The Language of A Manifesto

October 28th, 2009 | by addis portal |


A recent Medrek Manifesto stated that “Afan Oromo should become Ethiopia’s official [second] language and Ethiopia should regain Assab port from Eritrea”. That is probably a good strategy. Unfortunately, such talk is easier said than done. How do comrades Seye and Gebru plan to regain control of the port, having been architects for ceding it in the first place? War is ruled out from the get-go. Seye has informed us on numerous occasions that he is for peaceful struggle [unlike Ginbot 7 or OLF]. And comrade Gebru has chimed in that the reclamation of the port would be handled by “legal” means.

We very much doubt the “peaceful struggle” they flaunt today will not revert to implementing the “rule of law”, a la Meles, once they grab power. Will Seye and his allies be making another round of secret deals with Eritreans? What’s in it for Eritreans to handover a port they may not be using when they know tiny Djibouti is making a billion dollars a year off its kneeling giant neighbor? Will Medrek leaders, desperate to seize power, bow to British and American design for the region? The US and the British realize that Medrek leaders, unlike the fiercely independent and nationalist leaders of the past generation, are comprised of individuals with their own little agendas and therefore easy ‘prey’. The soft spot in the Ethiopian body politic of the late-1980s was ideology; today it is ethnicity. And yet, both are destined to yield similar results!

It is not surprising that a spate of articles [mostly by Eritreans, by half Eritrean-half Tigrayans, and by Tigrayans] on the ‘historic and inevitable’ re-union between Ethiopia and Eritrea have been coming at us with deafening and demanding tone. We’ve said it before and we never tire of repeating: Eritreans should be left alone to sort out their problems; Ethiopia has no business talking about solving Eritrean or Somalian or Sudanese problems before putting her own house in order. We fear there is already more than enough policy fallout to keep us busy for the foreseeable future. History bears us out that any time talk of intervening in the affairs especially of Eritrea came up the goal has been to confuse the public and entrench mean-spirited minority groups!

We believe making Afaan Oromo a second national language is long overdue. A fact to remember though is that no policy could be forced upon a group successfully and that there will be resistance at the beginning stages. This has little to do with picking up Afaan Oromo; it is that people are always resistant to change! So the question becomes, What needs to be done to encourage others to learn Afaan Oromo? Should Amharic script be used interchangeably with the Latin? Will Oromo political leaders miss the opportunity to once again dry up the well of goodwill especially of the Amahra and the Tigray?

We suggest utmost caution in the coming months. This is due mainly to the fact that the British [along with the US] are once again the power brokers. Lest we forget, the current state of affairs in Ethiopia was the direct result of British and US involvement during the 1990s. We don’t think much will change now. US policy around the world has been episodic and noncommittal while that of the British could only be labeled as a “time bomb” – border issues plaguing Ethiopia on all sides today can be traced back to British regional aspirations. If you don’t believe us, perhaps a quote from Foreign Secretary Jack Straw [2001-2006] would convince you once for all. Mr. Straw blames “Britain’s imperial past for many of the modern political problems, including the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Kashmir dispute. ‘A lot of the problems we are having to deal with now – I have to deal with now – are a consequence of our colonial past …The Balfour declaration and the contradictory assurances which were being given to Palestinians in private at the same time as they were being given to the Israelis – again, an interesting history for us, but not an honourable one …some quite serious mistakes in India and Pakistan, jewels of the British empire before their 1947 independence, as well as Britain’s “less than glorious role” in Afghanistan …many territorial disputes on the illogical borders created by colonial powers.” [BBC, November 2002].

It could be the British are at present angling to use the confused language policy to turn Ethiopia into an Anglophone or to increase their investment portfolio in these economically trying times. Altruism rarely figures in international relations; more so when the other party comes to the table from a position of weakness. The strong always lay in wait to leave their permanent mark. Exportation of the English language was tried via the Ethiopian education system of the 1940s. Luckily and due to Emperor Haileselassie’s diligence, it failed then but might well be enjoying a unique status compared to local languages – all under the cover of development, technologies, and aid. It is worth repeating here that teaching English overseas is Britain’s sixth largest revenue earner [to the tune of 6 billion a year]. Add to this the fact that Ethiopia’s population is young and second in Sub-Saharan Africa. That is the cost to our cultural and national identity for having short-sighted and small leaders who made hatred of Amharic their stated language policy.

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