Pondering the Cost of the Clash between Egalitarian and Dictatorial Cultures

Over a century has passed since the present day Ethiopia was formed through force by Menelik II. His adventure not only created an empire of peoples who speak nearly eighty different languages, but it also brought together two qualitatively different major cultures. They are the egalitarian cultures of the Cushitic peoples and the dictatorial culture of the Semitic peoples. 

This clash of cultures has probably harmed the Oromo people more than any other people in Menelik’s empire. The Semitic peoples’ culture of dictatorship and domination at any cost has been the norm of contemporary Ethiopia’s political landscape since the time of Menelik. Starting with Gobana Dacce, an Oromo who allied with Menelik, Oromo political leaders have been, time and again, the victims of Abyssinian dictatorial system of elimination for the latter’s power consolidation. Gobana was reportedly eliminated by Menelik after the former spearheaded the formation of the empire for the latter. Although we are not in a position to verify the terms of alliance between Menelik and Gobana, it is not hard to contemplate the scenario of one working for power sharing and the other working for power grabbing. Gobana may have believed in power sharing whereas Menelik’s dream may have been to become king of kings, which could lead to the elimination of Gobana since he was a renowned warrior, albeit against his own people, who could turn against Menelik and erase Menelik’s dream of king of kings. Whatever the case may be, one thing is for sure – that Gobana would have not done all he has done without some promise in return.

Similar examples of the fight for power sharing can be mentioned during the succeeding political episodes after Menelik. When Iyasu, a successor who is partly Oromo, was marveling to develop alliances with the various sections of the peoples in the empire, Hailesellassie and his group have been conspiring to overthrow him, which they did. Quse (a.k.a. Habtegiorgis) Dingade is even reported to have declined the head of state position as Hailesellassie was gearing up to become not only the head of state, but also a ‘God-sent’ leader. And that is a dream above and beyond that of king of kings.

After the fall of Hailesellassie, perhaps, when Tafari Banti was getting ready for around the table discussion about how to lead the empire they inherited from Hailesellassie, Mengistu was greedily conspiring about how to eliminate Tafari Banti and Aman Andom to grab the power for himself.

After the fall of the Derg, when the Oromo Liberation Front was busy about empowering the people, going as far as involving in the prescription of self-determination to the Oromo people, the majority in the empire, and about conducting popular election, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) pushed the OLF to the edge so that the latter falls off and the former consolidates its power.

This dictatorial culture is spoiling even Eritrea, a former province of Ethiopia and practically led by a figment of Abyssinians. Interestingly, that country seems to be an excellent reflection of the Abyssinian dictatorial culture we have seen in Ethiopia. Who would have thought that Eritrea would become such a dictatorial state within such a short span of time? The people in the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) may have copied their social based movement from elsewhere, but what they have lived in throughout history is the Abyssinian dictatorial culture. And it took Isaias Afeworki and his company a little time to gravitate back to that culture. If the Cushitic people’s egalitarian culture were in their blood and bone, they would finish the groundwork for the rule of law while they were still struggling for freedom. 

After all these episodes, what all the peoples in the empire gained can not be compared by any measure to what these episodes have cost them. Today’s Ethiopia is characterized by poverty and famine, among other shameful attributes. It is high time now to take stock of the cost of Abyssinian dictatorial culture to all the peoples in the empire in general and the cost of the clash of the two cultures to the Oromo people in particular.

Now we are at a time when dictatorship is fading into history books and democracy is taking roots in different parts of the world. If the importance of egalitarian culture over dictatorial culture was understood over a century ago by the Abyssinian people who chanted with their dictatorial system and rulers, the empire might have a chance to prosper even though it was created by force. The victory at Adwa and the resistance against Italy from 1935 – 1941 could have been a significant bond. If the Gada system was valued and accepted, say after the 1896 Adwa victory, today’s Ethiopia would be headed by the 14th head of state and congress. If the Oromo people’s social system was not broken by Menelik’s concur of their land, the Oromo people would have the Xth Abbaa Bokkuu (equivalent of president) and Gumii (equivalent of congress) and we wouldn’t even have to lose the counting.  

If Ethiopia had smooth succession of power for the last 108 years, would it be better off politically, socially and economically? This is not an easy question to answer, but it is also not terribly difficult to see the big picture. We can argue that one of the best qualities of egalitarian culture is in terms of bringing down unwanted cronies and not so much in terms of anointing the best leaders. Quse Dingade has perhaps summed this up in the best expression after the power of Hailesellassie got out of proportion: He is reported to have said “waan teenyee ol keenye dhaabbannee buusuu dadhabne”, which roughly means what we put up while seated, we found hard to bring down after standing.

Now some Abyssinian circles seem to finally realize the importance of democracy and have become preachers of it. Some others even attempt to blame what the empire went through on the Oromo people by citing some reports of Oromo trace in some of their dictatorial kings. They tell us that Menelik has Oromo blood and Hailesellassie was Oromo king, both of which miss the point. In the Oromo Gada system, no one is a king and no Oromo Gada Assembly elected these leaders. These Abyssinian circles are the people who danced to the tune of the king culture. In addition and more importantly, Oromos fought them, never accepted them. Oromos fought Menelik’s army in different parts of Oromo country until they were defeated, after seven rounds of fighting in Arsi, for example. Oromo peasants in Raya and Azebo and in Bale not only rejected Hailesellassie’s rule, but went the extra mile and started armed struggle against his rule. In this sense, it seems some Abyssinian scholars are far behind the Oromo peasant’s maturity and political consciousness. We have waked up and smelt the coffee since long time ago. Now it is time to wake up for all and taste the Gada system. Both are showing their powerful tastes to the world, or at least parts of it. They are healthy panacea for the sleepy mind and the disease of dictatorship.