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Understanding The ‘Amhara-Cosmopolitanism’    

Amhara _ Ethiopia _ cosmopolitanism

By Gashaw  Teshome                                                                                                            (PhD, M.So.Sc., M.A)

Prelude

Before I delve into describing the contents of this writing, I set the stage by employing twin terms that help me explain the subject matters of this article, Amhara Cosmopolitanism: these are emic and etic perspectives. ‘’Emic vs Etic’ approaches are endemic to qualitative research in ethnography, psychology, and political science, hence, relevant approaches in understanding the Amhara people and the politics of their self-identification. An emic view is the way an individual or society sees itself. ‘Self ’, in this context, being reference to a set of values, history, culture, royal chronicles, their textual ontology, and the narration of their own general anthropo-socio-genesis (Girma, 1985, Lectures, AAU).  

An Etic approach looks at society, individual culture, or subject of study from the perspective of outside of the culture itself and tries to discern trends that can be used as stepping stones for further generalizations. However, an Etic view is liable for resistance by the society under evaluation owing to its tendency of misjudgments, misconceptions, and the guilt of imposing certain descriptions, without the approval and consent of the community in question. Despite its imposing traits, an Etic perspective can be useful, to challenge the subjective Emi-cal to assert itself vis-a-vis the Etic-al or an objective standard, which in turn helps the construction of clearer ontology on the part of society in question.  Etic perspective is rather the demand side of the story whereas, Emic is supply-side in the market of the identity-based political contestations. When, for instance, an Etic view becomes distorted, then it creates an incentive for the Emic view-holder to step up and defend itself to reflect the right perspective. That is why this article attempts to illuminate the dark corners in the discourse of Nationalisms in Ethiopian contexts that failed to accommodate ‘ Amhara Cosmopolitanism’. 

In identity politics, it is not enough how the individual, a cultural or linguistic group sees itself, but the views of the outsiders play crucial role in the determination process, specially in the atmosphere in which ‘Truth’ is not mighty and ‘Might’ is truth’, then Emic perspectives dominate,  as result people are defined differently than they actually are. In this context, the contestations between an emic and etic perspective is resolved through power relations. If Amhara are strong by all measurements, they can make their emic perspective accepted as a general truth about themselves,without much resistance from outsider- value judgment.

In this short writing I briefly address a few questions and leave a provocative mark in the discourse of Nationalisms in Ethiopia. These are:- Is there Amhara Nationalism, in the first place?; What are the main features of Amhara-Cosmopolitanism and its definition?; How it is compared with Tigre or Oromo Nationalisms?; What are benefits of making a prime emphasis Emic view rather than the Etic view in determining the ‘what’ of Amhara identity?; and  How is Amhara cosmopolitan considered as an indispensable ontological ground for emancipating the whole of Ethiopia from the diabelonic grip of  ‘Narrow-Nationalism’ ? 

Myth Vs Reality: ‘Amhara Nationalism’ Vis-a-vis Amhara Cosmopolitanism

Saying that, there is lack of well founded research in the field of Amhara identity politics, is stating the obvious. Consequently, due to lack of  research on the subject, we are left with limited alternatives in analytical tools. The absence of sufficient literature, impaired the Amhara Emic perspective to be less-armored, to be inadequately equipped with the necessary ontological tool-kits, in its fight against the well entrenched Oromo, Tigrai, Somali tribal-nationalisms or identity based ontologies. For that reason, the Emic view,  by coercion or confusion, bought the biased Etic-al perspective in describing itself. The result being, the creation of political parties in the name of the non existent ‘Amhara Nationalism’.  

The last Four decades in Ethiopia, has seen proliferation of varied strands of nationalist movements. From narrow/minority to a state-nationalism and down to ethnic/tribal nationalisms. Ethiopia’s state nationalism, represented by the Derg Regime, was defeated in the 1990s giving way for minority nationalism with the advent of Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and its umbrella partner organizations (EPRDF); all formed basing themselves on tribal constituencies in the country.  

