National Building and Security

by Yohannes Gebresellasie (Ph.d) Addis Ababa: The Ethiopian Army has always in the past and also in the future will continue to play a pivotal role in the nation building and for that it must emerge as a national symbol and represent the nation’s unique characteristics which is ‘Unity in Diversity. The military virtues of sacrifice, loyalty and discipline have always remained and must serve as objects of veneration for the rest of the nation. The Army has always remained the corner stone of Nation Building and the armed forces have proved to be amongst the most important national institutions ensuring security of the nation so that we could transform our country into a democratic and plural society.
The Ethiopian Defense Force has been a firm believer that it will continue to play a pivotal role towards Nation building and today the Ethiopian Defense Force holds the same belief of its continued relevance as Ethiopia shapes its destiny as it increasingly gains greater stature in the comity of the Ethiopian Nations, Nationalities and Peoples. Firstly, what does Nation Building imply? Originally, nation-building referred to the efforts of newly-independent nations, notably the nations of Asia and Africa, to reshape territories that had been carved out by colonial powers or Empires without regard to ethnic, religious, or other boundaries. These reformed states later on became viable and coherent national entities because of their nation building efforts aimed at establishing a national identity for themselves. This was needed to be deliberately constructed by molding different ethnic groups into a nation, especially since in many newly established states colonial practices of divide and rule had resulted in ethnically heterogeneous populations.

Today in a globalized and interdependent world Nation-building has become even more relevant. Nation states are political units in an international system and they represent the citizens aspiration to be grouped in a single political unit that would in turn act as an instrument to achieve, life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. So the process of Nation Building by any nation aims at the unification of the people within the state so that it remains politically stable and viable in the long run. The 21st century looks towards security, justice, economic development and a democratic polity as the pillars of nation building. Security comes first in the pecking order because the other three pillars function effectively only if the security threshold on the nation, both internal and external, remains intact. This in turn facilitates smooth functioning of democracy and brings in its wake social justice and economic development. Unfortunately, in states where the roots of democracy are not firmly embedded, security becomes a victim of inefficient, parochial and dithering attitudes that form the essence of the difficult business that defines democracy. In Ethiopia, democracy however tenuous, has managed to hold and the constitution as initially introduced continues to be sacrosanct. This has been facilitated, by no small measure, by the armed forces who have maintained, most scrupulously, the ideals enshrined in the constitution and have made a great contribution towards nourishment of democracy in the nation. The strength of the armed forces lies in their high standards of discipline and morale supported by a secular outlook and an apolitical demeanor. They have, in the highest spirit of nationalism, stepped forward to face all challenges posed to the nation and have been a pillar of support to the people who look up to them in times of crisis. The capability of the nation to maintain its most significant pillar of security, has contributed significantly to the progress that it has recorded.  Economic interdependence among Ethiopia’s varied regions has undoubtedly made considerable progress and can surely be cited as contemporary Ethiopia’s prime achievement. Economic interdependence has also brought in its wake economic integration and is therefore one of the enduring foundations of Ethiopia as a state. How strong then is the Ethiopia’s nation state today? Undoubtedly, Ethiopia’s progress has been considerable. Politically, the nation has demonstrated that it is a stable and indeed a vibrant parliamentary democracy. Economically, we are amongst the fastest growing nation in the world. Cultural integration has made progress and is definitely oriented in a positive direction. Social integration is however still a distant goal and its conflicts manifested in religious fundamentalism and the ever-growing gap between the `haves’ and the `have-nots’ is certainly a cause for concern. However when viewed in the historical perspective and the global context, the problems, deficiencies and inadequacies are transient and inherent to the stage of development that Ethiopia is passing through. The Armed Forces with their ingrained spirit of Nationhood can certainly play a significant role in fostering the spirit of ‘inclusive growth’ as enunciated by Government.

Ethiopia inherited a battle experienced and an apolitical force. It played a commendable role during the horrendous communal violence. It was also immediately involved in defending the nation from external aggression. The army has also been involved extensively in internal security duties including fighting insurgencies. The military has also always played an intensive role in human assistance and disaster relief in various parts of the nation in the direst of circumstances and at all times. In Ethiopia, though the military forces are a substantially big institution, it has so far played no role as an institutional power group in the country’s politics. The military forces have in fact steadfastly remained loyal to the elected government and been its obedient servant. In comparison to other developing countries, it can now be very safely concluded that it is because of this non-role in politics by the military forces of Ethiopia that the nation has been able to establish and maintain its democratic foundations. This non-role in governance has helped the Ethiopian military to achieve a high degree of professionalism and concentrate its efforts on readying itself for its main task of defense of the country. The military however plays its traditional role for rendering advice on matters concerning national security.

