Last night, while most of the world was engrossed in the unfolding US elections, the first shots of a looming civil war were fired as the Ethiopian military engaged with TPLF militias in Tigray. When it comes to facts on the ground, there is very little that is independently corroborated at this moment except for the commencement of hostilities. In war, the only things that are true are disinformation and confusion emanating from all sides.
However, this much is certain; Ethiopia has quickened the pace of an oncoming calamity from a stroll into a gallop. A roiling disintegration fueled by decades of ethnic grievances and built on the foundation of historical injustices have burst into an open warfare that has the potential of turning Ethiopia into Rwanda 2.0. Led by tribal politicians whose thirst for power is only exceeded by their indifference to human suffering and encouraged by too many Ethiopians who have been conditioned to view anguish through the lens of ethnicity above nationality—and more importantly humanity—Ethiopia stands at the precipice of a horrific bloodbath.
The seed of strife that is girding Ethiopia was planted the minute “ethnic federalism” was introduced by Meles Zenawi and the TPLF junta he headed. Let me say from the outset that my condemnation of TPLF the ideology is not an attack on Tigray people as a whole, Tigray people are part and parcel of Ethiopia’s foundation and they are my brothers and sisters like the rest of Ethiopia’s ethnic communities. The basic premise of “ethnic federalism” was to group Ethiopians into clusters based on tribe. Supposedly, each “homeland” would be representative of Ethiopia’s main ethnic groups. If this sounds familiar, that is because it is a carbon copy of South Africa’s “Apartheid” policy that fractured the country based on tribe whereby various ethnicities were ghettoized in Bantustans.
Most people think that Apartheid was about keeping “blacks” apart from “whites”; in reality, the main purpose of of Apartheid was to partition the “black” populace along ethnic lines. The Zulus, Sothos, Xhosas and the largest ethnic groups in South Africa were given their own homelands called Bantustans where they lived in rank indigence while “white” South Africans lived apart (hence apartheid which means apart hood) in posh communities. The “blacks” were then manipulated to believe that other “blacks” were the problem.
If you read the history of Apartheid South Africa, you will uncover stories of atrocities committed by Zulus, Sothos and other tribes against each other. Parenthetically, there is a reason why I keep using quotes around the brands (which they really are labels that sinister souls branded humanity with), check out this video that explains my stance that race was a creation of racists. This is what happens when you ghettoize people and give them no hope for the future; they end up fighting others who look like them and ignore their common oppressors.
Sound familiar? This is exactly what is taking place in Ethiopia at this moment. The purpose of “ethnic federalism” was never to give representation to Ethiopia’s marginalized ethnicities, it was to fracture opposition to the TPLF government and make it all but impossible for a coalition of Ethiopians to rise up against and challenge an ethnic minority’s iron clad rule. But there was a more sinister purpose for “ethnic federalism” beyond fulfilling the power lust of the TPLF; after all Meles and his minions were but pawns being moved around by more nefarious and invisible outside hands.
The TPLF were funded, armed and eventually crowned victors by foreign powers for a reason; a country that withstood countless attempts by colonial powers could only be defeated from within. That is why the TPLF was foisted upon Ethiopia during the London Conference in 1991 by the likes of Herman Cohen; like Trojan horses, they were sent to Ethiopia not to stabilize the country but to fracture her foundation. “Ethnic federalism” was poison pill that conditioned Ethiopians to view themselves as ethnicity first and Ethiopians last.
When #Ethiopia|ns suffer, I suffer.
When Ethiopians hurt, I hurt.
When Ethiopians get angry, I must stay calm. Nothing comes from anger except pain. Undealt trauma only perpetuates further trauma. Let’s heal so we can have a peaceful country. #HealEthiopiaTogether
— Bethlehem Bekele (@BettyBeke) November 3, 2020
Ethnocentrism bled into every aspect of life; where one went to school, one’s ability to attain a job or one’s mobility was all the sudden based on ethnic affiliation. Licenses and birth certificates were etched with the scarlet letter of ethnicity; every day was and still is a constant reminder that you are ethnicity first and last. This intentional campaign of tribalism programmed a whole generation of Ethiopians to think through the prism of clan. Layered on top of this social stratification was a deliberate effort to stir up ethic grievances and incite tribal loathing in order to undermine the idea of a common identity.
Over the past thirty years, while Ethiopia’s privileged few—irrespective of ethnicity—have been enjoying a cozy life of unprecedented wealth and prosperity, the rest without bias to identity have been suffering under the weight of poverty and a dearth of opportunities. The same entitled gentry, many living in opulent homes in Ethiopia and many more living abroad in luxury, have glommed on to ethnic based politics in order to convince the masses in Ethiopia who are being saddled with financial, emotional and mental anxieties that their enemies are not the neo-aristocracy eating the finest kitfo and sipping expensive Scotch but their fellow countrymen who are struggling to get a kilo of teff and have to toil to get feed their children.
