Ethnic nationalism and the Gondar protests – Al Jazeera

An analysis on what the rising ethnic nationalism among the historically powerful Amhara means for the country’s future.

A man from Ethiopia’s Amhara, the second largest ethnic group in the country [ K Muller/De Agostini/Getty Images]

Amba Giorgis, Ethiopia – Etenesh* sits alone on a worn cow skin in her mud-walled home in Amba Giorgis, a small Ethiopian market town in the northerly Amhara region. Her husband, a merchant, was arrested early in November, due to his alleged participation in anti-government protests over the last few months.

“He was taken to a military camp,” says Etenesh, a mother of two who sells coffee to farmers from her shack. “I know that because he called me twice.”

She does not know when, or if, he will come back, but she does know that life without the family’s primary breadwinner is tough. “It’s just me now, trying to provide for my kids.”

Talk of arrests is prevalent in Amba Giorgis, which is part of the North Gondar district experiencing clashes between armed farmers and the military.

On the edge of town, government soldiers man a new checkpoint. They moved into a road construction camp, following the declaration of a sweeping state of emergency on October 8 in response to the unrest among Ethiopia’s two largest ethnic groups: the Oromo, who make up around one-third of the population, and the Amhara.

On July 31, residents of Gondar, which is around 700km north of the capital, Addis Ababa, came out to demonstrate amid a long-standing territorial dispute with the neighbouring Tigray region. During Ethiopia’s transition from a unitary to a federal state in the early 1990s, some Amhara claim they lost territory to Tigrayans when the country was restructured along ethnolinguistic lines.

The demonstrations have been used as a platform to voice discontent over alleged government repression of the Amhara as well as to promote a budding ethnic nationalism among them. The Amhara are the second-largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, constituting 27 percent in the country of nearly 100 million people.

The ruling coalition, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), is a grouping of four ethnic-based parties, including Oromo, Amhara and Tigray parties. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front ( TPLF), is the founder of the EPRDF and is perceived to be the powerhouse  of the coalition, even though Tigrayans represent just six percent of the population.

Pro-TPLF  commentators believe that the Amhara wing of the coalition, the Amhara National Democratic Movement, gave its blessing to the Gondar protest as part of an attempt to reduce TPLF dominance. But events gathered momentum, when the sentiments on display in Gondar reverberated in the following weeks, as thousands of ethnic Amhara hit the streets in towns like Amba Giorgis.

During the protests, slogans reflected a sense of victimisation.

“Being an Amhara is not a crime,” read one. “Respect Amharaness,” said another.

Properties associated with the ruling coalition were attacked, and the main road leading to the tourist-magnet Simien Mountains was blockaded.

The government’s emergency decree, which, among other things, bans most political activity, including watching opposition satellite channels, has seen tens of thousands detained on suspicion of being party to the unrest.

“Some 11,607 individuals have so far been detained in six prisons, of which 347 are female, in connection with the state of emergency declared in the country,” official Taddesse Hordofa said in a televised statement on November 12 after the state of emergency was implemented.

The measure has returned a degree of order to Ethiopia. However, underlying issues remain.

READ MORE: Ethiopia state of emergency arrests top 11,000

Amba Giorgis, in North Gondar, in Amhara region, has seen increased demonstrations and a rise in nationalist identity [William Davison/Al Jazeera]

Split identity

The Amhara held privileged positions during the imperial era that ended with Emperor Haile Selassie’s overthrow in 1974. Some EPRDF’s federalists insist that they remain loyal to ideas from that time and are suspicious of the current arrangement.

For hundreds of years, the language and culture of Ethiopia’s imperial courts was Amharic and, for many, advancement in career or social status depended on assimilating to it and many ambitious members of other ethnicities adopted Amhara customs.

By the 20th century, the Amhara culture had become the culture of the educated and of urban “elites” who were often ethnically mixed, according to the historian, Takkle Taddese. As a result, the Amhara can be seen as “a supra ethnically conscious ethnic Ethiopian serving as the pot in which all the other ethnic groups are supposed to melt,” writes Taddese in his essay, titled: Do the Amharas Exist as a Distinct Ethnic Group?

READ MORE: The ‘Ethiopia rising’ narrative and the Oromo protests

When the EPRDF came to power in 1991 and ushered in federalism, the Amhara were treated just as any other ethnic group: a collection of people with their own identity and territory – a premise with which proponents of contemporary Amhara nationalism agree.

The Amhara have existed as a distinct community for thousands of years, fulfilling “all the basic markers of an ethnic group: distinct language, distinct culture, collective national memory and experience and so forth”, argues Wondwosen Tafesse, an academic based in Norway and a commentator on Amhara issues.

