The Political and Moral Blindness of the Amhara Elite
Aynalem Sebhatu 04-08-21
The Ethiopian diaspora never misses an opportunity in disappointing us all. A few weeks ago, they enthusiastically supported the genocidal war in Tigray in their political rallies in major urban areas of the U.S. They profusely praise Abiy Ahmed and Isaias Afewerki as if the mass atrocities committed by these two dictators seem to have escaped their notice. Days ago, they turned around condemning Abiy Ahmed and had a rally against “Amhara genocide.” No doubt that the killing of innocent Amhara should be condemned, and no one should condone violence against anyone at all. The problem with the demonstrators is that they want it to have it both ways: they support the genocidal war in Tigray at the same time they rally against “Amhara genocide.” How does one reconcile these two positions? This goes beyond political lines and the issue of genocide is a moral issue that requires one to make an unambiguous choice between right and wrong. There should not be any buts about it. If we are incapable of sharing similar value on stark issue like genocide, then we should abandon thinking having a country to call ours. Therefore, it is clear the first rally was a disgraceful public display of inhumanity and add the second rally, we are really dealing with people who do not have a clue about their political and moral blindness at best.
The Amhara regional government’s policy is as clear as a daylight: continue an expansionist policy with ethnic cleansing. The Amhara political elites are implementing this policy in west and south Tigray. After systematically murdering, raping and pillaging, they have expelled more than 700,000 Tigrayans out of west Tigray alone. Never mind that the actual percentage of the Amhara out of the total population of west Tigray has never been more than 3% to 5% in its history. One could easily check the demographic data before the TPLF came to power in 1991. Despite all these facts, a significant if not the majority of Amhara has dutifully fallen in line with the regional government’s ethnic cleansing policy, actively supportive or in complicity while silently regarding the regional government’s policy despite its destabilizing and destructive effects on the country’s national and nationalities politics.
Ethiopia as a multi-nationalities and multicultural society, the proposition that Ethiopia is an empire is less controversial today. The case can be made in a number of ways. In the 1880s, Atse Menelik (1884-1913) fought wars against the Oromos, the Sidama, the Wolayta…etc. and seized a large portion of land and the people who lived there too. Many original settlers had lost their land through violence and illegal acts of Amhara settlers. The dispossession of ethnic Ethiopians and relegation of many to marginal lands was pretty transparently imperialist. Such expansionist policy became the basis for the formation of a centralized Ethiopian state and the foundation for the Amhara chauvinistic mind-set that is observed and practiced today.
The nations and nationalities entrenched regional powers, which are the pillars of the current constitution, are designed to serve as a potential counterforce against centralized authoritarianism. The war in Tigray and Oromia over self-determination and self-governance of nations and nationalities of the country are not wholly without constitutional justifications in pointing out that the federal troops employed to destroy self-governance of regional governance. With the weakening of the constitutional rights of nations and nationalities of the country and with erosion of federalism as an operational concept, decision-making on national and regional matters became increasingly the monopoly of one-man seating in Addis Ababa. Indeed, we have recently seen Abiy Ahmed, directly or indirectly, intervene in the internal affairs of all regional governments. This is one of the main areas of contention between the federalist forces and the unitary state supporters.
The national and nationalities politics and conflicts are currently leading the country to a breaking point. Be as it may, five months into the genocidal war in Tigray, I struggled to understand why. It was only when I looked back on my rearview mirror into memory lanes of my experiences and my understanding of ethnic politics, I realized my incomprehension was inevitable. I tried my best to build the vocabulary to explain it to myself so that I could explain it to others but to no avail. How should one really comprehend the genocidal behaviors of our cousins to the south and to the north of Tigray? Is there any rational explanation for a leader of a country inviting a foreign army to commit mass atrocities on his supposed citizens?
Like any other average person who is interested in the history of genocide, I was lucky enough to take classes which were dedicated to this question. There is no doubt that it was much painful to go through the reading assignments of important works (by Hannah Arendt, Elie Wiesel, Samantha Power etc.) on the subject matter and I realized early on what we, human beings, are capable of doing to each other. With that all background reading and my realization of the evilness of genocide, I still have hard time wrapping my head around the ongoing unspeakable atrocities in Tigray. I suppose when such evil deeds are visiting one’s community, the gap between what one knows and what one understands gets wider and wider.
The pain of not comprehending the genocidal war in Tigray is compounded more by the deafening silence of the majority of Ethiopians and the active support of the diaspora Ethiopians. What a shame. One might think that the Amhara elites and their rank and file in diaspora would be in uproar over the mass atrocities and the ethnic cleansing committed in Tigray. But to no avail. Anger of Tigrayans is understandable. I think what incites anger is not human ignorance or fallibility, but human cheating: the hypocrisy of those who claim for themselves in the best tradition of “democrats” but who support the genocidal actions of their ethnic groups.
Perhaps we should all abandon the thinking that the Amhara political elites, if not all at least few, will come to their right senses and understand the genocidal war in Tigray. This is precisely because their political power depends on not caring about the people of Tigray. This reminds me of Upton Sinclair's adage “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
Tigray will prevail!
Eternal glory to our martyrs!