Unity in Diversity versus Diversity in Unity By Messay Kebede

August 25th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

In an article titled “The Question of Unity: Do Words Matter?” (see http://ethioforum.org/?p=839), Maimire Mennasemay exposed the poison wrapped in the TPLF’s catchphrase “unity in diversity.” His insightful analysis reveals that the slogan is “diversity-centric,” in that it gives primacy to ethnic identities and conceives of unity as an agglomeration of sovereign and static ethnic groups. As an assemblage of diverse entities, unity is less the overcoming of fragmentation than the political consecration of its artificiality.

Worse yet, so conceived, unity becomes “inherently inimical to democracy.” Because it freezes divisions, it promotes the politics of divide-and-rule that is so characteristic of dictatorial regimes. It also hampers the development of universal norms, by which people assert their common interests, beyond ethnic particularisms, and come together, thereby perceiving unity as the realization of their common aspirations. With an acuminous grasp, Maimire shows how the imperial regime, the Derg, and the EPRDF have used different strategies to achieve a similar goal, namely, the coagulation of ethnicity, either through rejection or consolidation, so as “to implement their divide-and-exploit policies.” After all, whether ethnicity is accepted or rejected, in both cases it is set against unity.

Instead of “unity in diversity,” Maimire proposes the formula “diversity in unity,” which, he says, is “unity-centric” and, as such, friendly to democratic developments. Indeed, the suggested formulation no longer seeks the petrification of ethnic identities; rather, it promotes unity through the development of norms transcending particularisms. Not only does it thus give primacy to unity, but it also turns unity into the framework of diversity. It does not obtain an artificial gathering by reducing unity to a mere sum of diverse entities; on the contrary, it lays out a diversified, rainbow-like unity, as opposed to conglomerate unity. In the rainbow-like unity, the parts belong to the same unity and are in solidarity with one another, unlike the conglomerate unity, which is composed of heterogeneous entities that remain distinct as oil and water.

While conglomerate unity is perfectly propitious to a divide-and-rule policy, given that a hegemonic center becomes necessary to keep together the heterogeneous entities, the spectral quality of a diversified unity accentuates fellowship and solidarity, and so replaces divisive politics with the pursuit of consensus. In such a union, a hegemonic force becomes superfluous, since diversity becomes a component, an expression of unity rather than an entity in an artificial assemblage. Where people are united by common interests and traits, they resent divisive and dictatorial rule.

My own contribution suggests that Maimire’s analysis contains more than a prescription, an ought-to-be; it is also quite reflective of modern Ethiopian history. The beginning was unity rather than diversity. The ethnic problem of Ethiopia presupposes the territorial unity achieved by Menelik’s expansion and the consolidation of the Ethiopian state under Haile Selassie. Prior to the expansion and integration into the Ethiopian empire, most southern peoples lived under tribal organizations that significantly fell short of being nations, still less nation-states. By contrast, the northern part of modern Ethiopia had developed the sense of being a nation through a long history of unity under an organized state.

When the north conquered and integrated the south, a territorial unity was achieved, but which was fraught with deep contradictions, since it immediately took a hegemonic form. In addition to marginalizing the representatives of the southern peoples, the conquerors appropriated their land and implemented a policy of assimilation that was insensitive to their cultural legacy. And as the competition for scarce resources intensified with the process of modernization, the educated elites of the southern peoples and those of Tigray and Eritrea responded to the hegemony of Amhara ruling elite by increasingly rejecting unity and construing themselves as representatives of oppressed or “colonized” nations. Clearly, the historical reality does not show a movement from diversity to unity; rather, it displays the process of diversity emerging from unity as a result of hegemonic practices. Diversity is thus a posterior creation, not an initial point of departure, as suggested by the expression “unity in diversity.”

Unlike “unity in diversity,” which is an attempt to rewrite history by changing an outcome into a beginning, “diversity in unity” acknowledges the movement toward diversity. By conceptualizing diversity as the product of elite conflicts caused by hegemonic practices, it naturally sees it as bifurcation or divergence, which can become the basis of democratic unity, provided that it is not solidified by detrimental ideologies, notably by ethnonationalist beliefs. Ethiopia would thus evolve from territorial unity to democratic unity via bifurcation or internal differentiation. Differentiation is a mediation in the process of transition from imposed unity to diversified unity.

