Why Have the Amaras Once Again Become Victims of Ethnic Cleansing by TPLF?
Assefa Negash, M.D.
Amstelveen, the Netherlands - 18th of April 2012
“A pregnant woman who only gave birth to a child during the night was thrown out on the street the following morning along with her mattress and child who is just a few hours old (neonate). Pregnant Amara women have been forced to flee their homes. Many children as young as 8 months of age have been locked up in prison along with their lactating mothers and they have nothing to eat or drink thereby suffering from hunger. A farmer who individually was able to own as many as 3000 tree plants of coffee, avocado, mango, papaya and banana has been forced to leave behind everything and flee. Those farmers who had many bee hives and had engaged in poultry and dairy farm had to leave behind all their wealth. All these Amara farmers were told by the local authorities that as you came empty-handed, you cannot take along with you anything. Armed government officials threaten the Amara farmers with imprisonment on false charges of burning forest, terrorist activities and illegal possession of weapons. There are farmers who have been imprisoned on such false charges and some others have appeared before the court on such false charges. After confiscating and tearing into pieces identity cards of these Amara farmers, the local government authorities have subsequently accused these Amara farmers of travelling without an identity card and roughed them up and subjected them to suffering”.
Excerpt taken from appeal letter (dated 27 March 2012) written by the All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP) chairman Hailiu Shawel to prime minister Meles Zenawi regarding the forced eviction and deportation of 78000 Amharas from Bench-Maji in southern Ethiopia.
Hereafter I reproduce personal Testimony of an Amara who has been forcibly displaced in a draconian measure that amounts to ethnic cleansing from Gura Ferda district in southern Ethiopia. It is based on an interview a VOA reporter conducted with the victim by telephone.
“Amaras have been put or squeezed into a grain sack and subsequently beaten by the local officials. These Amaras were forced to feed on sand. They were yoked like draught animals and subsequently beaten. One person who was beaten in such manner has been incapacitated so much that he cannot stand any more and he is now under treatment in hospital”.
As I was writing this article, I heard how the houses of the displaced people, along with all belongings of the displaced Amhara peasants, were set on fire by the TPLF regime on the eve of the Ethiopian Easter so that these peasants may not have any reason to return to their houses by way of collecting or selling their properties. This is a cruel act of the TPLF regime which will go down in history as unforgettable act that we would immortalize so that posterity may not repeat such deeds that defy any rational explanation.
Do Ethiopians Have Constitutionally Guaranteed Citizenship Right Under TPLF?
Article 8 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia states that:
“All sovereign power resides in the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of
Ethnic federalism to which TPLF, including all the ethnic-based parties subscribe is premised on the ethno-nationalist principle which holds that ethno-linguistic or cultural boundaries must coincide with political boundaries. The logical sequel of this ethno-nationalist principle is that cultural/ethnic and political boundaries are not allowed to cross cut each other. The Ethiopian constitution reflects this principle. According to article 8 which I quoted above, the individual citizen of Ethiopia as an embodiment of sovereignty does not exist. In a democratic system, sovereignty emanates from the unified consent of individuals who agree to give their support to the state that governs them on the basis of freedom and equality. In a democratic system, free individual citizens bestow their unified will on the democratic state. The unified will of the individual citizens becomes the popular sovereignty which invests the democratic state with the supreme authority that emanates from this popular consent of individual citizens. This is what we call popular sovereignty which places ultimate authority in the people. This sovereignty is expressed through the choice individuals make in electing their representatives who form a government and would be subject to election and recall at any time. (Donald S. Lutz, Popular Consent and Popular Control: Whig Political Theory in the Early State Constitutions (Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1980)
Ethnic federalism bestows rights on the so-called “nations, nationalities and peoples” that are in the case of Ethiopia represented by ethnic elites that are picked out by the TPLF bosses. As such Ethiopians become citizens of their respective ethnic region and not citizens of Ethiopia. The current constitution defines rights of an Ethiopian as being premised on the ethnically-based territory or Killil. Under such political construction, an Amara has no right to speak of outside the ethnically designated Killil called Amara Killil. The concomitant of article 8 of the current constitution is that it nullifies all the rights which are stated in the constitution such as the right of free movement of people to go from one region and settle in another ethnic region and earn a living. In what she dubs “the idiosyncrasy of the Ethiopian federal system”, Lovise Aalen a Norwegian anthropologist who conducted an extensive research for her PhD thesis on the politics of Ethnicity in Ethiopia observes that the “assumption that every citizen is an ethnic citizen makes the Ethiopian system very different from other federal systems in the world”. Source: Lovise Aalen, “The Politics of Ethnicity in Ethiopia: Actors, Power & Mobilisation under Ethnic Federalism” 2011.
