Relying on Ethiopian history to cure ethnic ills – By Robele Ababya
Unity has eluded us for the last four or so decades to find common ground to deal with our divisive political ills through genuine dialogue on the basis of credible history of Ethiopia. It is long overdue to recognize the immorality of twisting history thus misguiding the young generation for cheap political gains; it would be tantamount to relegating the present and future generations to unending internecine political environment emanating from ignorance of the shared values of the Ethiopian people bound by blood and mutual tolerance of their diverse culture.
It is true that opposition forces have done well in articulating that unprecedented bad-governance and grave violation of human rights have been the rule rather than the exception in the last 36 years under the Derg and TPLF regimes, exacerbated by the latter since it came to power by sheer force in 1991 – determined to implement its ill-conceived hidden agenda of dismembering Ethiopia and betraying all vital national interests. However these forces with their lingering differences have not been able to restrain Meles despite his heinous crimes including genocide and sellout of vital national interests.
Meles has started the reckless race for racial supremacy by dubbing his own as the “Golden Race”- thus opening unholy competition for others with similar narrow frame of mind to follow his bad example; one would surmise that they may call their respective ethnic groups:” Diamond Race”,” Platinum Race” and so on – which would make such ethnic groups with parochial views a laughing stock in the 21st century where the notion of common humanity is cleansing tribal tendencies.
Ethiopia as the origin of the human race and home to over eighty ethnic groups is unique in the world. She is characterized by long history of independence, diverse cultures living in mutual tolerance regardless of race or creed and unbreakable bond engendered by inter-ethnic marriages.
The latent dominant virtue of inter-marriages in the opinion of this writer seems to have been ignored by the opposition forces vying for separation from Ethiopia hiding the fact that their forebears were part and parcel of the powerhouse of leaders. Here below, is a snapshot of ethnic-mix in the share of power that transpired in the period between Zemene Mesafent (Era of the Princes) to the present.
Gugsa of Yejju was a Ras of Begembder (from about 1798 until his death on 23 May 1825) and Inderase (regent) of the Emperor of Ethiopia. He took the Christian name of Wolde Mikael. His reign as Ras and Enderase is considered as the peak of power of the Yejju Oromo during the Zemene Mesafent. His descendants continue to influence Ethiopian politics to this day.
“Upon becoming Regent, Ras Gugsa reasserted the central power of the Empire (although keeping the Emperor as a figurehead) by dispossessing the nobility of the parts of Ethiopia he controlled, primarily Begemder. He accomplished this by proclaiming in 1800 in the name of the Emperor the legal title of land tenure would be converted from freeholds to state property, held at the will of the Emperor. At first the Peasantry welcomed this egalitarian measure, believing that they would benefit from the loss of their masters. However, as Ras Gugsa proceeded in dispossessing the great families each year under one pretext or another, the peasants lost their last defenders. According to Richard Pankhurst: “The dispossessed nobles, “meanwhile, almost all became soldiers of fortune. They were so rapacious that sometimes whole villages abandoned their lands and immigrated to neighboring territories, many of the peasantry enrolling in the army, as they preferred the perils and independence of a military life to the servitude of the field.” Source: Google website
Iyasu II ascended the throne as a child, allowing his mother, Empress Mentewab (wife to Emperor Bekaffa) to play a major role as his Regent. Mentewab had herself crowned as co-ruler, becoming the first woman to be crowned in this manner in Ethiopian history. Beyond the capital of Gonder, the Empire suffered from regional conflict between nationalities that were part of the Empire for hundreds of years—the Agaw, Amharas, Showans, and Tigreans and the Oromo newcomers. Source: Google website
Ioas I (1755 – 14 May 1769) was Emperor of Ethiopia from 27 June 1755 – 7 May 1769) and a member of the Solomonic dynasty. He was the son of IyasuII and Wubit Bersabe, the daughter of an Oromo chieftain of the Yejju district. Empress Mentewab, his grandmother acted as his regent. She attempted to strengthen ties between the monarchy and the Oromo by arranging the marriage of her son to the daughter of an Oromo chieftain from Yejju. Source: Google website
When Iyoas assumed the throne upon his father’s sudden death, the aristocrats of Gondar were stunned to find that he more readily spoke in the Oromo language rather than in Amharic, and favored his mother’s Yejju relatives over the Qwarans of his grandmother’s family. His preference of the Oromo only increased when Iyoas reached adulthood. He assembled a Royal Guard with 3000 of that people, and put his Oromo uncles Birale and Lubo, the brothers of Wubit, in command of them. Source: Google website
The period between 1769 to the beginning of Theodore’s reign in 1855 is called by Ethiopian tradition the time of the masafent (“judges”), for it resembled very closely the era of the Old Testament when “there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes”. Source: Google website
The period since Theodros II
Anecdote are abound in northern Shoa that the mother of Menilik II was a beautiful Oromo hailing from a place called Usmani in Selale. It is common knowledge that most Amharas, if not all, in northern Shoa have Oromo blood in their veins – and vice versa. For the sake of brevity suffice it to say that numerous prominent Oromos like Ras Gobena Datche (top military genius and commander), Fitawrari Haptegiorgis Dinegde (Minister of War), Dejazmatch Balcha (celebrated hero of Adwa) et al served during the reign of Menilik as policy makers and close advisers. Anecdote
Emperor Haile Selassie married Mennen Asfaw, daughter of prominent Oromo families in Ambasel and Yejju of Wolo province. The marriage was politically arranged by her uncle Iyasu Michael- grandson of Menilik II who inherited the throne of Menilik II and became Emperor of Ethiopia. Iyasu’s father, Negus (King) Michael, was an Oromo from Yejju.