It is important that Ethiopian forces opposing ethnonationalist ideologies adopt the principle of “diversity in unity.” In so doing, they emphasize unity while integrating diversity in such a way that it is no longer antithetical to unity. Better still, by converting diversity into a construct triggered by elite conflicts, they counter its hypostatization, whose consequence is that diversity is approached as a political problem liable of a democratic solution, and not as a primordial attribute that is refractory to a sub-unit status. To say that diversity grew out of unity maintains the integrity of the whole, whereas the opposite, that is, the generation of unity from initial dispersion at best obtains a collection, which certainly does not amount to a nation.

  1. aha!
    | #1

    Both concepts ” unity in diversity” by Messay Kebedeand “diversity in unity” by by Mennasemay Miamire, border on being semantic, rather than philosophical and undermine ethnic and secessionist politics and/policies with underlying totaliarinism built into the constitution Article 46 of nine ethnic regions, rather than eighty, and most preferably into 14-15 original provinces, 39 (1), 8 sovereignity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians into oblivious. The philosophical concept of strength of a nation in diversity is looked at from the stand point of ethnic populations thrive much like species populations of animals in an ecosystem/provinces/Ethiopia in a cooperative and competive manner under a democratic system of Govenment, which at the moment exercising ethnic feralism and secessionism with underlying totaliarinsm, which curtails capitalism and democracy and encourages cultural and secessionist warefares. Such secenario of self rule and separate but unequal development has hampered the human, economic, infrastructural development by ecological regions, rather by nine ethnic regions and inculcated the new genation and its entourages to think of ethnicity first and Ethiopiawinet second, and have put all its might to undermine the struggle of the silent majority of Ethiopians for unity, territorial integrity, sovereignity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. I wonder which one of the two semantics support the idea that there is strength in divesity and the elites, politicians and their supporters think of unity as coalescing around a common objectives and strategies to achieve those objectives, and that the secessionist in armed struggle would not reach the above objectives unless they merge with Ginbot 7 and EPPF and the loyalist opposition parties abandon ethnic rights to individual rights to superced ethnic rights, ethnic fedralism to state fedralism of the original provinces each with assorted ethnic groups in order to coalesce with the above goals and strategies to overcome autocratic, ethnocratic/ethnicdictatorship with underlying to totaliarinism that does not allow for capitalism and democracy to take a foothold for the silent majority. To say the intellectuals in the prodemocracy movenents, the “teletafi and loyalist opposition parties, and liberation movements are not focusing on the central issues stipulated in the constitution to initiate true democracy and capitalism with independent branches of the govenment simiar to Western Europe and North Ameria.

  2. Nahuda
    | #2

    Messay, Maimire, and their likes! Here is my BIG question to you: have you ever thought, seriously, as to how YOU could duplicate yourselves–men and women who think through our crisis??? Believe it or not, currently you are only as a drop in the ocean.

  3. Sheger
    | #3

    People separat nations in the name of ethnic politices.

    Ethiopia is not the first one. In fact Ethiopia was the first uniter of worlds. Not some thing that you want to talk about what happened at the end or still.

    But the thing is look at Israel, even if we only talk what the Britons did to it which divid and concur, which Israel is still
    Paying for it dearly, Jordan, Palistayin, Lebenon and so on was Israel. What ungers the most of this Palistinians and so on is how small Israel is to be honest, I don’t know much but a conversation I had with some one who was trying to sell
    A sawing machine to me in new York about four years ago told me all of this lands was one or Israel but the British
    Separated it and that is what we are suffering about. And it is true if you read the songs of Solomon about Israel but
    It ain’t like they want to call it Plistain. May be Palistyin is Saudy Arabia ones.

    But how ever this land leasing and so on in Ethiopia will creat a lot of lostness and beyond and is making a lot of truble.
    Let’s save Ethiopia and Israel, Arabia and all by making peace and unity on survival bases and integrity and globalization in balance. There is no other choice. I love you all people, do we have some kind of hatred from our nature
    Against each other besides what we did to each other on this planet? I don’t think so. So let’s focus on the good for our
    Sake and for goodness sake. When that happens it will be……..lovey laloka babay…..

