Before I proceed to my topic, let me respond to the queries I received about the meaning of “Amharafrei” From 1933 to 1945, the officials of the Third Reich used the term “Judenfrei, to refer to areas “cleansed” of the presence of Jews. “Judenfrei” is one of the greatest crimes against humanity. “Amharafrei” refers to the TPLF policy initiated in 1991 and pursued with vigor under the Abiy & Shimelis regime to cleanse Oromia and other kilils of “Amhara” presence.
In the political language of the Abiy & Shimelis regime, “Amhara” is not only an ethnic category; it is also a political category, hence my use of the quotation marks: “Amhara.” The “Amharafrei” campaign is focussed primarily on eliminating the Amhara from Oromia, and, as we shall see, from Ethiopian history. However, it is crucial to remember that the “Amharafrei” campaign is also directed against all who see themselves primarily as Ethiopians.
Oromos, Tigreans, Gurages, and others who support Ethiopian unity, give primacy to individual rights, and are opposed to ethnic politics are politically labelled “Amhara” and subjected to “Amharafrei” campaign. An example: in the political language of the Abiy & Shimelis regime, Ras Gobena, one of the Oromo architects of Ethiopian unity, is labelled “Amhara” politically, hence the “Amharafrei” attempt to erase him from the history of the construction of Ethiopian unity.
Lawlessness masquerading as the “rule of law” is the linchpin of “Amharafrei” policy. The foundation of this lawlessness is the law itself: the 1995 Constitution. The writers (the TPLF and its handpicked ethnic partners) of the Constitution have made it clear in their preliminary discussions that their decision to ethnicize Ethiopia is directed against the “Amhara,” whom they dyed as “colonizers” and “oppressors.”
The 1995 Constitution, by making ethnic identities the coordinates and limits of the Constitution (arts 8 and 39), has given birth to a political and legal culture of lawlessness that treats as criminals those who support a political system based on individual rights and oppose the ethnicization of society, economics, politics, rights, and obligations. The political labelling as “Amharas” of those who oppose such wall-to-wall ethnicization has led to legalized “Amhara” baiting, official stereotyping of “Amharas,” and the criminalization and violent erasure of the “Amhara” from Oromia, particularly.
In other words, the lawlessness that drives “Amharafrei” is immanent to the Constitution. Thus, the practice of “Amharafrei” is not an aberration of the “rule of law.” It is the outcome of the metamorphosis of the “rule of law” into the “rule of lawlessness.” Thus, Ethiopia has been transformed into a zone of legalized lawlessness that has made “Amharas” the preys of kilil and federal security forces. In embracing the 1995 Constitution, the Abiy & Shimelis regime has become the author and actor of this legalized lawlessness and, consequently, of the policy to make certain areas, particularly Oromia, “Amharafrei.”
Among the strategies that facilitate the implementation of “Amharafrei” policy are historicide, ethnocide, linguicide, and the neftegna label. Let me succinctly examine each separately.
Historicide consists of actions that erase or distort Ethiopian history by maliciously reducing it to “Amhara” history. Thus centuries of Ethiopian history are degraded to ethnic history and Amhara “oppression.” Historicide erases or degrades the Amharas, the Oromos, the Tigreans, and others who built Ethiopia. It animates the history textbooks printed during the Abiy & Shimelis regime. Historicide text-books minimize the history of Ethiopian unity and belittle the contributions all Ethiopians have made to construct this unity.
Historicide erases or interdicts the presence of symbols and images of Ethiopian unity in the public space. Witness the “Amharafrei” motivated decisions to exclude the role of Menelik in the battle of Adwa and interdict his effigy, related images, symbols and names from the celebration of Adwa Victory. Only an infinitely irrational “Amhara” hatred could explain the Abiy & Shimelis regime’s willingness to repeat Fascist Italy’s hatred of Menelik by arresting the youth who were peacefully celebrating the 127th anniversary of Adwa Victory, simply because they were doing it at the historic site of Menelik Adebaby.
The absurdity of this historicide is mind-boggling. Imagine celebrating the independence of Kenya (Jamhuri Day) without mentioning the name of Jomo Kenyetta and the symbols, images, and names associated with the independence struggle!
Ethnocide is another tool of “Amharafrei” policy. It consists of actions that culturally asphyxiate and demographically shrink the “Amhara” in certain areas. Such is, for instance, the practice in urban areas: Addis Ababa, Bishoftu, Adama, Shashimene, and others. Shimelis Abdissa, Oromia’s President, intimated in a speech (26/02/2023) that the aim of the creation of Sheger, which he said has the assent of PM Abiy, is to create a cordon sanitaire that would prevent the “Amhara” to move to and settle in Addis. He hinted that Sheger will be a trampoline for an Oromo influx into Addis to “cleanse” it of the “Amhara.” Thus, Addis Ababa, the capital city of all Ethiopians, will be ethnicized and become an “Amharafrei” city.
Hence, the destruction of “Amhara” dwellings in Sebeta, Buraryu, Legetafo, Legedadi, Sululta, Ermojo, and Gelan with the tacit approval of PM. Abiy Ahmed. The notorious ethnicist mayor of Addis Ababa, Adanech Abeibei, is also demolishing Amhara dwellings in Yeka and Bole districts, extending the policy of “Amhara” ethnocide to Addis Ababa. The “Amhara” whose dwellings were illegally bulldozed were left with nowhere to go: cold, sick, hungry, and abandoned by all in power, including PM. Abiy Ahmed.
