The Wounded Ethiopian Nationalism and Its Insecurity Dilemma

By Leggese A. Gurmu

Ethiopian Nationalism is a wounded nationalism. The bloody war it has been fighting with its foes since the 1960s has left it severely wounded. It has been fighting both with its internal and external enemies which were created, harbored and brought up by Narrow Ethiopian Nationalism itself. It has been decisively defeated both in the battles of armed struggles and in the realm of ideas. Due to these bitter defeats Eritrea has gone forever. “Ethno”-Nationalists (even though I do not like this name, I could not get better one) have got State power and launched bloody wars against Ethiopian Nationalism. In fact, Ethno-Nationalists have scored so many successive “victories” that has far deepened the wound of Ethiopian Nationalism. Due to these defeats, Ethiopian Nationalists have started to doubt the validity and viability of their political commitments and values. They have lost self values and have become trapped into the vicious cycle that could be analogized to theory of “insecurity dilemma” of the given regime.

In this regard, Messay Kebede, the best mind Ethiopian nationalism can offer, wrote these statements in his recently published article titled Ethiopia’s Fragmented Elites: Origins and Syndromes. He writes, “The dreams of the generation of the 60s and early 70s have been squashed by the victory of the Derg whose dictatorial rule decimated its morale and that of their offspring. Both were offered nothing but the humiliation of a massive exodus. Whether they stayed in the country or left, all experienced another cycle of humiliating events when they witnessed, powerless, the defeat of the Ethiopian army, the invasion of the country by an ethnic army, and the secession of Eritrea. It is hard not to infer from these events a severe damage to Ethiopian nationalism and an erosion of self-confidence such that the generation’s belief in its ability to accomplish great things has received a deadly blow. Without self-confidence, the readiness to unite for a great cause is also likely to suffer gravely.”

For me the real problem is not only the humiliating defeat the Ethiopian Nationalists faced but also how they understand and appreciate their humiliations and defeats. They rightly come to the conclusion that they cannot simply sit and watch their “ideological” and political death. Without any doubt, they will, and indeed have come to the conclusion that they have to do something about their irreparable losses. It seems they want to do this unknown “something” urgently. In the face of this urgency, humiliation, loss of self confidence and values, Ethiopian Nationalism becomes more reactive and irrational, as opposed to pragmatic and strategic. The reactive and irrational nature of this nationalism exposes itself to more systematic and organized attacks of its foes, which are better organized, armed with better ideas and instruments. The more it reacts, the more it gets heavy smacks from all corners of its angry and suspicious adversaries. This has similarity to theories of insecurity dilemma: the more you do things to insure your survival, the more you expose yourself to the greater threats and risks. This is a serious confusion and a fatal vicious cycle that kills via euthanasia.

Ethiopian Nationalists deeply misunderstood their relative strength, weakness and challenges. They think their adversaries are weak, useless and will eventually die. You can say Ethiopian Nationalism has been incurably hurting itself by “delusions of greatness and feelings of impotence”. Since what Ethiopian nationalists think of themselves and their actual realities do not correspond, they are a living and talking world of contradiction. These create and deepen the psychology of “haplessness” and prevent them “from devising realistic responses” to the deadly socio- political problems that they have been creating, developing and promoting. When more organized and competing political forces come to the show and effectively challenge Ethiopian Nationalism, which was protected from all sorts of democratic or whatever competitions until 1992, the leaders of Ethiopian Nationalists found themselves in unceasing and deepening crisis. They could not come up with unifying ideologies that can compete and win support in the realm of marketplace of ideas. Since they do not have any galvanizing idea around which they democratically organize people from different sections of Ethiopian society, Ethiopian nationalism and its leaders face problems of trust and confidence as to their competence and ability to guide and lead. Who is going to follow the losers and people who cannot come up with contextualized, updated and working ideas? In this regard Messay writes again,

“Defeat and humiliation entail leadership crisis. Just as a defeated army questions the competence of its commanding officers, so too a vanquished generation loses faith in leadership. Once leadership is distrusted, the willingness to unite in an organization is drastically reduced. No less than the need to accomplish great goals, confidence in leaders is a requirement of unity.”

