Conventional Cultural Assimilation in the case of Ethiopia – By Geletaw Zeleke

July 15th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

Fundamentally, social fusion emerged as a subsequent natural interaction process. Attempting to deter such a process is tantamount to blocking a stream of water with a sieve. It is becoming crystal clear that such a process has been going on in all parts of the world, owing to their natural prosperity; people of diverse origin on our planet earth do interact and share values. The existing realities of social and technological advancements are propelling our world intensively towards an inevitable fusion of dynamic proportion; this in turn made our world appear ever smaller.

My aim in writing this piece is not to elaborate on the already widely discussed issue of globalization ,it is rather to contribute “a two dimes worth” of my own observation about conventional and peaceful cultural assimilation of the various ethnic groups in Ethiopia.

It is evident that human interaction and cultural exchange play a pivotal role towards assimilation under a given political structure hence; people can’t avoid the reality of being assimilated. Such a happening should be embraced, as it paves the way for unity and prosperity.

In the modern world, a government’s far-sightedness and maturity is measured by how much of intensive social and cultural interaction the political structure accommodates in view of the respective populace that is under its jurisdiction. Any government that fails to put such a structure in place would run a risk of loosing the trust of its people.

What made the 2008 U.S. presidential election a significant landmark that will go into the annals of history is that it has facilitated a true portrait of a “melting pot” of nation? All the white, black, yellow, and mixed race people came to a “melting pot” and came out as one unified entity; this is so because the government’s agenda is not based on neither race nor cultural background, but a system that recognizes equality of all citizens. This in turn facilitated for people of diverse racial and cultural origin to sacrifice their own values in order to give forth to a magnanimous agenda—which is the United States of America.

Human interrelationship has proved that, in the process of social value exchange, no one is an absolute bestowal and at the mercy of the other—instead, values that enable the assimilation flow both ways through the channel set by both/all groups.

When people with values interact, they exchange one another’s characteristics. Both visible and invisible values flow from one group of society to another incessantly, and this in turn propels them to unity. As time goes by, their contributions flourish into a common denominator. However, it should be noted that such a value interchange may not have equilibrium as such, especially if existing reality such as: being at the forefront of modernization, technological advancement, economic upper hand, and the likes favor one over the other. Nevertheless, in spite of these shortcomings, people that are governed under a unifying political structure would always yearn for that unity; the values that they have embraced as benefiting to all would bring to “a melting pot” which ultimately enables them to be ready for common new values. When an assimilation of this nature is realized, it forms a saturation of political, social, economic and technological aspects of life as a vital element.

There are over 80 languages, several costumes, hair styles, local cuisines, variety of wedding ceremonies, holiday observations, and craftsmanship of utilities and etc — in Ethiopia. All these attest to the enduring beauty of one Ethiopia rather than serving as demarcation posts under the pretext of federalism .Language and culture are created by a given community to serve it; thus, people have the mandate to modify or enhance, depending on the level of understanding it has achieved that far. Therefore, they are not static matters in a community’s life.

In the light of the progressive and dynamic nature of social assimilation, the new generation wants to exercise its inherent right of retaining a value that is of timely, significant disregarding out-dated and less relevant ones, in order not to be encumbered with the yoke of traditionalism, thus unfettering the shackles that may bind it.

It is apparent that a healthy functioning government has the moral obligation of safe guarding languages and cultures from extinction. It should also incorporate these values into the country’s education policy so as to preserve and disseminate them down to generations.

To develop the common new values, government should work towards enabling different ethnic groups to grow into two dimensions, namely: vertical and horizontal growth. It should have done much work on the latter one.


1) Vertical growth:

Here, I am not talking about classical assimilation .I suggesting rather peaceful and conventional assimilation. This kind of assimilation is not one way process as different groups have to contribute their cultures in order to build common new values. As I have mentioned earlier, this trend of growth is characterized by the concern and willingness of a given community to embrace other values by transcending its own. Such is a wealth of beauty that one should savor and render the due respect each language and culture deserves. This trend of growth is healthy in the extent of giving rise to a common value system by which we can identify ourselves.

Due to unhealthy trend of the Ethiopian government’s attitude, it doesn’t give room for willful exercise of the peoples’ cultures and languages. It is ironic that under the same EPRDF ruling that claims to have paid all the sacrifice in order to preserve cultures and language that we have lost one of our languages, namely “Argoba” . It is a glaring reality that the government has failed to do something significant in this regard. The problem boils down to the government’s misguided policy that appears to be a bottle-neck to vertical growth.

2) Horizontal growth:

Mostly, this kind of growth is mainly determined by a government’s laying of a structure that allows people to freely interact with one another and exchange cultural values. In this regard, the EPRDF government has not only failed but also it goes to the extent of leaving no stone unturned in order to denounce or even attempt to destabilize it. This is a pathetic black spot in our era. It is sad to see that this government has done the damage by embittering people who had a long-standing bond one among themselves—this tendency eventually brigs about generation gap.