Tribal nationalism is a social contagion, it does not stop on one spot, it spreads out through imposing itself on others. This might take both psychological reprogramming of an ‘enemy’ by effectively telling an Etic perspective about their tribal identities. TPLF ventured in telling all linguistic groups in the country to see themselves as ‘nations or nationalities’ and to aim at self-government up to secession (Article 39 of TPLF Sponsored Constitution still in effect in Ethiopia).  It also entrepreneurs the formations of all tribe-based Parties, with their respective tribal enclaves carved out of monolithic Ethiopian territories. TPLF, OPDO, ANDM, SNNPR, BPDP, APDP, etc., became monopoly Parties in their respective regions. TPLF went as far as providing them with a self authored flag, emblem, false statehood historical memories, and ammunition needed to undermine Ethiopian State Nationalism, and Amhara’s Cosmopolitanism. The ultimate objective of minority nationalists is to dismantle Ethiopia in the same way it happened to Yugoslavia, for that it has secured the backing of historical foreign enemies.

Features and Conceptions of Amhara Cosmopolitanism: Universal Humanity 

Definition: Amhara Cosmopolitanism refers to the state of societal-psychology and sense of identity, in which Amharas view themselves; primarily, as blameless, god fearing beings; It is permeable notion that, as long as one ascribes to the good values of Amhara can become an Amhara; Amhara-ness is manifested through dedication to universal human fraternity, love and being an Amhara can be learnt by anyone in the world and it is not tied only to birth rights; It’s Etic perspectives are monoistic by nature, in which religious, cultural, linguistic, and other differences are tolerated and even preserved in their entirety; It sees the Nation State as necessary evils but not as fundamental predicament for universal human unity; and it is rooted in the ontology of one-ness and discourages divisiveness. Amhara-cosmopolitanism sees God as being ‘One in the Three, and Three in the One’; Morally, bravery means standing by the side of truth and defending the weak, sacrificing for others, instead of defining ‘others’ as enemies. It is non-exclusionary and considers all human beings as same and equal in their rights, as all are created by the image of God. Its ontology of human creation is biblically rooted and rejects the ‘theory of evolution’ that lays a theoretical foundation for hierarchy of mankind that morally insulates itself from ongoing depredations among humans. Hence, for Amhara cosmopolitan thoughts: colonialism, enslavement are cynical and run against the will of God; It is a theory and way of life, in which Ethiopia taken as organic-historic state that existed, even before the Birth of Christ, that also embraced and protected Islam as equal as that of the indigenous Orthodox Christianity; Amhara Cosmopolitanism is trans-national tendency and is not dogmatic about fundamental of boundaries among human beings, and promotes universal peace and harmony. 

The Benefits of Amhara Cosmopolitanism for Ethiopia’s Continued Survival

The mantra of dooms-day fortune tellers, about the demise of Ethiopia ( most of them from narrow nationalist elites), is that ‘Ethiopia is going to be like Yugoslavia’. Such self-fulfiled prophecy of EPRDF affilated poltical organizations, did not become reality, despite genocide being committed against Amharas and other Ethiopians. It fails because it is based on the artificial cleavages manipulated to give resemblance of Ethiopia and Yugoslavia, while in reality both countries are entirely different in their history of state creation and societal fabrics. Ethiopia is a slicing-proof nation that survived similar attempts by colonial powers, and yet remains resilient. Historically, her final breath was/is always saved by the blood and bones of the Ethiopian Fanos, from all walks of life. The secret of Ethiopia’s such resilience,  the people themselves are deeply cosmopolitan; they do not manifest real tribal-based nationalism, except those who consciously serve foreign interests in Ethiopia, for that matter in Africa.  Amhara cosmopolitanism holds values of unity among tribal communities, through freedom, fraternity, love and self-dignity as black people, not just as tribes. Amhara Cosmopolitanism and Ethiopianism are compatible, that is the reason Ethiopia survived for millennia as a symbol and beckon of hope for all oppressed people around the world.

