By Aklog Birara, PhD
“The people occupying the plateau of the Blue Nile are conscious of a glorious past and proudly call themselves Ethiopians.” – Elise Reclus, Philosopher
Ethiopian ethnic-based political elites, most prominently, the champion of ethnic politics and business, TPLF Inc., were always bent on shredding to pieces our commonalities, shared history and common identity as Ethiopians of all shades, colors, languages and faiths, from their inception. They embraced the Apartheid like formula of separation and legalized ethnic-federalism. They were determined to de-institutionalize and de-capitalize Ethiopian society by dismantling social relations among the population. This is the thesis of this analytical piece. As a result of their secret and coded arrangements intended solely to serve them financially and economically, they sowed the seeds of revenge and fear among the population. Youth are forced to belong to the governing party if they wish to secure a job, a home or further education. A network of spies has infested the entire society: one spy for 5 people. As a result, the country that stood as symbol of independence, honor, dignity and pride for people of color around the globe is now the center of the grossest human rights violations on this planet. TPLF Inc. is determined to obliterate the past, present and future of all people who call themselves “Ethiopians.” This is happening in front of our eyes. As far as I know, de-institutionalization and social de-capitalization of Ethiopian society started when TPLF Inc. took power 21 years ago, with a plan set ahead of political capture; and continues at a faster pace today. The champions of ethnic politics and business do not do this alone. They recruit other non-Tigreans to do their work for them. What we witness now is implementation of the sinister strategy using land and other economic resources to dispossess and expel.
Wherever one looks, dispossession, expulsions and human cruelty from government agents are widespread: the Afar, Beni-Shangul Gumuz, Gambella, Gondar, Lower Omo Valley, Oromia and SNNP regions and sub-regions are at the center. In this entire onslaught against the Ethiopian people, there is overwhelming documentary evidence that shows that the Amharic speaking population is singled out as ‘enemy’ number one. Why the differentiation? This group is identified by TPLF Inc. and the country’s traditional adversaries as nationalist, that is, as Ethiopian more than its label as Amhara. I documented this in my book, Waves, two years ago and forewarned that TPLF Inc. will continue its relentless campaign to dislodge this and other nationalist oriented members of society using ethnic-federalism and decentralized decision making as the driver. Using this mode of government arrangements, TPLF Inc. tries to camouflage its misdeeds by using surrogates. We know that, Amharic speaking or other surrogates have little or no power. They submit and follow orders. Authority comes from the top. The continued expulsion of Amharic speaking Ethiopians from the lands they use and from the neighbors with whom they coexist peacefully and amicably reflects this sinister arrangement. TPLF Inc. does this against its own constitution. Article 32 (1) says: “Every Ethiopian citizen or any other person legally in Ethiopia has the right to freedom of movement anywhere within the national territory, to choose freely his place of residence anywhere in the national territory, and to leave the country.” What a joke? People naively wonder why the outside world, especially donors and diplomats with stake in Ethiopia do not react to this façade?
Although this is not the purpose of this piece, I should like to share my take on the matter again. British and American policy makers, the two largest sources of bilateral aid to Ethiopia, know that the TPLF Corporate group is anathema to their own values of the rule of law, human freedom, free enterprise and a semblance of democracy, for example, checks and balances and political pluralism. Why do they support a repressive regime that portends insecurity and instability in the long-run? Why do they refuse a movement toward globally accepted norms of humane institutions, decency, fair play, openness and the like? In my view and the views of other prominent international experts on the subject, democratic reconstruction and reconfiguration are secondary to their national interests of security and stability in the Horn of Africa. In other words, they are willing and ready to sacrifice their core values to serve their own narrow and short-term national interests of averting terrorism and instability in the Horn of Africa as they have done in the rest of the world. This is why Ethiopian opposition groups cannot afford to operate in their own silos. They need to cooperate and show credibility that they stand for a bigger cause than narrow or parochial interests.
Like us, the world community looks at the faces of innocent children and women forcibly expelled from their farmlands and properties where their forefathers worked and lived for 100 years plus, in Benji Maji, Southern Ethiopia. Like us, those whose profession is to monitor the Horn know that theirs is a fresh and ugly testimony and reminder of how far ethnic politics and business in Ethiopia would go to bring havoc to this ancient land. They know that, with a stroke of an order–no doubt emanating from the highest levels of the governing party–children and women and poor farmers were herded like sheep in their own country by their own government and forcibly expelled from their homes. They know that neighbors were awed but could do nothing in the country of fear and revenge. The bewilderment in the faces of the children and women are graphic and speak louder than my capacity to write about them; and the cruelty and brutality of a regime that has literally gone wild and mad. These Ethiopians could be our children, our sisters, our mothers, our fathers and or relatives. It does not matter. They are, first and foremost human beings and Ethiopians who deserve treatment with honor and dignity. Their expulsion is ours too. Donors and diplomats in Addis Ababa know all of this; but cannot say much because it does not affect their interests. It is up to us to make them understand and to draw them to our side.