Linguicide is also an instrument of “Amharafrei.” In 2020, Shimelis Abdissa was reported to have claimed in a closed meeting of Oromo intellectuals and politicians: “we are killing Amharic.” But, Amharic is the lingua franca of Ethiopians since the 9th century. It owes its development to the linguistic contributions of all Ethiopians. The “killing” of this lingua franca that historically belongs to all Ethiopians will transform Ethiopia into a Tower of Babel: confusion and violence will then replace understanding and cooperation.
“Killing Amharic” thus harms not only “Amharas” but also all Ethiopians. The hatred of “Amhara” that has seized some Oromo and ethnic elites is so intense that they seem to be willing to harm their own people in trying to make their regions “Amharafrei.”
Historicide, ethnocide, and linguicide were mercilessly carried out by the TPLF in Welkait and Raya to make these areas “Amharafrei” after annexing them. The Abiy & Shimelis regime is now implementing a similar “Amharafrei” policy in Oromia. It is indeed the Abiy & Shimelis regime’s commitment to “Amharafrei” that is behind its hardly secret support for TPLF’s re-occupation of Welkait and Raya.
Finally, in daily life, the word neftegna is used to label “Amharas.” The label “neftegna” encapsulates the practice of “Amhara” baiting, the casting of “Amharas” as oppressors, and the desire to implement an “Amharafrei” policy. The labelling expresses the lawlessness that has penetrated daily life. Thus, one sees innocent “Amharas” being arrested daily on spurious charges. The police use these charges to keep them in detention for days. In court, the police ask for the prolongation of the detention under the false pretence of “gathering more evidence,” extending the detention for weeks and months. Frequently, arrested people are not even brought to court, as one could see with the youth of Addis who were arrested for trying to celebrate the 127th anniversary of the victory of Adwa.
The cumulative effect of historicide, ethnocide, linguicide, and neftegna labelling is “Amharafrei”: the physical elimination of the “Amhara,” a process taking place in various parts of Oromia, with Shimelis Abdissa leading the charge and Abiy Ahmed providing the cover. The process is driven by the “rule of lawlessness” that pretends to be the “rule of law.”
One must also consider the mental and emotional poisoning of Ethiopian children who are raised imbibing the practices of historicide, ethnocide, linguicide, neftegna labelling, and “Amharafrei.” I invite the reader to consult the preambles of kilil Constitutions and the lyrics of kilil anthems, particularly those of Oromia and Tigrai. Kilil Constitutions and anthems use euphemisms that paint the “Amhara” as “oppressors” and make thinly veiled calls for vengeance against the “Amhara.”
One shudders to think the psychological damages inflicted on young Oromos and Tigreans, singing daily the “Amhara” hatred-filled anthems of their kilil in schools and on other occasions. Will they become, willing executioners of the “Amharafrei” policy? Probably. What a calamity, transforming the young into monsters! One could see on social media the intensity of the ethnic hatred that has corrupted the mind of the young: “Amhara” baiting and “Amhara” hatred are spewed out without any inhibition.
Remember the young Oromo woman who at an Oromo festival (2020) excitedly counselled Oromos not to marry “Amhara” (“neftegna,” she said, using the codeword for “Amharafrei”) and advised those who are already married to “Amhara,” to divorce. Lo and behold, standing besides her were all the leaders of the Oromo Federalist Congress leaders, appreciatively smiling and applauding. Don’t blame the young lady. The issue is the Abiy & Shimelis regime financed hate indoctrination of youth through invented histories, “Amhara” baiting, “Amhara” stereotyping, vengeance-infused kilil anthems, symbols, and constitutions.
Inevitably, the “rule of lawlessness” nourishes the development of a widespread political culture of indiscriminate violence. Thus the “Amharafrei” practiced by armed groups such as OLF-Shene, Gumuz Liberation Front, and others. PM. Abiy Ahmed calls these groups terrorists. But in reality, they are trying to do exactly what he and Shimelis Abdissa are trying to do: creating “Amharafrei” regions.
The only difference, then, between the Abiy & Shimelis regime and these groups of organized assassins is rhetorical. The Abiy & Shimelis regime uses the cover of the “rule of law” for doing what the terrorists are doing: creating “Amharafrei” regions. Note that, in a sense, the terrorists are more honest. Unlike the Abiy & Shimelis regime that disguises its “Amharafrei” actions as “law enforcement,” the terrorists openly admit that they are engaged in “Amharafrei” actions.
In 2018, with the demise of the TPLF, Ethiopians believed that ethnic hatred has been defeated. But, alas; it was not. As the Swahili saying goes, Ambapo nyoka ameuawa, sumu bado iko (Where a snake has been killed, poison is still present). Killing the snake is not enough.
The poison has to be purged. Ethiopians are making sacrifices and efforts to expunge the poison of “Amhara” hatred that the TPLF has injected into the arteries of Ethiopian society, ideas, values, institutions, and politics. The tragedy is that the Abiy & Shimelis regime is intentionally blocking these efforts and enabling the “Amharafrei” poison to spread and to become even more potent.