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HomeOpinionDr. Yonas and the Politics of Labeling: Unraveling the Amhara Narrative

Dr. Yonas and the Politics of Labeling: Unraveling the Amhara Narrative

By Sisay  Mulu

In his recent publication on Borkena.com, Dr. Yonas discussed a potential resistance against tribal extremism as a beacon of hope for Ethiopia, suggesting that the nation stands on the brink of transformative change. However, his analysis, while stirring and optimistic, seems to bypass deeper, systemic issues that continue to fracture Ethiopian society. The piece, titled “Growing Undercurrent Against Tribal Extremism Dawns Hope for Change,” paints a picture of shifting tides against long-standing tribal conflicts and extremism. Yet, it glosses over the historical exclusions and systemic biases—particularly against the Amhara community—that have been perpetuated by entrenched political frameworks. By advocating for incremental reforms, Dr. Yonas’s vision can sustain the very cycles of violence and division he seeks to resolve, raising critical questions about the effectiveness of gradualism in a landscape marred by deep-seated animosity and political manipulation and drawing unfair false equivalence between different political actors. 

The Untold Story of Amhara Exclusion

I find it perplexing that Dr. Yonas, with his intellectual prowess and eloquence, has overlooked the fundamental issues embedded within the Ethiopian constitution. Instead, he has chosen to focus merely on the secondary issues arising from these core problems, which he either strategically omitted or failed to recognize. The constitution’s development was orchestrated primarily by the TPLF and its ally, the OLF—two tribal factions notorious for their longstanding anti-Amhara and anti-Ethiopia narratives. Regrettably, during this critical period of constitution crafting, a key political actor was conspicuously absent: the Amharas.

This exclusion of the Amharas was not just an oversight; it was a calculated move that significantly influenced the structure of the Ethiopian state. By not having a seat at the table, the Amharas were effectively placed on the menu, subject to decisions made without their input. The OLF and TPLF, viewing Amharas as adversaries, focused on creating a political and economic system that would disenfranchise the Amhara community indefinitely, rather than fostering an inclusive and progressive framework. In the absence of organized Amhara voices, the constitution was crafted in a way that paralyzed Amharas’ political influence and scapegoated them for all the nation’s historical grievances.

To truly grasp the gravity of the systemic bias embedded within the Ethiopian Constitution, one must delve into the discussions captured in the Ethiopian Constitutional Assembly Minutes. These documents reveal a stark and disturbing reality: the Constitution was crafted not as a unifying legal framework but as a weapon aimed specifically against the Neftegna system, a pejorative term synonymous with the Amhara people. This was no mere coincidence or misinterpretation; it was a deliberate act of vilification. Throughout the transitional period of the EPRDF, led predominantly by the TPLF, the term Neftegna was broadcasted as a derogatory label against the Amharas on national media, marking them for harassment, massacres, and mass expulsions. The persistent and pervasive use of the term “Neftegna” as a pejorative against the Amhara people has been a deliberate strategy to stigmatize and isolate this community. From the inception of the Ethiopian Constitution, this vilification was not merely insidious but overt, as evidenced in the Ethiopian Constitutional Assembly Minutes. 

In closing, Dr. Yonas’s analysis, while hopeful, overlooks the deep-seated issues that continue to fracture Ethiopian society. By focusing solely on the emerging resistance against tribal extremism, he neglects the historical exclusions and systemic biases against the Amhara community embedded within the Ethiopian constitution. The deliberate exclusion of Amharas from the constitution’s crafting, orchestrated by tribal factions like the TPLF and OLF, has perpetuated a framework that disenfranchises and vilifies the Amhara people. This systemic bias, evident in the constitution’s discussions and the weaponization of the term “Neftegna,” has fueled atrocities against the Amharas since 1991. To truly address Ethiopia’s challenges, we must confront these foundational injustices and strive for a more inclusive and equitable future for all its citizens, transcending the cycles of violence and division perpetuated by political manipulation and historical grievances.

Ethnic Sovereignty and the Shadows of the Neftegna Narrative

In addition, Dr. Yonas’s analysis overlooked some critical flaws in the conceptualization of sovereignty within Ethiopia’s constitutional framework. It is crucial to recognize that this concept is heavily influenced by the pervasive narrative that all ethnic groups were historically oppressed under the Neftegna system. This narrative, entrenched during the pre-constitutional consultations—which included studying various international constitutions, understanding Ethiopia’s historical and cultural contexts, and addressing the immediate legal and political needs— deviously frames the Amhara ethnic group as historical oppressors akin to colonialists.

