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Ethiopians Cannot Gaslight Themselves Out of the Oromo-Amhara War

September 21, 2023

Yonas Biru, PhD

 

This is a follow up to my last article titled “ኦሮሞ ታሟል: Oromo’s War Against Amhara is Guided Neither by Political nor Military Strategy.” The article and my presentation on የሀሳብ ገበታ (Buffet of Ideas) with the host Moges Zewdu Teshome and his guest Lidetu Ayalew seems to have ruffled feathers.

For those who have not read the article or watched the debate on the Buffet of Ideas, the debate was whether the current war in Amhara is merely a conflict between Oromo and Amhara political elites or a conflict between the people of Oromo and Amhara?

My belief is that it is a war between the people of Oromo and Amhara. This elicited a rather strong reaction from the host, who suggested labeling the war as people-to-people and accusing Oromo as a culprit is tantamount to a call for genocide against the people of Oromo. This was uncircumcised rhetorical hyperbole. Though he partially walked back on his expression, he still maintained the article was “morally indefensible.”

 

Lidetu on his part “strongly” recommended I retract the article.

After the discussion with the two gentlemen, I feel more convinced that attributing the war only to conflict-peddling political elites is wrongheaded. The purpose of this follow-up is to address some of the criticism that the article provoked during the debate on የሀሳብ ገበታ and critical commentaries on the social media.

It is long past time the people of Ethiopia stop blaming everything on “political elites” as though they are alien to our body politics. We need to take the people at large to task for failing to speak up against the atrocious political elites within their tribal communities.

 

To have a clear understanding of the issue at hand, let us start by defining “political elite”.

Britannica defines it as follows:

Elites are small groups of persons who exercise disproportionate power and influence. It is customary to distinguish between political elites, whose locations in powerful institutions, organizations, and movements enable them to shape or influence political outcomes, often decisively. At the national level, political elites number only a few thousand persons in all but the largest countries….

Considering this definition, let us take the conflict between Tigray and Amhara first. Is there a difference in thoughts and interests between Tigrayan political elites and Tigrayan masses about Wolkait and Raya conflict? Is there a difference between Amhara elites and Amhara masses on

the same issue? If war erupts between the two communities because of Wolkait and Raya, would it be a war between Amhara and Tigray elites or between the people of Amhara and Tigray at large?

We must also ask: Was the two-year war in Tigray strictly a war between the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) or was there an underlying war between Amhara and Tigray?

Critical follow-up questions ensue: Was there any community in the economic, political, social, or religious sectors of the Amhara tribal land that did not materially, financially, logistically, and/or morally support the war? Didn’t we see Amhara parents blessing their children as they sent them off to the war front? Was the reality in Tigray any different? Was there any community in the economic, political, social, or religious sectors of Tigray that did not materially, financially, and/or morally support the war?

Add to this the fact that the Amhara community both at home and in the diaspora was utterly silent when the people of Tigray were subjected to atrocities that some foreign governments and international organizations characterized as “crime against humanity and ethnic cleansing.” In like manner, the Tigrayan community both at home and in the diaspora was in the proverbial “hear-no-evil and see-no-evil” mode when TPLF committed what Amnesty International’s Secretary General described as “despicable acts by TPLF fighters that amount to war crimes and defy any iota of humanity.”

Each society’s silence in the face of such atrocities by their tribal forces is complicity of the highest order. Looking back, the Tigrayan people’s silence in the face of 27-years of TPLF atrocities against Amhara has lent itself to the silence of the Amhara people in the face of Amhara atrocity in Tigray. This, in turn, has led to the silence of Tigryan people when TPLF forces committed atrocities against the people of Amhara. The cycle of indifference to each other’s sufferings has bred resentment and built animosity between the two people. Each society’s full participation in support of their tribal forces is a product of a built-up resentment and animosity toward each other.

Ethiopians cannot avoid the hard question “what led the people of Amhara and Tigray to see each other as adversaries, if not as enemies.” Understanding the source of the problem and addressing it is a critical first step to address the vagaries of ethnic politics. Attributing the problem solely to the political elites of the two people is a futile gaslighting exercise.