Because of the absurd and corrupted federal system of the EPRDF government, Ethiopians do not enjoy the right of engaging in development at the region of his choice in his country, the government is compelling Ethiopians to enter into unjustified agreement to remain within their narrow immediate environment. A soldier who got wounded in defending “Badme” does not have a constitutional right to cultivate sesame seed at the same spot long after the war subsided. EPDRF is fooling people into making friendship with it at times of demise and rendering them useless at times of productivity. Ethiopians out rightly detest such kind of situational-predisposed relationship. The people are at loggerheads with the government and fighting with all tooth and claws demanding for a unity both at times of demise and/or development.

However, the astounding thing is that, the Ethiopian people that have savored the meaning of unity, is ever stretching towards such a sovereign goal, in spite of the government’s unstinted attempt to put stumbling blocks. The people have conceived unity in their hearts and waiting for the opportune moment to experience it. I personally appreciate the understanding and determination courage of Ethiopians to the concept of unity.

When the government failed to destabilize Ethiopians and disunite them on the basis of their languages and culture, it attempted to provoke them in many ways. For instance, the “Oromo” language speakers were told that they have been subjected by other tribes (Amhara) to change their personal names and identity. But, there are lots of Amharas whose names are oromiffa. For those who have positive mind, names exchange and intermarriages under an umbrella of one country are the bridges of their unity.
The perpetration of the government to incite animosity between different languages speakers show that it was not meant to safeguard ones identity; but to create hatred and disunity.

If the name ‘Megersa’ becomes a laughing stock in Addis Ababa how about name ‘Adenagir?’ meaning “the one who confuse’’ from ‘Menz, Amhara’ region? Many are the children of ‘North Shoa’ and ‘Gojam’ region who are subjected to shame because of their personal names when they come to capital city in search of better education and employment. To speak frankly, names such as: Diriba, Adem, Hagos, Shewanawil, Lapiso, Jilo, etc.may be laughed at in central Shoa vicinity. However, this does not mean that one is purposefully against the other; rather it should be assumed as a misunderstanding as a result of misguided concept of civilization, and it is a phenomena that will be dealt with gradually.
In Ethiopia different tribes have influenced one another positively. For instance, there are commonalities between ‘Borji’ and ‘Guji Oromo’ languages respectively. If we see the people of Hawasa,Nazreth,Dilla,Jima ,Dire dawa,Addis ababa, shashemene, debrezeyet ,ziway ,and the like floating on the current of assimilation. People like the ‘conso’, ‘Amaro’, ‘Gedeo’, ‘Sidama’ and others in surrounding localities, have interchange languages, names and communal values.

One other evidence is that even the people straddling between two nations of Ethiopia and Kenya across the border, namely ‘Moyale’ residents, have many similarities in the manner of sharing same customs and values, according to my brief observation in 2005, except for some differences such as: the Kenyan ‘Moyale’ enjoyed a 24 hours electricity supply, where as the Ethiopian counterpart did not, the Kenyan farmer across the border was privileged to access a mobile phone, where as the Ethiopian counterpart did not.

The Ethiopian people have long understood and transcended narrow-mindedness of language and cultural barriers, in contrast to what concocted today as that, there is no valid relationship between a name and the bearer of that name. The saying – “a rose by any other names, is still a rose flower” which has an equivalent connotation in Ethiopia, attests to this reality.

If we look at our national menus, ‘Kitifo’ (minced beef seas with variety of spices and edible ingredients) was introduced to all of us by the ‘Guraghe’ people. This food prevailed above many other assortments, not because the ‘Guraghe’ have the upper hand in coercing us to eat this delicacy rather that we came to appreciate it in the process of our daily interaction and treat to one another. When the ‘Dorze’ weaver skill appeared in the scenery as unbeatable the ‘Menz’ people scrambled for it; therefore rendering useless their own inferior standard of clothing namely “zitet”. This is a pride to the ‘Menz’ people that never complained of being undermined by the ‘Dorze’ weaver superiority. Assimilation is not one way process.

Tigray region pan cake ‘Ambasha’ making, southern Ethiopian hair-trimmings fashion, cosmopolitan speech manner of Addis Ababa are taking roots in several cities and towns all over the nation, this trend will also find its way into the suburban or remote localities and would definitely herald our unity.
Deterring people who have mobilized their resources in order to build a common house, by the instrumentality of unstable culture and out look is tantamount to deterring man’s inherent progress to unity and prosperity.

When people set their hearts on building a common home, they contribute everything at their disposal. They set an altar at the center of their home and sacrifice their spiritual and material values in the name of unity that has captivated their hearts. Basking in the glory of the smolder of the sacrifice, they sing for unity; subsequently they proclaim the supremacy of their unity upon themselves. They never regret about sacrifice their own languages and respective cultures for they did it in order to bring about unity-for their inner self has found rest in their common home. For people to grow into such a soul-nourishing supremacy, it is expected of a sane government to pave the avenues.

