Ethiopia is a home to more than 6 million Somalis. The Somali language is the third largest language in Ethiopia. As a matter of fact about 50 per cent of all Somalis in the world live in Ethiopia.
The Somali impact on the social, political and cultural landscape of the Ethiopian state is not yet very noticeable, but this has to do with the fact that most political power is centred in Addis Ababa, the capital city located about 1,000 kilometres from Jigjiga, the regional Capital of Ethiopian Somali regional state. But there can be no doubt that with the growth of urbanization in the country, the Somali impact on Ethiopian culture will increase.
Another factor that is very important to bear in mind is that the economies and ecologies of the Ethiopian highlands and the Somali plains are complementary. The Somalis need the highlands as much as the Ethiopian highlanders stand to benefit from access to the Somali plains. The Ethiopian highlands are geographically speaking hinterlands of Somalia.
One of the most repeated criticisms to my lecture during the Somali Studies congress was that the Somali region was not an equal partner with Ethiopia of today. Many of those who attended the lecture mentioned that any such talk of unity between Somalia and Ethiopia was an invitation for Ethiopia to swallow Somalia.
But there were others who pointed out (perhaps with a touch of humour) that the Somalis, being who they are, might in an eventual union take over the Ethiopian state and infuse it with Somali culture.
The question of unity between the neighbouring states and between member states of the African Union has been on the agenda, at least theoretically since the formation of the African Union in 2000. In my view, Somali and Ethiopian scholars need to dwell upon the type of union between the two societies.
The experience that the former British Somaliland (now Somaliland) has gained and the political entities in the process of establishment ought to function as inspirational formulae for the slow but hopefully steady construction of a union between Somalia and Ethiopia.
It is not a question of Ethiopia swallowing Somalia, rather it is a vision where Somalia and its inhabitants (organised in several sovereign states) can live and thrive in harmony with Ethiopia whose economy, culture, and geography are complementary to that of Somalia.
I have no idea what would be the type of union that the peoples of the two societies would and could construct. And no one can spell out the contours of such union. What we can aspire to at this moment is to create a consensus on the idea of an eventual union and begin the long search for the modalities. I would like to conclude by suggesting that, as a first step, the Somali Studies International Association considers organising a special congress under the theme “Exploring union between the Somali and Ethiopian peoples”.
Relevant networks around the Horn of Africa and its diasporas such as the International Journal of Ethiopian Studies and the Institute for Horn of Africa Studies and Affairs might be approached for collaboration as well.
Although I am aware that the diaspora of both societies have a long way to go in harnessing the positive sides of the internet, I also believe that the diaspora have an important educative role in the framing of the future based on the multitude of factors that favour peaceful coexistence and eventual union
Source:- Tekeste Negash
The author is Professor Emeritus of history at Uppsala University, Sweden. He is the author of Italian colonialism in Eritrea, 1987 (reprinted 1997); Eritrea and Ethiopia: The Federal Experience, 1997; Brothers at War: Making sense of the Eritrea-Ethiopian war, 1998‒2000, 2000; Woven into the tapestry: How five women shaped Ethiopian history, 2016. He and his life-partner, Berit Sahlström, have three daughters and five grandchildren. He lives in Malmö, Sweden.