‘Amhara Politicians’ and Amhara Nationalism: A bumpy road and an evolving agonizing process [By Girma Berhanu (Professor)]


‘Amhara Politicians’ and Amhara Nationalism:

A bumpy road and an evolving agonizing process



Contact information: 

Girma Berhanu 

Department of Education and Special Education (Professor)

University of Gothenburg

Box 300, SE 405 30

Göteborg, Sweden

E-mail: Girma.Berhanu@ped.gu.se

‘Amhara Politicians’ and Amhara Nationalism: a bumpy road and an evolving agonizing process.

A few weeks ago a physicist friend of mine asked me: “Why is Amhara politics failing?” “How come that Amhara politicians are unable to defend the Amharas?” “Is Amhara nationalism the way out of the quagmire…?” Very much apprehensive about the genocidal act well underway against the Amharas, my friend pleaded for help to sort out his ideas! I find this very intricate and difficult to answer in uncontentious and satisfactory details. Hence I call upon the reader to contribute to the discussion. 

The text below is a discussion note that may offer some concise new defences of a familiar view, advance a novel argument, or otherwise make some contribution that does not require more lengthy development.  Accordingly, my discussion notes are organized in the form of a bullet-point list.

▀ Generally the Amharas are deeply connected to other ethnic groups in Ethiopia. The animosity that we see against them is orchestrated by organized groups, in particular Tigrean and Oromo extremists. The lack of strong political organizations among the Amhara is partly because the Amharas are “invested” in national politics, ideologically based unifying forces and citizen-based politics.

 ▀ Current discourses and structural ramifications and institutional basis appear to be the major obstacle for pan-Ethiopian nationalism and the survival of the Amhara as people. These are the works of EPRDF/TPLF by design! Ethnic based politics are the culprit for this mess. TPLF is out, Oromo nationalists are in; as we speak a new age of ethnic hubris is setting in as the virus of tribalism threatens to disintegrate and induce a civil war that could shatter the nation. The threat posed by ethnic rancour looms large and forebodingly.

▀ The Amharas identify themselves mostly as Ethiopians and secondly with their place of origin or provinces or districts. Moges (2020) rightly wrote that ‘Historically, public consciousness has been based on sub-regions, (Gojjam, Gondar, Shewa, or Wollo), or even smaller zones or districts. Anything larger has been Ethiopian national identity’ which had nothing to do with ethnic identity. All lived together in the region and proud to be of that region rather than tribe. Up until the last quarter of the 20th century, “Amhara” was only used (in the form amariñña) to refer to Amharic, the language, or the medieval province located in Wollo, called the “Amhara Saint (modern Amhara Region). Still today, most people labelled by outsiders as “Amhara”, refer to themselves simply as “Ethiopian”, or to their province (e.g. Gojjamé from the province Gojjam). According to Ethiopian ethnographer Donald Levine, “Amharic-speaking Shewans consider themselves closer to non-Amharic-speaking Shewans than to Amharic-speakers from distant regions like Gondar.” Amharic-speakers tend to be a “supra-ethnic group” composed of “fused stock” This could be evidenced from the fact that most of the Menlik’s top ranking military officials that scored victory at Adwa were Shewan Oromos, which include well-known names, like Ras (Lord) Gobana datche, Dejazmach Balacha Aba nebso, Ftawrari Habtegiorgis Dinagde, etc.


▀ The Amhara as a distinct ethnic group was not solidified in the past and they are still not unified by the rather “shaky” politics of identity. The persecution and constant atrocity crimes committed on the Amharas have recently made them aware of the need for organizing to protect themselves. As Moges (2020) aptly captured:

“Amhara identity, in its current form, is a recent introduction and forced self-appropriation, caused by an existential threat and alienation. The younger generation has adopted its ‘Amharaness’; but most ordinary people are yet to fully embrace it, not least because of the lack of any effectively articulated ideological foundation or priorities and the absence of any ‘tailor-made’ solutions to the challenges facing them”

▀ The Amhara intellectuals appear to be “confused”. They are at a “crossroad” and in “crossfire.” They are deeply divided between Amhara identity and Ethiopian nationalism. ‘The sustained policy of oppression gradually sowed the seeds of victimhood, alienation, discrimination, and a resentment which finally inspired Amhara nationalism’.

▀ Ethiopianism and Amhara are inextricably intertwined, which is one reason for their endless persecution! Anti-Ethiopia elements have aversion to the Amharas’ zealousness about Ethiopia.