The Embodiment of ‘Amhara Nationalism’ that Is Not: ANDM and ADM 

Here it is good to indicate, OLF-EPRDF-PP ideology, labels Ethiopia as an Amhara project trying to break it up into tribal-nation based entities.  Amhara cosmopolitanism was labeled as Amhara Chauvinism, dislodging its resonance among all people in Ethiopia. Eventually, the so called progressive Amharas bought the narratives of TPLF and abandoned their own self-perceptions, instead approved the Etic-al labellings. To appease Tribal Nationalism of TPLF and OLF went as far as denying their true identity of the Amhara: Cosmopolitanism. 

Most recently, in 2023, for instance, ‘Amhara Nationalist Movement’,which is called ‘Aben’ in Amharic’ built  ‘a house in the sky’ by claiming the non-existent Amhara Nationalism ( ‘Biher’ in literary amhara version of term) and miserably failed to mobilized Amharas to its cause. Because, Nationalism by itself is anti-Amhara and anti-Ethiopia. 

Ethiopia, as indicated here, fought against the world’s dangerous nationalisms contained in the Nazist Party of Germany and Fascist Party of Italy (1930s,40s), by aligning itself with cosmopolitan forces of Justice and anti-colonial movements. Ethiopia, Amhara at the center, is a symbol of black-concious movement around the world, not by Nationalism or by ethnocentrism, but by the resonance of their universal values about equality of human spices.

Therefore, the creation of ‘Aben’ does not reflect the existence of an Amhara nationalism, as it suggested in its name, but how an Etic view on Amhara held by Narrow Nationalists, namely TPLF, managed to spread its ideological contagine, ‘tribal nationalism’ to the ever-cosmopolitan Amhara youth-elite. It is evidence for the impact of the 30 years propagation against Amhara cosmopolitan Identity, that worked and failed to work at the same sametime in the Amhara population. ANDM ( Amhara Nation Democratic Movement, ‘Beaden’ in Amharic), ANM (Amhara Nationalist Movement, ‘Aben’ in Amharic) are by-products of narrow nationalism-plague that entered the political space since the creation of OLF, TPLF and other bodies testimonials for Etic view’s inroads in the thinking makeup of inexperienced youth.

Instead of providing an analytical tool or model, to describe the true features of Amhara identity ( Amhara Cosmopolitanism) for themselves, the above mentioned parties and their TPLF affiliated cadres mimicked minority nationalism ideologies, without properly grasping the Emic view of the Amhara people. ANM (Aben) belongs to the same creed and is a descendant of EPRDF identity politics. Before Aben, another minority nationalist organization, ‘Amhara National Democratic Movement’, served as a trojan horse of EPRDF in ‘Amhara Regional State’, (FDRE constitution , 1992). However, the Amhara society or individual never see him/her self, as belonging to a Nationalist society; the labeling came as result of the mirror image of ethno-centric Nationalists, that bent on seeing other cultures within the prisms of their own tribal, ethnic, or narrow nationalist perspectives, otherwise, there is no Amhara Nationalism in the hearts and minds of the Amharas themselves. Amhara Cosmopolitanism is reality whether we understand it or not, and it existed and will continue to exist, the onus is on the Ethiopian intellectual to recognize it and make effective use of it to solve the political problems of our epoch.

