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Inflammatory Language: The New Normal for Ethiopia’s Prosperity Party 

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed making claims about 7.5 billion planted trees during the year, September 18, 2023 (Photo : PD)

Selome Esayas

The use of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric seems to be on the rise among Ethiopian Prosperity Party officials. This concerning trend threatens to further escalate tensions in an already polarized political climate. 

Over the past few years, various prominent Prosperity Party leaders have made problematic generalizations and used provocative language when addressing the public and media. Of particular concern are ethnically charged labels used to describe opposition groups and critics. 

For example, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and other officials have frequently referred to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) as “ጁንታ”/junta/ or “የቀን ጅብ”/daytime hyena/. While the TPLF has been justly criticized for past abuses, the use of blanket demonizing terms runs the risk of ethnic profiling of all Tigrayans. This kind of careless rhetoric likely contributed to the spiral into violent conflict in the Tigray region.  

More recently, Amhara opposition groups have been labeled “ጃዊሳ”/jawisa/, carrying the same insinuations of illegitimacy and extremism. Again, while political violence in Amhara is concerning, broadly profiling all dissenters and activists as terrorists or insurgents, based simply on ethnicity, is incredibly dangerous. 

Inflammatory language also featured in the 2016 Ethiopian New Year’s message by Oromia regional president Shimelis Abdissa. He made ambiguous statements about “burying” groups trying to “resurrect ancient Ethiopia”, which could easily be construed as threats against Amhara people and other opponents.

While Shimelis claims he was referring only to anti-constitutional forces, his long history of using charged rhetoric makes his real motives clear. Previously he spoke proudly of “በሰበሩን ቦታ ሰብረናቸዋል”/breaking them in the place they broke us/ and caused resentment among many. Such expressions encourage suspicion and resentment between ethnic groups.

In a country as ethnically and politically diverse as Ethiopia, officials must understand the power and consequences of their words. Inflammatory language invariably becomes a spark for further conflict and abuses when tensions are already high.

Unfortunately, prosperity party leaders seem to be continuing the long tradition of ethnic scapegoating and profiling practiced by EPRDF era governments. Catch all labels like “ትምክህተኛ”/chauvinists/, “ጠባብ” /narrow-minded/, were used to delegitimize opponents and justify crackdowns. This legacy seems to have been inherited. 

While certain opposition groups do bear responsibility for instability, the Prosperity Party’s overuse of ethnically charged rhetoric shows frightening signs of old authoritarian habits. All dissent, activism and resistance should not be preemptively dismissed as terrorism or narrow nationalism. This prevents meaningful political dialogue.

When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed assumed power in 2018, it was expected his administration would break with the past and foster national reconciliation. Sadly, while some positive reforms occurred, the trend toward inflammatory language continues.

In many ways, the Prosperity Party appears simply as the latest incarnation of EPRDF rule, repeating past mistakes. Only the faces have changed. Ethnic profiling and finger pointing at critics is once again becoming normalized and even officially endorsed. 

The potential consequences are severe. As witnessed in the civil war in Tigray, dehumanizing rhetoric lays the groundwork for mass atrocities. It breeds suspicion and hatred between communities, opening the door for cycles of revenge violence. 

Ethiopia remains plagued by unresolved ethnic tensions built up over decades. The country cannot afford to keep following the same destructive path of political demonization.

There are no simple solutions or quick fixes after years of authoritarian divide and rule tactics. However, the minimum standard should be for officials to exhibit basic wisdom and restraint in their public statements. 

Inflammatory language must be condemned when used by any leader or party. The Prosperity Party and Prime Minister Abiy must set a higher example, regardless of others’ behavior. Stoking fears and ethnic hostility for political gain is fundamentally immoral and antithetical to democracy.

Powerful words should be used responsibly to foster social cohesion and suggest paths forward. Right now Prosperity Party officials are doing the opposite – tapping into divisions and trauma. This cannot stand.

Opposition groups and the public also have a role to play. Constructive criticism and protest is legitimate, but should avoid blanket vilification of communities. Ultimately all sides need to reflect carefully on language used and focus on shared interests and humanity.

With care, wisdom and moral courage, Ethiopia can step back from the brink. But this requires national reconciliation and good faith efforts from all involved. Neither inflammatory language nor violence are inevitable. 

The Prosperity Party must choose to break this dangerous cycle, for the future of Ethiopia. No political agenda is worth the human toll of ethnic conflict. Officials must refrain from destructive rhetoric that primes people for violence.

There are always other choices grounded in humanity. Ethiopians cannot lose hope. However, leaders must lead by example and remain patient even in polarized times. With open and respectful dialogue, a peaceful democratic future remains possible. But a reckoning on dangerous rhetoric is urgently needed.

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

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, yes, yes!!! Another valuable and very thoughtful article by our dear countryman/woman. I have been begging and pleading for more than five decades now asking those who were and are in leadership roles including those who should know better than most of us to avoid by all means using terms that can easily be misconstrued or misused leading to wholesale incrimination. Such individuals should have known already in every society there are those who do not possess the sophistication or the required intellectual ammo to look through what they hear or read and these are the ones who are loaded with raw emotion ready to go off on a dime. They can turn into destructive and killer mobs in an instant. You push their wrong button you will find them hacking their decades long neighbors and burning down factories and civilian domiciles. Those who instigate such gullible and easily aroused group of people seem to do that knowingly. That is because those who are in power they believe that is the best way for them to stay in power and other in leadership roles of ‘liberation front this and liberation front that’ have made up their mind that the only way left for them to go in and carve out a territory as their personal fiefdom is by creating chaos.

    They are always so busy nudging and poking these easily inflammable groups of people. They tell the hopelessly unemployed youth that the reason for his/lack of jobs is that Neftegna, Oromummaa or Woyane. They put it in a way that if these three are wiped off the face of the earth jobs will in buckets from the skies overnight. They tell the enraged and hapless youth ‘Neftegnas are who look like those who live in that part of the country, Oromummaas are similar to those live in that particular region. Woyanes are every one who live in or come from that region.’ This wholesale demonization begets massacres and displacement of innocent civilians. It breaks my heart when I hear unsuspecting farmers were hacked to death by the children of their longtime neighbors while tilling their small plots.

  2. A myriad of thanks to the author of this article for the wonderful promotion of concepts of peace and reconciliation in this piece, showing a remarkable dedication to encouraging harmony and improving interethnic coexistence. Thank you for sharing these insightful observations, which have a huge impact on the conversation surrounding these crucial issues.

    This article surpasses the others published on this website, unlike Mr. Yonas Biru and his warmongering gang members, who spread hatred, interethnic violence, and the superiority of Amhara over the others. Ethiopians need peace, not violence. Fanno, TPLF, and PP are not supported by their own people except by those who profit from their presence and violence.

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