3 A brief account of Ethiopian political history

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Amharic the language of the major Abyssinian branch was the official language and lingua francaof the kingdom Tigray province however held fast to its own distinct language and parochial identity Merkakis 2003 1 Menelik the king of 1865Shoa 1889 beganexpanding this territor y towards the east and west of Shoa already in the 1880s At the death of Emperor Yohannes IV r 1872 1889


the numerically significant others A great variety of languages approximately 80. languages with some 200 dialects are spoken in the country Ethiopians are adherents of. a number of different religions approximately 40 are Muslim 40 are Christians and. the remaining 20 are animists and others yet conflicts because of religion is not. known Alemayehu 2009 39 Ethiopians are commendable in terms of religious. tolerance and cooperation Peoples of different religion respect one another s religion and. also respect and celebrate holidays of other s religion as one s own. In order to understand the nature of ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia it is important to see. the process of the creation of the Ethiopian state Below I present the three regimes of. modern Ethiopia the imperial the Derg and the EPRDF in some details in an. attempt to construct a brief but holistic understanding of the historic and contemporary. Ethiopia in connection to the affairs of ethnic conflict in the country. 3 1 1 The imperial regimes, Several scholars agree that conventionally the historical foundation of the Ethiopian. state goes back at least three thousand years Alemayehu 2009 Yishak 2008 Teshale. 1995 Bahru 1991 Tadesse T 1972 Mythology traces the origin of Ethiopia to the. days of the Old Testament and that of its kings of King Solomon of Israel and Queen. Sheba of Ethiopia 10thC BC This legend has been propagated by the church and state. since long and helped as an influential source of legitimization by the Ethiopian royal. family Teshale 1995 Solomon 1993 Tadesse T 1972 In fact the myth confered. upon the Ethiopian kings and emperors the traditional authority of a mandate from. heaven and so strengthened and sustained the symbolic relationship between church and. state the two pillars of state led nationalism in Ethiopia until the 1974 revolution that. ended the imperial regime Merera 2003 Marcus 2002, Walelign T 2011 depicts that the Ethiopian Empire state in its long history was. limited to the northern and central part of the country where the majority of the people. constituted from the Semitic Amhara and Tigre often referred as Abyssinians In the long. history of the country what usually refereed as Christian 5 Kingdom of Ethiopia the. Amhara of the central highlands 6 and the Tigray of the northern highlands played. significant role Simply speaking Abyssinia historically refers to the orthodox Christian. Amhara and Tigrian culture of the today s northern Ethiopia which represents the core of. the historic Ethiopian state Thus the north and central Ethiopia were labled as the power. house of the country The two Semitic speaking peoples were politically the dominant. In the northern and central parts of the country there have existed during millennia. kingdoms loosely organized into an Abyssinian empire Borders between these petty. states were not very stable and the struggle to achieve imperial dominance and control. over the vast Abyssinian conglomerate was continuous In general the borders between. states or chiefdoms seem to have coincided with the boundaries separating major ethnic. groups inhabiting the Abyssinian plateau Knutsson 1969 86. According to Markakis the modern state of Ethiopia was created by the Abyssinian or. Christian highland rulers largely through the twin process of political subjugation and. The Abyssinians practice mainly Christianity as their religion since early 4thC Walelign 2011. The Tigrayan and Amhara are generally considered