ethiopian politicians to transition the country for the better ahead.


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