A World Bank presentation on “Agricultural Development Led Industrialization”: ADLI.

From the presentation:

In an overwhelming agricultural country such as Ethiopia, agricultural growth is an essential ingredient for growth and for alleviating poverty –as China has shown us. Agricultural growth will depend on the country’s ability to promote growth through one or more of the factors that decisively influence productivity: research, extension, rural infrastructure, education, institutional changes (market liberalization, availability of rural finance, improving the working of input and output markets), structural changes, such as improving land property rights or land distribution.

The first burst of growth has to be broad based and affect a large number of the rural population. It also has to lead to an increase in the consumption of the now larger volume of agricultural commodities and the increase in income has to be spent mostly in the rural areas themselves so it can generate induced non-farm employment. This will generate increases in income as well as an
increase in the assets that the rural population has or the form in which they are held. And this is essentially the only way one can sustainably reduce poverty.

According to ECOSOC:

In addition to implement policies addressing poverty, most notably the Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction Programme (SDPRP) and the Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty (PASDEP), the Government of Ethiopia has adopted a policy response specific to Ethiopia’s food security and agricultural productivity challenge, including the Agricultural Development Led Industrialization (ADLI) strategy. The Agricultural Development Led Industrialization (ADLI) strategy is the Government’s overarching policy response to Ethiopia’s food security and agricultural productivity challenge.

The ADLI’s distinctive features include:

  • commercialization of smallholder agriculture through product diversification;
  • a shift to higher-valued crops;
  • promotion of niche high-value export crops;
  • support for the development of large-scale commercial agriculture;
  • effective integration of farmers with domestic and external markets;
  • and tailoring interventions to address the specific needs of the country’s varied agro-ecological zones.
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    Post COP15: Zenawi vs Western Media

    Pragmatist or a sellout?

    Zenawi and his counterparts at COP15

    That was the question, which surfaced the web media in order to describe Ethiopia’s ruler, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, while he was in Copenhagen as Africa’s “Chief Climate Change Negotiator”. put together the following summary of articles from the Western media that both praised and criticized the ruler:

    The BBC‘s correspondent Richard Black writes,

    “Ethiopia’ President[sic] Meles Zenawi emerged as Africa’s political victor – the chosen champion of France and the UK as they sought African support for their finance proposal. He delivered the African Union.”

    The Guardian writes,

    “In the end, the west exerted its traditional influence in Africa. President[sic] Meles was courted strongly by presidents Sarkozy, Brown and Obama in the days before the world leaders met, to try to bring Africa aboard the west’s deal.

    Meles proposed that developing countries accept $100bn a year – a remarkably similar sum to what the west had suggested. The accusations soon flew that Ethiopia had been bought and Meles was immediately slapped down by his peers.

    Africa ended the talks divided, but knowing that it now plays a far more important role in the new politics of climate change.”

    Naomi Klein wrote this in the Guardian,

    “And yet that is precisely what Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, proposed to do when he stopped off in Paris on his way to Copenhagen: standing with President Nicolas Sarkozy, and claiming to speak on behalf of all of Africa (he is the head of the African climate-negotiating group), he unveiled a plan that includes the dreaded 2C increase and offers developing countries just $10bn a year to help pay for everything climate related, from sea walls to malaria treatment to fighting deforestation.

    It’s hard to believe this is the same man who only three months ago was saying this: “We will use our numbers to delegitimise any agreement that is not consistent with our minimal position … If need be, we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of our continent … What we are not prepared to live with is global warming above the minimum avoidable level.”And this: “We will participate in the upcoming negotiations not as supplicants pleading for our case but as negotiators defending our views and interests.”

    We don’t yet know what Zenawi got in exchange for so radically changing his tune or how, exactly, you go from a position calling for $400bn a year in financing (the Africa group’s position) to a mere $10bn.”

    Peter Wilson writing for The Australian has the kindest words for Meles Zenawi. He writes,

    “The average Australian would never have heard of Meles Zenawi but if the search for a real climate deal makes any progress over the next few months then Mr Meles might just be remembered as the man who helped to protect Australia as well as his own continent from the worst effects of climate change. Acting on his own initiative, Mr Meles delighted organizers of the summit by putting back into motion one of the key deadlocked issues.”

    The problem for Meles’s critics was that the 54-year-old Ethiopian had laid the groundwork for his proposal so skilfully and quietly that he had left his opponents with little time and few options to thwart him.

    And The Washington Post writes,

    “Prime Minister Meles Zenawi played a key role as spokesman for African countries, and by extension for the least-developed countries gathered at this conference. He helped create one of conference’s few bright spots, agreeing to an offer from the industrialized world to provide $30 billion a year to help poor countries adapt to the effects of climate change.”

