Thoughts on chauvinism in Ethiopia by Eskinder Nega

December 17th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

“What is it about this (new) cabinet that attracts so much attention?” asks Tsegaye Chama in an article posted on Ethiomedia. (Attacks on fair cabinet, ethnic minority group, Tsegaye Chama December 1, 2010.) “The explanation for this gruesome fixation is simple,” Tsegaye assures readers. And he waves an accusing finger, assumes the moral high-ground, and, quite obviously aiming below the belt, drops the dreaded C word: “( To the Chauvinists) this cabinet is unnatural. It stands in absolute defiance and violation of the natural order of the Ethiopian political power sharing tradition, ” he says.

The heresy, as Tesgaye relates it: The rise of Haile-Mariam Desalegn , an ethnic Welayta, one of the more than 45 minorities that make up the Southern region, to the position of Deputy Prime Minister and heir-apparent to PM Meles Zenawi; who is officially due to retire in 2015. “The hostility towards His Excellency Haile-Mariam Desalegn is unfathomable. Diaspora opinion-makers are stereotyping and stigmatizing him,” complains Tsegaye.

And lest anyone needs reminding, “the details of our despicable background(history),” is posted in three episodes on YOUTUBE; courtesy of Ben’s (the superfluous pro-EPRDF website. Aiga is the preferred venue of the tiny maladjusted Diaspora) interview with “His Honorable Ato Shiferaw Shigute (President of the Southern region.)”

Little surprise then, if there were the oppressed, there then logically must have been the oppressors. Ideally, twenty years after the triumph of the EPRDF, all are now humbled, guilt-ridden, and eager to uphold the promotion of minorities—their worst victims. “ But the reality is the other way round,” laments Tsegaye. Chauvinists—the die-hard oppressors of yesteryears— are instinctively distressed; and even worse, are “conspiring to perpetuate the historical marginalization of minorities.” To back his claim, he provides links to four articles (by Abebe Gelaw; Elais Kifle; Ephrem Madebo and Eskinder Nega.) And this is “another original crime against (Ethiopia’s) minority ethnic groups,” proclaims Tsegaye.

Chauvinism is a French word. It derives from fictional French soldier, Nicolas Chauvin, who stunned mere mortals with his many prodigious traits in the 18th century. In its political application, though, it is a hate word. A chauvinist is conceited; eactionary; a hater; and ultimately, deluded by a false sense of superiority.

Chauvinism as a political dictum was first extensively used by Soviet Communists; who, as revolutionary champions of “oppressed nations and nationalities,” loudly admonished “Russian chauvinism.” And soon, “progressives” around the world were hard pressed to find a local context. In the US, “white chauvinism” competed with racism to describe the bias against blacks in progressive circles. Even in post-1949 China, only a few years removed from 300+ years of minority Manchu dynasty rule, there was still room for “the evils of Han chauvinism.”(Hans are the 90+ majority in China.) More than four decades later, when the first batch of Ethiopia’s progressives finally emerged in the early 60s, there was even less ambiguity about the certainty of home-bred chauvinism—that of Amhara.

But while chauvinism has seen its rise and fall elsewhere, it has persisted, undiminished and potent as ever, in Ethiopia. Tegaye’s charge is no hasty blunder. Nor is it, as some may suspect, throwback to a relic of a bankrupt ideology—now a preserve of no more than the dustbin of history. Rather, it is a cold calculation to exploit differences and fears. And thus, a clear and present danger to the nation’s democratic aspirations.

Ethiopia is famously the lone African claimant to national exceptionalism. This self-perceived exceptionalism dates back to the
16th century, when all foreigners were expelled and contacts with the outside world were severed. The case for exceptionalism stresses the exclusivity of Ethiopia’s religions and historical trajectory; and no less, the uniqueness of the nation’s cultures, diets, script and national spirit—what 60s Ethiopian progressives called psychological makeup. And for centuries, the Davidian defense of this exceptionality had been the principal—acclaimed and romanticized— national aim.

