BY MULUGETA GUDETA
In the last forty or fifty years, Ethiopian politics has been shaped by too much foreign ideology either from the West or the East. There was little or no home-based political thinking. By political culture we mean, “A set of attitudes and practices held by a people that shape their political behavior. It includes moral judgments, political myths, beliefs, and ideas about what makes for a good society.” we can say that for a long time, Ethiopian political culture reflected the objective realities of power politics and power struggles among and between different classes, communities and entrenched interests.
Which traditional ideology was the ruling ideology largely depended on who controlled the state and its cultural apparatuses. If all traditional thinking shared something in common it is the fact that it was imposed on society by force and became the norms for many centuries. These cultural and political ideas left little room for compromise and accommodation while their common features were violence, secrecy, intolerance, conspiracy and a deal whereby winners take all and losers have no place in the new orders.
The worst feature of this kind of political culture was in fact the elimination of perceived aspirants to power and non-conforming politicians who questioned the distribution of power at any stage of history. The combined result of all this process was the proliferation of military coups that paved the road to power which was mostly littered with bloodsheds.
On the other hand, modern or post-revolution politics in Ethiopia was always polarized between Left and Right ideologies that were imported from foreign countries. Countries like the former Soviet Union, China and the United States have played key roles in disseminating or shaping the elite political culture while the traditional. political culture of intolerance and accommodation continued unabated. In fact, imported ideologies were superimposed on the worst features of Ethiopian traditional political culture and the product of the process was ideological justification for the brutality of Ethiopian traditional political culture of intolerance, stubbornness and “me or the deluge” attitude expressed in a more brutal form.
One of the ideological imports of the post-revolution Ethiopian political culture was for instance what is known as Marxism-Leninism and more specifically Stalinism who was its most brutal expression. Stalinism first made its appearance in Ethiopian politics back in the early 1960s when the student movement was busy finding a systematic articulation of the ideology it chose to follow in order to evolve into a political movement with liberating aspirations.
Within Stalinism, the so-called National Question had particular attraction to some of the leaders of the student movement whose extreme dislike of the aristocratic order led them to counter it with the most extreme form of rejection of the centralized and unified process of nation building that was yet a work in progress. The student leaders were keen to end the imperial order by any means at their disposal and they found Stalinism as a power weapon to fire at the unifying aspirations of the imperial order.
The nation-building process has barely started and the contours of a new order were nowhere visible. The students used Stalinism to abort the national building process as soon as it was conceived and started a new approach to nation building based on “the national question”. As it later on transpired, Stalin’s national question was something that was designed to deal with the more advanced state of the former Soviet union as a mechanism to accommodate the real or perceived grievances of non-Russian peoples living within the former Soviet Union.
As history later on showed, Stalinism was not an answer to the national question in Russia but an ideological tool to strengthen, centralized and control the peripheral peoples from a single centre and a single party which were Moscow and the communist party. The hollowness and brutality of the Stalinist ideology was laid bare when the former Soviet Union imploded leading to the creation of independent republics.
The Stalinist remedy in no way fitted into the Ethiopian realities of a very backward, pre-capitalist, traditional and religious polity. It had no basis whatsoever in Ethiopian culture and value system. The student leaders simply copied a chapter from Stalin’s “National Question” and used it as their guide to action or as a blueprint for the transformation of Ethiopian society. Leftist politicians in Ethiopia did not understand the hidden dangers of Stalinist or Marxist ideology that preached atheism, promoted personality worshipping, denial of any earthly authority except the communist party and its general secretary.
And all this was imposed on a deeply spiritual society that had moral values diametrically opposed to those of Europeans. The other illusion was that Stalinism was a prescription or a panacea against poverty, backwardness and social evils Ethiopians suffered from. The student leaders did not understand that Stalinism led to the enrichment of the communist elites and the material and spiritual impoverishment of communist societies.
The student leaders lacked maturity to analyze the consequences of foreign ideology. In their hasty zeal for development they overlooked the fact that no foreign ideology would free Ethiopia from poverty unless the people themselves decide to free themselves of backwardness.
Like post-war neocolonialism, the old elites tried to implement in many African societies but their efforts only resulted in enriching themselves at the cost of Africa. It is the same with any foreign so-called developmental ideology. Recent experience with Ethiopia also prove that the so-called developmental state theory was used by the then ruling TPLF elites to rob the country and leave the people in poverty and growing indebtedness.