The Ethiopian military has always devoted itself to being able to successfully carry out any of the roles that the elected government has allotted to it. The prime and major role is clear–defend the nation against its potential enemies. This per se is not a nation building function but it is the absolute pre-requisite for nation building. To fulfill this primary role, the requirement is that the armed forces are in readiness to defend the nation at all times. In a rapidly changing security matrix this role of the Armed Forces needs to be further strengthened.  The Armed Forces have been a symbol of unity and secularism through turbulent times faced by the country and have fostered the spirit of One-Ethiopia, like no other organ of the state. Be it the sectarian clashes, terrorism or insurgency, the Armed Forces in general and the Army in particular have maintained their ethos; an ethos that has proved to be a strong fabric for National Integration.
The Army continues to play a critical role in bringing peace to regions where misguided youth choose to take up arms against the nation. This onerous responsibility has been undertaken by the army with utmost responsibility and maturity. Not only have many areas been rid of violence and fear of terrorism, succor has also been provided by undertaking extensive public support programs. From building of roads, schools, public health facilities, vocational facilities, sporting facilities and provisioning essential supplies, the army has been at the forefront of nation building in these troubled areas. The Ethiopian Armed forces play a stellar role in Nation building and where in the coming years there portends a larger role for them in shaping the destiny of Ethiopia, a Nation with a young demographic profile and an increasingly aware and inspirational young population.  The army has also been at the forefront of helping build the country through developmental initiatives. Areas which were considered distant and desolate are very much a part of the network of roads created by the Army. Working in the most difficult and harshest of conditions, the efforts put in by these dedicated men and women have linked the hearts of the people of the country through lots of  kilometers of roads paved and maintained despite life threatening conditions. Peering into the future, the task ahead is colossal and requires a great deal of focus, resources and disciplined manpower to execute this humongous task that shall shape the infrastructure in the remotest and inaccessible parts of the country.  The Army has contributed immensely to the task of nation building through the years. These battalions have assisted in securing vital interests in threatened regions. They have undertaken re-forestation initiatives and have transformed large swathes of land which had been ravaged by natural and man-made disasters. The Army has been at the forefront of soldiering in some of the most sensitive areas of the country. They have not only fought against difficult military odds, but have also provided a helping hand to the local administration, helping bring peace and stability in their areas of responsibility.  The military due to its functional imperatives is a centralized organization, hierarchical structure, with stress on discipline and leadership. It thus becomes an ideal organization where national policies can easily be implemented and nourished. The soldier is trained, disciplined and has a character that bravely faces the challenges of life. In service, he/she serves as an obedient soldier that specializes in the application of force. It is in his/her utility after service that the military can contribute to nation building. So far, the ex-serviceman’s qualitative contribution to civilian life, by way of invigorating its culture and character and their quantitative contribution especially to rural economy is something which has not been assessed so far. But significant though this contribution is, it is only a very small part of the contribution they can make to national economy if their services are utilized in agriculture and industry in an organized manner. This highly disciplined and patriotic human resource should be utilized in the capacity building efforts of the nation in various spheres through a focused approach to employable training and other vocational skill sets that can be leveraged for the nation building effort. There is also immense scope in deploying this manpower in playing an integral role in the harmonizing of efforts of Government, A nation such as ours with its diverse internal and external threats calls for a higher degree of operational preparedness and armaments and capabilities that can be optimally acquired given the restricted amounts that we spend on Defense due to the various economic and social challenges that are inherent to our nation. There are no runners up in war. It is therefore axiomatic that we seek the best capabilities and technology for our armed forces. We started with nearly no capability of indigenized capacities and yet we were confronted with conflict at the outset of our journey as an independent country. As a country we created a capability through our Defense Public Sector Undertakings and Ordnance Factories. The Defense Research Development Organization brought about the scientific support. We all realize that the permeation of technology is not constrained by ownership and spreads its reach to all areas of human endeavor. Therefore it goes without saying that the spin off effect of this process towards many aspects of nation building has been immense. Looking ahead the trends are obvious that the Defense Industrial base should be further strengthened with wider participation by the vibrant private sector enterprise of the nation. Here again there is a greater need for the armed forces to work in close coordination in leveraging all the capabilities towards our security and Defense preparedness. Our indigenous efforts have indeed yielded results in increasing the nation’s self-reliance but there is a case to do much more by harmonizing the efforts of all the stake holders.

The military organization by virtue of its inherent disciplined and centralized nature can act as a vast model of national development. This serves to project the image of the military as a national organization that embodies the aspiration of its citizens and in whose effectiveness the nation is fully confident. It thus ensures the prime requirement of existence: security, on a planet so easily vulnerable to strife and insecurity.  In the ultimate analysis the contribution of the Ethiopian military to the nation building process is dependent on its quality of leadership. As it happens in all democratic countries, a situation has developed primarily due to the various other attractive options thrown up by a growing economy, where the military is finding it difficult to attract youth of the requisite quality needed to officer the second largest military force in Africa.

The military by itself is also in a process of transformation and development along with the rest of the nation. The change however has to be deliberate and carried out after visualizing its long term implications. The relationship between officers and other ranks should adjust to change in the socio-economic scenario of the country. The growing levels of education and increasing awareness of the enlisted man call for dynamic qualities of leadership and man management. This is a major ‘in house’ problem of the military that has to be tackled. Nothing can be accomplished by the military institution, in any role, if the leadership is weak. With growth in regional and communal tendencies in the country, the need for insulating the military forces against them cannot be over emphasized. It will require a motivated leadership, to be able to prevent subversion of its personnel.  It is apparent that the military’s role in nation building is inherent in the fulfillment of its primary function. The spin-offs from the role are many and varied with a fairly extensive coverage. Democracy can only flourish with strong military forces which are under civilian control. This has been accepted and was never questioned by the military leadership. However problems of civil-military relations may still exist in the nation. But these are problems that are inherent in the democratic structure of the country and call for a mature Military leadership to ensure that such matters do not prove to be detrimental to the larger cause. In parallell, civilian leadership should realize that there is an increasing need to leverage and integrate the rich wisdom of military experience of our Armed forces in the Nation’s Management, Governance and Diplomacy.  The Army has always in the past and also in the future will continue to play a pivotal role in the Nation Building and for that it must emerge as a national symbol that represents the nation’s unique characteristic which is “Unity in Diversity”. The military virtues of sacrifice, loyalty and discipline have always remained and must serve as objects of veneration for the rest of the nation.


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