Professor Mesay Kebede

Professor Messay Kebede delivers lecture
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Professor Messay delivered lecture on “The nature and Challenges of Ethnicity: the Case of Ethiopia” in what is commonly called Old Senate Hall at Peda Campus, Bahir Dar University.

In his lecture the professor conceptualized ethnicity in the context of three schools of thoughts: Primordial, instrumentalism and constructivism. He assessed the nature and depth of ethnicization done over the past regime and tried to highlight how important it is to see the depth of the impact of a state sponsored ethnicization on the current Ethiopia. The professor showed how EPRDF used ethnic federalism only (for its own sake) as an instrument to hold tight of power for an assumed longer period of time leaving the nation in ethnic faults.

The professor said Ethnicity has a natural tendency to divide and set people to conflict as it is emotion laden. The spirit of the presentation, according to him, is a dislike of ethnicity, but he added he is a realist as well and ethnicity is now spread all over Ethiopia like never before and deep-rooted in elites mind. Therefore, it will not go away so easily that the option is to work to minimize its impact through institutionalism.

The professor tried to show how a primordial thinking of ethnicity is dangerous and can potentially be preparing groups from one ethnic group to see others as ‘oppressors/ opponents.’’ This thinking added to the elite’s lust for power may end up creating ever growing instability. The professor connected the polarized thinking of the elites as a mere continuation of the impact of Socialism of the 1960s and 70s in Ethiopia. He said Socialism was like a disease to which seemingly every educated Ethiopian was a victim. The ideology was considered a perfect one leaving the elite with the idea of what is not socialist is wrong and should be abolished. This thinking of no space for compromise has survived to date to see politicians with polarized positions.

The professor as a final part of his lecture suggested solution for the country to leap this difficult and fluid situation. He said one of the most important things to recognize in an effort to come to solution to the political problem the country is facing is ethnicity. He said ethnicity is deep rooted and any feasible political solution for the country shall take ethnicity into account. He said ethnic groups should exercise their need to be governed by people whom they believe represents them. Meanwhile politicians should be ready to compromise. As a means of cohesion, the professor suggested a presidential system of administration where the president will be elected by the great majority vote at a national level. The federal government led by the president will be a centripetal force unifying the country.

The lecture was followed by question and answer session. When asked about his position on ethnicity, the professor remarked that he is a man who loved to be a universal person in this highly interactive world. So he said he is never one thing only; his ethnicity is a just one piece from the many other units that make him a universal personality.

Teachers, students, administrative staff and others attended the lecture.
Finally, inviting you all to read the full article by the professor by downloading from the link herewith: https://globalafrica.isp.msu.edu/…/59…/4792/MessayKebede.pdf, I would like to quote his last paragraph that puts forth the solution for the unhealthy politics in Ethiopia.

To sum up, nation-building through centralization and cultural assimilation is no longer feasible given the undemocratic outcomes of Ethiopia’s history and the subsequent ideological evolution of its educated elites since the overthrow of the imperial regime. The only way out is to recognize the reality and force of identity politics in Ethiopia while creating institutional mechanisms that soften its exclusiveness. A federal system balancing regional self-rule with a central government functioning according to majority rule is the political system most liable to reconcile diversity with unity.