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Dismembering a Nation By Design or Impulse?  

Ethiopia _ Constitution _ Dismember nation
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By Samuel Estefanous

You know apart from being the pioneer of short story telling in Amharic literature, Afework Gebreyesus had tried to write the biography of Menelik II.  But for some reason (some historians contend) he had believed that Menelik’s glory couldn’t be told enough unless Yohanis IV’s legacy is sufficiently denigrated. Offended by this established siege mentality inherited from the Era of the warring Princes, Bejirond Gebreyesus Bykedagn had tried to make his contemporaries see reason but obviously he was spurned.  

Then, he wouldn’t have been a lonely voice in the wilderness if he hadn’t hailed from the same Province as the Emperor. Otherwise he was himself one of the intellectual pioneers of the idea of aggressive assimilation of the Oromos to quell what at the time was collectively perceived as an existential threat to the future of the historical Christian Ethiopian polity. Say what you have got to say but if you really come to think about it, the Era of Princes is yet running its due natural course albeit employing contemporary mediums. Almost all political ‘opinion makers and influencers’ are born-defined by their locality; across the board they blindly serve a presumably given set of interests they have inherited. A few political outcasts and wanderers like Lidetu Ayalew try to swim upstream against the current but inevitably they end up alone and cold out in the fringes of the political landscape-something a politician can’t afford to do.     

At another level we can debate the importance of the Battles of Doga’li, Gura, Sehati, Metema etc and if the Victory of Adwa hadn’t cast its long shadow on their respective definitive historical significances.

The battle of Adwa lasted for a little more than four hours; to rout a major European power like that in just half a day is a spectacular achievement unmatched in the whole of Africa except perhaps for that of Shaka Zulu’s epic re-conquest of the South African sub-continent. On the contrary Yohanis IV had to wage a drawn out devastating war of attrition against the Italians and Egyptians for years running. To its credit the Dergue had tried to elevate the battle of Doga’li to the grandeur it truly deserves. The kudos goes to the late Mamo Wudneh as well for ably recording the history for posterity. But every run of the mill crooner or a buff of local history is fastened on the glory that is Adwa as if Doga’li had never happened. 

I think Adwa has kept the Country in one piece as well. The battle of Adwa couldn’t have come at a better time and couldn’t have happened at a better place. Adwa had cemented the legitimacy of Emperor Menelik II in the freshly acquired territories. But forging a United State isn’t as simple as winning the frontiers. The territories had long been incorporated into the historical Polity but the people inhabiting the territories are yet to be won over- hence the on-going virtually uninterrupted   battle for the heart and mind of the populace. 

In all honesty we need to have the courage to ask ourselves-is this Country being dismembered by  design as indicated in the FDRE Constitution or is it still  running the gauntlet of the process of modern Nation formation that had begun in the last decades of the 19th Century. In the language of the scholars of Federalism-are we trying to effectively come together or are we trying to hold together.  

In this connection, the intellectual discussion of the Oromo question dates way back to the early 20th century among the early scholars cleverly characterised by Bahru Zewudie as Pioneers. At the centre of the debate was the need for assimilation. Just like other multinational States in the World, after conquest enforcing some kind of assimilation was inevitable. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Actually the art of assimilation was perfected by the complex native civilization called Gada (some scholars allege that half Arisi are actually Oromized Hadyas).   At least nothing on the scale perpetrated by Canada, the United State and Australia was attempted. What those civilised trios did to the indigenous Natives was barbaric. In any given sub Saharan African Country the dominant language group tends to assimilate those with lesser number of speakers. The Kukuyu in Kenya, the Ashanti in Ghana, the Xhosa and Zulu in South Africa, the Afro Arabs in Sudan all had absorbed or assimilated a segment of other language speakers.  

In Ethiopia it appears that the trend was reversed when it comes to the Oromos in particular. Patently or latently, cleverly or otherwise this is the primordial motive that fuels the Oromo question. When Mohamed Hassan titled his Ph.D. thesis ‘the Oromos of Ethiopia’ in a way he is telling us the Oromos are too big to be contained in Ethiopia.

