The Era of Written Constitutions
If a constitution is intended to be a document enjoying a wide degree of popular acceptance which in turn helps to convey legitimacy on the public authority and guides the exercise of power along the lines which the constitution lays down, then none of the Ethiopian Constitutions to date come remotely close to meeting this specification.
The above statement written by a close observer of the constitutional development in Ethiopia in 1993 remains as a main challenge in terms of the processes for making and amending constitutions.
The 1931 Constitution
The coming to power of emperor Haile Selassie in 1930 and the subsequent grant of the 1931 Constitution marks a new epoch. On the one hand this epoch reinforced the traditional position of the emperor as ‘Siyume Egziabiher, Niguse Negast Za-Ethiopia’ which literally means: Elect of God, King of Kings of Ethiopia’ but on the other marked the end of the role of the nobility or at least the gradual reduction of their role in local leadership, the traditional check against the power of the king of kings, to insignificance. Yet, it is important to note that Haile Selassie was crowned with full support of the pre-war modern elite with a mission of ‘Japanizing Ethiopia.’
This also marked the beginning of the culmination of the struggle for centralization, which began with the attempt at unification by emperors during the 19th century and reached its consolidation under the absolutist rule of Emperor Haile Selassie to be further reinforced by the military. The consequence was the alienation of the bulk of the regional actors leading to the center periphery polemics.
The first measure the Emperor took along the process of centralization was the grant of the Constitution. It was a fairly brief Constitution containing fifty-five articles. The first chapter with five articles dealt, as one might expect, with the emperor and the succession to the throne. The famous article three states ‘...the imperial dignity shall remain perpetually attached to the line of his majesty Haile Selassie I, descendant of king Sahle Selassie whose line descends without interruption from the dynasty of Menlik I, son of King Solomon of Jerusalem and of the Queen of Sheba.’ Article four stipulated about the succession to the throne and the subsequent provision explained ‘the person of the emperor as sacred, His dignity inviolable and His power indisputable’. His authority was unlimited and unquestionable and his function multi-faceted: the emperor was the head of the executive, the fountain of justice, the agent of change and the law-giver, albeit moderated by parliament that lacked the competence to enact law. To a careful observer such clauses represent a significant departure from the Ethiopian tradition of the right to rule which was open for any one (presumably from the regional nobility) who combines competence, might and Solomonic legend. With the coming to power of Haile Selassie and his constitution, it was planned to take a different course.
The bulk of the other provisions provided about the power and prerogatives of the emperor. The Constitution vested supreme power in the hands of the emperor and heralded the establishment of the institutions of the chamber of Deputies and the Senate. These two houses were important instruments for curbing the power of the nobility. Close scrutiny over the provisions and the practice revealed that both houses were merely meant to play a strictly advisory role. According to Article 31 members of the Senate were appointed by the emperor from among the nobility and the local chiefs. As for the chamber of Deputies, they were chosen by the nobility and the local chiefs. The presence of the nobility while providing some semblance of legitimacy at the center, on the other hand became part of a toothless legislative body and in a way remained the instrument of the centralizing and modernizing process launched by the regime. ‘They simply found a place for honorable retirement, as they were kept in the capital under close surveillance.’
Consequently, the Constitution’s major outcome was its ability to establish the legal framework within which governmental power was to be channeled and distributed. It was aimed against the personal, arbitrary and ill-defined powers traditionally held by the nobility. It reflected the traditional principle of absolute imperial power without any practical limitations. The Emperor was granted full executive power over both central and provincial government and the nobility and provincial governors were granted no independent authority.
The 1955 Revised Constitution
The Revised Constitution continued to reinforce the process of centralization. The sketchy provisions regarding the powers and prerogatives of the Emperor were extensively elaborated in the new Constitution. The Constitution spent one chapter settling the issue of succession on the rule of male primogeniture. Detailed provisions vested in the Emperor wide powers over the military, foreign affairs, local administration and so forth. Interestingly enough it also contained an elaborate regime of civil and political rights for the subjects. In theory, the Constitution was the supreme law of the land governing even the Emperor. It contemplated even an independent ministerial government responsible to the monarch and parliament, an elected chamber and independent judiciary but these liberal provisions were overshadowed by executive prerogatives reserved to the Emperor who exercised them expansively. Despite the apparent inclusion of the notion of separation of powers, little change was introduced regarding the position of the Emperor. He was both the head of state and of the government and he continued to oversee the judiciary through his Chilot (Crown Court).
A basic development in the revised Constitution compared to its predecessor was the introduction of the representative principle for the chamber of Deputies whose members were elected on the basis of universal adult suffrage. But parliament was granted no control over the ministers indirectly or collectively, who remained responsible to the Emperor. A measure of population representation with divine right of kings was resolved decisively in favor of the latter, with the Emperor retaining direct control over the executive, with the power to appoint ministers and regulate the whole of the executive branch. While one of the two chambers of parliament was popularly elected, it was balanced by the senate, which was appointed by the Emperor. There was a parliament but those who were eligible to be candidates were the nobility and wealthy landlords who were opposed even to modest land reform and by so doing they were the ones that made the Revolution inevitable. A law approved by both houses could not override the position of the Emperor.
Indeed critics state that, even more than its predecessor, the Revised Constitution was a legal charter for the consolidation of absolutism. The absolute powers of the emperor were spelt out in unmistakable terms. ‘By virtue of his imperial blood as well as by the anointing which he has received, the person of the emperor is sacred, his dignity is inviolable and his power indisputable.’ One author noted, ‘in essence the constitutional provisions amount to little more than a formal statement of the facts of political life in Ethiopia. It reinforced the ultimate power of authoritarian regime and the human rights regime were certainly luxury, which the government has not taken seriously, nor had anyone expected that it would. Most of the provisions were dead letters. It served to the regime’s penchant for what amounts to rather crude formalism.’
In 1966 the recommendation to make the Prime Minister become the effective head of the executive with the power to appoint his cabinet, leaving the Emperor in a largely ceremonial role was partly implemented when the Prime Minister became formally responsible for selecting other ministers, but later developments indicated that it was a far too premature gesture to be taken seriously. The same dilemma was to be repeated in 1974 when the Revolution was about to erupt.
Beyond these constitutional provisions, there are other factors that explain the complexity of the process of centralization and its impact on the regional nobilities. We have already noted the fact that the power of the chamber of deputies was not that significant. The hereditary aristocracy was marginalized and if they had any voice it was through the Crown Council, which served as an advisory body to the emperor. Such leading figures of the nobility as Ras Kassa Hailu, Ras Seyoum Mengesha, Ras Mesfin Sileshi and Ras Emiru Haile Selassie as well as the Abun were members of the Council at various times. Furthermore other factors contributed to the gradual decline of the nobility. Although historically they were in charge of military and administrative functions, their position declined due to the state’s creation of modern civilian and military bureaucracy. The creation of a modern army was of particular significance as they lost all their power with it. Lastly, regional nobility were weakened with the result that the nobility drawn from Showa replaced the regional nobility. This led to what Andargachew calls ‘the Showanization of the state,’ that weakened not only the nobility but also the bond between the government and the people.
Thus, towards the 1960s the regime was caught between series of contradictions: between the need for further modernization that needs efficient and decentralized administration on the one hand and the reliance a on personally appointed and centralizing regime, on the other; the growing contradiction between the traditional elite and the rising modern elite that felt isolated and was able to decipher the stagnation; and the narrowly defined identity versus the large heterogeneous population.
The Ethio-Eritrean Federation (1952-1962)
The Ethio-Ertirean federation, as already pointed out, was a significant political factor that influenced the revision of the 1955 Constitution. The crisis related to the dissolution of the federation remained to be the central challenge to three consecutive Ethiopian governments, including the present one. Much has been written about it, but as it goes some way to explaining the operation of a federal system in the continent, we must devote some words to it as well.
The territory now called Eritrea was historically an integral part of Ethiopia since the Axumite Era in the first century AD. Eritrea did not exist as an entity of its own prior to 1890 when it was created by Italy. The historical and cultural background of the Christian Eritreans is identical to those in Tigray. The language Tigrigna is the same as the one spoken in Tigray and belongs to the family of Semitic languages. The Tigrayans, therefore, form a solid bridge connecting Eritrea with the rest of Ethiopia. The death of Emperor Yohannes in 1889 and the shift of center of power from Tigray to Showa created a favorable condition for Italian colonial expansion.
Between the years 1869-1889 Italy insisted on expanding southwards, despite suffering defeats brought upon them by Ras Alula at Dogali. As early as 1887, Menlik the King of Showa had expressed readiness to negotiate with the Italians about supplies of arms in exchange for cession of territory, if this would ensure his speedy accession to power. Menlik seized the opportunity provided by the political vacuum created and sealed an Italo-Ethiopian pact, the treaty of Wuchale, in May 1889. As a result, part of the territory was ceded and in January 1890, Eritrea was born as an entity. In spite of the treaty of Wuchale, Italy continued expanding southwards and occupied some territories leading to the famous Battle of Adwa in 1896. Even after the battle of Adwa, the treaty of Addis Ababa (October 1896) which abrogated the treaty of Wuchale, recognized the independence of Ethiopia, but confirmed the Italian possession of Eritrea until 1941.
Menlik was in no position, according to some writers, to expel the Italians from Eritrea and he left Eritrea in Italy’s possession. Controversies exist as to why Menlik did not insist on expelling Italy from the whole of Eritrea as a victor of this famous war in history. One version of the controversy states that he was compelled to halt further Italian expansion into his territory owing to geopolitical and logistic reasons. If Menlik pursued pushing the Italians out as Ras Alula had wished, then Italy could send more reinforcement and the hard won victory could be lost. Whereas the other version states that the territorial cession is seen from the angle of the then existing rivalry between Tigray and Showa. One should note the fact that Menlik was consolidating his power both in terms of weapons and territory when Emperor Yohannes was busy fighting foreign forces. Because of this, they believe Menlik gave the territory to Italy in a bid to weaken his northern rivals. For instance James Paul recently wrote: ‘Menlik’s 1896 post Adwa treaty with Italy guaranteed Ethiopia’s independence within settled borders in exchange for its recognition of Rome’s sovereignty over the territory still occupied (even after Adwa) by reinforcing Italian armies based in Asmara. Thus was created in a legal sense a new typical artificial colonial territory, which Rome named Eritrea. Menlik was praised for his realpolitik but in appeasing Italy’s colonial appetite he had sanctioned the partitioning of the Tigrayan peoples: those north of the Mereb River became subjects of an Italian colonial rule and those to the south remained independent Ethiopians but were governed by a new monarchy from distant Showa.’
