The Monarchy’s Role in Preserving Ethiopia’s Peace, Unity and Stability
SEPTEMBER 1998, WASHINGTON D.C.
SPEECHES & ARTICLES
“New Winds Over Africa” Briefing to the United States Congress, Washington DC: September 24, 1998
The world is noting with concern the growing intensity of conflicts in Africa, including Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the impasse in the peace process in Angola, continued violence in Sierra Leone and civil wars and emergencies in Somalia and Sudan.
In the case of Ethiopia and Eritrea the new outbreak of hostilities after decades of civil war signals a major setback in a volitile region plagued by instability, terror and chaos. In the absensce of a clear committment for a peaceful resolution to the conflict there will be no one military victor. The war can easily drag on diverting valuable time and resources away from development but end up engulfing other countries in the process.
It is now certain that at least two of Africa’s “new generation of leaders” on which the west invested so heavily to bring a measure of stability and development to the region and the continent as vanguards of the “African Renaissance” have not learnt from past mistakes. What is also becoming increasingly clear is that authoritarian rule established on shaky foundations will not last long before imploding on itself. In Ethiopia’s case the Mele’s Administration replaced a very brutal military dictatorship, but his administration has intentionally divided Ethiopia and set it against itself that even if it survives the current crises it has sawn the seeds of further civil war and increased radicalism. Leadership is not simply to outshine your more blatant predecessor.
True leadership is all about the inspiration of people to see the vision of what greatness is possible within them and within their own broad communities, and then in causing the energies, talents and willpower of those people to be focused toward achieving that greatness. Today, there are those who call themselves leaders merely because they are at the helm of a ship of state, going where the great masses take them. They find consensus in the whims of spontaneous political combustion; they do not create consensus through the presentation of a well conceived vision, which embraces wisdom, planning and the demonstration of justice.
Monarchical tradition stretches back for 3,000 years in Ethiopia. But I am not here to bask in history, although I must refer to it for lessons which we may not, must not, forget. I am here to plead for the future of Ethiopia; to tell you that the future can be restored to the people of Ethiopia as Ethiopians as well as Tigreans, Oromos, Amharas, Afars, and so on. Each time Ethiopia has prospered domestically and internationally it has been because the country has been led by inspired men who placed the good of their people above their own or group needs. It can be so again.
Today, many politicians are adept in securing the appearance of consensus for their policies, through tactics of distraction, deception, and by creating doubts and division between peoples. It is no coincidence that, because of the demands of modern media, politics today is very much akin to the professional conjurer. For many politicians, it is believed that there is no time to consider the broad and long-term public good when publics clamor for immediate and easy solutions. To survive, politicians pander to their own or to the public’s demand rather than its needs; feeding people a diet of blame, hatred, suspicion; in a word: distraction. The problems, they say, are all the fault of their predecessors, our neighbors, “the great Satan”: anybody else. It is no wonder that we are, in Ethiopia as well as the rest of the world, growing into a society which forgets the happiness and pride of working toward the goal of common good and historic values, and instead believes that each man and his narrow cliques must grab what little profit and relief they can before someone else will steal it.
Under such circumstances, can any member of society be expected to go out of his way to help his neighbor? Can any individual be expected, ultimately, to put his family (in the broadest interpretation of the word) ahead of himself; or to see himself as a functioning and important part of a society which embraces differences in ethnicity, language, religion, and yet which strives toward a common goal?
Today, in Ethiopia, we see a policy being implemented by those in control of the administrative apparatus of the country, of “divide and rule”. Pride in Ethiopianness is discouraged; the Empire is nothing but a collection of self-interested small states working without regard to their neighbors. Amharas are no longer expected to look out for the interests of the Oromos; the Oromos are not expected to care about the fate of the Tigreans; and so on.
Why is this? Is this “progress” disguised as “self-determination”? In a world increasingly dominated by global languages, global economic trends, and seamlessly integrated communications, can we expect that the life of an Oromo-speaking child will be better because someone said: “Your own language is the source of all pride, and all attempts at working with your kinsmen across a nearby border are worthless”? Of course not.
Why is this happening? I will tell you. It is because politicians wish to retain power regardless of the fact that they cannot inspire the many and richly-varied people of the great Ethiopian empire to support a common dream. These politicians represent a fraction of six percent of the population of Ethiopia. They did not come to power in the name of Ethiopia; they came to power in the name of Tigre. And I do not disparage their belief that Tigre has rights; that Tigre is something special in Ethiopia. But I do not agree that in order for a Tigrean group to govern Ethiopia they must do so by merely dividing the country so that their minority rule cannot be challenged. This is not leadership.
The Constitution that the EPRDF promulgated against the public’s will embodies a classic “divide and conquer” philosophy that separates the country into Bosnia-style enclaves. This policy of ethnic division, offers separation without genuine devolution of power, which instead is centrally maintained by the EPRDF. This business of dividing people on the basis of ethnicity cannot succeed for long in a nation like ours where the major ethnic groups are intermarried and by mixing through trade and migrations have forged strong cultural links within a common identity over the centuries. The current policy has already exacerbated ethnic tensions. Ethnic cleansing and violence has already begun. Has the world learnt any lessons from the tragedies of Bosnia, Somalia or Rwanda?
