The Circumstance of Citizen Psychology Under Ethnic Federalism By Geletaw Zeleke

March 12th, 2012 Print Print Email Email

Politics in its purest sense is the art of governance. This art should not be built upon differences of human language or culture but instead should rely on the dynamism of human creativity. Whenever politics are attached to bloodline, culture and language the play of governance is led off course. The nature of such political practices will infect and ultimately spoil the social system of multi-ethnic Ethiopia. In this piece let us discuss the psychological impact upon our fellow citizens of the crisis that has followed ethnic federalism in Ethiopia.


Citizens under a given political structure do interact for their survival. In the process of their day to day communication the existing political atmosphere affects them positively or negatively. When their culture and language are politicized, barriers to cross cultural communication arise. This kind of political atmosphere tries and tests citizen tolerance of culture and language difference. Eventually this feeling can grow to destroy the psychological attachments of different cultural groups.

One of the problems that can be seen in such identity politics is that citizens begin to generalize individual strength and weakness. Generalization in this context is that whenever an unreasonable action is carried out by a single group member the other members of the same group do not easily admit that the act was in fact unreasonable, especially to members outside of their group.

When a political figure does a good work the atmosphere of identity politics pushes us to discover his culture and language belongingness and to generalize his strength in terms of his group. Conversely, attempting to deny negative behaviors of ethnic elites and make excuses to mask their wrong behaviors happens since group members identify themselves in terms of their respective group. Internally as well as externally citizens can become irrational and reactionary in the political and leadership discussion process.

Whenever high ranking political leaders are accused of having committed a crime they fear other groups will judge them in a generalized way. Believing that the weakness of politicians will be considered a weakness of the whole group, transgression is easily overlooked. In this kind of political atmosphere citizens can not build trust between groups because generalization is a virus spoiling even fair judgments of individuals. This disease affects the whole justice system of the country and ultimately hurts national cohesion.

Identity confusion

Once identity politics darkened the spirits of Ethiopian citizens they were pushed to identify themselves by their culture and language groups. During this time those who were floating in the “melting pot”, as well as those who were enjoying inter-cultural life and those of mixed-ethnicity faced identity confusion.

When government offices began to write ethnic origin on citizen identity cards a lot of citizens were confused. The confusion came from citizen’s previous feelings of identifying themselves nationally to their current feelings of identifying themselves by ethnic group. They already believed that being Ethiopian was their identity but the new political climate was forcing citizens to re-identify themselves with their heritage.

In history, in the republic of Rwanda, interahamwe operators forced Rwandans to write their cultural identity on citizen identity cards. This trend highlighted the differences of Rwandans and was not promoted by cultural or traditional leaders but rather was led by government bodies. This practice seemed to accelerate the potential conflict.

Separatism dilemmas

The political climate of identity politics causes citizens to develop feelings of separatism. As we have seen, ethnic federalism is a virus working to dismantle the confidence of citizens. First, trust between groups and the government is degraded making way for a lack of confidence of group elites concerning the uncertain future of the group. Next, in order to reduce uncertainty groups fall victim to identity politics or resort to politicizing their geography and culture. Finally, these trends bring about the state of being separated psychologically at which time groups stand opposed and for the sole benefit of their respective enclave.

Behaviors of the not only independent but separated ethnic groups are not based on justice and democracy but rather are driven by self-interest and checked only by self-preservation. They do not concern themselves with the cultivation of justice or the growth of development but instead invest their minds and lives to the business of their disparate localities.

Dysfunctional social cohesion

Ethnic federalism can damage the cohesion of Ethiopian ethnic groups as time goes by. Social cohesion is the guarantee of the continuation of multi-ethnic countries. The co-existence of ethnic groups is highly dependent on the health and quality of social interactions overall. Among the social systems that give life to the country is its political set up. If the political set up is a culture and linguistic oriented one, then it is natural that groups will develop a personality of suspicion and mistrust, especially, when the system is not worthy enough to rely on. Since the motive and the psychological down play of Ethiopian identity politics is a play of advantages (ene ekedim -ene ekedim). It is impossible to stop the feelings of mistrust among citizens unless the entire political arena is inoculated against this social virus.

The virus ultimately attacks all of the systems of the society not only the political system. The traditions of fairness of citizens will lose their place unless Ethiopians begin immediately to protect themselves from this virus of justice.

The emerging of revenge and hatred based political culture
Identity politics is never free and clear of revenge and hatred. Politics must be free from these thoughts. One of the ethnic federalism problem is that it victims political party leaders. Those who have power and control as well as their supporters will always work to maintain their power. Since ethnic-based politics have darkened the spirits of Ethiopians group grievances have grown year to year.

According to the failed state index the rise of the group grievance score is markedly increasing. In 2005 the score was 6, in 2006 it was 7, in 2008 the score was 7.8, in 2009 it was 8.2, in 2010 the score was 8.6, and in 2011 it was 8.4. This increase shows that the trust between ethnic groups is deteriorating rapidly. Again, Ethiopians must begin to take action to reverse the effects of ethnic federalism and to stop being the victims of hateful politics.

God Bless Ethiopia!

  1. aha!
    | #1

    This article provides an added dimension to ethnic fedralism to what etnic federalism contributed to a divide and rule policy by arbiteraly dividing the land mass into seven of the nine and/or 80 ethnc groups, and providing a constitution of not not only self-rule and separate development by ethnic boundries, but also the ability to secede upto self-determination similar to the condition for Eritrea. While the first constitutional frame work sets precondition for secession, it also sets the precedence for border disputes among the major ethnic groups in the future to say the least the contnued governance under autocratic, ethnocratic rule and/or ethnic dictatorship to maintain the minority ethnic rule or the majority ethnic rule according to the current line up of OPDF/EFDE/fdre, as mirror image of the current regime.

    While such set up may hay have contributed to the indoctrination of young generation in ethnic fedralism, secessionism and totalirinism, much in the same as the indoctrination of the marxisist ideology, it can also be interpreted as having a Psycological impact on the same youth generation, with the help of the political leaders in the teletafi parties, the loyalist opposition parties, and the secessionist movements which are in direct support of the constitution of ethnic fedralism, secessionism and totalirianism, hindering the silent majority of Ethiopians to transition to free market capitalism, democracy and individual freedom, liberty and equality to have precedence of ethnic and secessionist rights to install a democratic government, a democracy of the people of the people by the people and for the people.

  2. aha!
    | #2

    It is this line of thinking that prvented the two oppostion groups to the TPLF/eprdf regime to come together/merge under a national agenda for unity, territorial integrity, sovereignity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians, where the last item refers to individual freedom, liberty and equality much as it prevails in the United States of America, superceding ethnic rights.

  3. aha!
    | #3

    While I am contending ethnic fereralism, secessionism and totaliariansinm as being antagonistic to natural order of coexistience from the standpoint of species population ecology of plants and most apprpriately animals through cooperation and competition for the availble resources within ecological regions/provincial states, without be being artificially delimited to ethnic boundries. The author is approaching the disruptive nature of ethnic fedralism, not to mention ethnic secessenism and totaliarinism with respect to property and business ownership and individual freedom, liberty and equality, from the stand point of mental state of the individual or its ethnic group towards each other and towards the current regime.

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