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Monday, December 12, 2005

Comments on Clapham’s Comments on the Ethiopian crisis and on Henze’s Comments on Comments, both dated November 14, 2005

Comments on Clapham’s Comments on the Ethiopian crisis and on Henze’s Comments on Comments, both dated November 14, 2005

Kallacha Dubbi
December 11, 2005
The place to start trying to understand a writer’s motif is always with the message of the writer himself. Critics merely expose the gaps left by the author. The author himself explains why he allies with this or that political group. In the case of Christopher Clapham and Paul Henze, these gaps are glaring. The best way to show such gaps in writings of Western scholars is to use their own style:
Clapham and Henze
Clapham and Henze have now been scholarly ambassadors of Amharas and Tigreans (respectively) for decades, at a cost to other Ethiopian ethnic groups. Amharas and Tigreans have ruled Ethiopia for more than a century, and currently the Tigrean led TPLF party is in power. Critical analysis and objectivity of an observing scholar is both consequence of, and a requirement for ethical responsibility and fairness, and in the case of the two scholars should allow them exercise their academic objectivism. However, even the very mention of Oromo or any southern ethnic group was so consistently excluded by the two orthodox writers while repeatedly promoting their favorite groups. Loyalty to political and ethnic dominion is neither a consequence of, nor a requirement for democratic governance, and Ethiopia is no exception.
The extreme narrowness of the authors’ ethnic views. Both authors have never been able to rid themselves of the sense that they are essentially, and more of, Amhara and Tigrean supporters than objective scholars. Though they have served leap-service to democracy, their versions and definitions systematically excluded speaking for the rights of the majority of the oppressed people of Ethiopia, shielding the ruling ethnic classes alone.
The failure to develop honest political capacity with views that cherish true democracy, to evenhandedly support local political views. Both Clapham and Henze, at least outside Amhara and Tigrean scholarly camps, have never been able, or indeed have never been allowed, to develop into effective political thinkers whose ethnically cornered scholarly focus could exercise any autonomous authority, or expressed on behalf of the academic communities that they claim to represent. The extraordinarily static and loyal support in virtually all their writings to the ruling ethnic supremacists, originating from their prejudiced views, has reflected their feebleness. Both have no intimate knowledge of the politics of the country while any who sought to give them the other side of the story was ignored in case he presented any threat to their settled political loyalty. Once genuine discussions came with an open-minded scholar, and the two scholars needed an in-depth knowledge to muster scholarly support, that challenging scholar was avoided.
By reducing Ethiopian ethnic federalism, a partial but sweet success of a long and bloody struggle of the oppressed people, as an attempt to replicate the failed nationality policies of the USSR, and hinting that this is also a view of Ethiopian nationalists “by no means restricted to Amharas”, Clapham, for example, clearly shows where his heart lies – hell with ethnic equality. He wrote as if deeply concerned about the lack of democratization in Ethiopia, but at the same time retained his bad taste about ethnic equality. Clapham then found himself caught between two stools for the sake of Amharas, as did Henze for the sake of the Tigreans. Ethiopia’s gravest problem, ethnic inequality is merely mentioned as “representatives of historically disadvantaged nationalities (notably the Oromo)” – the only time the very word Oromo was mentioned in Clapham’s long essay, amazingly none in Henze’s, see table below – so telling.

Number of mentions of nine key words in two papers

Related to:

Words in writing
In Chris Clapham’s “Comments on the Ethiopian crisis”
In Paul Henze’s “Comments on Comments”