But even with surging ethnic assertiveness, many Amhara are still likely to give precedence to pan-Ethiopian identity, as Amhara nationalism is not an end in itself, according to Wondwosen.

Rather, it is a reaction to “fend off multiple attacks, real and imagined”, he says. The expulsion in 2013 of thousands of Amharas by regional officials from Southern People’s Regional State and Benishangul-Gumuz , according to a report by The Human Rights Congress of Ethiopia, is raised to support allegations that the government deliberatelytargets ethnic Amharas.

For opposing Amhara elites, who had to grapple with the pre-eminent questions of identity during EPRDF rule, ethnic nationalism was antithetical to pan-Ethiopian nationalism.

OPINION: The Oromo protests have changed Ethiopia

An unknown future

Even with a growing sense of ethnic nationalism, pan-Ethiopian nationalism still enjoys wider acceptance among the Amhara elites, argues Chalachew Taddese, a contributor for Wazema, a non-profit radio station founded by exiled Ethiopian journalists based in Europe and the United States. Amhara nationalists, therefore, have to tackle those who see an excessive ethnic focus as compromising the nation’s integrity.

Taddese says two factors have contributed to the increase in Amhara identity: “A growing perception of ethnic discrimination” by the government and “persistent anti-Amhara campaigns” by Oromo elites, who portray the group as “a historical coloniser and victimiser of all other ethnic groups”.

If Amhara nationalism grows in prominence, the relationship with Oromo nationalism might be decisive for the country’s future.

The market town Amba Giorgis, in the North Gondar region, where farmers have been clashing with the military in nearby areas recently [William Davison/Al Jazeera]

During the protests, Oromo and Amhara nationalists displayed signs of solidarity in the face of what they believed to be a common enemy: the TPLF. But, there were always questions   about the camaraderie and whether it was meaningful and sustainable.

The Oromo rose up in November 2015 amid complaints that they have been politically and economically marginalised under a federal system that promised them autonomy. The protests were a testament to a reinvigorated Oromo nationalism.

READ MORE: Oromo nationalism on the rise in Ethiopia

Unlike its nascent Amhara equivalent, Oromo nationalism goes back a half-century, with an established ideology, institutions and aspirations.

Any secessionist Oromo tendencies cause alarm among Amharas, who promote their identity within a multinational Ethiopia.

But Oromo nationalism is also predicated upon alleged persecution by Amhara elites during the imperial era. Accordingly, Amhara nationalism, if it solidifies, “will be forced to counteract the narratives of Oromo elites”, Chalachew says.

One battleground will be the legacy of Menelik II, a late 19th-century emperor whose military campaigns shaped the boundaries of modern Ethiopia. Oromo nationalists, who want to remove his statue in the heart of Addis Ababa, see him as an Amhara imperialist conqueror.

Amid these immediate and pressing challenges, the rise in Amhara nationalism creates more turbulence in the region, raising questions that no one yet seems able to answer.

A section of the royal castle compound in Gondar. The city’s history as a power centre is playing into recent ethnic-related unrest [William Davison/Al Jazeera]

*Names has been changed for privacy purposes.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera

Share Button
Disclaimer: We are not responsible for any losses or damages that may have caused by using our services. EMF declines all responsibility for the contents of the materials stored by users. Each and every user is solely responsible for the posts.
Posted by on January 12, 2017. Filed under FEATURED. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to Ethnic nationalism and the Gondar protests – Al Jazeera

  1. ዮሃንስ ከበደ - ከአልበርታ ካናዳ

    January 14, 2017 at 9:04 PM

    በሰሜን ጎንደር ዞን በቋራ ወረዳ አልጣሽ ብ/ፓርክ ውስጥ ለነጻነት የሚታገሉ ሃይሎችን ለመውጋት በሚል የተላኩት ወታደሮች የተወሰኑት ሲሞቱ አብዛኞቹ ደግሞ ከፈተኛ ጉዳት ደርሶባቸዋል።

    በ3 ቡድን ተከፍሎ ለጥቃት ወደ ፓርኩ ከገቡት የሰራዊት አባላት መካከል አብኑን ወይም አምዶክ ተብሎ በሚጠራዉ አካባቢ የገቡት ወታደሮች የተጓዙት የእግር መንገድ ከመርዘሙና አብኑን ላይ አለ የተባለው ውሃ ባለመገኘቱ ለከፍተኛ የውሃ ጥም ተደርገዋል። ይህ ተከትሎ ወታደሮቹ ውሃ ፍለጋ ሲባዝኑ እርስ በርስ አለመግባባት መፈጠራቸውን ምንጮች ይናገራሉ።

