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A tale of twins: the Derg Brothers


A tale of twins: the Derg Brothers




The political assassination of Hachaalu Hundessaa angered most Ethiopians. Oromo elites started calling the government and its supporters neo-fascists. But millions of Ethiopians compare the incumbent regime to Derg 1.0 (1974-1991). Derg is an Amharic term for “team”. People who suffered under Derg 1.0 panic when people say: “team Lemma”. But the resemblance goes deeper. We all know how Mengistu eliminated his superior comrade Atnafu, the country’s top General Aman M. Andom, and repatriated political leaders/parties like Meison, Dr. Senay Likke, and others. Let us now look at how Abiy handled Lemma, Gen. Seare, OLF, and Jawar. Mengistu denied killing General Aman. Abiy is saying he did not kill Gen. Asamnew (forget Gen. Seare). Mengistu deployed death squads after banning freedom of expression. Abiy is doing the same thing behind the internet blackout. TPLF founders went to Tigrai after Derg 1.0 seized power. Current TPLF leaders followed the same route after Derg 2.0 usurped power.

The resemblance between Col. Mengistu and Col. Abiy transcends external form. Both espouse a supremacist ideology. But what is supremacy? There is, surprisingly, a dearth of definition of the term supremacy. Jensen (2016) explains how supremacists create a myth that labels others as inferior groups whose repeated exploitation is the way things ought to be.

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Supremacism is about classifying those who are immediately identifiable as different- such as those of different sex, different color of skin, different economic or social class, different species- as inferior to us, making up rationales (from the religious to scientific to the economic to whatever the hell we conjure up) for our perceived superiority, and then victimizing these “inferior” others. This victimization then validates our perception of these other inferiors, thereby reinforcing our own sense of superiority to them…Each new violation then affirms our superiority, as though these repeated acts of violation we come to perceive each new violation as reinforcement not only of our superiority over this other we violated, but as simply the way things are.

That is why Ward (2011) argued “Al Qaeda is an Islamist supremacist organization that supports and propagates reactionary political views. [And that] Numerous parallels exist between it and the Ku Klux Klan, another supremacist [racial] and reactionary organization” (2011, p. 36). Jensen (2016) calls people who exploit the environment “human supremacists”. We call individuals who oppress women “male chauvinists”. This world is crowded with supremacists that oppress “lower” caste, “lower” class, indigenous people, minority/disenfranchised majority ethnicities, and small/weak countries. They create a myth to convince themselves and their victims that repeated violation of the downtrodden is the natural order of things all must accept in this world.  

  How do supremacists implement their myth on the ground? The renowned political scientist, Seymour M. Lipset provides valuable insight in this regard. Lipset compared two models of nation-building that Canada and the United States implemented. Lipset (1991) calls the Canadian model “particularism” and terms the American model “universalism”. Here’s a quote from Lipset:

One of Canadians’ important self-images is that their society is “mosaic,” one that gives diverse ethnic groups the right to cultural survival. It contrasts with the once-traditional American emphasis on assimilation into the “melting port.”…American universalism-[is] the desire to incorporate diverse groups into a culturally unified whole- is inherent in the country’s founding ideology. Canadian particularism-[is] the preservation of subnational group loyalties, as well as the strength of the provinces vis-à-vis the federal government (p. 172)

Ethiopia opted for the universalist/assimilation model until 1991. Derg 1.0 (1974-1991) came to power because the Ethiopian youth rose against the supremacist, assimilationist, and absolute monarch. The same youth protested against Derg 1.0 (1974-1991) because the junta sought to implement monarch’s assimilationist project. Ethiopians established a federalist order in 1994. The Ethiopian youth (principally Oromos) did protested in 2016. But they didn’t protest against the federal order. They stood against assimilationist projects that infringed on their rights to own land, etc. They fought for an earnest implementation of the federal order. The youth wanted more, not less federalism. Derg 2.0 (2018-Present) came to power promising to consolidate the federal order. But this crew broke its promise. Derg 2.0 attempted to dismantle the federalist order in Ethiopia and resurrect an assimilationist order. Hence, the very same youth that protested against EPRDF back in 2016 are marching against Derg 2.0 today. Ethiopians aspire to establish a mosaic society that guarantees cultural survival. Derg 2.0 finds itself confronting a popular tide akin to one which toppled Derg 1.0.

Let me wrap up before the internet shuts down. The incumbent regime in Ethiopia is the identical twin of Derg 1.0. Some identical twins come out of their mother’s womb in minutes difference. Similarly, Derg 1.0 emerged in Ethiopia a few decades before its identical twin Derg 2.0 (2018-Present). The way Derg 2.0 dubbed itself “team lemma” (meaning Derg-Lemma in Amharic, and how Mengistu and Abiy are Colonels who consolidated power by ruthlessly eliminating colleagues, generals, and rivals bestow these leaders outward resemblance. The way Derg 1.0 and Derg 2.0 espoused supremacist ideology, implemented an assimilationist project and fought against federalism bequeath them internal resemblance. So, they have identical bodies and souls. As people say: “if it squeaks like a duck and walks like a duck, it is a duck.” If we can ascertain, with a high degree of certainty, that Derg 1.0 and Derg 2.0 are identical twins, can we deduce these brothers will meet the same fate? Time will tell. Perhaps one factor that’s different for Derg 2.0 is this: the International Criminal Court was not around when Derg 1.0 was alive.

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