78 times


31 times


4 times

Both Clapham and Henze, indeed, have never sought to operate as open and objective scholars. One striking indicator of this has been their virtual boycott of any and all Oromo meetings and conferences. This is consistent with all Amhara scholars who live in ritual seclusion: they are virtually never seen at Southern or Oromo meetings, or engage in any public way with other Ethiopians – in striking contrast to their accessibility to each other and their ability to sparkle on an international stage. While several Oromo meetings, conferences, and major occasions were conducted in or near cities where the two scholars reside, they have remained immured in their narrow offices protecting their one dimensional orthodox ideas.
The style of arriving at sweeping inferences about important political conclusions relevant to Ethiopia by the two scholars has been equally opaque. They retained their style from their advising and consulting years serving the Ethiopian regimes and as such, they retained all the instincts of serving and advising a regime, a sure antithesis to scholarly independent thought process, in which objectivism is not impacted by interest of any type. The clearest examples are their publications spanning over decades, always with little reference to other Ethiopian ethnic populations.
The rise of Oromo scholarship gravely weakened both internal and external scholarly ambassadorship of Amhara and Tigrean dominance; even though the total sum of partisan scholarship is still dominant. This dominance is now deeply threatened; it also has repercussions on other scholars, notably because several North American and European scholars and leading politicians are now recognizing the root problem of the Ethiopian war and poverty as ethnic domination.
Though cultural recognition has been better than under Mengistu (which would not be difficult), major issues remained, many of which could be ascribed to the tacit support leading western countries and scholars rendered to the regime. The double-standards some of the western scholars demonstrated and the artificial distinction between African and Western democracies inhibited advances in political pluralism. The blind support or objection to some of the political intricacies has proven to be very damaging to Ethiopian democratic dreams. For example Clapham’s sympathy for the privatization of land, sounding innocuous from the cover, is an indirect support for Amhara or Tigrean economic dominance on top of a prevailing ethnic political dominance. This of course is to serve Clapham’s masked call for a political home-run in favor of his favorite group. A scholar advocating land privatization in an inequitable political setup is beyond my imagination. The intent is to allow the powerful leadership grab all the best lands.
For several years, it has been clear that the two scholars have been deeply alienated from the realities of Ethiopian politics. Despite developments in Oromo and Diaspora politics, the European Parliament, US State Department, and a number of scholars that remained objective defying the pressure of Ethiopian government, the Clapham and Henze remain stagnant backwaters, and Oromo mainstream thinkers have ignored them. Most Oromos, so far as I can judge, have been passive towards the favoritism of the two at best, resentful at worst.
The two writers’ attitudes towards human rights abuses by Ethiopian regimes have often been extremely irresponsible. One would think that the death of hundreds and thousands of innocent civilians including students, the indefinite closure of Addis Ababa University, the largest teaching and research institute in the country, the mass-massacres in Gambella, etc. would be important enough issues to at least deserve a mention. Instead, the authors chose self-serving topics such as land privatization or how long it takes to open business in Ethiopia.
In fairness, let me take just a few examples from Clapham’s writings to show how misleading his writing is. Henze’s pro-Trigrean writing is easy to deduct and needs no further disclosing.

“… the economic liberalism of the CUD, in opposition to the persisting Marxist attitudes of the EPRDF regime”

I have no sympathy for EPRDF, and I have no less misgiving about Meles’ ethnic dictatorship than Clapham. But the adjective “Marxist” here is simply thrown to Clapham’s arguments to make sufficient contrast in promoting “CUD as liberal.” This is the nature of the conflict between Clapham and Henze’s, both are on false grounds, the first Amharist Machiavellian, the later passionately Tigrean.

In another, more unsettling example, Clapham writes: “I have detected no explicit attempt to mobilise religion as a source of political support (though a ‘nationalist’ party like CUD must inevitably be associated in some degree with Christianity and especially the Orthodox church). “

One has to be an expert in the Ethiopian politics to read into this outright deceitful statement and that is where the danger lies. Most ordinary readers would assume a non-Ethiopian observer like Clapham, a scholar of his caliber at that could be objective. Terribly wrong! 1) CUD is not a nationalist party; it is an Amhara chauvinist party as has been well presented by many writers including Asafa Jalata. 2) It does mobilize extensive support from Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Most meetings and fundraising projects are conducted in churches, and recently there was even a serious debate among church officials to exclude opposition parishioners. 3) I consider his declaration that “CUD must inevitably be associated in some degree with Christianity” as outright rude, offensive, irresponsible, and horsy politics. It exploits the mood of the times by suggesting what should be done rather than telling what was factually done. There is no way Clapham could have gathered the religious denomination of CUD members. Ethiopia has more Moslems than Christians, and the reference to “nationalist” party gives no basis to assume any nationalist party is Christian dominated. Clapham came up with such regrettable conclusion by knowing that CUD is an Amhara chauvinist party in his mind, a “liberal” party in his pen.

It is too much to get into every line of Clapham’s cunning arguments. Let us just call it totally Machiavellian. In short, Clapham and Henze have now reached a state at which it is almost impossible to imagine them winning Oromo sympathy, even more so while continuing to demonstrate partisan politics. They have been able to retain a semblance of scholarly authority only because of that deference that Abyssinian scholars show to their “ferenj” supporters backed by political interest defending years of committed views. Their scholarly vulnerability has now been revealed.