The current federal system is responsible for the Amhara’s suffering and persecution because Amharas in various regional states are now considered settlers in their own country. Shiferaw (2020), in a recent article titled Uglier faces of discrimination against the Amhara people in Ethiopia, wrote that discrimination has become a culture in Ethiopia. And the government seems to be busy with justifying and socializing (instead of correcting gaps) citizens to be comfortable with discrimination in different aspects. Workplace, employment, and the appointment is one area where the problem manifests itself vividly. For instance, a recent advertisement by revenues authority unveiled that almost all the potential candidates are taken from one college and ethnic group. Besides, appointments to civil and military positions especially critical ones are filled with people from one ethnic group. This past week the news is awash with that “one needs to know two languages to be employed in the capital city”. That simply means marginalizing/excluding only Amharic speaking groups.

▀ The targeted eviction and episodes of the genocide of ethnic Amharas in the regional states of Benishangul Gumuz and Oromia is extremely worrying. At the time of composing this discussion note, tens of thousands of residents in Gura Ferda, most of them Amharas, have been displaced and tens have been massacred in horrible and appalling manners. The pictures I saw: beastly cruel, dreadful and ghastly. “At a small town known as Gura Ferda, 31 people have been brutally murdered. Witnesses say most victims were Amharas. The elderly, pregnant women and minors have not been spared. The attackers, as usual, are described as “unknowns”, but from the brutality of the attack, it can be said that OLF or qeroo is behind… It is the well-known modus operandi of groups hostile to the Amharas. There no group in Ethiopia today capable of committing atrocities to civilians at such horrible scale except the qerroo! (Personal communication, verbatim, 2020.10.23). The Derg is often portrayed as a continuation of an old ‘pro-Amhara’ imperial system, but its documented history shows that Amharas were among the primary victims of its brutality (Zola Moges September 2020). In his prison memoir, titled The Tripping Stone, written in the Derg’s dungeons, the first President of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, Taffara Deguefe, noted what seemed to be a policy of discrimination against Amhara: “The only ‘minorities’ who are scorned are the hopeless Amhara for their past privileges. They have to pay for it now in lost jobs and positions for their hateful identification to a past now seen as distasteful to the military junta.”

▀ The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, which was one of the constituent parties of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, has always considered ethnic Amharas an enemy. It has used their perceived historical dominance as the basis for forming a coalition of minorities to oppose their push for a united Ethiopia.

▀ National and ethnic identity of the Amhara has been strongly intertwined with a form of the Christian faith since about 350 CE when Syrian (Nestorian) Christianity was introduced to the royal family by a young Syrian sailor.  This long and glorious history might have caused a sense of inferiority complex among extremist groups.

▀ Ruins of the ancient city of Axum can still be seen in Tigray Province.  Except for a few notable exceptions, the Amhara have been the dominant people group in Ethiopia history.  The strength of their culture is shown in this influence. That might be a cause for some groups to dislike the Amharas’ superior culture, literacy and warrior skills in history.The fact remains that most of the people that are speaking Amharic are actually people who were displaced from Axum in Tigray and settled as far as Shewa and Harar. Therefore, “Amharas” are simply identified by the language and religion rather than family tree. If family tree mattered, starting from Emperor Haileselassie (whose Father was Mekonnen Welde Michael Gudissa, and even Emperor Menelik only have a fraction DNA from their Shewa Amharas.

▀ According to a foreign observer, though their life is hard, the Amhara are proud people–proud of their ethnicity and Ethiopianess, simultaneously, their religion, and their special place in the world.  Their culture is strong, developed over many centuries, and it has withstood the incursions of outside governments and religions.  Despite their hard life, the Amhara is a friendly and hospitable people.  The Amhara are proud of their culture and religion, and ready to give their lives for the country’s unity and integrity. This has cost them a lot.

▀ Unfortunately there are no political leaders or strong organizations that protect the human rights of this ethnic group. As for those officials of ANDM that were part of EPRDF and the ADP united to the Prosperity party, they first were recruits of the TPLF and the later are just the same people, but now serving the ODP’s interest, rather than standing up for the Amharas. The Amhara civil, political, economic, cultural, and social rights are violated through various means. Though all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the legally binding International Covenants of Human Rights are considered essential, there are certain types of violations we tend to consider more serious. Civil rights, which include the right to life, safety, and equality before the law are considered by many to be “first-generation” rights. Political rights, which include the right to a fair trial and the right to vote, also fall under this category. The Amharas living in the regional states of Benishangul Gumuz and Oromia are denied all of these.

The above points may help my friend’s inquiries on the plight of the Amhara people. I hope others will contribute to the discussion note.

Filed in: Current Affairs / News