    God weens evel looses!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Sam
    | #4

    I read Messay’s article. I am confused when I started reading it, and I am still remain confused when I finished reading it. Messay wrote “to say that diversity grew out of unity mantains the integrity of the whole.” I have a hard time believing unity comes before diversity. At the risk of being called the Trojan Horse for the TPLF propaganda, I would say diversity comes before unity. How comes unity exist if there is no diversity to begin with? When we say there is unity now, we are acknowledging there are entities needing unity. In the case at hand the diversity of our ethnicities. In Ethiopia before the formation of Ethiopia as a country there were Oromos, Amharas, Gurages and so on. Probably that is the reason that Meles had said I was Tigre before I was an Ethiopian– by the way the guy is the prime minister of Ethiopia. Leaving aside the ridiculous theory of Meles, which had spoken several centuries after the formation of Ethiopia, it would not be as ridiculous as now if someone said that when the formation of Ethiopia was in its infacy. That shows unity is achieved after a long process. Diversity was there from the beginning. I am not disputing Messay’s article to give support for those who rushed to the jungle after reading a paragraph or two of Stalin’s National question. It is a little knowledge is dangerpous kind of thing. What infuriates me now is when the tribal politician still persist telling us the backwardness of Ethiopia stemmed from the opression of ethnicities by the Amharas. That is a hearsay. Ethiopia is backward because the great majority of Ethiopians are illetrate, science has no impact in the country at all, the culture is backward, the church sway people’s thinking to a great degree and much more. Without addressing such limitations, to hope that “ethnic equality”– whatever that mean– will bring unity is a dream that will not come true. Unity will come when an Arussi Oromo feels free to open a store in Adwa. When A Gurage from Showa opens a bar in the Oromo region of Dembidolo. For that to happen, our country infrastructure be modernized. Our politician stop talking I “am Tigre before I am an Ethiopian” kind of thing. Our people should be free thinkers: limiting religion only for saving soul. Not to be an answer for everthing that occurs under the sun. In that case we might not waste our time debating whether diversity or unity comes first.

  5. Sheger
    | #5

    And it is not just Briton only it is among others. No need to say the names, after all Britania could be Israel ,and it is better to say I did it to my self instead. I don’t get much of what Britania is blamed of most of the time. It sounds like
    A very unfoetunete kid that gets all the blame in the family when I think of England or Britania.

  6. Anonymous
    | #6

    Sam has tried to touch upon the core issue, than the authors of the two concepts, when he talks of an individual thinks of his own ethnic group first and Ethiopiawinet second, which was evident in the last 37 and particularly in the last 20 years due ethnic and/or secessionist politics and/or policies with under lying totaliarinism built into the constitution followed by indoctrination and educational system heavily loaded with Marxist ideology and ethnic and secessionist politics and language culture between Amaharic and Afaan Oromo and a diminishing curriculum in science and technology. While the indoctrination and implementations of Marxist ideology were took place during the Derg regime, the indoctrination and implementation of ethnic and secessionist politics and/or policies has been ongoing for the last 20 years at the expense of Ethiopian Nationalism and Ethiopian Interests, Sovereignity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians, and ones own political outlook of Ethiopiawinet before ones own Ethnicity in order to save Ethiopia from the ongoing process of disintegration into feudalistic states, in place of the previous feudal kings the previous provinces that have been put under a central government for tax collection purposes to run a govenment that renders public services and pay sallaries to the army, the police, the security forces, and educational institutions from the taxes collected, which the liberation movements spearheaded by TPLF consider as oppression of nations and nationalities as the the central government had not used force in the Amahara region to collect taxes, I presume.

  7. Gabi
    | #7

    Mr. Diversionary politician?? Reincarnation of Lidetu Ayalew??

