Ethiopia in Conflict - Part I: EPRDF and the Creation of Ethnic Division

By Abel Merawi

Ethnic-federalism-EthiopiaNovember 16, 2020 ( -- When we seriously examine the genesis of every civilization, we see people who find themselves together without intentionality. In the beginning, some people are migrants, some relatives, some conquered and some conquerors. But time slowly begins to transform and unite this crowd, which becomes the identity of the nation this people call home. As people occupy the same space, they begin to have shared experiences too. Through the bond of marriage and through various processes of unification, they form a collective identity. This identity is used by the ruler of the land to create a nation. However, every civilization is bound to go through transformation together with the ideal that constitutes it. The life of the rulers of every civilization, remains as long as the ideal remains alive. In reverse, the end of the collective ideal is also the end of the leaders.

I began with the above theory or principle, intending to show the current conflict in Ethiopia from the vantage point I deem proper. The aforementioned genesis of civilization and the principles that guide this article are mostly referred from ‘The Crowd’ by Gustave le Bon. As the title indicates, the book is intended to show the elements of a crowd. Nevertheless, the last section of the book portrays the cycle of every civilization, which I deem as the most fitting description of the current conflict in Ethiopia. This is viewed in relation to ethnic federalism. From the start, I want to make my idea clear: I am arguing whether the implementation of ethnic federalism is proper or not. I am rather arguing that ethnic federalism is flawed in its very principle for Ethiopia.

For about three decades, Ethiopian identity has been fashioned to rest upon the ideal of ethnic federalism. This was the unstable rock upon which the nation’s democracy had been built. With the downfall of the Derg regime, Ethiopian political ideology was transformed into ethnic federalism by EPRDF. Through time, what started as a political and constitutional foundation spread into every aspect of life in the country. It defined the identity of the citizenry when this ethnic identity was stamped on the identification card of Ethiopians. It was fostered and spread like wildfire when this ethnic diversity was assigned a holy-day; for celebration of differences instead of commonalities. Throughout the years, EPRDF hammered ethnic identity into the people with the assistance of opportunists and the indifference of the rest.

To declare ethnicity as fundamental to Ethiopian identity is a recipe for crisis. Being Ethiopian can only be meaningful when centered on unity, rather than diversity. One might ask: how did EPRDF manage to maintain the dangerous narration of ethnic federalism? Gustave le Bon replies that it is engendered, “with its institutions, its beliefs, and its arts.” Truly, it is engendered when the political and social institutions are formed based on ethnic background. In Ethiopia, even most opposition parties are founded upon ethnicity. Just as religious NGO’s, we also find philanthropic organizations dedicated to ethnicity. Even the economic system of the country reeks of ethnicity as there are banks and company’s branded with ethnic labels. However, institutions alone cannot instill ethnicity into people’s heart without the greatest weapons – art and education.

To understand the role of art and education in inculcating EPRDF’s ethnic ideology into Ethiopians, we ought to visit the Orwellian world of the novel ‘1984’. George Orwell, states the party slogan: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” The first question is, ‘How do you control the past?’ You control the past by changing the narration in a misconstrued way by using facts out of context and by fabricating them. Past Empires were rebranded with ethnicity. But in reality, every ruler of Ethiopia including the Derg Regime was constituted from every ethnic group in the country. Simply put, ethnicity was not a priority in the minds of the rulers. The united front that defended Ethiopia from the Italian occupation is a paragon of this reality. Thanks to the venomous fictional and ‘seemingly historical’ literary works of the past three decades, reality was replaced with fiction. This is what Orwell labeled ‘Reality Control’. Accordingly, the ethnic narration was engraved into people as EPRDF led by TPLF fostered ethnic division by making national identity dependent on ethnicity.

Using ethnic federalism, the basis of the constitution or the existence of Ethiopia had been determined by nations, nationalities and peoples. In other words, it is not a democratic system based on individuals right, but rather on groups rights. Federalism could be attained in various ways and to choose ethnicity as the only criteria in such a diverse nation like Ethiopia is to exasperate the problem. For instance, imagine what would have happened if we picked ‘religious federalism’. You may think it is absurd; if so you should feel the absurdity also in ethnic federalism. Such arrangement strives to destroy national identity and champion ethnicity.