How are we supposed to entertain such ‘isolated’ enigma independently of the general question relative to the rights of Nationalities in Ethiopia? A similar thirty years puzzle in the form of the Eritrean question culminated (solved) in the declaration of the State of Eritrea. Are we facing an equally important question we need to address courageously? Bereft of the hyperbole emotional rollercoaster that has dominated and uncharacteristically defined Ethiopian politics for generations? 

One may wonder, why not? In terms of the historical evolving of the Nation, Bahre Negash was literally the nucleus of the historical Kingdom of Ethiopia, yet it has chosen to trade Bahre Negash for a colonial nomenclature and casted away the proud Ethiopian identity just like that. On the contrary the Oromos of Ethiopia-to borrow the choice designation of Mohamed Hassan- have been in a continuous conflict since 1522 until the last decades of the 19th

Countering such an argument may not be an easy ride but the simple obvious truth is the Oromos of Ethiopia have been redefining, reforming and remaking Ethiopia albeit not in their own image but by subscribing to the existing ethos of Nationhood.  The question that keeps bouncing back to us however far and deep we bury it is-did they have to lose their Oromo identity to embrace and be accepted as a full-fledged Ethiopian? Have we tried to accept Oromummaa as the indigenous face of Ethiopia? 

Much as I hate to subscribe to ‘virtues’ of the student movement of the 70s, it had tried to reroute this enduring trend. It does us no good to belittle or ignore that historical Manifesto of the Student Movement. It simply declared that there shouldn’t be any pre- designated rite of initiation to become an Ethiopian. It mocked the persisting inclination of some pseudo-scholars who have got the habit of unfolding a long list of prominent Ethiopian rulers with Oromo blood in their veins-beginning from Ba’Kaffa to Emperor Haile Silassie I. 

The Abba Bahrey Brief 

Reading Abba Bahrey is a pleasant experience. One might as well forget that the man had lived five hundred years ago in the remotest outpost of the Kingdom and consider him an erudite, seasoned and uninhibited contemporary historian. He would put to shame any modern ethnographer by the finesse of the research methodology he had employed complete with footnotes. 

But beware whose translation you are reading though! The widely read translation by Professor Getachew Haile renders the now famous original Ge’ez opening paragraph of the chronicle as ‘bestial nature of their character’. On the other hand Mohamed Hassan quotes that Abba Bahray alleged ‘the brutality of their manners’. Note that Mohamed holds the monk in the highest esteem. If you are looking for a contextual meaning, I kinda feel Hassan is closer to the true intent of the writer-considering the fact that the monk time after time makes reference to   the ‘brutality’ of Oromo warriors. He was awed by their bravery and admonishes the Christians for shirking the call to duty as only 10% of Christians fight the Oromos and accuses the rest of some kind of draft dodging. 

That is beside the point, though. The strong point Abba Bahrey makes is undisputable. He assumed that the Oromos weren’t just an alien force having little in common with the rest of the Ethiopian polity but just like the Pioneers of the early 20th Century as an existential threat to the future of the Christian Kingdom. He was impelled to write the Chronicle for future generations to keep the Oromos at bay. 

Ironically, it was Menelik II who had tried to incorporate the Oromos into the mainstream Ethiopian polity, the transition was rough and tough considering it was conducted in a spirit of conquest.  Otherwise, almost all his predecessors denied them a collective Ethiopian identity. They wouldn’t even bestow the honour on the Oromos of Wollo under Mestawet. They preferred the friendship of the ‘fellow ferenji Christians’ over the Oromos. That is an historical fact recorded in streams of letters addressed to European Christian monarchies. Without accepting this recorded history it would be difficult to forge forward repeating the old mantra that Ba’kaffa’ mother was an Oromo and Susenyos used to speak Oromiffa better than he did Amharic. Besides we aren’t an exception but the rule in this regard. Modern Germany and Italy are nearly as young as modern Ethiopia. That doesn’t remotely imply denying Roman civilization or the existence of the Holy Roman Empire (which happens to be Austria or Germany and not even Italy.)

Dismembering by Design?   

