Beyond the Nobel Prize for Peace - Turmoil and uneasy transformation in the Horn of Africa
Magnus Treiber, Institut für Ethnologie, LMU München
Sabine Mohamed, Institut für Ethnologie, Heidelberg Universität & Max-Planck-Institut zur Erforschung multireligiöser und multiethnischer Gesellschaften,Göttingen
What is going on in Ethiopia, Eritrea and the wider region? What looked like a promising path towards peace, democracy and regional reconciliation might turn into another complex impasse. We will analyse and discuss recent developments and explore their wider contexts.
It may have been a charming idea to award 2019’s Nobel peace prize to a young, educated and promising African leader. Within few months’ time Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed indeed tackled the everlasting stalemate with neighbouring Eritrea and invited imprisoned and exiled politicians and activists back into Ethiopia’s political arena. His pledge for national reconciliation and regional commitment, his reference of borders as artificial relicts of a colonial pasts and his return to a pan-Africanist vision are framed by his proposed policy of medemer (Amharic: coming together/addition), a likewise integrative as pragmatic approach. Yet, initial euphoria has ended. While cross-border relations with Eritrea did not substantially improve, ethnicity-based identity policy within Ethiopia became increasingly radical and brought up new types of hardliners and informal youth militias, who spread fear and violence even inside the country’s capital. With hundreds dead and over two million people displaced, Ethiopia’s path towards reconciliation has become uncertain and the whole region’s political development is once again at stake. Considering such ambiguity, Human Rights Watch called the Nobel Prize a ‘bittersweet’ award.
In this panel, we seek an understanding of what is actually happening in Ethiopia, Eritrea and the wider region. We invite presentations that discuss political events, developments and visions in the context of the region’s conflict-laden political and social history, changing global intervention, economic transformation and transnational entanglement, such as trade, migration and refuge. Furthermore, we are interested in views from below. How do people experience, perceive and discuss the current dilemma and their yet open future? How does hope for peace and stability relate to an apparently intensifying call for a strong hand? Will rivalling visions of desirable futures on various political, though intertwined levels eventually prove incompatible? Has peace itself become a simulacrum in the Horn of Africa?
01 Gerrit Kurtz: The Diplomacy of Democratic Transition Processes in the Wider Horn of Africa
The wider Horn of Africa is experiencing monumental democratic change processes. Mass protests and internal divisions have brought new leaders to power based on a broad reform agenda. Ethiopia and Sudan are at the forefront of these developments. With Somalia scheduled to hold its first popular election in late 2020 and the formation of the transitional government of national unity in South Sudan in February 2020, transition processes characterize the political life of the vast majority of the populations at the Horn. Despite their deep domestic origins and repercussions, global interventionism shapes the role transitional governments play, too. Indeed, transitions are as much local as well as international processes, as foreign governments and international organizations mediate peace processes, observe elections, facilitate much-needed economic aid and debt relief, and provide external legitimacy to selected actors.
The proposed paper looks at the intersection of diplomatic practices and political economy dynamics of on-going transition processes at the Horn of Africa. Existing research mostly treats diplomatic practices and the political economy of democratic and post-war transitions through separate concepts and perspectives. This is where the paper makes a theoretical and empirical contribution, as it investigates the many ways in which diplomatic practices of key international actors shape and are shaped by power structures, incentives and bargaining of national elites in the states at the wider Horn of Africa. It discusses the cognitive, political, and bureaucratic conditions that shape diplomatic practices in transition contexts. For its empirical material, the study relies on original interviews of diplomats from the United Nations, European Union, Germany and other member states in recent transition processes in the Horn of Africa, in particular Sudan and Ethiopia, as well as on interviews with Sudanese and Ethiopian policymakers and civil society.
The paper describes the central challenge of transitions as a set of trade-offs that can be summarized as stabilization and transformation. Stabilization often includes the continued presence of existing power structures for example in the security services, economic elites and public administrations, while transformation aims to leave these structures, mechanisms, and old elite actors behind. Shifting combinations of international, transnational, and domestic incentives and demands help to determine an outcome along this spectrum. Navigating between these incentives and demands requires skills, experience, and empathy.
Gerrit Kurtz PhD is a research fellow for conflict prevention and diplomacy at DGAP (German Council on Foreign Relations).
02 Haile Akalu: Appraising the Ethiopian Democracy’ And Multi-National Federalism: the Quest for Meritocracy
The Ethiopian multi-national federalism established following the demise of the Derg regime in 1991 has been the subject of popular and academic writings. The system has been criticized and applauded in terms of both the very idea of ethnocentric federalism and its practice. Whatever the perspective difference behind the contested claims of researchers, the extreme political fragmentation the country witnessed seems to vindicate critiques of the system. Although significant political, economic, and cultural strides were witnessed since the launching of a federal state structure, it remains that the actual practice of the system isn’t a panacea to the set of political questions that led to the demise of the Imperial regime and the proliferation of armed insurgencies.
