The Amhara Nationalism and its Implication to the Political Dynamics of Ethiopia (Mastewal Dessalew)

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Mastewal Dessalew
November 10,2016

There is no doubt that there is a nascent Amhara nationalism but attributing the current resistance in Amhara region to Amhara nationalism is misleading. The significant majority of the people in the region primarily believe in being Ethiopian and Ethiopianism than ethnic identity but people are tired of being targeted for only being Amhara. The current protest in the region is fueled by 25 years of overt and covert attack on Amhara by the ruling minority TPLF led government. For example among the slogans at the last July popular protest in Gondar and Bahir Dar were “Amhara is Ethiopian”, “Being Amhara is not a crime” and “Amharaness should be respected”.

The antagonism between TPLF and Amharas started when the TPLF clearly declared on its Manifesto that its struggle is “anti Amhara and anti imperialism”. When the TPLF came to power in 1991, it has put the words in its manifesto into practice by committing countless atrocities on the people of Amhara. Hundreds of thousands of Amharas are forcefully evicted from regions like Oromia, Southern Nations, Benishangul Gumuz, Gambella and other regions where they leaved for generations. Amhara women are sterilized without their consent to achieve demographic reengineering and currently, though there is no any significant socio-economic difference with women in other regions, as per the ministry of health, Amhara women have the lowest fertility rate in the country. Disease especially malaria is also used to kill tens of thousands of Amhara by systematically denying medical services and dismantling organizations that work on controlling malaria in Amhara region. The silent death of tens of thousands of people due to malaria in Gojjam area of the region in 1998/99 could be mentioned. In addition to this, the TPLF has annexed historical Amhara lands into Tigray and the annexation is followed by the settling of hundreds of thousands of people from Tigray into the newly annexed territories. Amharas in such areas are forcefully evicted and their land given to the settlers and those who are currently leaving there are treated as second class citizens. The effect of all these is the reduction in the proportion of the Amhara form the total population of the country from 30% during the 1984 census to 27% in the 2007 census. To put this into context, 3 percent of the current 100 million population of the country is 3 million people. The 2007 census result had created a storm even in the usually calm parliament and the head of the then statistics authority, Samia Zekaria, was seen on camera troubled to explain why it is only the demographic of the Amhara among other Ethiopians that show a decline. It is for a reason that and in 2012 Sibhat Nega, the former leader of TPLF and currently a powerful power broker in the country, said that “We have broken the backbone of Amhara and the Orthodox church”. There are also signs that the TPLF is preparing to annex more land from Amhara region, for example, school textbooks are being used to indoctrinate the new generation with maps that depict areas currently under Amhara region as part of Tigray region. The ministry of education has openly apologized for its misdeed and promised to rectify some of the grade ten and grade six textbooks following the recent political unrest in Amhara region. Moreover, Amharas are ostracized from the socio-economic and political life of the country and being Amhara itself is a crime in the current Ethiopia.

There are people who argue that the incumbents brought together the Amharic speaking people in one regional state and indoctrinated to create a collective identity and this is creating a challenge to its architects. But, at the heart of the current federal system is attenuating the Amhara and if there is anything that unites Amharas against the incumbents, it is the heinous crimes committed on them for the last 25 years. At its inception, the system gave historical Amhara lands to other regions. Gondar and Wollo respectively lost Wolkayt- Tegede and Raya to Tigray, Gojjam’s Metekel is given to Benishangul Gumuz, Shewa is never such dismembered in its history. Not only the lands are taken away, the TPLF led government has implemented policies of demographic reengineering in those areas. For example, in 2012 Amharas were evicted from Metekel where they leaved for millennia. The demographic in Wolkayt-Tegede is also changed by stealing the land of the indigenous Amhara and settling hundreds of thousands of Tigres in the past 2 decades. By the way the German International Cooperation (GIZ) formerly GTZ was a partner in crime in one of such settlement projects. In addition, millions of Amharas outside the state of Amhara in regions like Oromia, Southern Nations, Benishangul, Harari, Dire Dawa and other regions are openly discriminated from participating in their local politics and holding offices as well as in getting government jobs. In regions like Oromia, millions of Amhara children are systematically denied their basic right of attending primary school in their mother tongue Amharic as an alternative to Oromifa and unlike the Oromos in Amhara region who have their own special zone with Oromifa as a working language, the 3 million Amharas in Oromia region are denied of their right to be served in their Amharic language and use it in administrative and other official activities. Attacking and displacing Amharas from regions like Southern Nations, Oromia, Benishangul and other regions is common place in the last two and half decades and never in the history of Ethiopia that Amharas are forcefully evicted from any part of the country until the TPLF came to power. (Continue on page 2)

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