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Ethiopia: A Glimpse into the Amhara Awakening

by Messay Kebede
Published on ECADF
September 2,2016

Gojam movement - August 27
Amhara protest in Gojam

Let me begin by sharing my surprise at the dazzling nature of Amhara open resistance and determination in the fight against the government and the repressive forces of the TPLF. Of course, the wide but subdued discontent of the Amhara was quite obvious for anybody with a minimum sense of observation. But nobody expected that, within a short period of time, an active and confrontational form of resistance will engulf the whole Amhara region, whose consequence is the exposure of the depth of the popular discontent as well as of the vulnerability of the regime after 25 years of tight dictatorial rule. As a matter of fact, those who follow my online write-ups know that, at the peak of the Oromo unrest, I posted an article urging the Amhara to join the protest. At the same time, I was confronted with some articles explaining the Amhara reluctance by the fear that secessionists are leading the Oromo protest. According to the articles, to support the protest under this condition would be tantamount to endorsing the secession of Oromia.

How, then, is, one to explain this sudden and massive uprising of a people that many, especially the ruling clique, had considered as decisively beaten and resigned to a second-rate citizenship? And what happened to the fear of Oromo secession for the Amhara to rise so massively and all of a sudden against a demeaning ruling elite that they were allegedly tolerating in the name of peace and the unity of the country?

I think an understanding of the uprising transpires if we start our analysis from the fact of a wide and deep frustration of the Amhara. This frustration is not only due to the lack of economic opportunities and the dictatorial methods of the government, but also to the TPLF’s systematic policy of humiliating and marginalizing an ethnic group with impressive records of leadership and achievements in the past as well as in modern Ethiopia. Perhaps the psychological frustration of humiliation at being both degraded and demeaned is even stronger than economic deprivation and youth unemployment.

Add to this already intense frustration the dispute over the identity of the people of Wolkait-Tegede and the government’s recourse to force to deal with the dispute. Without doubt, the violent response was, as the saying goes, the final straw that broke the camel’s back. As a cumulative process, frustration has a boiling point which, when reached, changes qualitatively into open rebellion. When frustration reaches such a heightened level, fear vanishes in the face of an anger that is no longer containable.

Some such explanation leaves us still perplexed: true, anger explodes, but for that reason it is also short-lived and cannot by itself alone feeds on a prolonged resistance because very soon the fear of repression and violent death sets in, reviving the previous attitude of quiet resentment. To all appearances, however, the Amhara uprising has gone beyond the explosion of anger: it is changing into a political movement, which can no longer defeated, even if it is possible to intermittently muzzle it by means of harsh and indiscriminate repression.

It is here that the importance of the Oromo uprising comes into play. The precedence of the Oromo rebellion achieved two interrelated results. First, it created the sense of the Amhara and Oromo being both victims of the same ruthless and discriminatory rule. This common condition became not only the basis of a rapprochement, but also ushered in a vision in which both will have their proper places in a truly democratic Ethiopia. Secondly, in addition to decrease the fear of disintegration, the Oromo rebellion exposed the fundamental weakness and vulnerability of the regime. The mobilization of army units to crush a popular rebellion is not a sign of strength; it is the proof that the regime has lost all legitimacy so that it can only govern by force and intimidation. Such a regime is at the mercy of incidents, not to mention the inevitability of internal divisions and even of a coup d’état.

When you combine intense frustration with the vulnerability of the existing regime, you have a revolutionary situation, exactly as Lenin describes it. To quote him, “for a revolution to take place it is not enough for the exploited and oppressed masses to realize the impossibility of living in the old way, and demand changes; for a revolution to take place it is essential that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way. It is only when the ‘lower classes’ do not want to live in the old way and the ‘upper classes’ cannot carry on in the old way that the revolution can triumph.” Indeed, for the Amhara as well as for the Oromo, the TPLF can no longer rule in the old day and they themselves do not want to be ruled in the old way: change is in sight.

Last but not least, the other triggering factor was the impact of what can be called “the appeal of the hero.” I have in mind the inspiring reaction of Colonel Demeke Zewdu to the illegal attempt to arrest him by TPLFite hitmen. His determined refusal and his self-defensive measure had a deep resonance on the Amhara soul, all the more resoundingly as they brought back to memory the glorious past from which the modern Amhara wandered away, at least since the Italian occupation of Ethiopia. In showing the example, Colonel Demeke both exhorted the Amhara to rise to the level of their historical legacy and injected a bitter dose of shame at their resignation to be humiliated by TPLFite renegades, who indeed did not even hesitate to throw away Tigray’s long-standing and zealous commitment to Ethiopian integrity.

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