Akin to historical Israel, which had multiple languages and 12 tribes (ethnicities), Ethiopia, too, has always been a multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic entity. More than 15 languages flourished at the core of Axum between the third and the sixth centuries, the height of the Kingdom’s power and prestige. But as in Israel, where the collective case of exceptionalism and national will was expressed chiefly through one language, Hebrew; Ethiopia’s collective ethos invariably had to be dominantly expressed through one language—first, Geez; and later, Amharic. Charges of Amhara chauvinism conveniently discount this colossal historical fact.

But that the stories that accurately describe modern Ethiopia are complicated is also true. Neither do we live in historical times, with their limited standards and expectations; but rather, we now inhabit a sophisticated, modern world with heightened standards and expectations. And not only Ethiopia’s politics but the core of the collective ethos must adjust to the changed times and circumstances. And in fairness to Ethiopia’s contemporary elites, old and new (barring the disingenuous Machiavellian leaders of the EPRDF), that adjustment, in the form of support for multi-culturalism and thriving Federalism (as opposed to the two-decade centralization of the EPRDF), is virtually unanimous. Ethiopia’s multi-culturalism is not only acknowledged and celebrated, but a broad consensus has emerged for the state’s role in its preservation and cultivation. This is unprecedented in Africa, where indigenous cultures are being uncontroversialy undermined; and thus, perhaps, stands as an additional case for Ethiopia’s claim to a unique historical trajectory.

As to Haile-Mariam’s specific case, Tsegaye’s insincere charges notwithstanding, his ethnicity, however historically victimized,
should not protect him from legitimate criticism. He should be held to the very standards we hold other public officials. And gauged by that standard, he fails miserably. There is a story behind his public façade of the heir-apparent. There lurks the true tales of conspiracy and greed. And, far more menacingly, danger to our nation.

With Putin’s Russia serving as the role model, Haile-Mariam, who has no power base in the party, government or the security apparatuses, has been slated to play the Medvedev role in post 2015-Ethiopia, where Meles will, if all goes according to plan, continue to call the shots from behind the scenes. As a “Southerner” in a nation without a Southern people, Haile-Mariam has no recourse but rely on the goodwill of Meles.

What’s Tsegaye’s take on this, the real issue?

  1. Gragn Ahmed
    | #1

    I find your anlysis shallow specially on two counts:

    1. You failed to tell us why we need not think Haile is competent. No evidence at all. Being a Southern is enough to disqualify? I am Amhara but this logic does not suit me.

    2. Comparing Israel to Ethiopia?? Why not Mecca or Sanna- the two places where we as Ethiopians had better cultural connections? Also, today’s Israel is completely different now being made mostly from Turkish jews of European background. Hence, as referred in your Bible this story of jew Israel does not apply no more.

    Lastly, you ignored the role of chauvinism, in this case religious chauvinism, that is still being played at the highest level in Ethiopia by appointing as you said an unqualified minister( I will go by your argument for the sake of convinience) just because he is a christian. Yet, there are many qualified Muslim business men who not only know how to make business but also know who to make peaceful existence. What do you call this chauvinism or patriotism? Only christians are meant for power??? This religous chauvinism is displayed not only by politicians but also by historians and academicians as well. No wonder, the first thing that you did is to compare us with Israel. It is not a mere coincidence but rather a product of deliberate distortion of our true history that is taught in our history classes through the years written by the very scholars who ask us to show our patriotism.

    Indeed, you will be seen teaching us soon, the Ark of Moss is true, the Story of Sheba and Solomon and his illlegitimate son and his descendants including the Haile Selassie are true stories. You will then tell us next that Muslims had no history.

    Ethiopian history is all fake. When are we going to know our true role in history??? Unless we stop all thes forms of chauvinism, we will be isolated, narrow minded and limited in our ability to grow as open society. It is very sad all academicians of the past were all chauvinsits like their leaders were.

    One good point is how Ethiopians are viewed by other Africans. We tend to be very chauvinists putting ourselves up including whites when infact we had only fake stories. We need to find our right role. Otherwise, this chauvinism will take us no where if not backward.
    Ethiopian history was written by the pliagiarist Yishak who authored the Kibre Negist.
    Free my mind.