This portrayal has significantly shaped the constitutional discourse, as evidenced in the heated debates surrounding Article 8, which grants sovereignty to ethnic groups. This was not merely a legislative detail but a deliberate move, primarily orchestrated by pro-TPLF and pro-Oromo factions, who viewed the Neftegna system as an emblem of oppression and thus argued fervently for distinct sovereign powers for each ethnic group. This perspective likened the emancipation of these groups to Kenya’s liberation from British colonial rule—a comparison that is not only historically inaccurate but also dangerously divisive.

The constitution’s vision was further flawed by its approach to smaller tribes, who found themselves without constitutional rights or protections. This oversight stems from a narrow, factional view held by the TPLF and OLF, who envisaged an Ethiopia reminiscent of a Yugoslav model—highly segmented along linguistic, cultural, religious, and geographical lines. This vision ignored the rich embroidery of inter-ethnic interactions, shared cultural and religious heritage, and economic interdependencies that have historically characterized the Ethiopian social fabric.

Critics like Dr. Yonas may seek to downplay or dismiss the significance of these false narratives, arguing for a peaceful coexistence while ignoring the entrenched systemic issues that continue to marginalize the Amhara community. Yet, it is vital to acknowledge that the Amharas, with their significant demographic presence and widespread geographical distribution, play a critical role in the nation’s stability. Ignoring their plight or trivializing their suffering under the guise of fostering unity only perpetuates discord and inequity.

In conclusion, the constitutional framework as it stands not only misrepresents the historical roles and relationships among Ethiopia’s diverse communities but also perpetuates a divisive and unsustainable model of ethnic federalism. It is imperative that we revisit and revise these foundational assumptions to foster a more inclusive, equitable, and united Ethiopia. Only through such a comprehensive and honest reassessment can we hope to heal the deep-seated divisions and build a nation that truly reflects the diverse yet interconnected nature of its people.

Given this context, one must question how Dr. Yonas could miss such glaring issues within the constitution that have perpetuated division and suffering. It is essential that we address these foundational problems to truly heal Ethiopia. How can we move forward if we do not first acknowledge and rectify the injustices encoded in the country’s very blueprint?

Challenging Incrementalism: Dr. Yonas’s Vision for Ethiopia’s Constitutional Future

Dr. Yonas proposes a comprehensive constitutional overhaul for Ethiopia, recognizing that a thorough revision is ideal. However, he suggests a measured, step-by-step reform process, given the complexities involved. Yet, history teaches us that in a deeply divided society like Ethiopia, such incrementalism too often merely prolongs suffering and delays the critical reforms we so urgently require. This gradualist approach has historically enabled entrenched tribal elites to manipulate the system, perpetuating cycles of violence and deepening distrust.

Moreover, any form of compromise in this volatile context often results in concessions to extremist groups who possess greater resources and influence, inadvertently legitimizing their harmful methods and agendas. True compromise thrives in a stable democratic environment, a reality presently alien to Ethiopia under the dominion of Oromo political elites, who govern the country with an exclusivity reminiscent of a personal fiefdom.

Dr. Yonas speaks of achieving a balance among competing interests, yet, in practice, this balance disproportionately favors the powerful, effectively silencing the marginalized and the unarmed and diminishing their voices to insignificance. Ethiopia’s future should not be constrained by piecemeal adjustments but should instead boldly pursue a comprehensive reform—a complete reset of the political framework that prioritizes justice, accountability, and inclusivity.

Admittedly, there is longstanding hate and animosity. However, the pressing issues facing Ethiopia today stem more from lawlessness and egregious brutality by central and regional government forces, exploiting existing tensions for their gain. A prime example is the continued massacres of Amharas in the Wollega area of the Oromia region—not because the Oromos of Wollega inherently despise Amharas, but rather due to a calculated political agenda orchestrated by the Oromo political class. Meanwhile, many Amharas live in other parts of Oromia with relative stability compared to those in Wollega. With fair laws and a government committed to their just enforcement, hate and animosity, while still challenging, could be managed effectively. We cannot allow these sentiments to serve as an excuse to delay the urgent, sweeping reforms needed to dismantle the current oppressive system exploited by fascist Oromo political elites. The leadership of Meles Zenawi and Hailemariam Desalegn, despite its flaws, did not exacerbate these systemic issues to the extent seen in the last six years under the erratic rule of Abiy Ahmed and his cohort of Oromo political elites.

Reflecting on differing perspectives, Dr. Yonas references Alemyaehu Fentaw, who previously supported the constitution when the TPLF held power but reversed his stance following their decline. In contrast, Abebe Fentaw, a spokesperson for the East Amhara Fano, recently articulated a vision of inclusivity and unity: “We need a system that invites all—big and small—to the table to democratically shape the future of our nation. This is the cause that Fano champions.” Such voices underscore the critical need for an equitable and holistic approach to national reform, one that truly embodies the aspirations of all Ethiopians.

