Challenges and Opportunities for Multiculturalism in Ethiopia

Awareness of Ethiopia’s multicultural diversity is necessary for peaceful coexistence and cooperation amongst its nations, nationalities and peoples. Cultural diversity can be an opportunity, but often also remains a source of conflict. The promotion of peace and respect vis-à-vis other’s people’s cultures is essential in order to enable Ethiopia to continue to surge ahead along it’s developmental path.

The interdisciplinary scientific and societal discourse about the possible challenges of a multicultural society must be fostered. Therefore, the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung (FES) and Mekelle University co-organized a “National Conference on Multiculturalism and Peacebuilding in Ethiopia: Challenges and Opportunities” on June 9, 2017.

During his opening remarks, Dr. Kindya Gebrehiwot, Dean of Mekelle University, underlined the importance and relevance of this dialogue. It is of particular importance because the ethnic-based federalism in Ethiopia must cope with migration-led pressure. Multiculturalism should be inclusive without being assimilative. Fiseha Haftesion, senior researcher at the FDRE Policy Study and Research Center (PSRC) pointed out that, as per his understanding, Ethiopia is not multi-ethnic but is a multinational country. He went on to further emphasize the importance of appropriate linguistic consideration. Dr. Asefa Fishea, Director of the Center of Federalism at the Addis Ababa University, reflected on different forms of multiculturalism from a historic perspective. He highly recommended that a so-called “new liberal multiculturalism”, which respects group rights as well as individual rights be put in place. This would reflect as to how ethnic or cultural-based cleavages overshadow economic and political injustices between the peoples. Other speakers confronted these theoretical concepts with concrete case analyses and shed light on some important contradictions between aspirations and reality.

As the Horn of Africa is a highly volatile region, the discussion also included a debate on the importance of external security threats to the domestic political developments in Ethiopia. This was especially illustrated by Dr. Getchew Zeru who emphasized the consequences for Ethiopia of a failed nation building in South Sudan.

The Friedrich-Ebert Foundation appreciates the huge interest of the 170 participants who contributed to the lively discussions on this essential issue for the development of the nation.