As a result, from 1890 until its liberation in 1941, Eritrea was administered as a colony by the Italian colonial Ministry, under a governor nominated by the Italian king. After liberation Eritrea remained under British rule till 1952. After World War II Italy renounced all right and title to its colonies and the Treaty of Peace signed in Paris in 1947 provided for the final disposal of the former Italian colonies to be determined by agreement among the four allied powers, the USA, USSR, UK and France. Failing agreement, the matter would be submitted to the UN General Assembly for disposition. The four victorious allies established an investigating committee to come up with a proposal on the future of Eritrea. The United States based on its interest in the region and good relations with the Emperor was keen to see Eritrea joined to Ethiopia in unity. The USSR and some Afro-Arab countries were on the other hand opposed to this move. They took the position that only separate existence could guarantee the sovereignty and progress of Eritrea. At the same time, however, they were sympathetic to Ethiopia’s need for access to the sea. Because of disagreements the matter was referred to the United Nations. In November 1949 the General Assembly set up the United Nations Commission for Eritrea, constituting members from Burma, Guatemala, Norway, Pakistan and South Africa whose task was to visit Eritrea and after taking into account the interests of the inhabitants and the interests of all the countries involved to report its findings to the UN. The findings were however divided. Burma and South Africa proposed federation with Ethiopia, Norway proposed union with Ethiopia while Pakistan and Guatemala proposed UN trusteeship for ten years and independence to follow thereafter.
In the period preceding the federation, the demand of political parties in Eritrea was diverse concerning the destiny of Eritrea. Many Eritreans demanded unity with Ethiopia, others requested for immediate independence and still others urged for a partition or at least a different status for the western side of the province. In short, the internal situation was divided.
On the Ethiopian side, Haile Selassie demanded the full incorporation of Eritrea and nothing less. Ethiopia’s claim was based on her need for access to the sea and by the claim of historical title and cultural affinity of the two populations. Furthermore, Ethiopian diplomats successfully invoked the OAU principle of non-territorial intervention in the internal affairs of the state and the need to respect the territorial integrity of African States whose territories were defined by colonial borders. Ethiopia argued that if Eritrea’s plea received a hearing, it would upset the entire post-colonial African state system as legitimized by the Cairo Resolution of the OAU in 1964.
The proposal by South Africa, Norway and Burma, constituting a majority, was finally approved by 46 to 10 with four abstentions. The Eritrean domestic situation, the international context and Ethiopia’s case finally brought what is commonly described as the ‘compromise formula,’ which became UN General Assembly Resolution 390 A (v).
The UN General Assembly passed this resolution on December 2, 1950 and the Resolution stated that Eritrea should form ‘an autonomous unit federated with Ethiopia under the sovereignty of the Ethiopian crown.’ The first seven Articles of the Resolution passed by the UN General Assembly on December 2, 1950 formed the Federal Act. A draft constitution prepared by UN experts was submitted to an Eritrean Assembly and the latter adopted it on 10 July 1952. By proclamation Number 124 of 11 September 1952 the Eritrean Constitution with the Federal Act was put into force in Negarit Gazetta. At this point in time, the federation of Eritrea with Ethiopia came into effect. The Federal Act as well as the Eritrean Constitution provided for a ‘federal arrangement’ between the two governments. According to the Constitution ‘Eritrea is an autonomous unit federated with Ethiopia under the sovereignty of the Ethiopian Crown’. The government of Eritrea was authorized, as a manifestation of its autonomy, to exercise legislative, executive and judicial powers. The actual division of power under the federal act vested a number of basic functions in the federal government: notably defense, foreign affairs, currency and external trade while reserving residual powers to the Eritrean government. These included civil and criminal law, police, health, education, natural resources, agriculture, industry and internal communication.
Many controversies arose over the ambiguity of some of the concepts included in the documents as well as over the whole federal compromise. There seemed a consensus though that the term autonomous unit signified not a sovereign state but rather a politically organized unit linked federally with Ethiopia and that the phrase under the sovereignty of the Ethiopian crown implied that the federation, not the autonomous unit, enjoyed sovereignty.
More controversial were the status of the federation and its subsequent dissolution in 1962. Closer observation of the 1955 Constitution and the Eritrean Constitution seems to suggest that Eritrea was only an autonomous region rather than a full-fledged unit in a federation, as we understand it today. The Resolution characterized Eritrea as ‘an autonomous unit federated with Ethiopia under the sovereignty of the Ethiopian Crown’. It did not accord Eritrea the status of a state in a federal union with Ethiopia. In a federation resulting from two units, one would expect there to be three institutions. The two constituent units and one other overarching federal government for both of them. Furthermore, a supreme constitution which both units submit to, is a requirement. None of them existed in the UN sponsored federal compromise. The Resolution had provided for a Federal Council, an institution that was a faint approximation of a federal body. This body was to comprise Ethiopian and Eritrean representatives in equal numbers and advise the Emperor on matters of the federation. The Council was simply ignored and practically done away with before it could even start functioning. As a result, the federal powers belonged to the Ethiopian government. The Ethiopian Emperor was the sovereign, the Ethiopian courts were the federal courts and the Ethiopian Ministers were the ministers of the federal government. Tekeste states, ‘For all intents and purposes the resulting relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea was not in the least federal. Even according to the intentions of the union, Eritrea was not granted a federal status but only a status of autonomy.’
However, this constitutional ambiguity could not serve as a justification for not implementing even the regional autonomy. Even Eritrea’s mere status of autonomous region was not tolerated by Haile Selassie’s regime. The reasons as stipulated by many writers seem to relate to the nature of the two incompatible Constitutions. Ethiopia by then had a feudo-monarchichal system of government, ideologically sustained by some notion of the divine right of kings. It was imperial. The emperor ruled as an absolute monarch and as head of an empire every part of which he sought to subordinate to himself. The government had a notion of territorial integrity that was incongruent with federal or other structures of decentralization and hence the dissolution was no surprise. By contrast, the Eritrean Constitution was one modeled on those of Western democracy. It provided for three branches of government based on rule of law, it stipulated for fundamental freedoms and a multi-party system.
Haile Selassie demonstrated a considerable diplomatic success when he orchestrated a federation between Ethiopia and Eritrea with the approval of the UN. However, the regime lacked the political wisdom and political will to maintain the regional autonomy. As early as 1955 the Emperor’s representative in Eritrea already hinted at the fact that ‘there are no internal or external affairs as far as Ethiopia is concerned...’ and pointed out that ‘the affairs of Eritrea concern Ethiopia as a whole and the Emperor.’ In 1958 the Eritrean Assembly voted unanimously to abolish the Eritrean flag and use only the Ethiopian flag. In 1959 the Ethiopian penal code replaced the existing legislation in Eritrea. In 1960 the Eritrean assembly voted unanimously to change the name Eritrean government to Eritrean administration and other adjustments connoting its lower position than a federation. On 14 November 1962 again the Assembly voted unanimously for the abolition of the federation. Whether this important series of events was undertaken with full backing from the Ethiopian side or not is a troublesome question. But few seem to doubt the fact that these events were taking place with full knowledge and influence from both sides of the ‘federation.’ In as much as the Imperial regime had wanted to terminate the federation, the Eritrean Union party, the then governing party in Eritrea, cooperated equally to the demolition of the autonomous status.
The controversial debate among Ethiopian and Eritrean intellectuals as well as foreign writers begins with the status of the ‘federation’ that was in force from 1952-1962. The controversy gets reinforced with the impact of its dissolution in 1962. Many believe that by virtue of this compromise formula, the Resolution formalized the decolonization of Eritrea at this moment in time. Others believe that Eritrea was formally decolonized in 1993.
The bulk of Ethiopian intellectuals believe that the Eritrean case is a case of secession rather than decolonization. The argument is that neither the terms of the Resolution nor international opinion following the dissolution allow the General Assembly to reserve residual power to itself upon any violation. The arrangement under the Resolution merely conceived of Eritrea as an autonomous decentralized unit, which is conceptually different from confederation and federation. Legally speaking, such an autonomous status can be modified by the central government and the Ethiopian Crown being sovereign, had every right to do what ever it wanted, though politically it was not advisable. Consequently, Eritrea did not have a legal personality under international law until 1993. Regarding the charge that the re-incorporation of Eritrea in 1962 was illegal, it is important to note that it was the elected Eritrean Assembly that unanimously decided to terminate the federation in the first place. A minority of Eritreans also shares this view. Tekeste for instance wrote, ‘the war in Eritrea had neither [a] colonial character nor that of [a] war fought against [a] foreign dominator. It was an internal war for power sharing or control of state power.’
Another point of equal importance is the fact that parallel to the series of measures indicated earlier on, the Muslim League was more or less consistently opposing the measures taken by the Eritrean assembly. It is no surprise therefore that the first armed opposition came from this group. It was to constitute the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). As a protest to the dissolution of the federation, a clandestine movement started around the same period first by the ELF and later by the (Eritrean People Liberation Front) EPLF and continued until 1991. Many consider the dissolution of the federation a cause of the protracted war that stayed for thirty years.
The armed struggle in Eritrea began in 1961 with the formation of the ELF by Eritrean exiles in the Middle East under the leadership of the veteran shifta Idris Awate. Syria and Iraq regarded Eritrea as an integral part of the Arab world and indeed the ELF portrays even today Eritrea as a Muslim nation with a Christian minority. Egypt particularly allowed opponents of the Ethiopian regime to enjoy a safe haven. Its policy is based on dividing and weakening Ethiopia in the hope that the latter remains incapable of harnessing the huge water resources of Ethiopia that flow through the Nile to the Sudan and Egypt. It must be noted here that Ethiopia supplies 86 per cent of the water that flows from Abay (the Nile). When ELF succumbed to its own internal squabbles and failed to absorb the then fast growing Christian opposition joining the struggle, the EPLF evolved as a powerful party to lead the struggle. The struggle both in its own right and in radicalizing the influence it exerted on the Ethiopian opposition in general played a significant role in the regime’s collapse in 1974 and the military in 1991. After 30 years of struggle, EPLF de facto controlled Eritrea in 1991 and a referendum held in 1993 resulted in Eritrean independence.
