The Legacy of the Past on Ethiopia’s Modern Political Life

John Markakis has descirbed the core problem of Ethiopian politics in his presentation on OSA conference in Finfinne in summer 2019.

The main point he raised is ignoring the reality on the ground. He puts it as:

Nationality in itself is not a problem. As the Nigerian scholar, Claude Ake, put it, asking an African why he belongs to an ethnic group is like asking him why he has five fingers. What is more natural? Ethnicity is the template upon which African society is organized – its economy, society, polity and culture – and has been for ages. It provides a framework for identity and solidarity, as well as economic, social and political organization. Neither colonialism nor independence has provided an alternative. Instead, as Basil Davidson (1992) presciently wrote, the attempt to supplant ethnicity with the nation-state state proved ‘a curse and a burden for the black man.’

… Why should every part of the federation have an identical profile to cleanse it of ‘tribalism’? Why should customary rules, familiar and preferable to the people, not be used along with national law? Why can traditional authority systems – Gaada in Oromia, the Sultanate of Aussa in Afar, the Anyawa kings in Gambela, the Somali clan chiefs, and many other institutions – that command popular respect not be integrated meaningfully in local government.

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