Opinion

Ethiopia: Messay Kebede Got It Wrong on the ‘Right to Self-Determination’


By Labsa Shaggar*

Participants in Discussions? Or Minstrel Show Performers?
I raised the above questions to respond to Messay Kebede’s article titled “On the Right to Self – Determination.” In his article, Messay has stated that his article is a public reaction to a long email sent to him by an Oromo interlocutor. An interlocutor is “a participant in discussion, or a performer in a minstrel show who acts as the master of ceremonies and stands in the middle, and banter with the end men.” Is this discussion or a concert?

At the surface, the article seems laden with the second alternative meaning, i.e., the sense of “minstrel show performer.” As it is revealed on the article, Messay and the so-called Oromo interlocutor perform a theatrical show standing in the middle of their correspondence and acting as masters on an overarching political issue of “the right to self-determination.” Messay mocks at the “interlocutor”, by writing: “though the author claims not to be a representative of the OLF, I am not convinced to what extent his views differ from the official position of the organization.”

Further, he wrote that his purpose was less to respond to his interlocutor than to propose some general reflections. If both Messay and the “interlocutor’’ were participants in discussion, then what motivated Messay for a “public reaction?” Is that the behavior that Professor Donald Levine calls “an intrusive and biting”? Is that the politics of denial that is the habitual way of the Habasha elites? Is that the will to entertain old mentalities with “the habit of the heart”? Posing these questions for readers, let us now turn to the content of Messay’s article. He calls it “general reflection.

”The main point among his so-called general reflection is the serious fallacy of attempting to solely attach the principles of self-determination to Stalin. He wrote: “the defenders of the right to self-determination have rejected everything of Stalin (Lenin and the Soviet Union), except their view of nations and nationalities.” He wrote that this “amazes most.” What amazes me the most is Messay Kebede himself. I am amazed at him for two reasons. One is his past career. The other is the emptiness of his argument.


If Messay Kebede is the one I know, a teacher of “Marxist-Leninist Philosophy” in Addis; the one who had been advocating his teaching as more scientific than sciences; the one who had lived on the earnings from that same vocation; and the one who had brainwashed hundreds of students for a decade or more with that ideology; then his aforementioned statement is amazing. If this Messay Kebede is not the one I know, then I beg your pardon on this point.

The second amazing point is the emptiness of his argument. He presents his argument as if self-determination is a Stalinist doctrine. This kind of presentation is totally erroneous as well as deceptive.

The fact is that, historically, the concept of the “principles of self determination” has been developed, in large part, shortly after the end of the Second World War. It was first coined by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Then the idea of self-determination was underpinned by International Law and enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. To be specific, Article 1 (2) of the United Nations Charter, drawn up in 1945, stipulates that the UN is to “develop a friendly relationship among nations based on respect of the principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples and to take other measures to strengthen universal peace.”

Subsequently, the principle of self-determination was recognized in two key United Nations’ General Assembly Resolutions adopted in 1960 and 1970. The UN Resolution adopted in 1960 –Resolution 1514- provides that “all people have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” In addition, UN Resolution 2625 that was adopted in 1970 widely restated the already existing principles of Customary International Law and provided similar provisions. Both resolutions principally addressed the issue of self-determination for non-self-governing peoples and territories. Both recognize that peoples of colonial states and territories administered by alien powers have a right to decide their status.

Further, the principles of self-determination were embedded in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) of the 1966. These covenants affirmed self-determination as a “right of peoples” and guaranteed it by treaty laws. The Common provisions of the covenants under Article 1 read as follows:

1. All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural rights.
2. All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their national wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic cooperation, based upon the principles of mutual benefit and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.
3. The states parties to the present covenant, including those having responsibility for the administration of Non-Self-Governing and Trust Territories, shall promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and shall respect that right, in conformity with the provision of the Charter of the United Nation.

Besides these international treaties, the right to self-determination has been affirmed by plentiful regional human rights instruments, declarations, and resolutions. For instance: African (Banjul) Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights, adopted on June 27, 1981, affirms under Article 20 (1) that: “all peoples shall have the right to existence. They shall have the unquestionable and inalienable right to self-determination. They shall freely determine their political status and shall pursue their economic and social development according to the policy they have freely chosen.”

Moreover, the right to self determination is part and parcel of human rights. Building upon the principles stipulated under Article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), self-determination is about all the three generations of human rights:

• The first generation of rights, Articles 3-21 of UDHR and the ICCPR, that are civil and political in nature;
• The second generation of rights, Articles 22-27 and the ICESCR, that are economic, social, and cultural; and
• The third generation of rights, Article 28 and demands that are drawn upon the first two generations of rights.

Further, practically, through self-determination scores of conquered and occupied nations and colonized peoples have freed themselves from the shackles of alien domination.

Irrespective of all these widely acknowledged historical, legal, political and practical hard facts, Messay begins his “public reaction” with misleading ideas and offers an unacceptable advice for “…the refusal of self-determination….” Recognizing that self-determination is about fundamental rights wrought in the core instruments stated herein above, what does Messay’s agitation against it imply? The implication can be nostalgia of the Amaranization policies of the 70+ nations and nationalities by the triple forces of “mekuanent, mesafint, and kahenat.” It can be longing for dominance. It can be intense desire for hegemonic empire. Or, conversely, it can be a call for the abolition of minority rights. But, such a political stance must be called by its name: reactionary, undemocratic and anti-human and peoples’ rights. The Amhara elites need to conduct soul searching. As members of a “dominant minority group”, they need to reflect on their political history, fairy-tales, review the wrongs of their establishment and shift their way of thinking and self-definition. Even if it is bitter, they must swallow that this era is the era of identity politics. They must understand the renewed legitimacy this era of identity has brought to the ideals of democratic self-determination. They must take note of the fact of the de-legitimation of the notions of suzerainty and hegemonic control.

Jumping from one invalid argument to another, Messay suggests “…to reject the usage of the terms ‘nations and nationalities’” and recommends, instead, the usage of “ethnic groups.” Here again, Messay reveals his detachment from realities, lack of intellectual integrity and breadth of thought, and a concern for public issues. The terms Messay wants to discard away at his will and whim carry meanings. More than literally meanings, they have extensive political, sociological and anthropological concepts. In contravention with these scientific concepts, the Amhara elites (including Messay) have for long been scornfully labeling the terms “nation, nationality and ethnie” (to use the French term) as “gossa”, which is the equivalent of ‘tribe and/or clan’. Now, Messay and his likes want to ban the usage of the terms nations and nationalities and replace them with ethnic groups. The intention behind this is clear: demeaning the concepts attached to the terms and belittling them to the lowest forms of human developmental stages. In so doing, the Amhara élites emulate white colonialists, who used to describe political malfunctions in Africa as “tribal” problems to assert the lesser evolution, development and humanity of Africans; to portray the picture of a people without culture, and without history in order to justify colonialism. As that was racist and ahistorical, so is the attempt of Messay to reduce nations to ethnic groups.

To conclude, this kind of thought is rigid and unchangeable. In the recent past, fool outcry of the type has become immense. It is not clear what made them so noisy with so much scale. Yes, the crime of Woyane is enormous. But, reactionary ideas can not make it right.

* Labsa Shaggar can be reached at labsashaggar@yahoo.com.

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RELATED: Messay Kebede’s Article “On the Right to Self-Determination” can be found here.

Source : Gadaa.com

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