Aklog Birara (Dr)
Part 4 of 6
“If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die under tyranny.”
Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny
Today, Amhara Fano are fighting the all-Ethiopian battle against tribalism, ethnonationalism, state and government induced theft, corruption, exclusion, cronyism, injustice, and tyranny. In the light of this, non-Amhara have a moral responsibility to join the struggle for lasting peace, stability, human dignity, the institutionalization, and implementation of the rule of law and democracy—essential ingredients for sustainable and equitable development in Ethiopia.
As we celebrate the 60Th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s indelible “I have a dream” speech in Washington DC, I am reminded of another equally unforgettable speech on the “Two Americas” Dr. King gave at Stanford University in 1967. At the time I was attending George School, a private high school in Pennsylvania that had offered me a scholarship while on a Herald Tribune World Youth Forum tour.
Dr. King contrasted the two-America’s in the sharpest terms possible.
“I would like to use as a subject from which to speak this afternoon, the other America. And I use this subject because there are literally two Americas. One America is beautiful for our situation. And in a sense, this America is overflowing with the miracle of prosperity and the honey of opportunity. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies and culture and education for their minds, and freedom and human dignity for their spirit. In America, millions of people experience every day the opportunity of having life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in all their dimensions. And in America, millions of young people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity.”
In contrast the other affluent America that still lingers to this day is “a lonely island of poverty.” Dr. King depicts the other America eloquently and calmly as follows:
“But tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this America, millions of work-starved men walk the streets daily in search for jobs that do not exist. In this America, millions of people find themselves living in rat-infested, vermin-filled slums. In America, people are poor by the millions. And they find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty, in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”
When I think of this speech, I think of the millions of Ethiopian children who have become victims of war, ethnic conflict, ethnic cleansing, and genocide in Ethiopia. I think of the 20 million Ethiopians who go hungry each day while their government purchases drones, tanks and other weapons of mass destruction used to frighten children and kill innocent civilians. I think of Ethiopia’s “leaders” who do not care how many of their soldiers die or are wounded or are captured let alone empathy for the victims inflicted by the tyrannical regime.
“In a sense, the greatest tragedy of this other America is what it does to other children. Little children in this other America are forced to grow up with clouds of inferiority, farming every day in their little mental skies. And as we look at this other America, we see it as an arena of blasted hopes and shattered dreams. Many people of various backgrounds live in this other America. Some are Mexican American, some are Puerto Ricans, some are Indians, some happen to be from other groups, millions of them are Appalachian whites. Probably the largest group in this other America, in proportion to its size and the population is the American Negro.”
I draw an important and relevant lesson for the conditions in Ethiopia from Dr. King’s speech. Exclusionary public policies that emanate from race or tribe or ethnicity are anathema to human dignity, to peace, stability, democracy, and shared prosperity. No country can establish one “nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all” by treating one group as superior or inferior to another or by going back in history and holding the current generation accountable for tragedies of the past.
Equally, no country can establish durable peace and stability let alone prosperity by demonizing and targeting another ethnic group or by imposing one form of ethnic hegemony by another or by state and government sponsored war targeting innocent civilians. I mean, Oromo PP replacing TPLF.
As I write this commentary, the town of Debre Tabor, Ethiopia where I grew up is surrounded by Abiy’s army, shooting lethal weapons randomly at innocent civilians, including children This army has, I am told, garrisoned itself at the market on a hill top adjacent to a famous Church (Eyesus) that I used to frequent on major holidays when I was a child A close relative I was able to reach said, “We are surrounded. We hear shots in the middle of the night. Please pray for us.” The mayor of Debre Tabor has been arrested and jailed in the city of Bahir Dar. The reason for his arrest is an allegation that he is pro-Amhara cause and pro-Fano.
Since my contact with a resident in Debre Tabor, Abiy’s contingent in the city is on the verge of collapse. For example, Colonel Haile Mariam Gebre Egziabher, assigned to assault Debre Tabor city surrendered to and joined Fano along with his colleagues admitting that the war against the Amhara is unfair and unjust.
All Amhara deserve peace and not war. The people of Debre Tabor do not deserve such assault by Abiy’s invading and occupation army. This act is sickening with far reaching consequences for Ethiopia. Whether Abiy and his cronies accept it or not, Ethiopia’s military’s capabilities are being degraded because of this latest reckless war against Amhara. Thousands of soldiers are killed, thousands wounded, hundreds captured, and hundreds are surrendering to Fano and providing this force the requisite military hardware it needs desperately.
Fresh popular uprising against Abiy’s aggression is reported in the City of Gondar, Ebinat, Debre Marcos and other Amhara towns and cities. Fano freed three helicopters from Aiy’s army in Gojjam.
