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Ethiopia’s Salvation from the Amhara-Oromo Conflict Resides in the Southern People

July 25, 2022

Yonas Biru, PhD

Extremists in the Oromo and Amhara camps are wreaking havoc over Ethiopia. One can categorize the two as the ኬኛ and የኛ factions of Oromo and Amhara extremists, respectively. Their intractable conflicts reflect uncompromising desires to shape Ethiopia in their respective political theology.

The ኬኛ faction represents extremists both in and outside of PP-Oromo who believe it is Oromo’s turn to assert itself over the Ethiopian political topography. Even though it defends its agenda under the rubric of multi-national federalism where nations and nationalities purportedly live in harmony, that is a snake’s oil salesman version of the story. The truth is, tribalism is like communism. Its doctrines are ideal, but its practices represent hell on earth. Visit the killing fields of Cambodia, ask about the millions who perished under Mao and Stalin, and dare to see and smell the blood drenched and gore marinated lands of Wellega.

Similarly, the የኛ community’s goal is to recreate Ethiopia in the image it sees fit. The faction pushes neither an open agenda nor a public strategy. Its political hallmarks are moaning and groaning about the evilness of ኬኛ. The lack of expressed strategy and open agenda is due in part to a preference for a stealth strategy and muted agenda. When one’s political agenda and strategy are unpalatable to other tribes, it makes sense to purse a muted strategy coupled with an aggressive condemnation and absolutist rhetoric against ኬኛ. It is a small wonder the የኛ community has failed to build a coalition with other tribes to counter the ኬኛ doctrine that is condemned by all Ethiopians.

This article is a rehash of four articles that I penned in 2018, contending the Southern People region (the only non-tribal region) has the most viable means to defuse the tribal conflict sprouting out of the Amhara-Oromo-Tigray nexus. Since then, TPLF’s suicidal war has reduced Tigrayan extremists from alpha (አውራ) to subordinate (አጋር) tribal colonies, making them part irrelevant and part redundant. The only political opportunity they have is latching onto Oromo extremists. Today, the political conflict’s center of gravity lies squarely on the Amhara-Oromo extremist nexus.

The two warring extremists have PM Abiy as their common target. Extremist Oromos accuse him of representing the second coming of Emperor Menilik. Amhara extremists see him as Jaal Maaroo in disguise. The PM, who holds the middle ground between Amhara and Oromo extremists and proceeds with deliberate caution, is their proxy battle ground for tribal extremism.

Unless nipped in the bud, the race to the bottom between Amhara and Oromo extremists can gather a momentum and reach a tipping point that can push the nation over the cliff. The Southern People, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the population and constituting the third largest group within in the constitutional structure should not remain a passive observer. There are constitutional grounds that allow it to shift the center of gravity away from the Amhara-Oromo extremist nexus and alter the power balance by changing the political alignment across the tribal homelands. This can create a new paradigm and lay a foundational base upon which a nationalist coalition would subsequently be built.

The ኬኛ Faction of PP-Oromo

The ኬኛ Faction of PP-Oromo sees the PM standing in the way of creating an Oromo hegemony. The faction is particularly unnerved by the PM’s plan to change the political governance to a presidential system that conflicts with the essence of the nation’s tribal governance. Their strategy is to throw sand in his reform machine. Shimeles Abdisa’s string of polarizing public remarks from “breaking the backbone of Neftegnas [read Amhara]” to “transforming Ethiopia using the Oromo Geda system” to “making Oromo the most important nation in Africa” are telling examples.

Adanech Abebe’s decision to change the century old venue for the Adwa celebration away from Emperor Menilik’s statue squarely aligns her with Shimeles. Her recent video in which she came across more as an extremist Oromo tribalist than as a Mayor of Addis Ababa signals that she is a contender for the ኬኛ faction’s leadership and ready to challenge the PM. The primary issue in the video involved her controversial decision to have the Oromo tribal flag in Addis Ababa public schools and require Addis Ababa students to sing the Oromo national anthem.

Three important points are noteworthy. First, her decision was done in flagrant violation of the Constitution that promulgates: “The city of Addis Ababa shall have complete powers of self-administration”; and “The administration of the city of Addis Ababa shall be accountable to the Federal Government.” There is no logical or constitutional explanation to force Addis Ababians to fly the Oromo flag and sing the Oromo anthem other than the desire to adhere to the ኬኛ theology.

Second, her statements in the video reflected total disregard for the PM who criticized her ብሽሽቅ ፖለቲካ (petty politics) and impressed upon her to focus her energy on constructive policies. He specifically made it clear she needs to stop what he called the “አከም አከም አከም” petty politics, referring to using language as a political tool.

Third, her statement that “the Constitution promulgates Addis Ababa as the capital city of Oromia” is used to throw the proverbial red meat for Oromo extremists. Her claim is nowhere to be found in the Ethiopian Constitution. It is, however, in the amended Oromo tribal Constitution. The message was clear that Addis Ababa will be partly governed by the Oromo tribal Constitution.

The fact that the mayor was outside of her legal authority to force her ኬኛ sentiment on Addis Ababa

public schools is not the only relevant issue. Equally relevant is that the PM is struggling to resolve

the national political crisis caused by the string of mass murders in Wellega. Why inject another polarizing petty politics in the nation’s body politics? Why destabilize an already destabilized nation? These are questions in need of explanations, considering Adanech is a high-level official of the governing party.

There are two possible motives driving her. The first and most plausible explanation is that she wants to weaken the PM until he abandons his Ethiopianist agenda or to force relinquish his position. Her ambition and support from extremist Oromo camps make her the heir apparent to the PM’s crown. The second possible explanation is that her contempt to the Amhara is stronger than her allegiance to the PM and that she is willing to risk it all by instigating conflicts. Either way, the mayor is bad news for Ethiopia.

The Anti ኬኛ and Pro የኛ Amhara Extremists

Oromo extremists are not alone in putting the PM in a “damn if you do and damn if you don’t” political position. Amhara extremists bill the PM’s refusal to immediately outlaw the tribal constitution as a desire to keep the current political system as a permanent feature of the Ethiopian political landscape.

They understand abruptly abolishing a long-institutionalized Constitution and deeply entrenched political structure is bound to galvanize an enormous counter movement at the time the nation is in an all-out crisis mode. They know newly minted tribal lands such as Afar, Somali, Benishangul, Sidama and Gambella may not like the Oromo ኬኛ project, but there is no indication that they will be happy to lose their autonomous status.

Remember that each tribal land is ruled by a President, not a governor. There was a reason why they are Presidents and why the Constitution bestows the sovereign power on “nations and nationalities”. Only a blind extremist or a dam ass fool would demand abolishing the Constitution

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