highlanders They share a common political structure. land tenure system culture and religion, economic exploitation in the 19th and early 20thC Up to that time the borders of the. Abyssinian kingdom enclosed the northern plateau from Shoa in the south the Awash. river in the east the bend of the blue Nile in the west and the high land region beyond. the Mereb river in the north that was to become the Italian colony of Eritrea Beginning. in the fourth century Orthodox Christianity reigned supreme Islam was preserved. among a minority converted to this faith centuries earlier and a form of Judaism survived. among the Falasha people Adherents of the last two faiths were barred from holding. state office and owning land and were socially shunned by the Christians Amharic the. language of the major Abyssinian branch was the official language and lingua franca of. the kingdom Tigray province however held fast to its own distinct language and. parochial identity Merkakis 2003 1, Menelik the king of Shoa 1865 1889 began expanding this territory towards the. east and west of Shoa already in the 1880s At the death of Emperor Yohannes IV r. 1872 1889 Menelik became the emperor of Ethiopia r 1889 1913 with the title of. Menelik II He expanded his empire through series of conquest between 1890 and 1906. Henze 2000 Before the conquest there had existed independent identity groups some. were even kingdoms in parts of modern Ethiopia These parts include today s regional. states of Gambella Benshabgul Gumuz SNNPR parts of Oromia southern parts of. Somali most parts of Afar and eastern parts of Ethiopia Kifle 2007. By 1900 the western eastern and southern frontiers of Ethiopia were largely. established and both north and south Ethiopia were brought under one political center. based in Addis Ababa destined to become the political and commercial capital of modern. Ethiopia Merera 2003 Thus the spectacular expansion of Abyssinia in the second half. of the 19thC was launched from Shoa the south most principality of the kingdom It was. master minded by the provincial ruler of Shoa who became Emperor Menelik in 1889. and was completed by the time he died in 1913 In the process the Ethiopia of today was. born its shape consecrated by the boundary agreements made after the Battle of Adwa in. 1896 with the adjoining colonial powers Bahru 1991 60 In the eyes of Menelik II and. some historians the act of Imperial expansion was seen as regaining Medieval Ethiopian. territories and unification of the country Henz 2000 Andargachhew 1993 Some. writers and most of the nationalist movements in the conquered areas regard it as. colonization Asmarom Legesse 2000 Bereket 1980 Markakis 1987 Today most of. these areas have been affected by insurgencies and nationalist armed fronts OLF ONLF. SLF etc and non armed nationalist movements from several conquered groups Kifle. In the process of consolidating the Ethiopian imperial state Menelik engaged in wars. of conquest incorporating various other nations Oromo Somali Afar Wolayta. Guraghe Sidama Gedeo etc into what was the core of the Abyssinian Ethiopian. state comprising mainly the Amharas and Tigrayans Keller J Edmond in Sriram and. Nielsen eds 2006 19 Following his victorious operation of expansion to the periphery. Menelik sent governors from the center to administer the periphery They were sent with. contingents of their own so that they would establish themselves in the district towns of. their respective administrations Having been unsalaried the administrators along with. their soldiers were maintained by a system which instead of wages allotted each man the. over lordship of a number of serfs In other words the land was regarded as taken away. to the crown some portion is being given to the local chief and people and the rest used. to reward or maintain Amhara and especially Shoa soldiers officials and. notables Margery 1969 295 296, The wars of expansion and conquest led to the birth of multi ethnic Empire state under.