To make matter worse, the definition of nations, nationalities and peoples easily slips from one’s mind as the terms are ambiguous and the practices inconsistent. Strictly from a legal point of view, the elements that constitute an ethnic group are not similar across the board. For instance, language is taken as a criterion while most Ethiopians are bilingual and more. The matter of race is also hard to grasp in a country where people live in harmony through marriage. Culture is also susceptible to scrutiny as most cultures are hybrids of various cultures. It is not even a uniquely Ethiopian cultures because of globalization and westernization. This is not something over which we should lament but rather rejoice. Because life and civilization is basically a process of integration. However, ethnic federalism stands as a barrier because it strives for singularity.  

Ethnic homogeneity and resource allocation had led to the current crisis in Ethiopia. Ethnic federalism encourages homogeneity or singularity because the existence of an ethnic group solely depends on retaining ‘original’ features. This becomes clear when we look at the killings and disenfranchisement of other ethnic groups by the dominant group in many regions.  The allocation of resources based on ethnic affiliation is at the center of the issue. If ethnic federalism was simply a mechanism for administration, the situation would have been different and less hostile. But when job opportunity, housing and any other economic benefit is provided for the individual not on merit but on ethnic identity, crisis is bound to happen.

In this section, I have only showed the genesis of ethnic federalism and the catastrophic situation it has created in Ethiopia. Currently, TPLF and ‘Oneg Shene’ with other ethnic fronts stand as the physical manifestations of an ethnically divided Ethiopia. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, the national defense and the people stand as symbols of a unified Ethiopia. Victory over TPLF marks the triumph of unity over division. In the second part of this article, I will attempt to show this last point in detail and communicate the facts that led to the current conflict.  


Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for He can be reached through this form.

Other articles by Abel Merawi:

Forms of Human Violence (Part II)

Forms of Human Violence (Part I)

The ‘Having’ Mentality

Group Narcissism

Segregated Justice


Free but in Chain, Part IV: Personal Bondage

Free but in Chain. Part III: Economic Bondage

Free but in Chain. Part II: Social Bondage

Free but in Chain. Part I: Bondage of Worldview

Unemployment and Economic Growth in Ethiopia

The Underestimated Human Ignorance

Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part II)

Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part I)

Capitalism Becoming an Impediment to Morality

Ketman: Living in Disguise to Gain Acceptance

The System and the 'Criminal'

Trust as an Economic Force

Do You Trust the Government?

Our Online World

Fame Mistaken for Expertise

The Heavy Burden of Healthcare Workers

A Time to Reflect

The Plague by Albert Camus: Fiction Becomes Reality!

History of Pandemics in Ethiopia

Human Struggle Against Pandemics: Historical Perspective

Crisis Profiteers

You Can Make a Difference

Rule of Law for a Free Society


The Origins of Law

Determinants of Market Value: Part II

Determinants of Market Value: Part I

Your life Matters Too

Manifestations of Artistic Expression

Achievements vs Natural Accidents

The Grip of Sacrifice

Injustice is Never Justifiable

Education Demands of the Future

Job Security, Life and the Unpredictable Future

The Shift From Racism to Culturism

Sacrificing Meaning for Power?

Culture and Market Forces

Intersubjective Reality

Seeking Cosmic Justice

National Myths: Makers and Destroyers of Nations

Are We Truly Free?

Maturity: The Prerequisite to Freedom and Democracy

Loyalty to Truth, Not to Group

The Value of Work

The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System

Intellectuals and the People

Where Are Our Pathfinders?

The Allegory of the Cave and Its Lessons to Leaders

The Truth Behind Humanity

The Seven Virtues

The Seven Deadly Sins

What is the right thing to do?

Building National Identity

Adey Abeba and the Spirit of Change

Mob Violence

Living the Truth as a Human Being

Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others

The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them

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