Schools and Ethnic Conflicts, in Ethiopia

Mr. Getachew Reda, the communication Affairs Minister of Ethiopia recent interviews


By Melaku Woldeselassie, Atlanta

Mr. Getachew Reda, the communication Affairs Minister of Ethiopia asserted, in one of his recent interviews, that there was nothing concrete evidencing the failure of his government than witnessing the harsh reality, a solidarity of the two largest ethnic communities in Ethiopia the Amharas and the Oromos, united under one slogan, indisputably opposing the political, economic and military hegemony of the TPLF. The minister’s assertion is predominantly based in one wrong and very bad assumption. To be precise, on the question of the Oromos, his contention underpinned two fundamentally flawed, divisive and hence dangerous presumptions about the Amhara, as people. As a solution to the misdiagnosis, his prescription included accusation of schools and colleges for failure in creating proper awareness as to why the Amhara and the Oromos should not be in alliance, no matter what, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Claudius the murderer of Hamlet’s father.

None of the Minister’s surprises and strange comments about the recent Oromo-Amhara solidarity would make sense unless first, he is foolish enough to truly believe that it was genetic or natural for Amharas to be anti-Oromo, if at all they were really enemies in the past, and second, he thinks that the Amharas were incapable of learning and adopting to circumstances unraveled in the last twenty five years or there was something in the Minister’s wild imaginations that insulated the Amharas from observing and sharing the feeling of the divisive ethnic propaganda coupled with favors and disfavors based on ethnic background of citizens. Also, for anyone who read the ABC of Ethiopian history, it is despairing to see such a simplistic narrative that ignores the fact that the Amharas and the Tigres were partners in running the affairs of the country for thousands of years sharing guilt or otherwise almost at the same level.

The Minister’s conclusion that the EPRDF failed in disseminating the basic ideals of the party must have left the audience in disarray and confusion. What the hell was he talking about? What did he mean when saying, we haven’t done enough to separate the two groups? What is the rationale behind his dangerous assumption that the Oromos and Amharas were nemesis to one another? Why would one want to create a hostility and distance between the two major communities in the country instead of bridging the gap, if it exists? I even wonder if the expression was a dog whistle, regretting and lamenting on a failure or tardiness of his party to cause a major conflict of historic proportions that ensures a permanent enmity of the two ethnic groups for generations to come. It is nerve-racking to imagine the hundreds of thousands or the millions of women and children who should die only to establish such a reality of Oromo-Amhara antagonism, in making the minister’s dream come true, if that was the whistle all about.

In another notion, the Minister appeared like an educator who only instructs without any sense of the subject matter’s intended behavioral impact of the discourse among its pupil. As TPLF/EPRDF, If Mr. Getachew just opens his eyes for a second and recollects the kind of ethnic based propaganda disseminated over the past twenty five years, he should have rejoiced over the rise of the ‘We are Amhara’ sentiment in Gondar, Gojam, Wollo and Showa. He should have seen the ongoing Amhara protest as a proof of success in the ethnic politics that has been persistently propagated, and the protests should demonstrate to him the successful Graduation of the Amharas truly buying-in to the regional sentiment that has been the hallmark of the TPLF. Amharas and Oromos are now speaking the same language of regionalism, and may be, they see the system as, collection of communities under the totalitarianism of the TPLF. If Mr. Getachew’s heart and soul is truly EPRDF, we haven’t done enough should be the last thing to come out of his mouth. Instead, he should be glad that the propaganda has succeeded and the Amharas are now thinking like an Amhara, the way they have been taught to think. Mr. Getachew’s party has got what it wished for. There it is, TPLF/EPRDF have new graduates, the Amharas thinking regionally just like the TPLF wanted all ethnic groups to be.

The Minister needs to understand that one cannot continue doing the same old thing and expect new result. If TPLF strengthens what it has been doing over the last quarter of a century, it will only get the same old result, most likely in a more not so positive way. That is the law of nature. It was also very interesting to see the caricature by Mr. Getachew of the Welqait issue as a border dispute than a question of ethnic identity. Why make such an absurd interjection when it is more than obvious that the Welqait issue is about determining whether or not the Welqaits are Amhara or Tigre. It is not, in any way, a border dispute between regions in Ethiopia and I don’t see this to arise under the present constitution. It is about people deciding who they are! Is it not? Based on what we see from a distance, the question of the Welqaits is not any different from the demand by the Silte of Southern Ethiopia who desired, allegedly, to be a Silte and not a Gurage. The right way to resolve the Welqait issue is to let the people decide what their identity is, replicating the methodology followed in settling the case of the Silte of Southern Ethiopia. Just follow suit! Why an exception to the norm?

Truly speaking, failure in promoting democracy is the primary rendition of TPLF/EPRDF persona, leading to the current tragedy in Amhara and Oromia regions. Of all the numerous arguable points stated by the Communication Minister, his remark and misconception on the role of schools and colleges in shaping future generations, deserves a heightened attention, given the serious ramification a slight error on role of education will have on the country for years to come. As far as Schools and Colleges is concerned, Mr. Getachew must be reminded that there are two specific undertakings TPLF/EPRDF not only has ‘not done enough’ but failed altogether. And these are:

  1. Ethnic Federalism should not be used as another gadget to divide and control the people. With proper calibration and deliberation, the federalism may bring a value addition to the political history of Ethiopia. Mr. Reda’s notion of ethnic or language based federalism seems to be about ensuring communities are at bay and would not stand together on a common agenda, and this is really dark sited. Ethnic federalism should be about enabling communities develop the language and culture of their choice without at the same time compromising cohesion or togetherness across communities like the Amharas and the Oromos. This is achieved if language or other historical differences are not used to insinuate hostility among communities. In that regard schools and colleges would rather be venues for creating a multilingual community through optional universal language education programs in Oromigna, Somaligna, Tigrigna, Sidamigna etc. Introducing optional language courses will help students and families to learn other local languages. It facilitates better understanding and respect for other ethnic groups, avoids language barrier in intercommunity dialogue on political and social issues, and improves mobility of the countries work force across different regions.

  2. Schools and Colleges should also be instrumental in creating understanding, tolerance and respect for other communities through open discussions. Educational institutions should enjoy total freedom from the ideological influence of the government. The academia should be free to present cutting edge ideas and theories to students. Schools and Colleges should be free to hold intercommunity discussions and debates openly, identifying problems and ironing out probable solutions for further considerations. Students should be trained in holding inter community dialogue with a view to creating a future for all Ethiopians based in equality, fairness, respect, tolerance and ideals of Democracy.

These are the ones that should be part of your, we have not done enough list. I personally request Mr. Getachew Reda to be agent of such positive change in our country than acting foolish like Donald Trump’s surrogate Kayleigh McEnany who hopelessly struggles to defend her boss on CNN, each time the poor Donald comes with his infinite gaffes. Mr. Getachew needs to stop defending the non-defendable ideology, fully in play for the benefit of the few elite in Ethiopia. He should rather try to do whatever is in his power to bring about a positive change towards true democracy, peace and unity of Ethiopians from within.
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