Time to make English a working language of Ethiopia’s federal government

Promoting English would depoliticize the fraught language issue, bring Ethiopians together, and provide practical benefits.

Ethiopia is a diverse country without an official national language, where Amharic has been the country’s federal working language and regional states have been left to make their own choices.

The formal use of local languages burgeoned with the implementation of federalism during the rule of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). However, considering the number of indigenous languages, accommodating every demand for federal language status is unrealistic and economically infeasible. Similarly, promoting some local languages to federal status would pose major challenges for non-speakers.

Furthermore, given the strong national competition, attempting to pick only one local language as Ethiopia’s official language would be so contentious it could endanger stability. For example, given its historical imposition on speakers of other languages, adopting Amharic would be objected to by those who suffered in the past and by those who aspire for official language status for their native tongue.

Yet, if done equitably, having an official language would be in the national interest and encourage unity. Given this, it is of great urgency to refine the policy on federal working languages, which could mean upgrading English.

New policy

In addition to being the working language of the Amhara region, Amharic plays the role of a common language, especially in Addis Ababa and other urban centers. It should also be noted that, compared to other indigenous languages, it has historically been a beneficiary of privileged policies and had the role of a national language under previous regimes. However, a new language policy has been ratified to include the Oromo, Tigrayan, Somali and Afar languages as federal working languages.

The timeliness of this policy cannot be overstated, as these languages are some of the most widely spoken ones in the country as well as the wider region. For example, Afaan Oromo has the greatest number of native speakers and also a considerable number in Kenya. Similarly, Tigrigna is also the lingua franca and de facto working language of Eritrea. Somali is spoken in both Somaliland and Djibouti, as is Afar in the latter.

However, this recognition means that the federal government will grant these languages the same official role as Amharic, which will be costly. Unfortunately, considering the sheer number of languages spoken in Ethiopia and other implementation challenges, adopting this policy could be problematic. On the contrary, not revoking the privileged status of Amharic and refraining from elevating other languages will not provide a lasting resolution.

Language dilemma

In a nutshell, the language dilemma is between granting more federal working status, with the respective economic challenges, or setting just one federal working language, and suffering unfavorable political repercussions.

Hence, one way to balance these interests would be to introduce one language to play the role of a federal working language. Under such a setup, communication between a particular region and the federal government would be facilitated by the use of this language, alongside the option of translating the message to the region’s working language.

Today, institutions and citizens in different countries use international languages in order to have better access to information and opportunities. As such, for strategic, historic or religious reasons, it is common for major global languages like English, or French, to assume de jure or de facto status of working language either solely or alongside other local languages.

English is used as a medium of communication in many international organizations, is taught as a compulsory language and continues to serve as a Medium of Instruction (MoI) in middle school, high school and higher-level educational institutions. This use of English as a MoI goes back to Emperor Haile Selassie I, and was replaced by Amharic in primary schools during the Derg regime.

It was only in 1994 that the Ethiopian Education and Training Policy mandated the use of ‘mother tongues’ in primary education, approving the use of English as the MoI in only secondary and higher education. Furthermore, given that higher education materials are readily available in English, applying English as the MoI at the different tiers of education would be pragmatic, so long as it does not contradict the pedagogical recommendation of using native languages during primary education.

Looking forward

Moreover, considering how the national literacy rate is increasing, and combining this with the fact that the 70 percent of Ethiopia’s population is under 30,  the general population is projected to double by 2050 and with the increasing national internet penetration, we can expect English to be ubiquitous in a few years’ time.

As such, making English a compulsory federal working language would be a forward-looking strategy as it is increasingly popular among the youth and is perceived to be neutral for all our ethnic groups, making it a federal working language could also counter the weakened sense of unity in the country.

In time, this approach will be significant in re-framing perceived inequalities among local languages. However, upgrading English would pose a challenge for those who lack a good command of it. But this can be mitigated by improved teaching and offering plenty of platforms where local languages are used instead.

Given the current volatile situation, it should be clear to all actors that the political and economic stakes are far more consequential than concerns over adopting English as our federal language. Hence, all stakeholders should consider this proposal in order to try and achieve a stable, envy-free and well-coordinated relationship between different regions and ethnic groups.                                                                                                                    

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Main photo: A student at the Soke Bukicha Primary School in Arsi Zone, Oromia Region; Robert Sauers, USAID Ethiopia.

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About the author

Meareg H

Meareg has taught in Ethiopian universities and is a researcher and lecturer.


  • Why Ethiopia hate by foreigners like this because Ethiopia is the only africa country which is independent of colonialism , the oldest living country[6000 years of history], paler in color,have its own currency, not arab even if it is very close to middle east, have its own number system. It’s been many years that africans,arabs,Europes hate Ethiopia b/c it was special, uniqe. Now what they say b/c Ethiopia has its own script and alphabet they want to change this . But you attemptes will fail ethiopia govern it self by its own unique language [amharic] even the alphabet of tigray language is taken from amharic even amharic scripts are there in Egyptian papyrus. All of you that attempt to destroy ethiopia’s own indigenous alphabet stop!!!

  • English language had been working language for a while. Even if it is not legally adapted in the federal working language list … most of Ethiopian organisations public or private work with english language.

    Adopting english will minimize most busting translations and inconveniences the citizens face when trying to access regional states.

    Infact it had crossed my mind for a while. Adapting a foreign language will solve our envy struggle to recognize our regional languages one after the other.

    Now most of our educated man powers are in luck of job opportunities because of the language issues obviously. This is really depressing the economy. The country will go no where if we exclude the educated man power because of language.

    Sense of unity is the other problem of Ethiopia regarding language. I think it is a desperate need to use english.

  • Those countries you mentioned have one ethnic making at least over 90% even china. India with many ethnic like Ethiopia uses English as official language. You comparing countries with one or two ethnic only with a country over 75 ethnic.

