The Ethiopian state: authoritarianism, violence and Clandestine genocide.

Author:Jalata, Asafa

"Modern" Ethiopia has been created and maintained through the achievement of external legitimacy. As the European colonial powers such as Great Britain, France, and Italy enabled the Abyssinian (Amhara-Tigray) warlords to create the modern Ethiopian Empire during the last decades of the nineteenth century, successive hegemonic world powers, namely England, the former USSR, and the United States, has maintained the existence of various Ethiopian government until now. At the same time, the successive Amhara-Tigray regimes have failed to achieve internal legitimacy among the more colonized peoples while maintaining some degree of legitimacy among the minority Abyssinian population. While authoritarian rule has been sufficient to maintain semblance of public order among the Abyssinian population, state terrorism and massive human rights violations have been widely used in an attempt to control the colonized peoples, particularly the largest national group, the Oromo, creating political instability, conflict and war, recurrent famines, poverty, and underdevelopment. The achievement of stability, peace, and development in Ethiopia requires a genuine democratic paradigm that includes decolonization, self-determination, and popular sovereignty.

The "modern" Ethiopian state emerged in the second half of the 19th century, resulting from the confluence of three factors: the intervention of European powers in the Horn of Africa, the intensification of the process of political centralization in Abyssinia proper, and the increased war-making capacity of Amhara-Tigray warlords that resulted from asymmetric access to European firearms. These three factors occurred in the context of the development of capitalism in Western Europe and its expansion into Africa in the international political process of colonization known as the "Scramble for Africa." The intervention of European colonial powers in Abyssinia proper facilitated the process of political centralization by increasing the war-making capacity Amhara-Tigray warlords thus enabling them to gradually create the Ethiopian Empire. With the support of European powers, the Abyssinian/Ethiopian state emerged as a dependent-client state whose legitimacy on the world stage was dependent upon its relationship with a sequence of world powers who served as its benefactors. As a dependent-client state, the Ethiopian Empire achieved external legitimacy but lacked internal legitimacy from the ethnonations who were colonized and forced into the empire at gunpoint. The successive regimes of Menelik, Haile Selassie, Mengistu Haile Mariam, and Meles Zenawi have followed similar policies and practices in achieving external legitimacy while promoting a series of different ideological discourses to legitimize their respective governments.

The modern Ethiopian state has survived to the present day without achieving internal legitimacy. For more than a century, it has defended the interests of the Amhara-Tigray heads of state, state elites, and, to lesser degree, the interests of the Amhara-Tigray ethnonational groups from which the successive state leaders have emerged. While drawing its external political legitimacy from external powers, this state, through its leadership, has attempted to construct and maintain itself using the particularistic ideological foundations of Semitic ancestry, Orthodox Christianity, and Abyssinian (Amhara-Tigray) political culture within a political unit made up of a multinational and multi-religious population. As a result, the leadership has been unable to create the social consensus necessary to achieve the level of internal legitimacy necessary for Ethiopia to transform itself into a viable and self-sufficient country. To maintain their power, successive state leaders have maintained order through authoritarian structures where that is sufficient and state terrorism when necessary. Consequently, Ethiopia has remained an impoverished empire-state known to the world for its recurrent famines, wars, diseases, abject poverty, and a lack of respect for human rights. Without critically understanding the essence and characteristics of this state, it is impossible to recommend an appropriate and acceptable political solution that respects the legitimate political aspirations of its multinational populace.

This paper critically explores four interrelated issues. First, it explores how the Euro-American intervention on the side of Amhara-Tigray successive state elites provided it with external legitimacy. Second, it explains how the convergence of identity, religion, and political power created a political culture of authoritarianism in Amhara and Tigray society that ignored the life, liberty, and human rights of its multinational populace enabling it to survive in spite of the lack of internal legitimacy.

Third, it focuses on and explains the essence and consequences of the policies and practices of political authoritarianism in Abyssinia proper and state terrorism in the colonized parts of the Ethiopian Empire. Finally, the paper explores how the Ethiopian state's policies and practices of political authoritarianism and state terrorism have undermined the processes of peace and development, and proposes some pragmatic policies to boldly confront and solve these complex and difficult political problems.

