Oromo-Amhara solidarity the greatest threat to Ethiopian Gov’t

For decades, the ruling party has governed by pitting the Oromo and Amhara against one another. Now the two groups are joining forces against the government.

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Protests in Ethiopia have been ongoing since November 2015.

By Awol Kassim Allo

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen,” said Lenin, describing the Bolshevik revolution. For Ethiopia, the start of August 2016 saw such a week – one that will go down in Ethiopian history as a moment in which a grassroots movement achieved in days what organised elites have not been able to achieve in two decades.

“The blood flowing in Oromia is our blood too”

In that week, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in unprecedented numbers to protest against decades of abuse, discrimination, and marginalisation. This was the culmination of a wave of protests that began nearly ten months ago and has since continued in Amhara and Oromia, two of the country’s most populous regions.

The government responded by dismissing the protesters as agents of foreign forces directed from Eritrea and Egypt, and it deployed armed forced into civilian centres, leading to the deaths of over 600 people, according to estimates, and the arrests of many more.

Despite this disproportionate and excessive force, however, protests and strikes have endured, with a movement of movements mobilising a new generation, tapping into a groundswell of shared discontent. At the heart of this activism is a burgeoning solidarity between the Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups, who make up around two-thirds of the country’s population combined and have begun to come together despite longstanding historical differences.

This convergence has alarmed the government, but how far can collective action based on shared grievances rather than a coherent set of shared ideals and visions go?

Divide and rule

Ethiopia is an assemblage of diverse ethnic and cultural groups. But historically, up to around the 1970s, ‘Greater Ethiopia’ pursued a policy of ethnic homogenisation in which Amhara identity became the identity par excellence, pushing others to the periphery.

In particular, the Oromos, the country’s largest ethno-national group, were not treated as equal partners and did not have influence commensurate with their demographic, geographic, and economic contribution. These asymmetries helped fuel the historic antagonism between the two groups.

Since coming to power in 1991, the current government – led by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – has instrumentalised this rivalry as a political weapon. It has created a governing narrative in which Amharas and Oromos are eternal adversaries, representing an existential threat to the future of the Ethiopian state and stability of the region.

Oromos are framed as secessionists who represent a clear and present danger to the unity and sovereignty of Ethiopia, while the Amharas are presented as chauvinist and violent, working towards the resurrection and re-imposition of the old Medieval-type empire.

Within this narrative frame, the ruling party, dominated by ethnic Tigrayan elites, becomes a beacon of stability and unity in diversity.

 “The blood flowing in Oromia is our blood too”

For 25 years, the ruling party has relied on these myths to sow the seeds of division. But this is now beginning to unravel.

The violent response of the ruling party to both the Amhara and Oromo protests has brought into sharp focus the shared vulnerability of the oppressed in Ethiopia. The mutual experience of loss and suffering has generated intense collective emotions, exposing the porous nature of the faultlines that both divide and unite the two communities.

As the violence of the state has intensified, former arch-foes have set aside their mutual rivalry to congregate and endure with one another. An extraordinary groundswell of solidarity is emerging at all levels, exposing the shaky foundation of the regime.

“We are all Oromos”, “I am not Oromo but I stand with my Oromo brothers”, “Amhara is ours, Oromo is ours”, “The blood flowing in Oromia is our blood too” are just some of the many expressions of solidarity declared at rallies.

These are not just words, but actions that exist as words, actions that threaten to unsettle the myths that hold together the ideological edifice of the system. They are words that go beyond the repressive and divisive discourses of the state to create conditions for a collective politics and new forms of alliances. They are gestures that seek to imagine a different kind of world.

At the same time, Oromo and Amhara protestors have also begun to hold solidarity rallies together, flying their respective flags – both symbols of resistance – alongside one another. No collective action is more destabilising to the narrative of the state than the joint appearance of these two symbols, which entered the country’s political imagination as antithetical and irreconcilable.

