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Why tribal war against Amhara people set off since 1976?

The root cause of ethnic-led violence is enfolded in the 1994 constitution

Sewale Belew – sewaleb@yahoo.com February 26, 2023.

The Derg was established in June 1974 as the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police and Territorial Army, by officers of the Ethiopian Army and Police led initially by chairman Mengistu Haile Mariam. On 12 September 1974, the Derg overthrew the government of the Ethiopian Empire and Emperor Haile Selassie during nationwide mass protests, and three days later formally renamed itself the Provisional Military Administrative Council.
The Derg was established in June 1974 as the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police and Territorial Army, by officers of the Ethiopian Army and Police led initially by chairman Mengistu Haile Mariam. On 12 September 1974, the Derg overthrew the government of the Ethiopian Empire and Emperor Haile Selassie during nationwide mass protests, and three days later formally renamed itself the Provisional Military Administrative Council.

Introductory Background

As has been stressed and pointed out repeatedly by several legal experts and other writers thus far, the root cause of ethnic-based violence in Ethiopia and the main bottle neck of Ethiopia’s politics is the existing controversial section in the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) established 1994 constitution, in which, ethnic self-determination to secede from Ethiopia as a nation, is explicitly acknowledged and promulgated as a decree. [1] [2]

In effect, the Amhara are stereotyped as the chauvinists who should be crushed and controlled. The manifesto that was developed by TPLF had clearly showed TPLF’s-open hate towards Amhara. Unfortunately, the Amhara people did know the manifesto before and during TPLF war against Derg (or the Military government). Through time onwards, academicians, researchers and politicians tried to explore the programs included under the Manifesto and they found it that the Amhara have been singled out as the major target of TPLF‟s political struggle for the empowerment of Tigray and its people. [27]

Among other groups, TPLF was formed in the 1970s with a manifesto and plan, for Tigray to secede from Ethiopia. Basically the Tigray manifesto legitimizes its quest for secession from Ethiopia by desperately incorporating polarizing contents that symbolize the Amhara people as responsible ethnic group for all socio-economical, and country-level political and historical issues. [12] [28] Hence, the violence against ordinary Amhara, its intellectuals, and civic leaders started in the early 1990s, with the armed Liberation Front groups occupying many parts of the country. [10] [13].

 

The manifesto contains two points. A Tigrayan is defined as anybody that speaks the language of Tigrigna including those who live outside Tigray, like the Kunamas, the Sahos, the Afar and the Taltal, the Agew, and the Welkait. Secondly, the geographic boundaries of Tigray extend to the borders of the Sudan including, but not limited to, the lands of Humera and Welkait from the region of Gondar in Ethiopia, the land defined by Alewuha, which extends down to the regions of Wollo, and including Alamata, Ashengie, and Kobo, and Eritrean Kunama, the Saho and Afar lands including Assab. Finally, the final goal of the TPLF is to secede from Ethiopia as an independent “Republic of Greater Tigray” by liberating the lands and peoples of Tigray. [28]

 

At the end of the 17-year communist era in 1991, the ethnic-nationalist groups such as the TPLF controlled full power and this regime change triggered a series of attacks against the Amhara. [14] [9] The TPLF became the dominant power and ruled the country for twenty-seven years as the EPRDF coalition— a political entity that evolved from the Marxist–Leninist rebels’ movement. [21] However, this “apartheid-type” regime was said to have collapsed already in 2018 with several unrests and tensions built during its period. [15 [16]

 

Although, following the 2018 EPRDF political reform, the Oromo-led Prosperity Party secured the position to rule the country, [18] Amhara students placed in university within Tigray and Oromia regions were intentionally harassed, abducted or killed with the goal to deeply humiliate the Amhara group. Meanwhile, a power struggle arose between the former (TPLF) and the current ruling (OPDO or Prosperity) parties which led to the Northern Ethiopia war. Reports show that a pro-TPLF youth group carried out the massacre of Amhara civilians in the town of Mai-Kadra. [17] [11] [19] After the withdrawal of government forces from Tigray, the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) invaded the Amhara and the Afar regions in July 2021, massacring and causing severe destructions that are reported as serious war crimes against civilians.[5] [11] The Mai Kadra and other massacres in the Amhara region that occurred since the start of the war has expanded the map and volume of the mass killings the already occurring violations in various places: Oromia, Benishangul-Gumuz (Metekel Zone), Tigray, the SNNPR, and the Amhara regions.[20] [24] [25] [26]

 

Political concerns put into context

One must read the document to know the extent to which they are willing to go to dismantle the very soul of the Ethiopian State. Already by 1976, they spelled out their internal deliberation and future determinations as briefly explained herein below.