External Legitimacy, Dependency, and the Ethiopian State

Over the last century-and-a-quarter, Abyssinian leaders have achieved external legitimacy for their governments as witnessed by a combination of 1) a legitimating discourse that appealed to the sensibilities of a patron state, 2) the extraction of colonial area resources for the benefit of the patron state, the interstate capitalist system, and the current Ethiopian leadership structure 3) recognition of the Ethiopian government in world fora and at the diplomatic level, 4) the provision of military training, weapons and other military hardware by major state actors in order to consolidate and maintain the Ethiopian state, 5) coordinated diplomatic and military activity on the part of Ethiopia in consonance with the needs and wishes of the benefactor state, and 6) access to technical assistance to build a semblance of the infrastructure and bureaucracy that is necessary to consolidate a modern state.

Prior to the middle of the 19th century, the numerous ethnonational groups that inhabited the interior of the Horn of Africa were able to maintain a rough military parity with one another. The territory of these nations expanded and contracted over time depending upon social organization and the relative skills of the various leaders. This parity of power was disrupted when European imperialism expanded into the region in the second half of the 19th century as France, Britain, and Italy vied with each other for control of the area. In the Scramble for Africa, Abyssinian warlords were able to take advantage of their Christian identity and of the rivalry among the three European powers to obtain the resources and the external interstate legitimacy necessary for them to expand their territory, conquering the territory, people, and resources of neighboring ethnonations thus establishing the Ethiopian Empire (Holcomb and Ibssa, 1990; Jalata, 1993).

The actions of Tewodros capitalized on underlying Abyssinian concerns and set in motion a series of events that led to the establishment of the modern Ethiopian Empire. Between 1855 and 1868, under the leadership of Tewodros, some of the Abyssinians engaged in a series of campaigns to both colonize and convert the Wallo and Yejju Oromos to Orthodox Christianity or expel or exterminate them. Prior to this time, the Wallo, Yejju, Azabo, and Raya Oromos had accepted Islam "as bulwark against being swamped by Abyssinian nationalism" (Trimingham, 1965: 109). The Ethiopian rulers had long feared both Islam and the Oromo "and the thought of the two in combination [was] their recurring nightmare" (Baxter, 1978: 285). Tewodros was able to mobilize Abyssinians against the Oromo by reintroducing this fear. Despite his barbaric campaigns and the attempt to deport the Wallo Oromo en masse to western Abyssinia, Tewodros failed to effectively control them.

On October 29, 1862, Tewodros wrote two identical letters to Queen Victoria of England and Emperor Napoleon III of France expressing his hate for the Oromo: "My fathers, the emperors, having forgotten the creator, He handed over their kingdom to the Galla [Oromo]....But God created me, lifted me out of the dust and restored this empire to my rule. He endowed me with power and enabled me to stand in the place of my fathers. By this power I drove away the Gallas" (Quoted in Greenfield and Hassen, 1980: 8). After Queen Victoria ignored the letter, Tewodros mistreated and imprisoned British diplomats in Abyssinia. As a result, Great Britain sent an expeditionary force to release them. Yohannes of Tigray and Menelik of Amhara, rivals of Tewodros, then allied themselves with the British to destroy Tewodros. Yohannes provided logistical support for an expeditionary force of Great Britain that was sent to release those British who were imprisoned by Tewodros. Tewodros was defeated by the British expeditionary force and committed suicide in 1868 without completing the process of the creation of the modern Ethiopian state. He was unsuccessful in this project because he lacked "both [the] resources and [the] experience needed to handle the European powers properly" (Venkataram, 1973: 129-145). The death Tewodros was followed with fierce competition and conflict between various centralizing warlords, such as Gobaze of the Amhara, Wag, and Lasta, Kasa of Tigray alias Yohannes, and Menelik of Shawa.

On July 11, 1871, with the military and political assistance he received from the British Kasa defeated Gobaze at the battle of Assam and proclaimed himself Emperor Yohannes IV on January 21, 1872. He also established his suzerainty over...

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