Although Ethiopia is an ancient land with a proud history of maintaining her independence through unity, foreigners usually have little interest in the fact of her ethnic division, which they regard as an internal matter. But this unpopular policy truly does have international dimensions. A strong, united, prosperous and stable Ethiopia will make a far better partner to the West than one riven by internal schisms. The present policy has built-in contradictions that, over time, are bound to undermine the conditions necessary to foster stability in a volatile region. As US President Abraham Lincoln once said: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” The world needs an Ethiopia with its house in order.
The present policy of divide and conquer by a small minority relying on military force will never work in the moderate to long-term. Keep in mind that political opposition parties representing 80 percent of the country’s opposition boycotted the last national elections. It is clear that the only way to keep the country together, to defend its sovereignty and further economic development is to give every ethnic group a sense of participation and representation. Let the people choose the type of government they trust. A free press, impartial court system and rule of law which are currently lacking would further encourage stability.
So I ask you today: Can Ethiopia survive as a single nation-state if it lack’s a leadership which will inspire unity? And even if Ethiopia in the absence of unifying leadership is fortunate enough to escape the physical depredations of further secession or irredentist actions or invasion, can it in any event prosper? Will freedom be served? Will the interest of the people be served? And will we as a people, historically given the gift of a union and a special identity for millennia, fail in our destiny?
Let me hearken to our history, for history is the one thing which a 3,000-year-old Ethiopian monarchy knows well. The Monarchy has learned from history. And we would all do well to continue to learn from history, so as to avoid repetition of its mistakes, and to see that we, the monarchy, like all institutions, must adapt to reflect the societies we represent.
Emperor Haile-Selassie, spoke often of the need for unity among my people. He was clearly cognizant that in order for Ethiopia to maintain its independence and to play the important role it did in regional development and security during his time rested on its ability to bridge internal divisions. Ethiopian history has been a legacy of overcoming internal divisions as respective regions struggled along, warring with each other, without the benefit of cooperation, without the benefit of a united front to present to the world; indeed, without the ability to even interact with the outside world. There was little progress. If there was no great challenge, apart from the constant fear of attack, there was also no universal uplifting of hope, no rising economic wellbeing.
It was Emperor Téwodros II who again embraced the concept of national unity within the context of the Empire. Successive Monarch’s under Emperor Yohannes, Menelik II and Haile-Selassie realized that small collection of disunited states had no ability to act in their common good. They also realized that the ability to create unity was the means to create wealth: enough wealth for the country to withstand foreign pressures; enough wealth to start the process of real evolutionary societal and economic progress and wellbeing.
What, then, can the Crown of Ethiopia now do for its people after all our suffering?
The Crown’s period of inactivity, silence and retreat is over.
The Crown wishes to offer no empty gestures. Henceforth, we work only toward meaningful actions, under which the Crown begins again to offer protection and inspiration and hope to our people. What the Crown can offer right now is this:
Firstly, it can offer an impartial symbol of national unity to all Ethiopians. The Crown is not the crown of only one or two groups of Ethiopians. Although the Crown has long and traditional ties with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, it is nonetheless the Crown of Ethiopians of all religions, favoring none above another, nor one ethnic or national or linguistic group above another;
Secondly, the Crown confers legitimacy, national dignity and respect. The actions of Emperors Menelik and Haile-Selassie brought international attention and acclaim to our nation in the most positive way. The actions of Mengistu and others like him brought our international reputation into distaste, and the perception of our leaders into the perspective of being self-serving, power-hungry tyrants. We should remember that because of the actions of Emperors Menelik and Haile-Selassie, Ethiopia represents the best of all African aspirations because of the major role she played in liberating Africa, in supporting Pan-Africanism and in providing a significant symbolic history for the liberation of black people from subjugation.
In addition, it is my hope that the Crown can provide a source of protection to Ethiopian refugees who have been scattered around the world in a diaspora unprecedented in our history.
Thirdly, we wish to offer Ethiopians within our country the fact that the Crown, which first introduced our society to modern advances during Emperors Menelik and Haile-Selassie eras, continues to evolve with the times. And in this context we want to provide an umbrella under which true multi-party democracy can function, with the Crown acting as the symbolic and effective guarantor of the Constitution of the people’s choice. The Crown must be above day-to-day politics, and must offer the long-term leadership which establishes the framework of society, the freedom for people to accord each other respect and cooperation, and therefore progress. The Crown must ensure that the forces of law and order are not subject to political misuse.
I would like to conclude my remarks by stating that Ethiopia’s current rulers had a tremendous opportunity to bring an era of reconciliation and progress to our nation. They have squandered this gift. The result is that our country has yet to embark on discovering its potential, both economically and as a bulwark for the world’s civilized strategic interests. Ethiopia could become the region’s breadbasket, be peaceful rather than lurching toward violence, become a regional stabilizer and be an example of the benefits of upholding the people’s interests through democracy and respect for human rights.
The Crown has stood the test of time.
Ethiopia should keep what has worked before, but innovate to keep up with the times, combining the best of the old and the new. By this I especially mean that the Crown can serve as the nation’s guarantor of democracy and human rights, enhancing the country’s ability to meet not only its own economic, social, and spiritual challenges but, by strengthening the social fabric, render Ethiopia stronger and better-prepared to defend its sovereignty, and play its share in the international battle against radicalism, chaos, instability and poverty. Of course, the world today being a smaller, more interdependent place, Ethiopia’s democrats need to work in close cooperation with our foreign friends and hope that we can count on your continued support and interest.