What many Ethiopians fail to realize about the current political system based on ethnic federalism is that this system does not recognize citizenship right that entitles a native of Ethiopia his or her right that extends over every inch of the Ethiopian realm or territory. As such the present Ethiopian constitution cannot be counted on to uphold the right of an Ethiopian as the constitution recognize no Ethiopian citizenship, but ethnic Amaras, Oromos, Tigreans, Gurages, Somalis, etc. The constitution recognizes citizenship that is bound up with one’s ethnic identity and ethno linguistic region. The present constitution has created two groups of people in every ethnic Killil. The first group concerns those who are considered to be the indigenous people to the area i.e. “sons of the soil”. This group of people are given preferential treatment in terms of rights compared to the second group of people (often ethnic minorities) who are seen as second class citizens with no constitutional rights to speak of and whose existence is dependent on the good will of the local ethnic Killil leaders or their Tigrean bosses at the center. Any one who is outside his/her ethnically designated region is treated as an alien with no rights to claim or defend. Hence the propensity of Tigrean entrepreneurs of hate to use this legal loophole to ethnically cleanse southern Ethiopia of the Amharas the TPLF perceives as its historical nemesis. TPLF is undertaking the ethnic cleansing of Amharas through the agency of its proxy representatives Mr. Shifferaw Shigute. In present-day Ethiopia the only people who are not adversely affected by this rule are the Tigreans who as members of the ruling Tigrean regime have every right to settle in every part of Ethiopia and prosper even at the expense of others with the full support and favour of the incumbent state which protects them. The sad thing about ethnic federalism which denies Ethiopians their right as citizens of that country is that this dangerous and inhumane system of government is not only embraced by the ethno-nationalist TPLF but also by ethnic-based opposition parties that subscribe to ethnic federalism.
The Social Construction of the “Amara Enemy” by TPLF
Some of you may have read about the recent forced displacement and deportation of Amaras from southern Ethiopia. This diabolic act is not an isolated one nor did it come out of the blue. It is part of a cumulative process of demonization of the Amara ethnic group which has been going on for decades now. And in the last 21 years, the Amara people have been made the main targets of vilification, demonization, discrimination, etc by the TPLF government that has mobilized the whole media and state machinery at its disposal towards this goal of criminalizing the identity of Amaras as a people. The incessant propaganda the TPLF and its cohorts mounted has targeted the Amaras . This propaganda has succeeded in reducing the Amara people into a population that is fit for any act of dehumanization by groups such as TPLF who continue to perpetrate atrocities with impunity against the Amaras they identified as their mortal enemies. During 21 years of TPLF’s rule, the Amaras have served as convenient punch-bags of every anti-Amara group that project its hatred on Amaras. All these happened with the direct encouragement and incitement of the TPLF. As the following quotations show, for the last 38 years, the TPLF has been working tirelessly to create an enemy image of the Amara ethnic group it loathes and abhors most. And for this, the founders of TPLF and the Tigrean elites bear responsibility. In an anthropological research conducted for his PhD thesis among Tigrayans, the Tigrean Alemseged Abbay, one of the research questions which he posed to those Tigrayans he interviewed was the following. Whom do Tigrayans perceive as their foremost historical enemies and he came with the following result that overwhelmingly showed that Amaras represented their historical enemies.
“The historical enemies of Tigrayan informants (82,1%) start & end with Amhara (Shoa) & only 10.7% included Turkey & Italy in the list of their historical enemies”. See Alemseged Abbay’s book entitled: Identity Jilted or Re-imagining Identity?
“Moreover, since the people of Tigrai had the dominant Amara as their adversary, the media had mobilized the people and united the militant forces to deal an outward blow”.
