“On the Question of Nationalities in Ethiopia” – A Historical Review of Wallelign Mekonnen’s Article Half a Century Later

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By Yared Tibebu – November 17, 2019

Yared Tibebu


Wallelign Mekonnen’s article “On the Question of Nationalities in Ethiopia” was published 50 years ago today on Nov 17, 1969. From the outset Wallelign admits that “the article suffers from generalizations and inadequate analysis”. It is no exaggeration if I say this five-page article influenced the fate of Ethiopia for the next five decades. It is also important to underline that there has not been a significant discussion and national debate on this article, except for the excerpts that ideologues on both sides used to advance their agendas based on the perceived beliefs.

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  1. It’s an important article. Unfortunately I think that at this time it could be too late for a positive outcome now that the Pandora’s box of institutionalized tribalism embedded in the constitution is fully open.

    Now all the demons are out and I see no fix because the incentives favor the most extremists, but I would be happy to be wrong.

  2. Were I to assume that the notion of sovereigns within a sovereign is what is here being presented as the red monster in the room, will I be deemed out of step with reality, were I to postulate that the red monster is less likely to walk out of the room, to go and commit suicide? The article bewails the lack of equality among the sovereigns as an argument against. However, shouldn’t variations among sovereigns the order, though not the rule? Are sovereigns meant to be of the same height? Is it not true that some will have to be short, others tall? Some big and strong, existing side by side with the small and the frail? Why is that wrong? What is at issue? Is it stature or status?

  3. The issue is basing federalism on ethnicity in a country with 80 ethnic groups: it’s a recipe for chaos and incentives ethnic cleanings and abuses of power.
    I am all in favor of federalism not only at the regional level but even down to town and village-level self-determination and self-government, but the civilized way to realize it is basing it on residence, not on blood/ancestry.

  4. Dear Yared,
    Your article gives us a real insight into the causes of the present crisis we are facing now. However, this shallow intractable theory of Wallelign is not new information for the Ethiopians viewers; the Ethiopians are aware well about Wallelign’s rhetorical theory where the TPLF implemented his extreme ideas as the policy to run the country which, made the country divide into mini-state that engages in an endless war where is happening today. As a matter of fact, the TPLF used his article to target the Amharas ethnic group and no one denies this.
    Dear writer, I did not find your objections in your article that the dangerousness of Wallelign’s delusional thought about Ethiopian culture facts. You seemed you were agreed back in days with Wallelign’s notion and am not sure if you agreed or not. If you did not agree or believe with Wallelign’s articles that he wrote about “Nation and Nationality.” why would you take so long to acquaint to a vast majority Ethiopians his preposterous suggestion. The reason I am questioning you because it is too late bringing Wallelign’s article to people’s attention at this point in time.

  5. As as young kid from the east who was just about start in school when these debates were raging,but later affected profoundly their outcome I somewhat appreciate this piece. I heard about these personalities and their rhetorics but never got a time to read. One thing I disagree though is that there wasn’t institutional discrimination, agaibst some ethinics or nationalities. There wasespecially in the government and institutions thought subtitle and systemic. Is it solved or addressed today those grievancs today? Not necessarily.

  6. As as young kid from the east who was just about to start in school when these debates were raging,but later affected profoundly by their outcome, I somewhat appreciate this piece. I heard about these personalities and their rhetorics but never got a time to read. One thing I disagree with though is that there wasn’t institutional discrimination, agaibst some ethnicies or nationalities. There was especially in the government and national institutions though subtitle and systemic. Is it solved or addressed those grievancs today? Not necessarily.

  7. The reality is that, the voice and the conscience are not those of a single entity. The question is: who do you take to court if the stomachs turn sour? Is it the guy who made the recipe? Or the cook who mixed the ingredients of that recipe to produce a meal? Is it those who served the meal? Or those who ate the food, whose stomachs have since turned sour?

    It’s pointless to call for a dessert if there was no appetizer. But suppose there was an appetizer? Then what? Then it would come down to whether the menu was made available to those who ate the food? In other words, was there a Referendum that ushered in the new system? And if there was such a thing as a Referendum, then it can’t be the faulty of the guy who concocted the recipe.

    Should we not learn to accept blame, even if it should be that we are the ones paying the price for it?

  8. “what is this genuine national-state? It is a state in which all nationalities participate equally in state affairs, it is a state where every nationality is given equal opportunity to preserve and develop its language, its music and its history. It is a state where Amharas, Tigres, Oromos, Aderes [Harari], Somalis, Wollamos [Wolaytas], Gurages, etc. are
    treated equally. It is a state where no nation dominates another nation be it economically or culturally.”

    ‘A unified Ethiopia will save its ethnicities, that Wallelign wrongly called nations, from relentless warfare and create mutual loyalty based on the shared history of resisting colonialism and Fascism. I believe a multi ethnic federation is possible as long as we dedicate ourselves to a
    common nation state called Ethiopia where every citizen lives anywhere in the country with full economic and political rights.’

    የመጀመርያው ጥቅስ አንተው ያስቀመጥከው የዋለልኙ genuin አባባል ሲሆን፣ የታችኛው ደግሞ ያንተ የስምንት ገፆችህ መደምደምያ አባባልህ ነው፣ ዋናው ነጥብህ ethnicities እንጂ nations መባል የለባቸውም ነው!

    ልክ EPRP እና Meisone ልዩነቶቻችን ብለው ‘ላብ አደር’ እና ‘ወዝ አደር’ እንዳሉት አይነት ነገር ሆኖ ተሰማኝ::

    ከዚህ በላይ ግን በአሁኑ ጊዜ መታየት የጀመሩት እንደ፣
    1.የሲዳማ ራስን በራስ ለማስተዳደር ሰላማዊ ምርጫ መከተልና፣ እንዲሁም
    2. አፋርኛ፣ አማርኛ፣ ኦሮምኛ፣ ሶማሊኛ እና ትግርኛ እንደ ብሄራዊ ቋንቋዎች ሆነው መመደብ(ቀስ እያሉ ገና ሌሎቹም ይከተላሉ) ለወደፊቱ ትክክለኛ የነዋለልኝን መንገድ ተከትለን በUnity in diversity ጉዞ ተቃቅፈን እንድንበለፅግ እንደሚጠቅሙን እንተማመንና እንስራ!

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