Ethiopia, an objective discourse

However traumatic the sequence of the recent events had been for Meles, the euphoria of the 1991 victory over the Durg provided a momentum, an emotional sustenance which escorted him thus far - for 14 years. But no Ethiopian political observer shall deny that Meles is facing a serious combination of challenges – scattered combats of the OLF however inconsistent or innocuous they may seem, followed by the recent elections signaling that majority of the population prefer any change to the settled domination of the TPLF. So we saw a sudden rise of Amhara determination and will-power although it could still be made inconsequential by Meles’ military superiority. As a result I see only two developments, much fewer than those listed in Clapham’s comments:

I. The TPLF will shop and pick a partner from among independent Oromo or Amhara blocks to partly diffuse the rising pressure which could culminate into at least a political nuisance down the road, if not now. This should be seen as prudence Meles is capable of adopting in order to extend his political subsistence.
II. The TPLF/EPRDF will commit to no power sharing and continue ruling with ironclad in the absence of a contending power or until the country is made ungovernable by the rising pressure -, painful enough to change the course of history per 1974, wherever such pressures may come from.

Any other likelihood is less probable by large margins. These two scenarios leave the will and power to manipulate the outcome of any electons or negotiations in Ethiopia largely in the hands of the TPLF mainly because the opposition may own the momentum, but not the military power. However, owning the momentum may or may not resolve into political gain. I believe Oromos have in fact owned such momentum since 1991, but have not yet gathered its political yield. Here are some more reasons why the TPLF still holds the key to Menelik’s palace:

The Tigrean population is conditioned to believing the TPLF is invincible against any internal military encounter. Over the last 14 years we have witnessed the creation of a new myth of yet unknown lifespan replace another Abyssinian invincibility myth propagated by the Durg whose collapse was unthinkable up until its final days. The quality and self portrait of these myths have suffered a blow by the rising national movements, prime among these the struggle of the Oromo people. However declining the relevance of the myth may be, it has nonetheless offered a moving target for the Oromo and Southern struggles. The immediate aftermath of such invincibility propaganda following TPLF’s defeat that should come sooner or later remains to be one of Ethiopia’s greatest unknowns of the last few decades. Whether Meles will be able to protect a losing Tigray or provide an acceptable explanation of its defeat, there is a symmetry that should be expected from the Durg’s loss and the history of the country: the humiliated will rise and the risen will fall, and we may observe a recycled potent political value and the same policies of famine and war. And the Paul Henzes can delay this crude truth, but they can’t stop it.
The TPLF’s moral has been boosted by the military success of the EPRDF over Eritrea for which the TPLF took a larger share of the credit, and also by the military excursions to Kenyan, Sudanese, and Somali territories that were left uncontested. It did so under a pretext of combating terrorism, a claim that served the west to ignore TPLF’s international foul play. Clapham now even admits that it is likely for the TPLF to wage a border war against Eritrea in order to thwart attention from internal turmoil. Here he threw a punch against Tigray to bolster Amharas.
An important aspect of the Ethiopian military is that, as a result of the discharged Durg army, the country lost its growing national army diversity, leaving 80-90% of the top key officers in the army as Tigreans when Tigray represents only about 8% of the Ethiopian ethnic diversity. Thus, democratization of the military has been reversed by decades, while the political awareness made a considerable leap during the same decades. The situation leaves no serious threat to the TPLF except a possible internal challenge from within the TPLF ranks, a sudden surge of the OLF’s capacity, or a new front of the Amhara which I personally see as likely. But the civic opposition is growing as stated above and the opposition is gaining more momentum. This paradox between a growing political awareness of the civic population on one hand and the military hopelessness at the national power pack on the other hand characterizes Ethiopia’s political landscape of TPLF’s dominion. The civic and the military camps are in clear and sharp contradictions, interlocked by nationality and ethnic interests. I have the impression that this known fact is concealed by both writers.
Few internal scuffles and minor skirmishes here and there aside, the TPLF has not been tested militarily from within Ethiopia since 1992, and there is no immediate military threat if it chooses to suppress all and any rivals by sheer military force. Several specifics in the opposition camps are to blame for this situation. Lack of unity comes to mind as one of the reasons. Some in fact believe that the purging of Seye’s splinter group from the TPLF few years ago consolidated Meles’ power eliminating the only possible challenge from within the TPLF.
International donors are not going to interfere in Ethiopia’s affairs to a degree where they force Meles’ resignation, and expectations of mainstream Oromo or Ethiopian politicians in this regard has often been painfully naive. At times when such inputs come to rescue, they often come in such a destructive mode instead, as that of Clapham and Henze. The need to suppress this exaggerated expectation marks the only reason I list this point as the fifth.