Amhara ethnic hegemony land appropriation from the indigenous peoples political. domination cultural marginalization and economic exploitation of the subjected groups. As a result the independence of various ethnic groups was forcefully taken away a. massive alienation of land from the indegionous peoples was carried out for several. decades the cultures and languages of the indigenous peoples were suppressed and the. dominating ethnic group s culture and language imposed on the subjected peoples The. vanished ethnic groups were subjected to politico economic domination linguistic and. cultural suppression all in the name of a nation building project by successive. Ethiopian governments Contrary to the claims of the empire builders what emerged was. fully fledged national oppression Merera 2003 1 As a result the subject people were. literally reduced to tenants and become victims of national oppression Alemayehu 2009. 24 According to Merera the ideology guiding and shaping the wars of expansion that. created modern Ethiopia was interplay of religious regional and ethnic factors The. religious factor was mainly related to the Orthodox Church whose role was vital in the. empire building process The double missions of the church was to advocate imperial. legitimacy i e the sacred mandate from heaven and softening the hearts and minds of. the people to be God fearing and law abiding subjects The Shoan regional interest had to. be dominant because it was the Shoan Amhara elite whose carrot and stick policy had. built the empire Merera 2003, John Hamer suggests the major motives for a southern advance out of Shoa province. by emperor Menelik and his forces in the 1890s These include an interest in acquiring. control over the valuable trade resources of the south such as gold ivory coffee spices. and slaves a concern for acquiring more land for an expanding northern Amhara. population that had suffered from severe famine during 1889 1892 and a fear of the. increasing pressure from French British and Italian imperialism Furthermore Hamer. goes on to say that there was scarcity of resources to establish effective centralized. administration over the vast new territories of the conquered south As a result the. government in Addis Ababa had to rely on a form of indirect rule by creating or working. through traditional authorities who were given the title of balabat Since these men were. to collect tribute and settle local disputes indirect rule tended either to reinforce the. existing hierarchies or to create them where none had previously existed Hamer 1987. 131 and 133 The lands to the south west and east that were conquered by Menelik. known as yeqign agar conquered land today make up all but two of the nine regions of. the federal republic of Ethiopia and are home to about three fifths of its total population. While Abyssinia had been a relatively homogeneous state the Ethiopian empire was a. mosaic of ethnic groups and cultures Merkakis 2003. In spite of this long history of interaction however ethnicity as material bedrock of. Ethiopian politics only appeared on the scene in tandem with the birth of the modern. multi ethnic empire state in the second half of the 19thC The political process that was. set in motion by the mid 19thC as an anti thesis to the Zemene Mesafinit 7 period the. Zemene Mesafinit is a period of chronic regionalism For a century Abyssinia s ruling aristocracy had. bled the county in a civil war competing for influence over or control of the imperial throne McClellan. princes era was able to produce in half a century a fully fledged empire state This was. a product of a conjuncture of three historical processes the drive to centralize historic. Ethiopia the drive to expand to the rich lands in the Center South and the European. drive to carve up the continent of Africa as a whole Centralization of historic Ethiopia. whetted the appetite for empire building Conquest in turn provided access to immense. material wealth that enables the empire builders to build up an increasingly formidable. army The European scramble for chunks of Africa provided opportunities to obtain. European weapons giving the empire builders a decisive edge Merera 2003 57 58. The treatment meted out to the people of the conquered areas of the south varied. considerably at the outset depending on how they reacted to the Abyssinian invasion. Those who surrendered without confrontation were treated calmly their leaders were. integrated into a system of indirect rule and rewarded with grants of land and a share of. the taxes they collected from their own people Those who resisted the invasion suffered. greatly Their leaders were eliminated often physically many people were killed and. many more taken into slavery their animals and other possessions looted Such. experiences are part of local history and tend to colour people s political attitude today. Merkakis 2003 1 2 Marcus 2002, The conjuncture of the three drives to centralize historic Ethiopia noted above. created a fundamentally different Ethiopia