  • We the middle aged and older aged Ethiopians must close our eyes and get fooled by PM Abiy Ahmed inorder to prevent a civil war. Otherwise if we the middle aged and older aged Ethiopians keep our eyes open and resist being fooled then the young and the youth will surely engage in an endless civil war, that is why it is so important for all the middle aged and older aged Ethiopians to lead by example , we need to show the youth how to get fooled by keeping our eyes closed . If we failed to do that then the youth will for sure start an all out civil war with no quick end, since there will be no winner.

  • Ideally English had been the federal working language for quiet sometime now. The problem is very few understand English in Ethiopia so Ethiopia is not yet able to put into practice working with the English language as a federal working language because when English was put to work in practice at the federal level the cost for hiring freelance translators had significantly increased in the government’s budget , Ethiopia had to resort to abandoning the use of the English language as a federal working language in practice to save money spent on hiring freelance translators who often were making errors in translating even though ideally the English language is still remaining listed as the federal working language of Ethiopia for months now along with Amharic , Oromo , Somali , Tigrigna and Afar languages, sooner or later the other ethnic languages of Ethiopia are expected to get added as more ethnic referendums are given to the seventy plus ethnicities who would want their own ethnic regions even though it will be difficult to put into practice using all the languages in Ethiopia , the languages might remain to be the federal working languages only ideally same as the English language is currently the federal working language only ideally not in practice.

    Africanews › 2020/03/04 › one-to-f…
    One to five: Ethiopia gets four new federal working languages | Africanews

  • በጊዜ ጸሎት እና ጾም ይታወጅ ቸነፈሩን እሳቱን አንበጣ ወረርሽኙን ኮሮናን ረሀቡን ለማለፍ።

  • I say knowing Egyptians , Sudanese and other Arab countries way of thinking is more beneficial to Ethiopians. That’s why I recommend to make Arabic the federal working language of Ethiopia.

    Whether we like it or not to reach into some sort of peaceful agreement with Egypt we Ethiopians need to know the mind sets of not only the current Egyptian and Sudanese military governments which is known to solve it’s problems through military action but we also need to know the mind sets of the popular Muslim Brotherhood political party of Egypt which got more diplomatic sense than the current military government of Ethiopia , got more diplomatic sense than the current military government of Sudan or than the current military government of Egypt.

    Most military governments are quick to threaten by using their militaristic readiness as a negotiation strategy and stepping out of one negotiation after the other ready to start a war, rather than patiently discussing to negotiate until they reach an agreement which in the GERD case all three governments failed to reach an agreement by 1/15/2020 as they promised to their constituents and to their mediators. They failed to deliver on what they promised. The military governments of Egypt , Sudan and Ethiopia all failed to reach an agreement on 1/15/2020 as they promised because military governments are not diplomatic most often they are thick headed who resort to violence than discussion , who jump the gun quickly . Military governments are known to at others rather than talking with others.


    So it will be beneficial for Ethiopians to pave the way now, for the future generations to reach understandings by making Arabic an official federal working language of Ethiopia.If Arabic is good to Eritreans with Eritreans keeping their cultures and religions intact it will not affect to make the cultures and religions Ethiopians follow to make Arabic the Ethiopian federal working language.

  • todays modern knowledge science technology and research is written in English so Ethiopians will benefit English as official language.

    people who are arguing Germany china japan Korea France Russia all have their own official language they should also know these countries has fast majority 90% one ethic group with one language. Ethiopia has multi ethnic and multi language country same scenario with Nigeria. Nigeria has 250 ethic group they didn’t choose one ethnic group language and culture to represent Nigeria.

    those who are saying English is colony language i have to say as a Somali Ethiopian Amharic is also a colony language Oromo afar and others see like this.

    we do not have same traditions, language and even religion how can you impose Amharic tradition, language and religion to represent Ethiopia.

    i agree it is time make English an official federal language of Ethiopia and make Amharic a local language of amhara region.

    • agree it is time make English an official federal language of Ethiopia and make Amharic a local language of amhara region.i like this statement

    • You are rooting to learn foreign language aka English while resisting your own country language Amharic. What a contradiction! Amharic became an official language of Ethiopia as a matter of coincidence. And most Ethiopians, even those in remote corners of the country speak or understand Amharic. I have an Anuak friend from Gambella who speaks Amharic comfortably and I myself is Tigrean who can even untangle the mystic expressions of wax and gold (Qinie). Not less than 90% of artistic, literary and scientific works are made in Amharic. Regardless of their ethnic background, major cities including the capital are Amharic speakers. Even if some quarters claim that Oromifa the most spoken language in Ethiopia and it is outright false. Oromos “may be” are majority ethnic groups, but when you took the entire nation, they are the minority. No ethnicity other than Oromo speaks Oromifa, in contrast, Amharic is spoken across the width and breadth of the country including Oromia. Politicians may spew unfounded rhetoric to use it as a political tool since they do not have a plan or vision how to put bread on everyone’s table or how to change the lives of ordinary Ethiopians. Therefore, there is no compelling reason to abandon Amharic (well develop domestic language) in favor of English (a foreign language). I personally do not mind to include English as a Federal language without discarding local languages.

    • I would have to disagree with you there I’m Muslim and I don’t have problem with Amharic being the official language. The fact that you prefer English to be the official language than Amharic, which by the way is an Afro Asiatic language like Somali and Oromo, is like saying you prefer to be colonized by White people than people are similar to cultural and linguistically(and yes they are similar). You gotta understand what you are talking about. Please have some common sense. I feel like you a problem with the Amharas, I don’t understand. What did they do to you? Specifically

  • Germary??, Netherlands??& EU??, many other countries, generally, people✔speak English✔while its not official language in their nations. flankly, Ethiopia would benefit✔English✔but it’s gonna take 20-30 years to be popular.
    the writer assumes English brings Unity or he is bothered by coming new officials languages of?Somali,?Oromo,?Tigrey,?Afar plus more.
    Libya??, Yemen??, Syria??Congo,Rwanda??Burundi?? all shares one language (Arabic or French) that hadn’t solved their political problems.

    political problems demands political solutions…simple & clear..