In the backdrop of this colorless picture of the Ethiopian politics of the day, any political group posing to seriously challenge the TPLF has to do so with TPLF’s permission and remain at the mercy of the same as long as the TPLF is in charge of the military and the security. Here, one may think and hope that popular revolt of the 1974 type could do the trick. Well, such revolt was initiated few times over the last few years by AAU students including Oromos, and CUD even coined a taxi drivers’ general strike, copycat of the 1974 revolution which was also started by taxi drivers – so naive. All were suppressed easily as much by their own internal contradictions as by TPLF’s overwhelming power. Even if such revolt catches fire, I believe no benefit will come out of such popular urban revolt for the Oromo and the South because urban uprising will primarily favor the Amhara, not the Oromo. Also for this reason, any urban movement is unlikely to have Oromo support, a setting which may reestablish the TPLF as the dominant power then. The lack of a political settlement in the country favors the status quo, and based on what the Amhara politicians are brewing for the Oromos, I see no hope for peace détente between the Amhara and Oromo camps. The problem with this tripartite front formation is that, an Amhara-Tigre unity is just as likely as Oromo-Tigre unity, although the Amharas may not be ready to give up their ambition to dominate the empire, and their recent successes only renewed their imperial appetite. The probability of Oromo-Tigre unity has therefore a slightly higher edge than the Amhara-Tigre unity, but this assumption should have little influence on Oromo political posturing for negotiations.

Recapping the five points listed above offers three hard realities:

a) I believe that all political dilemmas of Ethiopia curtailing issues of democratization in TPLF’s era are direct legacies of the deliberate and calculated evacuation of the Durg army. This is the first reality of Ethiopia’s political power balance today. This is shaped by the chemistry of the conflict among Ethiopian political spheres.

b) The squabble between the Amhara and Tigrean political establishments is for political dominance. This means the risks are also limited to political leadership since neither of the two aims at cultural domination of the other. The Oromo struggle for self determination distinguishes itself from power struggle since it inculcates self determination and deAmharization of the Oromo culture. This adds a relevant dimension to Oromo political calculations and risk analysis. The Amharas may or may not opt for armed struggle because they already determine their “self”, and in fact strife to determine even Oromo’s on behalf of the Oromos. So the table around which all sit and negotiate has different weight for all the stakeholders, the South and the Oromos having the most to gain or loose at the table. This second reality dictates the strategy along which political settlements must be accepted or rejected. As the bottom line, it is all a risk analysis in a land and country where the South and the Oromos have lost all or most of the risks they have taken for the sake of peace. This adds a third dimension to the Ethiopian realities.

c) The level of intrigues within the Ethiopian pretensions evidence that the Amharas and Tigreans are not ready for true and honest peace dialogue. The scenario is further complicated by high-powered foreign scholars who take odd sides encouraging despair, discouraging fair discourse, and tipping the balance of fair debate in favor of their favorite teams. Encouraged by such provisions, CUD, the leading Amhara organization even denies and defies article 39 of the constitution that recognizes the rights of nationalities and ethnic groups in Ethiopia. It is also busy crafting its own OPDO, electing a young Oromo woman as its deputy chair to continue sabotaging Oromo interests. How can Oromo mainstream politics trust this continued machination? This is a third reality of the Ethiopian politics. I see no transparent goodwill, no encouraging scenarios, and no decline of jingo-politics in Ethiopia. Whatever came as good for Oromo is here as a strategic value for Abyssinians to stay in power. They can not be trusted before they demonstrate trustworthy behaviors.

OLF and recent elections

In their long notes, the two writers made a big fuss about the May 2005 elections which were staged dramas for international consumption – a fact very well-known to our scholars, after all they are “Ethiopianists.” Clapham even reports about Prof. Pausewang’s deportation from Ethiopia for refusing to close his eyes to the corruptions and cookbooks of the election process. Such is the fate of an honest scholar. Ed Keller, a respected Prof from UCLA was deported in 1992 for visiting OLF’s office, Bonnie Holcomb was denied entry after being nominated as an observer, Truman is persona non grata, and hundreds of others are banned, but Henze enjoys open door to Ethiopian foreign offices so that he can praise elections doomed sham by all standards.