 

The 1976 manifesto prepared by Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) labeled the Amhara people as the number one enemy for the people of Tigray and decided that the Amhara must be controlled and eliminated. Thus, after taking power in 1991, TPLF have been doing all evil things against the Amhara people by using several techniques. This situation angered the Amhara people in 2017 and the national political instability erupted across the region to end TPLF oppression. This same study revealed TPLF’s intents for a protracted and an all-out war that would ultimately flock and snatch the Amhara land because to TPLF the Amhara are die-hard nationalist people that rest on a foundation of orthodox Christian culture with Ethiopian identity at its core. This enemy has to be removed by all means. [27]

 

So I think that the people who have been pushing to realize TPLF’s aspiration and those who push succeeding the Oromo land are attempting to destroy what they commonly claim as “the Amhara coined Ethiopian and Orthodox Christian identities. They do their divisive attacks not only within the areas of the other nations and nationalities but also within the current Amhara region of Ethiopia itself.  [1] [5] [11] [22]

 

The standing mission of TPLF has stubbornly been to fight at all fronts and by all means [27] until the Amhara people ultimately:

  1. surrender and have no more sense of their good old identities,
  2. stay in Amhara region with undefended and controversial borders,
  3. present no resistance to the incoming fighters from neighboring areas,
  4. have no local state laws that count in their interests anymore, and,
  5. allow anti-Amhara fighters to roll over them (Amhara people) as though they owe the TPLF-fighter groups a living.

 

To this effect, thus far, I would say, these five outlined strategic attacks clearly indicate an accurate evaluation of what TPLF and OLF/OPDO/ combatants’ inner motives and how they have been dealing with creating havoc and instability against the Amhara people. [11] [27] [28]

 

And if the Amhara let these situations continue as loosely as they have been thus far, I think that’s a great victory for the two Anti-Ethiopia- narrow nationalist combatants, who want the Amhara people impoverished and remain with nothing in terms of resources, and remain just an amorphous mass of people struggling to survive, who ultimately are reduced to the lowest levels of subsistence.  I presume the Amhara

people whose lives were expended in defending Ethiopia would not simply take the intended casualties by the two combatants. This is not a minor matter. This is the kind of thinking that is so destructive and so evil, in my judgement.

 

Currently all features point that the PM Abiy’s regime is working with its clandestine OLF/OPDO/ plan to craft their own Oromia regime under the mantle temporarily labeled as “the New Ethiopia”.

Serval reports concerning the ongoing Amhara ethnic cleansing incidents thus far have pointed out that the perpetrators were generally organized, in which, in some cases they can be identified by the victims, and in others, the attackers were unknown to them. The attackers usually demonstrated mixed motives: ethnic origin (Christian, Muslim and Jews), religious origin (Orthodox Christians), or both. [3] [4] Few armed combatant groups have been carrying out ethnic cleansing against the Amhara by mobilizing themselves in different regions with clandestine collaboration given by local government officials of OPDO (now known as Prosperity Party), and are from the following combatant groups: [5][6]

  • The Oromo OLF-OLA perpetrators are also known as Shane or Shene or Oneg. The Qeerroo or Querro youth groups are also accused of collaborating with these groups [5]
  • The Tigray TPLF or TDF and pro-TPLF youth groups in the annexed, and various places in Amhara region [7] [8] [11] [19]
  • Gumuz actors in the Benishangul-Gumuz & Metekel region [1] [22]
  • OLF and other local actors in the Southern SNNPR region and other places [6]

 

Regarding the victorious day of Adwa

When it comes to the victorious day of Adwa, most Ethiopian citizens thank Emperor Menelik for enabling Ethiopians of all walks of life to walk the walk with their heads held high in the sense of freedom and equality in front of the rest of the world. For that, Emperor Menelik remains the symbol of freedom not only for Ethiopians alone, but also for tens of millions of Africans and black people all around the globe. He is always remembered as a legendary historic figure. To date, Emperor Menelik’s unparalleled leadership on the battlefield of Adwa and victorious achievements against all enemies foreign and domestic remains recorded in most history books.