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    The sheep, the wolf and the shepherd: Free Birtukan Midheksa

    The controversial re-arrest of Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJP) opposition chair Birtukan Midheksa exposes the efforts of Meles Zenawi’s government to crush its political opponents, writes Etyopian Simbiro. As Ethiopia’s 2010 elections draw ever closer, Midheksa’s role as ‘the darling of the pro-democracy movement’ has seen further damage inflicted on the position of the government. While it remains to be seen whether Midheksa’s inspirational experience can translate into concrete political action, in the meantime, Simbiro contends, it is in everybody’s interests that she be set free by the country’s government. – PAMBAZUKA NEWS

    The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act, as the destroyer of liberty. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails today among human creatures. – Abraham Lincoln

    The Wolf and The Sheep

    No law-abiding citizen deserves unlawful imprisonment. However, governments have always targeted political activists that question and challenge their system. Such harassment and intimidation was rampant in the United States during the civil rights era. It still happens in many other countries, including Ethiopia.

    Civil disobedience naturally arises from the deprivation of freedom. Erich Fromm once said: ‘Human history begins with man’s act of disobedience which is at the very same time the beginning of his freedom and development of his reason.'[1] Dictatorial regimes are well-known for limiting their citizens’ freedom and for inhibiting the development of reason, because these two actions determine how long they can rule unconstitutionally.

    Starting from the feudal era until the present day, Ethiopia’s autocratic men have successfully silenced those who disobeyed them. During the monarchy, anyone who threatened the king’s throne was destined to either rot in jail or to be hanged in public. After the end of the monarchy, the military dictatorship openly and zealously terrorised and murdered those that firmly stood against its tyranny. ‘Red terror’ served as the catalyst to strike down protesters. Improved techniques of repression, such as deliberate accusations of subversion and treason, are the norms in today’s Ethiopia. Moreover, Meles Zenawi’s government authorises the direct shooting of bullets at protesters when push comes to shove, as observed both during and before 2005. People still live in fear that they could be arrested or executed if they openly challenge Zenawi’s system.

    Many Ethiopians hope that their country will one day break free from the vicious cycle of repression. Nevertheless, Ethiopia still has to witness neutral institutions that safeguard the principles of a democratic system, committed elites that accelerate the democratic process, an organised youth that actively participates in political leadership (or an environment that allows it participate), selfless leaders whose main interest is helping their poor people, and vigilant civil societies that perform their duties with little or no government intrusion.

    As we approach the 2010 election, many political prisoners languish in Ethiopia’s crowded jails. Birtukan Midheksa, the chair of Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJP), is one of them.

    Birtukan became a leader of the UDJP after her group split from the now defunct Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (CUDP). Birtukan, as an executive member of the CUDP, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2005, ‘convicted of overthrowing the government through violence’.[2] Later, in 2007, the government ‘pardoned’ all the imprisoned CUDP leaders, ‘following their plea for pardon.’[3] But Birtukan was rearrested after she confessed to her supporters in Europe that she was ‘cajoled’ into signing the pardon letter.[4]


    Birtukan’s supporters strongly doubt that she was re-arrested simply due to her confession. They believe the government used the confession as a pretext to lock her up in order to weaken her party. Because of its controversy, the re-arrest has attracted a lot of media and public attention.

    Even though Birtukan remains in prison, she has taken the spotlight from other ‘opposition leaders’. She is now the darling of the pro-democracy movement. For some, she is ‘lady liberty’. The opposition media sensationalises her case. For Zenawi’s party, she is the thorn in the flesh. She has probably done more damage to the government than the psychological and physical pains she endures in the notorious jail Qaliti. Her case amplifies the cries of the ‘voiceless’ political prisoners that still await justice.


    Birtukan’s re-arrest has significantly affected her party, as the government expected. The UDJP’s senior executives have already split into two factions.[5] The faction that controls power has dismembered the other. The dismembered faction accuses the one in power of corruption and abuse of authority.

    Dr Yackob Hailemariam, former vice president for external relations of the party, told the Reporter newspaper recently, ‘the imprisonment of Birtukan Midheksa has led to splinters, disputes, and the purge continues. The government has the larger share of blame. What else do you want it to do than jailing the party chairman [sic]? It jailed most of the active supporters and members of the party, it harassed them. We are not even allowed to hold meetings.’[6]

    Government intimidation and harassment aside, the executive members of the UDJP are also blamed for failing to resolve their internal differences democratically. The fact that they can’t walk their talk has disappointed many supporters and has forced some to give up on the opposition movement. One of the main reasons that led to the disintegration of the CUDP was internal fighting around a ‘hunger for power’.[7] It is a shame that the same problem haunts the UDJP today.

