The Gonder Protest: What Made the Impossible Possible?

August 18, 2016

The Gonder Protest

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.

Colonel Demeke
Colonel Demeke Zewdu. He is not for surrender, born and bred in Gonder

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.

Next step:

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.


4 comments on “The Gonder Protest: What Made the Impossible Possible?

  1. አንድ ድህረ ገጽ ከሰሞኑ የፖለቲካ ትኩሳት ጋር በተያያዘ ሲጽፍ “በሰሜኑ ክንፍ ጠርምሶ ይገባል ተብሎ በእጅጉ የተፈራዉን አርበኞች ግንቦት 7” ብሎ የጠቀሰው ነገር አለ። እኔ ግንቦት 7 የኢንተኔት ላይ ታጋይ እነደሆነ ነው የማውቀው። በእርግጥ ከነ እንከናቸውም ቢሆን ኢሳቶች የሚጫወቱትን አንዳንድ መልካም ተግባር ማሳነስ አልፈልግም።
    ዞሮ ዞሮ ግን እነደዚህ አይነት አንቀጽ ኢሳት ላይም ጨምሮ በየዜናው ላይ ሻጥ የሚዪያደርጉት፤ ህዝቡ በራሱ ተነሳስቶ የጀመረውን ትግል ባለቤቱ እኛ ነን ለማለትና የህዝቡንም ስነልቡና እነሱ በሚፈልጉት መልኩ ከአሁኑ ለማዘጋጀት ነው። በርግጥ ገንዘብ ደጓሚው ሻብያም ያሰበው ነገር ሊኖር ይችላል። ይቺ “ጠርምሶ” የምትለው ቃልም የምታገለግለው ምንም ሰራዊት ለሌው ግንቦት 7 ሳይሆን ምናልባት ዶ/ር ብርሃኑ አስከትለው ሊያስገቡት ላሰቡት የሻብያ ሰራዊት ሊሆን ይችላል። ስለዚህ የኢትዮጵያ ህዝብ ለዲሞክራሲ የሚያደርገው የተቀደሰ ትግል በብልጣ ብልጦች እንዳይነጠቅ ጥንቃቄ ማድረግ ይጠበቅበታል። ያ ብቻ ሳይሆን ምናልባትም ስለ ዲሞክራሲ 24/7 የሚሰብኩ አገራትም ቢሆኑ ለኛ የሚመኙልን ለፓርላማ የሚታዘዝ ሳይሆን እንደፈለጉ እጁን ሊጠምዝዙት የሚችሉት ሌላ አምባገነን መንግስት ሊሆን ይችላል።
    በተረፈ ግን አሁን ስልጣን ላይ ያለው መንግስት ነገሮችን ለማስትካክል ገና እድሉ የተሟጠጠበት አይመስለኝም። እነዚህም መስተካከል ያለባቸው ነገሮች ስር ነቀል መሆን አለባቸው።
    የኔ አንድ የመፍትሄ ሃሳብ ሊሆን የሚችለው በሁለት አመት ጊዜ ውስጥ በሀገሪቱ ጠቅላላ ምርጫ ማካሄድ። እስከዛው ድረስ አገር ቤት ውስጥ ካሉት ህበር ብሄርና የጎሳ ፓርቲዎች ጋር ጥምር በመፍጠር አገሪቱን ማስተዳደር፤ አሁን ያለውን የምርጫ ቦርድ አፍርሶ ሁሉንም ፓርቲዎች እኩል ሊያስተናግድ የሚችል የምርጫ ቦርድ በማቋቋም ህዝቡን ለምርጫ ማዘጋጀት፤ የመሳሰሉትን ነገር ማድረግ ያስፈልጋል። መታወቅ ያለበት ነገር – የህዝብ አመጽ ልክ እንደ ማእበል ነው ስለዚህ ለሀገሪቱና በአጠቃላይ ለህዝቡም ደህንነት ሲባል ሀገር ቤት ካሉ የተቃዋሚ ፓርቲዎች፣ የህዝብ ተወካዮችና ምሁራንም ጋር ተወያይቶ የሚበጀውን ነገር በአስቸኳይ ማድረግ ያስፈልጋል።

