Home Opinion Foundational Failures: Why National Dialogue Cannot Begin on a Broken System

Foundational Failures: Why National Dialogue Cannot Begin on a Broken System

Amhara _ Ethiopia _ National Dialogue

Sisay Mulu (Amoraw)

Since the political tides shifted in 1991, the Amharas in Ethiopia have been caught in a relentless battle against a constitution that not only codifies their disenfranchisement but perpetuates a narrative that casts them as historical villains. This misrepresentation has fueled policies that have exacerbated their suffering and stifled their voices for over three decades.

Given the depth of these systemic injustices, it is naïve to believe that mere dialogue could untangle the complex web of biases built over decades. True dialogue—meaningful and transformative—requires a foundation of fairness and equality that currently does not exist. The thesis of this discussion is clear and urgent: without first dismantling the oppressive structures that skew the scales of justice, any attempt at national dialogue is not only premature but potentially harmful. It risks legitimizing an unjust status quo while ignoring the cries for change that resonate across Amhara’s communities.

As we delve into this narrative, we must ask ourselves: Can we afford to pave over the deep fissures of injustice with temporary patches of dialogue? Or is it time to dismantle the old to build a new foundation that can truly support all of Ethiopia’s people? The answers lie not in the simplicity of talks, but in the courageous act of rebuilding. Let us explore why comprehensive systemic reform is not just a choice but a necessity for the Amhara, and indeed, for the future of Ethiopia.

The Amhara Paradox: Villains by Narrative, Victims by Reality

The Ethiopian constitution, ratified in 1994, laid the foundation for a federal system ostensibly designed to provide autonomy and representation to various ethnic groups. However, the constitution also introduced a framework that has been interpreted by many as biased against the Amhara ethnic group. The preamble of the constitution references a need to rectify the “historical injustices” that have caused uneven development and conflict among different groups in Ethiopia. While not explicitly naming the Amhara, the implication and subsequent interpretations often cast the Amhara in the role of historical oppressors, responsible for the marginalization of other ethnicities.

This narrative is compounded by the adoption of ethnic federalism, which has institutionalized ethnic divisions and often marginalized those not belonging to the ruling ethnic groups in the various regional states. According to scholars like Lovise Aalen and Kjetil Tronvoll in their study on the Ethiopian electoral system, this structure can exacerbate ethnic tensions and deepen inter-group conflicts, exacerbate ethnic tensions often at the expense of groups like the Amhara, who are portrayed as the historical villains in popular and political discourse.

Further substantiating these claims, John Young, in his analysis of the Ethiopian federal system, points out that the narrative built around Amhara dominance prior to 1991 was leveraged to justify a disproportionate distribution of power and resources away from the Amhara under the new federal system. This interpretation has been used to rationalize various forms of discrimination against the Amhara, ranging from economic marginalization to political disenfranchisement.

The consequences of these biases are evident in various governmental policies and their implementations. For instance, the language policy, which elevates regional languages while relegating the use of Amharic, historically spoken by the Amhara, has diminished their linguistic presence and cultural influence. This policy shift, as discussed by Sarah Vaughan in her work on ethnic federalism, not only impacts social dynamics but also affects access to government services and political participation for the Amhara people, further entrenching their marginalization. 

Moreover, the portrayal of the Amhara as oppressors has been perpetuated not just through political rhetoric but also through educational materials and state-controlled media, which often emphasize their supposed historical misdeeds while downplaying their contributions and grievances. This skewed portrayal ensures that the bias against the Amhara is ingrained in the national consciousness from a young age, making it a deeply entrenched part of Ethiopian socio-political life.

In light of these facts, it becomes clear that the constitutional framework and the narratives it supports do more than just marginalize the Amhara; they actively rewrite history to fit a political agenda that justifies ongoing discrimination. This biased narrative must be critically examined and revised if there is to be any hope for genuine dialogue and reconciliation in Ethiopia’s future.

From Narratives to Policy: The Dire Consequences of Bias Against Amharas

In discussing the impact of biased narratives on governance, particularly concerning the Amhara in Ethiopia, it’s clear that the political and historical narratives have significantly shaped the socio-political environment to the detriment of the Amhara community. The continuation of negative stereotyping and historical misrepresentation has permeated various levels of governance, leading to policies and laws that systematically disadvantage the Amhara people.

