Unity Overrides Everything! – Messay Kebede

Those who closely follow current events in Ethiopia, especially those who honestly wonder, like me, why other ethnic groups, especially the Amhara who are the number one target and victim of the TPLF since it seized power in 1992, are not joining the Oromo uprisings, cannot but feel that a crucial ingredient of the whole situation is eluding their grasp. How otherwise could one explain the hesitation of other ethnic groups when it is but obvious that (1) the TPLF would lose control of the situation if the protest spreads and takes a national dimension; (2) without a national expansion of the protests, the TPLF will end up by violently crushing the Oromo rebellion, the outcome of which will lead to a tightening of control and repression? In other words, it is of no interest to any ethic group that the Oromo uprising be defeated. Why, then, are other ethnic groups going against their own interest by their reluctance to join the ongoing Oromo protests?

Only one answer seems to make sense, namely, that other ethnic groups see some kind of threat in the Oromo uprisings. By threat I mean that other ethnic groups fear the possibility of a generalized unrest leading to ethnic conflicts, which can easily turn into civil war. The fear is legitimate: anyone who underestimates the possibility of ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia subsequent to a weakening of the central power is either an enemy of Ethiopia or a fool. But the tragedy of the situation is that, even if one is perfectly aware of the danger of ethnic conflicts, one cannot also miss the fact that Ethiopia does not have much choice

Indeed, the continuation of the TPLF’s rule does not decrease the danger. On the contrary, it makes conflicts inevitable: as people lose all faith in the possibility of change in Ethiopia, they perforce begin to think exclusively in terms of ethnic solidarity, if not of secession. The TPLF’s constant political and economic hegemony and its ingrained policy of undermining Ethiopian legacy can only cement the drift toward ethnic fragmentation and animosity. The best and only policy to counter the trend of fragmentation is democratic change: only the sharing of economic and political power through real decentralization and self-rule can create a common interest and turn secessionist tendency into an irrational and self-damaging option, obvious as it is that prosperity and democracy are better achieved with larger entities that harbor diversity in addition to offering more material and human resources.

The current events and the absence of any other choice than democratic change make one thing perfectly clear, namely, that the most important issue is no longer how to get rid of the TPLF, but how to forge the unity of opposition forces. The overthrow of the TPLF has become a secondary issue in that it is still an issue because divisions of opposition forces persist, and not because of the strength of the TPLF. Let there be no misunderstanding: I am not saying that removing the TPLF no longer requires sustained and bloody confrontations with many ups and downs and huge sacrifices. According to me, those who think that the TPLF is on its last legs are mistaken. Instead, what I maintain is that the primary condition of a successful fight against the TPLF is unity. What the current situation demonstrates is that the TPLF prevail because it does not encounter a national opposition. It draws its main strength from the fragmentation of opposition forces, which therefore should become the primary concern.

I know that since the TPLF seized power, most of us have been preaching unity as the sine qua non for defeating it. Nothing is therefore new in what I am saying. Yet, it is one thing to advocate unity, quite another to see with our own eyes how disunity makes us all powerless and victims. The daily sight of the repressive machine of the regime charging on peaceful Oromo protesters shows that unity is no longer a political choice; it has become a necessity. That for which we are fighting, to wit, the recognition of ethnic identity and self-rule, has turned into the very reason of our submission to the hegemonic power of the TPLF. This inversion of our legitimate aspiration into self-imprisonment requires that we transit to unity as a necessary step to realize our aspiration. For unity has indeed become the condition by which we get rid of hegemonic rule, the very rule that antagonizes our aspiration toward self-rule. From unity to regionalism and back again to unity that integrates regionalism: such seems to be the ideal path awaiting Ethiopia.


This much is then absolutely true: unless we remove the TPLF and replace it by a democratic system, which, in turn, requires unity, whatever we want is unachievable. National unity has changed into the very condition that we need to implement our goals, be they national or ethnic. Since both self-rule and national integration are impossible under a dictatorial rule, unity emerges as the condition by which alone we can remove that rule. As the above image shows, unless the one hand grabs the other, both individuals will fall. So that, the only thing that matters now is what we need to do for the peoples of Ethiopia to grab each other’s hands, and the rest will follow.