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Ethiopia: Maikadra Massacre Anniversary, Never Again?

A women mourns at the burial site of Maikadra massacre victims

By Teshome Borago

One year from today marked the most gruesome atrocity of the ongoing ethnic insurrection in northern Ethiopia, where over a thousand mostly Welkait-Amharas were slaughtered by members of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in November 9 and 10, 2020.

The abhorrent premeditation, the ghastly coordination between Tigrayan youth, local TPLF militia & officials, to take the innocent life of over a thousand of their unsuspecting fellow Ethiopian brothers & sisters in a matter of hours, sent chills down the spines of the whole nation. It is one of the defining moments of this transitional period in Ethiopian history.

According to eyewitnesses documented by EHRC and OHCHR, “days before the attack, the local administration police and militia forces shut all the exit points from Maikadra. Some of the Maikadra residents who attempted to escape…were forced back home by the local militia. Around the same time, members of  “Samri” – an informal Tigrayan youth group -set up and manned checkpoints at all of the town’s four main exits.  On November 9, 2020, the day of the attack, from around 11:00 AM onwards, the town police started checking identity cards to differentiate people of non-Tigray origin from the rest and raided all the houses/huts, stretching from the neighbourhood known as “Genb Sefer” up to the area called Wolkait Bole, which is largely resided by ethnic Amharas. Women and children of Tigrayan ethnic origin were made to leave the town a few hours ahead of the attack.”

And then, the killings began. 

One by one, going house to house, the Tigrayans slaughtered as many remaining Amharas as possible in this cruel land where most Amharas were nearly removed out to implement the “Western Tigray” project over two decades ago. The 1990s TPLF policy imposing mass resettlement of Tigrayans into this area, and the gradual ethnic cleansing of Amharas out of this region, had already turned the Welkait-Amharas into a small minority in their own ancestral land. Just like the Maikadra massacre of today, those 1990s crimes against humanity by the Tigrayan elite were committed without much scrutiny from Western media, let alone condemnation by Western governments, who are currently aiding & abetting TPLF today.

These tribalist Tigrayan elite – who established apartheid in Ethiopia, who advertised their Tigray enclave as the only peaceful province and even (post-2018) cried crocodile tears when minorities were massacred nationwide — showed just how much more barbaric they are in Maikadra, when they were faced with the “threat” of the oppressed minorities in their midst finally becoming free and equal to them. As the saying goes: “When you are accustomed to privileges, equality feels like oppression.” 

Now the name Maikadra will forever be synonymous with mass atrocity. The videos and photos of hundreds of Amhara corpses littered on Maikadra streets is forever cemented in the Ethiopian collective memory. We can never forget it, or even move on, only perhaps learn from it. But will we? 


While more atrocities happened and continue to occur today, there is no doubt that Maikadra epitomizes this whole period of carnage and TPLF insurrection in northern Ethiopia. We have heard and seen many disturbing ethnic-based nativist (and pseudo-nativist) driven crimes that defined this era, like the Anuak & Arba Gugu massacres, and more recently in Welega, Gedeo, Arsi and Metekel, as well as those shocking photos of a man lynched upside down by Oromo mob in Shashemena and images of stabbings by an Amhara mob in Shewa robit. Several mini-Maikadras have also taken place in other towns but November 9/10 last year defined the destruction, the magnitude and the dark potential of what tribalism can do even in this 21st century; or what type of evil our nation is facing.

As we remember the victims of this mass atrocity in Maikadra one year later, we must also find a way out of this cycle of violence. When it comes to the suffering of Ethiopian people, it seems the English slogan “never again” does not fit our vocabulary, appearing like an unrealistic and luxury expression, as our society is faced with another round of mass killings before we even finish mourning the previous one. 

We must perhaps recognize that though the scale of each violent event has grown, the nature of the violence has been consistently the same for years. Thus if we can acknowledge this is a systemic problem, can a moral compass that says “never again” to another Maikadra inspire change in the system? 

For Amharas in particular, and generally for all minorities nationwide who suddenly found themselves as second-class quasi-citizens in 1991 after TPLF institutionalized ethnic apartheid system, such misery has been around for decades in small-scale. While Tigray was a tranquil oasis for years, as the architect of ethnic-federalism with a monopoly on violence, the vanguard TPLF ruling party largely remote-controlled the intensity (the bodycount) of each cyclical gruesome episode resulting from this apartheid system being implemented in the rest of the country. Thus the system itself, in essence, became one of TPLF’s arsenal, a time bomb that TPLF can set off at any moment whenever it felt it is losing power : and that has been our reality the last four years or so.

In retrospect, perhaps one of the biggest miscalculations of the so-called “Team Lemma” was not knowing how much TPLF “owned” ethnic-federalism. When i criticized and renamed ethnic-federalism as “Zenawism” many years ago, even Merera Gudina’s camp personally attacked me, taking offense that such tribal segregation system is being recognized as the brainchild of TPLF. Then in 2017, when i wrote on the Turkish TRT-World media about the dangers of the apartheid system, one of the first people to criticize me was Mohammed Ademo, perhaps Lemma Megersa’s right-hand man in the Oromo diaspora. He quickly wrote a response to my piece, praising ethnic-federalism (ofcourse renaming it “multinational federalism” with the same vigor Tigrayans replace “TDF” for TPLF). And he tried to detach ethnic-federalism from TPLF (the architect), also by claiming that implementation was the problem, not the system itself. He is not alone, as a recent survey by Afrobarometercompany said around 50 percent of Ethiopians actually believe our ethnic-federalism apartheid system is good. What is even more dangerous is this 50% of our society today, who defend ethnic-federalism tooth & nail, have the complete monopoly on violence at the federal, regional and local government levels as well as even in the opposition camp. 