  • The author’s recommendation is a reverse metamorphosis from a butterfly to a slug. Who would like to see that?

  • What we need, as a nation is to add more working languages. Not add this neoliberal agenda of yours. The way forward is to teach indigenous languages of Ethiopia to our youth. Learning and knowing Amharic, Oromifa, Somaligna, Tigrigna, Afarigna and if possible other languages of Ethiopia, should be considered a blessing. The whole idea of English being used as our working language will not help us on solving our issues. No matter the cost, the way forward is embracing our own languages and developing them so that we can be able to brag about creating a nation that is multilingual.
    And what will bring us together and solve this polarized politics is not the English language, its dialogue between the so called elites and politicians (If they truly care about the people they claim they represent).

    • The policy you are proposing was tried in South Africa but did not work. I have been struggling to understand the reason behind adding Somaligna, Afan Oromo, Afarigna and Tigirigna to Amharic. I would like to hear from you the reasons behind this choice. Few reasons why I think English is a god choice
      1. Reduces Amhara pride which I believe conttributed to chaos in the country. ስልጣኔው የማን ነው?
      ፊደሉ የማን ነው?
      2. Will reduce tuning our international development partners out during review meetings held in Ethiopia.
      3. It will boost chances of getting jobs outside Ethiopia
      4. One ethnic group will represent Ethiopia.
      5. Will contribute to better education policy as in there will be standard unlike now when in Oromia region Afan Oromo is used as a a language of inrtructhonin schools up to class eight. In Gambella, Anuak, Nuer, Mejang, Amharic used up to class four until recently and now Afan Oromo added.

    • Deborah
      I fully support the idea to make the “internationally recognized hard workers language- Tagalog” become the Ethiopia’s federal working language.
      Tagalog is an international language which got heavily influenced by English and Spanish making it the ideal language for the industrialization transformation Ethiopia is set to begin with the completion of GERD..

  • It seems better outlooks than the repercussion ideology which states Amharic is the sole federal working language while other were subjugating and downplaying by the past consecutive regimes regardless of any preconditions.These depressive and downsize rhetoric were stemmed from the European invaders.Before put English as a national working language , it is critically important to strengthen the academic curriculum of English language as subject from king garden to higher educations ( English as spoken and written ) because these two areas are unprecedentedly impressive and fascinating. After this assignment is accomplished smoothly applying English as an official working language is an asset not a curse. But advocating for Amharic doesn’t takes us together or does’t make us competent globally and even regionally.It doesn’t cross a boundary so that tie the countries in the regions. It is so local language that doesn’t bridge us with other nearby countries even than Tigray, Afar, Somali and Afan Oromo. It is one of the languages that restricted locally and bounded to one state.The chance of expanding the language is so rare and it is impossible by any means because many reasons.It is not about bemoaned the advocates and the native speakers but it is the fact we all must be agreed.It is simply compelling Amharic to be an international language which cannot possible through the existing situations.For me it is self embezzling to kill our time to debate on such obfuscated thing. I strongly agree in the long run English would better to be the working language than the so called Amharic and I strongly repudiated the argument says Amharic must continue as federal working language because it doesn’t deserve it. It shouldn’t be extolled because it doesn’t add any value for us.
    Regions must use their mother tongues parallel with English in school and as working language in their regions. Amharic even doesn’t tie these nations in the state not to tie with other countries in the regions.We have to treat it accordingly so that the native language must be conserved and encourage to be used in their areas. We can exploitively use them locally even to tie our nations together based on the capability they have with out any repression and force by anybody.

  • Recommending English for the Federal government of Ethiopia as a working language is an absolute madness. It’s also humiliating, flagrant, scandalous, revolting and outrageous in 21th century, especially, for the Oromo peaople at a time when they are demanding Afaan Oromo as one of the working languages of the Federal government of Ethiopia.

    It’s one of the looniest and daffiest articles I’ve ever read on the politics of language in Ethiopia. What is wrong in having two or more Federal working languages in Ethiopia? Nothing is wrong. The problem has been the previous and the existing governmens as they have had deep seated hatred for Afaan Oromo. It’s is not as costly as English since many people can speak the language.There are very few people who can speak English in Ethiopia. My high school teacher used to say “there is only one person who speaks English fluently in Ethiopia : Lulseged Kumsa.” He died long time ago. Not only the cost, English cannot unify Ethiopians.

    Favouring English language over 85 Ethion laugyages is an attempt to carry out lingusic genocide and to obliterate our identities.

    Learning English as second language in schools is fine as it’s the international language, but suggesting it as the working language of Federal government is appalling and disgraceful to its citizens.

    Recommending English as the working language for the Federal government of Ethiopia where there is less than one percent English speakers is impractical and doesn’t make sense at all.The article carries outdated notion from Stone Age and has no place in today”s Ethiopia.

  • The author wrongly believes that the problem of ethnic politics in Ethiopia is the presence of many languages and recommends that none of the languages deserve an official language status. As an alternative, the author recommends to introduce a foreign language as an official language in the only African country the defeated colonialism. This is what is called iatrogenic poisoning – a situation where the medication causes more illness than the diagnosed disease.

    We shall add more languages and we shall absorb all the cost whatever that amount may be. In the worst case scenario, it will cost us as much as introducing English as an official language. So, we are fine.

    The author must understand speaking one language does not guarantee peaceful coexistence. For instance, Somalis speak only one language and yet they have destroyed their country for almost three decades. This is an example enough to show the author that his/her recommendation is hollow.

    • Survival of the fittest policy or winner takes all mentality is an old outworn approach. Consider innovative outside the box solutions I think can bring better results. You are correct having a singlie language doesn’t guarantee perfect community

  • Cannot tackle any social issues with hate or love for one group over the other. Have to come with most viable solution for the benefit of all. I see most folks have too much hate. Hate is synonymous with blindness from seeing and speaking TRUTH.

    Hope the most poor in the country will benefit in the long term no matter which part of the country all rural folks should be supported and advocated for. Waste of time otherwise trying to converse when the agenda is clear.

