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Amhara nationalism or Ethiopian patriotism, you cannot have it both ways!

are you ethiopian or amhara firs
By: Shiferaw Abebe

Amhara nationalism is not a recent phenomenon; it had surfaced 23 years ago when the great Professor Asrat Woldeyes formed the All Amhara Peoples Organization (AAPO). Professor Asrat understood perhaps more than any other person at that time how much hatred TPLF and Meles’ circle in particular harbored against Amharas and the illusory Amhara domination in particular.

Soon after TPLF took power several horrendous genocides took place in Arbagugu, Bedeno, Gara Muleta, and Harar that took the lives of hundreds if not thousands of Amharas, some of them burned to death when their houses were set aflame. In which of these instances TPLF was the sole culprit, the architect or a tacit accomplice may be debated, but its involvement in all of these crimes in some form or shape cannot be furthered from the truth. So with those heinous crimes in the background, no wonder a sizable number of Amharas stood behind Professor Asrat when he formed AAPO.

In just a few years, however, AAPO and Amhara nationalism run their course out, and while the arrest of Professor Asrat might have played a role, the fast tracked end was inevitable. The names of the two parties that emerged out of it – the All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP) and the United Ethiopian Democratic Party (UEDP) – Medhin said it all: Amharas were not ready to abandon Ethiopiawinet just yet! AEUP went on to become the largest opposition party at least until the 2005 election.

Since the end of AAPO to the summer of 2016, there have been several instances where Amharas were evicted from their land, robbed their property or in the worst cases killed. Incidents in Gura Ferda, Bale, and Benshangul and Gumuz can be cited. These crimes were again either masterminded or tacitly approved by the TPLF regime at the top level. On a day to day basis, the TPLF regime has for the last 26 years maligned, harassed and persecuted Amhara intellectuals, business owners, and public figures with a particular zeal and viciousness.

The simmering frustration and indignation of Amharas finally boiled to the surface in the summer of 2016 when the Wolkayt identity question became a flashpoint.

The Wolkayt identity question is, of course, more than a trigger. It is an important issue in its own right. The systematic measures TPLF and the Tigray administration implemented to thin out the Amhara population in Wolkayt to make them a minority if not extinct altogether is a crime against humanity for which, when justice reigns in the land in the future, the perpetrators will have their day in the law of court.

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But the Wolkayt identity question is also an indictment of what is fundamentally wrong with an ethnic political system. Ethiopia’s regions have been reconfigured several times in the past but it is only under TPLF this became a sensitive issue. During the 1987-1991 period for example, Derg had divided the country into 25 administrative and 5 autonomous regions. As a result, Assab was taken from Wollo and Ogaden from Hararghe and each were made an autonomous region. King Haile Selassie’s period has seen changing administrative boundaries more than once. But before 1991 nobody made administrative boundaries too much of an issue because Ethiopia was in the final analysis all Ethiopians’. When one could go anywhere they wanted to go and live as an Ethiopian, administrative boundaries matter very little.

The comfort, the assurance of belonging to one whole country regardless where one lives or which ethnic group one belongs to disappeared right after TPLF took power. As a result, living under the Tigray zone is not the same as living under the Amhara zone, not only because of the language and other day to day challenges, but more fundamentally because ethnicity became a defining identity factor than citizenship.

From its inception, one of TPLF’s primal goals has been to undermine Ethiopiawinet. In return TPLF is never trusted as truly Ethiopian by most Ethiopians who, to this day, believe TPLF’s agenda of seceding Tigray and making it an independent state is well and alive. Tigray’s annexation of Wolkayt, Tsegede and Humera to the west and part of Raya-Kobo to the south is seen as part of that agenda.

It is in this broader context that the Wolkayt identity question must be looked at, and why it calls for a broader solution.

That is why, once out on the streets, Gonderes and Gojjames didn’t stop at demanding a solution for the Wolkayt question and an end to the way the regime treated Amharas in general. To the regime’s shock, they voiced their solidarity with the Oromo people chanting the Oromo blood is my blood, and they demanded an end to TPLF’s tyranny. They said nothing short of the removal of the scourge from power would address the Wolkayt or the Oromo, or the Amhara question, let alone heal the ailing country.

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Half a year has passed since then. That magnificent movement in Gondar and Gojjam failed to pick up momentum in Addis Ababa, Shewa, Wollo, and many other crucial places. Had those places joined the uprising, we would be talking today about something different altogether. The reasons why Addis Ababa and other places failed to join the revolutionary wave could be many which I have no intention to go into here.

TPLF is still in power, perhaps breathing easier, but the conditions that will guarantee its demise sooner rather than later are irrevocably planted. For one, its brute response in Gondar and Bahir Dar has sent thousands of young people to the bushes; the regime has produced its own lethal pill.

