By Qeerransoo Biyyaa,
Embracing 11 official languages is one of the major breakthroughs that South Africa has achieved after the fall of apartheid and its transition to democracy in 1994. Despite challenges of economic inequality, South Africa rightly prides itself on its linguistic and cultural diversity. See salanguages.com for a complete list of the South African official languages.
In a sharp contrast to the progress in South Africa, successive Ethiopian regimes have violently suppressed the popular demand for more major official languages. Ethiopia remains a one-official-language country; that language is Amharic and is spoken by 32.7% (1994 census) of the country’s population, largely by ethnic Amhara.
Breaking from tradition, Medrek – a consortium of eight opposition parties running for the 2010 Ethiopian Elections – announced its wishes to make Afan Oromo, alongside Amharic, the official working language of the country, reports Opride.Com. Afan Oromo is the third most widely spoken language in Africa after Hausa and Arabic.
While some progressive Amhara parties and politicians may accept the country’s belated move towards adopting multiple official languages to ease the tensions between population groups, conservative Amhara politicians consider such projects as dangerous to Amharic’s hegemonic domination of the country. You can compare Amharic language to Afrikaans, which was forced upon black South Africans and some white South Africans during the apartheid era. Now Afrikaans is one of the official languages.
Hegemonic and power-wielding groups in Ethiopia simply view efforts toward meaningful diversity, such as having multiple official languages as “anti-Ethiopian unity”, “impractical” and “unnecessary.” They may even go the extra mile to punish or get rid of courageous Oromo or non-Oromo politicians who raise such issues.