In Defense of Classical Ethiopianity and against Ethnocentricity

By Teodros Kiros (Ph.D.) / June 18, 2009
Guided by the Transcendent, proud of my Ethiopianity, motivated by the thinking heart, and seasoned by the teaching of time, lately, I have been quietly consuming the massive literature produced by our able scholars, our committed columnists, our rightly embittered politicians, and the reading public- and I have come to the inescapable conclusion that, however, incorrect I may be, we are agonizing about the paths that our country must take, as the next election looms large, and Ethiopians will once again either perish by the votes that they make, or flourish precisely because they have deliberated carefully, uncontaminated by prejudice, unaffected by fear, and un weakened by the fact that they will have choose between bread and freedom. Ethiopians must choose freedom against bread, and dignity over servitude.

I appeal to every Ethiopian that we use our public reason, combined with our consciences and think hard about what we must do to map out the future of our country. We must fight the ethnocentric party in power armed by the principles of Classical Ethiopianity. The road is long and time is short, but we must plant new seeds of Classical Ethiopinnity to replace the poisonous weeds ethnocericiy enveloped by the shallowness of pseudo self-determination. The Ethiopian people need not be distracted by the pseudo rights of determining their identities by wearing the garments of ethnicity when they prefer to wear fabric of Ethiopianity, with the right to speak different languages, if they must, without locating themselves in narrow shells of ethnicity.

Everybody by now knows that the party in power is using ethnocentricity to ground itself in the Tigrean peopleís heart, but the silent Tigrean majority is not taken in by this worn-out tactic. The ordinary Tigrean have seen through the dirt, and if some have not, the morally upright Ethiopian Tigreans will have to spread the new tent of humanity against Ethnocentricity. This will take time, and time is not on the side of those who rightly seek regime change.

Sculpting mature citizens who think for the nation organized by the common good, the nationís common good, framed by genuine Ethiopianity needs time, place, and moral measure. The ethnocentricity of the last ten years has damaged classical Ehtiopianity, Ethiopiaís gift to the idea of Africanity. The wholeness of what it meant to be an Ethiopian has been displaced by the fragmentations of negative ethnicity. The opposition must redefine this damaged landscape, by a new humanity, mediated by love, forgiveness, and new thinking.

For the last ten years Ehtiopians have confused speaking a language with belonging to an ethnic tribe. Ethiopians have been freshly taught that the different languages of Ethiopia are expressions of ethnic identities, as if one cannot simply speak a given Ethiopian language, say Amharic. Tigrinya, Oromiffa, without belonging to an Amhara, Tigrean, or Oromo ethnic groups.

Put formally, one could speak an x language, without belonging to a y ethnic group. That all that a person has to be is an Ethiopian who is born to region A, speaks language B, without belonging to ethnic group C. I call this Classical Ethiopianity.

Ethiopianity is therefore expressed through languages, which are not anchored on ethnicities. What we have in Ethiopia are language groups and not ethnic essences.

Classical Ethiopia was organized by a linguistic frame. It is this linguistic frame that contemporary Ethiopianity is seeking to destroy, and we Ethiopians must resist this destruction.

I leave it to our brilliant opposition politicians to transform this insight from abstraction to concreteness and move fast with time. We have no time now, but we do have the vision, and most importantly, we have the support of a historical people, the Ethiopian people themselves, known for their decency, their loving kindness, the vastness of their forgiving hearts, and their bravura and patience.

Let us use these resources and fight for a new Ethiopia. What will save us now is our humanity, our Ethiopianity, and the deep bonds of our sameness, and not the divisive ethnicities that the regime in power has boxed us in. We must jump out of these ethnic boxes towards the sunlight of classical Ethiopianity.