  2. Fikre
    | #2

    By EPRDF’s simplistic and very foreign to the reality view all Amharas are chauvinists and the #1 enemy of the fake state.

    This view was especially so popular inside TPLF after it came to power in the first years of the ninties. But this view is not only not based on the actual facts, for more than 80% the Amhara population were and are oppressed peasants for centuries, it also totaly alienated the whole of the Amhara population toward EPRDF never to be fixed to date.

    Do you remember what the Amahras done in the 2005 elections? Almost 100% of them voted for CUD against EPRDF and showed what they think about EPRDF. I think the Chauvinism accusation of the whole Amharan nation done the most single damage to the relationships between the Amaharas and EPRDF and I don’t think it will be repaired.

    When you see the so called EPRDF Amhara organization ANDEM you see that it is devoid of any notable Amhara personality never to mention any Amharan elite. EPRDF failed misserably to convince the wider Amahara population of its political programs most notably because of the sensed Chauvinism accusation it used to drum in the past.

    EPRDF and Amhara will never be friends. Damage already done! Ormomay!!!

  3. tewbel
    | #3

    It is strange to talk about federalism and people from minorities that have high ranks in government. What about the Great Fitawary Habte Giorgis, Degiazmatch Baltcha Abanefsso, Ras Desta DamTew, Ato Minasse Lemma and many others? As to federalism or dicentralizaton of power the Imperial regime had already adopted that with the Provin- cial Autonomy Proclamation. Reinventing history has become the new fashion to cover up the truth, a rather futile excersize.
    We are told that the new federalism has installed firmly democracy in Ethiopiaa, I supposed that when you believe that you have won the national vote by 99.6, you believe also that the Moon is made of Peperoni Pizza. Self-made illusion is sign of paranoia and lack of confidence in one own’s actions.

  4. Demamu
    | #4

    Do I think the Meles & Co have selected Hailemariam for the reasons you allege that they have chosen him? My answer will be ‘yes’. In all likelihood they had they chose him because he could not threaten the status quo and mobilize a support base that will undermine the hegemony of the clique that is in power. Do I think there are many people, including you, who are finding it hard to swallow that a ‘welayta’ is so close to ‘power’( even if he will not really be able to wield power’)? Once again yes! Because I have seem many folks, including you asserting that he is not qualified for the office some even asking if he can speak English. Most of these assertions that he is incompetent and inept have not been substantiated with an iota of evidence.His educational background and his track record as an academic and a politician has not been touched up on. So, my take on the situation is that some people are saying that he is incompetent because he is a member of the EPRDF and the presumption for most members of that organization happens to be that till they prove otherwise they are all incompetent. Other people are saying, I would say most people are saying he is incompetent because of who he is and where he comes from.The constant reference in most comments about the matter to the fact that he is a ‘southerner’(which is a term I am rather reluctant to use) seems to underscore how important his identity is in this whole controversy regarding his ascent. Let’s face it, some who are very attached to the old order( if you know what I mean) find it very very difficult to see some one who is not from a certain background assume the mantel of power. Its a sad reality, time to do some real soul searching Eskinder.