The FDRE Constitution has long been bedevilled as an instrument to dismember the Nation by design, chiefly owing to the constitutional right of self-determination up to and including secession expressly enshrined in the Supreme law of the land. The right of Nation, Nationalities and People to break away from the Federal Union had sent shock waves across the width and breadth of the Country-thirty solid years later, it is still a steaming hot divisive issue.

In Contemporary Ethiopian history two definitive epoch marking political breakthroughs were made possible-the proclamations that had irreversibly bestowed land to the tiller and firmly established public ownership of land and the Constitution that had ventured to constitute a Nation by virtually dismembering it-allegedly to be able to keep it in one piece. 

Ever since, the architects of the Constitution have suffered the full wrath of the ferocious, self-styled Unionist forces. But public ownership of land invites little protest from the overwhelming majority of the public except for some West leaning politico-economists repeating undigested quotes from liberal economic textbooks. 

I think it is high time we should begin doing some kind of sincere soul searching. Perhaps this Constitution has indeed held the Nation together. Perhaps the territorial integrity and unity of the Nation is being threatened by the ‘self-styled’ unionist forces as much as those with a declared intent to drift away from the Centre. 

Are the Masquerade dancers being Unmasked?  

I happened to tune in when that shrill voice strongly opinionated Bethlehem Taffesse interviewed Iskneder Nega. She literally demanded him to unmask himself and show us his true colour since it is peeling off on its own anyway. I was amazed when I came to learn lately that he had actually obliged Betty and has rebranded himself as an Amhara centric political figure. What does this say about his followers and sympathisers? Wouldn’t one be tempted to apologise to ANDM and its members? I mean they were unfairly demonised for organising under the Amhara Nation. Were they after all honest politicians who didn’t choose to join a masquerade political dance?     

Some folks are contending that the hitherto uncompromisingly Ethio-Centric vocal voices are regrouping to demarcate the historical territory of Amharastan. Where does this take the rest of the overwhelming Amharic speaking people dispersed all over the Country? Remember this group is for the most part multilingual, relatively disengaged from the shallow ethnic based narrative and guess what? Better educated and urbane! Perhaps the future belongs to this silent but very capable group. Otherwise those set on dismembering the Nation by impulse make one wonder, all along, was Ethiopia a figment of our fertile imagination when it actually is a loose confederation of tribes solely held together by a combination of false myth and naked force? 

Those who are bent on dismembering the Nation by impulse have done a great service to the architects of the FDRE Constitution. They have proved the latter right.  

God Bless.     

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of  

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  1. A long, laborious drivel with not much substance, just an excuse for oromumma thugs current mafia style governance.

    Look here, the USA, the model nation and expert country in true federalism, we are talking about Hamiltonian Federalism. Federalism is nothing but devolvement of power from center to periphery.

    In the US, people from all over the world have come, some 200 countries plus several hundred languages are all included. Most second generation Americans already abandon their ancestors mother tongue and speak only English.

    To first and second generation Americans of Oromo ancestry, their main language is English.

    Yet abiy and his imbecilic orommumma cadres tire is day in day out about nations and nationalities to distract us from their, murdering, looting, embezzling and sheer stupidity and incompetency.

    Nobody cares whether the oromo militant is assimilated or not.The oromo militant does not have any more rights than the average Ethiopian citizen. If he or she does not like this fact, be ready to pack up and take a hike. Everyone is so sick and tired of your shenanigans. If you don’t like Ethiopia, then get out. If you want to practice oromumma,then go ahead. Leave others alone for good.

    What the Amhara do and think should not be any of your concern.

  2. Yea, cry a river dude. You are confused, long-winded, and unintelligent.

    Talking about unionists forces (not slick, pussycat) “threaten the territorial integrity” after Eritrea immediately activated the secession clause, and Oromo/Tigrayan bozos clamoring for Article 39 in each of their party meetings.

    The childish quotes you inserted about “Oromo is so big and so strong” has nothing to do with the points you fail to make.

    Your article would have actually been interesting if you kept focus on the Era of Princes and how they have impacted Ethiopia’s past century till today.

    Alas, that’s obviously asking too much of an individual so clearly frothing with hate. Get help.


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