To this day, such naive reasoning that defends and downplays the dangers of ethnic-federalism remains the unofficial manifesto of the regional branches of “Team Lemma;” whether it is in the Taye-Shimelis camp in Finfinne or the “Team Mustafa” camp in Jigjiga. 

Ironically, even in the middle of a national security crisis of epic proportions the last 12 months, the nativist forces inside Afar and Somali regional governments (the Semera & Jigjiga branches of “Team Lemma”) were so addicted to fulfilling their nativist impulses that they did not find the bad timing inconvenient to fight over scraps of land at their borders. In recent months, disturbed by the cycle of Afar-Issa/Somali violence, I contacted both Afar & Somali politicians and each side told me ethnic-federalism is not the issue, “the problem is the implementation” they both screamed. How ironic, once again, the implementation is being scapegoated, even after TPLF is long gone from the central government. Let alone inside Abiy’s administration, the same dilemma exists even among the so-called “federalist” opposition forces. For example, Oromo nationalists have long contested territories inside the Southern Nations regional state, meanwhile even activists of the Oromo Liberation Army/Front have historically made claims on territories in Gumuz (Kamashi) & Gambella, using the excuse that Gambella was part of the “Oromo” Illubabor province pre-1991.  In fact, TPLF, as the kingmaker, had previously awarded some contested Gambella Kebeles to Oromia in the early 2000s, just like it did alongside the long Somali and Oromia state borders.

For many of us, this pre-1991 Illubabor border excuse used by Oromo nationalists sounds familiar because it is after-all the same excuse used by Amhara nationalists who continuously refer to the pre-1991 Begemder/Gondar borders to lay claims on “Western Tigray.” These explosive disputes exist everywhere in the country.  This is why, those of us who always dreamed for a structural change in Ethiopia, hope that the desire to guarantee that Maikadra will “never again” happen will perhaps propel our society to begin addressing the catalysts perpetuating this cycle of Maikadras. 

Otherwise It seems we are doomed to perpetuate our misery and repeat the carnage. Various Ethiopian leaders do recognize our problem, since even leader of the “Oromo Protests” Lemma Megersa once acknowledged that TPLF has systemically exacerbated ethnic tensions in Ethiopia and we must pursue a post-ethnic Ethiopia to unite. This is why Lemma, though not endorsing it, has never completely opposed and publicly condemned Abiy’s “new beginnings.” When it comes to reforming federalism, the only difference between the “Silent Team Lemma,” the ruling “Team Abiy” and our Ethiopianist camp is the pace in which we move into this theoretical post-ethnic Ethiopian society and finally join the 21st century as a nation of equal citizens. 

Yet, even those in Abiy’s tight circle who are open to reforming ethnic federalism do not truly agree on the way forward and they have not laid down the roadmap. Perhaps, in this sensitive moment when “Team Abiy” needs Amhara popular support to check the heavily armed TPLF military, they don’t want to mess with the “Welkait is Amhara land” rallying cry of Amhara nationalism. But we must wonder, ignoring the bad timing, will resolving the “Gondar vs Western Tigray” dispute itself help to deescalate the underlying drivers of the current conflict? If so, why are national forums not being organized, with experts presenting solutions, to compel the Ethiopian parliament address this land dispute, so that more Maikadras will never happen again? Concrete actions and progressive reforms are desperately needed. Then maybe, if we finally get this right, and realize that some parts of Ethiopia do not necessarily need to be allocated to a single tribe, perhaps we can set a new precedent nationwide that can be applied to resolve land disputes elsewhere, heal the wounds, reduce tensions and inspire a new generation to co-exist peacefully – or at least, SHARE. Such a noble concept we all teach our children since they are toddlers: simply … share. 

Otherwise, can we really say “never again” when all the ingredients needed for the next round of atrocity remain in place? Is “never again” possible in a country where unemployment is low and illiteracy is high while virtually every “prominent” ethnic politician has indoctrinated its ethnic base with the view that the neighboring “others” are its existential problem? Our short-term future remains grim if we don’t act.

It is important to note that Ethiopia is not much more ethnically diverse than most other African nations. Therefore, the source of our problems are not unique, only our solutions are. This is a reality that many of us have been warning about for years. But the ethnic elites have been so resistant and tone deaf to it that even Uganda President Yoweri Museveni had to publicly remind us what is wrong with Ethiopia. It seems like almost every year, President Museveni sends a warning to Ethiopia. Recently in 2020, the Ugandan President told Ethiopian leaders,  “I totally disagree with politics that focus on ethnic” and then later in 2021 he added, “politics of identity especially of tribes and religions have caused many problems to many African countries.” However, instead of listening to African leaders, Ethiopian elites look up to Western experts, the same European “experts” like Prof Kjetil Tronvoll who are now relishing with the military success of nativists and ethnic insurrectionists like TPLF, and enjoying the destruction they emboldened TPLF to pursue using false narratives. 

But it is still not too late. Yes, in the bushes and deserts of Ethiopia, there are more people who are willing to fight and kill, just to keep (and even expand) their version of ethnic-federalism, than those of us who want to fight to end it. Even considering the whole Ethiopian population, there is still no national consensus today to dismantle ethnic-federalism completely. However, there appears to be a consensus to reform it. A portion of that 50 percent surveyed in Ethiopia who passionately support ethnic-federalism as well as the majority of those of us (the other half) who impatiently want ethnic-federalism to be gone quickly, have both given “Team Abiy” the mandate to take it slow in reforming the system at the margins. The time is here for our visionary leaders to keep the promise of real reform and bold changes. The ball is in their hands and Ethipian mothers can only hope & pray that we won’t witness too many Maikadras that will depopulate our motherland before they get the job done.


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