Home Opinion Resistance to ethnic apartheid in Ethiopia: Amharas struggle for survival

Resistance to ethnic apartheid in Ethiopia: Amharas struggle for survival

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Amhara resistance _ Ethiopia
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Getahun Assefa

This article details the suffering of the Amharas under the current ethno-apartheid and ethno-fascist regime of Abi Ahmed Ali (henceforth Abiy), the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. It provides an analysis of deliberate policies of marginalization of Amharas in the political, social, and economic landscapes of Ethiopia, which is the underlying cause of the ongoing war in the Amhara region.  

The Key messages from the article are: (a) The war in the Amhara region is a war of survival. Its sole aim is to reverse the marginalization and neglect of the Amharas as well as deter emerging ethnic apartheid and ethnic fascism in Ethiopia to ensure the mutual coexistence of all citizens in dignity, equality, and liberty. (b) What is being committed in Amhara by Abiy and his regime is quadruple genocide: ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and historical for which there is incontrovertible evidence.  (c) The world should know that Amharas’ are victims of deliberate policies of marginalization in their country’s political, social, business, and economic opportunities, including the allocation of public resources and resources from international development assistance.  (d) Amhara political elites and fighting forces of Fano must be clear that Amhara’s survival as citizens and as viable entities in Ethiopia depends on how the current conflict ends and what successor arrangements are put in place.  (e) Whereas the primary responsibility of protecting Amharas’ collective interest and rights rests with the Amhara people, other ethnic groups including the Oromos (notably the intellectual elites) have shared responsibilities that freedom, liberty, and dignity are universal, and that ensuring Amharas’ rights is beneficial to every group and individual in Ethiopia. And, (f) The international community should stop paying lip service to Africa’s democratization processes, turning blind eyes to the glaring human rights violations and abuses of authority in Ethiopia, and undermining the protection of universal human rights which are inalienable rights of all human beings.

Resistance to ethnic apartheid in Ethiopia: Amharas struggle for survival

Over the last 60 years, many countries, notably in Asia, have made significant socioeconomic progress. Following in the footsteps of Japan, countries such as Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and now China and Vietnam are a few examples of success stories.  A handful of states in sub-Saharan Africa have also made some form of progress in politics. However, they have a long way to go in addressing their respective socioeconomic challenges. Examples include Botswana, Benin, Gana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal and Zambia. All these countries have conducted free and fair elections, seen the smooth transfer of political power, banned ethnic politics by law, or demonstrated that they are above such a primitive ethnic political construct. However, during the same period, many countries, particularly those in Africa, have regressed or slid backward with ethnic balkanization in Ethiopia and a series of coup d’états in West Africa in the last couple of years. 

The political regression, instability, and economic decline of Ethiopia have been peculiar on multiple fronts: first, politically, the country has regressed from centuries of imperial elegance to the military dictatorship that took power in 1974. Consequently, Ethiopia lost diplomatic potency, legitimacy, credibility, and trust regionally and globally. Ever since the 1974 revolution, the country’s socioeconomic and political situations have been marred by ideological factions, sociopolitical upheavals, regional conflicts, and wars as well as economic stagnation or regression. These dire situations accelerated the downfall of the military regime in May 1991. The second episode of decline seen in Ethiopia was driven and accompanied by a transition from military dictatorship to ethnic balkanization of the state of Ethiopia from May 1991 to the present. Today, Ethiopia is the only African country with a large chunk of the illiterate population (nearly 50%), with 9 million school-age children being out of school in 2024. Only this week, more than 500, 000 children in the Amhara region were excluded from the 2024 national examinations of grades 6 and 8. The third and most prominent regress in Ethiopia manifests itself in continual interethnic polarization, conflicts, and the emergence of an ethnic apartheid system- the deadly form of apartheid. 

In other words, whereas the 1970s and the 1980s conflicts were largely ideology-based and class-driven, the current devastating wars unfolding in Ethiopia are exclusively driven by ethnic polarization, division, interethnic conflicts, and the emergence of ethnic fascism and an ethnicity-based apartheid system. Successive wars seen in Ethiopia since the rise of Abiy are the results of the balkanization of Ethiopia into loose ethnic entities and the continuation of an ethnic apartheid system. Notable in these are the 2020-2022 war in Tigray and the currently ongoing wars in Oromia and Amhara regional states. There is incontrovertible evidence confirming ethnic cleansing and genocide perpetrated by Abiy’s regime against the Amharas.  Therefore, this article exclusively focuses on the escalating war in the Amhara regional state between the ethnic apartheid regime and the Fano resistance movement together with the causative factors. 