TPLF Inc.’s ethnic politics and business robbed these Ethiopians displaced from their homes, of their humanity, dignity and honor. Trust me. Regardless of ethnic, religious, ideological or demographic affiliation, it is our own common humanity, dignity and honor that are robbed and are being undone by tribal elite that have no decency or humanity to speak of. No doubt in my mind that the leaders of the regime would find excuses for this too. They will blame someone else for the mess. I am not entirely clear where this unprecedented assault on the Ethiopian people is heading and where it will lead and to what end? Some in the diplomatic and donor community are weary but are not speaking out. I am wearily reminded of the civil war in Liberia, the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, genocide in Rwanda and the collapse of Somalia. If you are not; you must be either naïve or believe in miracles or support the status quo or do not simply care. I and others witnessed the horrors in Liberia where people were hacked like wild animals or in Rwanda where nearly a million people lost their lives because of their ethnic affiliation should worry that the same could happen in our country. It is not an exaggeration to put the pieces together by connecting the dots of cruelty and inhumanity and by arriving at a larger and ominous picture that seems to emerge. When people’s very survival is at stake, patience is not perpetual. TPLF Inc. and its ethnic elite collaborators seem to be determined to push the entire country into the abyss. Donors and diplomats in Addis Ababa know this but do not see an alternative that gives them confidence and comfort. We need to rise up and show that we can offer an alternative by cooperating once and for all.
In my view, the plight of the Amhara is not a single ethnic dilemma. Amharic speaking people have been suffering ever since TPLF Inc. took power. I contend with full confidence that that the Amhara ‘problem’ is an Ethiopian dilemma. Depopulating areas where Amharic speakers live is a strategic way of weakening this ethnic group and Ethiopia. Why do you think the number of this nationality group shows a decrease from year to year? Some are forced to abandon their national origin and accept a new one. Review the data in the old Arusie region and you will find a decrease. Where did the Amharic speakers go? I like to proceed with the bigger picture though. The plight of the tribes in the Omo Valley being forced out of their ancestral homes is not solely their problem. It is an Ethiopian problem. The eviction of Anuak, Afar and Somali from their lands to make room for a narrow band of emerging ethnic capitalists and foreign governments and firms from 36 countries is not an Anuak or Afar or Somali problem. It is an Ethiopian problem. The rape of Somali girls and women and the destruction of villages and property is not a Somali problem. It is an Ethiopian problem. The transfer of lands in Waldiba on which monks depend, to TPLF Inc. firms and or the state within a state called MIDROC is not a Gondar problem. It is an Ethiopian one. No matter the location or the population, it is Ethiopia and Ethiopians who are under the gun. Thus, it behooves all Ethiopians to respond not as members of this or that ethnic or religious group but as Ethiopians. This is our only salvation as people. We either rise in unison as Ethiopians; or we will all perish together. We can never allow this to occur. It is not the legacy we would want to leave. Is it?
As I saw the video clips of innocent and frightened children, girls and women, I kept thinking that only an invading army would do this to Ethiopians. I am reminded that even invading armies from the colonial era were civilized and humane enough to differentiate the innocent from those who dissent. Children and women and poor farmers who work hard to earn a living are not a threat to the governing party. Their forcible expulsion is a form of ethnic cleansing and therefore a crime against humanity. Only Apartheid conducted an identical system of political and economic capture that expelled blacks and herded and concentrated them in their own “homelands or Bantustans.” This way, it is easier to monitor, subjugate and control them. TPLF Inc. does not have the moral courage or commitment to differentiate between those who dissent against it and those who live and work peacefully and legally in different parts of the country.
