RECAP — Ethiopianness: Regression or Evolution?

Date: July 1st 2021

Venue: Hilton Addis

Ethiopia, “land of burnt face,” certainly covered a mass of land from the Red Sea to Yemen. Some even say Nubia was about Ethiopia. Today’s Ethiopia is a mass of enclosed land, no outlet to the sea to even recognize her trading partners from way back. Ethiopia has an estimated 110 million people, a size of France and Germany put together, and 65% arable land.  The land where humankind originated is heavily agrarian today. Still, an estimated eight to 10 million people a year are in need of food. As a result of persisting hunger, Ethiopia’s population, some 60%, suffers from stunted brains. Malnutrition, under-nutrition and every “mal-” goes to the mouth of millions.

“Ethiopianness” is a concept that digs deeper into the skins of the proud people.  Proud of what? What would our recent revolutionaries, who sacrificed their lives for the “better” Ethiopia, ask us? Would they bring their whips and exert their frustration?  Who are we and why are we so far apart while living so close?  Why are we so fragmented and polarized? What do we understand by the current political over usage of “Ethiopia! Ethiopia!”  Is it a projection of ingenuity? What does the future hold for us?  Is it even necessary to break down what it means to be Ethiopian? Does the subject merit our time and attention? Why?

During AWiB’s monthly event July 1, 2021, a crowd of about 100 gathered with the urge of getting an answer to the concept of ”Ethiopianness” and what it holds within it. The discussion followed an hour-long networking session among members and non-members from different professional backgrounds. A book by Mr. Amha Dagnew “ሐገራዊ ብሔረተኝነት እና ዘውጋዊ ብሔረተኝነት በኢትዮጵያ: ኢትዮጵያ በመስቀለኛ መንገድ ላይ” was displayed to reach potential readers.  The sponsors for the event were Canal+ Ethiopia, Bank of Abyssinia, IMAN Gas, and Kadisco General Hospital.


Dima Noggo Sarbo (PhD) is a public policy adviser and consultant, and serves as a member of the Foreign Policy Advisory Council as well as the Independent Economic Advisory Council. He is a member of a group called Ethiopians for Inclusive Dialogue, and is actively engaged promoting dialogue and national consensus.

Dima began political activities in the Ethiopian Students Movement in the 1970s and became a founding member and the first Chairman of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), participating in the armed struggle against the Derg. He served as a cabinet minister in the Transitional Government of Ethiopia, and as a member of the transitional legislature between 1991 and 1992.  Dima has a PhD in Sociology with a major in Political Economy, and a minor in Environment, Energy and Natural Resources. He studied Economic Development and Planning in Senegal, and Political Science and Government in Addis Ababa. He has taught at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Dima was a Global Leaders Research Fellow with the Global Economic Governance Programme at the University of Oxford and with the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University between 2009 and 2012.

Amha Dagnew has authored two books, ሐገራዊ እና ዘዉጋዌ ብሔረተኝነት በኢትዮጰያ and The Prospects and Challenges of Establishing a Democratic Developmental State in Ethiopia. He is a consultant and researcher in political and economic affairs.  Amha was a lecturer at the Yekatit 66 political school, editor-in-chief of Meskerem Theoretical Journal, and deputy head of the Economic Department of the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia (WPE).  He has an M.A in Development Studies.

Moderator: Solomon Shumiye is managing director of GEBEYANU Business Promotion & Communications.  Well-versed in digital audio and video editing as well as camera operation, Solomon has a range of experiences including designing and hosting a popular TV talk show he produced:  Shai Buna (tea and coffee). He has produced and co-hosted several radio shows and commercials, directed feature and documentary films that he has done script-writing and narration for, and released a music album, “Ejen Setichalew ” (I surrender).  Solomon has written essays, articles, short stories, poetry, and novels.  Solomon has also worked for CBE as a credit and planning officer and was an electrician with the Kombolcha and Awassa textile factories.  As a public speaker, Solomon participates in current political affairs and delivers motivational speeches.  Solomon received his MA in Social Anthropology from Addis Ababa University.