with two contradictory phenomena On the. one hand Ethiopia now consisted of a multi ethnic polity that jointly heroically. frustrated the ambition of the European colonial powers to annex the country On the. other hand it led to a century of ethnic and religious domination of one group over the. Different scholars portrayed Minelik s expansion in various ways Teshale 1995 xv. and Knutsson 1969 87 relate it with that of Europeans colonialism in Africa They. argue that although Ethiopia remained as a sovereign state free from external colonial. conquest it had much in common with the colonial experiences in other parts of the. continent In this they are trying to say that Menelik s and his forces took an active part in. the scramble for Africa by competing with the French Italians and British along. Ethiopia s borders Tidy and Leeming 1981 104 describe it as part of African partition. of Africa and continued as part of the European partition. As the case during Minilik II regime Emperor Haile Silassie I r 1930 1974 the. last Ethiopian royal leader also centralized the state and expanded Ethiopia s civil. society as a counter weight to ethnic forces He fostered unity through the development. of a national army a pan Ethiopian economy modern communications and an official. culture whose main feature was the use of the Amharic language in government and. education Marcus 2002 Xvii The use of Amharic as a national official language. became mandatory in government education radiobroadcasts and newspapers But the. government s promotion of Amharic entailed the suppression of the other major. languages which aroused opposition and accusations of cultural imperialism Markakis. 2003 Haile Silassie further sought to promote Ethiopia s image internationally as a. viable and cohesive multiethnic nation state His approach to modernization promoted. educated elite predominantly from the Amhara and Tigray ethnic groups emphasizing. education for these groups and largely ignoring the need to build a genuine sense of. Ethiopian national identity among the poor and culturally subordinate ethnic groups of. mainly the south east and west of the country This shows that as the case in Menelik s. regime under Haile Silassie s government also assimilation policy was intensified to. deliberately and systematically change the ethnic identity of the conquered peoples A. key target of the assimilation policy was the elimination of ethnic boundary markers. language religion mode of dress and any socio cultural institution that readily. distinguishes the population Tadesse B 2004 20 Clay and Holcomb 1986 15. summarized the relationship between the Abyssinians Amhara and Tigre and the. conquered peoples as follows, The Abyssinians considered their own culture and religion superior to those of the. conquered peoples who lived south and east of them and developed a corresponding. ideology of superiority They strove to Amhanize the conquered peoples through various. programs Amharic was thought in the schools and public use of other language was. restricted Higher education was conditional upon passing exams in Amharic State. support for Coptic Christianity was instituted while Islam was denigrated The Ethiopian. legal code grounded in ancient Abyssinian texts replaced indigenous legal systems in. the conquered regions The settlers economic and political organizations replaced those. of pre existing polities which were officially denounced as pagan and primitive In. short the Amhara created and dominated empire dismantled the pre conquest economic. poetical and social systems of the conquered peoples throughout the Cushitic and Nilotic. western southern and eastern regions, Once established by Menelik the idea of assimilating the conquered peoples was. intensified by Haile Silassie s government Abyssinian moral norms values and beliefs. were imposed Walleligne Mekonen 8 1969 a student at HSI University now AAU and. leader of the Ethiopian Students Movement 9 ESM in his article entitled on the. Walelign Mekonen was a student at Haile Silassie I University now AAU in early 1960s He was leader. of The Ethiopian Students Movement ESM and was killed in 1973 in an attempt to hijack an Ethiopian. airliner Merera 2003 97, The Ethiopian Student Movement ESM was first organized by the students of the then Haile sillasie I.