Considering Haile Selassie’s ambition of centralizing power, the failure of the Ethio-Eritrean short-lived autonomous experience was no surprise. What is more remarkable is that the regime was not willing to tolerate it even though there were clear indicators of the probable long-term consequences of the collapse. The failure of the decade of federal experience also fits the hypothesis that a federal system should be based on a covenant, should have internal support and should not result from outside. Most post-colonial federal experiments in Africa failed for similar reasons. There is another bitter lesson for those who still claim to follow the Eritrean example of secession. Secession or the emergence of an independent state does not necessarily result in the establishment of a stable and democratic state. This is evident not only from the experience of post-independence Eritrea but also from many other of the post-independence African states. Secession or independence simply replicates the nation state without resolving the controversial and normative question of how to politically integrate, share power and resources among several contending forces.
The Revolution and the Coming to Power of the Military
Towards the end of the imperial regime, the centralization and the tension between the traditional forces backing the regime and the modern elite was gaining momentum. Opposition to the regime took many forms. Perhaps the 1960 attempted coup d’etat was a watershed. Infuriated with Ethiopia’s backwardness compared to the newly emerging states in Africa, the designers wanted to restore Ethiopia to its proper place. They promised new factories and schools and also had a plan of introducing a constitutional monarch although the land issue was not raised. Despite its failure the coup succeeded to attract the attention of the university students who became the heirs of the rebels. It was fundamental in the sense that for the first time many realized that the regime whose legitimacy came from the divine right to rule could be overthrown.
The aristocracy that had lost its military and administrative functions to the new elite was no longer the pillar of the monarchy. The young returnees from school abroad on the other hand thought they were working for a regime in which personal loyalty was of prime importance. It was clear to them to see how ignorant, corrupt and inefficient their superiors were. In the course of the 1960s and 1970s the new elite armed with western ideology became the main antithesis of the ancient regime. Alienated from the center and backed by Ethiopia’s traditional opponents of the Middle East, Somalia, Eritrea, Oromos of Bale and the Ogaden were challenging the center. Finally, in the early 1970s, the regime lost two of its Western allies, the United States and Israel at a time when the Middle East was in ascendance because of the power and prestige it derived from its ability to control oil prices. With a view to end hostilities in Eritrea and Somalia and following Arab-Israeli war in 1973 Ethio-Israeli relations were severed. This was followed by cold diplomatic reactions from the United States apparently taken to accommodate the Arabs.
Finally the urban uprising of 1974, the events of January to June of the same year showed a total collapse of the regime and the absence of any obvious successor to it. It should be noted though that when the revolution was about to erupt, the nations teachers, taxi drivers, students, unemployed and the labor union had shown a stake in it thus making it very popular at inception. Towards the end of February the cabinet of Aklilu Habtewold was forced to resign and Endalkachew Mekonene was instructed to form a new cabinet but despite the good profile of the team, it never succeeded to stop the course of the Revolution. ‘The plea for patience (fata) fell on deaf ears and indeed the radicals insisted bulcha bikeyer wot ayatafitim (changing the stove does not make the stew any better).’ Endalkachew was removed in July and replaced by Mikael Imiru, the latter to be replaced soon by the Derg.
Another crucial aspect of the Revolution, however, came from the military. It started with a modest request for economic and social reform like food and uniforms for their members but as many have described it became a ‘creeping coup’ implying the slow but systematic erosion of imperial power culminating in the deposition of the Emperor. Towards June of 1974 the Derg (which means committee in Amharic) which started as a movement within the capital was subsequently broadened with the inclusion of representatives of various units from all over the country and slowly it grew into a military parliament, constituting some 120 members under the chairmanship of General Aman Mikael Andom and Mengistu as the first vice chairman,mainly constituting lower ranking officers. Taking the lessons of the 1960s, the Derg expressly declared loyalty to the emperor and did not show any ambition to seize power.
As far as the affairs of the government were concerned dual power prevailed for something like a month between that of the Endalkachew cabinet and the Derg but power continued to shift out of the hands of the former to the latter. However, the Derg had already the armed forces, the media and police behind it and also secured the blessing of the Emperor. The cabinet was already divided between those working with the Derg and those who opposed it. The Derg continued to replace or isolate those who were not amenable to its whims. As a result Micheal Imiru replaced Endalkachew Mekonen as a Prime Minister on July 22. The Derg arrested the then Minister of defense Abiye Abebe and replaced him by Aman Andom. This time Derg’s control of the cabinet was almost complete.
The Derg continued to weaken and abolish all institutions associated with the Emperor and finally confiscated businesses owned by the Emperor and the royal family. On 11 September, the ultimate attack against the Emperor was perpetrated as the famous film on the 1973 famine (that was kept secret) produced by Jonathan Dimbleby was made public. On September 12, 1974 the Derg suspended the Constitution, deposed the Emperor, and dissolved parliament, thus ending the regime. Although the Derg took over power from June 1974 with the set-up of a military committee, 12 September 1974 marks the official taking over of power.
A convergence of domestic as well as international factors fueled by the urban uprising reflecting regional, ethnic as well as class contradictions as championed by the student movement, was accelerated by the military thus ending the regime with its Solomonic legend. Not only did it end the Monarchy but this time the Derg filled the political vacuum by introducing socialism, a complete change of direction.
What is unfortunate about the Revolution was that despite its popular background, there was no organized civil force that could articulate ‘a road map’ for the masses. It was only the military that was organized and that filled the political vacuum. The two leftist political groups that were in existence allegedly, MEISON (All Ethiopian Socialist Movement) as of 1968 and EPRP (Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Party) as of 1972 had remained clandestine and their activities were limited to their student constituency. The military as the only organized force, therefore, exploited the existing power vacuum and easily took over leadership of the revolution. Because of this, what came to power was the military, not the revolutionaries, defeating the cause of the revolution. Through the mentors, mainly MEISON, the Derg was able to catch up with the leftist dialogue and declared the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) Program in 1976 and its ultimate objective was the setting up of the Peoples Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE) which came out in 1987. From 1974 up to 1987 the Derg ruled by decree.
After consolidating power the first measure the Derg took was to herald, the same date of its crowning, by decree all demonstrations and assemblies illegal. The proclamation that deposed the Emperor transformed the Derg into the Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC), which assumed full state power. Simultaneously it suspended the Constitution, dissolved parliament, banned all strikes and demonstrations and declared Ethiopia Tikdem (Ethiopia First) with its socialist doctrine.
As it started to catch up with the Marxist thoughts it nationalized financial institutions and private commercial and industrial enterprises in January 1975. This was followed by the nationalization of urban land and extra houses. According to Bahru the nationalization measures transferred resources from private to government hands and thereby constituted the economic foundations of totalitarianism.
The Derg also proclaimed the land reform in March 1975. Since 1965 University students had already popularized the slogan ‘land to the tiller’ calling for an end to the Neftegna and Gebar system in the South. The land reform, in as much as it eradicated centuries of social inequalities, appears to have had enduring positive impact. Indeed, by doing this the Derg was able to rob one of the causes of the revolution and at this point in time the Derg was at the height of its popularity. The proclamation abolished all forms of private land ownership and prohibited the sale, lease or mortgage of rural land. In short, it put an end to landownership. Thus, a large section of the people of the south as such was emancipated from servitude, at least in the short run. The large section of the peasantry saw a stock in the emerging regime and was to constitute the bulk of the army. However, even this popular measure had its own drawbacks. Not only did the proclamation fall short of making the peasant the absolute master of the plot but it was also accompanied by a series of unpopular measures. These measures ranged from state control of agricultural marketing that required the peasant to supply produce at fixed government prices to forced resettlement, collectivization and the relocation of peasant neighborhoods to new sites selected by government cadres (villagization). At later stages dissatisfaction with these measures was to be one of the factors for the rallying of the northern peasantry behind the EPRDF in its campaign to bring the Derg rule to an end.
The Derg continued to consolidate power by crushing all sorts of opposition and on November 24, 1975 it announced the shocking news of the death of its chairman General Aman and the execution of some sixty top government officers of the imperial regime. This initiated the cult of political violence that attained its climax in the so-called Red Terror. It was first aimed at the urban guerilla resistance by EPRP members in which thousands of young intellectuals were killed but at later stages, MEISON too was a victim of this terror. It was the official launching of state killing any one suspected of dissenting from the regime including the EPLF and TPLF.
The 1987 Constitution
Final stage to complete the institutionalization and monopolization of power was the promulgation of a new constitution and the proclamation of the Republic. The process of establishing a vanguard and single party culminated with the set-up of the (Workers Party of Ethiopia) WPE in September 1984 with its chairman Mengistu. Interestingly, its formation was against the background of the worst famine in the country, a regime that got to power by publicizing another famine in 1973 was celebrating its new party when lives were lost for the same reason. The draft constitution was completed in 1986 and was formally submitted to public debate and ratified by a referendum in February 1987. In an election in which a single party, WPE members, participated members of the National Shengo (parliament) were elected. While formally the Shengo constituted the highest legislative body, in practice, the Shengo was not to be sitting continuously but only once a year for a set period. The role of the Shengo was undertaken by the State Council. It was the visible administrative organ of state power with the highest responsibility for undertaking the day-to-day state functions. It was also the permanent executive, legislative and administrative organ of the National Shengo. Thereby the National Shengo’s role was reduced in a rubber-stamping body of the WPE.
The Constitution stated that Ethiopia is a unitary state constituting administrative and autonomous regions. It stated that the nationalities are equal and ensured the equality of nationalities ‘through ... combating chauvinism and narrow minded nationalism, [and by enhancing] the equality, respectability of the languages of nationalities as well as through equal participation in political, economic, social and cultural fields and through realization of regional autonomy’.
An important political development of the 1980s Derg epoch was the recognition of the fact that despite all the forces the regime employed to destroy all opposition, the struggle to overthrow the regime persisted in some quarters of the country, mainly in Eritrea and Tigray. With a view to calm this resistance and to rob the rebels’ cause, the PDRE Constitution expressly stated the possibility of organizing regional autonomies. This Constitution was also the first to recognize the presence in Ethiopia of different nationalities. It sought to combine the recognition of the cultural identity of ethnic or national groups and a measure of autonomy for them, with overall subordination to the center in the name of the ultimate supremacy of class solidarity over national identity. What is mysterious is why it came to this point late in time as the regime hinted its acknowledgement of the nationalities’ right to self-determination as early as it took power.