    UDJP leaders could have compromised, and united as one voice, they could have challenged the government, requesting the release of their leader resolutely. But instead they chose the opposite. They still have not resolved their issues. They now have to prove to their supporters and the public that they will lead the country better than Zenawi if they get the chance.

    Dr Yackob advised his former colleagues, ‘these are times of democracy, of dialogue, and not of purging and squabbles. Young leaders who were not brought up in a culture similar to ours should take over. We all had a Marxist–Leninist orientation. The culture we came from did not allow the resolution of differences through dialogue and differences. If the country is to have peace and is to grow sustainably, then all political leaders with Marxist–Leninist orientation should step down from their positions. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi should be the first to step down.’[8]

    Birtukan’s party has recently welcomed former government officials – Seye Abraha and Negasso Gidada – as senior party members. Perhaps, their addition might strengthen the party and might reshape its organisational discipline. But many are very suspicious of these former officials. The splinter group has already protested against welcoming the two men.


    Birtukan is a young and fresh leader. Despite her party’s current shortcomings, her message has been consistent: free and fair elections, accountability and transparency, and the rule of law. But we know Zenawi has also been using these phrases since he came to power. What makes the two different? One of the obvious differences is that Zenawi thinks his government is ‘democratic’ as long as everyone plays by the rules, but Birtukan agrees to disagree. She thinks genuine democracy has not prevailed in Ethiopia yet; this disagreement has ‘earned’ her life in prison.

    An Ethiopian journalist recently wrote, ‘Birtukan is as far removed from Melesian political values and behavior, but in the understanding of the actions and objectives of the West and its diplomats, they share the same hemisphere.’[9] A French diplomat, whom the journalist quoted, said, ‘Birtukan could be a great leader of the country in the future. She has some great qualities. She just needs to be a smart political player.’[10]

    Birtukan Midheksa

    Birtukan’s supporters liken her to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader, though some argue that her ‘heroine’ status is a mere publicity stunt. One Ethiopian, who felt the opposition parties betrayed him, wrote on his blog after Birtukan’s re-arrest:

    ‘Who gives a damn if a pseudo government locks you up quite like your previous pseudo opposition party?… This is just another soap opera that is waiting to play itself out… As far as I am concerned, Birtukan and all her current and former colleagues are pseudo opposition parties… The fact is Birtukan had signed a document that is damning. She had admitted wrongdoing. Everything else is irrelevant, whether you or I try to justify it. Let Birtukan sign some sort of paper again and come out, so she can do what she does best – play a hero.’[11]

    The blogger, of course, received mixed reactions from his readers. Some readers agreed with his arguments, while others passionately defended Birtukan. One of them wrote:

    ‘I am hardly an opposition sympathizer but on this one issue I think you need to give Birtukan tremendous credit for the sacrifices she has already made. What [her] arrest should tell us is how backward we are as a nation. It is blatantly shameful for a government to arrest a citizen [and sentence her to life in prison] simply because she [told the truth]. It is ridiculous.’[12]

    Arguments aside, Birtukan’s position as a chair of a political party, which still gives some hope to supporters that disapprove Zenawi’s administration, has undeniable significance: it uplifts women and speeds up the democratisation process in the country.

    In Ethiopia, as in many other countries, women have been historically marginalised. Except in some households, Ethiopian women still are culturally, economically and politically disadvantaged in both urban and rural areas. Ethiopia’s diverse ethnic groups (most followers of moderate Islam and orthodox Christianity) are patriarchal in nature; traditionally, men are de facto dictators of their households and society at large. In most cases, women are not allowed to challenge men’s authority; they are least expected to make serious decisions. Influential women who challenge men’s authority, or who are competent leaders, are frequently measured by men’s standards: ‘She is a man!’ is the usual accolade to a courageous, decisive and smart woman.

    Many parents expect their boys to study engineering, medicine or law, while they encourage their girls to settle for marriage. Birtukan is a survivor of such a cultural trap. She is an important figure in our national politics. Her story can inspire so many young girls; it can change Ethiopian parents’ attitudes towards their daughters. It can demystify the common stereotype that women are less competent leaders than men.

    I admire Birtukan’s courage and determination to stand up for what she believes. She inspires young people like me.

    Birtukan’s case will surely challenge the Zenawi regime as long as she remains in jail convicted of ‘trumped-up charges’. Should her popularity worry us? Is it a mere ‘cult of personality’ or there is more to her name? We will see. However, in the mean time, it’s to the government’s advantage to set Birtukan free before the 2010 election. Freeing Birtukan and other political prisoners will not only open the door for national reconciliation, but it will also expedite the democratisation process. Otherwise, the 2010 election will only be seen as a ‘sham election’.

