By Ali Sheikh
In the last one hundred years, modern Ethiopia’s political trajectory unceasingly provided us with factual schooling that ignite mental debate on the present ethno-federalism versus the old unitary systems. This essay is intended to put it in a broader context the political challenges and the difficulties that have been laid open to the peace and progress loving Ethiopians.
However, few heretics among us do criticise the contemporary ethno-federalism political ideology in preference of the medieval unitary centralism for one reason or the other. With limitation of space and the consideration of some of the reader’s time scarcity, I will start with the Imperial Feudal System of Haile Selassie rule.
Emperor Haile Selassie rule lasted for nearly 50 years, this era is normally counted as two parts; the first phase started from 1916 to 1930. He was on the throne for 14 years as a monarch but in procurator status. During this period, Haile Selassie was authorized only to act the designated function or authority of serving the empire in consultation with the court. The second phase started in 1941 as a fully crowned Emperor and continued to rule until he was overthrown by the military Junta in the year 1974. Remember, this period is not included in the six-years Haile Selassie was exiled in London.
Garvey expressed feeling of displeasure against Emperor Haile Selassie’s decision to go into exile when actually his country was invaded by the Italian colonial fascists. In his book “The Failure of Haile Selassie as Emperor, Black Man”, Marcus Garvey (1) noted: “fled from his nation to Britain, leaving his kin to be slaughtered by the Italians” (Garvey 1937). The power was squarely limited to a few relatives of Haile Selassie —the “top-layers” so they called.
This state of political style based on isolationism and the detestation to diversity applied to four compass directions of the country resulting artificial retardation and disproportionate growth.
The cumulative impact of imperial misrule and the petty tyrannies of local landlords created an atmosphere in which progressive economy was difficult to assume. Just imagine how those African countries that had attained independence, perhaps two decades after Haile Selassie sat on the thrown bypassed at, a high speed, the Black Empire in terms of economic growth and development as well as accepting diversities of the nationalities for proportional political participation so as to form rigid and tolerable nationhood. I am sure at least if not overtly the Emperor Haile Selassie must have admitted such embarrassment at the then Organization of African Unity (OAU).
Perhaps among other uncountable list of sham emerged from his administration’s inability to impact critical economic and political changes joined with rising inflation, corruption, a famine that affected several provinces, raids and bombardment of unarmed civilians and the preceding wicked but lavish lifestyle he adopted at the palace. The worst scenario happened when he concealed from the world the shocking famine in the North of the country, Wollo province. While on the other side the Emperor Haile Selassie spent money to the tune of more than $35 million to celebrate his 80th birthday.
What to recall when the deal is too good
As soon as he was reinstated right after the Italian defeat in his absentia in the year 1941, Emperor Haile Selassie in two years’ times decided to carry raids using the first aerial bombardment with the backing of British Air officers based in Aden of the Arabian Peninsula against unarmed civilian and reduced to ashes the entire Raya and Azebo woredes of the north. Likewise, Oromo farmers were subjected to massive and ruthless land alienation. This was followed by the second bombardment that took place in Gojjam where in 1968 Hale Selassie sent troops to burn villages and houses into ashes.
There were ground assaults and aerial bombardments in both the highlands and the lowlands of Bale in the early months of 1967 leaving behind a mountain of casualties. Also there were retributive measures such as land confiscation, restrictions on nomads’ seasonal migrations in the Ogaden. In 1972 Haile Selassie attempted to hide the existence of the scandalous Wollo/Tigrey famine as a part of his retaliation measures against his poor people.
According to a 1974 UN FAO report 300,000 people, predominantly the northern rural poor, died during the 1973-1974 Ethiopian famine. Unhappy with the famine situation in the country, Prof. Mesfin Wolde Mariam of Addis Ababa University once observed that;
“The famines of 1958 and 1966 in Tigray and Wollo were treated with official indifference, bordering on hostility towards the peasants who were considered sufficiently ungratefully for the divinely sanctioned rule of Haile Selassie as to allow themselves to defame his reputation by dying of famine.” Emperor Haile Selassie’s isolationism policy towards the Ogaden region was fully laid on the ground as soon as Somalia got independence in 1960, instead of engaging attraction and keeping policy towards Ethnic Somali civilian he moved his imperial “Andenet army.” Among the list of atrocities they committed which are still remembered in those border areas includes; the 500 civilians killed when the village of Aisha district/woreda was destroyed to make way for a military post in August 1960. In 1972, droughts locally known as “Abaartii Dabadheer” according to the traditional calendar added to the Ogaden’ problems of marginalization.
The loss of pastures and browsing, imposition of restrictions on mobility to both people and livestock and continued scorch earth policy of the Emperor’s regime added more fuel to the cruel famine. According to a survey done in Harerghe in May-June 1974, death rates among the lowland pastoralists were about three times normal. Assuming “normal” to be 20 per thousand and the affected population to be 700,000, this implies 28,000 famine deaths. Be as it may, regardless of whether through an ethnocentric perspective of the predominance of a settled over pastoralists way of life, or through a cautious policy approach of utilizing the dry seasons (drought).
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Mr. Ali is a contributor to WardheerNews who writes about East and Horn of Africa affairs.
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