Emperor Haile Selassie has publicly confirmed that Tembein in Tigray is place of His ancestors. In fact it is known that he won a court battle in his claim to land in Tembien.
The Emperor and His Empress had five children and several grandchildren; Rear Admiral Eskinder Desta was leading the pack as favorite to inherit the throne. His father Ras Desta Damtew – a famous patriot of Guraghe ethnic origin who was betrayed by Oromos of Arsi and brutally murdered by Fascist Italian soldiers – was married to Princess Tenagneworq Haile Selassie.
Now, it was likely that Rear Admiral Eskender Desta could have inherited the throne. In that case a monarch of Amhara, Tigre, Oromo, and Guraghe ethnic origin could have become Emperor of Ethiopia. Any of the descendants of the Emperor in line for accession to the throne are made up of three or four mixed ethnic origin.
The above argument leads to the conclusion that Oromo nobilities were part and parcel of the ruling class of the Ethiopian Empire.
It can be argued also that inter-ethnic marriages as above had occurred among ordinary citizens for centuries and conclude that the overwhelming number of Ethiopians now is of mixed ethnic origin.
This writer recalls that at a political gathering in Debre Zeit, the late Dr. Senay Like in his lecture argued in favor of class struggle to change the old feudal order. Dr. Senay, founder and leader of Woz League, was an Oromo from Illubabor. He openly differed with others organized under the umbrella of ethnic origin.
The big unanswered questions still
Ras Gugsa, upon becoming Regent, reasserted the central power of the Empire by dispossessing the nobility in the parts of Ethiopia he controlled, primarily Begemder. He accomplished this by proclaiming in 1800 in the name of the Emperor the legal title of land tenure would be converted from freeholds to state property to be held at the will of the Emperor. At first the peasantry welcomed this egalitarian measure, believing that they would benefit from the loss of their masters. Emperor Haile Selassie I failed to implement His proclamation of private land ownership. Mengistu set aside his own proclamation of 10 hectares of private farmland ownership and adopted communal farming in spite of advice that the practice was on the verge of failing in the USSR. Meles has made land as indispensable powerbase of his regime; he is the sole landlord forcing the peasants to work as slaves in his serfdom.
The demand for “Land to the Tiller” is still unanswered. The issue of unity of the opposition remains elusive. There is no basis for Oromo dissident groups or individuals to seek separation since their forebears were part and parcel of the ruling class.
Separation is untenable, impractical and retrogressive. Reliance on Ethiopia’s past and present history and embracing individual freedom as the cornerstone of modern democratic government is the way forward to defeat the divisive ethnic-based federalism of TPLF.
LONG LIVE ETHIOPIA!!!
Release Birtukan Mideksa and all political prisoners in Ethiopia!
Sources of Reference:
1) Google website: Zemene Mesafent (Era of the Princes
2) Book by Zewdie Reta: “ተፈሪ መኮንን ፣ ረዝሙ የስልጣን ጉዞ” – Teferi Mekonnen – the long journey in power
3) Book Berihun Kebede: “የአፄ ኃይለ ሥላሴ ታሪክ” – History of Atse Haile Selassie