    Originally Posted @ PAMBAZUKA NEWS


    [1] Erich Fromm, Psychoanalysis and Religion
    [3] See [2]
    [7] See [6]
    [8] See [6]
    [10] See [9]
    [12] See [11]

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    Ethiopia – How the financial crisis changed aid to Africa

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    What do poor Ethiopian and poor Indian farmers have in common?

    The following editorial from an Indian website exposes the hardship that poor Indian farmers face due to unfair agricultural policies. Ethiopia as one of the countries that ‘lease’ fertile lands to foreign investors with minimal conditions, its poor farmers have so much in common with their Indian counterparts; Ethiopia’s current agricultural policy highly benefits more the ‘investors’ than the farmers who soon or later might follow the path the Indian farmers have taken, such as suicide, unless the government takes a swift measure to reverse its drastic policy; the government must first protect its people’s interests.

    Dearth and Death in Farmlands

    18 Jun 2009

    The intensity and magnitude of the agricultural crisis in our country is unprecedented. Though, most educated Indians are by now aware of the uninterrupted spate of suicides by distressed Indian farmers in the last two decades, yet, concern and empathy for our unfortunate farmers and their families are conspicuously missing in the urban India. Worse, a kind of sadistic indifference to farmers’ suicides is visible among the ‘privileged’ ones. Nothing could be more shameful than the mysterious silence of judiciary and media when the ‘Annadata’ of the nation is forced by unbearable poverty, debt and hunger to take his own life.

    It is no secret that increasing marginalisation of small farmers, caused by faulty agriculture and economic policies, would be catastrophic for the nation. Yet, the government seems to have no intention to change and correct its policies responsible for the disaster in agriculture. Instead, it is taking recourse to the policies that would only aggravate the present crisis. Apparently, there is a complete blackout among the policy makers about what’s going wrong. They seem to believe that by suppressing the enormity of the crisis, the nation can possibly get rid of it.

    If proper steps were not taken immediately to check the worsening condition of farmers, the spread of Naxalism would go beyond control or repair. Naturally, the sense of despair and anger among farmers is just the kind of fertile ground that Naxal ideology needs to grow on. In fact, if intelligence reports are to be believed, majority of young recruits in the Naxal movement are jobless and hopeless farmers. Though, it has been downhill for farmers for almost two decades, the conscience of the nation is not yet troubled. It is crucial to wake up before the rising unrest among farmers takes the nation by storm.

    It is high time our governments realize the gravity of situation and stop taking decisions regarding agriculture on the advice of multilateral agencies and big corporates, domestic or multinational. Every one of these has its vested interests in farmer’s increased misery, so that he is forced out of farmlands and corporates can move in to replace him. Contrary to what our politicians and bureaucrats like us to believe, industrialisation of agriculture and introduction of modern technology will not solve the crisis. It is important to reduce the number of people dependent only on agriculture, but where are the alternative jobs? Driving farmers out of farmlands through policies like contract farming and import of foodgrains is easy, but rehabilitating them in remunerative occupations is not so easy, for the simple reason of huge size of our farmers’ population.

    If corrective steps are taken, we can still achieve a hunger-free India within two years. But, surrendering agriculture to corporates will create a crisis of unseen magnitude for the nation. Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru remarked soon after our independence in 1947 that everything else can wait, but not agriculture. If agriculture goes wrong, nothing else will have a chance to go right.


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    The Way Out …

    One of Africa’s influential intellectuals of the 20th century, Kwame Nkrumah, emphasized in this text that to move Africa forward, Africans must focus on positive thoughts and actions:

    Today, the phrase “African socialism” seems to espouse the view that the traditional African society was a classless society imbued with the spirit of humanism and to express a nostalgia for that spirit. Such a conception of socialism makes a fetish of the communal African society. But an idyllic, African classless society (in which there were no rich and no poor) enjoying a drugged serenity is certainly a facile simplification; there is no historical or even anthropological evidence for any such society. I am afraid the realities of African society were somewhat more sordid.

    All available evidence from the history of Africa up to the eve of the European colonisation, shows that African society was neither classless nor devoid of a social hierarchy. Feudalism existed in some parts of Africa before colonisation; and feudalism involves a deep and exploitative social stratification, founded on the ownership of land. It must also be noted that slavery existed in Africa before European colonisation, although the earlier European contact gave slavery in Africa some of its most vicious characteristics. The truth remains, however, that before colonisation, which became widespread in Africa only in the nineteenth century, Africans were prepared to sell, often for no more than thirty pieces of silver, fellow tribesmen and even members of the same “extended family” and clan. Colonialism deserves to be blamed for many evils in Africa, but surely it was not preceded by an African Golden Age or paradise. A return to the pre-colonial African society is evidently not worthy of the ingenuity and efforts of our people.

