The central question in today’s Ethiopian political leadership is that of maintaining a balance between Ethiopian-nationalism and ethnicity. In the post-revolution era, the bone of contention between assimilationists (ultra-right) and separationists (ultra-left) has left present day Ethiopia in a rather precarious condition. One of the most pertinent issues has been the question of identity established based on ethnicity. On the one hand, assimilationists have been guided by a baseless philosophical approach known as Ethiopianism. Ethiopianism is nothing but a denial of the existence of differences of history and culture among Ethiopian nations. Ethiopianists seek to confine themselves to a one way of understanding of the reality of Ethiopian historicity. An Ethiopianist does not acknowledge a pluralism of identity. Rather, s/he promotes a mono-cultural and mono-lingual political system, which necessarily negates the validity of differences of culture. S/he also promotes an educational policy that favors assimilationism. However, Ethiopia is made of many nationalities, each with its own cultural identity and language; Ethiopianists reduce the country to one nation/reality. By doing so, they have been trying to shape the identity of the whole country in accordance with their worldview. Ethiopianists are deeply uncomfortable with identity politics. As such, they tend to maintain and secure Ethiopian-nationalism by ignoring and trying to eliminate differences of culture. They focus only on the history all are proud of.
The separationists, on the other hand, have been guided by a baseless philosophical approach known as essentialism. Essentialism tends to deny the great importance of Ethiopian-
nationalism/nation-building under the guise of seeking to preserve the existence of cultural diversity.
Separationists overemphasize cultural differences and define ethnicity as the only identity one should cherish isolated from other sometimes shared realties of human existence. As such, they tend to refuse and reject anything that they have inherited from outside their own culture. They propagate their own distinct forms of culture as if Ethiopian-nationalism had never existed. Separationists maintain an extreme political position of secession as the only solution to eliminate the root causes of ethnic oppression. They focus only on the common conflict history.
Therefore, the lack of mutual understanding in Ethiopian political philosophy arises from a failure to clarify the basic mental foundations of assimilationists and separationists which inevitably determine the perception and thinking of those who could be categorized belonging to the two respective groups. It must be noted that cultural differences are not a problem per se. In this regard, the most important question one must ask is how one ought to act in relation to those of cultures alien to one’s own if one is seeking ways that promote unity in diversity as opposed to seeking to destroy existing institutions that base themselves on indigenous paradigms and models differ from one’s own.
For instance, in contemporary Ethiopia, cultural differences should not be regarded as being non-existent. Ethnicity is not necessarily one’s mental impression of the primary source of identity, but it has a concrete existence. We ought to manage ethnic diversity within the unity of Ethiopia. There are some politicians who seek to enforce a uniformity of culture in contemporary Ethiopia. This is an absolutely mistaken and unacceptable philosophical approach. Imposing one’s own cultural identity on everybody else would eventually lead to secession. Hence, cultural or ethnic differences should be translated to imply neither superiority nor inferiority. In contemporary Ethiopia, difference of identity ought to be acknowledged, tolerated, and appreciated. An authentic Ethiopian nationalism can never be realized where ethnic differences are ignored, despised, or negatively understood.
But, it must be noted that a certain degree of cultural homogeneity is required in a nation lest one undermine national unity. For instance, the tendency to treat individuals as members of an ethnic group rather than as individual citizens has its foundation in a specific failure of understanding concerning the importance of national unity. One should not have a romantic attachment to cultural differences for their own sake. The existence of cultural differences should not fundamentally deny the importance of Ethiopian-nationalism. It must be noted that a racial-based philosophy is extremely harmful for the future of Ethiopia. Also, ethnicity should not be used as a political tool, meaning that political as well as religious leaders should refrain from creating enmity and suspicion among the distinct regional parts of Ethiopia. The politics of identity should not be used to promote one’s ambitions as opposed to the common good. Politicians who are using the instrument of ethnicity to achieve their economic and political goals have to be exposed and criticized for their immoral actions. It must be borne in mind that albeit ethnicity is so natural, it can also be manipulated, which can easily lead to ethnocentrism. Today, Ethiopia’s socio-political leadership needs a proper direction as to which route to take her to good governance where mutual acceptance as well as mutual accommodation can be realized. I would argue that both assimilationists (right-wing politicians) and separationists (ethno-nationalists) ought to make great efforts to prevent misunderstanding and win mutual recognition. Dialogue is a tool to be used to prevent misinterpretations, a tool which can lead to genuine collaboration and mutual trust. Becoming aware of common ground can enhance collaboration and flexibility. The two contesting parties must fight for justice, freedom, and the equality of ALL PEOPLE IN ETHIOPIA. I see that there need not be any irreconcilable conflict between the two contesting parties to liberate their country—Ethiopia—or overcome the present neo-colonialism. In the first place, both sides must confront the truth that their historical relationship is deeply disturbed. Each side has to make an effort to understand the historical experience of the other, and especially to come out of the shadow of misunderstanding and disrespect. A balanced approach toward historical understanding and interpretation can yield a point of view acceptable to all. A change in each one’s attitude is a guarantee of the transformation of contemporary Ethiopian socio-political leadership.