Solomon began by introducing the complex term “Ethiopianness,” giving several meanings according to scholars and politicians. For some, Ethiopia and being an Ethiopian holds a long history dating back almost 3000 to 5000 years, while some perceive the concept to be not more than 100 to 150 years old. It is also said to be African countries’ source of the movement to independence from colonial rule. “Ethiopianness” is given the definition of being a collection of nationalities.

Each speaker was given 15 minutes to discuss the various questions that revolved around “Ethiopianness.”

What do we mean by “Ethiopia” and “Ethiopianness”?

  • The name “Ethiopia” was given to the country following the Second World War.
  • Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa, having a recorded civilization that dates from the 2nd millennium BC. Little known to Europeans until the late 19th century, it was invaded and occupied by Italy in 1935. Emperor Haile Selassie was restored by the British in 1941 and ruled until overthrown in a Marxist coup in 1974. The subsequent period was marked by civil war, fighting against separatist guerrillas in Eritrea and Tigray, and by repeated famines; after the fall of the government in 1991 a multiparty system was adopted.

For Dr. Dima, Ethiopianess is understood as a concept which has included some peoples and ignored the rest of Ethiopians.  For Amha, Ethiopianness is belonging to a nation with a diverse language and culture. Trying to bring Marxism to this country has been one of the causes for the instability of the community in the 1960s. The other cause is related to land rule.  Since the coming of the Derg regime land has not been private; this has caused the loss of the strong sense of “nation” in Ethiopian people. It is when one can be an actual owner of land that we can truly say we have a nation.

During the questions and answers session with the audience, the following questions were raised:

  • In the FDRE constitution, is there any way a nation can come up and express his/her rights in the constitution through the sense of Ethiopianness? What have politicians and fighters done for us to have a sense of Ethiopianness?
  • What is the cause for Ethiopia specifically to be affected by the Marxist ideology? There are several other countries that used to follow this ideology, but after Marxism fell have somehow made the nations stable regardless of their diversity.
  • Can we say Ethiopia only existed recently just because the name “Ethiopia” was given after World War II?
  • If we are defining Ethiopia as a whole country with numerous languages and nationalities, why do we still raise the issue of secession?
  • To be Ethiopian, is it mandatory to have a common identity and sense of nationality? Do you think we, Ethiopians, can have and share a common sense of nationality?

Responses to the questions:

  • For Dima, there has not been a constitution so far other than the constitution being written down. A constitution has three elements: context, process and content. We should look at these three aspects of this document and answer whether “Ethiopianness” has been included in the constitution.
  • The name “Ethiopia” is said to be recent but does not mean the history of Ethiopia is as short as her name. Before being called “Ethiopia,” there was a long, enriched history of the country.
  • For both speakers, the history of Ethiopia is seen differently and interpreted in some aspects into today’s Ethiopia.
  • “Ethiopianness” should be enlarging and inclusive as it merely strengthens the peoples in it. All within Ethiopia may be considered “Ethiopian”; the confusion lies in lacking a clear understanding of our history.
  • As for the issue of land, the distribution of land does not necessarily create “Ethiopianness” among citizens. Ethiopia is to grow as a result of strong farmers utilizing what they have in their hands rather than giving the land to others and moving abroad. But the land should also be a moderate size, not below 10 hectares. Such land issues are to be resolved by the government and politicians so the people can decide and make their voices heard.
  • Currently, the various propaganda are the cause for the clashes created among Ethiopian nationalities. This root of unrest, if continued, may disrupt the peace and stability of Ethiopia, leading us to lose our nation. This should be an indicator to us; we have a choice to clarify the history, set the political propaganda aside, and move together as one. As for the politicians and the government, the country will only move as one when democracy becomes real, when election processes can move fairly without using unjust tactics to eliminate competitor parties.

Closing remarks were made by the moderator, Solomon, and the speakers, concluding that “Ethiopianness” is a concept that will progress to a better, lasting path as long as we are willing to not only tolerate our differences but care for one another…be compassionate toward each other.  We must set aside the political notions used by politicians in order to move forward together.

The event concluded with 2021 AWiB President Kemer thanking the speakers and moderator for their time, knowledge, and experience-sharing by presenting AWiB’s appreciation gifts – books.  The next monthly program is September 2 (as AWiB sleeps in August), when the drawing for the Art Raffle tickets will take place.

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