Another serious problem of Ethiopian nationalism is that it carries the seed of violence. This is a clear inconvenience given that it cannot be adopted into democratic values and institutions that can earn trust and confidence from different sections of the society. Since this nationalism was (until the final fall of the Derg) created, promoted and maintained by bloody authoritarian regimes, and hence fully backed by state security/coercive  apparatus, the seeds of violence are in its deep philosophy of dealing with  all sorts of problems and competing legitimate interests.

In other words, Ethiopian Nationalists cannot help but resort to use of violence at their disposal whenever they find themselves in problems or crisis. That is why they are still using the structure of violence that they have been building since the end of the 19th century.

Even if they do not have a direct control over the institutions and personnel (the hardware) of Ethiopian repressive security apparatus, Ethiopian Nationalists are still providing the game changing ideas and justifications (the lethal software) for current Ethiopian regime whenever it comes to dealing with their perceived or real “enemies”. For instance, they usually do not hesitate to use the “multimedia platform” under their control to launch deadly offensive propaganda wars against some Oromo political leaders and targeted activists, whom they love to label as “Atseyyafi  Gosangoch /Zeregnoch”, in English “detestable Ethno-Racists”. These acts are a sheer exercise of violence and they show how these nationalists are very much comfortable with the use of violence against their perceived “enemies” whenever possible. This violent nature of Ethiopian Nationalism is not convenient to solve any serious political or social matters with peaceful and democratic procedures. Fundamentally, from the past history and current political and social circumstances, it is possible to say Ethiopian nationalism is yet to be “civilized” to accommodate the differences and live peacefully with competing ideologies. Even today peace, freedom, liberty, and other democratic values are not in the nature of Ethiopian nationalism; it is as wild and barbaric as that of Menelik’s time.  How can anyone with sound mind be attracted to this kind of nationalism that is void of any moral or substantive political content of 21st century?

The violent nature of Ethiopian Nationalism makes it counterproductive, the more it uses subtle but dangerous means of violence, the more it creates problems primarily for itself and its followers. By exercising this violence, Ethiopian Nationalists simply remind everyone, including their moderate followers, what this nationalism has been all about for the last one and half century. It is forcing almost all, including the moderate and people who have been incorporated into the Ethiopian political identity, to integrate past traumas of their ancestries into their life stories, or their self-perceptions, the traumas that are embedded into the minds of the significant majority which have been narrated as “outbreaks of lethal violence that have been described as ‘massacre,’ ‘genocide’ and ‘expulsion.’ Etc. These again create another cycle of resentments and mistrusts which decisively works against their wounds, but immensely strengthen their opponents. This is something that makes me wonder how this nationalism is founded upon its own grave.

I can list so many ways in which the very manifestation of wounded Ethiopian Nationalism works against itself than working against its competitors. Just because of time and space again, I will try to put this in another part of my note. Once more, I would like to quote Messay’s recent statement on this wounded nature of Ethiopian nationalism. It is dark and gloomy but illustrates the points I would like to emphasize. He writes,

“It would be naive to expect from a wounded generation the solutions to Ethiopia’s numerous problems. What was ruined by one generation cannot be fixed by the same generation. True change requires, above all, culture change, which takes time because it is a matter of creativity and growth. In short, real change is a generational issue.”

I totally agree with these statements. I would like to add that the wounded nationalism will die if it does not know how to stop wounding itself overtime it tries to attack its real or perceived enemies.  Now, every day and every moment, Ethiopian nationalism is busy in severely wounding itself and in fact bleeding to death. Doesn’t this nationalism have any nervous system that detects and traces the bleeding wounds and inform the victims to take the correcting measures? I think one of their  nerve nodes  Professor Messay has started to see how he and his generation have been wounding and slowly killing their Nationalism which they took an oath to care for, nurture and protect by all means, the means they do not have any clue about, however.

Source: The Wounded Ethiopian Nationalism and Its Insecurity Dilemma 


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