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Vision and the Politics of Ethiopianity: The leadership of Abiy Ahmed.

By Teodros Kiros (Ph.D.


I would like to begin below with what I wrote on Ethiopianity and Independent Thinking a few years ago to frame my present argument that Ethnic consciousness is mediated by positive ethnicity and National Consciousness and that the two are inextricably intertwined. I argue further that ethnic consciousness, anchored on positive ethnicity, is the material infrastructure for the superstructure of culture. By Positive Ethnicity, I understand, “a modality in which an individual humbly takes pride in one’s geographical belonging and celebrates the cultural ornaments of his/ethnic group, the language, the dances, the music and the cuisines, as expressions of diversity.” (Abbay Media, Zehabesha, Ethiopia 360, January 9, 2018

In these remarks, the reader is explicitly invited to pay attention to the nuances of culture, if by culture; one can understand that positively seamless intermingling of ethnic consciousness with a national consciousness. This intermingling cannot take place without a celebration of the ornaments of culture:  language, dance, music, cuisines and artifacts. Moreover, ethnic consciousness requires these ornaments in order to provide the human person the possibility of consciousness itself.  The ornaments of culture are embedded in ethnic consciousness, almost naturally.  These ornaments of culture are the material fundaments of ethnic consciousness. Note that in the above paragraph, all our five senses are busily involved, as when we listen to music, see the mountains, smell the flowers, taste the cuisines and touch beauty on the dance floors.  Ethnic consciousness is firmly anchored in this material reality disclosed by the five senses.  At a primordial level, Ethiopian pride is present in the ethnic consciousness inspired by the ornaments of culture as disclosed via the senses to the recipients of a cultural consciousness, as when any Ethiopian cannot help but hit the dance floor upon hearing an ethnic tune and begin shaking the body to a maximum joy.  The joy occurs precisely because there is an event to be enjoyed, and there is an event to be enjoyed, because ethnic consciousness has produced the appropriate and stimulating media of joy in the music, the dance, the cuisines, and beautiful persons.

(2) National Consciousness

National consciousness, unlike ethnic consciousness, is a cultural construct. Whereas ethnic consciousness is natural to the self, national consciousness is a product of cultural construction and is mediated by the artificial body, called the state.  It is the state and its various institutions which organize citizens to develop a relationship with other ethnicities and enjoy their diversities under conditions of peace and prosperity. National consciousness is in fact nothing more than a politically organized relationship of citizens with one another as ethnically conscious members of ethnic groups.  The task of the state is to be critically vigilant about Negative Ethnicity, “. Negative ethnicity is the modality by which an individual singles out his/her belonging to an ethnic group and believes that it is superior to all other ethnicities and that other ethnicities are inferior and must be treated accordingly.” (Zehabesha, Abbay Media, Ethio 360 and Ethiomedia Forum, January 8, 2018).

 (3)  Federalism as a Political Form.

The task of a Good State is making a concerted effort of educating citizens to protect themselves from contamination by negative ethnicity to purify themselves by instilling in themselves with positive ethnicity by way of respecting the cultural ornaments of all ethnicities.

The greatness of a future Ethiopian state, unlike past Ethiopian states, some of which were insensitive if not flagrantly hostile to certain ethnicities, will consist in respecting positive ethnicity as it meets economic needs and extends political and social rights to all ethnicities through constitutional stipulations and effective public policies.  Any future Ethiopian state should publicly articulate and defend the rights of nationalities as expressions of positive ethnicity and living practices of diversity under safe and secure conditions of freedom.

Federalism is the political form by which positive ethnicity is elevated into a national right as an expression of Ethiopianity, defended by an effective Ethiopian state.

There cannot be a national consciousness without ethnic consciousness, and similarly there is an ethnic consciousness precisely because there is superstructure in which the multiple ethnicities can be anchored in a relationship of mutual dependence.

In our contemporary politics, we have not rigorously understood the role of these two types of consciousness. We are fighting one another because of a misunderstanding. My argument here is an attempt to correct this misunderstanding through a philosophical lens.

Our prime minister, himself, in his capacity as a political educator, is a purveyor of this misunderstanding, who unnecessarily burdened himself with undisciplined agenda and put too much on the grill, (Badme, Indiscriminate and untimely,release of prisoners, Pardoning the unpardonable, reconciling religious leaders),  none of which is being cooked well. 

He is now standing out as the one, in the helm of power, who is a symbol of misunderstanding, and through him the misunderstanding is filtering down to the youth, and the hostile media in the diaspora.

I would like to offer my advice to his leadership, if he is inclined to read serious articles by well-known and globally respected Ethiopian writers of the caliber of Professor Ghelawdewos Araia and his seasoned strategies of rebuilding EPRDF, to save Ethiopia from the crucible of hate and narrow-mindedness.

It appears that to Abiy Ahmed, some of us are simply not visible. He does not read our work, nor are we contacted, because we bear ethnicities which he shuns and openly abuses. If he is serious about rebuilding Ethiopia, he should seek our accomplished scholars and world class minds, or else it is business as usual, empty words without content and blind abstractions without eyes. Nor can there be Ethiopianity, as the Prime Minister wrongly but tirelessly preaches, without ethnicity and nationality. The Ethiopian citizen, like the American citizen, is an Amhara Ethiopian, An Oromo Ethiopian, A Tigrean Ethiopian, A Gurage Ethiopian, A Gambellan Ethiopian, A Southern Ethiopian and much more. These ethnicities are merely designations but important ones.  For those Ethiopians who take pride in these designations, what they need is recognition and not scolding and shaming.

A strategic and well organized state led by upright, just, compassionate and patient leaders can orchestrate a political environment in which individuals feel safe and secure to exercise their positive ethnicities.  I have developed this argument in Ethiopian Discourse, “New Moral Economy”, (Red Sea Press, 2005)  

Ethiopians should not be ridiculed for their self-definitions. Self-definition is a right. The duty of the Prime Minister is to plow a safe ground where Ethiopians can construct values and norms as rich sources of their Ethiopianity.  It is not his responsibility to preach to Ethiopians what Ethipianwinet is. That connotes an absence of vision and poor politics.

Ethiopianity is not an abstraction. It is a lived reality embodied in ethnic and national consciousness.

What Ethiopia needs now is the reconstitution of EPRDF with new blood. This new blood is not merely youth. That biological attribute is irrelevant. Both the old and the new could be foolish and unqualified. The party must aim at intelligence, moral and technical, integrity, generosity, compassion, and last but not least, respect for truth.

Youth need not be the determining qualification for rebuilding, EPRDF, unless youth is accompanied by wisdom and moral intelligence. That would be the ideal package. Qualifications must be based on proven merit and a record of accomplishments independent of age and ethnicity.