As the Ethiopian Student Movement had already popularized it, belatedly the Derg also tried to address the ‘question of nationalities.’ Given Ethiopia’s existing situation, the problem of nationalities it was stated, could be resolved if each nationality was accorded full right to self-government. This means that each nationality would have regional autonomy to decide on matters concerning its affairs. As stated above the Constitution of FDRE was a unitary one but the unitary state comprised administrative and autonomous regions. The National Shengo was empowered to determine by subsequent legislation the autonomous regions, their powers and boundaries. Accordingly, the Shengo proposed five autonomous regions and twenty-four administrative regions. The five autonomous regions were Eritrea but without its Afar inhabited areas, Tigray, Assab for the Afars, Dire Dawa for the Issas, and Ogaden. Subsequent proclamations defined more the powers and duties of the autonomous regions. The fact that special status was granted to some administrative regions reflects the long-standing recognition on the part of the government that there was a serious problem that deserved attention. The new regional structure announced sought to reorganize the entire basis of regional government according to nationalities as determined by the Nationalities Institute, while dividing several of the larger nationalities, including notably the Oromos, Amhars and Somalis, over a number of regions. Its most noticeable legacy may well be in the formal recognition of nationalities and in the groundwork for the division of Ethiopia along ethno-linguistic lines, carried out by the Nationalities Institute.
Again formally speaking an attempt was made to decentralize power and the decision-making process after thirteen brutal years of centralized military administration. A fresh start was made to set up autonomous regions in the areas, which had been a focus of civil strife, ethnic violence and war.
Yet, it soon became clear that the PDRE project with its approach to the regional autonomy of some districts were all a means never taken seriously. Critics are unanimous in pointing out that it was a sham attempt. Opposition to the regime stated ‘It remained the Derg’s Republic not a people’s republic. Real power continued to be exercised by those who seized power on 12 September 1974, that is, the same military officers who have ruled the country under the PMAC continued to rule under the People’s Democratic Republic, everything else being window-dressing. Those familiar face who were in power before the establishment of the Republic were indeed serving the new Republic and by the new Constitution they acquired a democratic legitimacy.’ If anything, the process only resulted in transfer of power from the military and PMAC to the PDRE but in the end the same people who were responsible for all the turmoil emerged as leaders in a civilian dress. As expected, Mengistu became the President of the Republic and remained an accomplished dictator. The question of the return of the military to the barracks and the formation of democratic institutions remained unresolved. Thus, it was an ‘attempt to wrap the military clique in civilian clothes bearing a new name Peoples Republic but remained the same old dictator.’
With the coming to power of Mengistu Hailemariam as uncontested dictator after all the mass killings and unpopular measures including the persistent use of force to settle political differences with all sorts of oppositions, some have even doubted if any revolution occurred at all. It is a contradiction in terms. Regardless of their sweep to power, the soldiers did not bring about anything revolutionary to the existing power relations. True that the Emperor and the basis of his legitimacy (Solomonic line with divine right to rule) was overthrown but the centralized state with its narrowly defined Ethiopian identity remained unchanged. The ideological vacuum for legitimizing the state shifted to Marxism-Leninism as they perceived a relationship between oppressed nationalities and an oppressor nation, which they traced in the image of the state. It also advocated secularism and declared the equality of religion and to this effect the Derg removed some symbols associated with the old regime including the loss of the Orthodox Church as a state religion. As already noted even the land reform failed to maintain its popularity. The nationality issue, the legacy of the old regime and as championed by the students remained unresolved and when the military tried to address it towards the end of its regime, it was not only half-hearted but was also too late. To this extent then one clearly sees the continuity, to an even aggravated degree of the political and social ills of the old regime.
The continuity in the state structure with the old regime was clear. The centralization of power by far exceeded the old regime. Clapham speaks of encadrement, ‘incorporation into structures of control’, implying the complete control of the political space by the Derg in all aspects of life, for instance, through the peasant associations, youth associations, women associations, the kebele and all forms of associations one can imagine giving no space for individual autonomy. The tradition of concentration of power in the emperor transferred wholesale to the new head of state, the President, backed by the only party allowed to operate, the WPE, itself controlling the dozen associations. In this respect Clapham’s remark on the similarity of patterns between the 1955 and 1987 Constitution is worth quoting. ‘In a sense the two documents could scarcely be more different. The first was issued in the name of Haile Selassie I elect of God emperor of Ethiopia, conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the second in the name of ‘we the working people of Ethiopia’, the role which in one is played by God and the emperor was in the other taken over by the alliance of the workers and peasants, the vanguard party. But in a sense the two can be seen as very similar documents. Both of them were intended to consolidate the power of an existing regime by giving it a formal basis, which on the one hand sought to convey an impression of legality and participation to the domestic population and on the other sought external support and recognition by adopting an acceptable external model.’ Now one can comprehend vividly the message of Clapham’s statement in the quotation at the beginning of this section.
Under these circumstances, the Derg’s commitment to regional autonomy was viewed with suspicion. The extent of the administrative and autonomous regions to exercise power decentralized to them was severed by the WPE’s centralized decision-making structure and regional autonomy remained a dream that was never fulfilled. It was a grant from the centralized government that could easily be revoked but besides that it was too little too late. While it was originally argued that this move is right on the mark in line with the program of the NDR and deserves wide support, however, as expected, none of the liberation fronts participated in nor welcomed the move. It was never considered a genuine attempt to solve the problem of the nationalities in Ethiopia. Indeed, the Derg through its war policy gave further vigor to ethnic nationalism. The nationalities question was pressed right after the revolution by the Oromo, Tigrayan and Eritrean radicals. Certainly, the belated measure did not attract the Eritrean groups for which an early federal accommodation would have been more appealing.
As one writer noted it was modeled after the former USSR’s approach to the question of nationalities. The nationalities would enjoy cultural rights and a limited amount of administrative autonomy within their own home areas subject to the overarching control of the communist party. In the Ethiopian situation the WPE played this role and in the end not even the minimal versions of self-autonomy were put into practice. All discontents had to be resolved along class lines under the vanguard WPE and the regime simply paid lip service to regional autonomy.
The Constitution in dealing with regional autonomy did not offer any hope in terms of reconciliation for peace with the opposition. A political solution to the crisis was never whole-heartedly pursued. Political will on the part of the actors was manifestly absent. Indeed, the Derg’s single-minded reliance on coercion on the northern periphery was an essential ingredient in the sequence of events that followed. By totally alienating peasants in Tigray and Eritrea and by creating the conditions for a series of diasporas that began to interact with local politics the Derg set favorable conditions for the rise of the (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) TPLF and EPLF.
Continuity or Reversal?
The Transitional Period (1991-1994)
Four years after the Derg’s Constitution came into force, the regime was almost destroyed by EPLF and TPLF forces and the balance of power completely shifted leading to a new political discourse. In February 1989 the Derg suffered a major debacle in Shire, Tigray which forced it to withdraw completely from Tigray and this indirectly forced the TPLF, an organization which had its genesis in a desire to liberate a province, to think of an agenda that encompassed the whole country. It was in this context that the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF-the ruling party at present) was born in 1989. Economic stagnation and global changes also contributed to its immediate downfall. The Derg, whose support very much depended on the former USSR, was completely debilitated when the latter went into its own crisis.
With a view to bringing together the Derg and the opposition, mainly EPLF and TPLF, the London conference was scheduled in May 1991 that was mediated by Herman Cohen, United States assistant secretary of State for African Affairs. By then the Derg’s position was, however, completely weakened. The movements had controlled or encircled Derg’s last hold, Asmara and Addis Ababa, and its delegates lost vigor in pursuing the peace process. On May 21, 1991, Mengistu Haile Mariam, President of PDRE, left Addis Ababa by airplane allegedly to visit a military camp in the south west of the country. On its way, the plane was diverted to Nairobi, from where the president went into exile in Zimbabwe.
Talks between the then government with EPRDF, EPLF and OLF were scheduled to start on 27 May 1991. No conference took place. Instead the government delegation left the talks and on the following day the EPRDF forces entered Addis Ababa to re-establish law and order. A joint statement of the three movements confirmed their agreement to hold a follow-up conference and to discuss the details of the transition period in general and the formation of a broad based provisional government.
Consequently, a national conference for this purpose was convened in Addis Ababa from July 1-5, 1991. The Conference resulted in the signing of the Charter by the representatives of some 31 political parties, the creation of an 87 seat Council of Representatives and the establishment of Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE). The Conference also agreed on the modalities of the transition process to last two years. In the mean time, elections for local regional government were to be held, a new constitution was to be drafted, general elections for electing members of the constitutional assembly that ratifies the constitution were to be held and finally the election of the new national assembly was scheduled, thereby ending the Transition. The most remarkable feature of the conference was that its members were designated almost entirely, save the representatives of professional organizations and the members from the university, on the basis of nationality, either from existing movements, or in some cases, notably in the South and Southwest, from organizations rapidly formed in order to take advantage of the new political atmosphere. In some cases the representation was divided like in the Oromos between the OPDO, OLF and other similar movements organized on the basis of religion.
As noted already, the national conference adopted an interim constitution, otherwise known as the Charter for the TGE. Composed primarily of leaders of nationality-based parties spawned by the civil war, the conference reflected a dramatic shift of political power from the center to new politicians from hitherto marginalized regions. The Charter established the framework for the provisional government and guaranteed nationalities to preserve their identity, administer their own affairs within their own defined territory, the right to participate in the central government based on fair and proper representation, and the right to self-determination. It expressly empowered all legal and political responsibility for the governance of Ethiopia until it hands over power to a government popularly elected on the basis of a new constitution. Furthermore, the Charter empowered the TGE to establish by law local and regional councils defined on the basis of nationality. While this has clearly been conferred on the TGE some contest if it had this mandate at all.
The establishment of national regional self-governments was provided for in another proclamation. The Charter and the proclamation explicitly provided that the boundaries of the territorial regions be defined on the basis of nationality in order to guarantee the nationalities the right to self-administration. The proclamation distinguished between regional self-governments based on an agreement of two or more adjacent nationalities, and national self-governments, established by any nation, nationality or people.Accordingly, the proclamation enumerated sixty-four identified nations, nationalities and peoples and set up fourteen regions. The law provided for forty-eight of the identified nationalities to be able to start their own national/regional self-government at the wereda level or above. Moreover, it was provided that self-government of adjacent nations, nationalities and peoples may by agreement establish a larger regional self-government within any of the 14 regions specified.
