The Gonder Protest: What Made the Impossible Possible?
By Felege Asrat
In this first article, I will try to address the very essence of the popular Gonder mass uprising. In my next article, I will address its wider implications on Ethiopian politics, followed by how ANDM was sucked into the mass uprising so much that ANDM is now on the cross road.
The 31st July 2016 Gonder protest; the making of history
Gonder is one of Ethiopia’s many and various historical cities. Like many historical cities in Ethiopia, Gonder has been enriching Ethiopia’s history in many ways. Most notably, Gonder gave Ethiopia King Tewodros, king of Kings of Ethiopia, who is the embodiment of Ethiopian patriotism, unification, bravery, defiance and heroism.
The King was too proud and brave to surrender to the British army. Surrender is not a word that has a place in the King’s mind. When history came calling, the King didn’t hesitate to answer. He led by example. He committed suicide and made history rather than surrendering to the British army. By refusing to surrender, the King set the tone, the high standard, the bench mark and the precedent for the future generation.
History repeated itself in the historical city of Gonder. The day was Sunday 31st of July 2016. The day the fearless gallants of Ethiopia awoke from their deep sleep, headed to the city centre in mass and rekindled the resistance. The fearless public protest was a watershed. It was historical, unique and unprecedented in many ways. The protest undoubtedly will have a unique place in Ethiopian history. Another significant contribution of Gondar to the glorious Ethiopian history.
It heralded the dawn of a new era. A new era that heralded the beginning of the end of the most loathed regime in Ethiopia, TPLF. It was a show of unity, far sight, defiance, courage, determination and conviction by the public against all adversity. The lions of Ethiopia roared from Gonder. They called for the other asleep lions of Ethiopia all over Ethiopia to awake and roar with their Gonder and Oromo brothers and sisters.
The bold defiance sent fear to the very spine of TPLF. It was a strong message to all friends and enemies that the vanguards of Ethiopia may fall asleep for sometime but the spirit of Ethiopian nationalism will never die. Ethiopianism is in their blood vessel. As one of the slogans on the day reminded Ato Sebhat Nega (TPLF old guard who seems passing his expiry date), in spite of his wishful thinking, Ethiopia shall survive and will always have millions who are ready to die for her because Ethiopianism is deeply engrained into their DNA.
The immediate catalyst for the Gonder protest
The catalyst for the day’s protest was Colonel Demeke, who was branded rightly by some as ‘salsawi Tewodros’. The colonel is fast becoming the embodiment of Wolkait, Amhara and Ethiopian resistance against the TPLF. He speaks, acts and behaves like the people on the street. He articulated the people’s pressing issues clearly and precisely in a manner the local people understand. It was very easy to see why the people, most importantly the peasants, easily connected with him and took him as one of their dear sons fighting their fight by risking his life. He speaks their language. He lives their life. He feels their pain. He is simply one of them. That was exactly the reason why the people went out in mass to rescue the colonel from Agazi kidnappers.
Allow me to revisit some of the most significant issues he articulated over a course of period. These sayings won the hearts and minds of the local people and drove the people in mass to stand by him thick and thin; that there must be an end to TPLF supremacy, that he didn’t fight the derg regime to become a Tigre, that blackmailing the Amarha people using the barrel of the gun is like a naive daughter teaching her own mum about labour and that he can not surrender as born and bred in Gonder.
Typical of TPLF’s arrogance and short-sightedness, the Agazi killing-squad came to Gondar city all the way from Tigray. The Agazi crossed Tekeze river to kidnap and take the colonel to Tigray. The Agazi circled the house and asked the colonel to surrender. But the colonel had another idea. The TPLF failed to gauge accurately the level of his determination and readiness to die if needs be. TPLF failed to foresee where their adventure eventually will lead them.
Like King Tewodros, he told the Agazi in no uncertain terms, he is not for surrender. As born and bred in Gonder, it was unthinkable for him to surrender. He would rather die proud fighting instead . In self defence, the colonel then bravely fought and killed some of the Agazis who came to kidnap him. Word spread fast to the public and the public came to rescue the colonel.
The very essence of the Gonder protest
But what are the issues that led to this final confrontation between the colonel and the Agazi? What was at stake? What persuaded the colonel to die fighting rather than surrender? Why did the TPLF chose to take this adventurous road?
The very essence of the Gonder protest and the main rallying point is the welkait people’s quest for Amhara identity. Ever since Welkait Tegede was forcefully annexed to Tigray by the TPLF against the people’s wish, history and Amhara identity, the people of Welkait are under untold suffering to denounce their God-given Amhara identity and embrace TPLF- fabricated Tigre identity.
Those who resisted this TPLF- imposed Tigre identity, have been systematically killed, perished, disappeared, uprooted, displaced from their ancestral land, tortured, imprisoned, etc for the last 25 years. What is happening in Welkait is a crime against the Amhara people and identity.
