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Then and Now: A Rejoinder to my Critics | by Messay Kebede

In the last article I posted, titled “Unity Overrides Everything,” I urged the Amhara to join the ongoing Oromo protests even if their reluctance is understandable in the face of the protests being confined to ethnic issues. Some of my readers did not like my appeal, arguing that the protests did not assume a national content and were anything but inclusive. In the many emails I received, the absence of references to Ethiopia and Ethiopian people was cited as the main reason that prevented and still prevents the Amhara from closing ranks with the Oromo.
Ethiopian Oromo
Such an objection is for me quite disturbing. The most important complaint of the Oromo is that the Ethiopian discourse has always marginalized their contribution and identity in favor of a unilateral assimilation that favored Amhara and Tigreans. The demand that Oromo protesters turn their issues into a national or Ethiopian cause seems to repeat the past practice. Following the inescapable reality of the political fragmentation of the country, the Oromo rose up for their own cause, sacrificed their life, and now they are told that they should transfer their heroic deeds to the larger Ethiopian entity even though that entity remained aloof! I want to remind that most of the young Oromo protesters have no idea of Ethiopia as a unitary nation: as the established political system forces them to do, they see Ethiopia as a collection of different nations. Just as Kenyans are not expected to fight for Ethiopians, so too it is not surprising if the Oromo present their demands in terms of Oromo concerns.

Mesay Kebede
Mesay Kebede

The request to append the label “Ethiopia” to the protests is an invitation to commit historical robbery; more importantly, it forgets that Oromo courageous fight against the TPLF machine is how they rehabilitate themselves and become makers of their own history and, through them, of the history of Ethiopia. Clearly, such a request lacks fairness, to say the least. Who would blame the Amhara if they turn their protest against the ceding of tracts of land in Gondar to Sudan into an Amhara issue? Instead, what they should worry about in case protests break out is whether the Oromo will show the same solidarity as the Amhara have displayed to the Oromo. As the Amharic saying goes, the game is ?? ??”.
Those who expect the Oromo to rebel by assuming the Ethiopian identity forget that the notion of Ethiopia as a unitary nation has receded since the TPLF and the EPLF defeated the Derg and the former implemented the system of ethnic federalism. The fight for a unitary nation should have been waged while the TPLF was battling the Derg. It is now too late and there is no going back. Going back would mean war and, if the Ethiopian state survives, the cost would be the institution of another dictatorial system. How else, if not by blood and fire, would you impose unity after two decades of unrestricted ethnicization?
My unhappy readers seem to be sulking like a child moping in a corner after his wish has been denied. You do not present conditions when people rise and fight an oppressor that also happens to be your own oppressor. You join the fight and only then can you make the issue of unity a common cause. Those who simply watch cannot present conditions to people being beaten, killed, and imprisoned. To make your support conditional is to forget that you are also chained, beaten, killed, and imprisoned by the same oppressor. I find it strange, I repeat, that the sharing of the same fate with the Oromo does not trigger the sense of solidarity.
Nor do I understand how those who rightly claim to be the creators of modern Ethiopia, namely, Amhara elites––of course, in partnership with the Oromo, as evinced by the prominent role of Ras Gobena and other Oromo leaders, to remind those who would be tempted to forget it––do not come to the forefront of the fight for Ethiopia instead of making their intervention conditional on the acceptance of their demands. To pose conditions eliminates the unconditional commitment to Ethiopia, which is precisely what they accuse the Oromo of lacking. If you want an unconditional commitment to Ethiopia, then begin by showing your own unrestricted dedication by joining the Oromo despite the missing Ethiopianism, for only thus you can win them over.
To present condition is also to endorse the divided-and-rule police of the TPLF. Indeed, in being bystanders in this trying and crucial moment for the Oromo, what message are we sending to them? Are we not telling them that their cause and their atrocious mistreatment are not of our concern? How would they feel Ethiopian when those who claim to be Ethiopian turn their back on them? This is to say that the Oromo uprising gives us the unique opportunity both to defeat the TPLF and forge a new unity by our struggle against the common oppressor. Let us remake Ethiopia, this time through the concrete solidarity and unity of the oppressed!


  1. Ato Messay Kebede said “If you want an unconditional commitment to Ethiopia, then begin by showing your own unrestricted dedication by joining the Oromo despite the missing Ethiopianism, for only thus you can win them over.” This sumps up the notion of unity if we are serious about getting ride of the cancer and rebuild the country.
    Listen my fellow Ethiopians. Read the above article in its entirety and pause for a moment and put yourself in Oromo shoes. Oromo nationalism arose as a result of mistreatments by previous and current regimes. my recommendation:
    – Stop complaining about Oromo nationalism, join the fight and then rebuild Ethiopian nationalism.
    – Those who have Oromo phobia will never join any movement even if there is such organization as Amhara nonviolent movement. Ethiopia unity without glue (peace, respect, love, harmony etc) that hold together is meaningless. Lets focus one thing at a time. Join the fight without precondition then unity comes naturally. Cheers

  2. The Enemies of Ethiopia are those who bluff about the “Unconditional Unity and National Integrity of Ethiopia” at all costs of bloodshed but do not mean their own blood.
    Dr. Messay, it seems you are coming to your senses and if, those who think they are entitled to remain aloof, follow suite, there is a chance. Otherwise, their Ethiopia will eventually evaporate in to the dust bins of History.

