An imperial narrative gets recycled

An imperial narrative gets recycled

by Trevor Trueman

More understanding and less blaming are key to a solution for the self-determination crisis of the Oromo and other Ethiopian communities

(ethiopia-insigh)–A powerful and disturbing narrative is gaining traction among reporting on Ethiopia, its bias reflecting the connections of the current and past political and business elites with national and international media, NGOs, and foreign governments.

Most see Ethiopia through the eyes of what has long been Ethiopia’s dominant culture, the Amharic language, script, and calendar, and the Orthodox Church. Subconsciously, most outsiders absorb the sense of entitlement and superiority of those who practise and belong to this culture over the other— majority—peoples of Ethiopia who do not.

Institutional and institutionalized racism against Oromo and against the smaller nationalities in Ethiopia is enabled and empowered by zero-sum politics and its associated societal and domestic authoritarianism. Prejudice against people not represented in the dominant culture portrayed abroad as Ethiopia is rubbing off on journalists and power brokers.

Some commentators believe Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Prosperity Party plans to dismantle the limited regional autonomy guaranteed in the 1995 Ethiopian Constitution and claim that those who oppose this plan are violent ethno-nationalists who threaten Ethiopia’s democracy. That is the narrative gaining traction. It is as false as it is dangerous and it is a narrative that is driving a response.

In 1991, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) participated in the overthrow of the military regime, and participated for a year in the Transitional Government of Ethiopia organized by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), before it withdrew from the 1992 elections and its troops, encamped by agreement with U.S. and Eritrean mediators, were overrun.

In that year, the Minister of Education, Ibsa Gutama (one of four OLF Ministers), ensured primary education was to be carried out in Afaan Oromo in Oromia and in relevant languages in other regions. Indeed, under the federal system created after 1991 by the TPLF, for the first time Oromo people were governed, taught and were heard in court in their own language. To use the word ‘Oromia’, to use the better-suited Latin script for the Oromo language and to see it written down were each huge steps forward for the recognition of Oromo culture.

Those who promoted anything else Oromo, however, were persecuted.

After 2014, driven by the taking of land from Oromo farmers around Finfinnee (Addis Ababa) and by continuing political and economic marginalization, Oromo students, the Qeerroo/Qarree, launched a series of increasing protests. When these spread to other regions, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was propelled to power in April 2018, launching a series of reforms, including his declaration that political harassment is gone for good, releasing political prisoners, pardoning opposition parties and inviting exiled leaders to return and participate in a peaceful democratic process, declaring freedom of speech and press and ending a 20-year conflict with neighboring Eritrea, which earned him the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

In September 2018, the return of the OLF leadership to Finfinnee was celebrated by millions. There was talk of truth and reconciliation, mass education about human rights, and real representative democracy. Hope and confidence in progress, prosperity and equality was almost tangible.

It did not last.

Oromia Support Group reports have detailed how extrajudicial killings and large-scale detention have continued and accelerated. Since the assassination of singer Hachalu Hundessa on 29 June, many more have died in violent protests and many properties have been destroyed. Detentions, rape, burning of property and crops—an old-fashioned scorched earth policy—is under way in areas perceived to be supportive of the OLF. In February, many top officials of the OLF were arrested; leader, Dawud Ibsa, is now under house arrest

There is now a media campaign against the OLF and anything Oromo and the Ethiopian government is working hard to persuade the outside world that Oromo journalists and supporters of the OLF and Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) are all terrorists. The similarities to 1992 and the subsequent crackdown on Oromo organisations that were also then labelled as terrorists are depressing.

The killing of Hachalu immediately reminded me of the killing of singer Ebbisa Addunya on 30 August 1996. Like Hachalu, he was inspirational to a generation of young Oromo. Today, just as in the 1990s, national and international media echo government claims of atrocities instigated by organised Oromo groups, amplified by biased social media. Internet and media closures are ensuring that the government version of events, aided by anti-Oromo national outlets, becomes received wisdom in the outside world; just as it did in 1992.

The man difference of the current repression with that of its predecessor is ominous.