It’s a playbook that is as old as Axum and lethally effective; the way to keep a country mired in abject poverty and unending strife is to slice and dice a nation into the prisons of identity and then manipulate people based on tribe. This same blue print is leveraged not only in #Ethiopia but in America and beyond; as long as the powerful can splinter a nation to the least common denominator, the powerless will be rendered perpetually impotent. Click To Tweet A country that has a three thousand year history of existence is now in the process of being erased and replaced by Balkanized nationalities because too many would rather fight based on our differences instead of uniting on what we have in common.
Last weekend, scores of Ethiopians were murdered in cold blood by a savage group of supposed “liberation front” that has been bolstered by external actors since its inception. The OLF, like the TPLF, are a creation of countries that have a vested interest in Ethiopia’s fragmentation. So called “liberation fronts” have been the bane of Africa’s existence for the past half-century; colonial powers gave up on subduing African countries with boots on the ground and instead bought mercenaries to do their dirty work. They are called liberation fronts for a reason, they are front companies acting on behalf of world powers. Adding pain to misery, opportunistic politicians and Machiavellian carpetbaggers like Jawar Mohammed were rewarded handsomely to foment tribal animosity in Ethiopia.
The violence we are witnessing in Ethiopia today is the result of a premeditated enterprise to destabilize and destroy from within financed and destroy externally. Death begetting death, carnage birthing more carnage, Ethiopians who have multiple ethnicities in their lineage are forsaking solidarity and a culture of comity and instead picking sides and opting for vengeance in response to malice. Go on social media and what you will find are segregated fronts where most Ethiopians advocate for their tribe while remaining mum to the plight of others.
We have fallen right into the trap set for us; the legacy of Adwa is being replaced with a ritual of acrimony. In a world where unity leads to peace and prosperity, Ethiopians are unwittingly headed in the opposite direction as many advocate for secession and forming their own nation based on ethnicity. Many countries have traveled this path only to end up destitute and riddled with corruption. A fragmented Ethiopia that gives way to new nations based on tribe will only birth perpetual conflict, famine and a continued theft of natural resources to benefit outsiders and indenture Oromos, Ahmaras, Tigrays, Somalis and all Ethiopians alike.
For the record, I write this without any bias nor ill will towards any one ethnic group in Ethiopia. I myself can count Amhara and Tigray in my lineage just on my father’s side going back to Atse Tewodros. Between me and my wife, we count Amhara, Tigray and Oromo in our family that we know of. So am I supposed to teach my son that he is only one ethnicity and to disavow the tapestry of Ethiopia that courses through his veins?
This story is not unique to me, this is a fact for the vast majority of Ethiopians. Ethnic purity in Ethiopia is as rare as civility and rationality are in Trump’s tweets. This is why it is beyond senseless for us to be fighting each other based on tribe for the stone we throw at each other based on ethnicity is a stone that hits our own family trees. When I speak up for the marginalized, it is for ALL Ethiopians, when I can’t sleep at night due to Ethiopia’s suffering, it is not based on tribe.
That is why it is so counterproductive to get on social media and rage against the maltreatment of Ethiopians by only talking about Amharas being persecuted, Oromos being killed or Tigrays being oppressed only to remain silent when a group you don’t identify gets clobbered. That level of selective outrage is music to the ears of those who want to see Ethiopia’s demise; if we keep this up, Egypt will not have to waste their energy going after the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, we are doing a wonderful job of blowing Ethiopia up on our own.
We only feed the cycle of tribalism that is hurting all when we fight among ourselves that and beyond that we are falling for the trap that has been set before us to split us into warring camps. This is not to deny that certain ethnic groups are in fact being targeted, but that does not nullify the fact that all ethnic groups are suffering. No matter what some tribal zealot tells you and no matter how much social media tries to convince you, we are not each other’s enemy. The Battle of Adwa was not an Amhara, Oromo or Tigray victory, it was an Ethiopian victory. If we are to be victorious again, it will only be because of unity.
Ethiopia has a choice, we can continue to chase the bankrupt politics of identity and ethnic politics or we can choose to listen to one another, have compassion for others who suffer without regard to tribe and rebuild our country based on inclusion instead of winner take all myopia. I hope and pray that we choose the latter and listen to our better angels for the sake of future generations and for the sake of a country I know most of us love dearly. More importantly, I pray that we embrace forgiveness over vengeance. We are a deeply spiritual people who value our God above all, let us heed the teachings of our respective faiths or we will watch Ethiopia burn fueled by resentment and indifference on our watch::
Heal Ethiopia together or we shall suffer apart:: #HealEthiopiaTogether
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