The latest war against Amhara diminishes our common humanity. It diminishes Ethiopia’s national institutions. It forces Ethiopia to negotiate its sovereign rights over the Blue Nille from a weak position.
This is why the Amhara cause is equally your cause. Abiy is using Ethiopia’s military to implement his Oromo Prosperity Party’s and the Oromo Liberation Front’s agenda of narrow ethnonationalist agenda throughout the Amhara regional state.
The city of Debre Tabor, where there is stiff popular resistance is the heart of Amhara land. This is why I call Aiy’s state of emergency proclamation Nazi-like. It targets a specific ethnic group, namely, Amhara.
The people of Debre Tabor have done nothing wrong to be assaulted day and night by Abiy Ahmed, his his Oromo-dominated Prosperity Party and the Amhara cadres and hired hands that operate in concert against the Amhara population. History will no doubt judge the persons and agencies harshly.
The pathology of Tribalism in Ethiopia
I would like to draw a parallel between the Nazi racist regime of Germany that killed six million Jews and the tyrannical ethno-nationalist regime of Abiy Ahmed that is accountable for slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Amhara. Both are genocidal acts. Both assume that a specific group of people do not deserve to exist: Jews under Nazi Germany and Amhara under Abiy’s Ahme’s Oromuma. I say Oromuma because the president of the Oromia regional state, Shimelis Abdissa acts as the shadow president of the Amhara region. He is the one who came up with the term “convince or confuse.” His repeated demeaning utterances fuel more anger and outrage against the regime in power.
I find practically nothing convincing in Shimelis Abdissa’s diatribe. For me, nothing he says is confusing. His utterances are not only tribal and ethnocentric, but they are also trivial as well as primitive. If he cared for the unity of the Ethiopian people, he would devote more time and attention by protecting the safety and security of all Ethiopians in his own region. He is part of the hit squad. His region is a hub of terrorism. His region is a hub of ethnic cleansing, genocide, and massive displacement.
Dr. King said this about Hitler. “Hitler was a sick and tragic man who carried racism to its logical conclusion, and he ended up leading a nation to the point of killing about six million Jews. And this is a tragedy of racism because its ultimate logic is genocide. If one says that I am not good enough to live next door to him, if one says that I am not good enough to eat at a lunch counter, to have a good, decent job or to go to school with him, merely because of my race, he is saying, consciously or unconsciously, that I do not deserve to exist. To use a philosophical analogy here, racism is not based on some empirical generalization. It is based, rather, on an ontological affirmation. It is not an assertion that certain people are behind, culturally, or otherwise, because of environmental conditions. It is the affirmation that the very being of a people is inferior. And this is a great tragedy of it. I say that however unpleasant it is, we must honestly see and admit that racism is still deeply rooted all over America.”
Tribalism or ethnonationalism is exclusionary. The Abiy regime is unrepentant in terms of its actions regardless of the number of innocent civilians killed or the amount of investment property destroyed by war.
I remind the reader that, in the two-year war with TPLF, over a million lives perished. The cost to the economy is now estimated at $28 billion. We do not know the number of innocent civilian deaths in the recent Abiy war against Amhara. We can estimate the cost of the war to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Is this not irresponsible, reckless, and ignorant? Does this not degrade Ethiopia’s national unity and subvert its territorial integrity, sovereignty, and national security?
Why are Amhara targeted for exclusion, for ethnic cleansing, for genocide and massive displacement? Why is there a deliberate degradation of Amhara institutions like the Amharic language, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the like.
First, we need to agree on a shared definition of Amhara.
Who is Amhara?
Amhara are historically defined as people of the Ethiopian central highlands. Amhara have spread throughout Ethiopia, intermingled with other ethnic groups over thousands of years. In terms of physical appearance, it is virtually impossible to distinguish Amhara from their non-Amhara peers. Their current number is estimated at between 50 and 60 million. At one time, Amhara and Oromo numbers were at par. Experts contend this number has changed. In any case, Amhara constitute the second largest ethnic group in Ethiopia.
Amhara differentiates themselves from others in a few areas. “Their language is Amharic, a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic family, and their religion is Ethiopian Orthodox. Amhara, who have dominated the history of their country, descend from ancient Semitic conquerors who mingled with indigenous Cushitic peoples. They are agriculturalists and place great value on land ownership.” (Britanica)
Wikipedia identifies Amhara as “a Semitic-speaking ethnic group indigenous to Ethiopia, traditionally inhabiting parts of the northwest Highlands of Ethiopia, particularly inhabiting the Amhara Region. They are mostly Oriental Orthodox Christian (members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church). Amhara are found within the Ethiopian expatriate community, particularly in North America. They speak Amharic, an Afro-Asiatic language of the Semitic branch which serves as the main and one of the five official languages of Ethiopia.”