Unfortunately, in the last six months, we have also witnessed obstructive, divisive and destructive tendencies and activities in some quarters of both the Amhara and the Oromo movement. On the side of the Oromo movement, while the Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) took a historic step in becoming a party to the newly formed and promising coalition – the Ethiopian National Movement (ENM) – a significant number of Oromo activists are anything but going in the same direction. In fact, they are going in the opposite direction. Because of their ability to utilize social media, the Oromo Media Network and other media outlets effectively, it appears as though these activists are controlling the narrative, hence the Oromo movement to a significant degree. This is something that must be challenged head on by ODF, ENM, and all Ethiopians.

Where does the Amhara movement go from here?

For the last 26 years Amharas have, against all odds, kept Ethiopiawinet alive. They have organized themselves under multinational parties based on the principles of citizenship, liberal democracy, and individual rights. They have accommodated ethnic issues, even formed coalitions with ethnic parties, to ensure Ethiopia remains stable and unified for the benefit of all. Time has proven the validity of their stance and the resilience of Ethiopiawinet, while the value proposition of ethnic politics is shattered beyond repair as toxic, undemocratic, and destabilizing.

It is therefore incomprehensible why some Amhara activists are willing to abandon Ethiopiawinet in favor of Amhara nationalism at a time when Ethiopiawinet is being reaffirmed by many who doubted it, even worked against it, in the last 25 years? What is it that they can accomplish as an Amhara that they cannot accomplish as an Ethiopian? Can Amharas free themselves from TPLF’s tyranny when others are still under its boots?

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Amharas have every right to voice and fight against the plight of Amharas, but no more or no less than they would voice and fight against the plight of other Ethiopians. Unless the whole of Ethiopia is free first, Amharas cannot live in freedom.

The notion that Amharas need their own political organization to defend themselves is ill thought out. If that was so, other ethnic groups with multiple political organizations would have been free from TPLF’s oppression a long time ago. On the contrary, ethnic politics is one of the key factors that kept the opposition side disunited and weak, and delayed the day of freedom.

In the long term, Amhara nationalism has nowhere to go for historical and philosophical reasons, perhaps a topic for another day. In the short term however, it can cause a significant damage to the fight against the TPLF tyranny. For example some Amhara activists and political organizations have aligned their strategy with some Oromo activists and directed their virulent attacks at unity forces, not at TPLF. In doing so they have succeeded in creating an atmosphere of confusion, doubt, and misinformation among a sizable section of Diaspora Amharas. This is nuts and must stop.

Finally, nationalism cannot free Ethiopia or any particular group; only patriotism does!

Whether called democratic or by any other adjective, nationalism is basically a negative consciousness. It is selfish, isolationist, and destabilizing. It is driven more by resentment or arrogance than love, respect and mutual interest. Amhara nationalism is wrong for Amharas and Ethiopia. Oromo nationalism is wrong for Oromos and Ethiopia. In fact, Ethiopian nationalism is wrong for Ethiopia!

What we need is Ethiopian patriotism! Patriotism is what Ethiopia lacks today. Patriotism is generous, selfless, patient, inclusive, and stabilizing. Patriotism is how our forefathers and mothers kept Ethiopia free and together.

Long live Ethiopia!

Long live Ethiopian patriotism!

The writer can be reached at shiferawabebe1@gmail.com


  1. “For the last 26 years Amharas have, against all odds, kept Ethiopiawinet alive.”

    Don’t you know that everything has a limit? If it passed that limit, it will not save neither itself nor others.

    Amhara has reached to that limit.

  2. You are singing the same old song which did nothing to solve the plight of Amharas from all corners of Ethiopia.

    Young Amharas have their future in their own hands. They do not dwell in the past. The past has bring nothing to the young Amharas except miseries and genocide.

  3. It was quite informative and comprehensive piece of information. In fact direct address to Amhara might bother some nationals. May God develops Ethiopia fast enough to leave all regional issues behind.

  4. Yes, one can have it both ways. You can be a staunch believer of one Ethiopia and still fight off the daily killing of the Amhara people. The Amhara have been victimized thinking and breathing, and dying for one Ethiopia without looking inwards to fend off attacks from the likes of TPLF. I say, it is time to unite all Amharas and confront the their tormentors in every possible way to stop the suffering of the people.
    Ethiopian patriotism is within the hearts of the Amhara people. Nothing can take that away. However, telling the Amhara people not to be nationalist because they can’t be both nationalist and patriots at the same time does not hold water. For thousands of years, they have been both. History can attest to that.

  5. I see no problem which way Amara organized and work in solidarity with other nations and nationalities of Ethiopia. The main issue is to liberate Ethiopians from the ugly TPLF and build real unity in the country.Reaching at consensus with all stakeholders in the empire is a priority, of course. If not, though TPLF is removed, fighting among and within all interest groups of the empire is inevitable over power, resource, history, contribution, etc. “NOMATTER HOW LONG THE NIGHT IS, THE DAY SHALL FOLLOW IT!!!”
    Please, stop hair splitting and continue with your contribution.