Historically, narratives originating during the Italian occupation and later exploited by ethnonationalist groups have portrayed the Amhara as oppressors, a portrayal that has escalated to extreme levels of violence and marginalization under various Ethiopian governments, particularly following the rise of the Prosperity Party led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Reports indicate that since the early 1990s, and more intensely after 2018, these narratives have been used to justify severe atrocities against the Amhara, including genocidal acts 

Further exacerbating the situation is the ongoing War on Amhara, which has been driven by long-standing grievances and political discontent that trace back to the early 1990s. This conflict has led to significant instability, with the federal government’s measures, such as internet blockages, mass arrests, and extrajudicial killings, further worsening the situation for the Amhara people worsening the situation for the Amhara people 

Additionally, the existing political discourses that support an ethnic-based state structure have led to policies that dichotomize Ethiopian citizens, creating an atmosphere where certain groups are seen as either advantageous or disadvantageous based on historical narratives. This division has had a direct impact on the rights and everyday lives of the Amhara, both individually and collectively 

In conclusion, the biased narratives embedded in Ethiopia’s governance structure have not only influenced the political landscape but have also led to tangible and harmful policies against the Amhara, exacerbating ethnic tensions and conflicts within the country. Addressing these narratives and the policies they have engendered is crucial for achieving genuine dialogue and reconciliation in Ethiopia.

How Ethiopia’s Political Structure Sidelines the Amhara 

The political landscape of Ethiopia underwent a significant transformation following the fall of the Derg regime in 1991. This period marked the beginning of ethnic federalism under the leadership of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), primarily influenced by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). This new system aimed to provide ethnic groups with autonomy by establishing ethnically based regional states. However, this restructuring has inadvertently led to the marginalization of the Amhara community in several critical ways.

Post-1991, Ethiopia’s governance structure was designed to allow ethnic representation; however, the reality for the Amhara has been starkly different. The Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), later renamed the Amhara Democratic Party (ADP), was supposed to represent Amhara interests within the EPRDF. Despite this, scholars argue that the ANDM/ADP has often been overshadowed and influenced by the TPLF, limiting its effectiveness  in advocating for the Amhara community. The subordination of the ADP to the TPLF and then to the current regime of Abiy Ahmed’s agendas resulted in a lack of genuine representation of the Amhara’s interests in the political arena since 1991.

The design of Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism, while theoretically promoting equality, has in practice facilitated a hierarchy among ethnic groups. The Amhara, despite being one of the largest ethnic groups, have found themselves politically and economically sidelined. The federal system allocates significant power to regional states, which can promote local languages and cultures, but this has also led to the disenfranchisement of non-dominant groups within those regions. For instance, in mixed regions, such as Oromia, the Benishangul-Gumuz or the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR), Amharas have reported discrimination and exclusion from political processes and state resources 

The systemic marginalization has had tangible effects on the Amhara community, including in areas of land rights, employment, and political participation. Reports from human rights organizations have highlighted instances where Amharas have been forcibly displaced from their lands under accusations of being “settlers” in regions like Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz, reflecting a broader trend of marginalization against Amharas exacerbated by the current system. 

Such actions underscore the precarious position of the Amhara, who, despite their significant numbers, face challenges that stem directly from the political structure ostensibly designed to ensure their representation and protection.

Before the Talk: Why Systemic Change is Non-Negotiable for Amharas

For any national dialogue in Ethiopia to be meaningful and result in genuine change, it is essential to establish a level playing field. Unfortunately, the existing political and socio-economic framework is steeped in biases that systematically marginalize the Amhara community, making true dialogue impossible under the current circumstances.

As stated above, the political landscape in Ethiopia has been shaped by a constitution that enshrines a system that creates favoritism towards certain groups at the expense of others, particularly the Amhara. The current political discourse emphasizes historical grievances that are skewed against the Amhara, thereby justifying their continued marginalization in the guise of correcting past injustices. This biased narrative has entrenched a political system that is fundamentally unfair to the Amhara community.

Research indicates that nations that engage in national dialogues without first addressing systemic inequalities often see these dialogues fail. According to a study by the United States Institute of Peace, successful national dialogues typically occur in environments where previous inequities and biases have been acknowledged and significantly addressed.

The judicial system, supposed to be the cornerstone of fairness, has been weaponized against the Amhara. Reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have highlighted cases where the judiciary has been used to suppress and oppress the Amhara community under the pretext of legal proceedings. This misuse of justice serves to deepen the distrust between the Amhara and the government, making any dialogue under such conditions superficial and unproductive. 

Advocating for the dismantling of the current system is not a call for revolution but a plea for rectification and realignment of the political framework to reflect fairness and equity. Without these fundamental changes, any dialogue will be merely performative. As noted by the International Crisis Group, for dialogue to be effective, it must be preceded by tangible actions that dismantle oppressive structures and demonstrate a commitment to change 

In conclusion, before the seeds of dialogue can be planted, the soil of Ethiopia’s political and judicial landscape needs tilling. We must remove the weeds of bias and injustice to allow new ideas to take root in an environment of equality and mutual respect. Only then can the fruits of national dialogue be expected to yield a sustainable and peaceful future for all ethnic groups in Ethiopia.


