Institutionalized Tribalism: Ethiopia’s Constitution and Ethnic Federalist Government Increase the Risk of Instability in Ethiopia

Written by  Mr. Obang Metho,


Institutionalized Tribalism: Ethiopia’s Constitution and Ethnic Federalist Government Increase the Risk of Instability in Ethiopia

Institutionalized  tribalism, in   its worst  form,  was   officially   adopted   under   the  deceptive   name   of   Ethnic
Federalism, 30 years ago, under the former government led by the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF).
It was a way to placate some ethnic groups; however, the result of it is now threatening our survival as a
It was purposely set up to ensure that Ethiopians did not come together under a consensual agreement for the
benefit  of  all  Ethiopians,  which  was  a  threat  to  the  goals   of  the  TPLF  who  sought to  achieve  perpetual
hegemony, as per their manifesto: “TPLF/EPRDF’s Strategies for Establishing its Hegemony & Perpetuating
its Rule,” published in 1993.
One of the goals of this structure was to ethnicize Ethiopia’s citizens, a divide and conquer formula so people
would not achieve unity; but instead, live as separate ethnic groups, not even as individual citizens. It was and
still is a recipe for destruction. The maturing of this indoctrination has now reached to its pinnacle as young
people start to believe that their primary identity is their tribe and that their religion, actually practiced, is
This   is   anti-harmony,   anti-development,   anti-peace   and   anti-humanity   because   human   beings   are   social
creatures, who depend on each other for survival; but in the case of the present Constitution and its toxic
ideology being pushed on the people, it comes at the expense of everyone, even if it takes a while. Sadly, it has
backfired with vicious force against the people of the Tigray Region, many of whom are innocent of any
crimes, but because they are defined under this toxic and dangerous ideology as an ethnic group, guilty of
whatever the TPLF leaders have done, they are feeling the great and undeserved pain of this association. Under
a more inclusive individual-based system, this could have been more easily avoided.  
Yet, this tribalistic approach is reinforced by the Ethiopian Constitution that describes the citizens of the
country as: “nations, nationalities and people’s groups,” instead of, “we the people of this country,” like most
civilized countries in the world. It is a set up for implosion. They mapped out the country by ethnicity, instead
of geographically, as is done in most peaceful countries. The regions were named after the largest ethnic group
in their area, also resulting in the exclusion of minorities and their right to representation and participation in
the government. In some cases this excluded them from the right to vote or to be elected to office.
In locations where larger numbers of a certain ethnic group lived; it would be given the designation of being a
special zone, district or county. This kind of structure, by itself, is anti-unity, anti-peace and anti-harmony. It is
ironic, Ethiopians live all over the world, most of them in places that accept them as human beings and citizens
of those countries; whereas in their own country, they would not have this privilege.  
This system, supported by the Constitution, is ethnicizing the country, a gift to those countries like Egypt, who
do not want a strong, inclusive and united Ethiopia. This is the destructive agenda of ethno-nationalists who
crafted the Ethiopian Constitution with their own self-interests in mind. Pathetically, it also serves the interests
of those outsiders wanting a weak Ethiopia as it socially engineers and promotes the injustice and unrest that
will destroy Ethiopia from within.
We now have a generation of Ethiopians who only know about  tribe,  instead of strong,  consensus-based
government of the people, for the people and by the people. The way it is now, the people of Ethiopia have
been left out. This acts to further reinforce “ethnicity” in becoming the major organizing principle of the
country, example being the issuing of “ethnic-based” identity cards. These ethnic policies undermine peace
and harmony in the country.
Unity has also been manipulated to mean “one language [Amhara], one religion [Ethiopian Orthodox], and one
[dominate] culture [Amhara], in order to ensure it is resisted and that it will alienate most people from coming
to the table. This definition has been used to advance tribalism and the ethnic-based Constitution and ideology.
What this means is that  we are not one people with anything in common, but a country of 87 ethnic
groups. It pushes the belief that you are on your own and should just remain in your own territory. This is
worse than South African apartheid. It is anti-humanity. To make matters worse, those who speak about unity
are  portrayed as  the  enemy,   sometimes  by their  own   groups,   as   well  as   by  ethno-nationalists;  shunning,
shaming and disempowering the person, using accusations such as, “…these people want to take the country
back to feudal times,” using it as a tactic to keep people apart. Those of more than one ethnicity are forced to
choose between them.  
To perpetuate divisions, some groups have been blamed, attacked and killed far more than others in this toxic
system, a tried and true formula for deadly conflict. These groups are portrayed as the oppressors, seeking to
take the country back to one language, one religion and one culture, even if it not true, and even if it is
unworkable in the 21st century. As the accused perpetrators, they actually become the victims of the crimes at
the same time.
The acclaimed victims become the perpetrators, a complete reversal. Not thinking about the future, because the
next time it might be them. As collective groups are accused of either role, it is individuals, who buy in to the
deadly narrative and then join with others, forming mobs to carry out the worst of it in places like in Burayu,
Shashemene, West welega, Shewarobit, Metekel, Mikadra, Axum, Gurafereda, Gedeo, Tepi, Maji and etc.
The truth is: we are all flawed and that is the reason we need informal and formal structures to bring justice,
regardless of ethnicity or other differences; however, many of those being targeted in the last three years, were
