Today I attended a lecture from an Ethiopian exile who is worried about the future of his country. He fears that it may fall apart with the present legistlation. Ethiopia is a country where no ethnic group has the majority and the largest group (the Oromo) is not the dominant group. However, the country has a very long history.
Ethiopia is at the moment a one-party state. This party was originally marxist, but in its economic policies it has given up on communism. However, its minority policy is a carbon copy of how the communists treated minorities in Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.
On paper it looks all very nice: lots of minority rights (including the right to secession). Many Western activists love it as the right way to treat minorities. However, it is a kind of Macchiavellian divide-and-rule strategy that cuts the country up in a multitude of rivalling ethnic groups. It leaves an empty center that is only filled by the party. Nothing else is left on that level to challenge the domination of the party.
Countries pay a heavy price for such a policy:
- on the short term there are increasing tensions and low scale violence between ethnic groups. In Ethiopia this is visible in increasing number of deaths. Problematic is that often the local authorities are not neutral and the central government refuses to interfere.
- things become critical when the party falls apart. Then there is nothing left to keep the country together as the communists have removed many of the central institutions. In this situation Czecheslovakia, Russia and Yugoslavia have fallen apart. And even Ethiopia with its long history is at risk. People wonder whether the party would survive its present leader.
One can only wonder whether the West will take the lessons from Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union to heart: That the absence of credible central institutions doesn't mean that people don't believe in the state any more. Holding national elections and creating new central institutions should get priority above breaking up yet another state.