Source: “How the media of the TPLF Emerged & Countered the Dominant Media of the Ethiopian State: Could it be a Viable Alternative for Societal Transformation? by Aregawi Berhe, Institute of Social Studies, Hague, the Netherlands, 1992”
Here comes another text which I quote from Aregawi’s paper written in 1993 as his master’s thesis at the Institute of Social Studies:
“The defeat of the Italians at Adwa gave Menelik immense power over his potential rivals, particularly the Tigrean nobility under Mengesha Yohannes and Alula Aba Nega. Menelik had the opportunity to divide and weaken Tigrai. His army was let loose to devastate as much as the colonial army did. The people remember this period as "Zemene Shoa" which means the "era under Shoa"i. Source: Aregawi Berhe: “Origins and Development of the National Movement in Tigrai - A Socio-economic Analysis", 1993 – Institute of Social Studies, the Hague
Aregawi Berhe,who wrote the above lines in 1993 accusing emperor Menelik of dividing, weakening and devastating Tigrai by equating emperor Menelik;s alleged record of destruction with the Italian colonial army, tried to present himself later as an innocent person who does not share this hateful thoughts which I quoted from his work. Instead Aregawi blamed the present TPLF leaders such as Sebhat Nega for accusing Menelik of pillaging the villages of Tigrai in the following way. Here comes Aregawi again who in his book published in 2009, wrote the following lines blaming his former comrade-in-arms such as Sebhat Nega by way of washing out his hand.
“Cultural events, theatrical performances as well as jokes and derogatory remarks were used to disseminate this poisonous attitude. Fuelling some historical grudges perpetrated by the ruling classes, the Sibhat faction tried to cast doubt on the possibility of living in unity with “the Amhara”. While they stressed how emperor Menelik’s army pillaged the property of Tigraian people during its Adwa campaign, the damage the same forces had also incurred on the Amhara or Agew peasants was intentionally ignored. These lopsided historical presentations were noted and ciriticized by friendly organizations like the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (EPDM). Source: Aregawi Berhe, A Political History of the TPLF (1975-1991): Revolt, Ideology and Mobilisation in Ethiopia, 2009, Tsehai publishers.
From the two quotations which I presented to readers regarding Aregawi’s attempt at covering up his own written statement which is informed by ethnic hate, show how this self-styled “opposition leader” is dishonest about what he did and believes in. Here Aregawi is caught red-handed while trying to cheat the Ethiopian public thinking that his records are not known to other Ethiopians. Aregawi and the other TPLF sharks who currently masquerade as opposition figures should realize that there are Ethiopians like my self who watchfully follow their track and put their records out on the open so that Ethiopians may not be cheated by them once again. It is not a sin to hold any political opinion in the past or present however wicked the opinion may sound. But it is shameful to appear to be what one is not as Aregawi has been trying to do long after he claimed that he has distanced himself from the TPLF and joined the opposition rank. The Ethiopian proverb ድመት መንኩሳ አመሏን አትረሳ expresses best Aregawi’s dishonest behaviour that I have shown above with incontrovertible evidence.
The Demonization of the Amaras: a prelude to Ethnic Cleansing
Before one group (in-group or one’s own group) targets another group (an out-group or enemy group) for genocide, it subjects the other or out-group to a barrage of propaganda war aimed at dehumanizing the out-group whose identity it seeks to erase or destroy. This is what TPLF, its supporters and even its opponents (members of the Ethiopian opposition groups such as the OLF, ONLF, etc) have tried to do against the Amaras. TPLF and its associates have consistently tried to depict the Amaras as rapacious exploiters, invaders, blood-suckers, breast-amputators, national oppressors, parasites, etc. The catalogues of negatively charged epithets that have been hurled at the Amaras are too long to exhaust here and all these epithets have tried to place Amaras out of the realm of human community by equating Amaras to parasites. The Amaras have been invested with all kinds of enemy images that have tended to portray Amaras as less than human beings or monsters that should be dealt a crushing blow (for a discussion of the enemy images in which Aharas have been held, read the book by the Norwegian anthropologist Kjetil Tronvoll entitled “War and the Politics of Identity in Ethiopia: the Making of Enemies and Allies in the Horn of Africa” published in 2009). The Amaras have been excluded from the scope of morality thereby reducing them to sub-human creatures that are fit for abuse, humiliation and degrading treatment including forced displacement, deportation, ethnic cleansing and massacre. When people such as the Amaras in present day Ethiopia are excluded from the scope of morality and made to be perceived as psychologically distant people, their lives become expendable and any kind of mistreatment meted out to these Amaras that as a group have been reduced to a status of a sub-human creature, becomes justified.
This is Part I of my article which has been broken down into five parts (so understand that the other four parts will follow soon)