    All this notwithstanding, one could still argue that the basic organisation of many African societies in different periods of history manifested a certain communalism and that the philosophy and humanist purposes behind that organisation are worthy of recapture. A community in which each saw his well-being in the welfare of the group certainly was praiseworthy, even if the manner in which the well-being of the group was pursued makes no contribution to our purposes. Thus, what socialist thought in Africa must recapture is not the structure of the “traditional African society” but its spirit, for the spirit of communalism is crystallised in its humanism and in its reconciliation of individual advancement with group welfare. Even If there is incomplete anthropological evidence to reconstruct the “traditional African society” with accuracy, we can still recapture the rich human values of that society. In short, an anthropological approach to the “ traditional African society” is too much unproven; but a philosophical approach stands on much firmer ground and makes generalisation feasible.

    We know, of course, that the defeat of colonialism and even neo-colonialism will not result in the automatic disappearance of the imported patterns of thought and social organisation. For those patterns have taken root, and are in varying degree sociological features of our contemporary society. Nor will a simple return to the communalistic society of ancient Africa offer a solution either. To advocate a return, as it were, to the rock from which we were hewn is a charming thought, but we are faced with contemporary problems, which have arisen from political subjugation, economic exploitation, educational and social backwardness, increases in population, familiarity with the methods and products of industrialisation, modern agricultural techniques. These — as well as a host of other complexities — can be resolved by no mere communalistic society, however sophisticated, and anyone who so advocates must be caught in insoluble dilemmas of the most excruciating kind. All available evidence from socio-political history discloses that such a return to a status quo ante is quite unexampled in the evolution of societies. There is, indeed, no theoretical or historical reason to indicate that it is at all possible.

    When one society meets another, the observed historical trend is that acculturation results in a balance of forward movement, a movement in which each society assimilates certain useful attributes of the other. Social evolution is a dialectical process; it has ups and downs, but, on balance, it always represents an upward trend.

    Islamic civilisation and European colonialism are both historical experiences of the traditional African society, profound experiences that have permanently changed the complexion of the traditional African society. They have introduced new values and a social, cultural, and economic organisation into African life. Modern African societies are not traditional, even if backward, and they are clearly in a state of socio-economic disequilibrium. They are in this state because they are not anchored to a steadying ideology.

    The way out is certainly not to regurgitate all Islamic or Euro-colonial influences in a futile attempt to recreate a past that cannot be resurrected. The way out is only forward, forward to a higher and reconciled form of society, in which the quintessence of the human purposes of traditional African society reasserts itself in a modern context-forward, in short, to socialism, through policies that are scientifically devised and correctly applied. The inevitability of a forward way out is felt by all. – Kwame Nkrumah, African Socialism Revisited, 1967, excerpted from here.

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    Waving the Ethiopian flag: Its beauty and contradictions

    The Ethiopian flag contains the universally recognised tri-colours (green, yellow, and red). Different regimes have always embellished it with emblems that define their political ideology. The founding fathers of the nation chose those tri-colours for political and religious reasons. The flag gave legitimacy to their monarchical rule and authenticity to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which practices a unique brand of Christianity, the official religion of the monarchy until 1974 – the military junta (1974–91) ended the church’s monopoly as a state religion.

    Some foreigners, who love reggae music and admire Rastafarianism, have no clue that the tri-colours, which Bob Marley popularised, actually represent Ethiopia. I have met many people, young and old, who thought the tri-colours were Marley’s patented colours; little did they know that both Marley and the Rastafarians drew their inspiration from Ethiopia, which also inspired Marcus Garvey, the early ‘back to Africa’ campaigner whose teachings influenced generations of African-Americans and other black people.


    Classic poems have been written revering the flag. Many writers and patriots throughout the world still squeeze their last drops of inks to coin mighty words of praise for their flags.

    The flag is synonymous with the nation. It defines the nation; the nation is the flag. Otherwise, angry protesters across the world would not bother burning it in order to release their anger, to express their frustration and to send a strong message to the particular nation they strongly oppose or detest. The flag epitomises nationalism and patriotism. It reflects almost everything that the nation consists of: the constitution, the government, the mainstream culture, the politics, the militarism, and the diversity or singularity of the people. It is not without reason that the flag is displayed almost everywhere in a given nation: from one’s bedroom (not to mention one’s underwear, necklaces, bracelets or wrist bands) to major public spaces.

    Sports events and other activities that stir the national consciousness are always decorated with national flags. For example, it is common to see Ethiopia’s world class athletes shed joyful tears during the green-yellow-red flag-hanging ceremonies after their major international wins. Those droplets of joyful tears have the power to agitate even the least patriotic person. Another great example is the United Nations. What makes the UN most special is the display of flags of the many nations.