    Peace to everone

    • Sorry to read this article and sorry for the Ethiopian insight editorial bord. How is it possible such type of miss informing article can be published to disminate false narattion? Is Amharic the only regional language of Amhara region? How it could be? when Ethiopia has home grown widely spoken own languages the author recommended English with colonial mentality. As to me this article is a mess garbage that vows to bring instablity in the county. Ethiopians donot want to import foreign language when they have many beautiful languages spoken inland. Why is not possible other languages to be the Federal working language alongside Amharic like Indeans, South Africans, Nigerians & etc. do? In simple analysis the author wants to show his hate for Amharic but he insulted his forefathers who deafened colonialism and keep the county independent. This article based on false narrative against the benefit how citizens proud when they have their own language with alphabet to write their histrory and culture that identity them with those borrowed others foreign language.

  • Meareg በአንድ ወቅት እኔም መፍትሔ ይሆናል ብዬ ያሰብኩት ሀሣብ ነው ። አንድ ሀሣብ ግን ብልጭ አለልኝ
    ለምሣሌ አንድ ፈረንጅ(እንግሊዛዊ ) እንበል ተከሶ ወደ አንዱ የፌዴራል ፍርድ ቤት ቀርቦ ክሴ እንዲህ ነው የሚለው ህጉ ደግሞ እንደዚህ ነው የሚለው ስለዚህ ተጠያቂ አያደርገኝም ቢል። ስንት ዳኞች ናቸው ያሉን እንግሊዘኛዉን/ህጉ የተፃፈበትን ቋንቋ አዛብተህዋል ተጠያቂ ነህ ሊል የሚችል? እኔ ዳኞቻችን ቋንቋ አይችሉም ለማለት እዳልሆነ ግን ተረዱልኝ ፣ አብዛኛዎቹ ግን natives ኔቲቮችን ለማረም የሚያስችል ችሎታ ግን እደሌላቸው በድፍረት መናገር እችላለሁ። ተመሳሳይ ችግር በየ ፌዴራል መስሪያ ቤቾች ይገጥማል። ለዚህ ደግሞ የሀገሬውን ሰው አባርረህ ፈረንጅ እንቅጠር እንደማትለኝ ተስፋ አደርጋለሁ።

  • It never ceases to amaze me how Abyssinian establishment folks and beneficiaries of the status quo react when certain deep-rooted issues and self-and wrong beliefs are raised. The simple mention or questioning the wisdom of such things are taboo and off the limits according to them eventhough the said socio-economic and linguistic issues had detrimental and negative effect on the well-being and progress of the majority of the population. It is little dirty that should be kept in secret at all cost including nation’s complete disintegration prospect. Imposing and still insisting forcing Amharic language or geez by the state is an outrageous ideas that outloved its meaning and usefulness. Rest assured, the knives and pitchfork we be will out as soon as
    one questions their flawed judgement. Just Lllook at how some are accusing and blackmailing editors while.others trying to intimidate and disparage others and accusing of inferiority complex, backwardness, ignorance and so on. What a pity!

  • I respect other stated but no doubt it is costy ,as a single citizen it is better pick additional one language that mass people speak (Afan Oromo) and at the end I hope we will have shared thoughts and economic benefits. But all Ethiopian languages are so beautiful.

  • This kind of article really shows how much neo colonialism is ruling and working on people’s mind
    It’s really frustrating to see this kind thoughts which never gives value to one’s own culture and be proud of what one have
    It’s the weakest and dumbest solution one could ever put for these kinda situations you should really think about it thoroughly

  • The author suggested a wonderful point that can reconcile the disagreements among Ethiopians on which language to select as official federal language. Though Oromo are the largest in terms of number, Oromo language was made undeveloped systematically by the imperial rulers.

    • forget the ethic poletics for a moment please,its not a good idea to use English as federal working language,the illiterate population is high plus we have Amharic language that developed well n it has it’s own alphabet.itz better to add oromifa as working language.

  • I see where this author comes from. Ethiopia is at the verge of national discord. Plus, Amharic used to be an expression of sophistication in the past century. People from other than Amhara region and Addis were ridiculed for not knowing Amharic. Even as a child I used to make fun of the accents they make when they try to speak Amharic. This alone had an impact in job competitions and representations of true Ethiopians. I heard that speaking Amharic was a prerequisite to get A grades in universities back in Haile Selassie’s times(some University lecturers of course). Anyways language grows and dies. Even English. What matters is if importing English from abroad saves Ethiopia I won’t be against it. However, it’s more complex than what meets the eye for be. It needs further investigation and academic research. I thank the author for bringing a different idea though.

  • Dear Ethiopian Inaight,

    Dont you have any editorial policy? Why are you letting such a misleading and false views on air?


    1. IN AMHARA
    2. IN SNNPR
    5. Also, as the Author said it is widely used in other major cities.

    I dont blame the author for this miss information, he can write how ever he likes and what ever he wants.

    But, the page must have editorial policy and should stop and / or edit such wrong and misleading reporting. Unless you are siding with the wrong info.

    If you keep doing this, your site wont be different from a mere individual’s Facebook page where s/he can write what ever s/he likes, not the facts!!!

    Still, I highly recommend you do editing in this writing, at least for the bold wrongs, and republish it. That way you can keep your trust!!!

  • It is interesting to note that in the late 19th century and most of the 20th century, French was the main foreign language used in Ethiopian government along with the native official language Amharic. Emperor Haile Selassie was fluent in French, and most government employees and higher officials were conversant in French as well. Prime Minister Aklilu Habtewold was a French educated technocrat, international lawyer and public servant of the era. It is after the Second World War, in particular, after liberation from fascist Italy, that English replaced French as an official foreign working language. It is not uncommon to still find Ethiopians born in the 1930s and 1940s throwing some French words in their conversations.

