Ethiopia’s long history is often characterized as both rich and poor. Historians, anthropologists, genetic researchers, linguists, and cultural experts seem to concur that the land has a long continuous footprint of humanity’s endeavors. Yet, the country’s economic and human rights attributes since the invention of gun in Europe are particularly troublesome.
The political structure of the country may be looked at two broad temporal stages. The watermark for these stages may be viewed roughly as the time when the concepts of national boundary and sovereignty were introduced after the conquest of most of Africa by European states. Before this watermark, the social structure, viewed through the Oromo society, can be characterized as a line of Nama (the individual person), Mana (house), Olla (neighbor), Ganda (village), Nanno (vicinity), and Biya (country).
We are not aware of limitations to a non-aggressive free movement of the people from one Biya to another before the concepts of boundary and sovereignty were later introduced. At the same time, fierce fighting back against aggressions characterizes the broader Ethiopian society at both the individual and communal levels. This sentiment appears to have been expressed in Emperor Haile Selassie I’s circular letter to the League of Nations that protested Anglo-French-Italian encroachments in the early 20th century. According to a Time Newsmagazine article published on November 3, 1930, Emperor Haile Selassie I wrote: “With God’s help, and thanks to the courage of our soldiers, we have always, come what might, stood proud and free upon our native mountains.”
Perhaps, the two most important historical figures who signify the introduction of the concepts of national boundary and sovereignty in Ethiopia are Emperor Menelik II and Ras Gobana Dache, who used guns manufactured in Europe to bring a large swath of Biyas under a centralized rule. Levying taxes is often noted as the main driver of their centralization undertaking. Even though both may be from the same Biya, their linguistic differences inevitably led to the dominance of Amharic, the language Emperor Menelik II spoke, at the expense of Afan Oromo, which, conceivably, both spoke, and other languages.
While Emperor Menelik II is generally accepted as a heroic figure particularly by the Amharic speaking people of Ethiopia, partly because of his centralization undertaking and partly because he led the war against Italy at Adwa to victory, Ras Gobana Dache is often accused by a section of Oromo political activists for his collaboration with Emperor Menelik II.
There are other Oromo political activists, such as Saaqqata Shumii and Qorsa Barii who note Ras Gobana Dache’s undertakings as achievements in their own right. In an article he wrote in the run up to the 2005 Ethiopian legislative elections, Saaqqata Shumii wrote that the southern part of Ethiopia was built by the blood and bones of Oromos. In a September 1, 2008, article posted to the web, Qorsa Barii argued that “Gobana was just a state maker,” and that the accusation against him is irrational. He went on to liken Gobana to Bismarck of Germany or Giuseppe Garibaldi of Italy.
The latest addition to this spectrum is Lenco Lata, a former leadership member of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). In his recent two part interview with the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRP) radio, Lenco Lata said that he loves Ethiopia very much and called on his listeners and the EPRP leadership to work together with him to bring a better future to the country. What signifies Lenco’s admission is that he has been in the camp of those accusing Gobana for working with Emperor Menelik II in building Ethiopia, the country that Lenco finally said he is very much in love with.
This is in a stark contrast to the views of most recent day Ethiopian political activists whose political views are often characterized by a lump sum rejection or acceptance of a political ideology they don’t subscribe to or subscribe to fervently. Such fervor may be what failed many Ethiopian-students-turned-political-activists to make a clear distinction between the people, the country, the political ideology at a given time, and the ruling class or party of the day. As an example, the Republican and Democratic parties in the U.S. have been the alternative governing party of the day at any given time whereas the political ideologies expressed in the constitution of the country and the people have been amended many times. These amendments have been done without extrapolating the struggle for the amendments to fighting the country and the people. Those extrapolations may be treated as treasonous crimes in the U.S.
In Ethiopia, the political ideologies and ruling classes or parties of the day in recent times are Emperor Haile Selassie I’s feudalistic ideology and ruling class, Mengistu Haile Mariam’s socialist ideology and Derg ruling class, and Meles Zenawi’s claimed federalist ideology and the TPLF/EPRDF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front/Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) ruling party. Among many Ethiopian political activists, there is often no clear distinction between their fights against the ruling party and its political ideology, on the one hand, and fighting for the country and the people, on the other hand. A blanket rejection or acceptance of an ideology or party has been more of the norm than the exception. We should look nowhere for this than in the self evident blanket label called opposition that is used to characterize the alternative political parties inside and outside the country.
By joining the struggle against the rule of Emperor Haile Selassie I, Lenco and other students of the time may have jumped in the struggle against the ruling class with fervor to bring about a change in the feudalistic ideology at that time. Yet he hasn’t escaped from being the victim of extrapolating that fervor to fighting the country, and by extension, the people. He is the author of a book titled “The Ethiopian State at the Crossroads: Decolonization & Democratization or Disintegration,” which was published in 1999 by the Red Sea Press, Inc. His recent pronouncement on the EPRP radio that he appreciates the patience of the Ethiopian people and that he loves the country very much are a clear indication of his victimhood and a vindication of Ras Gobana Dache’s participation in building Ethiopia.