A regime that seemed invincible has begun to tremble at this sight, with officials expressing their disgust and fury at these two symbols of resistance being presented together. For instance, Government Communications Minister Getachew Reda expressed his outrage at the alliance between Oromos and Amharas and his government’s determination to destroy it, describing it as “unholy” and a “gamble”.

Dilemmas of unity

While politically significant, however, the solidarity we are currently seeing is not based on a shared vision so much as shared grievances. Oromo and Amhara elites have been at an impasse in discussions for the last two decades and have not been able to build up mutual trust to confront contentious issues of historical and political significance.

While mainstream Amhara politicians insist on national unity as a condition for collaboration, Oromo nationalists reject these demands on the basis that there is not yet a shared set of democratic values, principles and ideals that could ‘unite’ the two groups. They insist that any values that are shared between the groups did not emerge out of a relationship of equality and therefore should not be the starting point for a new vision.

This lack of consensus may seem like a weakness, but it is crucial to note that these long-standing historical disagreements do not need to be definitively resolved in order for the two groups to come together to chart the best route for the future. In fact, the arduous task of coming to terms with a contested past requires a robust and inclusive debate that can only happen within a democratic state capable of reconciling social conflicts according to shared rules.

However, to create this democratic platform, the Ethiopian people must first be released from the weight of oppression imposed by Tigrean elites. And neither Oromos nor Amharas need surrender their identities to pursue this goal. In fact, in multi-ethnic countries like Ethiopia where identities are co-opted by the powers that be, those same identities become the very crucibles that provide the energy and passion for the struggle.

Solidarity is not about oneness, but building cross-cultural understanding, tolerance, respect and acceptance of differences. Accordingly then, Oromos and Amharas are increasingly accepting solidarity, not unity, as the principle underpinning their collective actions.

Contrary to some fears, there is great strength in these weak ties, and this emerging solidarity – incipient and precarious as it is – represents the greatest threat to the regime’s long-standing policy of divide and rule.

Dr Awol Kassim Allo is Lecturer in Law at Keele University in U.K.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Nazret.com – are you a news aggregate website or a collection of articles-opinions?

    Looking at your homepage- Where the latest news is displayed- I can’t help but notice, there’s more opinion articles than real news 🙂 I guess I am better off with Google doing the delivery of news aggregate about Ethiopia into my inbox. 🙂

  2. We do have a fair mix of both news and opinions. They are clearly labeled as such as well. Please check the other categories as well.
    Thank You

    • Thanks admin! Overall you do a good job of covering news, information and opinion articles. I do like the new & improved
      look of nazret.com- it was about time 🙂

  3. At this particular moment, the woyane nazis are carrying out a targetted genocide on the amhara population. the safety and well being of every amhara is under threat. the nazis are breaking into peoples houses at night as they sleep and dragging out our youngsters from every house especially in Gojjam and Gonder and taking them away to unknown locations to kill them. This is what Hailemariam Desalegn meant when he launched his campaign of genocide on the amhara a few weeks ago. there is no normal life for the farmers and other ordinary people or any amhara in these regions.

    To all amharas where ever you are, in Wollo, Gonder,Shoa, Gojjam and all over Ethiopia. The woyane nazis are plotting to wipe out your race as they have been doing for the last 25 years to 40 years. they are taking your land, they give your land they cannot occupy to sudan. Wolkayit-Tegede, Humera, Telemt and many parts of North Wollo have been taken. using the government power the woyane nazi has got , it has invaded our land , evicted and massacred our people. Many hundreds of thousands are in prison and concentration camps being tortured to death.

    the survival of everyone of you is in danger. woyane is even plotting its usual inter-ethnic violence to incite other ethnic gruopings against amhara.

    Amhara everywhere has to rise up and save itself. our brothers and sisters in Gonder, Gojjam are in a life or death struggle against the nazis. we have to rise up and join them. similar armed militias should spring up in all regions where amharas live. the woyane nazi has come to wipe us out and we should defend ourselves and drive the woyane nazi and looters out.