As we have explored throughout this article, the plight of the Amhara in Ethiopia is not merely a product of current political dynamics but a deeply ingrained issue codified within the very framework of the nation’s constitution and its governance. For decades, the Amhara have faced systemic marginalization, which has not only limited their political and economic opportunities but has also cast them unfairly in historical narratives as oppressors. This biased portrayal and the resultant policies have caused significant harm and hindered any prospects for genuine national dialogue and reconciliation.

The need for structural change is, therefore, not just desirable but essential. Without dismantling the current systems of inequality, any dialogue would merely be superficial, unable to address the root causes of the injustices faced by the Amhara, and by extension, other marginalized groups in Ethiopia. According to Human Rights Watch, Ethiopia’s ethnic and political tensions are often exacerbated by systemic issues that need comprehensive reforms to ensure all groups’ rights are respected and protected. 

In light of this, we must push for a transformative agenda that prioritizes the establishment of a transitional governance framework that is inclusive, equitable, and reflective of all ethnic groups’ needs and histories. Without such foundational changes, the dignity and fairness owed to every Ethiopian, regardless of ethnic background, remain unattainable ideals.

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


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  1. Our reference is Ethiopia, should be Ethiopian citizen !!!!!!

    neglecting Ethiopian citizen , dont bring lasting solution for our peopke, the narative so called Marxist philosophy based on ethnic groups is wrongly interpreted by political and policy Makers , these are the root causes of instability in our country , policy maker’s should have to consider on citizen like that of other countries ,
    These could bring peace ,stability and prosperity

  2. Sisay Mulu’s article argues that the Amhara people in Ethiopia have been systemically disenfranchised since 1991 and that meaningful national dialogue cannot occur without first dismantling the oppressive structures in place. While the concerns raised are significant and warrant attention, there are several points that require a more nuanced examination.
    Role of Dialogue in Conflict Resolution: Mulu dismisses dialogue as ineffective under current conditions, suggesting it would legitimize an unjust status quo. However, dialogue is often the first step towards resolving deep-seated conflicts and can pave the way for structural reforms. Historical precedents, such as the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, demonstrate that dialogue, even amid deep injustice, can lead to substantial systemic changes. Dialogue should not be seen as an end but as a means to facilitate the very reforms Mulu advocates for.
    Complexity of Ethiopian Ethnic Politics: Ethiopia’s political landscape is intricate, with multiple ethnic groups, each with its own historical grievances and aspirations. The portrayal of the Amhara as uniquely oppressed risks oversimplifying the broader ethnic dynamics. Other groups, such as the Oromo and Tigrayans, have also articulated significant grievances. Effective reforms must address the multifaceted nature of Ethiopian society, ensuring that changes benefit all groups equitably.
    Historical Context and Misrepresentation: Mulu argues that the current constitution perpetuates a narrative of Amhara historical villainy. While it is crucial to rectify any historical misrepresentations, it is equally important to recognize the historical context in which the constitution was framed. The current federal system was designed to address the centralized power and ethnic tensions that existed under previous regimes. Any new system must balance rectifying past wrongs with maintaining stability and unity.
    Potential Risks of Immediate Dismantling: Mulu’s call for dismantling current structures without a clear, practicable alternative could lead to unintended consequences. Sudden upheavals can create power vacuums, potentially leading to instability and conflict. A gradual approach that combines dialogue with incremental reforms might be more effective in ensuring a smooth transition and minimizing risks.
    Inclusivity in Reform Processes: Reforms must be inclusive, engaging all ethnic groups in the process to ensure broad-based support and legitimacy. Excluding dialogue undermines the possibility of creating a consensus-based path forward. Establishing a platform where all voices, including those of the Amhara, are heard is essential for sustainable and just reforms.
    In Conclusion: While Sisay Mulu’s concerns about the marginalization of the Amhara are valid, the outright dismissal of dialogue as a tool for change overlooks its potential to initiate meaningful reform. Ethiopia’s complex ethnic and political landscape necessitates a balanced approach that combines dialogue with gradual, inclusive structural reforms. Only through such a multifaceted approach can Ethiopia hope to address historical grievances and build a fairer, more equitable future for all its people.

  3. I have better name for you, a name better than the stolen ‘Amoraw’. Call yourself Wyatt Earp. Nobody will mess with you with that name. I am shivering in my boots now just for saying the word.


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