  6. “Amhara nationalism or Ethiopian patriotism, you cannot have it both ways!”

    WHY not?????????

    Even God created two eyes, two ears, two hands, two legs, even to chew food you need upper jaw and lower jaw.

    Amhara people are forced to defend themselves from abuse from all corners, the so called unity camp never stood for Amhara people, except trading by Amhara name. Amhara people are not seeking for independent or special treatment, what choice they have when deported from all parts of the country, including from Welkayet. This scapegoating of Amhara people started during fascist Italia divide and conquer, the so called Amhara region is the most neglected, woyane making fun of poor Amhara people that they don’t wear shoes, ayye Amlak hoy, the days of woyanes will end. Imagine woyane has collapsed just like Derg, all ethnics have been organized and represented, Amharas are wonderers nobody to represent them, even to negotiate federal arrangement to start with, have you forgotten the London meeting when Derg collapsed?, the upper hands(TPLF/EPLF) overruled decision, others had no chance at all even to enter the meeting hall. The latest talk of Abboy Sibhat, is threatening either woyane rules forever or dismantling Ethiopia, if that happens, are you suggesting Amhara people to become orphans without country??? are we waiting for another Arbagugu, Assosa? Bedeno? are we waiting for half of Gondar, half of wollo, half of Gojjam annexed to expand the republic of greater Tigray? sharing Amhara flash like Dabbo?

  7. Welcome to my amhara brothers to the ethink poletics. That is what Woyane said. Regognize yourself and be part of the nation buildning as equal, it took 26 years for you to understand that, but later is better than never. Welcome again:-(

  8. The key to the future existence of Ethiopia as a nation depends on the response of the Amahara opposition politicians at home and abroad. Nationalism and patriotism are two faces of the same coin and are very good things. One has no reason or heart to be a patriotic defender without being proud of his heritage and homeland. Socities and communities evolve and culture and sentiments change. We are in 21st century. Now we say everybody is equal, poor or rich, agly or beautiful, king or porter, white or black, harvard graduate or ignorant poor farmer.

    Tired of reading mostly confusing and negative comments and propoganda about Ethiopian politics, I jumped on the band wagon to address the critical issue of ethnic politics and Ethiopian patriotism.
    As an Ethiopian-born person, I still see that most Ethiopian-born elites who live in Western countries have a diehard snobish mentality. If they realy embrace the Western democratic values, they would promote more regional political freedom and equality. Listen, we live in 21st century. Every body is free. No race, language, or culture is more important or superior to others. Very simple, isnt it? If so stop being scared and start with a new political vision that builds trust, peace, and unity among free Ethiopian nationalties.
    EPRDF did not create ethnic politics. It existed as long as Ethiopia existed. Tigreans are patriotic and civilised as Amharas are. They do not want an Amhara dominated system in any form or manifestation. Amharas be ready to work with Tigreans, to live in peace and equalty with other Ethiopians. Therefore,the future of Ethiopia’s unity depends on the response of the Amhara opposition politicians at home and abroad.

    Politics require compromise on issues. No political party on earth is supposed to think of itself as a provider of perfect soutions for all political and economic problems of its supporters. Therefore, I do not see any difference between EPRDF mentality and those opposing EPRDF.

    Those who are truely interested in engaging in politics and want to make positive contribution should think of compromises.

  9. I beg to differ with the author vehemently for his reasoning is flawed. I cannot understand how fighting for Amaras means abandoning the Ethiopian cause.

    When Gonderes fought the enemy Woyane they brandished banners amply demonstrating that blood of Oromo is their blood. Their battle in Wolqait and the rest of Begemdir is a struggle against Ethiopia’s unparalleled enemy, TPLF.
    Evidently the writer lacks the requisite evidence on the toll of Amaras at the instigation of TPLF. Hundreds of thousands of Amaras were massacred over the years in areas where they happen to be a minority.

    The belated Amara nationalism is long overdue. It has started in earnest and nothing will stop it until the unjustly maligned race has avenged the contemptible enemies and imposes order in our injured nation.

    Woyane’s have from the very outset had made Amaras the target of their violent attention. That was to be executed at the behest of their Eritrean paymasters. Their ultimate desire is the extermination of Amaras, an aim they have not fully attained yet.

    If this relentless existential threat on Amaras evokes, an appropriate response, can this mean Amaras are ignoring the plight of other Ethiopians?
    How can that be?
    Our ancestors fought the Italian enemies from every nook and cranny across the nation without having had one national command.
    What should rather be encouraged is that other Ethiopians also wage an armed struggle everywhere against these career mercenaries who must be annihilated.

    By the way Ethiopian students fought the feudal order of the day in the 1970s. But they also were fighting for their fellow South Africans and Zimbabweans, Angolans and other Africans.

    Long live the heroic Amara struggle. Long live our motherland-Ethiopia

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