Ethiopia stands at a crossroads; the need for bold, sweeping changes is undeniable. The nation requires a reset that dismantles the oppressive structures currently in place and promotes a framework that ensures justice, accountability, and true inclusivity.

Dissecting Dr. Yonas’s False Equivalences

In the intricate rhetoric of Dr. Yonas, there is a persistent inclination to bestow upon dissenters a slew of unsolicited labels, as though casting characters in a subpar theatrical production. It seems Dr. Yonas positions himself as the arbiter at the entrance of an illustrious garden, determining admittance based solely on whether individuals possess the correct assortment of ideological blooms. Those who do not align with his specific political ideals are swiftly tagged with labels that distort their true identity. In his past commentaries, Dr. Yonas has hastily labeled Eskindir Nega as erratic and cast aspersions on Sheqa Dawit, among others. This propensity for labeling, borrowed from the dense narrative thickets of his former superior, Abiy Ahmed, has led to the ominous nickname “Amhara Shene.” Yet, the enigma persists: Who exactly is this so-called Amhara Shene?

While the term “Oromo Shene” is linked to the militant faction of the Oromo Liberation Front, known as the Oromo Liberation Army, the identity of “Amhara Shene” remains as intangible as a mirage in a desert. Dr. Yonas may allude to Amhara Fano, to whom he once offered a political roadmap, but he plunges us into a mist of uncertainty regarding his true references. It becomes painfully evident that “Amhara Shene” is merely a phantom of Dr. Yonas’s creation, aimed at stigmatizing and marginalizing the Amhara community once more.

For the past thirty years, the Amhara political discourse has orbited around the urgent need for a constitutional overhaul. The late Professor Asrat Woldeyes, foreseeing the perils inherent in the existing constitution, established the All Amhara Peoples Organization. However, the anti-Amhara establishment viciously persecuted Professor Asrat and his followers, leading to the dissolution of the organization and the targeted oppression of its members. Since its inception, the Amhara community has staunchly opposed this constitution, viewing it as an existential threat. Despite decades of peaceful advocacy, dialogue, and diplomatic efforts, their grievances remain unaddressed, and their plight continues to deteriorate. Faced with dwindling options, the Amharas have resorted to armed resistance to safeguard their dignity and survival.

Thus, Dr. Yonas’s assessment of the Oromo Shene and the Amharas as impediments to constitutional overhaul is either a fundamental misunderstanding of the Amhara cause or serves as a deliberate attempt to equate legitimate aspirations with fascist inclinations. 

In essence, Dr. Yonas paints his arguments with an indiscriminately broad brush, akin to a guitarist strumming a single chord throughout a symphonic masterpiece. This represents the logical fallacy of false equivalence: unjustly and baselessly comparing the Amhara Fano with the Oromo Liberation Army. Such comparisons blatantly disregard the unique causes, motivations, and historical contexts that define each group. To comprehend the origins of movements like the Oromo Liberation Front or the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, one must examine the fertile ground from which they sprung—each a reaction to perceived threats and injustices in their own rights.

Conclusion 

In concluding my arguments, it becomes patently clear that the issues Dr. Yonas has overlooked are not merely academic; they are rooted in biases that have profoundly fragmented Ethiopian society for decades. By failing to address the historical and systemic marginalization of the Amhara community, Dr. Yonas has overlooked the core of the pain and division perpetuated by the current Ethiopian Constitution. Mere incremental reforms are inadequate when the very foundation of the current Ethiopia perpetuates the disenfranchisement of a significant portion of its citizens.

There is an undeniable urgency for a radical overhaul of the Ethiopian constitution. We must envision a constitutional framework that genuinely reflects the principles of justice, inclusivity, and unity—values that, to date, remain more theoretical than practical. The road ahead demands a bold break from past practices, opting for profound, foundational changes rather than superficial adjustments. This transformation should not only address the specific flaws but also completely rethink our approach to ethnic and regional dynamics within the country.

Dr. Yonas, along with all stakeholders in Ethiopia’s future, must acknowledge that true stability and prosperity for Ethiopia will not come from upholding the status quo or implementing minimal changes. Rather, it will come from engaging in a genuine, inclusive dialogue that confronts past and current valid injustices and seeks to amend them. The voices of the marginalized, particularly those of the Amharas, need to be not just heard but actively woven into the fabric of the national constitutional identity. Only then can Ethiopia forge a future where all its citizens can live in true peace and mutual respect.

This is not merely a call for political reform; it is a clarion call for a moral awakening. The stakes are incredibly high, and the cost of inaction is simply too severe. We cannot afford to settle for anything less than a transformative reconstitution of Ethiopia’s legal and social frameworks. Now is the time for decisive action. Let us be unwavering in our commitment to building an Ethiopia that future generations will inherit with pride, not pain.

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

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