Renaissance of Amhara Hegemony
By Kallacha Dubbi | January 2021
The recent political changes in Ethiopia gave huge upturn to Amhara hegemony, which was hibernating since the 1970s, – the collapse of the feudal system. With the rise of Amhara hegemony came its value depreciation and likely demise. Below, I attempt to decipher this apparent paradox, focusing more on that of the hegemony, less on its demise. As a disclaimer, while I acknowledge the prevalence of dominant hegemonic ideology among Amhara elites, I also recognize the existence of genuine patriotism, affection for the country, love that respects all Ethiopia’s cultures and hails tribute to its diversity. However, my topic is not genuine patriotism; instead, I concentrate on defunct Abyssinian political evolution that grew out of feudal trails and imitated socialist revolution into an ultranationalist hegemony with noxious ambitions. This hegemonic ideology which devours genuine patriotism and corrupts inter-ethnic peace must be exposed.
Ultranationalism is a belief that once culture, (adopted or acquired) is bar none. No other culture can compete, and that the interest that keeps this culture as superior is more important than that of all the other cultures and people; offhandedly placed even above the interest of the country of which the ultranationalist may claim part. A political establishment with such holding on the people may garner unconditional support and run smoothly without internal opposition as the guardian of the ‘ultimate ethos’. It serves as a uniting glue even when economic, educational, and military muscle is insufficient to create unity of comfort in peace. Thus, politics can employ ultranationalism to rally and sway the perceptions of unity by designating an enemy, a competing culture, or a target identity. This wins unchallengeable popularity among those sharing the nationalism that turned ultra. In fact, in the absence of social success and lack of development, it serves as a maxim, creating a sense of solidarity of les infants terribles.
Stalin outlawed the use of the Ukrainian language in public. Ukrainians were the largest group of political prisoners in the forced-labor camps. In a national crisis where war drums are beaten every day, people feel the need for security at any cost. Then, human rights become a luxury that will come after security is ensured. It is therefore essential for ultranationalist politicians to sermonize insecurity and focus on the impending dangers. Fear and ultranationalists are inseparable comrades.
For the ordinary citizen, fear of being excluded from this inherently violent unity becomes part of the incentive to belong, a motto to rally around. Terror is essential to create a tunnel vision on this brand of unity. The fear and the tunnel vision help produce numerous clones, Oromo children who become more vicious enemies of their own identity, creating the Ermiases, the Abiys, etc. of 2021, the lost children turned amok. More about these lost children later.
But there is also a romantic nature to ultranationalism that forms an altruistic community, – unselfish gathering for the sake of the “great nation,” the type that agitated many to cross police line into the Capitol building on January 6. Once must also recall that Adolf Hitler promised he would restore people’s national pride by making their country the leading nation on Earth. He promised prosperity. This romantic sentiment with promise can unify forces and reduce frictions among the believers in the perceived greatness. This greatness could be just imagined, and in fact there may lurk deep inside a belief that their culture is not greater than that of the other great nations competing over the same space and time. To understand this, one only needs to look at the long queues in front of foreign embassies in Finfinne (Addis Ababa) pleading for exit visa. But this romantic passion I mentioned above as a uniting stamina, intersected by hallucinatory hegemony, makes ultranationalism irrational and dangerous, a stimulant for chauvinism and an obstacle to peaceful development of a country.
The romantic view of Amhara hegemony is planted on two legs. One leg is the jus sanguinis approach, – which defines the nation just as a cultural entity, i.e, an Amhara entity is, for example, defined by long historical processes or kinship, sharing common victory that made up Ethiopia. But the patriotic Ethiopian leg of the romance exists as jus soli i.e., embracing earth right or territorial law, where the nation belongs to all its inhabitants irrespective of ethnic or nationality background. This strategy somehow establishes a desired outcome such that not a single Oromo or Moslem can thrive in the North, whereas 10 million Amharas own stretches of land in the south. Ethiopia belongs to all, but Amhara belongs to Amharas. This is exactly what Vice PM Demeqe was asserting when he recently said no part of Ethiopia will be owned by one nation alone. He can boldly say this because there is no channel nor even the tradition by which the south can own a piece of land in the north, but a robust system is in place for the north to own the south.
Ultranationalism is more dangerous than what is outlaid here. European ultranationalism that emerged before the Second World War led to the creation of fascism and irredentism. In Rwanda it led to the slaughtering of almost a million people. In some countries, ultranationalism was combined with Marxism as an ideology to mobilize for anticolonial liberation movements. Amhara ultranationalism, though militarily weak, is strong enough to cause havoc, especially in its neoNafxanya rendition, backed by the Orthodox church. More about the church later.
