Identity politics Scaled by Democracy & Justice By Geletaw Zeleke

February 12th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

Identity Politics on The Democratic Scale

It is true that a genuine democracy respects and cultivates natural differences. Democracy in this manner is an art of governing people in the principle of respecting human differences. Contemporary politics are cast upon the last comparative unit of human difference, at this point the argument arises concerning wherein the ultimate particle of human difference lies?

This question should be answered before the political set up process takes place and if not the entire political system is not a real democracy and furthermore, cannot meet the complex needs of its citizens.

When politicians stand to build their political house they should dig to carve out a workable human difference before they begin to erect a political pole. Those groups which base their politics on real human difference are democratic by nature supporting the free flow of democratic and just ideas within and throughout. The last particle of human difference in a multiethnic Society is not an ethnic group but individual difference. The ultimate comparative unit of human difference is found at the level of the individual.

Within the borders of today’s Ethiopia there are a number of comparative groups categorized according to their ethnic difference including the super-ethno classification of the Sematic and Cushitic tribes and further, geographic designations. Below the ethnic group there are the sub-ethnics, the mishpocha, the family and other geographic and psychological difference. The ethnocentric politics of Ethiopia while it shaped its house cut out human differences from both above and below and shaped itself instead by ethnic group. The question is if these politicians were really concerned with respecting human difference then why haven’t they recognized the importance of individual differences. Such kinds of politics are not democratic by nature. The driving motive behind ethnocentric politics is not democracy but more precisely gaining an advantage to attain a better life at the expense of others.

In this kind of irrational politic leaders normally espouse the doctrine of “survival of the fittest” directly or implicitly. For their followers they preach this gospel of the natural undemocratic. Those supporters drunk by their own self satisfying banter and doctrine do not have any good sense or rationale left over for the rest of the people. Furthermore, due to this process of self alienation they even lose compassion for groups outside of their own when they thirst for freedom, democracy or justice.
The heart of identity politics is not democracy but instead a question of bloodline superiority. To enhance their well-being their reference is not democracy or justice. They only instead try to favor their group by any means. Those coming to control such centralized power repeatedly and throughout history have always wanted to maintain their “status quo”. Because of this nature in the multi-ethnic country of Ethiopia there will never be mutual understanding or rational discussion among groups as long as bloodline politics govern the political system. Identity politics are not progressive as a result of their rigid nature in fact they can be dubbed “change proof”. At the heart of these politics is a disregard for the dynamic forces of a democracy.

Another monumental problem of identity politics is that, it disregards the core reliance of a democracy on the voice of the majority. Democracy is concerned with the cohesion of the voice of the majority governing the minority. In the ethno-political country there is no guarantee of a power transfer taking place in a National level election because the ruling ethnic group will never have respect for the voice of the majority.

Here, when we say majority and minority we are not talking about the size of ethnic groups. I personally do not believe that there is “majority” and “minority” ethnic groups in terms of their cultural values and their languages. In front of democracy all groups are equal in their ethnic nature. No one person’s culture or language is more or less important than another. Amhara and Derashe ethnics are equal in terms of their ethnic nature, Tigray and Hadya culture and language, Oromo and Hareri values cannot rival the others.

The question of majority and minority have a significant value standing in front of democracy, but not in comparison to an ethnic nature. There is no proverbial tall or short ethnic group by its nature. But of course, in front of democracy the majority will dominate the minority according to convention. The contradiction lies where the roles of majority and minority bring about huge confusion when the idea of a democracy is corrupted by the prejudice of ethnic politics. When we politicize the size of ethnic groups the tendency to hurt the lesser populated groups results. This political Environment will create hopelessness in the arena of power or influence. Meanwhile, these lesser populated groups will choose to take up arms or to fight to raise the question of cessation to fill in the gaps.

When bloodline based politics govern, the trust between ethnic groups horizontally and the trust between people and the government vertically communication will inevitably break down and governance will become unreliable. Political parties who establish themselves with respect to individual rights or the essence of human difference can be Democratic.These parties will be equipped with the moral capability to respect and govern natural rights of citizens, their will, their knowledge and their capacities and talents. This important founding principle of a democracy is a guarantee for groups and citizen’s equality.

Politicians who dedicated themselves solely to family members or their home towns have split personalities. One on hand they are leaders for their interested groups and on the other hand they try to lead the nation. The split personalities of these identity politicians continuously confuse nations by their self politicizing and only promise no guarantee to lead the nation without bias. What is more because high ranked individuals within the political base are usually relatives of bloodline it is impossible for citizens to trust in their government. Parties who shape their philosophy on bloodlines, culture or language can not say that they are democratic.

GPDO, SDAF, ANDP, OPDO, ANDM, TPDU, WPDF, and more all have the name “democracy” but they are not democratically principled parties in so much that they erect their politics by bloodline and ethno group designations. In fact these groups are more appropriately described as political groups or parties who stand only for their own local and most highly-centralized benefit.

When the rhythm of such undemocratic politics spills throughout the country democratic institutions become weak meanwhile, the ruling party scrambles to fill high ranking governmental positions with family members and to extend their status quo. These types of movements bring about injustice and encourage undemocratic practices across the entire country.
As long as politicians continue to ignore the rights of the individual for liberty the core values of democracy namely the voice of the majority, equality, and freedom will be eroded while injustice, inequality, and disrespect for the voice of the people will flourish.

Identity Politics on a Justice Scale

I recall one politician accused TPLF/EPRDF for being unwilling to allocate power according to the size of his ethnic group. I don’t really understand this question, what more can a group do with political power proportional to its members? Is this a question for justice? Is this a question for Democracy? Is this a question for equality? The questions of fairness or equality can never be correctly addressed without first eliminating race based politics.
Politics shaped by favoritism have the main objective to concern themselves with favor for their own members rather than to concern themselves with justice. Whenever a political environment is controlled by the spirit of corrupted politics all groups will raise the question of advantage.

Ethnocentric politics encourage homogeneity and discourage diversity and union. In this era we are seeing the fact that even homogeneous societies cannot sustain their own culture. Their values are growing horizontally towards globalization.
The spirit of bloodline politics has destroyed the infrastructure of justice as it spreads among ethnic nations. While on its path to completely alienate communities, these corrupt politics spill out destructive ethnic based politicians from every corner. Because of the measure of these “foolish rope” politics compassion for other groups is almost non-existent. Exclusionary bloodline based politics have wiped out compassion for other groups to where it is almost eroded in Ethiopia. In fact the upper handed group almost always achieves a better life at the expense of other groups. The group that comes to control central power will always have a tendency to maintain the status quo. Because of its nature those who are waiting for TPLF to govern power in a manner of justice and democracy are waiting for a boat that has already sailed.

Ethnocentric politics conflict with the value of conventional cultural assimilation that willful assimilation is just by its nature. When people live together they grow and shape their lives together. People can agree to build common values to attain justice and equality for their future better lives. Culture and language are not eternal differences. When people can agree to build a common house for themselves their lives will improve.


Ethnocentrism is not a politics rather it is a believe in “survival of the fittest” which an idea which does not concern itself with justice or democracy. The measures of justice and democracy when applied to ethnic based politics show that bloodline politics don’t have a place in governance. For the sake of Ethiopia’s people and future politicians should separate their hearts and minds from ethnocentrism and rely instead on the questions brought before the ideas of unity and a unified Ethiopia. Of course there are tough questions in our history but, these questions can not be answered by racist or prejudicial politics. Ethiopians should stand together to get rid of ethnic based politics and engage the counter movements of justice and democracy.

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