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Black Lives Matter politics in Ethiopia

Black Lives Matter _ World Economic Forum
Photo credit : World Economic Forum

Teshome M. Borago
June 6, 2020

From controversial comments about African Americans by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to debates on statue removal and police brutality, the “Black Lives Matter” movement has attracted Ethiopian news agencies and social media attention. Just like in the United States, however, there is no consensus on how to both interpret societal problems and approach a solution.

Since the May 25th death of African American man George Floyd under custody of a white police officer, protests through out the United States have consumed media coverage that was previously dedicated to the CoronaVirus pandemic. People in several cities worldwide have joined in solidarity, however most cities in 3rd world African and Asian countries have been relatively quiet, including in Ethiopia. In Addis Ababa, solidarity protests planned online by activists have mostly fell on deaf ears. 

The last mass protest for diaspora causes held in Ethiopia was in 2018 in response to the suffering of Ethiopian/African immigrants inside Arab countries, where they face more overt discrimination and abuse.

Inside Ethiopia itself, where police brutality is normalized, and African American causes are at the bottom of priorities, the mere display of solidarity with US-based “Black Lives Matter” (BLM) is perceived as being out of touch or elitist. 

Nonetheless, Ethiopian social media had its share of controversial debates driven by diaspora activists and media, particularly in Minneapolis, Minnesota; the location of George Floyd’s “I CAN’T BREATHE” last words, as a white policeman suffocated him to death. Minnesota was one of the places the Ethiopian Prime Minister visited in 2018, due to its significant Ethiopian population, particularly of ethnic Oromo. ZEHABESHA media, the top Ethiopian media based in Minneapolis, covered local protests. And popular Oromo politician Jawar Mohammed, also from Minnesota, wore a t-shirt displaying “I can’t breathe.”

However, controversy arose when some Ethiopians claimed statues supporting hate in Ethiopia should be removed, just like the Robert E Lee statue being removed in the United States. For example, the Anole Monument built by TPLF in Oromia is widely perceived as an attempt to perpetuate ethnic hatred and division. Historically, similar to the American Union army of the 1860s, Ethiopian union forces from Shewa and led by Oromo general Ras Gobana defeated a southern army in Arsi. Yet, the Anole monument depicts this 1880s battle as a one-sided massacre, despite Oromo historians’ claim that the southern Arsi army was initially victorious in previous battles against Shewa. But many Ethiopians believe the Shewan Union army’s triumphs led to East African unity and a victory against European colonization, and ultimately ended the main slave trade route from southern states like Jimma. A popular Social media Ethiopian activist nicknamed “Tesfaye Woldeyes,” added on Twitter that General “Robert Lee’s equivalent in the the Ethiopian experience is Leenjiso Daga,” an Arsi General who lost to Oromo general Ras Gobana. 

Even more controversy occurred when diaspora Oromo activists attempted to associate problems back home in Oromia with Black Lives Matter by using hashtag “Oromo Lives Matter.” The problem was many Oromo politicians in Diaspora are known to advocate for nativism and ethnic segregation back home; which are ideals opposite to historic African American causes and Black Lives Matter. 

Its flabbergasting to see people screaming Black Lives Matter from the bottom of their lungs meanwhile they are pro ethnic supremacy and ethnic cleansing in Ethiopia,” said a US-based activist Daniel on social media. Several Amhara activists in diaspora have also complained about abducted Amhara students, but they also used social media to incite ethnic clashes in northern Ethiopia, where ethnic Gumuz and Qemant were massacred by Amhara nationalists in recent years. Obang Metho, a popular human rights defender, said its important that all people advocate for all “Ethiopian lives matter” instead, since Ethiopia is a country of 80 minorities. Another critic from Addis Ababa described the hypocrisy: “telling everyone that Black lives matter but we Ethiopians can’t attend our university classes in another region.

His frustration was shared by many Ethiopian university students who have been increasingly targeted based on their ethnicity as non-state actors and mobs committed massacres nationwide. At times, Ethiopian police gave a blind eye to these mass killings, to avoid accusations of police brutality. In other cases, local police encouraged or joined ethnic mobs during killings, due to the weakness of central government during the transition period since 2018.

When Abiy’s government eventually began more active law enforcement in 2020, it has now been accused of brutalities itself. Therefore, government broadcast media has recently provided extensive coverage of Black Lives Matter protests and police brutality in America, which critics view as the Abiy administration’s attempt to distract citizens from problems at home, especially in Oromia. In less than two years, Western Oromia officials have blamed a local OLA militia for at least 778 murders, while defenders of the OLA rebels accuse the government of killing over 200 alleged supporters of the rebellion. 