    The flag (along with maps, anthems, the constitution, historical relics and other national symbols) gives legitimacy to the sovereignty of the state. People throughout the world have paid a bloody price for their flags. At every national struggle, either peaceful or violent, flags are always present, symbolising the strength of the struggle.

    For the ideologist or politician, the flag is a potent weapon with which to mobilise people and to rejuvenate a group consciousness. The flag embeds within itself the spirit of togetherness among different groups despite conflicting interests. It is a connecting thread. It transcends barriers. It serves as a guiding star of the nation, whether oppressive or democratic.

    The flag motivates the individual to persevere, and to either win or lose as part of the group that he or she belongs to. For instance, Abdissa Aga, the famous Second World War Ethiopian hero, was captured by fascist Italy during occupation and taken to a notorious prison in Sicily, but later escaped and became the leader of international dissidents, former prisoners like him. He and his colleagues fought against the fascist forces in both Italy and Germany, collaborating with the Allied forces. He surprised the British and the Americans, who gave him the rank of major. His group finally liberated Rome from the hands of the fascists and he drove around the city waving the Ethiopian flag. This same brave man, who deeply loved the flag, his country and his people, was later to be oppressed and stripped of his title upon his return by the then aristocrats, who considered his international stature a threat to their position and who perhaps thought of him as a second-class citizen because of his ethnic background: he was an Oromo from Wellega, Western Ethiopia.[1]

    Unfortunately, there has always been outrageous discrimination based on ethnicity in Ethiopia. Even the supposedly socialist regime did not escape from suppressing those who advocated for regional autonomy because of its fear that regionalism could overshadow Ethiopian nationalism, though in its final days it tried to negotiate with regionalists, but it was too late. Also today the status quo remains the same, despite having a regime that apparently recognises ethnic self-determination and acknowledges the historical marginalisation of the oppressed. The Zenawi regime ironically continues to repeat the same old mentality that politics is a zero-sum game and one group is destined to dominate others undemocratically. The constitution, which the regime fails to fully implement, acknowledges and states in its preamble:

    ‘Fully cognizant that our common destiny can best be served by rectifying historically unjust relationships and by further promoting our shared interests; convinced that to live as one economic community is necessary in order to create sustainable and mutually supportive conditions for ensuring respect for our rights and freedoms and for the collective promotion of our interests … have therefore adopted this constitution.'[2]

    Nevertheless, the rule of law and free and fair elections, which are the basic requirements of any democracy, are yet to be realised in Ethiopia.


    As much as the flag is a symbol of liberty and a source of national pride, it also carries the ills of the nation; it reminds of oppression, and awakens old wounds. For example, in the United States, while ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ stands for freedom, the Confederate flag represents a legacy of racism and slavery. Particularly for black people, the latter revives old memories, scars of racial and economic marginalisation.

    No doubt that the Ethiopian flag is the most politicised national symbol. The whole burden of Ethiopian nationalism rests heavily on it. It is not an exaggeration to say that the flag is at the centre of the Ethiopian political crisis.

    For Ethiopian conservatives, the national flag means the blood their ancestors spilled to build the empire and to free it from the jaws of external forces. It is the most idolised, perhaps next to God. Such idolisation has the potential to justify historical injustices and to only glorify the past, regardless of its contradictions.

    Right-wing nationalists still hold a grudge against Zenawi, who once bashed the flag as ‘a piece of rag’. This statement and the ‘self-determination up to secession’ phrase in the constitution are perhaps the two most debated issues, other than the 2005 election, that have earned the former rebel the title, ‘anti-Ethiopia’.

    A blogger for once wrote:

    ‘If things were to be judged by their prices, one of Zenawi’s winter-time jackets would have been more valuable than a nylon flag. But that is not the case. When hard-line Somalians got angry at Meles led military intervention in their country, they did not look for one of his most expensive suits; they simply burned our Green-Yellow-Red because it stands for Ethiopianism.'[3]

    A supporter of Zenawi fired back:

    ‘The reality is that during a televised debate about the state of the union of Ethiopia’s Nations, Nationalities and Peoples, the Prime Minister, in good faith, remarked that the moot point was not the fabric but what it carried with it. While his government had no qualms as far as the tri-color was concerned, today’s Ethiopians were unwilling to come under the oppressive rule of an outlandish Lion embossed on the flag.'[4]

    One of the few successes of the military junta, or the Dergue, was its validation of the flag as the ultimate manifestation of Ethiopian nationalism. The popular motto ‘One Ethiopia or death!’ was to defend the flag but not the constitution, which did not even exist until the regime’s last days. The junta exploited the inflated nationalism to effectively mobilise the largest army in Africa during the Cold War era. Some sympathisers of the Dergue justify its crimes, arguing that it was okay for the regime to kill, bomb or destroy its own people because it fought against rural and urban guerrillas that threatened ‘Ethiopia’s unity and the flag’. It seems they are unaware that it is the rule of law that keeps people together and protects the flag, but not the other way around; the bloodthirsty dictator only brought his own demise in the end. If one has to agree with Mengistu’s sympathisers, then one will have no choice but to accept Zenawi’s justification of locking up or destroying his opponents; after all, he also does it in the name of Ethiopia.