A hope emerged in 2018, a hope that was earned by the blood of at least 5,000 Oromo youth and could have placed Ethiopia on the right trajectory, ditching all the dangers it now faces. This hope has now been overwhelmingly hijacked by a neoNafxanya clan. This hope, that was given to Ethiopia by Oromo youth, must be pronounced as the last chance. A century was wasted, countless blood poured, bons shuttered, pregnant women raped, dead bodies fed to hyenas, seniors beaten to death, and leaders incarcerated. Any Oromo who still insists to give a chance to this obscure version of Ethiopian unity is a lost mind with no clue about freedom.
Some philosophers argue that drastic economic challenges that result in severe unemployment and poverty can spark ultranationalism. If the Great Depression of the 1930s provided fertile ground for the growth of extreme nationalism in Germany, it is fair to think Ethiopia’s perpetual poverty is a fertile ground for Amhara hegemony.
There is thinking that people’s collective interest drives personal and economic security, and the values of their nation becomes the protectorate of his/her person as an individual. Personal insecurity and lack of confidence can trigger ultranationalism. This can be explained by the rise of hatred, anti-immigrant crimes in East Germany after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. Ultranationalist Russians fostered the idea of “Russia for Russians,’ which means Russia is for ethnic Russians, not for Russian citizens who are not ethnically Russian. This is half of the problem. The other half is, Russians can live in the formerly occupied, now freed countries and still impose their nationalism – Chechnya is for Russians, or Georgia is for Russians, etc. It is this excessive self-regard that serves as a common trait of ultranationalism, be it in Ethiopia, Russia, or Serbia.
Amhara ultranationalism as Ethiopian patriotism:
Amhara identity protects itself as the core of Ethiopian identity; other nations and nationalities submit to the self-acclaimed authority and directives of the core. True Ethiopian nationalism (patriotism) provides a masking face to Amhara hegemony, after all one cannot be Ethiopian and possess hegemonic ambitions of Ethiopia without externalizing the feeling. Patriotism is loyal to the established polity, it is faithful to the territory of the country, and under healthy circumstances, it can be united with the political views of other nations and religions. However, genuine Ethiopian patriotism is held hostage by Amhara ultranationalism, and in the absence of willingness to dissolve this monopoly, Ethiopian patriotism is in constant camouflage. It is this self-serving ideology of the Amhara elites that has obscured the meaning of patriotism, chocking Ethiopia for so long and keeping it at the bottom of the underdeveloped countries.
In the face of tenacious propaganda from Eth360 down to Facebooks and YouTubes, the showcase and the unrelenting war of words to deprive others of their common rights and freedom, the intent for crime that is at times boldly manifested, and the silence in observance of holodomor in the coming, is unacceptable.
Holodomor was a man-made famine, a kill by starvation perpetrated by the Soviets in Ukraine from 1932 to 1933, deliberately starving an estimated 3.9 million people to death. The holodomor has been recognized by Ukraine as a genocide carried out by the Soviet government. Today what is going on in parts of Oromia and Tigray can be equated to a small-scale holodomor. The ultimate motive of holodomor was to break the spirit of the Ukrainian nation and subdue them under the Soviet rule, by starvation. Stalin wanted to replace the loyalties of the 100 distinct national groups in the union with Soviet nationalism. It has an earie similarity with Abiy’s motto and Amhara hegemony and their making of Ethiopian politics.
Earie is also how the butcher of the 1930s, Joseph Stalin who was often depicted as a kind person, who caused the death of some 20 million people in labor camps, forced villages, famine, and executions sits like Ethiopia’s dictator of today. Stalin controlled the Party and the country; he decided on the country’s national interests, he ordered and set domestic policies, and demanded national loyalty. This is what Abiy Ahmed is doing today, but with little chance to match Stalin’s longevity.
As a group of people united by their actual or perceived kinship and descent, the Nafxanyas are a clan. This clan is organized around the creed of a founding member or apical ancestor, Menelik, and rally around his original ideals of conquest. The tricky pens of Mesay Kebede and experienced arrogance of Captain Dawit cater hate and aversive dogma offering pseudo-doctrine to the clan.In the mind of the neo-Nafxanya, the Oromo and all the subjects of Menelik are sacrificial lambs to benefit the Amhara hegemony, conveniently code-named Ethiopiawinet. The failure to separate Amhara identity from Ethiopian, the self-claim to be insignias of Ethiopianism, and the expected bequest demanded to be paid to Amharas to call oneself Ethiopian, is extreme and lethal. This ambition is luckily suppressed by poverty, but it is deadly and has the will to annihilate only if it can afford the killing machines; the desire is there to exterminate any opposition to the rising Amhara hegemony.
