By Tuji Jidda
It is a bit surprising to find out that the celebrated 2010 Ethiopia’s Election Code of Conduct happened to be a direct word-by-word Amharic translation of the English version of the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) document (see gadaa.com). This shows that the document was not, as FDD-Medrek expressed its concern, really a negotiable bill. Rather it was political gimmick the PM Meles’s TPLF/EPRDF ruling party has been playing for months for simple reason of public relations consumption.
Whenever a bill is adopted in any country, it is a customary practice to harmonize other countries/institutions experience with objective political realities on the ground. Cutting and copying documents in a country where major political issues never been open for discussion have undeniable flaws. This specially holds true when it comes to Oromia and Harari States.
Let us see, for example, the would-be controversies surrounding the direct adoption of Article 8-Language, sub article 2(a) of the code of conduct in Ethiopian political context. The full article reads as follows.
1. A party that has subscribed to this Code shall –
(a) organize and conduct its election campaign in a manner that contributes toward a congenial and peaceful atmosphere during the campaign period, the polling, the counting, and the post-election period; and
(b) act with a sense of responsibility and dignity befitting its status.
2. Speakers at political rallies will avoid using language that –
(a) is inflammatory, or defamatory; or
(b) Threatens or incites violence in any form against any other person or group of persons.
3. A party that has subscribed to this Code will not issue, either officially or anonymously, pamphlets, newsletters or posters containing language or material that threatens or incites violence.
Taken at face value, this article looks as if it has no controversial issues for conventional thinkers. When it comes to Ethiopian politics however, some frequently used key political words or languages have different meaning in different languages/ethnic groups of Ethiopia. They may also have hidden/double meanings when used mixing with Geez language or interpreted in ‘gold and wax’ sense or seen in the context of historical background of the country. Here are some examples.
Regarding the word Woyane and Sha’abiya
Most people don’t precisely know wether this widely and frequently used words has inflammatory or defamatory political meaning. They don’t even know its equivalent translation in either Amharic or Afan Oromo though most feel that it has sensitive political language of Tigrigna origin. The Tigreans use the word positively and interchangeably or as synonym with TPLF but only among themselves. For example, there is a website and radio station by the name ‘Wayane’. The meaning of it or the word Woyane seems, however, as having pejorative tone when used by non-Tigre Ethiopians. Starting from the Derg time, it was associated with destruction, narrow nationalism, terrorism and secessionism. Similar arguments can be made for the Arabic word Sha’abiya that is used to describe the EPLF of Eritrea. Therefore, the real meanings of these languages need to be known.
Regarding the Abyssinianized/baptized names of Oromia towns
Most Abyssinians still stick deliberately to calling a number of towns in Oromia using both inflammatory and defamatory names imposed during the Abyssinianization process. For example, Abyssinians refer to Adama as Nazreth, Bishoftu as Debre-Zeit, Ciro as Asebe-Teferi, Harayaya as Alemaya, Ambo as Hagere-Hiwot, Walisoo as Ghion. Using these political wordings reminds and ignites a resentful sentiment of untold atrocities committed by war criminal Abyssinian leaders, namely Tewodros, Yohannes, Menelik, H. Silassie with their Ras’s and Dejazmaches, under the disguise of the legacy of forefathers against the ever oppressed overwhelming majority non-Abyssinians. Ethiopians should agree on the real names for cities and use the Original Oromo names in all languages consistantly.
Interchangeable use of the name Abyssinia and Ethiopia
Obfuscating the meaning of Abyssinia as ancient name of current Ethiopia or Biblical Ethiopia, thereby promoting hidden racism/nationalism as if it has same interchangeable meaning, is absolutely unacceptable and politically inflammatory language that needs clarity.
There are a number of frequently used sensitive political languages that need to be discussed and codified when drafting such type of election code of conduct. As malicious as the whole “code of conduct” is, one may ask, why the inflammatory and defamatory language is incorporated in the code of conduct? The code also does not attempt to elaborately differentiate how the government monopolized mass-media would be used for election campaigns, by both ruling and opposition parties. In addition, there is no article that ascertains the neutrality of election administrators.
The bottom line is that the language thing would be a widely used tactic for attacking oppositions who raise some political and social issues mentioned above. Most probably, the ruling party will label them as using undefined and confusing languages that had never been open for discussion.
These commonly used labeling languages includes; this is narrow nationalism; this is chauvinism; that is anti-unity; this is inflammatory and the like. If the language issue is not clearly defined before hand, it is likely to make opposition political parties, their members and supporters prey to vicious attack/intimidation campaigns unless they exercise self-censorship as usual.