  5. kush-kush
    | #5

    I really don’t agree with Eskinder’s article by attacking unfairly and unreasonably to Tsegaye Chama . Tsegaye Chama expressed his feelings based on the reality of our nation-Ethiopia and he has never shy away from his Ethiopianess for a fraction of a second .
    The attitude of the ethinic relations is very volatile and is like a time bomb and it may explode any time . Inorder to avoide the disaster and calamity, we need to have a very democratic government. Unfortunately, we are suffering from the hands of the military junta to the ethinic tribalist TPLF/EPLF . One must not deny the reality and afraid to face it as it is . Tsegaye is the wrong victim and the wrong target . As it is customery that let us not push people to the wrong path and let us not frame them what they are not . We all know that our problems are always hidden and we are unable to find the solutions on the timely manner . An example of this is alomost all the so called opposition groups pretended as if they didn’t have any differnces and that same differences which were a taboo annhilate them beyond recognition . To refresh every one, best examples are EPRP,CUD,OLF, . It seems to me that those chauvinist got insulted by Tsegaye’s article and daringly they are telling us that there is no ethinicity problems . If we don’t have ethinicity problems, why all different groups take up arms? We must bear in mind one thing that is if we form a democratic government, we will definetely solve our bad attitudes, hate and chauvinistic behavior once and for all . What is the big deal using the word chauvinist? I do not appreciate giving us the meaning from “Google Dictionary” and the Russians used it and the Americans used it. We do not have to know the roots of the word to explain the fact. As far as I know, in America they never use the word chauvinist and what the Americans use until today is “Whitesupermacy.” Besides, Eskinder likes the french word which is very obsolate and difficult to pronounce it -facade . Did Tsegaye Chama hid himself from something? Why you didn’t show it to your audince? I belive Eskinder is a very biased and prejudice person . In the end, Eskendir’S accusation to Tsegaye has no ground and is pure fabrication . Eskinder says”Tesgaye’s article is a cold calculation to exploit differences and fears.” What Eskinder did not understand is that there are fears, anxity, hate and uncertainty in the TPLF/EPLF ethinic tribalist policy . Like every one of us whether we belong to this ethinic group, religion or political affilation, we are the victims of the TPLF/EPLF tribalist and despots . Period !

  6. The Cynic
    | #6

    What Eskinder and others like him would have us believe is there was no Amhara domination of Ethiopian affairs and they invariably bring up some token non-Amharas in successive Ethiopian governments. In other words, people like Eskinder fail to acknowledge the real grievances of non-Amhara people and would as soon wish all talk of past subjugation would just go away. Unfortunately, such resistance will only lead others to take extreme positions as well and to the eventual disintegration of the entire country. I only wish and pray all would come to their senses, acknwoledge past mistakes and reach a consensus on the way forward before it is too late.

  7. Drama
    | #7


  8. Drama
    | #8


  9. Abera
    | #9

    Chauvinism is a political terminology used by the EPRDF to single out members of the amhara ethnic community for descrimination, persecution and ultimately for genocide. It is the Ethiopian version of interhamwe politics. Ever since the EPRDF run over addis ababa it has incessantly tried to pit the various ethnic communities in ethiopia against the amahara people by releasing this chauvinism propoganda ad infintum. On genocidal level, It succeeded in a number of cases in the well publicized genocides in harar, arsi, wollega. However, the biggest hit is in isolating and discriminiating the amhara community. Go to every region in ethiopia, have not you seen how an amhara is being treated? He is openly labelled as neftegna because he is an amhara, thanks to eprdf’s interhamwe-chauvinism. I have seen in my own eyes amhara business men openly insulted and told to go back to their dry land , and labelled as beggars by eprdf politicians. I can testify to that. But eprdf has dismally failed in its grand objective of pitting other ethnic communities against the amhara people. The eprdf’s grand objective of the interhamwe against amharas could not just happen because of the civility of the ethiopian people. Meles and his cohorts were indoctrinated with this ideology not at addis ababa university, but at home from their own family including his father and the adwa community who like the eritreans harbour anti-amhara sentiments. meles and his cohorts are not overnight converts of the chauvinist-interhamwe ideology. They inherited it from their parents through endless indoctrination from birth up to adulthood. The reason i have to say this is because this revolting genocidal ideology is not prevalent anywhere except in these isolated places. Now i will come to the funny politician – “honourable” hailemariam in a moment.

  10. Abera
    | #10

    Hailemariam would not take an honor in just becoming a politician. But his honor of becoming a foreign minister lies squarely on becoming the extended arm of Meles Zenawi. His appointment and promotion is a result of his submission and loyalty to Meles’s Bantustan design on the southern people. Eskinder Nega’s assessment of dismal failure of Hailemariam is accurate and is there in the open sun for every one to see. Hailemariam is an opportunist who was willing to sell his soul, religion, his people and every thing for what ever illusive gain he might think he will get. He has changed his religion from catholic to Hawaria religion for the sake of marrying his wife who initially shunned him a lot. He has sold his own people of Wolayita and has delivered them to fascist’s bullet in the dark day of the history of that people. He is single handedly responsible for the massacre at Loke, Sidama for which he only paid in the form of a disgraceful exit from Hawassa city after nagging Meles Zenawi to be unseated from the presidential post and after the Sidama politicians decided to withdraw from the south coalition unless Hailemariam is removed from president of the south. Hailemariam is an opportunist aspirant who digs around the ground on which people stand to snatch their position. Hailemariam who initially hid in Hawaria religion had opportunism got the better of him when he met the former secretary of the south Tefera Maskale, who is also a Wolayita. Tefera promised him he will get every thing he wants by becoming a Woyane agent like himself. Tefera Maskale, a war prisoner who was captured without firing a single bullet by Woyane, was a thief who was stealing money like his Woyane masters in the open sun and Hailemariam sensed there is a free ride for money apart from post. Hailemariam immediately joined the EPRDF and was also given a dean post at water institute in Arbaminch as well as a seat in the southern EPRDF political establishment. Sad to say his transition from a water engineering teacher to politician did not bode well. He has become quickly discomforting to the eye. He was bossing and posturing around and was trying to impose himself as a political quick fix. He quickly came at loggerheads with the people of Wolyita with his dictatorial attitude. It is said that Hailemariam belongs to the lowest of the 8 ethnic cast groups in Wolayita named IZZA (spell Z as zigurgur). He has therefore deep seated inferiority complex against his own people. His attitude born out of inferiority complex made matters even worse where people started hating him more in his own region. Hailemariam is also quick to substitute Amhara, and Tigre as Neftegnas. This term became a buzz word to him and any one who dare confront him, he was quick to label them as Neftegnas, which was a very childish yet dangerous behavior. Digging around Tefera Maskale, Hailemariam facilitated his disgraceful exit from the secretary post. Hailemariam quickly assumed this post after Tefera was deposed. Tefera was more liked by the Wolayita people but the TPLF kings in Hawassa did not like him as he refuses to submit to them. The TPLF masters in the south (headed by Bitew Belay – the notorious cruel and cantankerous Woyane king maker of the south) was looking for a willing actor, and Hailemariam , the opportunist , presented himself as an information giver, witness and evaluator to get rid of Tefera. Then after Hailemariam felt that he is now a well established boss and started doing funny things. One and the funniest of all was his attempt to merge the language of four ethnic groups together (Wolayita, Gamo, Gofa and Dawro). He named this new language WoGaGoDa language, taking the first letter from each ethnic group. He also had the intention of declaring the region a Wogagoda region. This was vehemently opposed particularly by his own people of Wolayita. They took it as insult to their culture and language that a single person decides to amalgamate four languages together and comes up with a new manufactured language. Hailemariam was incensed and he called a meeting in Wolayita to tell people of this new language! In that meeting one of the participants stood up and asked Hailemariam: “we heard that you are a water engineer. But who has made you to become a language engineer?” This was to the laughter of people in the hall. Hailemariam became more incensed and emotional. He told them banging the table again and again “whether you like it or not it will be implemented “ (wodedachum telachhum tegbarawi yihonal). Meanwhile other EPRDF politicians like Simon Mechale, Petros Olango, Woldemichael Chamo, all from Wolayita, retreated back saying this language experiment will create a public backlash and withdrew leaving Hailemariam alone. The matter went to Meles Zenawi. Representative of the people of Wolayita brought a petition to Meles asking him to halt the advance of (the “devil “as they call it ) WEoGaGoDa. Meles told them that their demand was right and asked them to push on with their demonstration. On the other hand he told Hailemariam to “crash them with full force” when they go out for demonstration. The people of Wolayita new very well Meles’s double standard and they decided to take a public protest. One of the organizers of the protest said “we know Meles’s double standard and Negaso Gidada , the president, chose silence on the matter. We will preserve our language and culture with our blood and not through petition and begging”. The day of protest arrived; every body went out for protest singing:” the people of Wolyita this is your day of death, cry, cry”. The protestors marched to a building where text books prepared with the new Wogagoda language were stored . They smashed the door and burnt all the text books that costed a cool 40 million birr to prepare. The fascist Woyane forces marched with their shoot to kill style and murdered scores of people there by repeating the Soweto incident. In fact the blood of the murdered people of Wolyita halted the advance of the devil language called Wogagoda. Crazy as the idea itself appears Hailemariam was stunned by the peoples’ boldness and soon became a high blood pressure patient. From then on Hailemariam realized the Wolyita people are untouchable. In fact Wolyita has been allowed to establish its own independent zone within the southern Bantustan region.
    Hailemariam then switched to the Sidama people for his next diabolical and adventurous move. Now intimidated by the reaction of the Wolaiyta people he started trying to woo them by being an over night convert of the greater Wolyita ideology. He dug around the ground of Abate Kisho and, coincident with the TPLF split, Abate was sent together with his master Bitew Belay to a prison. In the old times in the south when a slave master dies, his slaves were also buried together to give service to their master while dead. Likewise when Bitew Belay was imprisoned, Abate Kisho was also sent there to give service to Bitew while in prison so that also he will not feel lonely. Hailemariam took command of the south, a reward for his submissiveness and for being the extended arm of Meles Zenawi for his evil Bantustan design on the south. Now professing the greater Wolyita ideology, Hailemariam started installing people from Wolyita to various posts in the south and came to confrontation with the Sidama people. The Sidamas were no less coward than Wolayitas. They resisted Hailemariam’s adventure and evil design of “reducing Sidmas to fit his size” Hailemariam instructed Sidamas to pack up and take their capital elsewhere and evacuate Hawassa immediately. The sidama’s resisted and similarly peacefully protested. Once again the woyane fascist forces marched in that same style of shoot to kill and murdered scores of people. The backlash resulted in the assassination of Fotola Otole who was a Sidama and Education Bureau head who happen to have sided with Hailemariam and as a result paid with his life. Hailemariam after witnessing Otola’s death panicked and wrote a letter of resignation to Meles in the middle of the backlash. Meles got incensed and telephoned Hailemariam and had some harsh words for him. Meles said to Haiemariam: “ you are a coward that succumbs to Sidama pressure”. After that Hailemariam was momentarily pushed out of office and was given a good dose of intimidation by Woyane to refrain from trouble making. Hailemariam once again got stunned and realized that Sidamas are untouchable. He developed further illness and lost the appetite to stay in the south and began nagging Meles Zenawi to be transferred to Addis Ababa. Meanwhile the Sothern region politics turned pathological under the command of the crazy Hailemariam. Sidama and Wolyita people began clashing with each other over land, water and political post. Woliyita and Ocholo people clashed in a reciprocal ethnic cleansing campaign resulting in the death of several people. The south indeed turned chaotic. Same ethnic clashes also occurred elsewhere including Mezenger in Kaffa region. After the bloody election of 2005 the Sidama EPRDF politicians decided that they want to establish their own region and will secede from the south. Meles got worried and he travelled to Hawassa and talked with the people. They told him if Sidama has to remain with the south, this devil called Hailemariam should be removed and the unfortunate Abate Kisho be released from prison. Meles succumbed to their demand and Hailemariam was transferred to Addis and was allowed to sit in an empty office. When the transfer was announced, the whole of Hawassa city was in jubilant mode. Cars were sirening and blinking lights in delight.

  11. sidama
    | #11

    Hailemariam is enemy of sidama people.We know this long time ago.Thnak you Abera for learning us he is low caste Welayta. He is not friend of his nationality.

  12. kesto
    | #12

    His excellency is not enemy of any nation and nationality in Ethiopia.He deserve the position.Only chauvinists like Eskendar in America dont like him. The dogs will shout but the camel will go forward anyway.

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