By Abel Merawi
December 10, 2020 (Ezega.com) -- When we think of a nation, various assumptions come to mind. Some consider how a group of elites gather and create a grand plan to form a nation. This cannot be any further from the truth. And whenever such attempts were made, the results were catastrophic. Recalling the Holocaust and the Gulags is enough to make us shudder. The other assumption is that nations are the result of various fortunate and unfortunate events that brought people together or separated them. In order to find out the alternatives to establishing a nation, merely defining it will not suffice without ample evidence from history or philosophy.
The crude definition of a nation may even be misleading. These are the dictionary definitions of a nation: (1) A politically organized body of people under a single government. (2) The people who live in a nation or country. (3) A federation of tribes. These definitions define them in their current state without saying anything about how they came to be. The history alone on how nations are built will not make matters any easier. If we approach the issue from a moral and ethical perspective, we find amoral and unethical nations all over the world. Instead, we can take an approach that Dr. Cornel West calls ‘Prophetic Pragmatism’. In other words, we project into the future consequences of current undertakings in our attempt to find a practical and sustainable alternative for creating a national identity. Nations have come into existence from the ‘yin and yang’ or the chaotic and ordered occurrences in history. Such nations exist but it is difficult to say that they were built because ‘nation-building’ entails a logical basis.
The renowned contemporary historian, Francis Fukuyama, has forwarded four approaches to illustrate the causes behind the existence of nations in his 2018 book, ‘Identity’. I will be discussing these four approaches to highlight their positive and negative outcomes. This last approach deserves the name ‘nation-building’ because it considers pragmatic options that transcend the bond of the past by projecting into the future. However, the first three approaches are also worth mentioning because they have been the primary causes behind national identity. Nevertheless, they also continue to be the cause of external and internal conflicts, because they solely depend on history. Since history is loaded with unfathomable interpretations of the same facts – assuming we can access the facts – we can’t entirely trust history to possesses and maintain national identity. We depend on history only as a founding narrative or as national mythology. Ergo, it must be combined with a vision of the future, which enables us to derive our national identity from a shared vision. Let us now look at each approach to national identity with the aim of particularly finding the best alternative to Ethiopian national identity.
The first alternative for building a nation is smeared with blood. This is because it is carried out by occupying land and getting rid of the natives. Francis Fukuyama explains: “The first is to transfer populations across the political boundaries of a particular country, either by sending settlers into new territories, by forcibly evicting people who live in a certain territory, or by simply killing them off—or all three.” History is filled with such a way of building a nation and I’ll mention some to shed light on it. USA can be a paragon of such national identity, beginning with the ‘discovery’ or as I call it, ‘the confused and mistaken journey’ of Christopher Columbus. As we all know, this leads to the near extinction of Native Americans or simply Americans. It developed with colonization and the shipping of slaves to this ‘New World’. Another example is Australia, which established the rule of Europeans by killing off Aboriginal tribes that lived on the continent for thousands of years. As we can see from the history of America and Australia, nations can be built through unparalleled crimes. Furthermore, the generations that follow derive their national identity by being forgetful of the past.
The second approach to building a national identity is based on racial, cultural, linguistic similarities. As Fukuyama states, “The second path to nationhood is to move borders to fit existing linguistic or cultural populations.” This is a common and, to some extent, morally acceptable path to national identity. Most African nations were constituted in such a manner. However, this also changed when colonizers created artificial boundaries that served as a time bomb for current conflicts. Ethiopian identity can also be taken as an example, but it has transcended this linguistic and cultural identity to expand the nation. Until recently, the Ethiopian model has worked marvelously as people lived in harmony by gradually forming hybrid cultures. These hybrid cultures didn’t threaten specific cultures because they were derivatives of every culture. The people in the capital city and places like Raya represent such hybrid cultures. Similarly, Canadian identity has managed to solve linguistic differences, like French, English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Punjabi are able to exist in harmony. As a result, most Canadians speak more than one language since it is part of the curriculum, which can also help Ethiopia through the integration of Multilanguage education in the curriculum. Accordingly, this second approach can create a national identity as long as it aspires to expand.
The third approach to national identity is assimilation or integration, upon which minorities are accepted into majorities by becoming like them. As Fukuyama puts it, “The third path is to assimilate minority populations into the culture of an existing ethnic or linguistic group.” The success of this approach depends on the measures taken for assimilation. When assimilation results from the consent and will of minorities, it can foster a stable national identity. However, if minorities are forced to assimilate with a dominant culture, it will also engender hatred and violence. In the case of Europe, most European nations have gone through assimilation of minor cultures until a single culture becomes the symbol of national identity. This has worked in England for the most part, but it has failed in the case of North Ireland as the force was used for assimilation. In America too, the dominant white culture has systematically tried to assimilate African Americans. But this continues to be a failure because it is based on ignorance and intolerance to minorities. Thus, the success or failure of this path to national identity depends on the manner of assimilation.
The fourth approach to national identity is based on the current and common realities of citizens. Fukuyama explains: “The fourth path is to reshape national identity to fit the existing characteristics of the society in question.” He further explains that nations are not ‘biological entities’ but ‘socially constructed’. This means we can, “deliberately shape identities to suit people’s characteristics and habits.” Currently, the world is moving in an atavistic manner by focusing on differences rather than similarities. The narrative of former president Donald Trump and the move by TPLF are enough to make us realize that the future demands unity rather than division. Ethiopian identity is not limited to language and culture. It retains but also transcends them because being Ethiopian means harmony within diversity.
This last alternative to national identity is what Ethiopia currently needs. We Ethiopians have defended our land from foreign invaders through unity. We Ethiopians struggle to overcome poverty, which is a national problem. We Ethiopians aspire for a kind of development that lifts every citizen out of poverty. We are Ethiopians because we share values and aspirations as citizens of the same land, this is our national identity. William James in ‘The Meaning of Truth’ explains, “True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate, and verify. False ideas are those that we cannot.” Ethnic identity has failed the test of truth. But national identity within this forth framework is something we can assimilate, validate, corroborate, and verify to meet our national need in our shared fate as Ethiopians.
Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for Ezega.com. He can be reached through this form.
Other articles by Abel Merawi:
Ethiopia in Conflict - Part II: A National Stand for Unity
Ethiopia in Conflict - Part I: EPRDF and the Creation of Ethnic Division
Forms of Human Violence (Part II)
Forms of Human Violence (Part I)
The ‘Having’ Mentality
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
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
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
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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