The Gonder Protest and its implications on the Amhara and Oromo solidarity
By Felege Asrat
While I tried to look at the very essence of the Gonder protest in the first part of my article, I attempted to shade some light on its wider implications on the peaceful struggle in the second part. As the implications of the Gonder protest is vast and far reaching, in this third part, I will focus on its implication on the current Amhara and Oromo alliance.
Credit to the Gonder protesters, most of the slogans displayed on the day touched the hearts and minds of the Ethiopian people. The slogans reflected the people’s quest for justice, equality, democracy and equitable power and resource sharing. It was very easy for most Ethiopians including the Diaspora to rally behind the slogans.
They were simply the Ethiopian people aspirations beautifully articulated on the day by the protesters. The slogans galvanised and rekindled the struggle against TPLF’s subjugation and dominance. It gave sense, purpose, direction and urgency to the struggle. It brought the divided and fragmented struggle together for justice, peace and stability. It brought the people together and enabled them to voice their concerns in unison. It simply resuscitated the stalled struggle.
There is no doubt that the protesters have well thought about the matter. It certainly was not done in haste. All the evidence point to the contrary. It is enough to reflect on the peaceful and orderly manner the demonstration took place and the relevant issues raised on the day to appreciate the careful planning.
The slogans raised almost all the crucial and salient issues of current Ethiopia. Of course, the immediate concern of the protesters was the Wolkait people’s Amhara identity and the ethnic cleansing of the Amharas by the TPLF. Few of the banners on the local issue read: ‘Wolkait is Amhara’, ‘ Being Amhara is not a crime’, ‘ Proud to be an Ethiopian Amhara’ & ‘ We will never ever forget Wolkait’.
In a country where just being Amhara is enough to be equated with the crime by the TPLF for the last 25 years, it is very interesting to note the slogans ‘ Proud to be an Ethiopian Amhara’ & ‘ Being an Amhara is not a crime’. The Wolkait Amhara identity slogan will certainly shatter and halt TPLF’s expansionist policy. Wolkait probably will be the antithesis of TPLF expansion and the one single issue that will eventually send TPLF to its grave.
It is a coded message to the TPLF. A message telling TPLF enough is enough. A message that heralded the people are now more than ready than at any other time to die for their liberty, pride and dignity if needs be. It is a message showing a resolve to end dehumanisation of the Amharas by the TPLF.
Although local issues were raised, the protesters never lost sight of the bigger picture. Ethiopia’s territorial integrity and survival of Ethiopia were in their mind too.
They raised the plight of the Oromos, the Gambellas, etc. under the TPLF regime. They demanded the end of TPLF dominance on all walks of life. They send an uncompromising message to Ato Sebhat Nega and co that Ethiopia shall and will survive TPLF’s slaughter. They submitted it is the TPLF, but not the Gonder people, who are the messenger of EPLF from its inception. They branded TPLF as EPLF’s agent. They even dared to question what Tigray People Liberation Front is doing in Ethiopia!
The slogan that paved the way for the present ever closer Amhara/Oromo solidarity
Of all these timely and symbolic slogans, I will focus on a single slogan and its far-reaching implications. The slogan that was coined at the grass root level. The slogan that paves the way for the Amhara/Oromo current alliance. The slogan that reminded all the Amharas and Oromos to get back to their common sense. A slogan that reminded the two cousins to focus on their common plight, common destiny, shared values, shared history and most importantly their common future.
A very simple, modest yet genuine gesture and solidarity from the 31st July Gonder protesters regarding the plight of their Oromo brothers and sisters under TPLF. This good gesture and solidarity were captured in a single slogan. This slogan is changing Ethiopian political landscape for good. I am positive the slogan will go down as a golden addition to the glorious Ethiopian history by the Gonder people.
To be honest, the alliance was long overdue. The people were crying for so long for this date. The elite from both sides failed to coin such a phrase and to bring about such an impact for two and half decades. But, the Gonder commoners at the grass root level, finally broke the duck and succeeded what the elite failed to do in the last 25 years. As the saying goes, better late than never.