Why are the Amharas fighting Abiy’s regime?

Cronies and ethnic entrepreneurs of Abiy claim that the current simmering war in the Amhara region is for political power. They lament ad-nauseam that Fano militias are fighting to bring back the old Ethiopian empire to the political scene of Ethiopia. This is a typical fabrication, hallucination, and surrealism of the country’s ethnic political elites. What Fano militias are fighting is tyranny, dictatorship, and emerging ethnic apartheid in Ethiopia.  According to the public admission by ethnocratic and discursive narratives of Abiy himself and his cronies, the current Government is the Government of Oromo. By implication, this means that the government only protects the social, political, and economic interests of one ethnic group – the Oromos. It is like stating that a democratically elected government serves only the interests of its voters or supporters. Who accepts such a divisive and discriminatory government to persist with its policy of ethnic apartheid in the 21st century?

It should be clearly stated at the outset that ethnic apartheid and ethnic fascism in Ethiopia began in 1991 This was when the country adopted a constitution, drawing ethnolinguistic boundaries and redrawing the political map of the Ethiopian state. Ever since, Amharas, the second largest ethnic group by identity, but linguistically the dominant majority in Ethiopia, have been considered a curse to the nation and a permanent threat to successive political establishments. They are robbed of their fundamental right to live or exist as human beings. They are subjected to life in permanent isolation, intimidation, harassment, constant fear, and never-ending grief. They are denied freedom of association or political organization and from choosing their leaders. 

The Amharas are also victims of deliberate policies of marginalization in the country’s business and economic opportunities. They have little or no access to productive resources such as land, capital, and employment opportunities in public institutions. Their properties are looted and confiscated and freely transferred to the Ormo ethnic entrepreneurs. Or else raised to the ground by the Government or its military and security apparatus, particularly in Addis Ababa and other parts of Ethiopia to free land to ethnic capitalists notably from the Oromo ethnic group. This includes confiscating Amhara’s ancestral lands, including mountains and rivers which are redrawn and included to be used, managed, and administered by adjacent ethnolinguistic regions and groups. Moreover, public resources including funds from development partners and scholarship opportunities are disproportionately allocated to the Oromos, often at the expense of the Amharas. The Amhara ethnic group is deprived of public investment in education, physical infrastructure, and access to health facilities. In major cities of the country including Addis Ababa, they are evicted or uprooted from their ancestral lands. The overall objective is to make Amharas politically marginal and economically vulnerable, destitute, and deprived of well-being so that they become weaker and dependent on handouts from the ethno-apartheid regime. 

Amhara’s free movements within and outside of Ethiopia are severely curtailed, controlled, and restricted by state-sanctioned draconian laws. Amhara regional state has long been under a series of curfews, a state of emergency, and anti-demonstration laws with severe restrictions on movement and violations of individual and communal rights to work and live in peace and freedom throughout the country. State of emergency, curfews, and anti-demonstration laws mean that the daily lives of citizens are controlled by the army, police, and security agents of the government. Only this week, the government submitted three more bills to a rubberstamp parliament. The bills consisted of additional draconian laws designed to stifle democracy, freedom, and liberty with a target on Amharas.  The first draft bill empowers the Minister of Justice to freeze the assets of individuals and associations suspected of having links with forces fighting the government. The second one accords excessive power to the security and immigration offices to deny travel outside of Ethiopia to persons who do not agree with the regime’s autocracy, tyranny, and dictatorship. The third bill authorizes security and policy offices to eavesdrop (ear-jack), wiretap, and intercept written communications of suspected Amharas and other opponents of the regime without court orders.  

Any Amhara viewed as a threat (perceived or real) is put in government-guarded prisons, unknown prison cells often unfinished construction sites with no basic amenities. They have no access to visits by lawyers, families, human rights defenders, or medical professionals even if they are suffering from detention or asphyxia-related diseases or health problems. Amhara intellectuals are consistently harassed, intimidated, and silenced by the government of Abiy. They are imprisoned en masse, tortured, and often forced into exile.  Amhara civilians including women, girls, and children suffer from gang-raping by the military and the police. They are subjected to an indiscriminate use of force by ethnic militia, and security forces including for wearing clothes that define their culture, values, tradition, and history. Amhara farmers are deliberately excluded from the distribution of farm inputs, fertilizers, and agricultural mechanization. Their churches and monasteries as well as mosques are deliberately bombarded by the government forces with many clergies and religious students being killed while at prayers or schools.  