  3. Wow, Wow …. I am proven wrong. I never thought such a person exists in the Ethiopiawint camp. I give you my word, you already won me.

  4. Dear Dr. Messay,
    That was an excellent article. I applaud you for taking such an uncomfortable position for the sake of our country. Even though you do not support ethnic politics (Federalism), you accepted the current reality of Oromo youth and then proposed a better way forward to forge the elusive Ethiopian unity. The people who oppose you are either gullible or do not mind, deep down, the oppression of the historically marginalized ethnic groups in Ethiopia. Their gullibility is in that they believe just opposing anything that are raised in the form of ethnic groups helps the unity of the country. Those people fail to listen to the plight of the oppressed regardless of the merits of the plights. There are also those who like to keep their historical advantage over those ethnic groups in the name of fighting for unity; those people actually work against Ethiopia. Neither of these two groups help to create a unified Ethiopia that is meaningful for every Ethiopian. I urge you to keep pushing for this line of philosophy to help create a more just and unified Ethiopia. I have always said this: the loudest voices in the Ethiopian Unity camp failed to listen to the plight of the oppressed ethnic groups for fear of legitimizing ethnic politics. The trouble is, we are getting what we fear because we failed to listen to those cries. So, I also call up on people in other regions of Ethiopia to join the popular uprising against Woyane, against the illegal land grabs everywhere in the country. Let’s say no to Woyane’s robbery, together!
    Kitaw Gugsa, Dr.

  5. የፈሪ ወዳጅ ታስታውቃለች
    ከዳር ላይ ቆማ ቅድመ-ሁኔታ ታስቀምጣለች፥
    የጀግና እናት ታስታውቃለች
    መሃል ውስጥ ገብታ ትግሉን ኢትዮጵያዊ ታደርገዋለች።

  6. Dear Prof. Messay:
    I think you should take a break from offering political commentaries until you regain your intellectual composure and considered judgment. To wit:
    1. You speak of the Amhara and the Oromo as if 30+ million people can and do have a single political stance to act in unison. Some Oromo youth and farmers went to the streets, and some Amhara farmers fought the ceding of their livelihoods to the Sudan or to the TPLF warlords in Wolqait. Period. So, why are you salivating about who should help who as if people can be herded to act are like individuals or organized political parties?
    2. You tell us that the Oromo youth no longer know Ethiopia and that Ethiopia is virtually dead. And then, you scold the Amhara bogeyman for not supporting the Oromo youth even if they do not claim to be Ethiopians! Are you out of your mind about the facts and the logic of your reasoning?
    3. You tell us that the Oromo are fighting for their cultural rights and dignity against successive tyrants (Amhara elites and then Tigrayan elites) and cannot possibly be expected to identify with the Ethiopian flag. Well, if you have an ounce of honesty, you should remember that it was the children of the Amhara, the Tigre and the Gurage rather than the Oromo, who died in tens of thousands spearheading the Revolution which gave Oromo farmers access to land, separated Church and State, and gave all ethnic groups the right to develop their culture. This is why, it is so puzzling to many of us that you have recently chosen to turn in your “class struggle” card for a “gossa card.” Please share with us the evidence for such preposterous claims that Oromos have been singled out for oppression after 1974. If anything, they are the biggest gainers under the Derg and the second biggest gainers under Woyane.
    4. You seem to have been so infested with a tribalist mindset that you think it perfectly understandable for Amhara farmers in the borderlands to turn their cause politically into an Amhara one. They are politically mature enough to simply demand that their family lands be returned. To them, the land belongs to their family and to Ethiopia–not to Amhara or any other group. If you believe yourself to be “Ethiopian,” then you must also accept that any Ethiopian has the right to acquire land legally anywhere in the country. There should no be any such a colonial entity as Amharaland, Oromoland, Gurageland–only a piece of the land that happens to be owned by an Amhara Ethiopian or an Oromo Ethiopian or a Gurage Ethiopian.
    Instead of castigating the majority of non-Oromos and the majority Oromos for not joining this or that flare up of resistance against a ruling class that has oppressed everyone, you should scold the narrow-minded OPDO and OFC politicians for construing everything too narrowly as Oromo-only and continuing the odious practice of exclusionary politics and ethnic cleansing in Oromia itself, making land grabbing claims over multiethnic regions such as Addis Ababa, Adama or Dire Dawa, and disregarding the idea that you cannot be free while seeking to deny others of their freedoms.
    Freedom is universal, available to all, or it ceases to be one. Hopefully, you will understand by now why you cannot win friends and influence people by seeking to do to them what you claim previous administrations did to you. Vindictive politics is mutually destructive.

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