    አለመግባባቱ ሰፍቶ ሶስት ወታደሮች እርስ በርስ ተታኩሰው ሲገዳደሉ፣ ከ75 በላይ የሚሆኑት ደግሞ ተስፋ ቆርጠው ተበታትነዋል። አሳሽ ሃይሉ መጥፋቱ ከተነገረ በሁዋላ በተደረገው የሄሊኮፕተር አሰሳ 57 ወታደሮች ክፉኛ ተጎድተውና ተጎሳቁለው ተገኝተዋል። እነዚሁ ወታደሮች በአሁኑ ሰአትም በባህርዳር ህክምና እየተደረገላቸው ይገኛል። የ7ቱ የመከላከያ አስከሬን ደግሞ በፍለጋ የተገኘ ሲሆን የ11 ወታደሮች የደህንነት ሁኔታ ግን እስካሁን አልታወቀም። ከ7ቱ ሟች ወታደሮች መካከል የ6 ቱ አስከሬን የተገኘው ሱዳን ውስጥ ዲንዲር እየተባለ በሚጠራው ብሄራዊ ፓርክ ውስጥ ነው። በአብዛኛው በቀድሞ መንግስታት የተገነቡትን ስድስት ወታደራዊ አገልግሎት ሰጪ የማምረቻ ኮምፕሌክሶችን ማለትም ወታደራዊ ተሸከርካሪዎችን በማደስ ሲሰራ የነበረው- ቢሾፍቱ (40720)፣ ተተኳሾችን በማምረት ሲያገለግል የነበረው- ሆርማት ፋብሪካ ፣ ቀላል መሳሪዎችን በማምረት ተልእኮ የነበረው – ጋፋት ፋብሪካ ፣ ወታደራዊ አይሮፕላኖችን ለማደስ የተቋቋመው- ደጀን ፋብሪካ፣ መለዋወጫዎችን ለማምረት የተመሰረተው – አዲስ ሜታል ፋብሪካ እንዲሁም ወታደራዊ አልባሳት ሲያመርት የነበረውን አዳማ ጋርመንት ፋብሪካን በአንድ ላይ በመቀላቀል በሚኒስትሮች ምክር ቤት ደንብ ቁጥር 183/2002 ብረታ ብረትና ኢንጅነሪንግ ኮርፖሬሽን (ብኢኮ)፣ በእንግሊዝኛኛ ምህጻረ ቃል ሜቴክ በብር 10 ቢልዮን፣ የተፈቀደ (Autorized capital) እና በብር 3,178,914,604.55 ( ሶስት ቢሊዮን 178 ሚሊዮን 914 ሺ 604 ብር ከ 55 ሳንቲም) የተከፈለ ካፒታል (paid up capital) በ2002 ዓም የተቋቋመ ነው። ድርጅቱ እስከ 2008 ዓም መጨረሻ ድረስ 44 ቢሊዮን 993 ሚሊዮን 691 ሺ 179 ብር ከ41 ሳንቲም ሀብት እንዳለው ከድርጅቱ የ5 አመታት ሪፖርት ለመረዳት ይቻላል።

    ኮርፖሬሽኑ ኢንጂነሮች፣ ሞያተኞችና ድጋፍ ሰጪ አካላትን ጨምሮ 1,437 የሰራዊት አባላት እንዲሁም 2,474 ሲቪል ሰራተኞች በአጠቃላይ 3,911 ሰርተኞችን አሉት። ኢብኮ በአገሪቱ የሚካሄዱ የግንባታ ፕሮጀክቶችን ማለትም የአባይ ግድብ፣ የተርማል ሃይል ማመንጫ፣ የስኳር ፋብሪካዎችን ፣ የማዳበሪያ ፋብሪካ፣ የፍሌክሲብል ማኑፋክቸሪንግ አነስተኛ ፋብሪካዎች ግንባታ፣ የተሽከርከሪዎች ምርት፣ የእርሻ መሳሪያዎች ምርት እና ሌሎችንም ስራዎች በሃላፊነት ወስዶ ይሰራል።

    በአገሪቱ ውስጥ አብዛኛውን ኢኮኖሚ የሚያንቀሳቅሰው ኢብኮ ( ሜቴክ) በመከላከያ ሚኒስቴር ስር የሚገኝ የመንግስት ተቋም ቢሆንም፣ የድርጅቱ መሪዎች የብሄር ስብጥር ሲታይ ኢትዮጵያን የሚወከል ደርጅት አይመስልም። በዋና ዋና የድርጅቱ ፋብሪካዎች በአመራርነትም ይሁን በምክትል ሃላፊነት የተቀመጡት መሪዎች 90 በመቶ የሚሆኑት የህወሃት አባላት፡የሆኑ የትግራይ ተወላጆች ናቸው።