I take my hat off for those thoughtful Gonder protesters who wrote and displayed the slogan. True to the spirit of Ethiopiawinet, the slogan reads: ‘ The blood spilling in Oromia ls our blood too.’ The slogan that hit TPLF’s divisive apartheid policy right at its nerve centre. While the slogan caught TPLF unprepared and shook TPLF in its boots, it reverberates all over Ethiopia. It received a warm reception from the people and showed the elites how things should be done. Put simply the slogan showed the way forward.
The Amhara/ Oromo shared values and history:
The Amharas and the Oromos, the two largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia, constitute about 60.4 % of the Ethiopian population according to the 2016 CIA fact book. They are pillars of Ethiopia who equally contributed in the making of modern Ethiopia. They share common values, culture, religion, history & destiny. They have lived as neighbours, married and mixed with each other, died side by side and buried in the same grave defending Ethiopia together, pitted against each other, etc. In short, their fate, destiny, hope and despair is intricately intertwined.
Coming back to the slogan, there must be a good explanation for this modest slogan to enable the two cousins at all level to close ranks quickly and join hand in hand to get rid of TPLF’s oppressive regime. What could be the explanation? Of course, there will be many competent explanations.
We can go back and revisit our history to shade some light. First, even during some of the testing and dark times under TPLF, the antagonism was largely confined at the elite level. Things were/are markedly different when it comes to the public at the grass root level.
In spite of TPLF’s great effort to facilitate the ethnic cleansing of Amharas at different times in the Oromia region, the general public refused to be a party to TPLF’s sinister plan. It was TPLF’s cadres who directed, instructed, committed and controlled the heinous crime.
According to victims who survived the ethnic cleansing and their family who had a chance to be interviewed by the private press, many Oromos were killed while defending the helpless Amaras. This time-tested solidarity at the grass root level certainly played its significant role to dampen the large scale ethnic cleansing planned by the TPLF. Judging by this background, the healthy relationships of the two cousins at the grass root level is the cornerstone that paved the way for the smooth, positive response for the slogan.
Second, like TPLF, Fascist Italy had tried for five years to pit the two cousins against each other after dividing Ethiopia along ethnic enclaves. The TPLF current plan is not only a copycat from fascist Italy, but it also goes deeper. While the fascist Italy’s ultimate goal was to divide and rule, TPLF’s is deeper than that. It also consists of ethnic cleansing of the Amhara primarily because TPLF’s leaders cut their political teeth with deep hatred of the Amhara people. As Fascist Italy did not succeed, TPLF is certainly bound to fail as well thanks to the thousands of years of intermarriage and complex social relationships at the grass root level. That is why the slogan persuaded the two cousins to close their ranks quickly.
Third, a few years back, I read Dr Merera Gudina’s series of articles on the then Tobia magazine about the then OLF leaders. Dr Merera, by listing all of the then OLF top brasses by name, clearly showed almost half of the leaders were half Oromo and half Amhara. As to the remaining half, their wives were Amharas with Amhara children. The same goes for Jawar Mohammed. Interestingly people are talking that Jawar’s mother is Amhara. He certainly said his mother is a Christian (probably Orthodox) and his wife, a Protestant.
Looking at this level of integration and intermarriage even at the elite level who are spearheading the Oromo nationalist movement, it will lead us to the inescapable conclusion that, no matter what, the two cousins are inseparable and their destiny intricately intertwined.
In light of such facts on the ground, the recent show of solidarity of the two cousins as a result of the simple gesture from the Gonder protesters should not surprise us.
Fourth, allow me to refer to General Jagema Kelo’s (or his dad’s) wise public demonstration. It is a very fitting example here. When fascist Italy instigated the Amhara to leave the Oromo regions, such an act was wisely shown as a futile exercise.
