By Mike Ssegawa
In Africa, even the seemingly very stable countries, can go up in flames in just one day. This has been the case across the continent, from Alexandria to Cape Town. It’s worrying.
Recent developments in Ethiopia and the uneventful declaring of a state of emergency following incessant protests by Oromo people, is a strong reminder of the fragility of the continent, and what has happened elsewhere on the continent, is still happening.
Certainly, Ethiopia was not among the most stable of countries on the African continent, but, it was enjoying massive economic growth and development, admired and praised from every corner of the globe. This, one would argue, could give its citizens hope that their government was doing something about their lives. Same question rose in the case of Libya under Muamar Gadhafi which enjoyed social services without human rights. Alas.
What’s happening in Ethiopia is a reminder that governance issues score highly among problems the continent should prioritize in every country, until each country achieves nationhood.
Ethiopia has enjoyed high flying economic success, which has come with rapid improvement in human development index, over the past decade, but has come at a cost.
However visitors seeing developments un Ethiopia would quickly forget that the country ever suffered starvation, and that it was at war with itself in the 80s, and at war with Eritrea at the close of the 20th century.
By yesterday, with a mixture of capitalism and close government regulations and interventions, Ethiopia had entered into a league of the fastest rising places on the planet.
The reviews of huge infrastructure developments including massive highways, airports, railway, energy dams, schools, to mention but a few, turn out anything but cosmetic without paying attention to governance and matters of human rights.
It’s a strong reminder that citizens rights cannot be sacrificed at the altar of development, rather, the government should walk the development path alongside its citizens. That’s only how people feel part and parcel of the story.
Good governance in this case means involving citizens as partners, so that development takes into account the aspirations of all citizens.
The Oromo uprising has left over 100 people dead including foreigners, and hundreds more in prisons.
The Ethiopian government however declared the state of emergency for six months, after factories especially owned by foreigners were raided and property destroyed. It is bad public relations case with highly competed for foreign direct investment being able to fly out of the country in the coming months.
Yet what’s happening in Ethiopia repeats itself in other parts of the continent, albeit on different scales. Issues of land, jobs, capital management and governance, are contested or debated across the continent. Uganda is such a country.
Protests in Ethiopia started as agitation for land rights by the largest tribal grouping the oromos, who say their land had been grabbed by the government, to give way to factories and housing projects owned by foreigners. It is these projects being targeted for destruction. It is however turning out to be burning down of efforts that have taken years to take off. It is a tight corner the Ethiopian government finds itself.
Ethiopia has been ruled by one party since 1987 since the late prime minister Meles Zenawi, took power from dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1987.
For almost three decades, Ethiopian citizens have not been at liberty to enjoy their full civil liberties, making Ethiopia have one of the biggest diaspora and refugee communities in the world.
But also, the ruling party in Addis Ababa had suffocated political space in the country, allowing less criticism, and concentrated it’s powerbase in largely one region, the northern Tigray region.
The failure to share the national cake equitably has contributed to what leaves a sour taste in the mouth of not only Oromos where the riots started, but also amongst the second biggest ethnic group, the Amhara.
And when it come to organizing, it is always easy to appeal to ethnic sentiments. It is clear, Africa easily falls back to its ethnicity in good and bad times as victimization or favouritism are two sides of the same coin.
s a resultA, ethnicity is the bomb that keeps exploding. It is the home of the demon that torments the continent.
It was the same story in Kenya in the post elections violence of 2008, pitting Luo and Kalenjin on one side against the Kikuyus, the largest tribal grouping which has enjoyed more political and economic control of Kenyan resources than any other. Only one president of Kenya’s four principals, has been non Kikuyu.
Our neighbors in South Sudan, fell into the trap in December 2013 when ideological disagreements between President Salva Kirr and his deputy Dr Riek Machar. Analysts say the conflict in South Sudan finally lay on the sentiments of how Nuers and Dinkas have treated each other over the centuries.
In Rwanda, the story of Tutsis and Hutu has been retold hundreds times. The fights in DR Congo and Burundi, have also exploited tribal sentiments. In Somalia, the war was among clans before Islamist sentiments came in to exploit the confusion. In Libya, finally the ethnic card took Gadhafi to his grave. Etc. You can trace the ethnic ghost in almost every conflict on the continent.
In short, one can say, despite issues that beat Africans, the devil that torments Africa comes to life in the tribe, be it for the oppressor or the oppressed.