The remaining other nationalities and peoples with small populations were defined as minorities. Meaning a ‘nationality or people which can not establish its own wereda self-government because of the small number of its population.’ These nationalities and peoples with small populations and known as minority nationalities nevertheless were provided with appropriate representation in the district council.
The striking point is that nowhere do the charter and the proclamation employ the term federation in either their preamble or specific legal provisions, although both documents ensure each nationality with the right to self-determination including secession. The proclamation specifically enumerated both the powers of the central government and those of the self-governments.
If one looks at the legal framework from the angle of a federal system, there is no doubt that the balance swayed in favor of the center. A somewhat ambiguous and less precise language was introduced in the proclamation implying that except for specifically enumerated powers of the central government, all other powers including residual powers belonged to the regional self-governments. But the enumeration of the powers of the central government was not exhaustive and contained broad terms.
In the language of the Charter, the Transitional Government shall exercise all legal and political power for the governance of Ethiopia. In no unequivocal manner, the proclamation also stated that national regional transitional self-governments are in every respect, entities subordinate to the central Transitional Government. Moreover, the national /regional council (local parliament) that was the repository of overall political power regarding the internal affairs of the regions, was made accountable to the people which elected it and to the Council of Representatives of the TGE. Besides, the ultimate power arbiter too was the Council of Representatives. More importantly, in the exercise of the powers of the states, the relevant general policy and laws of the central government were to be respected. This was specifically mentioned in six of the ten provisions and was either indirectly referred to or assumed in the remaining ones.
Yet, despite the powers granted to the center the political dynamics as it was practiced and as designed by regional forces indicate that what was envisaged was no less short of a federation. The national/regional governments had law-making, executive and judicial powers and have used them extensively until they were replaced by new elections with the adoption of the 1995 Constitution.
The political implications that followed the introduction of the Charter and the proclamation issued to establish national/regional self-governments certainly represent departure from the past. As one writer noted two political developments were clearly observable: these are the choice of ethnicity as a basic principle of political organization of the state, and society and the reconstruction of the Ethiopian centrist and unitary state by introducing a federal system of government. These two interlinked processes were again anchored on the basic formula of the right to self-determination for ethno-national groups. The political rationale for such a radical change in the fundamental thinking of state organization among other things has been the view that this formula was a decisive remedy for the resolution of Ethiopia’s long-standing problem of the nationality question.
In an attempt to address the nationality question, as already noted, the Charter proclaimed the right of all nationalities to self-determination, the preservation of national identities of each group and the right of each nationality to govern its own affairs. The political action set in motion for sure was clear in bringing to an end the notion of unitary state and was committed to devolve political power. This is in sharp contrast to the two earlier regimes. Leenco Lata concurs with this view. ‘It [the process of transition] was more than a regime change. Recasting it [the Ethiopian state] on a totally new basis became the only alternative for its survival as an entity’.
It was certainly an official acknowledgment of Ethiopia as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state. The emphasis on nationality and the listing of the hitherto forgotten nationalities in a legal document could only be considered as a reflection of that commitment. By so doing Leenco stated the charter elevated to an equal partnership, the bulk of nationalities of the South and the Oromos.
However, the promising beginning did not end as intended. Following the reorganization of the state structure and the national/regional governments, a regional election was scheduled for June 1992. The regional election to regional council was a cause of serious disagreement. While OLF and AAPO asked for postponement, as they were unprepared to compete in the regions, EPRDF insisted to continue as scheduled. Following this and other disagreements OLF, one of the major actors during the making of the Charter, withdrew from the government and attempted to re-launch guerilla insurgency. Other oppositions also withdrew following its suit. Under these political dynamics one writer’s observation that the ‘conference of July 1991 may not have resulted in a one party government, its convention reflects to a large degree a one party dynamic’ seemed to reflect the political reality after the 1992 regional election. Critics state that EPRDF resulted in a process of replication of one existing organization, the TPLF, than a union of existing actors from the spectrum of Ethiopian opposition forces. No doubt the TPLF was dominant and remains to be so at least until 2002 because of its considerable seniority, as it had been established in February 1975. The establishment and development of each of the other organizations had been at least facilitated by the TPLF.
However, at least until the opposition withdrew, unlike present tendencies one can state firmly in retrospect that the TGE was the most legitimate and democratic government that the country had had in its entire history. Although it was not elected, it was able to represent the major contenders of power and the then existing contending views. Certainly, it manifested a clear case of power sharing among major contenders. EPRDF leaders and those who took part in the conference all acknowledged that they and their organizations held detailed discussions on the draft text of the charter during the period preceding the conference. Certainly, representatives from the University were not as active as the leaders of the liberation fronts yet they have aired their views in the conference as representatives.
One of the major tasks of the transitional Council of Representatives was to direct the process of constitution making and pave the way for a new national election based on the ratified constitution. A constituent assembly was elected in 1993, the TGE established a constitutional commission to prepare a draft instrument for submission to a specifically elected constitutional assembly vested with plenary power to promulgate an organic law. Again opposition parties withdrew. Instead of debating the content of the constitution, they denounced the legitimacy of the whole project. As a result, the whole process was under the influence of EPRDF and only few individual candidates representing the opposition participated. The draft constitution was ratified by the Constitutional Assembly on December 8, 1994, which came into effect on August 21, 1995. Ethiopia officially adopted a federal form of government as of this date. National elections were held in May 1995 for regional and federal parliament and the FDRE new parliament was inaugurated on 21 August bringing the TGE and the Charter to an end.
Again under these circumstances one can hardly disagree with Marina Ottaway’s apt observation of the last few years of the transition. ‘It is a formal process devoid of content. The spirit of the democratic transition was missing completely as democratization became purely formal exercise, the major contenders of power from the opposition missing throughout’. Hence the argument that the post 1991 political development did not reverse the historical pattern of domination. However, it is also good to reflect on the nature of the Ethiopian opposition so far. It would be useless to put all the blame on the ruling party. Firstly, the opposition so far has formed a united front only in one respect: in its consistent but at times uncritical opposition to the ruling party. Until the May 2005 election none has come up with a comprehensive policy alternative that convinces the public and hence secures it to their side, the necessary vote to win seats in parliament. Such a serious attempt was made in 2003 but it evolved along a confusing pattern. In the summer of 2003 some fifteen opposition parties agreed to form the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) in the United States. While this is the first real attempt to forge such a huge coalition of the opposition it seems that the UEDF has thereafter not progressed as much as expected. First and fore most, the process resulted in splits. Predictably, (as of September 2004), two members of the UEDF, AEUP and EDUP (both claim to be multinational but are predominantly influenced by the Amhara political elite except some nominal presence), withdrew from the coalition announcing the formation of another party Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) towards the end of the year. UEDF then remained as an amalgam of an apparently multinational (EPRP and MEISON) as well as ethnic based parties. Following the May 2005 election and the issue of joining or not joining parliament UEDF again split into the ethnic based domestic forces that preferred to join parliament versus those Diaspora based ones who insisted in boycotting it. The CUD in its turn as well although initially appeared as vibrant opposition later went into crisis following the election and its outcome. Among other things, the issue of joining or not joining parliament, internal power struggle among the member parties of the CUD, lack of clarity on crucial issues such as accommodation of diversity and federalism contributed to the post election crisis within the CUD in particular and to the political tension in the country in general. Secondly, having gone through two most despotic regimes, it is simply naive to expect that Ethiopia will overnight turn into democracy. The politics of exclusion and the culture of authoritarianism that took deep roots from 1930-1991 are not going to vanish into thin air suddenly. It will linger for sometime on both sides of the political spectrum the ruling party as well as the opposition.
As the following section will demonstrate, however, one general pattern discernable throughout the emergence of the modern state and which still seems to prevail is the problem of fixation in the Ethiopian discourse with the politics of ‘zero sum game.’ It is for this reason that I earlier noted the TGE was more legitimate and inclusive than any other regime in the country’s history. In a divided society like Ethiopia we cannot afford to have ‘winners and losers.’ The hard lesson one gets, for instance, from present-day Switzerland as well as from the rest of the world with divided societies, is simply that unless the major contenders of power are in some manner absorbed into the political process and made to consume it, there is no end to the polarization. Apart from the linguistic, self-rule and cultural pluralism set since 1991, genuine power sharing remains the only alternative available to end the political deadlock.
Ethiopian history dates back to the tenth century BC or at least official records take it to the Axumite civilization (first century AD to 1150). There is no iota of doubt that Ethiopia is the birthplace of mankind. With the discovery ofDinknesh(wonderful), otherwise known by herferenginame as ‘Lucy’ in 1974, in Hadar, the Afar land, of 3.5 million years old and so many other discoveries, the history of Ethiopia is as old as the human species itself. Yet, like many other issues in Ethiopia, its historiography is full of controversy. In terms of timing, some take it to millions, others to thousands and a few others to only hundreds of years, mainly to the emergence of the modern Empire state in the last quarter of the 19thcentury. In terms of the origin of its civilization, there is a contention between what Teshale calls ‘the Axumite paradigm’, which strongly contends for a civilization ‘from within’, and the Orientalists who claim civilization came ‘from without.’ The Sabeans crossing from Yemen to Ethiopia ‘carrying the burden of civilization.’ Teshale Tibebu, a historian himself, subscribing to the Axumite paradigm, argues, ‘to state that Ethiopian history starts with the Sabeans and not with the indigenous people is tantamount to starting with the invaders. As theKibre Negast(Glory of kings) narrates no Sabeans crossed to Ethiopia carrying the burden of civilization on their backs. It only talks of Queen Sheba’s adventure in Jerusalem.’
In terms of its coverage, the dominant approach has been to portray Ethiopian history as ‘a story of succession of rulers and dynasties’ and as a result, because of the dominant position of the Amharas and the Tigrayans, it was equated with what theferengiscall ‘the Abyssinian culture.’ The bulk of the people were then left out. The range of other ethno-linguistic groups in Ethiopia has scarcely been visible and until recently little interest has been shown towards understanding their cultures and tradition. It is an obvious fact that Ethiopia was portrayed in both official presentations and books as the land of the Abyssinians.
As will be demonstrated in later sections of this chapter, the writing of history in the Ethiopian context has failed to transcend at least two constraints. On the one hand, Ethiopia had to define herself as the only country in Africa that defeated European colonizers, with the rest of the world being hostile to Africa. It had to prove to the rest of the world that it is a state that should join the international community and to do so, it had to train elites to write the history of this ‘nation-state.’ This is not without consequences. The history thus written in this global context had to focus on the state and its institutions, as it was an instrument of nation building. ‘It tended to extol the centralizing and unitary role of Ethiopian monarchs and concentrated on their innovative and modernizing role within the Ethiopian society, the church and state tradition in so far as it focused on the development and growth of an independent and literate Christian nation.’ The state itself wasnot inclusive and the history too was not inclusiveand hence the controversy.