Ironically, Tigreans are free to live and work anywhere in Ethiopia. They are state sponsored and can own property anywhere in the country. A recent informal survey from a reliable group shows that in the city of Gondar, close to 50 percent of the population is now Tigrean as are more than 75 percent of major enterprises. Here is the difference. The Amharic speaking population of the city treats them as Ethiopians. No Tigrean national I am aware of has been expelled from the so-called Amhara region. This is the good news and Tigreans should condemn a ruling clique that abuses their name and expels people on the basis of ethnic and or linguistic affinity. For this reason alone, Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people do not deserve Apartheid like system that dispossesses and expels any or one group of people forcibly from any part of the country on the basis of linguistic and or tribal origin. Ethiopians must stand up and reject this regressive policy and the occurrences it triggers. They must recognize and appreciate the notion that inhumanity of man to man is not an Ethiopian popular tradition or value. It is not our heritage. It is the tradition of tyrants and dictators perfected by TPLF Inc. in other words; it is a governance and system’s issue.
Is our history as cruel as TPLF Inc. manifests it?
I should like to take the reader back to a snippet of history to strengthen my argument. TPLF Inc. rejects the evolution of the country it defines as a “prison of nations, nationalities and peoples,” for which it is the proclaimed liberator. These narrow-minded, clubby and family centered minority ethnic elite try to compel innocent and self-serving people alike to believe that our identity should be defined narrowly in tribal and linguistic terms. It uses emotions to drive its political and economic agenda on the rest of us. The reader knows that people enjoy different identities for different reasons. I will identify some of my own: am a professional in development, have a higher degree and was and or is a banker, professor, writer, belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, am a father, a husband and my linguistic affiliation is to Amharic and regional origin, Gondar. Of these, which one do you think is the identity that I cherish most and share or have in common with millions? It is this. I am an Ethiopian and have a great deal in common with Ethiopians than other people in the world. I presume most of us who hail from Ethiopia have numerous identities but believe in the notion that we are Ethiopians or people of Ethiopian origin. It is this core value that will save us.
The singular identity that binds us together regardless of different affiliations is that we belong to a country called Ethiopia. Hence, our commonality is expressed as Ethiopians and or as people of Ethiopian origin. TPLF Inc. wants us to sink to the bottom and think and organize ourselves as Amharic speakers or an Amhara ethnic group. I caution my compatriots that this is a tempting trap to which we should not sink. We need to be strategic and take the higher road of our historical and legitimate identity as Ethiopians. Let me elaborate within the context of today’s global community in which the TPLF Inc. formula is totally against the tide.
Who in the world would find it credible if I told (in official travels with the World Bank) a Chinese or a Brazilian or a Nigerian or a Norwegian at their respective airports that I am an Amharic speaking Gondarie? Wouldn’t the person find it incredible if I told him or her that I cannot live and or work in any part of Ethiopia because of my linguistic or ethnic affiliation? TPLF Inc. has reduced us to this low level. It is this emotionally driven and politically motivated identity that TPLF Inc. imposes on most of us. Some accept the new norm because of fear. Some accept it because of greed. Others accept it because of ignorance. Still others accept it because they believe in it. No matter the motive, TPLF Inc. wants us to believe that it is implementing Apartheid like formula on behalf of ‘oppressed nations, nationalities and people.’ The intent is to undermine Ethiopian unity and identity. The acid test of being an Ethiopian is the possibility of living and working in any part of Ethiopia. Otherwise, our commonality becomes meaningless regardless of the propaganda propagated by TPLF Inc. that we should all buy Renaissance Bonds and send our hard earned monies in support of a regime that does not allow us to fulfill our potential in our own country. Just think of this. The governing party that champions Ethiopian nationalism when it suits its interests still calls itself by its origin, Tigray People’s Liberation Front? Liberation from who is now a legitimate question. The reader knows the answer and the purpose.
The Greeks looked up to ancient Ethiopia and called it the common cradle of mankind. Among other things, they contended that ancient Egyptians “derived their civilization and religions from Ethiopia and Ethiopians. Ptolemaic (Greek) writers and philosophers felt and wrote that “Ethiopians were the first men that ever lived.” Martin Bernal’s “Black Athena: the Afro-Asiatic roots of classical civilization,” provides rich data and information on the richness of Ethiopian history; and, more important on the movement and on the interconnectedness of most Ethiopians for thousands of years. Interconnectedness of Ethiopians has now been validated through archaeological findings that confirm that Ethiopia is indeed the origin of humankind. In their highly acclaimed book, “Lucy (Dinknesh): The Beginnings of Humankind,” Donald Johansson and Maitland Edey, document the dramatic discovery of Lucy’s (Dinknesh’s) “completeness in the history of hominid fossil collection.” Dinknesh’s (Lucy’s) discovery did not happen by accident. It is a tribute to the farsightedness of Emperor Haile Selassie, who, in the 1950s–during a visit to Kenya–invited Western Anthropologists to explore fossils in Ethiopia and granted the requisite permits. The Omo valley expedition lasted from 1967 to 1977 and resulted in the finding of Dinknesh (Lucy). “There could no longer be any argument about that, or conjecture over whether a certain leg bone and a certain skull did or did not belong the same individual (Dinknesh). Here they were, together in one unbelievable skeleton.”