The broad consensus among Oromo is that any degree of autonomy enjoyed under the 1995 Constitution is under threat. This would mean one step forward and two steps back: not the other way around. Not back to 1992, but back to 1974, the time of a highly unitary state; of one language, one culture, one religion, and Amhara identity, under the cover of Ethiopian nationalism. Oromo people are being forced against their will to belong to a country in which they feel disempowered and unrepresented. Again, their desire for at least a degree of autonomy is ignored and not taken seriously, as though they don’t matter. This is a recipe for disaster.

It is also necessary to understand that the authoritarian nature of northern Ethiopian society, regional zero-sum politics, and the assumption of rights over and above the conquered peoples of Ethiopia is based on racism. And only when this racism is acknowledged can Ethiopia progress toward a multicultural, rich, resource-abundant state with enough for all its peoples. But there must be equality; no domination of one culture over another. Dismantling the current federal structure of Ethiopia, whatever superficial guarantees of fairness and equality are given, will result in more marginalization of all cultures, except that of the Amhara, which is the lens through which almost all outsiders view Ethiopia.

Acceptance and agreement of the events and facts concerning the expansion of Abyssinia in the late 19th century is a much-needed foundation stone for a stable future Ethiopia. With an agreed history and a degree of regional autonomy, it is possible for all the peoples of Ethiopia to live their own culture with respect for the rights of others, with inclusivity in decision-making at an appropriate level, and respect for natural resources.

More violence and suppression, however, will eventually lead to the breaking up of Ethiopia, with most of the people in the southern two-thirds leaving the original Abyssinia as a rump state in the northwest. If the country of Ethiopia can only be maintained by state violence against its people, resentment will build until it fragments, like Yugoslavia. Far better to establish a mutually agreeable state structure.

The greater and more ingrained a prejudice is, the harder it is to be aware of it and tackle it. It is time for the Oromo and other peoples of Ethiopia to be treated equally and fairly. To deny people self-determination, to label those who wish to exercise this right as terrorists, and to force an unwilling population to belong to any geographic, political or cultural moiety is as dangerous as it is short-sighted. Equally, it could be so easily avoided if only the two sides of the self-determination debate, which has become ethnicized whether we like it or not, consider, understand and accommodate each other’s point of view. This can be settled in a civilized manner, without coercion or bloodshed.

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  1. “An Imperial Narrative Gets Recycled”

    Indeed, the last two years have seen unimaginable magnitudes of attempts and vicious assaults on the great Oromo people and nation nationalities from regrouping neo-naftagna with drives to reinstate old Ethiopia. Available resources have been mobilized from home and overseas in order derail the struggles of the Ethiopian peoples and undo the little gains nation nationalities have made towards regaining their dignities as nations. The beneficiaries of the naftagna system, the foundation on which the empire has been built, have managed to keep the administrative structures of successive Ethiopian regimes and utilized the bureaucracy to their advantages despite the 1974 revolution, the 1991 change and recent Oromo protests.

    The front men of the OPDO/ODP/PP – ANDM/ADP/PP (by the way the later always guided the others including the TPLF in utilizing the naftagna system) conned, the Oromo people in particular and the other nation nationalities in general, by posing as reformists and convincing them to entrust them with their victories in 2018. The unaware and quite less organized populous trusted the con artists and handed over their victories rather than removing EPRDF altogether and seeking lasting solutions to the complex Ethiopian sociopolitical and socioeconomic problems. Abiy Ahmed’s ascendance to power attracted the remnants of the dergue regime and the naftagna, who have been hiding in the naftagna bureaucracy at home and those in exile, waiting to strike. They came out in their droves and encircled the somehow immature and political naive prime minster, Abiy Ahmed. Since the person at the helm of the regime has had his own delusional ego of becoming the “7th King of Ethiopia”, the naftagna and neo-naftagna vultures lost no time in coming to his aid. Once the anti-Oromo camps realized that Abiy Ahmed has ambition to replicate Menilik II and does not care about the Oromo people and nation nationalities of Ethiopia, they started to unleash their attacks on the Oromo people using government apparatuses and naftagna knowhow as well as organizations and financial abilities.

