Askew Identity

The Ethiopian identity is built upon what is said to belong to us or has been stolen, things we have yet to reclaim. But when the premise of our identity is focused so much on what we have never experienced, there arises a conflict to our identity.

The result of always looking at a past, or a possible future, and believing that it is a glory to be reclaimed, prompts people to carry out all kinds of mischief.

Why does it matter where an administrative demarcation lies, as long as it is merely administrative? Yet that is not what it is, is it?

Our rhetoric and actions should remind us that Ethiopians have not thought through who they are, and why they do what they do. This does not concern our affairs today only, but throughout the centuries that have given us traditional practices. Ethiopians, those in either the capital or rural towns, do not adequately understand the past and present.

At about the time there was unrest in mid-June this year at the Southern Nations, Nationalities & People’s Region (SNNPR), people had come out to celebrate a traditional holiday. Some had spears with them, which they later used to pry through cobblestones.

Imagine the idea of using traditional tools to dismantle current progress?

However one may feel about a country’s situation, one must look within oneself. We must ask whether we are individuals that share a common history, tradition and citizenship or a mere cog within society. My mother often says people think and live socially.

This is why we have strayed so far from who we are or what we could be. We focus on the trivialities of our existence.

The other day, a man was arguing that English proficiency should not be taken as a measure of one’s intelligence, which is correct. Yet in this context, he had mentioned this fact without being provoked. No one’s intelligence or language proficiency was in question. It was his own insecurity that prompted him to share this fact.

It was akin to some of those people that write on their Facebook pages, “I don’t care what people think about me.”

Would we care to share that information if we really did not care what people thought of us?

We want to evoke an “Ethiopian” meaning out of many situations, although they do not have the connotation some Ethiopians wish them to have. There is always that sense of exclusion that comes tied together.

It is the misunderstanding of our own culture that alienates us from embracing it and building an inclusive future. We build into our own insecurities issues that need to be addressed personally. It is from the simple acts that bother us to those that we like.

For instance, that signs in English are more prevalent than Oromiffa in public institutions in Addis Abeba is baffling. Nonetheless, despite what should have been common sense, it morphs into a political debate which recycles itself without purpose.

Or it could be baby showers, a custom-made famous in the United States, that has become a trend in the capital. Genfoceremonies make more sense. The act of gathering around a new mother and making sure she is well fed and surrounded by those who love her, decreases the chance of postpartum depression. As new mothers can feel socially isolated, these traditions keep their energies high.

There is nothing wrong with doing something new or old. The problem is with performing them without intuition. It is in the ability to reason out the pros and cons of our actions, and the traditional ties we are reluctant to let go of despite their harmful effects.

Our identity is beyond our history. It is what we are today and what we choose to become. The government cannot be responsible for every single incident that takes place across the country if we are not willing to take responsibility for our actions. Ethiopia is for all of us. It would help to think about what that means to us individually and our efforts.


By Hanna Haile (
Hanna is an Ethiopian writer and social worker. She is one of the organizers of Poetic Saturdays at Fendika Cultural Centre in Addis Abeba and at Terara Bar & Kitchen in Hawassa, where a stage is open to those who celebrate art through performances on the first and second Saturday of each month.

Published on Aug 18,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 955]



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