Dinknesh refers to a country known for thousands of years as Ethiopia, home of our common humanity as Ethiopians. If we are indeed the origin of mankind, possess an incontestable long history and have served as a home to different ethnic and religious groups for thousands of years, who is responsible for reducing us to identify one another as members of a tribe or a linguistic group rather than as Ethiopians? It is the EPLF, TPLF and other ethnic-based liberation fronts who wish us harm. It is also their foreign sponsors that continue to be inimical to a strong, unified and prosperous Ethiopia. As the champion of ethnic politics and business (the two are linked), TPLF Inc. is determined to obliterate this common humanity that the Ethiopian people have shared for thousands of years. This commonality has been strengthened generation after generation through marriages, economic and religious interactions, migration of people from South to North, from North to South, from East to West and from West to East and many in between. This is why I contend that Ethiopia and Ethiopians are the pace-setters of what is now commonly known as globalization. This phenomenon began as a result of human mobility from Ethiopia and the rest of Africa to the rest of the globe. Before Ethiopians moved across the globe, they spread within Ethiopia. Their linkages are thus incontestable.
Ethiopian identity and globalizing influence that TPLF Inc. wishes to undo by rewriting our entire history and reducing it to just 100 years to suit it, and by spreading the venom of ethnic revenge and hate are not confined to the story of Dinknesh, although hers is the foundation of our humanity. Herodotus, the Greek historian documented that Ethiopians reached out to the rest of the world through trade in spices and ivory far beyond Egypt and the Gulf. Ethiopians are said to have moved to and served in Persian armies. “The Eastern Ethiopians—for there were two sorts of Ethiopians in the army—served in the Indian army.” Here is the key though. “These were just like the Southern Ethiopians, except for their language and their hair; their hair is straight.” Threads that bind Ethiopians among one another through marriages, social and economic interactions, religious practices, localities and regions are rooted in our past. With its ups and downs and imperfections and manifestations of gross injustice, our past is the foundation of our present and future. In light of this, our diversity is nothing new. It has always been there. The trick is to harness it for the better.
Yet, our political leaders and institutions failed to use our diversity creatively and constructively in building an enduring, just and all inclusive society. Experts foreign and domestic recognize our history and diversity as sources of uniqueness and strength rather than as liabilities. Under TPLF Inc., both history and diversity are liabilities. These are used as political tools to create and deepen wedges to divide us, frighten us, exploit us and create animosities among us.
TPLF Inc. forces us to forget the assets and treasures that emanate from our roots and the uniqueness that our forefathers left for us. One additional example cements this point. In the 19th century, M. Le Jean, French, said this. “Ethiopia, even during its state of greatest decadence, offers to the unprejudiced traveler, the elements of an advanced social order. Feudality certainly exists there, but scarcely to a greater extent than in England…the administrative machinery is simple…is property well defined; individual rights are guaranteed by appeal to the Emperor; commerce is protected; and political vengeance and horrors of war in a great measure neutralized…” Can you say the same about the Meles Zenawi Government today? I cannot. The evidence is overwhelmingly oppressive and repressive. This is why revenge, fear and expulsion come naturally to the governing clique.
What can and should we do?
There is a great deal we can and should do. The starting point is for each of us and for our communities to believe and commit to preserving this ancient land and to frame an alternative that will accommodate the needs and interests of all its members. Our individual and collective responsibility is, first and foremost, to halt this frightening phenomenon of fear, ethnic divide and repression that–if not halted now–is likely to destroy all of us. We must determine that we do not wish to witness another Liberia, Rwanda or Somalia in Africa. TPLF Inc. and other surrogate ethnic-based parties use language and or other differences as a criterion to implant fear and revenge; to discriminate and expel as if we are not of the same diverse family; and to undo what has been built by all Ethiopians over thousands of years. Our ability and readiness to embrace one another and to stand for one another; and to reject ethnic divide is the starting point. We can do this wherever we are and in numerous ways.
This is the big picture I should like to implant in the reader’s mind. We need to reject the Apartheid like system that drives little children and mothers, old people and poor farmers from their homes and farms and from their neighbors. In part two of this commentary, I will provide a specific example of the horrors of ethnic cleansing and civil wars that entail irreparable damage regardless of the temporary strength of a ruling group.
The second in this series will be posted next week