    Notably, naftagna handlers clicked with Abiy Ahmed’s dictatorial tendencies and started nurturing him towards embarking the misadventures of extinguishing the hopes of nation nationalities, particularly the just cause of the Oromo people for which thousands paid for with their lives. Like any aspiring fascist the neo-naftagna leader, Abiy Ahmed, has used multiple tactics, including charming when he needs to and using lies in order to misinform both at home and overseas, and keep the lid on the crimes he is committing against the Oromo and nation nationalities aspiring for greater autonomy. In order to control information, the neo-naftagna regime of Ethiopia goes to the extent of blocking the Internet and telephone for weeks while exacting violence against the peoples of Ethiopia, the Oromo people and Oromummaa being the prime targets of government abuses.

    The extent to which Abiy Ahmed has gone to consolidate his power is consistent with what Albright and their graduate students identify as characteristics of a fascist. That is, “a fascist consolidates authority by controlling information [and] spreading lies on [platforms such as] phony websites and Facebook, …, constructing echo chambers of support for conspiracy theories, false narratives, and ignorant views on religion and race. … This is the first rule of deception: repeated often enough, almost any statements, story or smear can start to sound plausible”. To that end the neo-naftagna regime of Abiy Ahmed and the anti-Oromo camps have used pseudo-journalists, Pseudo-Ethiopian activists, who trade in Ethiopian unity while they work to destroy the Ethiopian peoples, government cadres and propagandists to dehumanize the Oromo people as a nation and to inflict harms to Oromo “elites” who speak out on the truth about Ethiopia and the peoples suffering under successive naftagna regimes. Numerous naftagna media from home as well as overseas are engaged in disseminating fabricated false news in order to damage the Oromo people and their just cause. Tragically, government media outlets which are being funded by tax monies collected from our people are engaged in propagandas against the Oromo people and Oromo notable individuals who champion Oromo just causes. Naftagna fascist media such as Ezema’s ESAT and their offspring Ethio360 in conjunction with other pro-naftagna media have particular anti-Oromo policies, and spread their poisonous false news and pretend “analysis” day and night.

    Since Abiy Ahmed has embarked on the project of reincarnating the dreams of Menilik II, the neo-naftagna have unleashed ruthless campaigns of terror primarily on the Oromo people with occasional attacks on other historically subjugated nation nationalities. Particularly, with the formation of Prosperity Party (PP), Abiy Ahmed and his naftagna handlers seem to have moved too far in monopolizing power and the direction the country may be heading although their attempt may be like “the last straw that broke the back of the camel” and herald the total disintegration of the empire. Their move seems like a “fascist game plan: a simple party, speaking with one voice, controlling every state institution, claiming voice to represent all people, and labeling the entire sham a triumph of the popular will”.

    Chain of events from the day Lemma Megerssa handed the key to Abiy Ahmed to ascend the power ladder attest to where Abiy is heading and the length to which the naftagna are manipulating him to take measures that harm the Oromo people in particular and nation nationalities of Ethiopia in general. Ezema officials who provided political roadmap to Abiy Ahmed and the remnants of dergue regime and EPRP, who might have blood on their hands from their participations in the infamous “Red Terror/White Terror” crimes, are clapping for and encouraging Abiy Ahmed in his misadventures of ethnic cleansing the Oromo people and other targeted nation nationalities.

    Mindbogglingly, the neo-naftagna regime and naftagna vulgar gangsters and gangs not only try to control current information, but they also go extra miles to control how histories of the empire and the conquered nations are narrated. For example, the reaction from naftagna activists and media to Professor Marara Gudina’s recent research/presentation on the “nation building and historical burdens of empire Ethiopia” has been quite amusing and saddening. Professor Marara’s findings have been already out in the light, at least five Professors, including Professor Marara, have arrived at the same conclusions regarding the way Ethiopia was founded. Professor Marara is exceptionally honourable and a man of high integrity. Rather than, acknowledging the historical injustices and reconcile with the Ethiopian peoples those who have appointed themselves as the guardians of the empire have chosen to pick up new fight, which is indefensible. To deny the crimes committed by Menilik II at Chalanqo and Annole equates to denying the Holocaust and other inhumane crimes committed in the world.

    It would have been helpful to the country and its peoples if those who are in denial of the sufferings inflicted against the Ethiopian peoples by successive regimes of Ethiopia, acknowledge the wrongs done, and try to reconcile what Professor Marara terms “contradicting dreams”. Otherwise, the 21st century is not the 19th or 20th century and things may go much worse for the empire. Those who have truth on their hands will eventually prevail.

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