    For the proponents of ethnic self-determination, the national flag is the ultimate symbol of the contradictory nature of the Ethiopian state. The sociologist Asafa Jalata, an Oromo nationalist, argues, ‘Although the historical meaning of Ethiopia is applicable to all Black peoples, its contemporary meaning applies mainly to Amharas and Tigrayans, who have successively dominated Ethiopian state power.'[5] This statement also implies that the national flag and other symbols that represent the state belong to the two mentioned groups.

    Although the two ethnic groups dominated state power, it is actually difficult to talk about contemporary Ethiopia without mentioning the numerous contributions of Oromos and other ethnicities that willingly or unwillingly participated in the making of the Ethiopian state. One of the notorious generals of Menelik II, Gobena Dache, for example, was an Oromo who succeeded in defeating forces that resisted surrendering to the king, though some Oromo nationalists consider him a sell-out who betrayed his own people.[6] It is believed that even Haile Sellasie had an Amhara, Gurage and Oromo heritage, though he dedicated his entire life to building an Amharic-speaking, Orthodox Christian nation like his predecessors; he was an ambitious empire builder who strongly believed in a unitary state.

    There were many notable Oromos and non-Oromos, including Eritreans, who sacrificed their lives while serving Ethiopia during and after the Italian invasion. When Haile Sellasie fled the country to save his life and to appeal to the League of Nations in 1936, what gave the Italians a heart attack was the resistance of rebels, comprised of various ethnic groups, such as the forgotten patriot Jagama Kello, whom the BBC profiled recently. These rebels fiercely engaged and obliterated the fascist forces from day one. But, unfortunately, Haile Sellasie, upon his return from exile, mistreated most of them because they advocated for a fair and democratic system, which the monarch saw it as a threat to his supremacy; some, such as Belay Zeleke, were even noosed because they dared to challenge his unjust rule and shameless favouritism.

    The student movement that led to the overthrow of the Haile Sellasie regime was also the product of the majority of ethnicities inside Ethiopia.

    It is true that despite all the sacrifices made in the name of Ethiopia, there has been an unequal distribution of power and wealth in the country. Even if that is the case, the solution is not to utterly abandon the idea that today’s Ethiopia belongs to both the oppressed and the oppressor. The acknowledgement of historical injustices and a formal reconciliation must be considered, which will not only resolve the national crisis but will also reaffirm the historical meaning of Ethiopia, a land that belongs to all black people. Today’s Ethiopia belongs to all of us and we all must fight for it. Those of us in the diaspora (left or right) must help those inside the country (either political parties or NGOs) financially, morally and through the transfer of knowledge. Those that fight for freedom inside the country are the ones who will ultimately bring the change we all desire. Preaching dangerous politics while enjoying our comfortable life in the West will only make matters worse domestically. It won’t help our poor people who have been behind bars despite regime changes.


    The official flag of the monarchy, which had the Lion of Judah emblem, signified the link between the church, the state and the people. The flag’s symbolism further validated the legend that the monarch descended directly from the kingdom of Solomon and that his God-given power was unquestionable.

    After Menelik II, the rise of Haile Sellasie to power and his effective foreign diplomacy and domestic centralisation further popularised the flag. The tri-colours on the flag had green for land and hope, yellow for church, peace, natural wealth and love, and red for power and faith. Additionally, the colours also had a religious connotation, symbolising the Trinity.[7]

    Once the military junta deposed the monarchy, it removed the Lion of Judah emblem from the flag, and eventually replaced it with its version of a socialist emblem. The military interpreted the tri-colours as green for the fertility of the land, yellow for freedom, and red for the blood sacrificed to keep the nation together.[8]

    Today, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church remains the definitive custodian of the feudal tradition; it is common to find the Lion of Judah flag displayed in some churches. In addition, Rastafarians and admirers of Haile Sellasie also revere this old flag; nevertheless, as mentioned earlier, those against the old system unequivocally reject it and they have their reasons.

    The former rebels that now control state affairs have also modified the flag, replacing the socialist emblem with their version while keeping the tri-colours.

    According to the current constitution (Article 3), ‘The Ethiopian flag shall reflect the hope of the Nations, Nationalities, Peoples, and religious communities of Ethiopia to live together in equality and unity.'[9]

    Undeniably, there has been a significant change in the country, though most of it is still on paper. However, despite the progressive constitution that we currently have, which is subject to amendments, the country has not yet declared the superiority of the law above the individual who rules. The individual, either the local policeperson or the prime minister of the country, is still above the law practically. The democratisation process has not gone past its baby steps.