 

The Oromo-Amhara War

One thing is for sure. Under the Oromo-led government, Amhara is being hunted. In the last three years, over a million Amhara people have been forcefully evicted out of the Oromo tribal land. Thousands have been subjected to mass murders both by government and Oromo-Shene

forces. The Prime Minister and the President of the Oromo tribal land have labeled Amhara as their enemy and intermittently prohibited the people of Amhara from entering Addis Ababa.

Since the war started Amhara, concentration camps have mushroomed in the Oromo tribal land. We cannot hide behind the all too familiar “the Oromo political elite is responsible” narrative. Nor can we dodge the question with “the government is not an Oromo government” argument, as Lidetu contended during our debate on Buffet of Ideas.

What else can we call the Shimelis administration in the Oromo tribal land that expelled over a million Amharas? What else can we call the Oromo-led government with supreme and absolute power held by an Oromo Prime Minister when his administration is pushing the Oromummaa agenda of creating a hegemonic Greater Oromia?

The Oromo President is on the record, saying “the Future of Ethiopia is Gedaa” and the “Prosperity Party is built in such a way to advance the interest of Oromo.” He has repeatedly singled out Amhara as the enemy of Oromo.

A detailed strategic plan is provided in a report titled “We Need Modern Version of the OLF With High Confidence Politics.” Here is how it is described: “The aim of an independent Gadaa Oromia is Oromo politics of the past… We surely will move to the level of high confidence in order to own the whole Ethiopia…”

The Oromo-led government is not perusing its Oromummaa agenda peacefully. It is using violence as a political tool. Its primary target is Amhara because it is seen as a contending political force, owing to its population size.

Take for example the decision to disarm regional special forces. The interim president of the TPLF has publicly announced that Tigray has a 200,000 strong army and it has no intention of disarming small weapons such as Kalashnikov rifles and high-powered handheld assault weapons. The Oromo -led government did not send troops to forcefully disarm Tigrayans. To the contrary, the Oromo Prime Minister and his Oromo Field Marshal sent the ENDF to disarm Amhara forces “by any means necessary.” At the writing of this article, civilians are being bombed by drones. Unarmed innocent people are dragged and shot point blank in broad daylight.

The fact that both the Oromo-led federal government and the Oromo tribal land government are committing unprecedented atrocities against the people of Amhara is incontrovertible. The question my article raised is: Where does the responsibility of the Oromo-led government end and the responsibility of the Oromo people begin?

Silence is complicity, and complicity lends itself to a de facto approval and in so doing perpetuates the problem. In this regard, we must ask: When does complicity crosses a threshold into a de facto approval? When and under what circumstances do complicit people slide into becoming perpetrators of the political elite’s agenda?

As we discuss this issue, we need to remember that only 14 percent of the Oromo population is 45 years old or older. These are people who knew Ethiopia prior to the enactment of the tribal constitution. Those who are between the ages of 15 and 45 constitute over 51% of the population. This mans the majority of the politically active Oromo population constitutes two generations who are raised and shaped under the tenets of the current constitution.

Further this demography is indoctrinated with the false claim that Amhara is the culprit that perpetrated “The Ethiopian colonial terrorism and genocide” against the people of Oromo. There is no reason to believe that their political views are much different from the poisonous grievance narrative curated and peddled by the Oromo political elite.

The current war against Amhara cannot be resolved by exclusively focusing on Oromo political elites. We need to address part of the people who are complicit and part of the people who are aligned with the Oromo political elite. The reasons behind their observed behaviors are important questions in and of themselves. They Oromo masses may lack the requisite knowledge necessary to make rational choices.

They may enjoy economic privilege under the Oromo-led government. For example, according to the UN-OCHA report, “about 80 percent of the land has been cultivated across all Meher dependent areas; however, only about 50 percent has been planted in Amhara, 80 percent in Oromia, 48 percent in Benishangul Gumuz, 50 percent in SNNPR, and 30 percent in Tigray, according to the Agriculture Cluster.” The Oromo 80% figure shows it has better access to fertilizer and seeds than the other regions.

The Oromo public may also see allegiance to their tribal leaders as a necessary guarantee to protect themselves from perceived or real tribal adversaries.