Amhara script writers, actors, journalists, artists (singers), authors, activists, etc. are systematically surrounded, imprisoned, and forcefully disappeared. Universities are banned from teaching Ethiopian History which is viewed by the regime as an Amhara history. Amharic as a teaching language has been removed from school curricula and national examinations at middle schools, high schools, and universities. Amharic language and history departments in several universities are shut down by the regime. Amara identities or symbols, relics, and historical sights of the country are raised to the ground by the regime of Abiy Ahmed (military and security apparatus included). What is being perpetrated on the Amhara ethnic group is a combination of ethnic cleansing and cultural, linguistic, and historical genocide. Amharas are tormented and subjected to a series of abuses perpetrated by the ruling ethnic apartheid system and naked ethnic fascism.  Simply put, there are only two ways to appropriately describe Abiy Ali and his regime: ethnic apartheid and/or ethnic fascism.  There is no middle ground.

All political elite of the Amharas which are now part of the Abiy regime are hand-picked, directed, controlled, and spun by an ethnolinguistic apartheid regime from the center. That is, Amhara remnants in the current political echelon are pseudo-politicians, survivalist opposition parties, and “extractive supporters” of the regime. Extractive supporters are rent seekers who have been lavishly subsidized by the state, given prime lands for business, allocated capital for investment, and provided housing, vehicles, and excessive fringe benefits to themselves and their families.

With all these violations of fundamental rights and freedom – with such vivid and gruesome marginalization of Amharas – the Government of Abiy attempts to portray Fano freedom fighters as terrorists. Such labeling is designed to play a scaremonger to the outside world and to gain access to finance, military aid (including armaments), and political support in the name of fighting against terrorism. It is also designed to seek sympathy and approval from the international community and donor agencies for an all-out assault the regime waged against Amhara. Such a choreography is a ploy deliberately designed to hoodwink the outside world and ease any potential international pressure or condemnation. As history has taught us, one man’s terrorists are another man’s freedom fighters. The Fano militia who are gallantly fighting the regime of ethnic apartheid in Ethiopia, are indeed fighting against marginalization, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. If the government calls them terrorists, for the entire Amhara and Amhara sympathizers, they are, without a doubt, freedom fighters.

Therefore, the Amharas are fighting the above-highlighted tides of marginalization in the social, economic, and political landscapes of Ethiopia. They are resisting atrocities, torture, and untold suffering inflicted upon them by Abiy’s government.  At the core of the Amhara struggle are equality, and freedom, including freedom of expression and political organization. These include freedom from unlawful and politically orchestrated dubious charges; freedom from constant harassment, intimidation, and persecution; freedom to choose their political leaders and equally enjoy economic opportunities. All these are legitimate causes to fight for. These are centered on liberal democracy and equality of citizens. After all, Amahras have always fought for and defended the territorial integrity of Ethiopia; been at the forefront of civic education and civilization; a source of one-and-only one African scripts (alphabets); and given everything to build, rebuild, and modernize the Ethiopian state. The Amhara people lost the last drop of trust and confidence in the ethno-apartheid system- a ravenous and primitive system of government led and executed by Abiy. Who wouldn’t fight such a rotten and barbaric system in the 21st century of globalization, driven by information and communication technology? Who would accept deprivation, marginalization, and being considered a second-class citizen in their own country?

What should be done by other ethnic groups to bring political sanity to Ethiopia?

The primary responsibility to defend their rights and liberty rests with the Amhara people themselves. They must be united and resolute in their fight against tyranny and ethnic apartheid as much as South Africans fought the apartheid regime. Any ethnic group that is under such an existential threat as Amharas will do likewise wherever and whenever such an apartheid system may exist. There should be no compromise and trade-off between liberty and freedom on the one hand and political niceties and stabilities on the other hand. Freedom is universal.  Amhara political elites and fighting forces of Fano must be clear that Amharas’ survival as viable entities in Ethiopia depends on how the current conflict ends and what successor arrangements are put in place.

Every Amhara should be clear that, if left unchecked, pathological lairs like Abiy will never stop intimidating, harassing, and exterminating Amharas to ensure their political supremacy at all costs. If the Amharas do not fight for their survival, they will become a forgotten “caste” in the Ethiopian ethnic landscape and a curse in the national political thoughts. They will become stateless and dispersed all over Africa and the rest of the world. Therefore, there should be no compromise on survival and freedom. If these cannot be achieved through free, open, transparent, and equal political dialogue, there will be no alternative to an armed struggle. The ongoing armed struggle should also be supported by civil actions including boycotting the government and its services on the ground. There should be popular pressure to bring down the government of ethnic apartheid and ethnic fascism. Such a popular uprising will have an equal impact as the armed struggle if consciously and cautiously organized, managed, and executed.