The Genesis of Amhara Cosmopolitanism: A Historical Perspective

The Amhara Cosmopolitanism existed and manifested, in millenia long practices and social norms of the Amhara and Ethiopian people. One can relate the culture of Amhara hospitality and treatment of the guests in their house: Amhara calls any stranger who happens to visit him/her at their house-‘God’s Guest’. That indicates how cosmopolitan human fraternity embedded in their way of life and day today exists. This  happens at both grassroots and at Amhara Kings and Queens level. King Negash (Bahre Negash A.D. 345), for instance, who believed to have followed monism, never compelled his Muslims guests, that run away from Persecution in present day Saudi Arabia and sought protection of King Negash of Ethiopia, to convert into Christianity, and accepted them as they are and let them thrive without obstructing their religious practices. Had the then Amhara King ( Negus) been an ‘ethnocentrist’ or ‘tribal nationalist’,as present day ‘Oromumas Abiy Ahmed’,then we would not have Islam thriving around the world. Bahere Negus ( of the time) and his principles of universal human values and respect of differences, can be one of many examples that demonstrate, the ontology of an Amhara is that of cosmopolitanism. Therefore, this provocative piece is premised with the assertion that , the so called ‘Amhara Nationalism’ that we unknowingly approve in the Ethiopian identity political discourses, is an imposed Etic perspective on the Amhara people and is foreign implant never natural to the Amhara ontology of self-identification. The correct Emic perspective is that Amhara Cosmopolitan is that: an Amhara believes in universal justice, anti-colonialism, black-conciousness; and has self perception as indigenous, and original mankind; for that reason has distaste for divisive nationalism.

What Amhara Cosmopolitanism Is Not?: Its Difference With Minority Nationalism

What OLF, OPDO, Prosperity Party of Abiy Ahmed, or Tigray People’s Liberation Front, imposed Amhara Nationalism, has no historical, cultural, value, ideological base in the Amhara society. Those who expound on the given view of TPLF, OLF, for the Amhara people to see themselves, a total confusion and does not represent the true ontology of Amhara’s self identification. Therefore, in the following I touch upon the ever-opalescent subject of ‘minority Nationalism’ in Ethiopia in comparison with  cosmopolitanism.

The National question in Ethiopia, draws its assumptions from Leninist or Stalinist traditions (1917, 1951). It is a xenogenous ideology completely alien to the Ethiopian ontological space. Its backdrops like theory of state formation or building are all wrong analogies for Organic monolithic countries like Ethiopia. The problems associated with different nationalisms in Ethiopia also relates to their assumptions and theory about state creation in Ethiopia. For instance, Russia, or most European states underwent the process of state building, but in Ethiopia that is not the case. Ethiopia is a unique and biblical country, that existed thousands of years as traditional polity before the advent of modern states, this must keep her immune from exercise of National questions in whatsoever form (Markakis, 1958). 

The concept of Amhara Cosmopolitanism has been compressed to be configured in the existing discourse of nationalisms in Ethiopia. In the Ethiopian context of identity politics, nationalism and the quest for self-government, itself have been floating signifiers and some of the concepts are used pervasively and there is no consensus about their exact meaning. ‘Nationalism’ is sometimes used with different prefixes indicating varied strands:-  ‘tribal nationalism’, ‘ethnic nationalism’, ‘state nationalism’, ‘narrow nationalism’, ‘minority-nationalism’, nations and nationalities’.  However, the Ethiopian constitution uses ‘nations and nationalities’  as constituting the de facto Confederal State, and de-jure  Ethiopian Federal State. EPRDF used, a mono criterion of language, in distorted way to describe and categorize different cultural groups as nationalities, and imposed an Etic perspective of its own on each and every tribal groups in the country. Among them, the biggest linguistic group, Amharas ( as Amharic language is spoken by almost all metropolitan and educated population of the country irrespective the tribal affiliation, making Amharas the largest population). 

However, EPRDF created a political body in the Name of Amhara National Democratic Movement ( ANDM), that was created to counter the Amhara People’s Organization (APO, in 1984), its leaders being Prof. Asrat Woldeyes. We note that APO, did not signify any form of Nationalism, and there is no reference to the toxic concept of ‘Nationalism’ in its name, it was just an organization that attempted to counter the genocidal action of EPRDF, affiliated groups, in Bedeno, ArbaGugu, where Amharas were masacred starting the 33 years systemic genocide campaing against the people of Amhara. The Etic view on APO considers it as  a Nationalist Organization, then we had the creation of ANDM by TPLF to mimic the APO, to play ‘Poachers GameKeepers’ in undermining the Amhara Cosmopolitanism, from within, reducing it to a Nationalist level. After Prof. Mesfin Woldemariam, in his televised discussion with the deceased former PM Meles Zenawi, the then President of the Transitional Government, 1992, tried to give still an Etic perspective on the Amhara self-identification. Prof. Mesfin Woldemariam, as a consequence of lack of analytical tools, to break down the politics of Nationalism, in the televised discussion, ended up declaring: ‘there is nothing called Amhara’. His argument, was that, ‘if we ask Harar Oromo, he considers all Christian Highlanders, as Amhara, entailing christianity as basis for determination of Oromo and rest; When we ask an Amhara, he tells in terms of provinces of the country which he advent from: Walleye, Merehabete, etc. Using common language he concluded that there is nothing called ‘ Amhara’. I think he must have wanted to say Amara-does not manifest minority-nationalist character, but a cosmopolitan one. That is why, at the beginning of this piece, I underlined the absence of sufficient discourses in Amhara identity.

