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Unity of Oromos and Amharas vs Abiy Ahmed’s Necropolitical Regime

Solidarity in the Face of Tyranny: Oromos and Amharas Uniting for Change

Tesfa ZeMichael, B.Phil.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has implemented what a Cameroonian philosopher refers to as “necropolitics,” involving various forms of violence to oppress Ethiopians into a state of living death.  Following the establishment of a “death-world” in Tigray, Dr. Abiy is now extending this to Amhara and Oromia, resulting in nearly one million deaths since 2018 due to wars and famines in these regions.

Abiy is inciting division among the Amharas and Oromos, pitting them against each other. He has turned the Ethiopian Defense Forces into his personal army, using it to harm Ethiopians in Amhara and Oromia. His ultimate goal is to eliminate any opposition to his rule and eradicate the political space necessary for democracy to flourish. Dr. Abiy’s necropolitical regime is disguised as a “grand narrative,” but his actions speak louder than his words.

Abiy’s “grand narrative” and similar narratives by ethnic extremists treat Ethiopians as a people without a commonly shared history. Such a “grand narrative” allows Dr. Abiy to fragment Ethiopians on and within ethnic lines, particularly the Amharas and Oromos, making him the puppet master that manipulates each fragmented element to his own benefit.

As we have seen recently, Dr. Abiy stage-managed the fragmentation of Ethiopian society. He met separately “representatives” of Tigray, Amhara, Oromia, Southern peoples, the Orthodox Church, Muslims, Evangelicals, and so forth. His politically orchestrated meetings embody the tactic of divide-deflect-and-subjugate, and eschew the universality of citizenship and the notion of common interests that is central to it. This fragmented way of “representing” Ethiopians, a center-piece of his “grand narrative,” is an aspect of the non-physical violence that accompanies the physical violence—killing of Amharas, Oromos, Tigrayans and opponents; destruction of churches and mosques—he directs at each of these fragments.

His “grand narrative” is designed to prevent the emergence of solidarity and unity among these fragmented elements and thus pre-empt the birth of a trans-ethnic and trans-confessional democratic opposition. Yet there is absolutely no reason why Ethiopians, especially the Oromos and Amharas, should swallow his fictional “grand narrative” of Ethiopia as a collection of antagonistic and fragmented ethnicities.

The history of the Oromo in Ethiopia is, as the historian Mohammed Hassen shows, a history of interactions and fusions with other ethnicities, and primarily with the Amhara, since the 13th century. As the eras of the Zemene Mesafint, Emperor Tewodros, Emperor Yohannes, and the Oromization of the rulers of Gojjam (from Dejjach Yosedek to Hailu Tekle Haimanot) indicate, the political, social, and cultural interpenetrations of the Oromo and Amhara were intense and widespread. Hence the historical correctness of Lemma Megerssa’s description of the symbiosis of the Oromo and Amhara as ሰርገኛ ጤፍ, i.e., inseparable. Throughout this commonly shared history, regionalism rather than ethnicity was the basis of politics.

Closer to us, the historical symbiosis between the Oromo and the Amhara has shown its vigor. For instance, from 2016 to 2018, Oromo youths (Qeerroos) and Amhara youths (Fano) joined their hearts and minds to struggle for freedom. As Tesfu Challa points out in his thesis, the Amhara youth “protesters were demanding an end to the killing in Oromia, [and the] release of political prisoners held in connection with the Oromo protest.” In 2018, the unity between the Oromo and Amhara delegates within the EPRDF ruling circle led to the fall of the TPLF and the appointment of Dr. Abiy as the PM of Ethiopia.

To treat then the Oromo and the Amhara as discrete entities related to each other only antagonistically is not a “grand narrative”; it is to substitute hate filled fiction for history. How then was this rich and complex history of the Oromo-Amhara symbiosis repressed and replaced by the fictional idea of fixed and mutually exclusive Oromo and Amhara identities? How come political ethnicity replaced the historical dynamic of regionalism? The question leads us to the power of false historical narratives—the “grand narrative” of Dr. Abiy—when they go unchallenged.

In Ethiopia, ethnic extremists produce false historical narratives by way of what philosophers call “oversimplification.” Oversimplification creates “blind-spots” where “significantly relevant” facets of reality are “concealed from our view.” Oversimplification expunges crucial information and prevents us from understanding reality adequately, opening the door for false narratives and political manipulations.

Dr. Abiy’s “grand narrative “ is rooted in the  oversimplification of the Ethiopian past. It reduces the Ethiopian past to the history of discrete ethnicities—in this case, the Oromo and the Amhara—whose interrelations are  emptied of their humanistic and constructive ideas, values and practices, and caricatured as inimical and colonial relations. This fictional history creates blind-spots that render invisible vast swaps of Ethiopian reality that are indispensable for an adequate understanding of our past and present. It thus stunts our ability to come together and create a bright commonly shared future.

Oromos and Amharas have to recognize their commonly shared history which is, like every history, “a document of both barbarism and civilization.” Dr. Abiy has scavenged, like other ethnic extremists, the barbaric elements  of our history and made them the scaffolding of his “grand narrative.” It is up to us, Oromos and Amharas, to  retrieve and fortify the civilizational aspects of our shared history while rejecting its barbaric elements. These civilizational aspects and the democratic aspirations they incubate are our common heritage and provide the grammar and vocabulary for the unity of Amharas and Oromos.

Such an Oromo-Amhara unity will trigger a political momentum that will mobilize Ethiopians of all regions to actively participate in the construction of a democratic society. Will Dr. Abiy accept such a vision of Oromo-Amhara unity? No. Is it because he believes that his fictional ethnicizing “grand narrative” is right that he rejects such a vision? No. Rather, it is because he knows that his oversimplifications of Ethiopian history are wrong that he rejects the vision of Oromo-Amhara unity. Having a dark quad personality, he engages in what psychanalysis calls the “fetishist disavowal”: “I know what I believe is false, but I will keep on acting as if it were true.”

Oromos and Amharas must rise above Dr. Abiy’s false “grand narrative,” retrieve their shared common history and democratic aspirations, and make their unity the catalyst that unites Ethiopians to replace his necropolitical regime with a democratic one. Given the many political, cultural, and other historical successes the Oromo-Amhara unity has made possible in the past, the new historical task of rescuing Ethiopians from the necropolitical regime of Dr. Abiy demands a democratic unity that transcends ethnic identities.  Amharas and Oromos have the responsibility to reconstitute their historical unity by retrieving and cultivating the civilizing values, ideas and practices they have in common rather than by cherry-picking, in the manner of  Dr. Abiy and ethnic extremists, the barbaric elements that antagonize them.

Dr. Abiy has amassed modern weapons. He has publicly stated his readiness to use Ethiopia’s financial resources to procure more weapons. As we have seen in his killing sprees in Amhara and Oromia, Dr. Abiy does not have a moral compass. He does not hesitate to use these weapons indiscriminately. The lesson here is that we should not take our desires for reality. No single entity, be it Fano, Shene, or another group, can by itself dislodge Dr. Abiy from power. Without the Amhara-Oromo unity, his necropolitical regime will continue indefinitely.

Ethiopian Intellectuals and the Ethiopian media have an important role to play in puncturing and deflating Dr. Abiy’s “grand narrative” and similar narratives by ethnic extremists, and in awakening and developing the Oromo-Amhara symbiosis. In other words, to change Ethiopia, we need to change how we think about Ethiopia.

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