University now AAU in early 1960s and later spread to the colleges and secondary schools in the. country as a protest against the exploitative feudal system of the imperial regime which particularly. impoverished the rural life After the mid 1960s the movement was transformed into a radical phase with. emerging nationality questions Inspired by Marxist Leninist philosophy of National Oppression thesis. and the solution provided for this right to self determination of nations and nationalities including. secession the ESM politicised ethnicity and brought it to the public forum for the first time ESM played. a central role in Ethiopian Revolution of 1974 Asebe 2007. Question of Nationalities in Ethiopia expressed the situation very clearly The gist of his. article reads as follows, Is it not simply Amhara and to a certain extent Amhara Tigre supremacy Ask anybody. what Ethiopian culture is Ask anybody what Ethiopian language is Ask anybody what. Ethiopian music is Ask anybody what the national dress is It is either Amhara or. Amhara Tigre To be a genuine Ethiopian one has to speak Amharic listen to. Amharic music accept the Amhara Tigre religion Orthodox Christianity and wear the. Amhara Tigre Shamma in international conferences In some cases to be an Ethiopian. you will even have to change your name In short to be an Ethiopian you will have to. wear an Amhara mask to use Fanon s expression According to the constitution you. will need Amharic to go to school to get a job to read books however few and even to. listen to the news on Radio Ethiopia, The main purpose of this writing was to incite discussions on the sacred yet very. important issue the nationalities of Ethiopia The writing as a protest against the. exploitative feudal regime well ignited a political bombshell to the feudal regime by. explicitly addressing the national questions and divulging the national oppression to the. academic and political milieus Before that time raising ethnic issues as political. alternatives was considered as taboo among the Amhara Ethiopianist ruling elites. because it was perceived as a threat to their political supremacy. This writing broke the silence on the nationalities question among Ethiopian students. and discredited the century long illusion of the success of the nation building project of. the imperial regime Merera 2003 97 Yishak 2008 5 Vaughan 2003 134 This was. well explained in the words of one of other student leaders Tilahun Takele 1970 53 If. we demand freedom of secession for all oppressed and unequal nations without. exception we do so not because we favor secession but only because we stand for free. voluntary association and emerging as distinct from forcible association Cited in. Vaughan 2003 143 Thereafter recognition of the right of nations and nationalities to. self determination including secession became a driving revolutionary force in the. students circle and of the nationalist movements Merera 2003 97 Yishak 2008 5. Vaughan 2003 134 which were its offspring like the Eritrean Peoples Liberation. Front EPLF 10 Tigray People s Liberation Front TPLF 11 Oromo Liberation Front. OLF 12 Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Party EPRP 13among others. However the Ethiopian Students Movement ESM itself was divided on the issue of. national question Some groups started to contend that the issue that needs to be. addressed in the Ethniopian politics was the idea of class struggle not national. question This debate led to birth of Ethno nationalist ethnic based movements and. pan Ethiopianist class based movements political groups 14 Yishak 2008 5 6. EPLF Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front was an armed organization that fought for the independence. of Eritrea from Ethiopia, TPLF Tigray People Liberation Front was organized in 1975 by the Tigrean youths who were. discontented with the shift of political power to the Amhara and the subsequent suppressions of the. group under the Amhara hegemony The principal aim of TPLF was liberation of Tigray As a political. strategy to enter into the territories beyond Tigray and as a camouflage to attract the support of the West. for political ideological and financial support the Front superficially changed its name to EPRDF. Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front in 1989 by creating surrogate parties PDOs. Peoples Democratic Organizations from other ethno linguistic groups Merera 2003 Vaughan 2003. Founded in 1973 by former members of the Macha Tulema welfare association the OLF fights for an. independent Oromo state and Oromo self determination It claims a substantial part of Ethiopia. approximately 600 000square kilometers roughly half of the country as Oromia Its insurgency. began in eastern Ethiopia s Chercher highlands where it had set up a rudimentary administration by. early 1977 and was active in Bale Sidama and Arsi Following a major Derg counter insurgency. campaign in Hararghe it had to abandon its liberated areas and revert to guerrilla tactics in 1979 ICG. The Ethiopian People s Revolutionary Party EPRP was a radical group that fancied itself to be the. proletarian vanguard in Ethiopia and aimed to oust the Derg and replace it with a peoples. government The top down management of the revolution greatly distressed the EPRP whose members. were mostly locally schooled or educated abroad, The ethnic based movements were the Oromo Peoples Liberation Front OLF the Eritrean People. Liberation Front EPLF and the Tigray people Liberation Front TPLF while the class based. movements were represented by the Ethiopian people s Revolutionary Party EPRP and the All. Ethiopian Socialist Movement AESM, The ethno nationalists claim that the Ethiopian state is an exclusionist one and the.