In his recent writing circulated among the clan, Mesay accuses PP’s Oromo faction as representing Oromo interest. Any political observer of Ethiopia knows well that nearly all Oromos consider the Oromo faction of PP as a gathering dominated by Nafxanyas. “Now that this last obstacle (TPLF) has been dealt with, the push for Oromo supremacy can continue unabated”, Mesay writes. This is a semantic warning for the Nafxanya clan to stay put against Abiy’s political roadmap which he sees as insufficiently hegemonic. At least in the minds of this writer, there is undeniable “existence of a hegemonic aspiration within the Oromo component of the ruling party.” As a primary manifestation of this hegemony, he lists incorporation of Addis Ababa into Oromia. If the claim of what is yours is defined as hegemonic, what shall one call aggression and robbery of what is not yours?
Mesay also writes about the Wolqait – Xegede region of Amhara as “Amhara territories forcefully annexed by the TPLF.” He never mentioned occupation and annexation of Oromo territories into Addis Ababa by the TPLF. He ignored the massive occupation of BeniShangul-Gumuz region over the last few years and said nothing about the decades of land-grab that have been taking place with support of Amhara Special Force (Liyyu Police.) Every time these conquering predators scavenge for land and face sharp hostility from the victims in return, the colonial offspring, – the likes of Messay will condemn the resistance fighters as terrorists and anti-Ethiopians. The Oromo people are today cornered into accepting Amhara hegemony or be labelled as terrorists, separatists, ant-Ethiopians, and ant-Amharas. Only the existence of a hegemonic Amhara project, a neo-nafxanya agenda, can explain the characterization of resistance to occupation as terrorism.
However, one shall not deny the possibility of ideological conversion between elements of PP’s pragmatic thinkers and Oromo mainstream aspirations. But this thin-laned convergence does not qualify the formation of a consensus block of PP and mainstream Oromo demand, because the later is fighting to remove the first.
There is a profound Amhara hegemonic aspiration, what Messay Kebede calls “Amhara renaissance”, and Alex de Wal once called “Abyssinian fundamentalism” heralded by what now most Oromo scholars call neo-Nafxanya demagogy. Behind Messay’s “Amhara renaissance” and calculated demand for the revision of ethnic federalism lurks a vigorous attempt to reinstate Amhara domination by establishing a unitary state. The leap-singing with Abiy, the line-up and continued call to forfeit the reforms necessary to achieve peace and prosperity by eliminating ethnic territories is an ambitious call for Nafxanya to gain upper-hand in the governance of the country. They call for unity, but they care less about the breakup of Ethiopia which looms large by their sheer desire to dominate.
The neoNafxanya clan is the keeper and carrier of Amhara ultranationalism whose inherent character is hegemonic occupation and domination by transforming the value of its own nation to hostility toward people of other nations. Elements of Amhara ultranationalism include fanaticism, it does not tolerate other cultures and religions as exemplified by the burning of three Mosques in December 2019, in the in the city of Mota in the Amhara region. The ultranationalists consider their actions to occupy as patriotic, but defensive action of the Oromo as terrorism and illegal. In fact, one hallmark of Amhara hegemony is that its actions are praiseworthy, but any other action that stands against them is terrorist. The damage they do to others is valuable, but the good others do is evil if it contradicts their hegemonistic purpose.