    In general, Ethiopians are talented at learning and grasping various languages. Cosmopolitan cities and towns like Dire Dawa and Harar in the past had inhabitants that spoke Amharic, Oromo (slightly distinct from Shoan and Wollega Oromo), Harare (Aderegna), Somali, some Arabic, some French, some Italian and if joining school some English as well. These multi-lingual Ethiopians were not a product of cadre politics or a product of ethno-federalism, but a product of living together among generations of Ethiopians in peace and harmony. Incidentally, people born and raised in Harar and Dire Dawa used to be among the most cosmopolitan, easy-going and easily adapting and hospitable people in all of Ethiopia. The problem is the gang that came with Meles was ignorant of the sophisticated and intertwined history of Ethiopians, having sprung out from one tiny village in Tigray, this gang could not accept the concept of others in its vocabulary. Everything was seen in that one tiny village mirror; it was threatened with the diversity before its eyes. It was almost natural for it to conceive of an Ethiopia that lived in zones, like cattle and sheep: sheep over here, goats over there, cows right here, calfs right there. That was its mentality, its imagination, its upper thinking and vision. So limited was in the gangs bubble protection , it did not even occur to itself the fate of an Ethiopian born or descending from more than one tribe as most Ethiopians are.

  • English is widely used in many industry sectors in Ethiopia such the banking, insurance, airline, import & export, health, education, road authority, tourism, data centres and for all foreign relations. Therefore, we can see how we’re connected to the world. I vote English to be the official federal working language in Ethiopia. States should use Engkish plus thier native language if they choose.

    • ከ 80 በላይ ቋንቋ ባለባት ሀገር የውጪ ቋንቋ የፌደራል ቋንቋ ይሁን ማለት አይከብድም???

  • Let us capitalize on the already developed and widely spoken Amharic as the national language of Ethiopia. All the Elites that are messing the country up today are all using amharic as a media of communication. Let us introduce one more language of choice (out of the 4 others suggested) in our school system for students to learn along with Amharic. All local languages must use the Geez alphabet as a prerequisite for the national unity and historical heritage of the nation. Having one national language has helped us stay together and communicate with each other at this odd time of antagonism that will subside sooner. Please be sensible and look forward. Get out of your myopic thinking for the sake of a united independent Ethiopia you inherited from the sacrifice of your gallant forefathers. Come to your genuine logical self.

    • Geez script doesn’t fit to Afar, oromo, Somali, Wolayita, Sidama, etc language. The speakers of these languages have already decided which script to write their language. Stop your backward thought.

  • Great idea for all Ethiopians. What a genius came up with this idea? So what shall we call “chechebsa” and “Tcheko” in English? I never understood the plights and agonies of the Ethiopian farmer ?‍?. Had he learned to speak English and to call his “mofer ena kenber ena maresha” plough etc, he would have eradicated hunger for good. How come he or she did not learn the word “irrigation” just calling it “messeno ersha”? Still no word for injera in English? How ignorant! Wow the writer is an amazing genius, finally figured out the sole problem of the nation: not speaking fluent English.

  • May be the writer has forgotten or willingly ignored the history that state of Ethiopia become existing with all the languages and ethnicities from the get go. The writer is, certainly, unaware that Amharic language was created to solve the very problem he/she stating and not because there was an ethnic group called Amhara existed; for amharic was the product of Geze and a language of the soldiers under all areas and regions of the Axumite kingdom. Regardless, the problem in Ethiopia has always been that ethnic nationalism advocates being louder than their actual size. Very soon, I assure you, we not only make Amharic the official language of the country but also we will add and multiply many more Ethiopian languages as official languages as we get rid off all Latin based writings in the country. If China and India could flourish and become the symbol of progress despite the plurality of languages and cultures, we definitely are not going to bring such an idea for discussion let alone implement it.

  • Hey People , how come you recolonize yourself by adopting english as an official language in a proud and ancient country like Ethiopia. If you dont like the Name Amharic, just change it into Ethiopic and develop the Ethiopian language by taking words from Oromiffa, tigrigna and others with its Geez alphabet.. let us also work hard to make Etopic; the national or official language of Africa with its original African alphabets.. That way Africa will be really free of the yolk of colonialism and stand equal with Europians, Asians..etc.. Be proud of the independent yourself…

  • “Awale
    October 13, 2020 at 4:37 am
    That makes a lot of sense unless you are
    absurd ethno nationalist or ethno- fascist old remnant for couple of reasons, and among other things, the 70% of the people have little clue or unable to communicate in Amharic through out the country , much less of other ethnic tongues, eventhough it was forced upon them over 150 years . It failed and misguided policy. Secondly, provided that it used an standard English in education, this will give all ethnic groups an equal footing to compete for government or private jobs, state functions, private sector opportunities etc. There would be less friction and fair competition in the workfirce. Third, since the Amharic, along with other local languages , has no use in higher education or other professional trainings, it is more advantagious instead to use the English as a lingua franca and scientific medium since it is already the world most leading medium of communication. Amharic belonngs to the Orthodox Church and debteras establishment and it should remain that way and stay away messing
    up the multinational state affairs if fair and peaceful coexistence is needed.”

    Oh teach us erudite one, on how English would serve the needs of the average Amhara or Oromo farmer or Somali or Harari trader better than a native language used as the official language for centuries? So to cure the inferiority complex one is suffering from, one concocts a lie, advances political sophistry and manipulation of facts through cadre gymnastic feats and contortions of the truth.

    Should Ethiopians really expect much from such sell outs and opportunists? It is quite well known that the number of total Amharic speakers in Ethiopia far exceeds that of Oromo language speakers or any other Ethiopian language speakers. The writer is either ignorant or deliberately confusing you, the reader, as to when Amharic became the official language of Ethiopia not 150 years ago but in the 12 th century. The 150 years tale is the usual Meles era joke to target the usual scapegoat of the Oromo and TPLF fanatics, the great Emperor Menelik. To disprove this farce, all a reader needs to ask is what language Yohannes IV used for his government, and lo and behold, it was Amharic. Amharic became the official language of government, trade and law in the 12th century. This is a historical antecedent that has nothing to do with Emepror Menilik or his successor Emperor Haile Selassie. Even the great divider and ethno fanatic Meles ended up using it, speaking it and listening it day in day out during his time of terror and division.

