Press Conference of Blderas and Others Inaugurated chiefly with Menelikan violence, the Ethiopian state that was consolidated by Haileselassie I was always a work in progress. The nation-building project was always an unfinished project. The imperial state had a Coptic Christian self-image (and the Emperor was, by law, the defender of the Holy Orthodox faith since 1955). The state was projected as mono-confessional, but the people are multi-confessional. In fact, the large majority of people professed and practised other faiths such as Islam, Judaism, Waaqeefanna and numerous other traditional African religions. The state was monolingual, but the country was multilingual. The State was projected as mono-cultural (as having the culture of the Amhara-Tigryan civilizational continuum) but the country was obviously a country of diverse culture. The State projected homogeneity, but the lives of the peoples suggested heterogeneity. Political power was hierarchically organized at the helm of which are members of the Amhara-Tigryan ruling class and at the bottom of which, if at all visible, are some of the ‘other’ peoples. Physically, the State inhabited the garrison towns (Ketema) that later became ‘urban’ centers. The vast majority of the people lived in the rural villages. The State’s economic base was the land and agricultural produce of the newly incorporated ‘other’ peoples, but these same people are not only excluded from any political decision-making (which was unlikely even for the northern peasant anyway!) but also depended on the mercy of the northern governors or their local ‘chiefs’ (balabat) for access to economic facilities and opportunities such as land. Even in its modernizing instinct, the imperial State built social services (such as schools, roads, and hospitals) around the state bureaucracy and military/security institutions in the garrison towns. But the local peoples of these towns and their surroundings hardly had access to these facilities. In other words, these services were self-serving. The semblance of laws that are applied are applied mostly in favor of the elite in the towns (just like European laws applied in favor of white settlers and not/against the locals). There was another law for the ‘others’ of the Ethiopian State. The state was thus projected as having sovereignty and exclusive jurisdiction over all sorts of disputes in the territory -with all the grandeur of legal centralism – but the diverse peoples of the country had their own distinct laws and dispute resolution mechanisms over which their own wise men (often the elders) asserted their jurisdiction (the right to speak the law, literally). The tension between the state’s legal centralist pretensions and the country’s obvious legal pluralist content was already visible even in the era of Ethiopia’s age of codification (via legal transplantation). When the Revised constitution was “given” in 1955, in part it was meant to reconstitute Ethiopia and its State in the light of the newly (re)united Eritrea and in part to fully integrate the ‘other’ peoples of Ethiopia (especially those in the peripheries) into the Empire. In a decade’s time, Eritrea’s autonomy was eroded gradually before it was eventually rescinded altogether by systematically pushing the Eritrean Parliament to abolish itself and reunite Eritrea completely with the empire in 1962. (In this, one finds a genealogical parallel between this manipulation and control of ‘autonomy’ by the centre and the contemporary manipulation and control of the States of the Ethiopian federation through the Ministry of Federal Affairs, the Federal Police, the Federal Security, and the EPRDF’s Advisor’s to the State governments.) The act of “annexing” Eritrea provoked an armed struggle for the Eritrean independence. The resistance to Abyssinian hegemony and political ‘deconstruction’ of the Ethiopian Imperial State was thus started before even the completion of the nation and state-building process. The peasant resistance movements in Tigray (in the aftermath of the Ethio-Italian war) and Gojam preceded the Eritrean movement, but their grievance wasn’t expressed in the form of seeking independence. The Bale Oromo resistance of the mid and late 1960s was more an expression of resentment to imperial hegemony but it was also limited in its national aspiration to delegitimize Ethiopia and break away from it. Nevertheless, these movements indicated the tensions at the heart of the state form and revealed the foretaste of the direction politics will take in the subsequent years . Disenchantment with Empire, and critique of the ‘Ethiopian’ mask The disenchantment of the newly educated class with the Monarch and the modernizing capacity and pace of his imperial State led to the 1960 attempted coup d’etat of the Neway brothers (General Mengistu Neway of the Imperial Body Guard and his brother Germame Neway). A similar disenchantment of the university and college students of the 1960s was already expressing itself in the form of writings, demonstrations, and protests by this time. At the start, they used class as their unit of analysis and sought the solution in the resolution of the contradiction between the nascent ‘feudo-bourgeois’ class and the poor peasant and emerging proletarian class. At the same time, questions directly pointing to the unfinished nature of the nation-building project, its illegitimate beginnings, violent inauguration, and its oppressive manifestations (unscrupulous domination, continuous marginalization, unabated exploitation, coercive assimilation and cultural denigration, and its unbearable systematic social violence) started to rear their head among the more informed and the more radical student leaders. By 1969, the ‘national question’ had become one of the topics that preoccupied the student body . The ‘question’, as formulated by Wallelign Mekonnen, indicted the ‘fake Ethiopian nationalism’ that was merely a mask of Amhara-Tigriyan nationalism . By so doing, Wallelign’s critique revealed the shortcomings of the Ethiopian State to be inclusive or representative of all the peoples residing in its territory. It exposed the deficit in equality, inclusion, and representation. For Wallelign, Ethiopian (state) nationalism was merely a mask for Amhara-Tigriyan ethnocracy that passes for a universal pan-Ethiopian patriotism . Wallelign had also suggested the principle of self-determination as a corrective to this deficit and the injustice thereof. The moral gesture in favor of self-determination was of course more instrumental than essential, as national self-determination was to be pursued to dismantle the infrastructure of imperial hierarchy thereby paving the way for a socialist redistributive State. Moreover, by interrogating the mainstream state nationalist narrative, his critique, perhaps unwittingly, de-centered the Amhara-Tigryan cultural code that formed the core of Ethiopian nationalism and exposed the moral vacuity of this nationalism in and of itself. It exposed the hollowness of the constitutive components that make the Ethiopian State home to all who reside in it. The question of what constitutes Ethiopia—and who the Ethiopian is—remains to be an open-ended question until now. To date, apart from the Southern (and more pointedly the Oromo) discourse that seeks to disarticulate what wrongly passes for ‘Ethiopian nationalism’ (which is heavily resented by the ‘other’ peoples in the wider South), there is hardly any systematic attempt to articulate the constitutive principles of EthiopiaEthiopia will “fully accept and implement” a peace agreement with Eritrea that was signed in 2000, its ruling coalition announced on Tuesday. The Horn of Africa neighbours have remained at odds since a 1998-2000 war over a disputed town that a boundary commission subsequently handed to Asmara but which Addis Ababa rejected. Asmara has long felt betrayed by world powers, who they say failed to force Ethiopia, now with a population of 97 million, to abide by the boundary arbitration ruling. Ethiopia long said it wanted talks on implementation, which Asmara refused. displayAdvert("mpu_3") The war between the two Horn of Africa nations, often plagued by famine and drought and among the world’s poorest countries, erupted in May 1998 when Eritrea invaded what Ethiopia considered its territory. Tens of thousands of soldiers died in brutal, sporadic fighting and tens of thousands were taken prisoner or displaced from their homes before a ceasefire took hold in June. Eritrea, on the Red Sea coast, was a province of Ethiopia, its much larger landlocked neighbour to the south, before winning its independence by referendum in 1993, with Ethiopian support.