Many tribal nationalists wanted to use the Professor’s distorted arguments in their favor. Because, they see its benefit for dismantling the monolithic state-nationalism, which is cosmopolitanism. In the debate, TPLF leader, minority Nationalist camp, defended the ‘existence of people called Amahara’ by same talken Amhara nationalism, in his opposing argument to that of Prof. Mesfin Weldemariam. In recent political landscape, there was ‘Amhara Nationalist Movement’, created after the advent of new EPRDF administration, led by PM Abiy Ahmed, new Amhara Nationalist Movement ( Aben), was created and most equate it as trojan horse for Abiy Ahmed government, to confuse the Amhara people once more.

Conclusion: Summary

The ‘ethnic politics’ is constitutional (1994, Ethiopian Constitution), it legalized the most feared political taboo in the world, as policy of the country. The main reason for the loss of  hundreds of millions lives in the world is Nationalism and related wars and dislocations. After the end of WWII, the issue of Nationalism, placed under the carpet in the European political space, because of the consequential hazard it had in history: European Cosmopolitan ideologies resonated and created the EU. Whereas Ethiopia, after the 1974 revolution, imported the contagion of tribal-national-identity politics, rejected in Europe  as politically toxic, into the indigenous and organic cosmopolitan Ethiopian politics that provided peace and tranquility for the nation for centuries.  

Oromo-nationalism, Tigrai-Nationalism, Somali-nationalism, stand out to be prominent imported identity politics that matured their own way and became pervasive in the country, achieving constitutional guarantees for the creation of their own tribal-national enclaves in Ethiopia. This weakened the monolithic organic nature of the country. The interesting aspect of such development in Nationalist movements was that tribal-nationalists scrambled to acquire a chunk of territory for themselves leaving the Amhara and Southern minority tribes in disadvantaged positions. Amharas lands were distributed among minority Nationalist communities that played victim card against Amhara Cosmopolitan traditions and who rebelled against Ethiopia as a whole. TPLF, entrenched in Wolkait, Humera, Raya, etc; Afar in the East; Oromos want to control Kemisie, Addis Ababa, Shewa, Metekel, etc; and also Benishangul all predominantly home to great number of Amhara in the regions. 

Out of their own, belief system of cosmopolitanism, Amharas did not suspect that, regimes in power were cheating permanent boundaries, that could be international, when the country is broken up; had Amharas were tribalist-nationalists in their nature, it could not have taken 35 years to rebel against the territorial theft conducted by both Abiy Ahmed and Meles Zenawi’s administrations. The Amharas consider the whole Ethiopia is for them and for other Ethiopians as well and do not accept the limitation and confinement in TPLF, OLF, PP designed territory for them. Amhara despite its sheer size, as the biggest cultural community in the country, almost double the size of each and every Ethiopian culture, even the Oromo-culture, end up losing 2/3 of its ancestral land, apart the whole of Ethiopia, which in Amharas philosophy belongs to Amharas and all Ethiopians. 

