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The rise of Amhara Chauvinism and its destructive power

The rise of Amhara Chauvinism and its destructive power

Aynalem Sebhatu


The war is ravaging the people of Tigray wherever they might be sheltered and leaving an unimaginable toll of devastation across Tigray. Out of the difficulties absorbing and comprehending the devastation of this war are the roles played by the Amhara militia and the involvement of the army of Issayas Afewerki. Here we have a classic example of hate, revenge, and ethnic cleansing exacting on the Tigrayans. Inside Tigray, by which the Tigrayans are facing firing squads (reminder of the Derg’s red terror) in villages and in small towns eventually besieged, looted, savagely beaten in their homes.  What is saddening and morally repugnant about this whole situation is the cheerleading and celebration of the Amhara in Bahir Dar, in Gondor and in Addis Ababa.  This war held a mirror to the Ethiopians, to the Eritreans and to the international community at large, and it mirrored back a savage image that many have refused to intervene. The minimum required intervention for any citizen of the globe is simply voicing your opposition to it. 

It is fair to say that Abiy Ahmed is leading a state that is dominated by the Amhara elites. Part and parcel of the Amhara’s dominance of the bureaucracy of the state is lubricated with Amhara chauvinism. Amhara Chauvinism has been front and center of Ethiopian political discourse throughout the history of modern Ethiopia. It briefly retreated and has been entertained only in closed doors for the last 30 years.  Now Ethiopians are living in the midst of the resurgence of Amhara’s superiority complex. It is increasingly becoming assertive, loud, and clear in its demands from the central government.  The disruptive and destructive seeds of Amhara chauvinism are sprinkled in all its borders of the Amhara state. It is becoming a major destabilizing factor in the country.

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The Amhara chauvinists’ narratives have many versions to it.  Once upon a time, as the story runs, Ethiopia was a land of freedom, inner-directed harmony of ethnic groups, people who were sensitive to the rights of others as they were fierce in the defense of their ethnic groups’ rights.  Then slowly over this green, pleasant, and blessed land crept the fog of ethnic federalism, an enervating spirit of “Ethiopia” which left in its wake an atomized-ethnic regional power and finding ultimate relief only in their narrow ethnic nationalist interest. There by becoming an obstacle for the progress of the county as whole. 

Underlying all this nonsense, of course, is the myth of the spirit of “Ethiopia” meaning the assimilations of all walks of life in Ethiopia into the mindset of an ultra-nationalist aspiration of the Amhara. With this nationalist nostalgia is combined a heavy dose of demonization of other ethnic groups via the Amhara mass media.  Self-anointed broadcasters and intellectual elites rewriting history and have lost patience with the demands of rights of self-determination of Tigrayans, the Oromos, the Woliytas, the Sidamas, the Somalis, the Afars, the Kemants, the Agaws, the Gurages, the Benshanguls and the Gumuz. 

The day in and day out demonization of nations and nationalities of Ethiopia supported by their army of vigilantes are identified themselves as Fano.  Menelik, Emperor of Ethiopia 1889-1913, is the folk hero of the Amhara vigilantes.  There is a singular durability in the Fano myth that at a not distant time in Ethiopian history there was in Ethiopia a golden age of freedom.  Menelik’s expansionary policy at the expense of other ethnic groups, such as the Oromos, the Tigrayans and the Woliyta, have been constantly glorified and the myth assigned extraordinary virtue to Menelik as the founding father of modern Ethiopia.  

In the ongoing war against Tigrayans, there is a constant presence of Fano militants (aka as Neftagna) land grabbing, looting and dismantling properties in western and southern Tigray. This is the Fano militant typical action and the militants have conducted violent cross-border raids and kidnapped people for ransom around El Fashaga locality, Sudan.  In 2016 the Fano militants killed unknown numbers of Tigrayans and displaced more than 60,000 Tigrayans out of the surrounding areas of Gondor, which is considered the hub of the militants. One can find other episodes that equally demonstrate the unbounded passion of mob rule operating under Abiy Ahmed’s formula of “law enforcement operation” against Tigrayans. The vast apparatus of the federal power employed with the active collaborations of the merciless guns of Issayas Afewerki and the Fano’s mob rule meant to dismantle and uproot the Tigrayans aspiration of having a strong and developed Tigray.  This futile war of erasing Tigrayans from the face of Ethiopia will fail and sooner or later Tigrayans will prevail.    

The basic analytic proposition on which the whole Fano superstructure (Amhara’s chauvinism) rests is that political power should be concentrated under the centralized state (unitary state) and ethnic federalism is the enemy of democracy and freedom.  The better to preserve the Fano mindset, the Amhara chauvinists overlook the inconvenient facts that the civil war waged by dozens of well-armed ethnic groups of Ethiopia against a centralized state before 1991.  The county was devastated, and it was at the bottom pit of darkness during that period. The TPLF as a core group led to lift the country out of the abyss in the last 30 years. This is an empirical fact. I always wonder how can any Ethiopian account for this curious refusal to confront empirical reality on its own terms?  This curious refusal of our history is condemning us to repeat our terrifying history of savage civil war with more intensity to it. 

Yes! I am well aware of the fact the TPLF, as the core group of the EPRDF, failed to expand the political space as much as we expected to see. But the leaders of TPLF have moved the country forward and it was Abiy Ahmed’s government turn to move the country forward on building what is achieved so far instead of exacting revenge on the Tigrayans. In a country like Ethiopia, the sheer fact of tracking of the economic, ethnic, social, and political problems are very complicated and complex to address. All Ethiopian should heed the old adage in their nation building effort: “perfection should not be the enemy of the good.” 

For all Tigrayans, this year is a savage year, one that will leave a permanent scar on all Tigrayans and especially on the young who are fighting back.  This is a terrible year, one of acute Tigrayan dislocation and violent conflict. This war is going to be a watershed in our thinking process moving forward as a people. The year 2020 gave us all a chance to think hard, refocus and clear our vision moving forward. The men and women of the first Woyane fought and planted the seeds of woyin. The men and women of the second Woyane mobilized, fought and organized. The third Woyane… well, I will leave it to your imagination.  But one thing is so pristine clear: our cause is just and our struggle will succeed. Tigrayans will rise again to write their own history with their blood, sweat, tears and hard work.   

Tigray will prevail

Eternal glory to our martyrs!


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