Red and white teff were mixed, and the public was then asked to separate the mixed teff. When the gathered people replied it was impossible to separate, the wise man then stated the Amhara and the Oromo are like the red and white teff. He submitted, because of their intermarriage and intricate social relationships, it is impossible to separate the Oromo and Amhara as it is impossible to separate the red teff from the white.
The above points can go some way to shade some light as to how this modest slogan paved the way for the two cousins at all level to close ranks quickly and join hand in hand to get rid of the TPLF. They have more things that unite them than separate them.
Focusing on the common enemy:
It was not difficult for the Amhara and the Oromo elites to identify the TPLF as their common enemy. It certainly shouldn’t have taken them this long to close ranks. However, because of historical grievances, unfortunately, they felt comfortable to dwell too much for too long on the past. They failed to learn the lesson from the past, focus on what unite them than divide them, quickly move forward and focus on the bigger picture.
The other reason was that, from the very beginning, TPLF has been working hard day and night to build a wall between them. It is very clear for TPLF, unless the two elites and people are kept infighting, it can not hold Ethiopia at ransom, loot its resources as it wishes & destroy the very social fabric of the country. Thus the media, security, military, the law, all governmental departments, etc. were unashamedly used by TPLF to ferment discord and animosity among the people.
At times, TPLF has to go to the extent of fabricating white lies to ignite a war and deep hatred between the two cousins. In short, if it succeeds, TPLF’s plan is to condemn the two cousins in perpetual war and then loot and destroy Ethiopia unchecked. Particularly in light of TPLF’s communication minster’s, Getcahew Reda’s, recent ‘fire and hay ‘ comment, every Ethiopian has to ask why the TPLF has fabricated history and went to the extent of erecting the statue in Arsi with a cut breast!
It is also interesting to note, how Dr Fikre Tolossa, in his recent Amharic book entitled ‘ የኦሮሞና የአማራ እውነተኛው የዘር ምንጭ’ pages 152 to 154, challenges TPLF’s fabricated history. It reads ገፅ ፡152-154:
“አፄ ምኒልክ ደም መፉሰስን እናስቀር ብለው ንጉሥ ጦናን ለመኑት። ንጉሥ ጦና ግን ኃይሉን አሟጦ መዋጋት ስለመረጠ በምኒልክ ሠራዊት ላይ ከባድ ጉዳት አደረሰ። በመጨረሻ ግን ቆሰለና ተማረከ።ዳግማዊ ምኒልክ ጦናን አይቀጡ ቅጣት ከመቅጣትና መንግስቱንም አሽቀንጥረው ጥለው ሥልጣኑን ለጦር መሪዎቻቸው ከመስጠት ይልቅ ደግነት የተሞላበት ምህረት አድርገውለት እንደሚገብርላቸው ቃል ካስገቡት በኃላ ወደ ሥልጣኑ መለሱት። ምኒልክ ተበቃይ አልነበሩም ።ይቅር በይ፣ በተጨባጭ እውነታ ላይ የተመሰረተ ምክንያታዊ አስተሳሰብ የነበራቸው እና ራሳቸውን እነደ ጥሩ ክርስቲያን የሚያዩ ሰው ነበሩ።በጦርነት ላይ የሴት ልጅ ጡት መቁረጥ ፍጹም ከባሕሪያቸው ውጪ ነው።እንዲህ ዓይነቱ ውንጀላ መሰረተ―ቢስ እና ከተንኮለኞች የመነጨ ነው።የጎጃሙ ንጉሥ ተክለሃይማኖት አምጸው ጦርነት አነሱና ቆስለው ተማረኩ።ምኒልክ የቆሰለውን ምርኮኛ ገድሎ በመጨረስ ፈንታ ቁስላቸውን ራሳቸው አክመው ፣አጠገባቸው አስቀምጠው አብረዋቸው እንዲመገቡ በማድረግ ፍቅር ነው ያሳዪአቸው።ሥልጣናቸውንም አልወሰዱባቸው፤ ያለማመንታት መልሰውላቸዋል። በርግጥ ