Amharas or Amharicans and who to blame in Ethiopia? By Admasu Belay

March 15th, 2014 Print Print Email Email

This article is in response to the commentary “Ethiopia Anew: A Call to Amhara Ethnic People” which has shocked many Ethiopians around the world. We all respect the work of Dr Zelalem Eshete in trying to solve the maze that is Ethiopian politics. But his article indirectly vilifying and accusing Amhara people is misleading and historically inaccurate. Just like OLF’s best friend Wallalign Mekonnen, Dr Zelalem seems to have bowed down to the pressure and propaganda waged by the tribalists among us.

I will discuss how Dr Zelalem’s article asking “Amhara people” to confess and repent our so called “sins” defies common sense. First of all, we have to understand the different identities in Ethiopia and how they are created. Did the Amhara ethnic group or “Amhara nation” ever existed before? Ofcourse no. If the myth that an Amhara conquest/oppression of others (like Oromo, gurage etc) ever happened, then shouldn’t an “amhara nation” exist first? The truth is an “Amhara country” never existed. The only two times we see a resemblance of one “amhara nation” or geographic entity in history is during the brief Italian occupation and under the current TPLF rule. Having lost in their first war against Ethiopia, the Italians knew the only way they can weaken Ethiopian patriots was by divide & rule policy. That strategy eventually fell and we know the current TPLF/OLF aparthied system will also fail.

Dr Zelalem’s first mistake is in believing the “amhara” ethnic identity currently propagated by TPLF/OLF. While there are some people who label themselves Amhara, most of us never call ourselves amhara. For example, i am from Wollo and all my family members say they are Wolloye, all neighbors back home and all friends say they are Wolloye, never Amhara. What Wallalign Mekonnen said is actually better applied here because us Wolloyes have our own culture, own national dress, own dialect, own music and own identity. In fact, if our ancestors were studied some Wolloyes can’t be even associated with an Amhara identity since many originally belong to other ethnic groups but happen to speak Amharic. Even if TPLF/OLF imposed Amhara label on them, they are not amhara. Some “modern” politicians call these amharic speaking people of diverse ethnogroups “Amharicans.” The same way, there are many so-called “Amharicans” from every ethnic group in Ethiopia which happen to speak Amharic as first language.

As mentioned on another Ethiomedia article, Wallalign’s claim that Ethiopian nationalism is fake because Amharic belongs to Amhara and so many other “nationalities” exist, is also another wrong conclusion. As we can see even in the American example, German-Americans are majority population in the multi-ethnic USA but English is the official language due to convenience and to unify the country.

Anyhow, What does our people (falsely labelled amhara) in wollo who died in hundreds of thousands during the 20th century famines have to confess and repent about? What did we do wrong? We are the ones who suffered the most. The truth is we actually deserve apologies from the rest of Ethiopia, not the other way around. For example, since the time of Menelik, almost 80% of development projects and all types of advancements were planted throughout present day “Oromia” (in addis, ambo, adama, debrezeit almost everywhere in oromia!) while our Wollo people were starving to death! The Shewan rulers only cared about Shewa region, which is part of current Oromia. Even western historians like Donald Levine noticed this when he said “Amharic-speaking Shewans consider themselves closer to non-Amharic-speaking Shewans than to Amharic-speakers from distant regions.” He was correct and that takes us to another important point: when did Ethiopia ever had rulers claiming to be Amhara? There were many non-amhara Ethiopian leaders since centuries ago (like the Oromo Emperor Iyoas I in 1700s) but let us focus and look at our leaders the last hundred years between 1914-2014. —–
[1] — During the post-Menelik era, the most powerful figures were the army commander Mikael Ali (Oromo), Iyasu V (oromo) and Emperor Haile selassie (mixed including Oromo).
[2] –During the Derg era, the most powerful leaders were General Aman Andom (Tigrayan/Eritrean), Tafari Benti (Oromo) and Mengistu (Welayta/mixed). [3] — And recently we had Meles zenawi (Tigrayan) and Hailemariam Desalegn (welayta).
As we can see, most of our past leaders can be labelled Amharicans, but they could never be labeled as Amhara.

What TPLF/OLF had done is (just like the Italian occupiers) simplify our identities and divide our people by using only language as a sole defining tool of identification. But There is another elephant in the room that TPLF/OLF hides from Ethiopians. Since the 60s when marxism/socialism poisoned our politics, the only reason that we are always blamed and accused as oppressors in Ethiopia is because we speak Amharic as our first language. Nothing else, nothing more. The harsh truth that TPLF/OLF can’t swallow is that if we did not have our own alphabet and if the powerful Orthodox church (which was the state for centuries) did not use our more convenient language as its lingua franca, the roles could have easily been reversed in Ethiopian politics today. It is all by chance and there was no design to oppress others as Amharicans come from many diverse background and ethnicity, but simply share this language that was gradually adopted by all.

What is more unfortunate today is that the victims are the ones being accused and becoming more victimized in Ethiopia. Many crimes might have occurred over a century ago in the past. But in more recent memory, it is us Amharic speakers who are being oppressed and killed in Ethiopia. The slow genocide of Amharic speakers started when the OLF joined TPLF government in the early 1990s and massacred thousands of so called “Amharas.” This OLF/OPDO crime has continued in recent years in southern and eastern Ethiopia. Dr. Zelalem, This is what the current generation has seen first hand! This are the crimes that TPLF/OLF should confess and repent for!

In general, reconciliation is vital in Ethiopia but we have to separate the system/government from the whole group. We can not blame the whole Oromo people for OLF’s crimes or the whole Tigray people for TPLF’s crimes. We should not blame any whole group of people for the crimes of any Ethiopian governments.

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