Among the leadership of this hegemonic doctrine is the Orthodox church which has an operative and resourceful synergy with the NeoNafxanya clan. Even the pulpit robe – a preaching gown ecclesiastical garment worn by ordained ministers is decorated by Ethiopian flag, a symbol of Amhara ascendency. Why would a church take it upon itself to introduce colors that everybody knows? What is the message the church conveys by associating a flag with spirituality? The answer is simple, it is to assert Amhara cultural hegemony in the name Ethiopia, a full blown endorsement thereof. That is why the Orthodox church inserts symbolic colors into spirituality where no earthly symbol shall belong.Th Orthodox church behaves as if it is privately owned by Amhara establishment, and others must submit their loyalty to Amhara hegemony to go to the Orthodox version of heaven. This powerful temptation has convinced and convicted millions to moral slavery and keeps corrupting the young minds of Oromos who want to be good Christians, unaware of the deadly trap behind the ambush. Any effort to free the church from such delusion is dealt with firmly and swiftly, as we observed during the recent reform movements of the church by Oromo clergy. In fact, the Ethiopian Orthodox church has been, and is the most powerful and loyal carrier of Amhara hegemony. Without separation of Oromia from this carnage, there can not be true liberation of Oromia or Ethiopia. This is not to criticize the true teachings of the Orthodox church, and of course there are many who stand for the ordained teachings of Christ in its purest ecumenical form. Through those, we submit our prayers. But the Orthodox church promoted for centuries that it is not only honorable and desirable but also compulsory to believe in Amhara cultural superiority, superiority that must be defended by blood, including that of the brainwashed.
The brainwashed are critical parts of their army employed in the brainwashing process of others in the same manner as the Indian soldiers who were brought to Ethiopia fought for the British, or – Eritreans taken to Libya to fight for Italians. The propaganda is so intense and deep, accorded with religion to give it a heavenly meaning, that the converted can adopt the identity and die for it while the hegemonic owners turn commanders, preachers, and agents. This is more intense than the “house negro” analogy, it is close to a renegade soldier whom the Confederate Articles of War (1861) recognized as a deserter:
“all officers and soldiers who have received pay, or have been duly enlisted in the services of the Confederate States, and shall be convicted of having deserted the same, shall suffer death, or such other punishment as, by sentence of a court-martial, shall be inflicted.”
And yet, some commemorate and praise our renegades as soldiers of the empire, because our culture is still half-owned by the ultra-nationalists who tell us what to love and what to hate, favoring that we hate ourselves. Some fall victims of the brainwashed self-haters, then turn around and brainwash others; a brainwashed mind becomes a brainwashing machine named Bogale or Nagari.
The neoNafxanyas present their culture as if God has somehow blessed it and gave it to them to impose over the others. Innocent people are made to believe that their culture is indeed superior, blessed, and deserves a reverence. When a particular nationalism is taught to the very young as endorsed by the ‘divine doctrine’, it becomes a very powerful belief likely to possess for lifelong. It is natural that people want to belong and be accepted, but they also want to be on the side of the strong, the better, and the Godly. These basic human aspirations and desires sustain ultra-nationalism even through a devastating poverty.
The utmost purpose of the Oromo struggle shall be defeating and uprooting the longing for Oromo territory within the neo-Nafxanya establishment. The Oromo struggle must, as its primary goal, defeat or demoralize the hegemonic aspirations of Amhara elites, the neo-Nafxanyas to preserve the integrity of the Oromo culture and that of the other peoples of Ethiopia. No other group organized behind the church has ever been so viciously ant-Oromo as the activists and propaganda machines waging wars on the Oromo from church altars and sermons.
This power of unity that coagulates around a romantic ideal but for a malicious purpose as ultranationalism is the most powerful political force in the world. Imagine it to overcome poverty, and even religious differences and – most fascinatingly, polluting the minds of even grown-ups, and stealing generations of people from the victim population. Imagine more, that the brainwashed generation fight for their adopted identity against their own indigenous identity, – and fight at times with more vigor, determination, and intensity than the original owners of the culture they now proliferate. In turn they are rewarded with praises, admirations, and approvals for their deed which is condemned by the other side, their ex-side. There is no change in the economy of their livelihood, in fact often go poorer and despot. But voila, once their confidence is crushed, their hands are stained with blood, and their spirits are scolded, the renegade is lost for life, and must do more and more damage to his/her own people to be continuously accepted and honored within his/her latest identity. We know full well how much blood of their own people they poured, how much sorrow they brought up on us, and how much time and energy we spent fighting this double negatives.In 1938 Julius Streicher published Ernst Hiemer’s children’s book entitled Der Giftpilz, “the poisonous mushroom.” The book was intended to propagate anti-Semitism in Germany. The book is “warning” German children about the dangers allegedly posed by Jews to German children and society in general. German Nazis decided to lay the “foundations early in life,” so the mind of the young is poisoned early with “new ideal for the education of the youth,” before it becomes capable of independent thinking. This has been going on in Ethiopia for decades. But now there is an awaken generation of Oromos and Ethiopians that refuse to be brainwashed, stand against this century old ruthless adversary with hands crossed, or arms raised. The Amhara hegemony cannot win, and it is unwilling to lose. This is when one asks quo vadis Ethiopia?