    ከኢብኮ ዋና ዳይሬክተር ሜጀር ጀኔራል ክንፈ ዳኘው ጀምሮ፣ ም/ል ዋና ዳይሬክተሩ – ብ/ጄ/ ጽጋቡ ፈትለ ፣ ፋይናንስ ክፍል ሃላፊው – ኮ/ል ሙዕዝ፣ ሎጂስቲክስ ክፍል ሃላፊው – ኮ/ል በረሃ፣ የሜጋ ፕሮጅክቶች ሃላፊ- ኮ/ል ሙሉ፣ የሰው ሃይል አስተዳደር ሃላፊ – ኮ/ል ተክላይ፣ ኦዲትና ኢንስፔክሽን ክፍል ሃላፊ – ኮ/ል በረሃ፣ ህግ ክፍል ሃላፊ – ኮ/ል ሙሃመድ፣ ስነምግባር ክ/ል ሃላፊ – ኮ/ል ህሉፍ፣ ኮንትራት አስተዳዳር ሃላፊ – ሌ/ኮ አክብረት፣ ፣ የእቅድ ዝግጅት ሃላፊ – ሌ/ኮ ተከስተ፣ የአቅም ግንባታ ማእከል ሃላፊ- ሻ/ቃ ገብረስላሴ፣ ልዩ ጽ/ቤት ሃላፊ – ሻለቃ ክፍሌ፣ የቦርድ ጽ/ቤት ሃላፊ- ሻለቃ መኮንን፣ እንዲሁም የሴቶች ጉዳይ ሃላፊ – ወ/ሮ ሲሳይነሽ በሙሉ የትግራይ ተወላጆች ሲሆኑ፣ ም/ል ዋና ዳይሬክተር ብ/ጄኔራል ጠና፣ ማርኬቴንግ ሃላፊ – ኮ/ል መኮንን፣ ምርምር ልማት ሃላፊ – ሻለቃ ታየ፣ የጥራት ም/ል ሃላፊ – ሻ/ቃ ምናሉ የኦሮሞ ተወላጆች ሲሆኑ ፣ የህዝብ ግንኑነት ሃላፊው አቶ ሚካኤል ደግሞ የአማራ ተወላጅ ናቸው።

    በኢንዱስትሪ ዘርፍ ያሉ የአመራር ቦታዎችም 90 በመቶው የተያዙት በእነዚህ የትግራይ ተወላጅ የህወሃት አባላት ነው። የቢሾፍቱ አውቶሞቲቭ ኢንዱስትሪ ሃላፊ – ኮ/ል ገብረመድህን፣ ደጀን አቪየሽን ኢንዱስትሪ- ኮ/ል ኪዱ፣ ህብረት ማንፋክቸሪንግ ኢንዱስትሪ – ሻለቃ ተሰማ፣ ጋፋት አርማመንት ኢንዱስትሪ- ሌ/ኮ ግሩም፣ ሆሚቾ አሙኒሽን ኢንዱስትሪ – ኮ/ል ሃድጉ፣ ኮንስትራክሽን ማሽነሪ ኢንዱስትሪ – ሻ/ቃ ካህሳይ፣ ሎ/ኮሞቲቭ ኢንዱስትሪ – ሻለቃ ጸጋዬ፣ ፓወር ኢንጂነሪንግ ኢንዱስትሪ – ሻለቃ አሰፋ እስፔሻል ኢኩፕመንት ኢንዱስትሪ – ሻለቃ ይስሃቅ እንዲሁም አቃቂ ቤዚክ ሜታል ኢንዱስትሪ ሻለቃ አሰፋ፣ በሙሉ የትግራይ ተወላጆች ሲሆኑ፣ ሃይቲክ ኢንዱስትሪ ሃላፊ- ኮ/ል ተመስገን የአማራ፣ ሜታል ፋብሪኬሽን ኢንዱስትሪ ሃላፊ ሻለቃ ቢቂላ እንዲሁም የአዳማ እርሻ መሳሪያዎች ኢንዱስትሪ ሃላፊ ሻ/ቃ አገሬ የኦሮሞ ተወላጆች ናቸው። የኢትዮ ፕላስቲክ ኢንዱስትሪ ሃላፊ ሻለቃ ተስፋየ ደግሞ ወላይታ ናቸው።

    ሜቴክ ከፍተኛ ሙስና የሚፈጸምበትና በገልልተኛ ኦዲተር የማይመርመር ተቋም መሆኑን ምንጮች ይገልጻሉ። በጅጅጋ በተደረገው የከፍተኛ ወታደራዊ አዛዦች ስብሰባ ላይ አንድ ሻምበል ጦር መጥፋቱን በተመለከተ ሪፖርት ተደርጎ እንደነበር በሳምንቱ መግቢያ ላይ መዘገቡ ይታወቃል።