oppressed and marginalized groups need to have the right to self determination to the. extent of secession An extreme version of ethio nationalist groups is represented by the. OLF which claims that Ethiopia is a colonial empire Alem 2003 9 Ethiopian state had. colonized various ethnic groups in the south south west and eastern Ethiopia at a. parallel time to the scramble of Africa by the west Hence they conclude that Ethiopia. just like any western colonial empire needs to undergo decolonization At the other. extreme pan Ethiopian groups represented by the Amhara elites argue that history of. Ethiopian state dates back to some three thousand years ago They contend that the state. existed for millennia successfully countering ethnic and regional challenges and forging a. distinct national identity They further argue that Ethiopia is a melting pot and a nation. state not a colonial empire Donald Levin 1974 views the process of creating the. Ethiopian state as in gathering of peoples bound by cultural destiny to union The. debate further triggered the birth of the aforementioned ethno nationalist and pan. Ethiopianist armed groups Yishak ibid, Ethnically based historical injustices by the politically dominant group over the. subjugated ethnic groups were exposed and used by these ethnic entrepreneurs In this. regard the pre revolution political historical economic and social realities of the country. provided justification for the relevance of carrying ethnic banners for the elites in the. quest for competition over state power which was seen as struggle for libration from the. century long colonial experience Teshale 1995 or national operation Merera 2003. Ethnicity became an aspect of the political movements behind the major liberation fronts. noted above Asebe 2007 However the imperial state was founded on an explosive. conjunction of antagonistic class and ethnic divisions that made it inherently unstable To. stabilize it the Haile Silassie regime became highly centralized and bureaucratized and. Ethiopia built the largest army in black Africa with material support from the United. States This force was used against ethnic and regional rebellion in Tigray Eritrea. Ogaden Bale Sidamo and Gojjam Markakis 2003 7, Though Haile Selassie s rule was briefly interrupted with the coming of the Italians. 1936 41 in 1941 he restructured the country into 14 teklay gizats imperial provinces. around 100 awrajas imperial sub provinces and 600 woredas This new form of modern. administrative structure and bureaucracy strengthened the absolute monarchy of Haile. Selassie s r gime and the central government Clapham 1969 67 Since the liberation of. the country from the Italian occupation to the coming of the Derg the feudal regime. witnessed several peasant rebellions almost all over the country. Among these the weyane 15 rebellion in Tigray in 1943 the uprising of Bale Oromo. 1963 1970 the 1960s peasant uprising of Gojjam the heartland of Amhara region. another uprising in Wollo Markakis 2003 and the revolt of Gedeo peasants in 1960. were some of the important ones, In general the Ethiopian empire was a classic example of what Mazuri called an. ethnocratice state Ethnicity was the political essence of the imperial state where the. allotment of power was on the basis of ethnic lines that gave supremacy to the Amhara. ruling class The class aspect needs to be underlined because the Amhara peasantry. belonged to the dominant group in cultural and psychological aspects only They had no. Weyane was the name of the TPLF radio station and the name by which the front itself is popularly. known in Ethiopia today, role in the political power as well as economic privileges Land being the main economic. resource in Ethiopia its control was the base of the imperial political economy The. defining features of that system were the discrimination of the mass of the population. from the process of government and the economic exploitation of the producers by an. ethnically defined ruling class Mazuri 1975, By the early 1970s Ethiopian society was characterized by wide spread discontent.
The regime appeared less and less capable of resolving the ever rising problems that. confronted it Previously the emperor had been able to rely on the support of the military. police church and bureaucracy to enable him to survive and pursue his development. agenda Keller in Sriram and Nielsen eds 2006 22 Situation in the country was. deteriorating day after day At the end the phenomenon was sparked by natural disaster. in northern highland and eastern lowland regions of the country which include Harerge. Bale Siadmo and Gamo Gofa, By 1973 the peasants had exhausted their reserves sold off their goods to purchase. food items and even eaten seed grain Desperate and starving hundreds of thousands left. their natal villages and migrated to the towns where they hoped the government would. provide relief In their reports fearful provincial administrators obscured the scale of the. catastrophe and in Addis Ababa officials at first denied the existence of famine and did. not even notify the emperor Marcus 2002 181 The admittance was forced by the. findings of an ad hoc committee of Haile Silassie I University now AAU professors. who traveled to Wello in April 1973 and returned with pictures and a report describing.

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