As explained above, Amhara-Nationalism is not only an Etic perspective, it is totally imposed on the Amhra people, without the approval of the people themselves. For that Amharas have sacrificed in resisting ethnic-nationalism, tribal-nationalism, for that matter nationalism of anything. During WWII the axis powers targeted Ethiopia, Amhara being at the center, for their universalist world view, and singled out as anti-colonial struggle power house. Anti-colonial struggle presupposes human –equality, dignity and fraternity that does not give emphasis on cultural identity but rather humankind universality. 

One can cite the following examples to see the Characters of Amhara Cosmopolitan lines of thought. First, an Amhara individual considers himself as born Ethiopian and African that outlived any Nation state; Second, it is reference to an indigenous human community even, in the prehistoric Africa, that used to be named Ethiopia  ( Dinknesh, Archeological Finding, 1980s); Third, present day ‘Indian Ocean’ was called an Ethiopian Ocean; Fourth, An Amhara as born-free person considers his/her-self God-fearing human-being and thoughtful of fraternity of whole humanity. Sees others in the image of God. For him the world created by God and no early power must deny any part of the world from a fellow human being.  There is nothing called Amara Nationalism. Ethiopia belongs to Amhara and Africa belongs to Ethiopia. Discrimination against fellow human beings is going against the rule of God and is unacceptable. In its culture any physical impairments, disability, color, status, any kind of human hierarchy-based discrimination goes against the Amhara values. Therefore, never define people between ‘others’ or ‘us. For this reason, there has never been in history in which Amhara considered himself Nationalists. To date no one, by mistake, rewarded the Amhara people more than it wants to claim, then extremist narrow nationalists of our time. For instance, leftist political elites of the 1960s in Ethiopia, awarded Ethiopia as being constructed by Amharas and as serving their interest. These kinds of paintings are complete travers of history and logic. Amhara as faithful people believe that Ethiopia was created for the whole of its people who happened to live on it, irrespective of the language skill they acquire after birth.

Tribal-centrism, or Ethnic Fundamentalism, constructs false narratives about other people or culture based on its own assumptions, values, norms, and goals without caring about authoritative evidence. Forcibly attempts to convert others to their own ways of living (Maricopa, 2024). A tribal-centricsm expects everyone to think and behave like it and will never feel secure until such time that it homogenizes all superficial differences including the test of clothings, usual food, quaint practices and even the faiths of others. The OPP ( Oromo Prosperity Party) attempt to paint everything in Red and Black and compelling all the people, sometimes, scraping the centennials long tri-colours of Green, Yellow and Red that represent Ethiopia, is one example. Relatively, TPLF is liberal when it comes to attempting to homogenize the rest into its own image, however, OPDO/OPP is replaying the 16th century homogenization project in contemporary Ethiopia. That is why, each and every tribal community in Ethiopia is faced with a threat of cultural extinction and braced to fight back from all directions against the so-called Oromummaa-Kush homogenization of Ethiopia. The ambitions stemmed from Oromo tribal centric extremist political leaders that controlled Menelik palace.  Historically, the Oromo expansion from South to the Ethiopian hinterland, resulted in disappearance of 27 small cultural groups in, is result of tribal-centrism that saw other cultures as threat to its invasion and perpetuation of Gada System (1516-32). All these social vices are results of minority-nationalism, tribalism, or ethnocentrism; they proved to be a disaster for Ethiopia. If we want to prosper as people and survive extinction we have to reconnect to our history that is rooted in Amhara Cosmopolitanism or in other words Ethiopianism.    

Reference: 

’Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism’, https://open.maricopa.edu/cultural psychology; 2024, accessed 18.2.2024: 9.26

 https://programs.online.american.edu

https://www.mytutor.co.uk

Reference: ’Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism’, https://open.maricopa.edu/cultural psychology; 2024, accessed 18.2.2024: 9.26

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

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1 COMMENT

  1. Dear Gashaw Teshome (PhD, M.So.Sc., M.A): I laughed all the way to the Bank of commonsense on reading your big-headed phrase “Amharic-Cosmopolitanism.” Guess what? I could not cash it. Try something else. It is people like yourself and one Berhanu who are the enemy of Amhara people. Your follies are costing lives and dimming the future of the nation.

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