    The writer out of sheer ignorance thinks the term “debtera” is an insult whereas a person of even modicum education and some reading would know that most of the early teachings and learning centers in Europe too were centered in the church, that Latin equivalent to the Geez language was and still is the language of the clergy, that Latin is the foundation of most scientific terminology, especially in biology and medicine, and the law. However, to grasp this basic yet fundamental understanding of languages, history of education, history of science and its development one needs some intellectual curiosity and intellectual honesty. These unfortunately, dear reader, you will not find in a political opportunist and ethno fanatic hack only interested to score cheap political points and settle and soothe deep seated and unhealthy inferiority complexes of his or her own making.

  • That makes a lot of sense unless you are
    absurd ethno nationalist or ethno- fascist old remnant for couple of reasons, and among other things, the 70% of the people have little clue or unable to communicate in Amharic through out the country , much less of other ethnic tongues, eventhough it was forced upon them over 150 years . It failed and misguided policy. Secondly, provided that it used an standard English in education, this will give all ethnic groups an equal footing to compete for government or private jobs, state functions, private sector opportunities etc. There would be less friction and fair competition in the workfirce. Third, since the Amharic, along with other local languages , has no use in higher education or other professional trainings, it is more advantagious instead to use the English as a lingua franca and scientific medium since it is already the world most leading medium of communication. Amharic belonngs to the Orthodox Church and debteras establishment and it should remain that way and stay away messing
    up the multinational state affairs if fair and peaceful coexistence is needed

  • Let’s evaluate the different types of English first , let’s choose which English are we talking about , the North American English , Jive , Britain’s english or some other type of English.

    Me personally say if Ethiopia have to make English a federal language then pick the British colonial English similar to which people in Kenya or in South Africa use. It will bring African Union .

  • its good debate, I support English to be official & suggested some articles of mine in Ethiopia?? but in✔one condition✔that’s native languages should be respected as well, specifically those who sacrificed so much the likes??SOMALIS, OROMO, TIGREY & AFAR??languages be official along side English. 5 Languages or 6 or more.
    remember, in 2040 Ethiopia would be different place as it’s today, communication, technology, states, economy, new generation & EastAfrica region generally.

    it looks like the writer worries more, other Ethiopians practicing their own rights or local regional languages, exp, if Somalis & Oromos use their native language at their own territory & national plus English as well, its well & fine. why a citizen looking for unity of Ethiopia nations disregards native languages?
    Somali language spoken in 4 countries; Ethiopia??Somalia??Djibouti??Kenya??.
    Oromo 2 countries; Ethiopia?? & Kenya??. Afar 3 countries; Ethiopia?? Djibouti??Eritrea??. Tigrey 2 countries; Ethiopia?? Eritrea?? & Tigreyland as well.
    therefore, facts are, these languages reminds as the necessity of corporations among communities & commerce that Ethiopia needs this era & beyond. diversity in Ethiopia is the ONLY option to tool to discourage Disintegration of Ethiopia??.

    • Somali is widely spoken in
      Ethiopia, Somalia proper from south to north, Jibouti and Kenya . Amharic is only spoken, more or less, in all Ethiopia, Oromo is spoken Ethiopian and Kenya in Tigragna is spoken in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Just saying in case.

    • Its total unrealistic and the view point and it is simply political reflection. It has no any language policy philosophical foundation. How it could rational to defuse internal problems with external instruments??

  • What a stupid idea is this! We don’t need it. We have many native languages and our own alphabetical letters. This is a hot issue and a strategy of collapsing the Ethiopian identity and its culture. Now we are going to hit those people who are recommending this idea. We will find out those writers and the editors!!!

  • @ Hewan Liyu

    have you heard of “full stop” ( . ) at the end of a sentence?
    No, English is must not be fed language in Ethiopia.
    The lasting solution needs to come from inside (Ethiopia) NOT outside (England).
    As it’s a case in several countries, our problem is temporary and this is transitional time, problem is expected.
    Once we recognize our little differences and celebrate our vast similarities across ALL ethnic Ethiopia, we will be beautify people living in a beautiful country, called Ethiopia.

  • I would ask the Author how many hours s/he might have taken to produce this article and I do not know if s/he has got any idea about the qualitative costs of imposing foreign language on literally non english proficient people. How less of the cost of adopting English compared to promoting local languages? How genuine is it? People are more creative and deep thinker in their local languages than in foreign languages – except for the very few.

    In a country where even university lecturers have difficulties to articulate a mid way English phrase, what a genius proposal to produce ? If we really are concerned about communication between the various communities, using Amharic won’t be a problem. The fact of the matter is that there are some political elites who do not want to hear not only about Amharic but also about Ethiopia altogether.

    This is without speaking about the cultural values and the pride a country can have by being one of the rare countries in the world to have its own alphabet.

    This is sad, shameful and not genuine in my view. I would prefer all local languages of Ethiopia thrive than to systematically erod the country’s social and cultural values to neo colonialists.

  • Just the facts!

    It cannot be disputed that fluency in English is a necessity to succeed in the globalized world.

    But if you survey 115 million people in Ethiopia majority like 70% would choose Amharic over Oromo. This is undisputed fact I think.

    • I don’t have proof for 70%, but let’s say u write now in 2020.

      how about in 2030 if you do a same survey, which majority of the people prefer Amharic or Oromo….meaning current babies to 10 years old might be 10%-21% of the future population..

  • What a shame! Suggesting to make the language of the colonizer to make the official language of the Only country that was never colonized. Let it be expensive and make our 5 local languages equally the nation’s national and working languages.

  • Well said. Having lived in Ethiopia 1970-74 it is sad now to see the decline in standards of English teaching.
    It is great that Ethiopia has maintained its cultural integrity and not been overun by fast food chains, BUT there are areas where the poor levels of English work against the very prosperity and economic development that government claims to be working for.
    Ethiopians are intelligent and capable but several problems prevent the sort of rapid economic development seen in Asin countries eg Vietnam.
    1. Poor levels of English.
    2. A banking system stuck in the mid 20th century.
    3. A failure to get rid if Ethiopia’s infamous bureaucracy.
    If these weaknesses were dealt with Ethiopia could indeed become a middle income country. As things stand, no chance.

