One Ethiopia, One People and One Religion [1]

Published on 25th December 2017

It often appears right to agree in acquiesce and consume the wrong message that the quoted title of this article embraces.  Because, at a gut level, the idea of “One Ethiopia, One people and One religion” sounds harmonious to the ears and fetches up rudimentary knowledge of politics of a diverse nation at a crossroad.  But at a deeper level of understanding the nature of politics of a diverse nation, however, one wishes for the ears to suddenly become deaf—in hope of communicating what is at stake for a diverse nation at a crossroad.

Ethiopia is neither a land of one religion nor it is a land of a nation-state comprised of a single nation.   Peoples, nation and nationalities with differing language, culture, tradition, and religion comprise Ethiopia and, it is an absolute farce to suggest that it is a land of one people and one religion.  Of course; there is only one Ethiopia comprised of many nations and nationalities, unless a certain group rises to take the futile measures to create the “other Ethiopia.”  There will be no “other Ethiopia.”

Ethiopia lives as one in diversity; to live out of a living hardship through hard work.  The endeavour of becoming one people not subsumed by diversity, however, is a very hard undertaking to comprehend—so long as differences in culture, tradition, and history continue to constrain, shape, and reshape the political life of Ethiopia.  I should add, to think of Ethiopia without diversity is also a dangerous thought to entertain—an idea that may become a material force of destructionin the name of “One Ethiopia, One People and One Religion.”

Fortunately, only minuscule number of risk-takers in Ethiopia subscribe to such a viewpoint—with the aim to get rid of diversity (almost magically) in the name of “One Ethiopia, One People and One Religion."  Risk-takers subscribe to extreme viewpoints always at odds with viewpoints of most people.  Most people in Ethiopia are risk-averse and, as opposed to their risk-takers counterparts, they clearly see the benefits of diversity.

Full recognition of diversity has brought Ethiopia years of impressive economic development.  And there is evidence that it is the case.  An important new study by economists Quamrul Ashraf of Williams College and Oded Galor of Brown University finds that, "the interplay between cultural assimilation and cultural diffusion have played a significant role in giving rise to differential patterns of economic development across the globe." “To put it in plain English: diversity spurs economic development and homogeneity slows it down.”[2]

The scope of this article is limited and cannot jot down all the benefits of diversity.  Economic development may be is the single most important benefit that our diversity begets.  However, and no matter where we stand in this contentious side of the debate though, our most important goal for now is to keep Ethiopia intact, since the lives of our peoples, nations, and nationalities is dependent on it.

Mindful of the seriousness of keeping Ethiopia intact, we Ethiopians should also bear in mind the profound difference that separates nationalism from jingoism.  Nationalism, according to the English dictionary, is a measured patriotism—the idea of supporting one's own country and people from becoming a pariah of another country.  In contrast, jingoism is the hatred of other nations—while firmly standing in support of one’s own national interest to the exclusion of others.  In line with this and at the expense of being redundant, we Ethiopians should also bear in mind that our country is not a nation-state comprised of a single nation.  The implication of failing to understand this axiomatic truth is calamitous.  Chauvinist and dictatorial tendencies may emerge to materialize into something destructive.  And that something may indeed lead us to uncharted terrains of conflict resolution; a war of all against all.

We Ethiopians may die with our country if we fail to understand our diversity. We should avoid dying with our country at any cost and the cost cannot be greater than a commitment by each of us to sacrifice ourselves, in lieu of keeping our diverse Ethiopia intact. We can die for our country if we can only understand the tangible nature of our diverse culture, custom, history, language and tradition.  But we may die with our country if we fail to do so.  Who we’re as Ethiopians can only be truly synthesized by understanding who we’re as a given people, peoples, nations and nationalities.  All that is required from us collectively is to be as democratic as we should while dealing with the issues of our diversity. Diversity in language, tradition, culture, history, religion is not a handicap to advance our collective interest as citizens.  It is instead the asset that we can use for our own development, provided that we masterfully understand what Democratic Nationalism is; a pivotal subject that my next article addresses.

By Adal Isaw

[1]“In the chorus of disapproval by gung-ho demonstrators, there were calls for the removal of the democratically elected EPRDF Government; there were smear, and sneer remarks directed at the TPLF, and from “The Children of Aste Tedros” a call for “One Ethiopia, One People, and One Religion” …” wrote Dilwenberu Nega, one of my favourite writers of our time. While they brag, the Government keeps silent, but not still.


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