    1. I’m really impressed by Mr/Ms Felege Asrat’s critical observations and eloquent narration focused on the current public uprising at Gonder. It’s well done. I’m desperately looking forward to reading his/her second article that may follow soon.
      Analysts and critics’ contributions to such literature are more than welcome for further clarity and development of ideas related to the main issues that matter. And yet, it’s worth noting that one has to be judged by one’s merits, in light of one’s own context. No one should be misquoted or twisted and also not be flattered for that matter. I’m obliged to say so for some of the opinions of Mr Melkamu above have been presented in a fashion twisting if not partly misquoting that of Mr/Ms Felege Asrat. To my understanding, Felege has appreciatively made it clear that the historical pattern for the cause of the uprising is emanated from the prolonged persecutions and suppression imposed on inhabitants particularly the Wolqaites at Gonder by the TPLF. As of its very inception, why and how to proceed has primarily been overseen for long, organized and conducted by the subjected people themselves. No loophole for outsiders to claim leadership or fame of the process. If any mentioned by name, the writer has admired and respectfully acknowledged the extraordinary courage and capability of Col. Demeke Zewdu. It’s so much open to all that Demeke’s heroic and exemplary role played in igniting the uprising at Gonder is undeniable.
      Despite this fact, Mr Melkamu abruptly takes liberty to break us a looming danger that he has read on unnamed website (emphasis mine) where someone presumably gives clue to the likely intrigue of G7 and his leader together with EPLF. He has also self-witnessed the nominal capacity of the former and the ill-will motives of the latter. He is also suspicious of foreign donors’ unfavorable game to have been maneuvered behind the door. Though holding his nose over its shortcomings, he lets us know the soft heart he has for the contribution of ESAT. Based on these observations of his, Mr Melkamu advises us to be vigilant and suspicious of these groups and of some more characters not to hijack the struggle for the promotion of their political goals that may drag us to end up to the usual vicious circle.
      In light of its real sense of the term reproach, Mr Melkamu’s assertions of vigilance and suspicion are not issues to be ruled out in the promotion of the art of the possible (political) activities. But his assertions, venue and timing are not and cannot be in harmony with the central themes and approach of Mr Asrat’s article. More importantly, I decline to agree with him fearing his approach may diminish the momentum of the uprising and negatively affect the aspirations of protesters and supporters to go ahead with confidence. Thus, I wish Mr Melkamu would have sent his comment to the unnamed website he claims that he had read it before. Not in connection to this article as appeared in Ethiofact. He would have noticed that some of his readers including myself might not have access to the unnamed website he is talking about, in the first place. He hasn’t let us know where to get it either. As he may agree, such a free ride is not acceptable.
      Alternatively, it is still most appreciated if he would be able to write an independent original article of his own on these issues in details, not in a cut off extract form as seen here. If he produces an original article with full details, it will be appropriate to be served anywhere including in Ethiofact. Had he made his approach in this manner, his information and alarms would have given remarkable sense to his readers so long as he has managed to substantiate them with relevant references. Tactlessly, Mr Melkamu has briskly done them here in connection with Felege’s article and in my view it turns out of contextual flows of the original work. Hence, I’m afraid he will be misunderstood if not branded by some of his readers as a cynical or inflammatory character who deliberately intends to sarcastically divert the public grand point of attention.
      Having said that, I would like to give positive credit and briefly argue on two important provocative points that Mr Melkamu tries to make in his piece of reproach note. Firstly, he wants his readers to be aware that it’s not too late for Ethiopian government to sort-out the currently surfacing problems. He authoritatively instructs the solution to be for good, radical change. Unfortunately, I’ve reservation here, too. Of course, I appreciate Mr Melkamu’s endurance and optimistic quality which is to be encouraged where agreeable. However, on the one hand, given the practically attested behavior of TPLF, such a panorama at this stage equates to, as an Amharic say goes, expecting a dove from snake egg. It is literately to be voluntarily fooled over and over again as TPLF never refrains from violating the law of the land including its own much said constitution when it comes to an episode that compromises its absolute political and economic power grabbed and being sustained by the barrel of gun. It has been proving it so several times for the last 25 years. Thus, what is special now? How long could the suppressed great majority of Ethiopian people embarrassingly afford to offer excessive tolerance and soothing which is tantamount to issuing a blank check to the oppressive minority ethnic party in power? I think we need to be very cautious that the current momentum should not be overshadowed by such repeatedly failed attempts. We need to have the courage and preparedness to say the famous cliché, Enough is Enough.
