The Genesis of Ethno-nations in Ethiopia: A Critical Appraisal

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Yared Debebe
Busha Taa
Sisay Mengestie


The genesis and evolution of the idea of ethno-nation in Ethiopia occupy the larger dis- cussion of the nationalism scholarship. The “settler vs. indigenous”, “nefetegna vs. serf”, “colonizer vs. colonized”, “oppressor vs. oppressed”, and other dichotomies have been do- ing unimaginable mischief in the nation-building endeavor in Ethiopia.  At the crux of the problem lays history and its contested interpretation to satisfy the ideology and program of certain political groups such as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Oromo Lib- eration Front (OLF).   This article aimed to critically analyze the origin and the development of ethno-nations in Ethiopia. Four explanations could be provided as to the emergence of ethnonational groups or at least an “ethnic factor” in Ethiopian political history. First, the coronation of Tewodros II and the ousting of the Yejju dynasty; second, the presumption of the existence of independent “nation-states” prior to Menelik’s“unification” undertaking in the second half of the 19th century; third, the Italian colonial policy that amplified and co-opted ethnic and religious differences; fourth— the transformation and crystallization stage, the Ethiopian Students Movement’s (ESM) relentless activism of the national question and the institutionalization of “national oppression thesis” in the dawn of the TigrayPeo- ple’s Liberation Front/Ethiopia People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front era. Apart from these contending explanations, this paper argues that ethno-nation(s) in Ethiopia are the discursive formations constituted in and through contentious and hegemonic discourses of the 20th century.

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