On the other hand, the Ethiopian Student Movement of the 1960s brought a new generation of historians as well as a new approach to writing history. While trying to fill the gap, this group of intellectuals have fallen into another trap and at times served as ideologues for national liberation movements. By undermining or at least giving less emphasis to the shared history, they have focused more on scoring the point that pre-Menlik Ethiopia constituted an amalgam of semi-autonomous kings and after Menlik’s coming to power Ethiopia became ‘the prison house of nationalities.’ The history they write, although it contributes to the other dimension of the peoples’ life, lacks at times objectivity or even evidence serving then only as an instrument of nationalist movements.
As a result, one should not be surprised if the name Ethiopia itself has come to signify different things to different people. For some Ethiopia is the oldest Christian polity in Africa, a country that was ‘Christian when the rest of the world was prostrating in front of the pagan idols.’ A Christian island and after Adwa in 1896, the sole remaining pride of Africans and Negroes, symbol of ‘unflinching defiance’ in which any freedom lover will take immense pride. It is a country that has had its own constitution and codified laws since the thirteenth century. By the ideologues of nationalist movements, on the other hand, it is dubbed as ‘ruthlessly colonial’. For some, Ethiopia is a multicultural and multi-religious state that should accommodate its diversity to make peace with itself, while for others it is one nation, one country and one territory with its Christian and Amhara identity.
Except for the twentieth century, a cursory reading of history reveals that Ethiopia has for the most part been under a decentralized rather than a centralized system of governance. This observation essentially characterizes all periods that preceded the coming to power of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1930, leaving certain exceptions of brief unitary attempts by Emperors Tewodros (1847-1868) and Menlik II (1889-1913).
One observes a co-existence of a duality of authorities, mainly that of the Imperial throne, representing the center and a number ofprovincial nobilitieseffectively exercising decentralized power. Among other things, the nobilities from Gondar, Wello, Gojjam, Showa and Tigray shared power with the crown and at times claimed the throne itself. Indeed, the rivalry among these regional forces and the corresponding weakening of the imperial authority was one of the factors that contributed to the absence of a fixed capital or rather to the presence of shifting capital for a long period. Several authors contend that regionalism or provincialism, one essential element of diversity that defined the Ethiopian state, characterized the relationship between the center and the provinces. Provincialism is slightly different from the notion of ethnic attachments. It refers to a special attachment or affection between a person or group indicating one’s origin. It represented a sense of parochial identities and diversity of sentiments and interests. It had distinct boundaries and historical traditions of its own nurturing a passionate attachment to self-rule under the framework of imperial administration. The territory defined as a province also represented economic and political interests, which it defended collectively against trends of centralization, under the leadership of the local nobility. It is comparable to the Swiss notion of Cantonalism, although the latter goes much further in protecting linguistic and religious rights.
Equally, autonomous kings existed on the South and Southwestern side of the country. Between the years of 1570-1860, Mohammed Hassen, for instance, contends with loose political as well as trade relations with the center, ‘the Oromo led an autonomous existence as masters of their destiny and makers of their own history.’ This reached its climax with the establishment of five kingdoms around the Gibe region, namely Limmu-Ennarya, Gomma, Guma, Gera and the Kingdom of Jimma. They were all absorbed into the Ethiopian state after the 1880s and only the last survived until 1932. On June 6, 1882 at Embabo, Menlik defeated king Teklahaymanot of Gojjam and was able to end not only the Gibe Monarchy but also the Oromo of Wallaga and Illubabor. One also finds, for instance, the kingdom of Kaffa, Wolayta (Nigus Tona succumbed to Menlik in 1894), Sidama, Kambata and Janjaro mainly situated near the vicinity of the Omo River and the Rift Valley area. These kingdoms claim their origins back to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
On the Eastern side we find the Afar sultanate, the Somalis and the Emirate of Harar representing another important center of Islamic power and influence. For the major part of their history, the Afars lived under great autonomy of their own, with minimal intervention from the highland kingdoms in Afar affairs. The Awsa sultanate was a vassal of Menlik but after agreeing to pay tribute, the sultan won recognition of his authority over his subjects. The Afars were identified as a distinct group with their own mode of existence, predominantly nomadic pastoral and their own traditional hierarchy, culture and religion. Their relative autonomy came to an end with the coming to power of Haile Selassie in 1930. Harar, the center of Islam, a religion which must have begun spreading in the Ethiopian region by the middle of the 8thcentury AD, (Other versions provide that Islam came to Ethiopia and started spreading during the rule of king An-Najashi when the first migrants came to him from Arabian Peninsula.) Ethiopia is the first country to recognize Islam at state level in the world. played a role as the springboard for Ahmed Gragn’s attack against the center, when its leader Abdullahi was deposed, after the Battle of Chalanko on January 6, 1887 and in his place, Haile Selassie’s father,RasMekonenn was appointed governor. The people inhabiting present day Benishangul-Gumuz and Gambela regions were loosely integrated into the Ethiopian state. They were incorporated in the 19thcentury and remained since then peripheral to the Ethiopian state, both geographically, sociologically, politically and economically speaking. It is with the introduction of commercial farms in the 1940s that the lowland area’s social foundation was penetrated. In short, the majority of the Kingdoms of the South, South West and Eastern sides existed as autonomous units only indirectly associated with the center usually marked by the payment of tributes.
This cluster of kingdoms existed effectively for centuries until they were finally incorporated into the Ethiopian state in the second half of the 19thcentury. They predate the centralized Ethiopian state of the 20thcentury. However, it needs to be emphasized that despite their semi-autonomous existence there always existed a network of trade relationships as well as relationships based on religion. The imperial throne served as a symbol of unity and the political system combined a balance of forces between the monarchy and regional nobility, the former playing a centripetal role and the latter moderating the power of the center. No historical evidence has so far been adduced that disproves this very fact.
Although it may be difficult to ascertain beyond doubt the exact autonomy and power of the kings, there are clear evidences indicating the fact that except during the tenth century when Yodit/Gudit attacked the Christian empire, during the campaign of Imam Ahmed (1527-1543) and during the (Age of Princes)Zemene Mesafint1769-1855, three important periods in which the power at the center had to subject itself almost completely to regional forces, the balance often swayed, albeit slightly to theNiguse Negast(King of Kings).Yet, the regional notables held important powers. Defined in broad terms, the regional nobility submitted to the throne, contributed a fighting force in time of crisis or rebellion and collected and paid tributes to the monarchy: the collection of tribute and maintenance of national security being the function of the emperor. In return for this administrative and military function, the nobility were granted autonomy and the right to retain some amount from the tributes they collected for the center. They had their own army. This was indeed true until the coming to power of Haile Selassie when the army of regional forces had to be dissolved and replaced by national armed forces organized along modern lines. Among others, the regional nobilities not only had military and taxation powers but were also entitled to regulate trade and commerce, impose duties and demand men and material to maintain armies. They also controlled the extraction and distribution of valuable commodities, such as metals, salt and ivory. They were sometimes economically stronger than the emperor and often defied him. The general arrangement was, however, that such kings would submit at least symbolically by paying tribute to the king of kings at the center of political power. Of course, the scope of the nobility’s power varied with the strength of the emperor. The stronger the imperial power, the smaller the autonomy would be and vice versa, but it appears that regional power was far from being a mere instrument of central power although its economic and social foundation was entrenched in the imperial system. Rather, a mutual dependence between the two forces seems to have been the dominant feature of historic Ethiopia.
On the other extreme, it was Tewodros (1847-1868) who by bringing to an end the regional lords, set the scene for centralization, but at the same time caused his downfall. Menlik picked up the current of centralization, although not completely, but none other than Haile Selassie and theDergcarried this mission to its extreme. The former stripped the nobility and the regions of their traditional autonomy and powers and theDergintensified it. It is not surprising then that the major peasant revolts (Tigray, Gojjam, Bale) and the student uprising occurred during the former and all sorts of national and regional forces resisted the latter. We should note that unlike what is portrayed in some corners, these two regimes are the ‘main incubators’ of national and regional forces.
Observing this fact Paul Henze recently wrote, ‘Ethiopia, the oldest continually existing polity in Africa, has almost always been relatively decentralized at many stages in its long history, so decentralized, in fact, that only a vague tradition of statehood, combined with a sense of religious and cultural community held it together at all.’ Clapham states, ‘historic Ethiopia approximated a federal system.’ The notion of autonomy and unity fully explain such a period. The history of Ethiopia is indeed full of strife between forces of centralization on the one hand, and local governors urging for decentralization and autonomy on the other. Perham wrote, ‘although the Ethiopian provincialrases were never able to establish for long their position as over-mighty subjects, the emperors on their side were unable to consolidate, century after century, the authority of the imperial government.’ A perennial tension existed between the king of kings and the provincialrases(heads) and the balance between the two over a period of time differed depending on the strength of arms. It is stated that ‘over the six hundred years or more of which we have reliable knowledge, neither side seems to have gained over the other until this [twentieth] century.’ By and large, the centralizing and decentralizing forces remained in balance.
The long-standing tradition of consciousness of unity and autonomy, that is to say duality in the exercise of power, is not only found on the records of history, it is also well symbolized in the notion ofNiguse Negast(King of Kings). At least since the 13thcentury, Bahru wrote, ‘when a dynasty that claimed to represent the restoration of the Solomonic line came to rule the country, its rulers have styled themselves king of kings of Ethiopia’. Nothing symbolizes the duality of authority better than the notion ofNiguse Negast. It implied the existence of deep-rooted and strong kings in several of the provinces exercising, as briefly indicated above, important powers in their own territory. The clearest manifestation of the Empiresde factofederation, if one may call this, can be discerned in the time of Emperor Yohannes IV (1872-1889). One author notes, ‘his choice of the titlerésa makwanenet(head of the nobility) as he bid for the throne set the tune of his policy. He continued to regard himself as first among equals, king of kings, in the strict sense of the word, not an undisputable autocrat. Yohannes was ready to share power with his subordinates so long as his throne was not challenged. He adopted a more cautious policy of accommodation to regionalism,’ though intolerant towards religious diversity.
