The Uncharted Amhara Crises of Ethiopia
Ethiopia, the paradox of Africa—the ally of the West, and the home of one of world’s most repressive regimes—has been hard hit by waves of Amhara and Oromo protests over the past two years. The international community is better aware of the Oromo problem than the struggles endured by the Amhara. This lack of attention can be attributed to a lack of Amhara activists abroad and the blind-eye of “Ethiopianist” political activists and Diaspora-owned media. Hence, Ethiopia’s problem, where Amhara crises lies at its core, remains relatively unheralded.
The three decades old Amhara suffering is germinated during the 1974 Revolution of Ethiopia whence students, in their view of Marxism-Leninism, blamed Amhara to have culturally, economically and politically dominated and exploited the rest of ethnicities. The patron of this legacy, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), began its armed struggle in 1975 crafting a political program labelling Amhara as the arch enemy of Tigray that should be debased and eliminated. Assuming power in 1991, they quickly organized elites from many ethnicities where recruitment demanded proof of hatred to and condemnation of Amhara. Within a few years, the TPLF successfully turned many ethnic elites against Amhara.
Eventually, although a significant majority, Amhara were not represented in the post-1991 “government.” Soon, they became subject to a multitude of evils, including mass-displacement, indiscriminate arrest and torture, mass-murder, barricade from upward mobility, defamation, policy-driven impoverishment, unemployment, territorial aggression, contraceptive-induced depopulation, lagging infrastructure development, and mass-emigration.
Twenty-six long years elapsed, with no change of the regime’s nature; on the contrary, the Amhara miseries worsened. The Amhara, already felt betrayed by the forceful annexation of Wolkait-Tegede region into Tigray in the north, the regime’s secret deal with the Sudanese government to give away the western frontier of Amhara land, caused deep grievance. Exacerbating this discontent was a newfound public awareness of the distribution of new maps that included most parts of northern Amhara into Tigray. From 2015 onwards, the regime split Amhara in the northwest into two ethnic groups, the Amhara and “Qemant”. Such ethnic cleaving was driven by the intention of more territorial annexation to Tigray and caused massive upheavals that took many lives. These, coupled by Amhara ethnic cleansing from many parts of Ethiopia, sent more frustration. For instance, the 2007 Census showed shockingly low fertility rate, and 2.5 million Amhara, the parliament admitted, found to be missing. In 2013 and 2014 hundreds of thousands were evicted from southern and western Ethiopia. More recently, hundreds were killed in western and central Ethiopia, with tens of thousands of evictees.
Such frustrations triggered Amhara youths to engage in Amhara nationalistic protests. They, consequently, abandoned supra-ethnic, “Ethiopianist,” mobilization which, they thought, repeatedly failed them. Indeed, the only viable option left in the face of a ruthless regime was to organize under the umbrella of Amhara. Eventually, mobilization became attached with nationalistic sentiment. The youth revived Amhara nationalism with the goals of: assurance of the right to live, territorial restoration, national representation, cultural revivalism, and, as a last resort, to establish a Free State of Amhara. Presumably, the Ethiopian political atmosphere changed once and for all. The saga of Amhara fighting and dying for Ethiopia reverted and gave birth to a new generation that chose instead to fight and die for Amhara. But that did not come overnight. It took twenty-six long years of patience with the hope that the nature of the regime would change one day.
The current Ethiopian regime is not prepared to deal with the unprecedented dynamism of the Amhara movement. One can grasp that the newly emerging Amhara nationalism would not be limited only to realigning Ethiopian ethnopolitical forces but would also greatly impact the entire Horn of Africa. In fear of that, therefore, the regime has been taking action, but chose the counterproductive way: an attempt of quelling the Amhara youth’s voice with lethal force, only to make them more reactive. For example, when the 10-month’s long State of Emergency was lifted, the regime reported more than 600 Amhara were killed. Before and during this period, the arbitrary killings across Amhara region from June to August 2017 were not included—admittedly 70 were killed in Bahir Dar, close to a hundred in Gondar, more than a hundred in Debre Markos, hundreds in Debark and Dabat, tens in Debre Markos and Burre towns. Tens of thousands were sent to jail where they were cruelly torched. And more recently about 9 civilians shot in the head at Epiphany festival on 20th January of 2018 in Woldya, leaving 200 hundred more injured; and 9 more were killed in the following days across northeastern Amhara.
The regimes desperate actions fueled more anger, being very much consequential that it invited a chain of protests. Its ruthlessness gave birth to new crises in which thousands of Amhara languish in prison, many die each day, and protests continue. Brutality, an old fashion treatment to new problems, exacerbated the worse. The world continues almost unknowing of the Amhara plight. Ethiopia’s future, faced with the failure of addressing the Amhara question, is left at a crossroads.