OLF did not participate in the elections after reading what was to come, and we today see indeed to have come. There were serious obstacles put to work to preclude participation of any organization with popular support posing a serious treat to EPRDF’s political domination. For example, there were three unreasonable conditions placed in front of the OLF for its participation in the election process. The first of the three conditions laid down by the TPLF to allow the OLF to participate in the elections was for the OLF to abandon the armed struggle. Given the three scenarios above, valid then as now, add the five reasons why Meles holds the key to Menelik’s palace to these scenarios, it is a suicide for the OLF then and now to abandon armed struggle for any verbal Abyssinian promise to respect Oromo self-determination. Foreign states and supper power “guarantees” have betrayed Oromos many times, and the only guarantee Oromos have is their own commitment. Therefore, in my view, given the several aborted peace initiatives and the degree of intrigues hanging over the empire, the only guarantee that secures Oromo rights for Oromo children if not for the current generation, is having an Oromo army that guards the interests of the Oromo people. An Oromo army is the only true light at the end of the tunnel. A tired democratization process in Ethiopia is not a reliable option for Oromo self determination; it submits Oromos to Abyssinian political machination dooming Oromo fate to their compassion.

The Oromo struggle should no more target diplomatic upper-hand as a primary, this is another trap laid by the Claphams and Henzes. Ofter all Oromos had such upper hand for 14 years. I believe Oromos need more visibility via armed struggle and organizational network.

In conclusion

True, no one has, and should have, monopoly on scholarship. Clapham and Henze are welcome to contribute to the knowledge base of Ethiopia. In fact, Oromo tradition beautifully accommodates diverse ideas be they from Oromos or non-Oromos. Most of the educated blue-collar population of Ethiopia comes from the two ethnic groups who dominated Ethiopia’s politics for over a century. As a result, there is an imbalance in the number of the educated, favoring the Amharas and the Tigreans. Scholars such as Clapham and Henze were invited by governments dominated by the two ethnic groups. While many invited international scholars maintained scholarly objectivity, some of the westerners created vested interests of their own, financial – through advising, marriage, or just personal friendship. Some still maintain close contacts with Ethiopian regimes. Some are invited to Ethiopia for lucrative consulting jobs. I am not aware of the role of both Clapham and Henze in the current Ethiopian regime. But I can tell, based on their writings, that they have not exhibited objectivity in their observations. By so being, they have attenuated the preexisting imbalance in Ethiopian scholarly debate in favor of the dominating ethnic groups. Writers and political activists, placed both culturally and physically so far from the impacts of the political solution they propose, should be extra careful in their activism which could be a matter of life and death for millions. I am disappointed to note that Clapham and Henze distorted facts and objectivism in Ethiopian politics and demonstrated recklessness in their analyses. Scholars of this caliber could suggest that Ethiopia, a country that Clapham counts as complex, uses its ethnic diversity to check and balance political power and establish a democratic and just government liked and trusted at least by majority of its citizens. What happened to the scholarly tradition of defending the wicked and the truth?

It is disheartening to read that some scholars are so willing to distort the field when all Oromos and the Ethiopian South ask is for a level playing field. I am aware that many Oromos think Clapham and Henze are not equally guilty albeit their style and radically identical ethnic commitment. As I stated above, an ordinary reader would make Henze a far more Tigrean fundamentalist than Clapham an Amhara fundamentalist, and perhaps rightly so. However, reading texts of Clapham and Henze, Clapham sounds more Machiavellian, more calculating in his commitment - perhaps aware of the damage he could cause to his image as a scholar, or perhaps cognizant that he can do better convincing on behalf of the Amhara by posing objective. As a result, he sleekly conceals his taking of sides. His nepotism is not as obvious as Henze’s from the outset. In this he is astonishingly similar to the shrewd Amhara bureaucrats I grew observing. They can do you harm while posturing to be your friends. Whether he learnt this from them, or they captured it from him, it is probably that imperial trait. Henze, on the contrary, is outright open and easy to read, blatantly pro TPLF as passionately as a Tigrean scholar could be. That is why I lumped both together in my rebuttal; ain’t worth the sifting.

Kallacha Dubbi
December 11, 2005

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:05 PM

    Good job Kallacha you said it all.


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