The other ethnic groups, including the Oromos, have no lesser responsibility than the Amharas. Political liberty and freedom are universal matters that are key for socioeconomic revival and equality of opportunities for all citizens. Freedom from genocide for the Amharas means freedom for the rest of the ethnic groups. Ethnic apartheid must be fought by all people who stand for the rights, freedom, and liberty of all human beings – be they Amharas or otherwise. Harassment, intimidation, and isolation suffered by Amharas, if left unchecked, will be the same for other ethnic groups in Ethiopia and humanity wherever we live or exist.

What should be done by the international community?

For decades, the international community has been giving lip service to Africa’s democratization process. Often there has been a deafening silence regarding glaring violations of human rights on the continent. It seems that there is a conspiracy of silence among major democracies regarding rights violations and suffocation of all forms of freedom in Africa.  This ugly trend should not be continued. In other words, the global community of nations and governance structure should stop bargaining with dangerous dictators and diehard despots such as Abiy Ahmed. Developed democracies should not put freedom and liberty second to basic human needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Freedom from fear and extermination and the right to live in dignity are inalienable rights of humanity- be they in America, Europe, Asia, Latin America, or Africa. Above all, human rights are non-negotiable as enshrined in the United Nations charter, international covenants, legal instruments, and protocols. These are also parts and parcels of the legal, policy, and institutional frameworks of most developed and developing countries. Greater care must be taken that economic cooperation between nations and geopolitical interests should not be pursued at the expense of human rights, freedom, and liberty. Otherwise, Western democracies too will lose credibility, and any say in African matters such as investment, trade, critical minerals, etc., all of which have already tilted towards the East.

In short, all forms of freedom and liberty as well as liberal democracy are not spatially limited or geographically curtailed. Confronting tyranny, dictatorship and ethnic apartheid should be seen as protecting and promoting civilization, shared values of humanity, liberty, and all forms of freedom. To this end, developed countries should also stop financing dictatorships and despots. Tyrants know well how to play cheap politicking for their short-term gains and political survival while covering up the atrocities and heinous crimes they commit against their population. Democracies should not be misled by fraudulent elections reported as free and fair, particularly in the absence of strong supervision and monitoring mechanisms. Nor should they be blindfolded by utter lies and rants of tyrants and dictators. 

Multilateral and regional financial institutions such as the World Bank, IMF, and Africa Development Groups should see development financing as integral to the respect and protection of human rights, individual liberties, and democratic values which they often purport to stand for. 

Conclusions

The Fano resistance movement is fighting against dictatorship and tyranny. The war in the Amhara region is a war of survival against the eminent existential risk brought about by the ethnic apartheid and ethno-fascist government of Abiy.  The lesson from history is that no nation has ever developed by oppressing citizens, suffocating liberty, and undermining freedom of expression. Nor have governments survived the causes and consequences of citizens’ marginalization, neglect, and deliberate impoverishment. Developing countries (such as those in East Asia) that have effectively mobilized and recalibrated their physical, natural, and intellectual capital for development; fostered inclusive institutions and embraced technology dividend; maximized equality of opportunities and income for all segments of societies are the ones that converge with developed nations in terms of technology, income, capital formation, and other development gains. In contrast, governments that marginalize their people, foment interethnic conflicts and wars, unlawfully extract resources to enrich themselves, and foster ethnic capital are the ones that lead their countries into deleterious socioeconomic situations, deprivation, and dilapidated infrastructure and institutions. Above all, governments that wage war on their people have never won the battle. Nor have they succeeded in imposing their will on citizens. Certainly, the Ethiopian government will not be an exception to this. Grim socioeconomic situations and gruesome violations of rights and liberties as well as ethnic cleansing and genocide will not go away without accountability, responsibility, and punishment. It is high time for the international community, particularly developed democracies, the United Nations, and civic organizations to bring the emerging ethnic apartheid system of Ethiopia to the court of international law. There must be accountability and responsibility for the suffering people of Amhara under the draconian laws of the regime. Abiy must be held responsible and accountable for ethnic cleansing and genocide perpetrated by his government on Amharas. 

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

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