It is ethnic cleansing pure and simple. I am positive those TPLF mafias who masterminded this ethnic cleansing against the Amhara people will face justice soon. Even if some of them manage to flee Ethiopia, justice will follow them to the International Human Rights Court.
What TPLF is doing to Welkait people is the tip of the iceberg of what it has been doing systematically and persistently to the Amhara people in Ethiopia. The annexation of the fertile lands from Wollo region ( Korem, Alamata and Raya) to Tigray should be looked at from this context. The rampant and unabated massacre of the defenceless Amhara people all over Ethiopia by TPLF instigated and orchestrated conflicts should not be seen in isolation.
The independently verifiable highest infant mortality rate and the systematic birth control measures in the Amhara region to reduce the size of its population is also a case in point. Notably the disappearance of millions of Amharas from the face of Ethiopia even by TPLF- sponsored population census is a fitting example.
Of course TPLF’s supremacy on all state machinery, unequal and unjust investment, opportunity and development have resulted in deep resentment all over Ethiopia. This resentment is now leading to unity and cooperation of all Ethiopians against the TPLF regime.
In short, it was a question of pure survival for the Amhara people. The scale and degree of repression to the Amhara people is no match compared to what is happening to the other ethnicities. Under TPLF Ethiopia, one can have a free licence to kill, torture, demean, displace, etc of the Amhara people with out fear of being punished by law. Instead one can get a promotion and economical reward from TPLF for committing such a heinous crime against the Amhara people. No other ethnicity is officially and systematically subjugated to become a Tigre. One can not grasp the full essence of TPLF with out its long- held and deep-rooted hatred for the Amhara people. It is in this context that we need to understand the Gonder mass uprising.
The prelude to the Gondar protest
The most significant event that led to the demonstration certainly was the public meeting in Gonder city that was held shortly before the Gonder peaceful demonstration. This public meeting was the prelude that set the tone for the forthcoming public demonstration and mass uprising.
So who called the public meeting? What were the agendas? Who facilitated the meeting? Who briefed the public ? What was the resolution of the meeting?
The public meeting took place roughly months before the public demonstration. It was a peaceful meeting. It took about 2 hours. The hall was fully packed. There were some people who came from other parts of Gonder. It was civil. The meeting had got a go ahead from ANDM. It was called by the elders of Gonder.
The facilitator opened the meeting. He stressed the meeting was called by the elders. The meeting was legal. The elders wanted the Welkait Amhara identity Committee leaders to explain the following three questions to enable the public to come to an informed decision. 1. Is the committee legal? 2. Is the Committee independent? 3. What did the committee do so far and what is it intending to do in the future?
Colonel Demeke and his colleague were given the podium. They addressed the questions thoroughly. To briefly summarise their answer: as to the legality of the committee, they explained ever since its inception, the committee is functioning legally per the constitution all along. There is no a single day it ever acted and behaved illegally. As to its independence, the committee elaborated its independent of any external force be it Kinijit, G7, EPLF, etc. In fact the colonel stressed that he himself was the former fighter of EPRDF who was promoted to the rank of colonel by the EPRDF regime until he retired 2 years before.
Finally who established the committee, why and what it did so far against all odds including murder, torture and disappearance was explained. In short the committee stressed it was established to claim back the Welkait Amhara identity legally per the constitution. It wants to get rid of legally the imposed Tigre identity on Welkait people by the TPLF. They further stressed to the people that the committee has come this far by itself against all odds and it is imperative the whole Gonder people and eventually all the Amhara people should join them to take the matter further.
Then there was question and answer from the public; followed by a resolution. The resolution was: to call a further public meeting by the elders, to facilitate similar public meetings in other parts of Gonder, to broaden the committee by adding the people of Gondar to the committee and to create awareness to make the question of Welkait Amhara identity, the question all the Amhara people!
All these untold sufferings and injustices were simmering and boiling inside the minds and hearts of the public for years and years waiting for the right time to explode.
The colonel brought all these grave grievances and the question of identity and survival to the open when he refused to surrender to the Agazi. He re-kindled the struggle for freedom. Thanks to the colonel, the cat is now out of the cage. The Amhara identity of the Welkait people is no more confined to the minds of the Welkait people. It is being articulated and spread like a wild fire to the minds of millions of Ethiopians where ever they live.
Soon not only Gonder but Gojam , Wollo and Shewa will join the struggle and fight for Wolkait’s Amhara identity. A case in point is the mass rally held in Baher Dar , Debre Markos, and intended forthcoming rallies to be held on various cities of Shewa, Wello, Gojam simultaneously.
Even the protests in the Diaspora will have slogans of Wolkait’s Amhara identity. The major multi ethnic cities of Ethiopia will follow suit. Of course the Amhara people with the help of their just Ethiopians would not stop there though. They have set one eye already on Raya, Alamata, Korem. The next immediate obvious stop and public rallying issues locally will be none other than these places.
It is a question of when rather than whether to establish the Alamata, Raya and Korem people’s Amhara identity committee.