Another critic of the Ethiopian government, blogger Befekadu Hailu, accused the Prime Minister of demeaning African Americans. Doing so, Befekadu misquoted an old and unrelated statement by Abiy out of context. In an audio from 2018, the Prime Minister was giving a speech advising Ethiopians to move forward together toward prosperity, instead of fighting endlessly over past ethnic grievances. Abiy, who is from the Oromo ethnic group himself, has appealed for less ethnic division in Ethiopia. Abiy used an example of economic advancement by Jews, who have endured the Holocaust and discrimination worldwide, including in America; in contrast to the unending plight of African Americans. Befekadu, incorrectly, accused PM Abiy of labeling African Americans as “lazy,” while in reality, Abiy appeared to compare leadership mentality between Jewish and African American elites. The Prime Minister also did not deny systematic racism or historic injustice facing African Americans, in fact Abiy has previously spoken with US officials like Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser about Ethiopian government and African Union (AU) solidarity with African-American causes. 

It is unlikely that fake news and political posturing will be any less vicious as Ethiopia approaches a historic election season. Every side will attempt to play victim, defame the other or exploit global trends, including Black Lives Matter.  Like Martin Luther King Jr won the Nobel Prize in 1964, Ethiopia’s Abiy received the prestigious award and hopes to bring peaceful change as well. However, just like militant groups in Ethiopian politics, several African American leaders accused Martin Luther King (MLK) Jr of being soft, delaying full Liberation, sabotaging real change and economic justice. The Yeroo Magazine, an Oromo private newspaper in Oromia, shared such criticism of MLK by the famous Malcolm X on its Twitter page, which mirrors the criticism of Oromo hardliners against Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. 

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  1. Yes, the politics you speak of is called our normal ethnic politics, which is very toxic and organized by hidden characters (in their personal estimation) such as TPLF stooges and not to blame Teshome M. Borago (TMB), a.k.a AM + TDAL = prof. It’s interesting you mention that “Inside Ethiopia itself, where police brutality is normalized??? Where is Ethiopia’s virtual security? Oh at the PM’s office? Does the Prime Minster know that? If true, is it not a “human rights” violation? It was a classic Freudian slip in terms of the e word, which really means nothing in this context and not worth repeating except that it leaves an unmistakable footprint of the an unintentional error regarded as revealing subconscious feelings. A Freudian slip is an error due to the interference of an unconscious subdued wish or internal train of thought. It was mentioned in the “ignorant willfully” collection by the alter ego Eklabed Emohset (TD in reverse) the concept is part of classical psychoanalysis. When first learned of it who the identity 100% last year the initial team reaction was wow, shocking. But then would have thought this? As to the deceiving comment “Ethiopia approaches a historic election season”???” Recommend re-reading the MA (read backwards) review of Negarit Federal Gazeta.

  2. Ethiopians around the world are showing solidarity with African Americans on social media. I’s so beautiful to see and we’re very proud our people in America standing up with our black American friends that thought with our side on our country was falling part under the knee of fascist. Thank you African Americans and thank you Ethiopian Americans. When I was growing up in the old piazaa area there was Alem bakery that used to sell bread as bobolino for 25 cents how I used to love it until discovered what it was made from. one again at my old age It’s disappointing that known unkwn fake name STILL doing the same old thing. A cat may go to a monastery, but she still remains a cat .

  3. PM Abiy Ahmed “African Americans live in the past.”

    Most African Americans are debt free , most donot drive borrowed cars or they donot owe money mortgage payments for the houses they live in that is living in the present not living in the past.
    Spending borrowed money is living in the future ,is not living in the present.

    Most African Americans live in a house of our ancestors until we own something , unlike the Ethiopian government officials who go fight proxy wars killing Africans hoping they will get lasting relations with the West .
    Ethiopia go roaming around the globe begging to borrow billions of dollars with hefty interests selling their future to foreign western countries , that’s living in the future , spending borrowed money is living in the future which Ethiopia is being known for . PM Abiy Ahmed asked the West for all debt cancellation , does he still see that happening?

    • Shawn

      When PM Abiy Ahmed said “African Americans live in the past” he was trying to say African Americans think they are in slavery now just like in the past.

  4. I’m an Ethiopian-American, born and raised in the U.S. The only part of this article I feel qualified to comment on is your comment on Hailu’s criticism of the PM’s comments about Black Americans. I cannot find the specific comments you’re referring to, but I watched that clip of PM Ahmed’s speech (I think it’s posted on the habeshacomedies Instagram page) and it is absolutely problematic. You say that the PM didn’t deny systematic racism, but the thing is he failed to acknowledge how systematic racism continues to this day and how it is the main reason why Black Americans have not been able to progress the same way other non-white groups in the U.S. have. While Jewish people have and still do face Antisemitism in the U.S., they were not subject to the same policies that have oppressed Black Americans. It’s not a matter of mindset (even among the elites) when the laws, policies, and institutions are ALL working against you. That is inaccurate and so damaging. I encourage you to read more about the historical oppression Black Americans have and still face. A simple Google search on any topic will pull up thorough resources on these issues.

  5. Islam isn’t the answer idiot go and get education its people like you that make Africa backwards.

    Education and fariness thinking is the answer not Islam, Judaism or Christianity. This are faith individuals to follow by choice.

    Unless u want to murder billion life their no way the world will become fully Islamic not even christan.


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