One thing is indisputable. To date, there is no voice from the people of Oromo condemning the systemic atrocities against the people of Amhara. In fact, in some cases the Oromo public is a willful perpetrator of the atrocities. For example, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission’s report on “demolitions and forced evictions” by the Oromo government reveals “government forces including police, special forces and militia demolish and forcefully evict people. Also present at the scene were stick wielding civilians.”

Look also at this video. An Amhara Orthodox priest is being paraded on the streets of Oromo with dead chicken hanging on his neck. The crowd is shouting “hung him”. Neither the perpetrator nor those who cheer them up are members of the political elite. They are people from every day walk of life.

 

In conclusion

Ethiopians cannot gaslight themselves out of the Oromo- Amhara war. The war may be instigated by Oromo political elites. But it is sustained by the total complicity of the Oromo people, if not by the active participation of part the Oromo people. We have seen members of the Oromo Aba Gedaa traveling to Mekele to seek support for the war against Amhara. We have observed part of the Oromo public taking part in the coordinated crimes against Amhara.

It is hard to attribute the entirety of the problem in the Oromo v. Amhara and Amhara v. Tigray war to their respective political elites. The people of the three tribes bear responsibility. Most people in Oromo, Amhara and Tigray are against this narrative because it strips them of their moral high ground from whence they point fingers on “political elites” of their adversaries without carrying the burden of their sins of complicity, if not direct culpability.

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Dr. Yonas,

    I feel you faced unexpected challenge on የሀሳብ ገበታ (Buffet of Ideas) and rushed to write this uncompromising rebuttal. Ledetu Ayalew is famous in catching people with different opinion from his off guard. You should have known better. Needless to say, you’re a victim.

    Ledetu’s wishy washy argument is that elites are responsible for the war. Corretc. Why? Only elites have the resources – knowledge, time and money – to articulate what they perceive is the interest of the masses (such as ethnic group interests) that need promoted. Such work needs years of effort until it’s picked by the masses and become a material force. What we see now in our country is the Oromo masses have picked what they are told by the elites and moved into action. Oromo elites are still busy with what they have been doing. So, both the Oromo elites and the masses are to blame. Ledetu blames only the elites by exonerating the masses who are the killing and displacing machines.

    Ledetu admits his exoneration of the Oromo masses as killing and displacing machines is wrong when he encapsulated his argument in “political correctness”. His own phrase.

    Widely used in the West, Oxford dict. defines “political correctness” as conformity to prevailing liberal or radical opinion, in particular by carefully avoiding forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.”

    Given this definition, Ledetu’s argument not to hold the Oromo masses responsible for the killings and dispacements is simply not speak the truth. In other words, he’s saying “lets not to call a sped a sped”. Isn’t “political correctness” dishonesty that hampers genuine effort to seek solution to a problem? If the Oromo masses do not question the killings and dispacements they are undertaking and make the effort to end it and mend relations, how can the two people live together in one country? If that’s not possible, better they go their own ways. It’s not where but how people live that matters most.

    Ledetu’s fear is if we accuse the Oromo masses for the killings and dispalcements, the two people will go their own ways. “Motherland or death.” His idea is “political correctness” will keep us together as one country and people. For that we do not have to tell the truth, but blame it on the elites. What if the elites are embraced by the masses as is the case in Oromia right now? I feel we should hold both responsible if we seek solution. The way Ledetu talks, we’re headed for a disaster.

    And you, Dr. Yonas, try to regain your compsure.

  2. Dr Yonas, once again, you’ve reaffirmed your belief that the conflict in Ethiopia represents a fight between the disadvantaged Oromo and unprivileged Amhara communities, rather than attributing it to those who serve as instruments for Ethiopia’s historical adversaries, such as the Oromo elites exemplified by Asefa Jalita, who is considered the godfather of Oromuma through the manipulation of the deceptive people like Abiy, Shimeles, Adanech, and others.
    On top of that, the debate on the Buffet of Ideas, Surprisingly, the host Moges and his guest Lidetu appeared composed by your assertions, choosing instead to provide an account of the prevailing realities on the ground in Ethiopia which contrasted with your suggestion they were ruffling their feathers.

    The only thing I can convey is that your attempt to generalize and promote the Oromo society is against the Amhara society is misguided and stirs up division instead of unity.

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