    To all Ethiopian everywhere in oromo regions, southern regions, east or west. We all of us have to continue the fight to remove the woyane nazi scurge from our land. As many numbers of people as amharas are dying, tortured and being evcicted by the nazis in all parts of Ethiopia. this is a struggle for all of us. In the oromo region the struggle against the nazis has been ongoing for over a year. it must continue. In regions like Konso, the woyane nazi is massacring the population mercilessly.

    there is no safe region in Ethiopia which the nazis have not spared. some places may seem relatively calm compared to others ;but we should not be complacent into thinking that the woyane nazis and looters will leave us alone. these nazis are demonic creatures and the demon is a killer. Until everyone in Ethiopia is free and feels safe to live in his country without being afraid we can not say we are safe. we are prisoners together and must free ourselves through a united struggle.

    this anti nazi struggle is not just for the oromo or amhara or gambell or the konso alone. we have to weaken and eliminate the nazi tigre ethnic militia, the agazi, which is rampaging through our country in every region we find them.
    unity is strenght. togethr we will destroy the woyane nazis. the unity of our Ethiopian people is a game changer

  4. Fair article, ke mola godel. Your point about shared grievances vs shared values is at the core of the solidarity. The one thing I want to say about Woyane labels, it’s laughable to call Oromo secessionist, the stem does not seceed, rather the branch. Also calling Amara chauvinist is laughable too, they married and mix with all ethnic groups more than anyone else. But one thing is clear. In 25 years of power, only two things shook Woyane to its core. First, the 2005 elections, esp the massive two and half million march in Addis on May 08, 2005. Second, this Oromo/Amara solidarity that broke the back of Woyanae’s divide and loot policy. They are begging the other ethnic groups Afar, Somali etc to stand with them because they realize the rug has been pulled out from under their feet. The so called head of Somali zone flew over millions of Ethiopians being murdered daily, tortured, and imprisoned to Mekele, to hand over a ten million birr check to help settle Tigres displaced from Gondar. It’s a good deed to help but it would have been even better if we saw a couple of tears flow from his eyes for the hundreds murdered in cold blood. But as it usual is in Ethiopia, it’s all politics. The solidarity is good, but I believe the hatred should squarely focus on Woyanae, not the average Tigre.

  5. wolkayit-tegede-

    How does it feel to exist in an alternate universe? Have you completely lost your freaking mind? Do you consider yourself as a logical person? Do you actually believe the stuff you write? Do you realize you sound deranged with paranoid delusions? Have you been locked in a room, brainwashed, indoctrinated, without any contact to the real world? Or are you writing a movie script and testing out your story lines, plots etc? I have to tell you, it is riveting 🙂 all I need is a dramatic soundtrack and have it narrated by Morgan Freeman 🙂

    You want to know how silly,dimwitted, ridiculous you sound? In you comments
    Simply replace the word Amhara with Somali or Tigre or gurage or sidamo or afar. Leave the rest your outlandish story the same.Read it out loud and hear how stupid, ignorant, brainwashed you sound.

    You’re the one with nazi fantasies.

    • #David,
      The fact you are happy with woyane does not mean others are. There are millions of Ethiopians who lost their family members, their friends, their country men and women due to woyane’s genocidal act. These people , like the one from wolkayit-tegede , will never sit idle/ remain passive until they unseat the fascist minority regime. I think you seem living in your own fancy land ,not the person from wolkayit-tegede who day in day out faces threats of ethnic cleansing from the tigre minority. And his call is appropriate and timely that all Amharas have to stand against this monstrous act and fight back. If this hurts your feeling, live with it or go Aiga or what ever TPLF forum.

  6. david,
    the woyane dog. don’t you have a shame to come out and defend woyane thugs at this time. this time you have lost it.

  7. A brilliant piece of work!

    If words and statements matter “The blood flowing in Oromia is our blood too” is the most powerful and significant statement I heard in Oromo-Amhara relationship for along time, although I was not surprised by statement at all. No relevant Oromo or Amhara group can afford to ignore the significance of this statement.