    You are mainly trying to descredit all oppositions forces while trying to appear anti EPRDF. Typical Lidetuism! In your “common-format” declaration, all opposition forces are not spared, Ginbot 7, EPPF, EPRP, OLF, Medrek and all ethiopian oppositons that walk on this earth. I am tired of this typical “Adwa” logic of trying to confuse the Ethiopian masses by third-grade cheap diversionary tactics. Appearing to oppose EPRDf but hitting at the heart of the opposition! When your master-format declaration of bashing the opposition and your anti-Eprdf dummy scripts are removed you stand no where. I say aha! What a cheap gamer!

  8. Anonymous
    | #8

    Correction:… in order to accelerate the ongoing process of disintegration into feudalistic ethnic states, in place of the previous provinces….

  9. aha!
    | #9

    Thanks for bringing up your sentiment for loyalist opposition partiesand perhaps for the “teletafi parties/eprdf to which I have no symathy for for the last five years.

    My narratives are based on the platform of the parties and their policital models: TPLF/eprdf, Tigrai-Harena/fdd/fdre and KAEUP, EDP and others, EPRP and others not participating in elections and the criteria are “Ethiopian Nationalism and Ethiopian National Interests and the sovereignity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians and the individuals identity to be Ethiopiawinet first and ones ethnicity second with due respect to ones citisenship to Ethiopia one way or the other. What is your contention based on? Mine is based on the above criteria and it is based on logic, where I call for those with ethnic agenda to coalesce with those with national agenda for unity, territorial integrity, sovereignity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians instead of falling prey to ethnic and secessionist politics and/or policies with totaliarinism, by abandoning their agenda for ethnic rights for individual rights and ethnic fedralism for state federalism of the of the original provinces and ethnic populations live in in an Ethiopian Ecosystem with freedom and liberty and abandon secessionist right engaged in armed struggle by merging with Ginbot 7 and EPPF for freedom and democracy for all Ethiopians, eventhough I am inclined to a non-violent uprising for freedom by the silent majority of Ethiopians. Thank you for asking. My point is is for the oppostion engaded in a non-violent uprising to freedom not democracy to steam line their goals and strategies into the common goals for unity, territorial integrity, sovereignity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians to save Ethiopia from the negative forces of disintegration. That does not happen, if the teletafi and loyalist opposition parties holding on to ethnic federalism, having one of their feet with TPLF/eprdf regime and the other with Ethiopia Nationalism, Ethiopian National Interests, the sovereignity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians on the other foot.

    TPLF/eprdf regime is there to implement and indocrinate of the masses with ethnic and secessionist politics and/or policies with totaliarianism, much like the Derg regime was indocrinating the masses with Marxist ideology which is implemented by the current regime, creating a double wammy for the silent majority of Ethiopians.

  10. Gobena
    | #10

    One thing what I always fail to understand is this -
    Why is it that OLF continue, on the one hand, to denigrate the history of Ethiopia, attack the term Ethiopia, and on the other hand, OLF continue to perpetuate false history and image for her followers.OLF elites are simply imposing their will upon the people of Oromo when they demand full allegiance of all Oromos to embrace their cause without question. For instance, in the past OLF has adapted Latin alphabet for Oromo language instead of indigenous alphabets, it did this without any regard to the interest of the diverse (in religion, geography) Oromo people. Does unelected OLF has any right to tie on the neck of Oromos a millstone and force them to adopt a new alphabet don’t think so. Now I don’t oppose a political party or the people if they chose to replace any term that they felt has become insulting to them.Neverthless, I have problem when a political party such as OLF chooses to adapt Oromo instead of Gall only to advance her political gain. For instace, Galla refers to the people, Galigna refers to the language but one can’t drive a TERRITORIAL NAME FROM THIS TERM. While the use of the term Oromo refers to the people, fan Oromo to the language, and OLF conveniently can drive OROMIA AS A TERRITORIAL NAME. The question is how can it be acceptable for OLF to invent and reinvent the cultural context of its people as in the above; and this is being accepted as true history and genuine make up of the people of Oromo? It is a very sad state of affair for the elite OLF leaders to demand the people a transfer of custodianship so that OLF alone and decide what is best for the people. Each one of us has one life to live; why should it be permitted for OLF or any elite organization to assume guardianship over the life of the entire society? It is true the problem of our people including the Oromos can be solved when the freedom of each individual is respected. That is right to vote, to movement, to pursue happiness, to aspire. Individual freedom is our gift from GOD, and it is a corner stone of democracy; it need not be relegated to any organization or entity. Instead, each citizen must be entitled to inherit this cardinal freedom. Past experience shows OLF does not allow room for independent choice of the people of Oromos in which it claims is representing.OLF elites like to impose their will upon the masses. The reason the elites of OLF cling to the notion of liberation is because they like to be super boss to their clan. They want to tell them what they must do, where to go, if need be to order them to shut up.Inother words they demand absolute obedience from their own. If anyone is in doubt of this truth I refer you what life under Shabia and TPLF, actually is for both people: modern slavery.bb

  11. Nagaasoo
    | #11

    Ato Mesay,
    As far as the Oromo people and their liberation front (OLF) are concerned, you can promote the type of unity you suggested. But be sure that the language in to which we all need to MELT will be Afaan Oromo, not your beloved Amharinya. The third-generation OLF is supporting your view, if you agree with this language issue.

    By the way, is Nagaasso Gidadaa’s UDJ party not one of those OLFites with the mentality of the third-generation OLF? When we look to the program of the party, its §3.2.4 says: “Amharic shall serve as a working language of the federal state. When approved by a referendum, there can be another language, in addition to Amharic, that serves as a working language of the federal state.”

    Why did Obbo Nagaassoo and other Oromo in this party fail to put Afaan Oromo to be one of the federal working languages explicitely, just as they did to Amharinya? Are they not making the same mistake made by Emperor Minilik Caalaa and his best general Gobanaa Daacee? Both of them being Oromo (the first one Abyssinized Oromo, the second one non-Abyssinized), they could have made Afaan Oromo the working language of the Ethiopian empire they built, instead of making their “Lisane Negus”, aka Amharinya, the only one used officially in the empire!

    Now, the OLF movments should take heed of the Habesha organizations like the UDJ and G-7, who want to repeat the same mistake! No other move except the following three ways is acceptable by the Oromo people:

    – The first-generation OLF, who is concentrating on achieving only an ‘Independent Oromia’, as a fair goal without influencing other nations,

    - The second-generation talking about either an ‘Independent Oromia’ or an ‘Imperious Oromia’, the latter usually being put as an autonomous Oromia, but the intention is to have the type of sovereiginity, which the Tigreans now do have; i.e an ‘Independent Tigrai’ ruling over the other “autonomous” national areas. Can Oromia be so independent and rule over the others?

    - The third-generation being more inclusive and open for an ‘Independent Oromia’, for an ‘Imperious Oromia’ and for an ‘Integrative Oromia’, the last one being the same type of sovereignity which the Amhara used to have till 1991, i.e having the central power and making Amharinya the centeral major language. Can Oromos have the central power and make Afaan Oromo the major language?

    I think these three options of our future walabummaa/sovereignity are not bad, but the question lies on the timing of stressing one of the alternatives in comparison to the other two. Clear is that any nation under oppression and with a threatened security prefers and stresses ‘independence’, whereas the nation, which does have a confidence to survive, to thrive and who even is sure to be able to rule over other nations do emphasize the other two alternatives, i.e the ‘autonomy’ and ‘integration’.

    We may ask: which position should the Oromo people, who are still under the colony and domination need to emphasize now? Surely, we need to stress an ‘independence’, just as the first-generation OLF correctly did and is still doing. Even though it is not bad that the second-generation accepted a possible ‘autonomy’ (imperious position)as an option and the third-generation now started to furhter entertain even the third alternative of ‘integrative’ Oromia, the smart side of all the three generations is that they never gave up and will never give up the ‘independence’ option!

    As long as the Oromo people are under oppression, the question for an ‘independence’ is mandatory and a must! But care must be taken for this position is used by the Woyane cadres as a means to neutralize the pro-integration Amhara forces, who are also nowadays the archenemies of the Woyane. Woyane is surviving and thriving by making these Amhara forces and the pro-independence Oromo fronts neutralize each other.

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