In theory, it is often stated that the throne’s authority was absolute. But it was not so in practice. Primarily, until the twentieth century where provincial nobilities were effectively and systematically abolished, the Ethiopian state did not posses the structure and means required to impose the absolute claims the throne may have demanded. The vastness of the empire, geographical obstacles, absence of transport and communication facility, fiscal and manpower constraints, ethnic, linguistic and regional disparity, hindered direct central authority. To the extent that the central power was hindered, it meant also that regional forces enjoyed themselves as autonomous kingdoms merely acknowledging the existence of a distant emperor. Indeed, the administration of the state was carried out by the nobility (the kings), a group that normally resisted the attempts for centralization. Even though the status, power, and privileges of the nobility depended on the appointment and grants dispensed by the emperor, quite naturally the nobility strove to secure continuity of status and privileges by rendering both office and status sometimes hereditary and free of royal control. Appointments were often given to leading families in the area, since provincial sentiments usually precluded the appointment of outsiders. The more powerful provincial kings were sometimes contenders for the throne itself. As Levine stated it rightly: ‘The perennial tendency of certain regional families to become endowed with an aura of legitimacy in their own right’ often was a threat to the throne itself. When a conducive environment was found, provincial forces never hesitated to crown themselves emperors. This demonstrates the fact that they were not only administrators of decentralized power by right, but they were also potential contenders to the throne.
Secondly, tradition and religion also imposed limits on the power of the Emperor. Some authors argue that Ethiopia had experience with constitutional government that predated by many centuries the promulgation of the written constitution in the 20thcentury. If a constitution is defined, stated Clapham, ‘not as written document but as set of practices which guide the exercise of political power, then Ethiopia enjoyed constitutional government over a long period’. One aspect of the constitutional practice limiting the power of the Emperor, emanated from the famousKibre Negast, a document of great relevance in explaining the constitutional law of the Empire. This is probably one of the oldest constitutional documents in the entire world. Written in 1320 by a group of authors from Axum, interestingly after the downfall of the Zagwe Dynasty, (roughly from 1137 to 1270, that succeeded the Axumite state, and believed to have usurped power without belonging to the Solomonic line) and during the Reign of Yikuno Amlak, an Amhara from Wello, who overthrew the Zagwe Dynasty and inaugurated a dynasty which called itself ‘Solomonic’ to emphasize its legitimacy as opposed to its predecessor. Among other things, theKibre Negastdefined the core of the Ethiopian ethos and the source of legitimacy of the Emperor. It provided the rules for succession to the highest office. Accordingly, no one except the descendant of King of Solomon shall ever reign to the Ethiopian throne. It also provided about the complex organization of the imperial court and government and regulated the relation between the state and church. These rules combined together played a crucial limit to whoever failed to claim the legend. Even when one succeeded to the throne by might, its legitimacy was questioned immediately and would subsequently lead a downfall. The cases of Emperor Tewodros and Michael Sehul represent good examples. The former’s inability to expressly affiliate with the Solomonic line as well as his radical position against the church frustrated his project of building a centralized state. The latter who was known for making and unmaking seats to the throne in Gondar although he was capable of throning himself, never claimed it probably because he failed to affiliate himself with the same line.
Religion was another crucial factor. Indeed the connection between emperor and church was so strong that the imperial authority was committed to the church’s faith. The emperor was required not only to be a believer of ancient Orthodox Christianity but also required to defend it. Religious conversion is one charge, which was not tolerable. Rulers who violated this injunction forfeited the allegiance of their subjects and their right to the throne. To mention a few, Emperors Ze Dingil (1603-04) and Susneyus (1607-32) were removed from the throne because of their conversion to Catholicism. In 1916 the charge of alleged apostasy, however obscure the fact may be, was instrumental in the overthrow of Lij Iyassu. It is not surprising then that Christianity remained state religion until 1974.
For the most part, consciousness of unity and autonomy coexisted more or less in the balance the emperor slightly prevailed over regional forces. The plurality of kings, with theNiguse Negastabove them signifies some kind of federal or confederal government structure. The throne and the church represented the symbol of unity and regional forces exercised decentralized power. TheNiguse Negastde factodealt with national matters while the kings exercised powers over matters of local interest. There is no doubt that this presents in the words of Livingston, a typical ‘federal society.’ These are essential features of what we understand today as the federal principle. Suffice to emphasize here that before the emergence of the modern federal system in the United States in 1787, its features were never as clearly articulated as they are today. The more amorphous confederate form was predominant.
The beginning of the twentieth century marked the first serious attempt to curb the autonomy of the regional forces. It was reported in 1906 that Emperor Menlik II (1889-1913) could at any time take away the authority of the highestraseswithout giving any reasons for his action. But this is far from the measures taken by Haile Selassie. According to Levine, Menlik did not decisively undercut the authority of the great provincial lords and towards the end of his reign the provincialrasesbecame largely independent. It is true that the power of Jimma Aba Jifar II survived for instance until 1932.
The coming to power of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1930 and the subsequent issuance of the 1931 Constitution, the firstwrittenconstitution in the history of the country, marks a new epoch. It heralded the end of the role of the duality that existed for centuries. Provincialism and/or the autonomous kingdoms, the traditional check against the power of the king of kings, were completely absorbed into the centralized administration. Haile Selassie in conformity with his policy of centralization refused to confer the title of kings, thereby disappointing expectations at the time of his coronation. This is particularly clear from the nature of the two houses established under the 1931 Constitution. The emperor made sure that all potential contenders for power were members of these chambers that in effect had only an advisory role.
Apart from the introduction of the modern army after dissolving private armies of the regional notables, Haile Selassie’s measure of direct individual taxation without the involvement of the intermediary notables, which in a way centralized the taxation system, hit hard the economic base of those regional notables. Their right to collect tax was taken over by the center.
Nor did the 1974 Revolution, which gave a mortal blow to the old monarchy, bring any change in the move towards more centralization of power. As far as regional autonomy is concerned, except for the change of ideology from Solomonic genealogy to Socialism, the centralist character of the state remained intact and was even strengthened to a degree that far exceeded the imperial regime.
The process of centralization, modernization, nation building or by whatever name it was conducted and with good intentions, was not without consequences. Firstly, the incorporation of the South, the Southwest and the Eastern sides from their previously autonomous position to complete absorption meant that the notion of the state, its institutions and culture were imposed on the incorporated kingdoms. Secondly, it brought about all sorts of diversities in terms of religion, language, tradition and culture. Because the state failed to accommodate them, the religious, lingual, cultural as well as political and economic dominance gave birth to the ‘question of nationalities.’ Thirdly, the state became extremely centralized at the expense of regional rulers. The political marginalization of the bulk of the community led to civil wars whose cause fundamentally differed from earlier ones. This time resistance not only called for state reform but even at times challenged the state itself. Several studies hinted that conflict in traditional Ethiopia was mainly an instrument for asserting some level of regional autonomy and not for upsetting the whole system, nor was it for separation. ‘God can not be blamed, the King can not be accused’ was the main tenet. The opposition mainly looked for adjustment and restoration of violated rights like better administration, lower taxes, respect for local autonomy and reduction of corruption. By and large the legitimacy of the Monarch and its ideological roots were not attacked. In the 1960s, however, things started to change. The new forms of resistance changed significantly in terms of leadership, social composition, motivation and ideological orientations.
Gender and Media: Media is one of the most important socializing agents. As millions of lives are being conditioned and shaped by what is heard on the radio, what is viewed on television, video and cinema films; what is read in print and what is seen on the stage. Media transmit values and attitudes that highly affect the attitude and behavior of individuals. The issue of women and media can be looked at from three perspectives: women’s portrayal, the content, and women as media consumers. The relationship between consumers and their decision making capacity, impacts on portrayal. It is a universal phenomenon that women and men are portrayed in stereotypical ways, more intensified in many developing countries. As Andersen (1988) indicated, not only are women and men cast in traditional roles, but also are omitted from roles that portray them in a variety of social context. Women tend to be portrayed in roles in which they are trivialized, condemned, or narrowly defined, resulting in the "symbolic annihilation" of women by the media. Men on the other hand, are usually depicted in high-status jobs in which they dominate women. Women are usually portrayed doing domestic chores, or appearing as sex objects and sometimes, they are presented to be selfish and cruel.
Many women do not receive information from the media. Information is at the heart of education; information is the basis of health; information defines every aspect of production, distribution and exchange; and information defines social relationship at all levels. These days there is a fast rate of information transmission and exchange; and this is made possible because of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs). ICTs are growing at a faster rate than any other technology and affecting every aspect of people’s lives. There is no doubt that such advances present tremendous opportunities for human development. ICTs have the potential to reduce poverty, empower people and facilitate the democratization process. However, it can also widen the gaps between the haves and the have-nots and between women and men. The voices and concerns of women with low or no incomes, and with limited access to education, to public institutions, and to positions of decision-making risk being further marginalized.
There are a number of constraints women encounter in accessing information, especially accessing information using ICTs. According to (Dominguez, 2001), Ethiopian women share similar constraints in accessing ICTs with women in other African countries. These include low literacy, limited access to resources and decision-making, limited or no access to computers, limited telecommunication infrastructure, unreliable telephone line, high cost of telephone calls, and lack of time. Women who have access usually use ICTs for work purposes, and not for personal growth. Even in their work women's utilization of ICTs is often limited to using e-mails. However, considering the important role ICTs play in the provision of information and reducing poverty some efforts need to be made to create access. The World space satellite radio network does not at this stage seem to assist rural Ethiopian women, because there is a missing technological link between the satellite and the rural village. Further, the initial cost of the receiver and the low rural electricity coverage and high bill is beyond the reach of the majority of Ethiopians. Ethiopian women are excluded even from conventional information sources. A good example here is the case of agricultural extension programs, where information is almost wholly transmitted to men, although women contribute substantially to agricultural production. The formation of the Ethiopian Media Women Association (EMWA), with the objectives of training and exchanging experience for capacity building is an attempt to address problems of gender and the media. Ethiopia is also a member of the East African Media women Association (EAMWA).