There is no accurate and current demographic data that tells us the accurate number of Amhara throughout Ethiopia and the number of Amharic speakers. But both are huge. Amhara are without any doubt intermarried and intermingled with other ethnic groups. Their ultimate destiny as human beings and as Ethiopians is therefore interwoven with the destiny of other ethnic groups. In this regard, Amhara is not fighting for political hegemony.
Amhara is fighting for survival first, for equitable and fair treatment, justice, inclusive, good, and democratic governance second.
“Historically, the Amhara held significant political position in the Ethiopian Empire. They were at the origin of the Solomonic dynasty and all of Ethiopia emperors were Amhara except for Yohannes IV since the restoration of the Solomonic dynasty in 1270,” records Wikipedia. There is no nation on this planet that has not gone through civil wars and other upheavals with one formative group playing a substantial role in establishing the nation state.
Tragically, instead of being rewarded; Amhara are paying a huge price for the formation of Ethiopia, for preserving and defending Ethiopia’s national independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty, and honorable status on the global stage. Amhara are blamed for all types of wrongful acts perpetrated by local ethnic elites as well as for Ethiopia’s status as a poor and backward country.
Amhara have played a substantial role in modernizing Ethiopia. I shall offer one illustrative example why this is true. When I was a child, I received my early education from the local EOTC scholar who taught me to read and write. He taught me ethics, morality, and a code of conduct: the importance of family, country, fair treatment of others and treating elders with respect and leaders with reverence.
Blaming Amhara, war and more war are not the answer for the ills that Ethiopia continues to face.
I do not find an empowering or inclusionary quality in Prime Minister Abiy. On the other hand, I find Abiy’s Ahmed’s temperament to revert to war in resolving domestic political tensions, conflicts, ethnic polarization, and a myriad of other ills that afflict Ethiopian society as a non-starter. This doctrine is not only arrogant; it is also unwise and stupid. The longer this doctrine prevails, the deeper and wider Ethiopia’s problems!! The time to stop tyranny is now.
Taks one chilling example. The so-called Tigray War spanning two years—2020-2022–involved the Afar, Amhara and Tigray regions as well as the governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia. An AU, USA and EU brokered peace deal resulted in a formal cessation of hostilities, November 12, 2022. This was followed by an implementation deal in Nairobi, November 24, 2022. Under the second, TPLF agreed to disarm; but has not.
The war between TPLF on one side and Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) and its primary domestic allies, Amhara Fano, Amhara Special Forces and Afar Special Forces as well as Eritrean Defense on the other took place after several months of informal negotiation, bickering, mutual suspicion, accusation and counter accusations and tensions.
Abiy Ahmed characterized the war with TPL as “law enforcement operations.” This misnomer is repeated in dealing with the Oromo commandeered large scale invasion and the mayhem it caused in the Amhara region today. “Law enforcement operations” in the Amhara region, the most peaceful and most multiethnic state of the federation, defies logic. The peace-loving Amhara population, most of them rural farmers, do not deserve cruel punishment under the pretext of disarming Amhara Special Defense Forces and Amhara Fano.
I say this for a reason. Amhara is encircled. Amhara faces existential threats from all corners. If Amhara disarms, civilians become sitting ducks for more Amhara atrocities. The federal government is incapable and or unwilling to defend Amhara from being slaughtered like chickens in Oromia. It is reasonable to ask “Why are Abiy and his ruling Party adding insult to injury by attacking Amhara and declaring that Amhara Fano are destabilizing Ethiopia? “Ethiopia’s destabilizer is the regime itself.
Abiy Ahmed and his Prosperity Party show unmatched tolerance only to timid and subservient Amhara. This, in my assessment, is akin to modern day slavery. Your acceptance, legitimacy, status, and official position depend entirely on your loyalty. If you dissent you are fired or worse. This is the reason the Amhara Prosperity Party is literally gone. Changing the Amhara president will not restore trust and confidence in this lurid party or the region’s successive of subservient and treasonous leaders.
What is behind the cycle of Amhara presidents?
I would like for the international community to understand that the Amhara region suffers from a cycle of inexplicable leadership changes. The frequency of change is destabilizing. These destabilizing changes are made by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The sole criterion for appointments is unbridled loyalty to Abiy Ahmed and his Oromo dominated Prosperity Party.
Unlike the Oromia region that continues to enjoy stable leadership, Abiy Ahmed has changed presidents for the Amhara region six times in five years. The 6th appointee under the watch of Abiy Ahmed is selected because of loyalty and not based on either competence or dedication to serve the interests of the Amhara. This appointment is illegitimate because it is solely political.
The Amhara region faces imminent threat. Large tracts of the most fertile and strategic lands in Ethiopia were annexed forcibly by Sudan. TPLF threatens the region with another war. A few weeks ago, during his visit to Denver, USA, Tigray regional president Getachew Reda and his compatriot General Tsadikan, Chief of Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) announced that they have mobilized, battle-readied 270,000 Tigrean troops.
