let us create a system of liberty and justice for all

By Dr Solomon Ungashe*

Those who identify themselves “Ethiopians” are enraged by Dr. Tsegaye Ararsa’s recent radio interview in which he stated there is no such thing called Ethiopian national identity. Bloggers in that camp have written articles smearing his name and educational credentials instead of challenging his views which sadly has become the defining characteristic of contemporary debates about Ethiopian politics.

What I had expected from those who argued Ethiopian identity exists was its definition and manifestation but nobody dared talk about it. What exactly is an Ethiopian identity? Is it the fact of being born in a geographical space called Ethiopia or is there more to it? What is it that the preponderance, if not all, of the people cherish about Ethiopia and are willing to sacrifice their lives for if they have to? Is it just that territorial space? If that is all we have in common, does it define our identity?

Let us take the United States of America as an example and ask ourselves what the defining features of American identity are in the political sense. Americans have a flag that vast majority love and respect; they have an enduring constitution that defines the American Republic and guarantees civil liberties; and they have the rule of law that applies to all. These commonalities are some of the ingredients that makeup an American identity and are summarized in the pledge of allegiance every American willingly accepts declaring:

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” This is what constitutes an American identity politically speaking.

Does Ethiopia have anythings that comes close to what Americans have? The Ethiopian flag has been changing with regime change; every ruler that comes to power writes its own constitution that is never put to practice; and there has never been liberty and justice for the people. What is wrong then in saying there is no Ethiopian identity if all we have in common is a geographical space called Ethiopia?

I believe we must focus on building an Ethiopian identity instead of trying to force people accept something that does not exist. Let us coin an enduring constitution; let us agree on a flag that all of us love and are willing to die for; let us create a system of liberty and justice for all. Then and only then can we say we have a common Ethiopian identity. We can do it.

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* Dr Solomon Ungashe can be reached at Nomolos Ungashe