What has tribalism to do with people’s demand for basic rights? A Reply to Dr. Desta Andargie
By Urgessa Tura
December 17, 2015
I believe a scholar’s central task is the pursuit of truth via excavating the relevant facts to the issue at hand, and presenting a thorough and objective analysis of the issue irrespective of whether the outcome of such an analysis goes against one’s ideological commitments or political beliefs. The task of seeking truth (and justice) is, even, more indispensable when it comes to lawyers. Dr. Desta Andargie, a distinguished member of the 2001 class of Addis Ababa University Law School, should know better that
the outstanding lawyer – the one who serves as a model for the rest – is not simply an accomplished technician but a person of prudence and practical wisdom as well….. [Technical proficiency in law is one thing but] attainment of a wisdom that lies beyond technique – a wisdom about human beings and their tangled affairs…. [is completely another thing]. (Anthony T. Kronman, The lost lawyer: Failing ideals of the legal profession. Harvard University Press, 1995).
I have no doubt that Dr. Desta is among few distinguished Ethiopian lawyers. Nonetheless, his insensitive characterization of the ongoing Oromo protest as mere tribalism is a disgrace to the fledgling Ethiopian legal community for two reasons. First, his negative portrayal of the Oromo protest is neither based on a careful diagnosis of the demands of the protestors nor corroborated by facts transpiring on the ground as we speak. He did not even care to passingly articulate the questions of the protestors. But he rushed to criticize those that demonstrated their solidarity with the protesters, lambasting them for siding with tribalists while espousing Ethiopian unity. Second, he falsely accused the Oromo protestors for what they did not claim, or for what they did not stand for:
To be sure, all these allegations are arbitrary assertions that do not in any credible manner represent what the people are demanding in the current protest. They are assumptions inseparably tied to the urban elite who want to perpetuate a tributary political economy that exploits the countryside and evicts the peasantry willy-nilly in the name of modernization and development.
What are the people’s demand?
The people are sick and tired of extractive political and economic institutions. In the last two decades alone, the neighboring farming communities of Addis lost thousands of hectares of fertile land to urban as well as industrial expansion. They did not benefit proportionately from this development dividend. As a result of such massive eviction in the name of development and rapid population growth, landlessness is becoming a salient feature of the Ethiopian rural economy. And in an agrarian economy, land is a vital asset, a means of livelihood and a life line for most rural residents. If you take away their last line of life from them willy-nilly, nothing less than a killing destitution awaits them precisely because off-farm employment opportunities are very limited in Ethiopia as the industrial and service sectors are in an abysmally very low state. More, specifically, the people are demanding from both the regional and federal government:
To sum up, opposition to the ill-conceived Addis masterplan that discounts the interests of the Oromo farmers is the immediate trigger for the current popular dissatisfaction that has boiled to the surface. But there are other underlying deep-seated causal factors ranging from joblessness of the youth graduating from the proliferating Ethiopian universities and colleges to rampant poverty, corruption and rising cost of living. Whatever the underlying causes are, one thing is certain: the protest is not about tribalism: it is about economic rights; it is about social rights, it is about political rights; it is about seeing government of the people in Ethiopia. In short, it is an organic, peaceful and democratic movement. Therefore, it is pragmatic as well as morally sensible to show solidarity with the protestors and desist from mischaracterizing them as tribalists. Esteemed Ethiopians, like Dr. Desta, can play a positive role in adding a deeper democratic agenda to the ongoing protest in such a way that Prof. Messay Kebede has done recently. Unless all of us who are against the status quo stop fault finding on each other and being solely focused on pursuing the battle for democratic government, the future of our country – Ethiopia – would be bleak.
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