  • It is a good debate and conversation topic.

    One area of focus is the power if language to unite on one hand and become a symbol of dominance and power on the other. So there is the political and practical aspect of a unified language.

    If we look at much of central and south America, Spanish language was imposed on indigenous population. Has this benefited or hurt the population?

    What makes Ethiopia is its ability to keep itself independent from european domination. Despite the horrors of what our ancestors had to endure to fend off colonizers. Africa was doomed in 1880s but through so much sacrifice we stayed free. For those who feel they were colonized by ethiopia go and read books what colonial power means in the Congo and any other countries. The French burnt Algeria during independence. It is brutal.
    We need to weigh the benefit and make a politically free deliberate decision.

    • ” One area of focus is the power if language to unite on one hand and become a symbol of dominance and power on the other. So there is the political and practical aspect of a unified language.” Precisely it is do and that is the problem many feel about Amharic or any other ethnic group language . Many
      have witnessed these corrosive
      of culural, linguistic and ethical effects on majority of the population.They have been using or rather misusing it as a power and subjugation through the state apparatus and linguo-cultural dominance over century. This led to an unequal playing field level and eventually led to counter-reaction and soul-searching from the wronged and marginalized communities

      • We don’t want to dominate and subjugate anyone we are in 21st century today. Subjugation was done since the dawn of man. That is why we have intelligent conversation. I hope your point is not to correct the mistakes of the past by dominating and subjugating 70% or 70 Million Ethiopians into speaking Oromo? That would be a huge imbalance and reversal of thought. Progressive thinking is the way out

  • i think it is the best idea with multiple advantages to the country now and the future generation. it has been said that Ethiopian population will be double in 2050, more than 30% of the people is youth, the world is becoming a small village with technologies, currently Ethiopians donot accept one language to be superior to others and this is becoming a reason for conflicts, and also our future generation will be competent enough to communicate with its world. so putting all these different issues into consideration, the idea of proposing English language to be the federal working language is a very good idea.

  • What the Europeans could not do by force, we now do it as a formal suggestion to resolve our problems. Shame.

    • I dont know where to respond to the Author the Article / Meareg. You are absolutely right. I would ask the Author how many hours s/he might have taken to produce this article and I do not know if s/he has got any idea about the qualitative costs of imposing foreign language on literally non english proficient people. How less of the cost of adopting English compared to promoting local languages? How genuine is it? People are more creative and deep thinker in their local languages than in foreign languages – except for the very few.

      In a country where even university lecturers have difficulties to articulate a mid way English phrase, what a genius proposal to produce ? If we really are concerned about communication between the various communities, using Amharic won’t be a problem. The fact of the matter is that there are some political elites who do not want to hear not only about Amharic but also about Ethiopia altogether.

      This is without speaking about the cultural values and the pride a country can have by being one of the rare countries in the world to have its own alphabet.

      This is sad, shameful and not genuine in my view. I would prefer all local languages of Ethiopia thrive than to systematically erod the country’s social and cultural values to neo colonialists.

    • Thank you. I start writting a comment and I was very angry. I have no problem if it is any Ethiopian language but as you said its a shame. You see 65 million people doesn’t have electricity but Internet is a factor for the suggestion. More than 75% of Ethiopian people live in rural areas but still they suggest English. The probablity of finding amharic, oromomifa, tigregna, somali or add three more Ethiopian languages is more than 95% in every place. So the idea should be how many language do we need as a federal language. For me the solution is teaching more than 5 languages in every school. So to pass to then next class scoring suffient grade in at least 3 languages should be mandatory. Our problem is communication.

    • I have no problem with any language to learn and communicate.but I disagree when forcefully injecting on us.ahmaric is spoken but not got acceptence believe to be imposition and failure to isolate itself from religion…all that you mentioned using english as federal language in order to create strong national unity! Is it long lasting solution! I don’t think have no full idea about Ethiopian nations and all diversity have their own language and want to preserve their identity as well as national order to be justified it’s should be used more than two languages as official languages based on the number of speakers majority ethnic groups,that is democratic right and appropriate.

  • I suggested this three years ago to a group of friends from different ethnic backgrounds in a get-together party. It wasn’t welcome by most of them saying it is unachievable and too much hard work. But I believe the opposite, and it is crucial for the unity of the country. I guess we should be thinking of suggesting it to the political elite and hear what they say about it.

    • There is no solid fact to accept this idea. I wonder how you think such silly idea while you are Ethiopians. Of course we know that we have a lot of idiot peoples who never recognize their cultural resources. Among those peoples you are the one. Your words show that how you are illiterate. I am surprised how our ancestors are so smart when I compare them with these foolish and slavery minded people. But this never apply real, and our languages will spread to the rest of the world. And we will share our assets with our African brothers in new different methods. Here are also people who stand to keep the unity and the strength of Ethiopia by any means. We are powerful and greater than those belly and racist people. We will clean them from our country. Instead of them there are many foreigners who look for to get the citizenship of Ethiopia so we will receive those people and we will reject these crooked people in contrast. Now we are identifying those people who have a secret agenda to collapse our country, Ethiopia. We will fight against you till we die!

  • What joke and sad to be born at this age you are one lost man who need help the language proposals were not even genuine idea we heard it all from the horse mouth aka shamelse abdisa English is not near to Amharic in Ethiopia context not even educated intellectuals and lur so xalled leaders are not perfect using it i agree on all above Mesfin comment he explained it well if you are able to pisten.

