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Nuance Needed

November 2 , 2019
By Tibebu Bekele ( Tibebu Bekele (, who is interested in constructive dialogue and civil engagement. )

It is not that simple. It is not black or white. It is all kinds of shades of grey. That is life. It is hard.

But even a casual glance on social media results in a different reality. The back and forth there is straight forward. Everybody knows about everything with absolute certainty, especially debates over Ethiopian politics, which are always simplistic.

I wish it was that simple, but it is not. The accepted wisdom seems to be that there are just two camps in Ethiopian politics.

On one side is the old guard who supposedly want to take Ethiopia back to the imperial era of the Solomonic Dynasty. They are the forces of integration that want to do away with the federal system all together.

And there are those in the disintegration camp. They are hell bent on breaking up this country.

It is true that there are political movements that fit the above descriptions. But most do not cleanly fit in either of the two boxes.

For instance, some who loudly declare that they are standing firm on the 1994 Constitution, forget that it is a very nuanced document that is painfully crafted to keep as healthy a balance as is realistically possible to address the myriad political problems that the country has struggled with.

Those who call themselves federalist forces, seem to underplay the preamble that recognizes a "common destiny" and the building of "one economic community". They overplay "rectifying historically unjust relationships" while seeming to ignore the "promotion of shared values".

Those who like to take the mantle of "Ethiopiawinet" complain that the constitution gives too much emphasis to group rights while ignoring the bill of rights that are strongly protected against capricious amendment and guarantee individual liberties. They underplay the preamble that states " …to live together on the basis of equality and without any sexual, religious or cultural discrimination."

This is a hybrid constitution that attempts to get the balance between group rights and individual liberties just right. But one would never guess this from hearing the debates that rage on the topic.

It is quite possible that some articles may have skewed too much one way or the other. Maybe those need to be corrected. There is an amendment procedure for that. But reductionist thinking and simplistic narratives do not have the patience for that.

This also spills over into the debate concerning the country’s history. A too literal reading of history is becoming such a bone of contention that the way forward is becoming a hostage of the past. All countries are formed on a mix of historical fact and myth. One cannot be permanently fixated on that alone.

State formation is a messy process. There are skeletons in every country’s closets. Digging them out is not helpful to anyone. What is better is to focus on how "…to rectify historically unjust relationships and promote shared values."

These things require a maturity that the Ethiopian elites have failed to show so far. Unfortunately, this has devastating consequences. What happened in recent weeks is the direct result of this myopic vision that permeates the political class in the country.

Continuing without a fundamental correction in this mindset will make what happened so far child’s play. If this does not serve as a wake up call, the country would be sleepwalking into a crisis of unimaginable horror.

Everyone that challenges the shortcomings of the federal system is not necessarily yearning for the old imperial order. All those who want to build a strong Ethiopian state are not necessarily trying to subjugate the different ethnic groups.

All those who demand for better recognition of their language or culture are not necessarily trying to break up the country. Asking for respect for group rights does not have to be equated with the abrogation of individual rights.

It is not that simple. It is not black or white. Just like life, it is mostly grey. That is why there is no choice but to calmly sit down together and figure it out.

PUBLISHED ON Nov 02,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1018]

Tibebu Bekele (, who is interested in constructive dialogue and civil engagement.

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