not being accused of any crime except of being the “wrong ethnicity in the wrong place.” If the goal being
embraced   is   to   incite   the   destruction   of   certain   groups,   truth   makes   no   difference.   Those   wanting   the
destruction of Ethiopia are rewarded once again. They avoid culpability by simply standing by, pretending
Breaking Up Ethiopia: Pushing Ethnic Division
One of the primary groups being targeted now are the Amhara. The demonization of Amhara began decades
ago with the TPLF and ethno-nationalists. Now, anyone who speaks about unity, no matter what ethnic group
that person belongs to, is often accused of being an “Amhara sympathizer” and is condemned. As part of the
deepening alienation targeting the Amhara, there has been massive pressure on the Amhara to abandon their
ideology of Ethiopian national unity— Ethiopiawenet (አአአአአአአአ) a “oneness as Ethiopians.”
National unity has been redefined as the negative equivalent of “a win” for the Amhara, essentially meaning
the return to the Amhara domination of the past. Some of the antagonism goes back to legitimate grievances
occurring during the time of the Ethiopian Empires as well as during the Dergue; however, this should not hold
all of us hostage, preventing us from creating a better and more inclusive government for all. However, the
TPLF and ethno-nationalists continue to use this against the Amhara, who they view as contenders for power,
while outsiders like Egypt, whose goal has been to destabilize Ethiopia, see the Amhara as an obstacle to the
ethnic-based conflict that will Balkanize the country.
Crimes and attacks by ethno-nationalists continue to specifically target the Amhara. Those living outside the
Amhara region have been the most affected. In these places, like in Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz, they
have been told to go back to their own region; that they were settlers and newcomers, not belonging in that
region, even though some had been born there. Because this targeting continues to significantly increase, many
of the Amhara are now organizing themselves by ethnicity, believing it must be done in order to protect
themselves, also creating a stronger platform for advocacy when they can speak out as one group rather than as
individual citizens. Their hope for a united Ethiopia has become secondary to their own survival. All of this is
accelerated by the lack of protection from the government.
A government’s primary responsibility is to protect its citizens; however, it has failed in some regions. This
trend is very dangerous. Again, this is not only the work of insiders, but has been promoted and supported for
years by outsiders with their own agendas, sometimes effectively working with different partners from within,
particularly those who do not want a strong, unified and prosperous Ethiopia; but instead, its weakening and
break up so the flow of the Nile River and the domination of the Red Sea can remain in the hands of Egypt.
Some who fall into this scheme, do not even understand their complicity with these external forces.
The Role of All Ethnic Groups, All Made Up of Individual Human Beings
The fact that the majority of the 87 Ethiopian tribes are left out of a conflict mostly perpetuated by the three
major ethnic groups in the country, the Oromo, the Amhara and the Tigray, does not mean the rest of us will
not be impacted if the country falls into chaos, violence and killing. In fact, the exclusion of the other groups
has been a problem for years, especially worsened by the present ethnic-based Constitution and ethnic-based
form of government that only pretends to care for the minorities. The truth of the matter is they do not care
about   them.   In   fact,   the   system   of   institutionalized   tribalism   has   been   used   to   negate   the   rights   and
representation of the many minorities; and oftentimes, to exploit them and their resources.
To the other 84 ethnic groups, with tens of millions of individual citizens, I ask, “Where are you?”  
We cannot leave the country only in the hands of the three major players. The country belongs to all of us. No
group should give the ownership of the country to one or a few ethnic groups.
This problem has made us land-locked. We are and have been needlessly fighting each other, especially where
and when we  have  fallen   for   the  brainwashing  of outsiders.  We  should   not  fall  victim to this  seductive
deception and manipulation of our grievances and weaknesses in order to defeat us.  
Imagine if Meles had dealt with Ethiopia as a nation, working for the common good? Instead, his efforts were
to use ethnicity and victimhood mentality as a means to divide and conquer. It worked for nearly 30 years, with
the impact still very much present in today’s crisis. Had the effort been to build the country, what could have
We may not have divided from Eritrea and could have had a country of more than 200 million as well as
access to the Red Sea and its ports. We may have had much greater success in efforts to feed our people, to
educate our children, to build stronger infrastructure, to better develop our economy and technology and to
have a stronger  and more advanced national military and regional security force that could have defended and

    protected   its   citizens instead of deliberately   trying  to  break us apart by  exploiting  our   unresolved   tribal
    We could have been respected and feared for our ability to defend ourselves and as responsible models of more
    effective, just and wise governance, not only in East Africa, but also on the continent. It’s not too late! With
    genuine, non-tribal leaders, who care about the lives and wellbeing of every Ethiopian, with an inclusive
    Constitution, based on “we, the people, not the tribe,” with strong institutions that uphold the rights and value
    of all the people, and with God’s help, Ethiopia could rise up from the ashes of Ethnic Federalism.
    Will Ethiopians stretch out their arms to God? With Him, all things are possible; but, the question is, are we
    Part II of this article will be released following this one and will focus on external forces that exert an
    influence on deteriorating conditions in Ethiopia.
    For more information contact Mr. Obang Metho, Executive Director of the SMNE. Email:
    [email protected]


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