  • When I first read the heading, “Time to make English a working language of Ethiopia’s federal government”, I was very unhappy feeling that how should one compromise the centuries old local language with the foreign one, better said, the colonialist language as the working language of this proud country. As Ethiopians, especially older generations, are proud of their Amharic language and unique alphabets they have, which is not the case with all formerly colonized countries. Besides, many African countries are currently trying to make one of their local languages to a working language to gradually replace the colonial languages of mainly English and French and also Portugese and Spanish. Kenya, Tanzanya, Uganda, for instance, is trying Swahali to make it popular in their respective countries, while South Africa and other countries are picking one indigenous language to make potentially working language, but all of them aforementioned countries are still on the process of looking for ways and means to change the status quo. In view of that, Ethiopia as an ancient and a not colonized country with a history of own language and alphabet it is now on the verge of loosing its long pride and identity. This is primarily because of the new generation influenced by predominantly from immigrants who resided in the USA, Europe and very few from Australia.

    However, the issue of working language, leave alone the official language, it has become very contentious in the Ethiopia’s current context. In view of that we should start to think outside the box as well, which includes “English language” as a last resort in case Amharic language becomes a point of contention that could lead to the dialogue to aggravated conditions. Hopefully, people in general the extremist politicians in particular came to their sense before the damage of such choice already happens.

  • That only exasperates the situation and one huge step back enough, being language one of the most powerful tools, to reverse the hard-earned rights of nations, nationalities, and peoples of Ethiopia. In fact that also serve a key purpose in extending the privileges an obvious segment of Ethiopian polity.

  • wait a minute.

    Nigeria is an extremely ethnically diverse multinational state with over 250 ethnic groups and over 500 languages

    Guess what! the national language is English!

    But than it had been colonized by the British for almost 80 years.

    • You are absolutely right about nigeria,
      It is diversity ethnically,linguistically, religiously,and the population number is almost double that of ethiopia,
      If Nigeria survives in its existence as a nation-state of federal republic and took English as a federal lingua franca there is no reason to say this,oh nigeria was colonized by the Britain ,but not ethiopia,but to be honest with you, we choose Britain and its language (english)to modernize our country, probably started by menelik and capitalised by teferi mokenen,(haileseleise) if we cannot agree on choosing one lingua franca in federal
      There is no point to debate about whether English or Spanish or even Arabic, to become our lingua franca,
      We chosen English as a lingua franca in federal, by default long before e.p.r.d.f.
      Comes to power, o recommends that if it’s safes the unity of this great country
      Let’s do it for once and all.

  • I find this article a bit shallow. Shallow, because it argues against Ethiopian reality.A couple of questions for the water;
    How many per cent of the Ethiopian population speak English? I think choosing official (working )language/languages should be easy for Ethiopia if only there is fairness and realistic mentality. There are two major languages that are spoken by the majority in Ethiopia, Afaan Oromo and Amharic-Oromo 33.8%, Amharic (official national language) 29.3%. Only about 14% of the population speak English. So which one is easy, Politically and economically, to choose for Ethiopia?
    I don’t even think this article should be worth publishing

  • “I am fluent in English, so let’s make English our federal language”. What a proposal! Genius! Now consider this:

    1. 80% of the population live in rural areas where they have never heard of English as a language let alone speaking the language.
    2. Almost all high school graduates cannot properly speak or write in English
    3. Most university graduates cannot speak the language
    4. Even more than half of university lecturers cannot express themselves in English and do proper research in English.

    If the Ethiopian people (except few privileged urbanites) cannot properly speak or write in English, how is it possible to impose a foreign language on the masses?

    My guess is your next proposal will be:

    1. bring colonialists from England and control the civil service. You will then get a lucrative job as an interpreter/translator
    2. eliminate all local language, as the English did to the Welsh and Irish languages

    • Thank you, these are the kinds thinking english language can make them brilliant & full, rather it shows stupidity & naivity

      • I wonder that English language have solution for our socio political dilemma! What a stupid thinkers are you guys…..specially selina think about it!!!!

  • Teaching English to children when you keep the children in shackles is just wi down dressing rather than solving the core problem . Communism Derg’s style dictatorial leadership is very much alive in many Ethiopians schools and families. Almost all children’s in their families got no democracy , in schools of Ethiopia got no democracy , got no freedom and children got no chance to voice their concerns , got no freedom whether at school or elsewhere. Which leads to the young rebeling acting up the first chance they get by doing opposite to the way the society raised them . The children create unexpected groups contrary to their upbringings. Querro was not expected to act the way it is acting but Querro is acting this way because it lived without freedom for long when they were children even within their homes got no freedom , so when they reach certain age we saw what happened. They acted up in a gruesome way . That’s why
    -It should be outlawed for parents to beat up their children in Ethiopia.
    -It should be outlawed for children to.perform forced labor.
    -It should be outlawed for children to be treated as less human beings than their elders.
    To reach national reconciliation these above issues should be brought as main agendas into the table , teaching English in only is not going to bring a reconciliation .
    I don’t see no benefit in beating up children , in making children work forced labor especially while Ethiopia got the highest youth unemployment rate or in treating children as pets less human beings. It just shows how backward Ethiopians are nothing else .

    Note : When children grow up they are able to take revenges by joining groups who slaughter human beings alive because the children were so controlled while they were grow up when they reach adolescence age or above they think to insure their freedom they need to act up in gruesome ways.

    • This is an inferior people mentality. And Amharic will unite us.

      There is no country in the world that is civilized using another country language… Example, Japan, chinese, korea , Saudiarabien, Qutar . The is no country that you can name who developed studying with other language and who use other language as a national language. I know people with slave mentality like that, people who hate his own country man language but prefer a foreign language to be his national language. Inferior mentality.
      They will make us to lose what we have because that is the plan of the enemy to make us lose one thing that Africans have left ..that is their only written language is Amharic.

      • Look what this person and many others are writing. “… inferior people mentality. And Amharic will unite us …” If you are not for Amharic as a national language or propose any competing idea, you are inferior. Then check the list of his civilized countries. Ignorance took the floor in Ethiopia, top down. And therein lies Ethiopia’s cardinal problem. If English is considered a colonial tool for Ethiopia as some suggest, what would Amharic be for most Ethiopians?

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