Ethiopia: Yes to Secularism! Yes to Equality, too! By Dr. Tsegaye Ararsa


While it is necessary to study and carefully analyze what causes this conspicuously small presence of our muslim brethren and sisters in the EPRDF (not sure if it’s any different in the wider Ethiopian politics), one can’t fail to notice this, and we can’t ignore it easily, if we seriously want our politics to allow full participation and representation of ALL our citizens.

It’s absolutely important that we identify the structural factors (political as well as socio-cultural) that wittingly or unwittingly excludes a vast part of our society.

I do believe that the state should remain secular.

But all citizens should have equal opportunity to take part in the political life of their country irrespective their faith.

If there are political or socio-cultural factors inhibiting a group, qua group, from participation (and I believe there are!), that should be properly investigated and corrective measures should be taken accordingly.

Let us not forget that the Ethiopian state has been formally non-secular (not to say deeply religious) until 1974. Ethiopia was a country with a constitutionally sanctioned state religion until at least 1974. There was a pervasive ‘othering’ of muslims in the society. And it was not an accident.

Rectification of this exclusionary past has not yet been done fully–irrespective of the explicit constitutional commitment to do so (in the preamble) and the explicit recognition of the principles of state neutrality and mutual non-interference [of politics in religion and religion in politics] as per Art 11 (which is another way of restating secularism).

Let us not also forget that, in practice, muslims were one of the religious communities most affected by EPRDF’s political meddling in the administration of their mosques and even the doctrines they were teaching their members. I wonder if we forgot how the abusive politico-military interventions EPRDF has been making in the affairs of the muslim communities across the country leading to the incarceration so many of its members and leaders just because they sought their voice to be heard (“????? ???!”) as citizens with full right to freedom of religion, conscience, assembly, and association (arts 27, 29-31).

In the light of all this politically initiated social disequillibrium of the past and power asymmetry in the present, it is important that structural corrective measures are sought for the structural problems.

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