Tigray nationalism and Amhara genocide in Wolkait/Raya
Ethiopia is going through a very hostile situation; there has been increasing violence against civilians and conflicts in all parts of the country with the risk of escalating into an all-out civil war. In the meantime, these hostilities, among other factors, have damaged the social fabric of the country. The interrelations of people from diverse backgrounds that were built over centuries in the country have been fractured. A tribalist and nationalist movements have been on the rise since the late 1980s. However, if an opportunity for dialogue between the various factions presents itself, the level of hostility will diminish, opening the road to peace and the healing process will begin in the country. We have witnessed this several times over the past 50 years. For example, nearly every polarized political figure and their supporters were able to put aside their disagreements when Abiy Ahmed Ali came to power in Ethiopia in 2018: they all made an effort to focus on strengthening the country. He came to power ousting a 27-year regime led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) which was born out of Tigray nationalism. Abiy’s rise to power was a result of Oromo nationalism. Understanding the coming to being of both nationalisms will help understand the country’s current state.
Even though many believe that Tigray nationalism began in 1941, it actually dates back to 1889, when Emp. Yohannes IV passed away followed by civil war, drought, famine and rinderpest epidemic in Tigray proper. Tigray nationalism was there to fix Tigray’s issues. A main issue was the region’s economic problems: there was ongoing drought due to unfavorable climate and land conditions. Another issue was, under Emperor Yohannes, there was a centralized leadership. But after his death, there was a power contestation between Tigray notabilities to control power, and a remedy to it was Tigray nationalism.
An anti-“Neftegna or Amhara” rhetoric against their neighboring Amhara people was created in order to externalize internal Tigrayan problems, which then made it simple for Tigray nationalism leaders to inspire the youth into adopting a new Marxist ideology. This ideology successfully solved the leadership’s problem by literally engineering Tigray’s diverse population into a single polity. The internal conflict between the local chiefs of the ethnic groups Agame, Adawa, and Enderta in the Tigray region was resolved by portraying Amharas as an adversary. This led to the establishment of a powerful force in the region: the Woyane.
There was a constant state of starvation and hunger in the region of Tigray due to its very poor nature of soil and lack of sufficient crops to feed its people. This was a direct result of the natural conditions in Tigray. And, as long as these challenges existed, Tigray nationalism continued to thrive: it served as a chokehold of the people in Tigray. Then, TPLF annexed Wolkait, Telemt and Tegede from Gondar and Raya from Wollo (Bete Amhara.) TPLF later grouped Gondar, Wollo, along with Shewa and Gojam, to form Amhara region. The annexation is one of the deadliest plans proposed by TPLF leaders. The richest areas of Wolkait and Raya were annexed after TPLF acquired control of the region. The largest issue in Tigray – obtaining food – was resolved by annexing these prosperous lands. This annexation immediately transformed Tigray nationalism leaders into some of the most cherished and dependable figures in Tigray politics, and as a result, the people of Tigray vowed to support the TPLF everywhere it went since it resolved the region’s most pressing food security issue.
Wolkait and Raya have turned into a place where Amharas continuously confront genocide as a result of Tigray nationalism and as Tigray interest in these territories rose. As opposed to popular belief, which holds that the genocide against the Amhara was motivated by hatred and the breakdown of the social fabric, it was actually the result of a government initiative to make Tigray larger and more fertile. Assimilation of the Amharas or their expulsion from these areas was a goal of their national endeavor. This national undertaking became a tool for genocide against the Amharas. The Woyanes, especially a youth wing of TPLF – Samri – started to commit horrible atrocities against Amharas , and a hatred against Amharas was utilized to build a genocidal army and silence Ethiopians. The TPLF’s divisive rhetoric enabled the state-sponsored Amhara Genocide to go unreported for a couple of decades. Every new piece of land added to the region of Tigray became a site of a daily slaughter of Amhara people.
Oromo nationalism and the active genocide of Amharas in Wollega, Beninshangul, Dera and Ataye
The sixteenth-century Oromo expansion, during which the clans Borena and Barentu migrated from the home base Borena to the other parts of Ethiopia, is directly reflected in Oromo nationalism. The movement caused Ethiopia to collapse, as Richard Pankhurst explains in his book “The Ethiopians: A History” (page 76). It used an assimilation process which employed the Oromiffa language to transform 26 different ethnic groups into the new Oromo. Borena is the only original member of the Oromo community; the rest are Sidama, Amhara, Hadiya, or Somalis, who are only related to the Oromo by the language Oromiffa and the political philosophy known as “Oromo”. We refer to this as Oromo nationalism. This nationalism was developed in order to increase the number of cattle owned by the people. The very cruel process destroyed 26 ethnic groups and their accomplishments, yet it can be considered as a normal way of evolving in the concerns and interests of a community. As the quantity of cattle increased, so did the need of having an area to graze them on and their shepherds to dwell, thus, the greed to continuously grab land.
Since the reign of Empress Mintewab, the Amhara rulers have fought against and severely limited Oromo expansion. The counter-push to resist the expansion by Amhara notables was remarkably effective in creating a stable Ethiopia and even brought all Ethiopians together to fight the Italian occupiers under one flag. Emperor Tewodros succeeded in causing the Oromo nobility to lose control of all of their strongholds in Wollo and Shewa regions and stop them from advancing. Emperor Minilik II was able to liberate Amharas and give them support in their region, currently referred to as Oromia. As a result, Amharas and the rest of Ethiopia’s population had time to start rebuilding their country. This persisted until Italy invaded Ethiopia, and after Emperor Haileselassie returned to Ethiopia, Oromo expansionist nationalism erupted as a result of Ethiopia’s growing weakness.
The current Oromo nationalism is no different from the previous expansion and assimilation project of the sixteenth century. The first demand of the contemporary Oromo nationalism is to dismantle what Emp. Minilik had accomplished, so the rhetoric of its politics always circled around the name “Minilik” and vilifying him since its first objective was to shatter the strongholds of Amharas in the current Oromo region. As such, the initial stages of Oromo nationalism destroyed all of the emperor’s accomplishments. This was profoundly achieved by the famous movement called “Land to the Tiller.” And, as it appeared to be a genuine cause, Amharas joined in unaware of it being a suicidal project for them. The decree literally gave a permission for the hungry Oromo nationalism to commit a genocide on the successful Amharas and made them lose their stronghold in the current Oromia region and left Amharas go unprotected until today. The nationalism managed to secure the palace in Addis Ababa commonly referred to as “Arat Kilo” twice by using Ethiopian-ism as its running shoe. The nationalism used a sheep skin to control the very naive and less educated loyalists to the ideology, also referred to as Ethiopianist. This, in my opinion, was the successful phase of Oromo nationalism because Ethiopians blindly followed the ideology
As prime minister, Abiy rekindled this nationalism in order to push forward its Barentu project of annexing the regions of Amhara and creating a larger and more powerful Oromo nation by wiping out established Amhara communities in the Oromia region before conquering the Beninshangul and Gambela regions. In order for this to occur, the current Oromo nationalism perpetrated state-sponsored genocide against the Amhara in Wollega. The “Ataye” district in Shewa, Amhara region, was burned down close to 11 times because it serves as a corridor to get to Dera, and connect it to Kemisse, which serves the interest of the Oromo nationalist and expansionist goals. The “Kush” narrative is also used to control, assimilate and annex the lands of Somali, Sidama and Afar regions.
Tigray and Oromo nationalism used state-backed genocide to achieve the heights of their combined anti-Amhara national project.