      Secondly, I’m also reluctant still, in terms of time and readiness of the situation, to share Mr Melkamu’s final remark of going for national election to take place within two years period of time. Till then, he has proposed that the indigenous multinational and national political organization should form a coalition to be in charge of governing the land. He further suggested that the current national electoral board has to be dismantled and replace by an authentic one that can serve all parties on equal base and the task of preparing people for national election should follow. Finally. Mr Melkamu strictly warns that public disobedience is like a heavy tide that can cause unbearable predicament. Thus, in his view, it is a question of emergency to hold discussion with local opposition parties, people’s representatives and intellectuals with an aim to devise a mechanism for solution in the shortest time possible..
      From the outset, it’s a golden idea as an immediate solution particularly the proposal to form coalition interim body and the act of preparedness for national election. But please note that still I do have a considerable hesitation regarding his intention to exclude Ethiopian political parties and interested individuals residing abroad. Why? He would have told us his reason for that. Still he has, hope he will, for the fact that we need to reach an acceptable decision to all concerned. The other point is that even the practicality of the good wish part of Mr Melkamu is subject to uncertainty. It may be too early to pronounce it at this stage because of the fact that, as usual, TPLF will inevitably orchestrate various obstructions for a while, that is, until it exhausts all its means of staying in power and amenably realizes no better option is left for the security of TPLF/EPRDF big bosses and of their subservient surrogates other than to be in good terms with Ethiopian people. Mind you, at this time, their worrying is not for the already obsolete status quo. Neither is for the future of their fellow citizens but merely for the safety of the inner circles that may, for some various reasons, not be able to flee the land at the 11th hour. It’s only by then that TPLF will be desperate for peaceful means of solving conflicts and be willing to accept and act in line to its ethnic minority limitation in Ethiopian politics.
      In a nut shell, I, therefore, suggest that as Mandela said we need not forget but excuse the past (not quoted word for word) and we have to accommodate each others’ political outlook for the sake of common goal and our good future. Together, we have to intensify the ongoing protest of social disobedience in different forms minimizing the risk as much as possible. It has to be more coordinated and constantly take place all over the place throughout the country for some more months even years to come. Without matching resistance, knowledge and wisdom, our struggle once again will be aborted and remained being nominal. More annoyingly, people will lose interest and the situation will get us back to square one. As history accounts time and gain, a struggle for political and economic rights of a nation without balanced strength and coordinated commitments of all concerned parties remains in vain.
      Therefore, we should be careful particularly not to hurt the feelings of others so long as they do not stand in our way. More specifically, the choice of which method of struggle to apply should be left for the real doers of the actual job on the ground but the purpose (at least the primary local and mutual national goals) of the struggle have to be closely watched, scrutinized, filtered, and shaped carefully now and then by all concerned. The people have to be updated with the progress, whatever the outcome it may be, success or failure. I believe that in the process, if exerted effectively, courage overcomes cowardliness, determination outsmarts opportunism, empty propaganda dries out, political conspiracy fades away, using excessive force against the innocent fellow citizens will be proven as it takes nowhere, loyalty of the beneficiaries of the regime will be deteriorated and replaced by defection to the mass interest, etc., and virtually the regime fails to govern. Ultimately, the importance of genuine and equitable negotiation that paves a way for a win-win outcome can vividly be seen to all concerned parties. Bear in mind that whenever social disobedience hits its climax and the old regime fails to sustain any more (unable to reinforce law and order), it is universally true and practically attested that peace and political stability is by far sweeter and badly needed by the oppressors, by those at the top than the poor and subjected. No doubt, we all agree that the road to this achievement is not rosy but we have to face all odds being optimistic and efficient for the better life of tomorrow.

      God bless Ethiopia!

  2. We don’t ur twisted analysis, infact you people who lives abroad sitting on ur comfortable couch and watch our pain and say ‘guud bel ager tefa’ makes us puke cause u all are unnecessary to our cause nd lives..you are too busy cleanings toilets and chasing,money out there..no sympathy from you actually no nothing from you.

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