In the United States history Texas Annexation of 1845 was the voluntary annexation by the United States as Texas, the 28th state. Texas has a rich supply of natural resources. The eastern part of the state is a productive farming region with fertile soil and ample rainfall. But, they sacrifice their values and natural resources for the sake of united America. During that time the Texas and US leaders could see the future of USA. How wise they are?

If the glaring reality is this, why do the TPLF/EPRDF leaders abhor Ethiopian unity? Why should not they learn from experience for a quarter century, they have been in power? What kind of personality have they been building so as to undermine people? In order to tackle these questions of Ethiopians, I would in my capacity attempt to forward some suggestions:

The deep structure of TPLF “politics”

1) Corrupted mind:

When we observe world history, we find out all that are poisoned with ethnic or racist politics, are not well nurtured with political science or justice—rather they go around with their corrupt minds. Basically, we can not even call it politics as such. Because it is not guided by scientific principles, it is operated by people with low level of human conscience (mind) namely id. Adolph Hitler roughly and unequivocally espoused Darwinian Theory of “the survival of fittest” as if it would apply to human beings in the manner it applied to wild brutes. However, human beings are not instinctual beings, but are social creatures.

Contemporary diverse Ethiopian leaders’ foundational philosophy does not emanate from a pure conscience that has taken the common stance of the people into consideration. From the outset, they erected their political shack relying on narrow locality and corrupt mind. No wonder a policy that comes out of such narrow-mindedness contradict with one another.

To mention but one example from the constitution, Article 39 allows “people right of self-determination to the extent of secession’’ The question is where does such kind of “solution” to peoples’ right emanate from? Whereas, there were infinite ways/options of resolution of human disagreement, why does the government restored to this one alone? In case people happen to disagree, there are no options that are set in order to resolve it amicably?. This is indicative to the fact that how much negatively charged and corrupt Ethiopian leaders are.

I am reminded of what an EPRDF official replied when asked about the need/relevance of this article in the constitution, at such point in time the response was, “If you are at loggerhead with your wife, what would you have done?” I then understood the correlation between the Eritrea secession and symbolic connotation of a husband and wife’s altercations has to do with the government’s basis for incorporating that article into the constitution. This is heart breaking!

What can we expect from a government of such corrupt mind? The land tenure policy is another sad story by itself. On one hand, it advocates for secession and on the other, it does not allow the rightful transfer and sale of land.

2) Greed:

This is the characteristic of a person who makes good use of you in times of adversity and discards you when his needs are met. As I tried to mention earlier, a policy that doesn’t allow one to be engaged in development venture in another region, couldn’t have emanated any other than from a greedy mentality. Leaders who are subjected to such sort of psychological crisis are never satisfied with embezzling public assets. It is sad to learn that, according to World Bank and IMF’s findings, Ethiopia is at the forefront of corruption. In the same token, the government is weakening private businessmen and bolstering its own companies. Its greed do not stopped somewhere as it were, it has spread its tentacles even to the only export commodity namely coffee. Its conglomerates are undertaking all sorts of transactions and stashing a big proportion of money.

3) Lack of Confidence:

Such leaders never give in to a political principle saturated with understanding. The reason is that; they don’t own any significant amount of knowledge and the steams to administer people accordingly; hence, they resort to divisive and confliction methods. In order to prolong their stay in power whether it benefits or don’t, they assure on particular group of their protection and lure in into siding with them in order to use the cover-up to prolong their stay in power.

4). Not Being Pleased with Spontaneity of Language and Culture

These kinds of leaders, even if they step out of their locality, still their out look doesn’t seem to transcend narrow-mindedness. Even though they claim to denounce ‘Bonapartism’ but in reality they are advancing politics of this nature. The satisfactions they get out of nepotism are representing their own relatives and close friends far out weighs that of serving the wide spectrum of the populace. They don’t seem at all inspired with the idea of spontaneous national reward, thus they don’t understand both the meaning and significance of unity.

It is absurd and erroneous for a given government to obstruct people’s interaction that results in ethno-mentality and segregation. This is much worse in light of the world becoming global village through globalization.

In the contemporary world, people are transcending their own barrier and embracing others in spite of differences. Even the nations of South Korea where I reside now, I really get astonished by the intensity the government works towards globalization. They are doing all their best to enable their people to open up for cultural exchange. Their emphasis on learning the English language and their new-found transparency to foreign society is an indicator of their commitment . As much as I do appreciate their far-sightedness, I, on contrary and ashamed of having a government that destabilizes people’s unity.

In conclusion, ethnic based “politics”
It can lead ethnic groups to conflict
It highlights differences and can increase hate crimes
It politicizes identity in ethnic and religious terms
It scarifies individual rights to false-moral cultural stand

On the other hand conventional assimilation under the umbrella of Ethiopia promotes national unity. With out any doubt the best form of social cohesion is unity. If a nation is divided amongst several different cultures with no clear feeling of patriotism then country is in essence socially fractured.

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