 

Actually, the battle between Ethiopia and Italy took place in the mountainous terrain of Adwa that still stands as onlooker to what ordinary Ethiopian citizens of all walks of life were able to score a decisive victory against the Italian colonialist forces. On March 1st 1896, (or according to the Ethiopian calendar, Yekatit 23, 1888, the day of Saint George), priests carried the Tabot, a replica of the Ark of the Covenant, a religious icon that symbolizes the sanctity of Ethiopia, to the battlefield. A total of 20,000 Italian and Italian-trained native troops advanced in three posts and fought daringly with their cannons and machine guns before facing the decisive defeat by Menelik’s army. Death tolls were severe on both sides.

The Adwa victory led to a change of government in Italy. Due to public protest and failure of his colonial policy, Prime Minister Francesco Crispi resigned. In the end, negotiations between Ethiopia and Italy brought about the Addis Ababa Treaty. One of its key components was the total acceptance of Ethiopian independence and sovereignty. News of an African victory spread throughout the globe; and basically, Adwa turned Ethiopia into the symbol of restoration and freedom for black people. To this effect, Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois, Bob Marley, George Padmore and many other international figures portrayed encouragement from this African Adwa victory. The first Afro-Brazilian newspaper was named O-Menelick, publishing pride in black identity and African connection with prominent women writers from 1915-1916. Adwa linked black people with Africa’s ancient glory and future hope, as in Marcus Garvey own words: “Look to Africa for the crowing of a black king. He shall be the redeemer.” And the symbolic green, yellow and red Ethiopian flag was adopted by several African countries after colonial liberation of the black people. [29]

TPLF and OLF/ OPDO/ Misconceptions about the Victorious Battle of Adwa

At this juncture, it is worth quoting Fyodor Dostoevsky: – “The most offensive is not their lying. What is offensive is, they lie and worship their own lying.” [30]

Contrary to what was briefly depicted about the Battle of Adwa above, as per TPLF’s recent publication the making of Ethiopia reads differently. Quoted in length herein below, TPLF wrote what it saw fits its divisive and disintegration motives as follows:

 

“During 19th Century (1889 A.D), Emperor Minilik, who started his quest from Northern Shoa annexed the Southern, Western, and Eastern part of Ethiopia, in which at that time they were administered by autonomous or semi-autonomous governments and administrations…. Even though there was not a militant governing system in the Northern part of the country, ruling feudal lords in Tigray and Amhara by getting a blessing from Emperor Minilik, they oppressed the peasants grossly and almost slavery kind of system was established at that time…. The Empire that was formed by force … was established on undemocratic foundations. Until 1991 (for 102 years), this undemocratic empire continued to oppress and violate the human rights of the people (75% of the people) and Ethiopia was like hell during this time…. After 1991, with much effort from the Tigrian people, this unitary government system was abolished and in its place multinational constitutional order was established… instead of leaving the country to decide its fate on its own, the Tigrean people dismantled the long-standing Minilik’s unified Empire and heralded a newly formed project of a country in which people live in unity and equality… With that, 27 years of rapid economic growth, peace, and democracy were attained. In 2018, the unitary dictatorship came back again, and right now the country is at the brink of division. Ethiopia in its 132 years’ history, except for the EPRDF period, no multinational nation-building process took place and it was immersed by continued political, military, and psychological conflict and war. The establishment and continuation of the country can be characterized by war and conflict…

The people of Tigray were oppressed by their own feudal lords and after the formation of the Ethiopian Empire they were oppressed by Shoa-related Lords. Armed criminals who rob their lands, recourses, and energies and this brought backwardness and illiteracy to the region. Their national identity was degraded and they were considered secondary citizens and they were in deep slavery condition… Ethiopia was on the edge of collapse after the fall of the Derg regime, demonstrating how history repeats itself. However, under the leadership of Melese Zenawi, the EPRDF saved Ethiopia from fragmentation, and the country survived for the following 27 years…