    The rule of law, free and fair elections, accountability and transparency seem dreams that may not come true anytime soon, even if the current regime is replaced. In a country where the adult literacy rate is 36 per cent (according to UNICEF’s 2000–07 report), where the citizens are not fully aware of their rights and responsibilities engraved in the constitution, and where the constitution’s superiority has not been genuinely declared, we will have a long walk to freedom. Ethiopia not only needs a non-violent political change, but also a non-violent cultural revolution. We have to renew our mentality. Sometimes, just like in any other Third World country, being in Ethiopia is like being one or two centuries behind the rest of the world. I would not be surprised if my hairs turn grey, like my father, without witnessing a fully democratised Ethiopia, where non-partisan politicians reign and where the police understand the meaning of human rights.

    Pessimism aside, I do believe that Ethiopian politicians (left and right) have a better chance today to move the country towards democracy. If they sincerely dedicate themselves to democratic ideals, they have the power to make the Ethiopian dream come true, and that, in my hope, is establishing a truly democratic state. An opportunistic mindset and ego aside, if they work together, then miracles can happen in that country.

    Some, who oppose the current regime, advocate that Ethiopia must copy Ghana’s centralist system. I am sure there is a lot Ethiopia can learn from Ghana, especially in the fields of building democratic institutions and respecting the rule of law, two of the many qualities that have made Ghana a shining star in the continent. However, it can be dangerous to wholeheartedly imitate Ghana’s centralist policies. Ethiopia has already welcomed a federal system that favours decentralisation in theory, though this has not been yet fully realised practically. In addition, everything that works in Ghana may not work in Ethiopia; the two countries have evident cultural and historical differences. I would argue that Ethiopia, as the second most populous country in Africa, could draw better lessons from other democratic yet federalist countries such as Canada, India, South Africa or the USA, whose diversity/geography-based political systems resemble ours comparatively. Nevertheless, the solution to end Ethiopia’s political crisis is not to simply imitate other countries but to look at our own values and traditions and to combine these native ideas with what we have learned or have borrowed from outsiders. We have been imitating others throughout our history; it is now time to think and act locally, while keeping our eyes open on the global.

    One of the successes of ethnic federalism, despite its obvious failures, is that it has revived an ethnic consciousness and has ingrained the idea of self-rule in the minds of Ethiopia’s diverse ethnic groups: two issues that are a ‘dream come true’ for the historically marginalised but a ‘nightmare’ for the historically dominant ethnic elites. Today, neither bringing back the Lion of Judah nor playing the pseudo-socialist or pseudo-democratic trick will have the significance to make the country a better place. However, in order to positively exploit the growing ethnic nationalism in Ethiopia, we have to come up with a better and all-encompassing democratic system, which can fully address present and future challenges. We must come into contact with reality and accept the fact that we cannot return back to square one. We must compromise, see the long-term benefits and advocate for the supremacy of the rule of law, which will have the power to decide whether we should redesign the national flag or should keep it the way it looks now.

    Politics aside, we all know that the Rastafarians use the tri-colours in the spirit of love and peace. After what Ethiopia has gone through, every Ethiopian, I am sure, is tired of old politics. It is time for change, time for a renewed Ethiopia. I believe the Ethiopian union is worth keeping, but should we want the union to prevail, we shall have to advocate for a real change to come, a change that leaves no room for dictatorship and corruption. Let the spirit of love guide us. As Erich Fromm once said, ‘love is a union with somebody, or something, outside oneself, under the condition of retaining the separateness and integrity of one’s own self.’

    Let’s say goodbye to the age-old Ethiopian mentality: character assassination, suspicion, vengeance, finger-pointing, holier-than-thou trickery, cynicism, stubbornness, empty pride, infighting, hate mongering and self-denial. Let’s instead listen to each other, respect one another, compromise, genuinely acknowledge past and present failures, reconcile, trust one another, forgive, celebrate our differences, agree to disagree, encourage a culture of debate or dialogue, walk the talk and advocate for the supremacy of the rule of law more than anything else!

    Original Post at PAMBAZUKA NEWS

    [1] Abdissa Aga an Ethiopian Hero, Fikre Tolossa,
    [2] The Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia,
    [5] Being in and out of Africa: the Impact of Duality of Ethiopianism, Asafa Jalata, Journal of Black Studies, (Nov 2009)
    [6] A critical review of the political and stereotypical portrayals of the Oromo in the Ethiopian Historiography, Jeylan Welyie Hussein, Nordic Journal of African Studies 15(3): 256-276 (2006),
    [8] See [7]
    [9] See [2]

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