The irony is this. PM Abiy had informed the international community that TPLF had or was in the process of disarming. It has not. Making matters worse and facilitating quick TPLF victory, Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) vacated the Wolkait, Tegeder, Telemt and Raya area. This made the already vulnerable Amhara region ever more vulnerable.
In the latest political twist, on August 22, 2023, Ethiopia’s Defense Minister Abraha Belay issued a statement that “Ethiopia plans to organize a referendum to determine the status of territory disputed by the country’s Tigray and Amhara regions.” He “vowed to dissolve what he called an “illegal administration” of Wolkait, Tegede, Telemt and Raya, freed from TPLF military annexation and occupation Ethiopia’s 2020-2022 civil war.
There is no doubt this statement has the approval of powerful people in Abiy’s administration and most likely Abiy himself.
The bottom line is this. Ethiopia’s Defense Minister showed unabashed tribal affinity and declared that “illegally administered lands,” meaning the so-called “Western Tigray” will be restored to the TPLF through a referendum.
This leads me to the TPLF’s plan and possible deal with Abiy Ahmed. The intent of TPLF readiness to attack is simple. It is to take back Wolkait, Tegede, Telemt and Raya and incorporate these Amhara lands into Greater Tigray. When and if this happens, TPLF will be in a better socio-economic and strategic position to declare independence from Ethiopia. The associated intent, based on the signal the defense minister gave is to repopulate these lands with one million Tigreans; and deny the indigenous people their God given Amhara identity. Referendum becomes a possible option if you repopulate the lands with one million or more Tigrean nationals.
A parallel track approach of assaulting Amhara
“On 28 June 2021, the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) retook Mekelle; by July the same year, they had also advanced into the Amhara and Afar regions. In early November 2021, the TDF, together with the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), took control of several towns on the highway south from Tigray Region towards Addis Ababa, and the TPLF stated that it considered “marching on to the Ethiopian capital.
Together with seven smaller rebel groups, the TPLF and OLA declared a coalition aiming to “dismantle Abiy’s government by force or by negotiations, and then form a transitional authority,” says Wikipedia.
The key point I underscore here is this. TPLF and OLF operated in tandem in the past. They continue to do so today. The substantive difference in the latest case is this. It is the federal government of Prime Minster Aby and his Oromo commandeered army—95 percent of Ethiopia’s generals are Oromo–that is taking the lead against Amhara.
The Pretoria Peace Agreement that the US brokered and approved behind the seen cemented relations between the Abiy Oromo Prosperity dominated regime and its military and TPLF. This is why the Biden Administration gives credit to PM Abiy. This credit is unwarranted. It is not going to serve America’s long-term security. What will serve America’s long term national security interests is to side with the Amhara cause and defend Fano. America’s long-term interest, I am convinced, will be served best by Amhara and other ethnic groups dedicated to just, inclusive, and democratic governance in Ethiopia. The largest segment of the Ethiopian Diaspora in the United States is Amhara.
The Pretoria agreement is patently flawed because it did not involve Afar, Amhara or Eritrea, key stakeholders. Fano and Amhara Special Forces fought and died side by side with ENDF. By all accounts, both played a pivotal role in saving the current regime from total collapse. It is ironic these forces are compelled to take up arms against the federal government of Abiy Ahmed.
I conclude this commentary by making the following recommendations:
- I reiterate Snyder’s enduring guide on tyranny and urge Ethiopians beyond Amhara to stand up together for freedom and justice because tyranny destroys Ethiopia. “If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die under tyranny.”
- I urge Abiy’s miliary to pull out of the Amhara region, stop killing civilians and destroying economic, social and faith infrastructure.
- I urge the international community, especially the US, UK, and EU to push harder for negotiated settlement of the current conflict in the Amhara region as well as other ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia. I commend Ethiopian opposition parties for stating in clear terms that military measures by the Abiy regime, including state of emergencies will never bring peace, stability, or national security. The only way out is peaceful and political settlement. The regime must negotiate with Fano and other Amhara stakeholders now.
- I urge Ethiopians who believe in our common humanity to acknowledge the fact that Fano is fighting and dying for freedom, justice, equality, the rule of law and democracy. It is best that we all join this fight because all Ethiopians will benefit from a just, inclusive, and democratic system of government and from shared prosperity.
Finally, whatever the form it may take, it is inevitable that tyranny will degrade, kill, ethnically cleanse, commit genocide, cause massive displacement, impoverish all and ultimately disintegrate Ethiopia.
On our part, it is time to coordinate our resources and speak from the same script. This way we have a better chance of serving the the common good irrespective of ethnic or party affiliation.
Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com
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