Ethiopia is now in a state of disintegration… This is the most dangerous time… for the Tigrean people…. it is our duty and the right strategy to fight strategically until the enemy (Abiy) is defeated. If we fail to achieve these goals, we will not be able to move on to the next chapter…

In many cases, we have seen the risk, no one can imagine a scenario where the EPRDF survives and strengthens developmental democracy where the class struggle takes the center stage and narrow and chauvinistic nationalisms are reduced to meaninglessness. Or elites from two of the most populous ethnic groups in the country (Amhara and Oromo) keep fighting to advance their backward narrow-nationalist and chauvinistic nationalisms that will certainly end in war, mutual destruction, and an endless cycle of conflict….

There are two options to change the violent state formation history of Ethiopia. The first one is re-structuring and transitional the federal system in such a way that the responsibility of administrative power and security and international relations authority should be transferred to the sovereignty of regional states. A loose federal state can be established, that focuses on issues related to ensuring the right to movement, property, and resolving disputes between states and other specifically agreed issues…. Although the Oromo people and their elite may vacillate, …

In the Ethiopian political stage, the two key actors would be the Tigreans and the Oromo – they would properly support each other. The third useful actor would be the Amhara people and elite….

The Amhara elite, particularly the chauvinist circle and its followers would be not only anti-change and but also anti-reform. In addition, they are against the existing federation and constitution. Therefore, [this group] would act in unison with its dominating outlook in all the structures and networks internally and outside [the country]. That would also include the marketability of politics.” [31]

 

At the same time, it is deeply disturbing to learn that the PM Abiy’s regime is acting more like a TPLF-wing, rather than a regime that represents Ethiopia and Ethiopian citizens at large. For the regime’s exposure of its hidden OPDO (prosperity party) agenda, several Ethiopians accuse PM Aby and his party leadership as the enablers of the apartheid woven 1994 TPLF constitution and the ensuing Oromummaa ideology manifested within the old OPDO guards and cadres.

 

To the public’s dismay, as per recent reports released by ESAT News and by many other local media sources in Addis Ababa, the government forces are observed shutting down businesses located at Shirro Meda and its vicinity that sell T-shirts and other clothes with: “#Adwa Victory Day” (Ethiopian Freedom Day), etc. memorabilia and even arresting the owners of such businesses. [32]

 

Also the leaked strategic document prepared by TPLF in October 2020, reveals that TPLF has had plans to attack first the standing Ethiopian army base in Tigray in what it calls, “to destroy the enemy as an important strategy”. The document goes:

“…Therefore, it is imperative to take military and strategic offensives, which include a clear motivation to destroy the enemy as an important strategy. We must lead and coordinate this strategy of attack by disrupting the enemy’s military balance, and we must engage in military and national aggression without compromising our own defenses. This is not done for others, but primarily for us. If the enemy gains strength and momentum its first, second, and third goal are to destroy the people of Tigray. Now the enemy’s political and economic landscape is in shambles and so Its military standing must be compromised. This needs to be transformed into a strategic attack. In fact, in a timely manner. To have the view of waiting while the enemy strikes and defending its attacks will weaken us and make us more vulnerable to engage the enemy by its own tactics, preferred time, and organization. This should be a strategy we should be weary of and avoid…. Even in military science, war is a scientific act based on pre-war action, which is based on pre-emptive warfare in the event of a serious and unpredictable threat /unprecedented situation/. When will this strategy be implemented? How and by whom? What will happen? This will be answered by a strategic war plan focused on shaking the foundation, destabilizing, and destroying the enemy.” – TPLF leaked document stated. [33]

It brings to mind that the late (diseased) propaganda chief of TPLF had admitted on Tigray TV interview that TPLF had started the war on November 4, 2020 by attacking Ethiopian military base in Tigray. Yet, blatantly, the TPLF central committee squarely blamed PM Abiy’s regime for starting the war against TPLF. Amidst all the quagmire and the 2-year-long skirmishes betwixt these two competing groups to hold and stay on government power, nearly one million people from both sides were killed while millions more homesteads had to face humanitarian crisis and internal displacements.

 

References:

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  • [32 ] @EthioHRC@hrcoethiohttps://twitter.com/EphremKesis/status/1629236357615833090/video/1
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A Political History of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (1975-1991)

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