What is also amazing is how the new elites espoused the illusions of the old student elites of the 1960s in order to use foreign ideology to promote their narrow interests. Well, we can excuse the students because of their inexperience or youthful naivety in embracing Stalinism or any other foreign ideology for that matter. But we may not absolve the new TPLF elites for selectively using the most brutal aspects of that ideology in order to brutalize their own people.
They used the one party system and democratic centralism to consolidate their power and repress dissidents. They flagrantly violated human rights in order to extend their rule. They robbed the country in order to fatten their foreign bank accounts, just as ruling elites anywhere in Africa have done.
Worse still, the TPLF elites used the illusion of Stalinism to fabricate their own nightmares in the form of ethnic federalist state that is nothing other than another form of dictatorship and fascism. The old Stalinist model of nation building failed because it was dictatorial. The present nation building process in Ethiopia too is failing because it is basically based on the Stalinist premises of old disguised with democratic phraseology.
Western liberal ideology which was once considered a model of democracy and development has also failed in Africa as contemporary events have reconfirmed it. it has led to neo-colonialism, elite dictatorship and neo-fascism whereby the ruling elites resort to acts of robbing their own people under the guise of ethnic ideology which is in fact the worst form of nationalism. Because African elites are proved to be mostly greedy and also lazy, they do not take the trouble to find African ways to freedom and development based on African traditions and values systems.
Instead of that, they copy theories from textbooks produced by neo-colonialists as manuals for the subjugation and impoverishment of African societies and use them for their own narrow benefits. This is what genuine African intellectuals and patriots from Fanon, to Nkrumah and Armah are dealing with the African elite predicament. Ethiopian elites who tried to use Western ideology to develop their country had scored initial success when they were students in Western capitals.
However, once they came back to Ethiopia, they joined the bands of looters who conspired with the ruling classes to turn themselves into modern bureaucrats and technocrats, enjoying the privileges while the poor masses lived from hand to mouse. The modern elites are bad caricatures of their old colleagues who flaunt democratic phraseology while enriching themselves at the cost of the nation as agents of Western neo-colonialists.
There is however a new and emerging anti-neocolonial consciousness in many parts of Africa that is seeking to redress the injustices suffered by Africans in the hands of metropolitan capitalism which has grown increasingly heartless, mindless and voracious. Modern neocolonialism has grown into a monster that is seeking to dominate the world and re-colonize Africans through the instrumentality its Western-trained or westernized elites.
The newly emerging anti-neocolonial consciousness is evident in the #NO-MORE international movement in the Ethiopian Diaspora and in the voices of support it is enjoying at present against neocolonial machinations to dominate the Horn of Africa by creating and sponsoring chaos in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and what have you. This movement is yet to win millions of minds across the world as well as across Africa and become the call of our time.
For this and other reasons, the forthcoming dialogue for national reconciliation in Ethiopia is expected to take all these factors into consideration and come up with actions that justify the birth of the new pan-Africanist consciousness that will be predicated on the unity of all Africans and Ethiopians anywhere they live. This is a new opportunity for going beyond national unity and embrace pan-African objectives without which neocolonialism is bound to use divide and rule tactics to put out the fire of dignity and anger that is evident in all Africans at present.
Most of all, the forthcoming national dialogue for peace in Ethiopia needs to be predicated on the pan-African ideology of unity and solidarity that has survived many challenges in the past to become a unifying ideology or even a kind of “secular religion” for all black people in the world. It is only by thinking in African terms that Africans can emerge from their narrow tribal, ethnic and narrow nationalist consciousness and ascertain their identity as Africans and black people with common destiny. Parochialism, elitist greed and brutality as it is evident in the ongoing quest by the neo-fascist TPLF to play the old role of neocolonial surrogate in the Western and US quest for world hegemony.
For the last 50 years or so, Ethiopia has been kept hostage to the defunct ideology of Stalinism and Leninism that has brought tragedy to Ethiopians. The TPLF is still clinging to this brutal ideology and trying to stage a comeback by using Stalinist tactic of violence and mass terror. It is by officially and squarely rejecting this alien, brutal and terrorizing ideology that the real journey toward the mental emancipation of all Ethiopians would start and everything would fall into place. Africa’s development will only start when Africans start to think and act in the tested and tried Pan-Africansit way that knows no Left or Right polarizing ideologies.
It is only by going back to their time-tested traditions, and political cultures that they can defeat neocolonialists and their local hirelings. And when they sit for dialogue they have to think in these same pan-Africanist terms that transcend tribalism, ethnic bigotry and hidden elitist agendas.
The January 14/2022