Socialization, as a process of transmitting culture, has been defined as consisting of “complex process of interaction through which the individual learns the habits, beliefs, skills and standards of judgment that are necessary for effective participation in social groups and communities.” Socialization is a process, which not only allows the baby to know about the basic norms of the society, but also helps in the gradual development of one’s self. Development of ‘the self’ or the ‘the ego’ comes with the help of role playing, where a child puts himself/herself in somebody’s else’s shoe and tries to get his/her self image through others’ perception. Coming to know about the ‘other’, he knows about the ‘self’. Thus the child comes to learn about the norms, expectations and different roles to be played in the group through the process of socialization. A child learns about hiss/her gender identity by learning what is s/he expected to do by others. An individual learns about his or her gender identity by knowing what s/he is not, or in other words, by learning about the other which helps in the emergence of one’s self. For instance, a male child learns to confirm to his own gender group by neglecting all activities that a girl child does. Thus, a male child becomes violent and plays hazardous games keeps way from dolls and kitchen set or else he would be branded a girl.
Socialization is a continuous process that helps one to learn the normative behavior, which mostly happens to be stereotypical behavior. The very first thing the child is socialized into is the views regarding his/her gender identity.
Socially constituted gender roles form stereotypes. A stereotype, according to the Webster’s New World’s Dictionary, (1998), is an “unvarying pattern, specifically a fixed or conventional notion or concept of a person, group, idea etc. held by a number of people and allow for no individuality or crucial judgment”. However, social psychologists define a stereotype as being a cognitive structure containing the perceiver’s knowledge, belief, and expectancies about human social group. Stereotypic behavior can be linked to the way the stereotype is learned, transmitted and changed and this is part of has socialization process. The process of the stereotypification of gender, has a sort of biological determinism, which starts with the reproductive ability of woman. Some say for women ‘anatomy is destiny’. Women are characterized with lack, the lack of the genital. Thus they are incomplete. They stand inferior to man biologically; even physically, they are weaker. This sort of biological determinism has been used, to justify the submissive position of women. (Bhasin 2000: 10).
Individuals are converted from biological male and biological female into man and woman respectively with the process of socialization, which takes up the task of gendering individuals.
regarding socialization, Ruth Hartley (Hartley cited in Bhasin, 2000) believed socialization takes place through four processes, namely, manipulation, canalization, verbal appellation and activity exposure.
Manipulation refers to how a child is handed. Boys are taken to be strong and girls are given more feminine designation of being pretty. Such experiences on one’s physique matters in shaping the self-image and personality of boys and girls.
The second phase canalization involves the familiarization of boys and girls with certain objects, which later shapes their perceptions, aspirations and dreams. Well, we all know that anything that is pleasurable in the childhood becomes a memory to be cherished through out one’s life. “Verbal appellation” likes “strong” for boys and “beautiful” for girls help them construct different identities. It is always strength versus beauty. The fourth process activity exposure pertains to different kinds activities, boys and girls are exposed to. Girls are asked for help by their mothers and boys usually accompany their fathers outside the house.
This is how the idea of gender is constructed and slowly permeates into the psyche of the individual. As mentioned earlier, gender is socially constructed and, so does one’s personality. It is important to note here that the basic difference between a man and a woman does not seem to have any genetic foundation. It is the result of one’s culture, which is injected into an individual through socialization process. Let us have a look at the basic differences between a man and a woman in most societies and from where this difference springs from a psychoanalytic perspective.
Gender construction: a psychoanalytic view
The learning of gender differences in infants and the young children is centered on the presence or absence of penis. “I have a penis’ is equivalent to ‘I am a boy’ while I am a girl is equivalent to ‘I lack a penis’.
“At a very early stage, the little boy develops an object-cathexis of his mother, which is originally related to the mother’s breast…, his father by identifying himself with him. For some time, this two relationships exist side by side, until the sexual wishes in regards the mother become intense and the father is perceived as an obstacle to them; this gives rise to the Oedipus complex.
So, “in repressing the erotic feelings towards the mother and accepting the father as superior being, the boy identifies with the father and become aware of his male identity”. The father represents an all-powerful protector; the omnipotent lawmaker who yields the rod of punishment. In psychoanalytic terms, the father is the breaker of the mother-child dyad, the transcendental signifier of law, culture and language. If the boyr is at war with his father, he is at war with himself. He suffers from worthlessness and shame, and through the process of identification, he intends to internalize the voice of the torturer.
Cultural construction of masculinity and femininity
This socialization process is so strong in men and women that one can notice a deep chasm between them in terms of their perspectives, priorities in life, their dreams and aspiration and lifestyle and their ways of looking at things. ‘Human beings are not isolated atomistic individuals; they live and thrive in communities in rational units. Life is not just rules and principles but also individuals and responsibilities. And this is where the difference between man and woman lies. The feminine that is associated with woman is characterized as passive. Tenderness consideration and physical weakness are synonymous to the feminine genre. The masculine is defined as dominant and encouraging male violence against women as virile. Men are supposed to be high on strength and prowess. Men and women have different moral orientations. Men speak the language of right and women the language of responsibility.
Right from their childhood, boys attempt to dominate and control. But girls are encouraged to be good mothers. So the first thing they do is attract a man to depend on: they are expected to be emotional, unstable, weak and talkative about their problems. They are valued for their look or smallness but not their strength and brains.
Men’s predominance in the public domain and their association with reason distanced them from talking about relationships, emotions, which is rooted in culturally construed and historically specific form of masculinity. Right from their childhood, men have been treated by their parents as independent and out going. With masked emotional dependence on women and weak skills of communication as far as feelings are concerned, men have also suffered from this gender game. Culture has made women more expressive and it also happens that their expressiveness is confused with the display of weaknesses. In order to conform to the codes of socialization meant for men, men bottle-up their emotions and eventually fail to be expressive. Culture has made them unexpressive for which they suffer from depression and have learnt to keep quite and not to talk about their problems as it is considered feminine. Their silence on problems has been mistaken for strength and courage but the truth is that it shatters them from within.
The society does not follow one single model of masculinity or femininity. However, it may boast machismo in men and there is a general notion that it is the most ideal way for men to behave, and for women to find it desirable. There are different expressions of masculinity and femininity. At the level of the society these contrasting versions are ordered in a hierarchy, which is oriented around one defining premise- the domination of men over women. That is why men take advantage from the dominant position of “hegemonic masculinity”. Some call this as “patriarchal dividend for those who benefit from it. Femininity can be of various types. The most popular and one which has been accepted as a general norm to be followed for women has been named as “emphasized femininity”. It complements the “hegemonic masculinity”. It is oriented towards accommodating the desires and interest of men, which is characterized by compliance, nurturance and empathy. It is supposed to be the embodiment of motherhood and sexual reciprocity. This type of femininity is the most prevalent image of woman.
Patriarchy and its structures
Patriarchy refers to male domination and female’s acceptance and internalization of that dominance. Its literal meaning is the supremacy of the father. In the current discourse it can be replaced with “male rule”. ‘Patriarchy may also be described as a system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress and exploit women.’ It is both a social structure and an ideology that perpetuates such a structure and vice-versa. Most of the institutions of the society are patriarchal in nature, regardless of whether it is the state, religion, educational institutions, family or the media. The ideology of patriarchy is so deep rooted in the society that all kinds of violence and subjugation of women appears to obvious.
Culture itself has certain demands from male and female separately. This male dominant society has looked down upon women. As indicated earlier, there exists a certain basic difference between men and women. Women tend to stress on relation ships and responsibility while men emphasize rules and rights, which make both of them different. This quality is not the matter of being inferior or superior.
Our male dominated society has frequently claimed that the development of the child requires the mother to devote herself completely to the welfare of the child and it is the primary duty of the mother to shower all kinds of affection and care to the child. The father is not expected to carry out such duties. It does not come under the domain of man. It must be noted that motherhood is also socially constructed. Nevertheless, the patriarchal knows how to appropriate results in its favor without giving much effort.
The world of a man and a woman has been divided into two halves, forming many pairs of binary opposites. It is a world of body versus mind, nature versus culture, emotion versus reason, and private versus public. These dichotomies stand in chainto each other that shape the culturally constituted roles for men and women. This dichotomy is perpetuated by patriarchy itself.
Nature versus culture
The male dominated society and male culture decree that dominance is the male temperament and subordination the women’s. Women were allocated domestic service and attending upon children while men did the rest. The limited role allocated to women arrested her at the biological level, which was nearer to the animal instinct. When a child is born, the mother in most cultures is usually in charge of breast feeding the baby, taking care and socializing it. Infant and children are considered a part of nature. They are unsocial zed like animals. They are unable to walk upright, they excrete without control and above all, they do not speak. Thus, infants and children are close to ‘nature’. Moreover, women with their association withinfants and children are tagged together with ‘nature’. Since men lack a natural basis meant for family orientation, i.e., they do not reproduce, the cultural reasoning seems to go that men are the ‘natural’ proprietors of religion, ritual, politics, and other realms of cultural thought. Thus men are associated with culture, i.e., the higher form of human thought involving art, religion and law.
Private versus public
These physical and social roles of women and men have extended their association with nature and culture respectively. The nature/ culture debate can further be extended to a form of private/ public dialogue which divides the roles of men and women into another dichotomy. No doubt, in our society, a gender hierarchy exists. The ideology of patriarchy remains intertwined with other social institutions. This becomes clear from the private/public realm. The private sphere popularly known as the domestic has no economic, political or historical significance. It does not contribute to one’s social life. It is tagged as the ‘personal’. The private realm stands in opposition to the public sphere. It needs to be nourished with understanding, co-operation, care, and selfness and of course bundles of emotions. The public sphere is a competitive world, which requires being aggressive, reasonable and ambitious with no trace of emotions.
Gender and workplace
With the industrial revolution came a separation between work place and home. There emerged the idea of public and private space. Prior to this, women had a considerable influence within the household due to their importance in economic production, as the house happened to be the production centre at the same time? Due to the kind of work, they took up, Men were more exposed to the outside world, thus becoming an integral part of the public sphere due to the public sphere due to their participation in local affairs, politics and the market. But women were relegated to the domestic sphere. Mostly, jobs stand gendered. Women traditionally have been doing household works like cooking and taking care of children. Thus, certain jobs have been branded feminine and masculine. One can see occupational segregation based on gender. This refers to men and women being concentrated in different kinds of occupation. Occupational segregation has two dimensions, vertical and horizontal. “Vertical segregation” refers to the tendency of women to remain in the second position, whereas men remain in influential position. “Horizontal segregation” refers to the tendency of men and women to occupy different categories of jobs. Women shouldered the responsibility of taking on household tasks, while men were mostly seen in jobs outside home.
Things get extremely difficult for women who are working because they have to bear the double burden of domestic work, as well as work place.