Available studies on the issue suffer from an extreme focus on event-based castigation of the system or doggish attack of the system on theoretical grounds. Studies also suffer from party and government based appraisal of the merits and demerits of the system. There has been negligible effort to diagnose the discontent of the Ethiopian multi-national federalism from the broader level of the country’s political history and the international system which dictated the Ethiopian political trend. Viewed in that sense, it appears that the political crisis is less inherent to the constitutional foundations of the federation and more tied to flawed & contested history of the country, weak & dishonest intellectual capacity of political actors, the haste and mismanagement of the Transitional Government, the forfeiting of key political demands, discrepancy between rhetoric & practice, and the undue influence of superpowers on local politics. By pinpointing the root causes of the political crises, the article recommends a thorough reengineering of the idea and practice of multi-national federalism rather than discarding the system as inherently detrimental to the unity and prosperity of the Ethiopian peoples. It argues that China’s Meritocracy is more relevant to the Ethiopian context than democracy. The study relied on the writings of prominent political figures who participated in and shaped major political dynamics, organizational reports, parliament minutes, and academic researches.
Haile Muluken Akalu PhD has been Assistant Professor of History in the
Department of History and Heritage Management, College of Social
Sciences and Languages, Mekelle University, and is currently based at
the Meles Zenawi Leadership Academy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
03 Netsanet Weldesenbet: Memorializing - In Music That Circulates: Asmara in Songs and Music Videos in Ethiopia (DFG-Invitee)
This paper explores how, music and music videos on Asmara circulate in contemporary Ethiopia are sites where questions of memory and memorialization are circulated as deliberations of the present. In so doing, the paper first, chronologically and thematically historicizes songs produced on Asmara in Ethiopia so far. This illustrates the ways in which Asmara carries layers of historical registers in songs in Ethiopia, qualifying Asmara as a site of reminiscing in contemporary musical productions in Ethiopia. In so doing this paper illustrates how contemporary musical and fictive musical renditions on Asmara are not only sites of representing the past but are artistic productions which reiterates contemporary political deliberations creating conditions of memorializing of Asmara in Ethiopia as knots that mediates difficult transition.
In songs such as in “Gual Asmara” which mobilizes Asmara as a site of memory for lost love, histories of non-movement between Addis Ababa and Asmara in pre 2018 are highlighted through themes of disconnection, separation and longing as embodiment of memorialization. In these renditions, Asmara seems to offer both empirical and conceptual ground for composing songs as an act of memorialization. Hence, reminiscing practice in the form of songs is an act of memorialization embedded in the circulation of the imagination of Asmara through themes of romantic relations, separation, longing – waiting for a lost love and mobility through music. Musical productions of Asmara from Ethiopia therefore, mobilizes Asmara as a site of reminiscence of a different kind of past that opens up a conceptual site for memorising practices in music and music videos. It is therefore in this sense that I argue, musical rendition emerges as sites of memorializing practices of the present time through production and circulation of music and musical videos by making reference to an experienced and imagined past as acts of imagining the future.
Netsanet Weldesenbet: Netsanet Gebremichael Weldesenbet PhD is a lecturer at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa University.
04 Andrea Nicolas: Ethnopolitics, Democracy, and the Appropriation of Tradition: Oromo Gadaa-Organisation in Ethiopian State Politics
In Ethiopia, upheavals and riots have torn the country over the past few years. The new Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, is ready to use the “the social capital” of traditional authority to deal with the political protests and insecurities in the country. With the Oromo being one of the largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia, major part of that task will be pacifying and re-integrating Oromo protesters, who constitute a vital part of the dissidents. To gain their support, Abiy Ahmed and the party he represents (the Oromo-based ODP) will not least have to make recourse to gadaa, the traditional Oromo generation system, which is of high symbolic value for many political activists. Significantly, many of the rebelling Oromo youth protesters carry the name qeerroo, a term that previously designated among some Oromo groups the young men and fighters in the gadaa system (an idea that became soon emulated, in different ‘ethnic variants’, by youngsters also of other ethnic groups all over Ethiopia).
Gadaa is a special form of age- and generational organisation, in which males are collectively organised as members of cohorts. It used to serve as a governmental system to the Oromo of Ethiopia and Kenya before Ethiopian state expansion and British colonial rule. When in 1991 a new government took over in Ethiopia, an impressive revival of this institution set in. A process of bureaucratization was set into motion that saw the installation of ‘gadaa bureaus’ and offices, and went along with heavy state involvement in leadership election and the running of gadaa. Goal of this strategy was to re-activate common Oromo ethnic ‘roots’ and to re-unite the different Oromo groups in Ethiopia under the ruling Ethiopian state party .
At the same time that government representatives made claims to be the ‘true’ preservers and maintainers of gadaa, it also remained a vital reference point for the political opposition in Ethiopia and the Oromo diaspora worldwide. Political dissidents stress the values of gadaa participatory democracy for the Oromo nation, and contrast them to the ‘totalitarianism’ and ‘dictatorship’ for which they blame the present Ethiopian state. All sides make deliberate recourse to the western ‘democracy’ model, which is said to be substantially embodied in the indigenous ‘gadaa democracy’ of the Oromo. Cultural and ethnic activists among the Oromo of the diaspora in the USA, Canada, Australia and Europe promote, via internet-websites and academic publications, the political idea of using gadaa as a blueprint for future state government. Meanwhile, the actual working of gadaa on the local levels gets profoundly changed, anthropologists playing a major role in this development.
With the upcoming 2020 elections in Ethiopia, the competition of ethnic political parties to gain access to gadaa, or to directly shape it in their favour, would ever more increase. The paper shall review what impacts and consequences these developments have for the wider political situation in Ethiopia and at the Horn of Africa.
Andrea Nicolas: Dr. Andrea Nicolas is a free-lance social anthropologist, affiliated with the Max-Planck-Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle.