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The Interview – Jawar Mohammed

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In this lengthy interview with Jawar Mohammed, The Addis Standard Quarterly Journal (ASQJ) Issue #2 raised questions that Jawar has not been asked in the past from his move to promote “progressive patriotism” for state viability, to the danger of the ruling class’s indeterminate oscillation between multi-culturalism and multi-nationalism, to the cost of Ethiopia’s administrative collapse on the national army, and the rising entrenchment of the political economy of conflict in Oromia and beyond.

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Is the notion of an old history of statehood or ‘a resilient state’ a guarantee against state collapse in Ethiopia?

Jawar argues that “in his latest book, Loom of Time, published last year, Robert D. Kaplan argues that a long history of statehood gives countries a robust capacity to withstand the shock from internal politico-military strife and violence. Samuel P. Huntington also makes a similar argument in his 1968 book, Political Order in Changing Societies, that ancient states possess inherent resilience, and even mentions Ethiopia as a typical example. The evidence presented in these and other literature is that a longer history of statehood allows countries to build robust bureaucracy, versatile institutions, and greater capacity for revenue collection and territorial control.” 

“However, we should be careful not to get carried away with this argument. A longer history of statehood might have contributed to making some states more resilient than others but does not grant them carte blanche protection against state collapse.”

Ethiopia’s endeavor to secure maritime access needs comprehensive planning, confidence-building measures, and an anchor narrative that centers on regional integration

Jawar on Ethiopia’s quest for sea access

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In his lengthy article published last year arguing about the next phase of the Oromo struggle, Jawar advocated for changing narratives, and suggested the adoption of “progressive patriotism”. What does he mean by “progressive patriotism” in the context of the current Ethiopian politics? 

Jawar responded with a lengthy explanation of the “centrifugal and centripetal forces” that have shaped Ethiopian politics of the past half-century.

“We need to move away from both romanticizing or downplaying ethnicity, as well as fetishizing the state. Instead, we should try to find a realistic middle ground. So long as politics is a group business, ethnicity will continue to serve as a readily available means of political mobilization. For a country such as ours, with a complex and highly contentious past, embodied with diverse linguistic, cultural, and material interests as well as territorial contestations, it is unrealistic to expect our politics to be completely devoid of ethnic predispositions. Since pluralism cannot be eliminated from our politics, our realistic alternative is to manage it. 

“At the same time, we must also be careful not to take ethnicity as the alpha and omega of politics…”

The ruling class under the Prosperity Party has abandoned the foundational ideological principles of the struggles of the Oromo and other nations that aspired to build Ethiopia as a multinational state and shifted instead towards building a unified, albeit multicultural nation-state.

Jawar provides clarity by saying “the Prosperity Party’s strategy for managing pluralism has not been clear or consistent so far. Much to the confusion of many observers and analysts, PP leaders have been expediently alternating between signaling to bring back the unitary system of the past and preserving the existing multinational federal arrangement. Most recently, they have expressed the desire to build a ‘multicultural state.’”

He explains at length how a radical departure from Ethiopia’s multinational federalism is bound to create more problems than solutions to the current crisis.

In a recent interview with a local TV, Jawar likened the current state of Ethiopia to “anocracy”, notwithstanding whether that was the right metaphor to describe Ethiopia, can the same be said about the current nationwide economic trajectory?

Ethiopia is undergoing a transition from the state-led developmental economy of the EPRDF government to an economy of a parastatal bourgeois class controlled by a few people with intimate links to the ruling class. What does he think of that?

For combatants accustomed to directly accessing lucrative resources, would benefits offered by DDR programs be sufficient to abandon insurgency and integrate into civilian life?

Jawar on the rising trend of political economy of conflict in Ethiopia

Other topics discussed included the downs and ups of a constitutional amendment, bringing in a presidential system, the rise and rise of the political economy of conflict in Oromia and other parts of Ethiopia, and the threat that poses to efforts to bring negotiated settlement to peace talks.

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