    Only a year ago me and almost everyone in my circle was convinced that separation is next door with all its consequences, if other nations do not join in the ongoing Oromo protests. Now the future looks much, much brighter for Ethiopians, despite the current carnage of civilians by TPLF state terrorists.
    Ethiopians should work together on the basis of this historic statement of the brave people of Gonder. At the same time time, we must remind our serves that Ethiopia is more than the sum of Amharas and Oromos. Other nations in the country should join the solidarity call and speed up the pace of freedom.
    Wayane never sleeps to plant wedges between the two nations.

    I am particularly pleased that both Ethiopian and OLF flags were displayed in recent peace rallies in Europe. This gives a deadly blow to wayane nazis. We respect both flags since we lost countless freedom fighters carrying both of them. The support given to our athletes in Rio initiated by ESAT and OMN staff is very encouraging sign that we are listening to our people. In other words every activity we do together makes us only stronger and builds confidence in the freedom fighters at home while further weakening the enemy. I recently observed wayane’s desperation when they hired Somalis to burn our flags because they themselves have no gut to do that. This by itself demonstrates how both ethnic groups are viewed and targeted by the frustrated enemy.

    This said, all armed and political groups opposed to regime must sit down together and work out detailed strategy of the struggle and map their vision for the future of country based on mutual respect and understanding. We should never slide back to square one again only to award the enemy one more year to bleed our brothers and sisters. Peace rallies and other activities must be coordinated at home and abroad. It is completely immoral and unacceptable for people in Finfinne to watch or sleep while people in Gonder or even in Kilinto are being burned in prison. That shows organizational weakness rather than unwillingness of the people to go out and protest on streets to demand their rights.

    At the same time there are individuals among us who knowingly or unknowingly are not able to move with the pace of developments in Ethiopia. We should not be guided by extreme views of any individual or group, but permanently focus our attention on the barbaric enemy without distractions.

  8. David /
    There is no tigrean named “David ” agame!
    Don’t be ashamed with your tigrean name …Hagos /Teklu…
    Woyane puppet dumb ass

    Go to hell !!!

  9. Very good article! The two major Ethnic groups can not afford to stand on the sideline and pointing at each other ,based on many unfounded lies fed by tplf, while the famished hyena tigre woyane is tearing and eating up their country in front of their very eyes. Ethiopia, in my belief historically, is more of the product of people and their interrelations than are individuals who claimed to be emperors. The Amhara and the Oromo people lived seamlessly and shaped Ethiopian history regardless of them being victims of exploitation of despotic kings
    who used to came to power on their own as rebels/shifta/ and later anointed themselves as kings. The saddest thing we witnessed now is, it is not individuals like in the past that aspired to be kings, but an ethnic group is crowned as king over the entire Ethiopia.Thus, Amhara and Oromo including all other Ethiopians have to dethrone this ethnic dynasty and reshape the course of their history where all can live and move to all parts of their motherland freely without any discrimination. That can surely happen when the two big engine of the country operate in sync. And this also a reality.

  10. Hammered by a constant stream of patriotic songs and ethnically charged political propaganda none of the TPLF sadistic killers see life as a normal person sees it. For them, life is to take another person’s life to make a living. It is a full time job! Country, boundary, nationalism can only be interpreted and seen from a regional point. Ethiopianisim is colonialism in their eyes. To sustain their dominance in all sectors of Ethiopian society, they must divide us along ethnic lines while reinforcing their home base the state of Tigray. TPLF is led by people who gain pleasure by inflicting pain and humiliation on others for the continuity of their leisure survival. Ruthlessly, they dehumanize the living and the dead.

    Whatever meager gains were achieved in the last twenty five years of their control of the country, they do not care preserving or enhancing it. They think temporary, now not the future. If they are not in control they tell us nothing will work. The country will fall apart. Oh well, I hate to tell you the country has been falling apart the day you took power. No other power including the Italians two attempt of colonizing Ethiopia did so much harm to its people and identity than the Tigray led power mongers of the TPLF. People born and raised within Ethiopia are dismembering the country and its people. What was not achieved by foreign powers is fulfilled by the sadistic acts of the TPLF. That is the irony of the situation we all Ethiopians are facing.

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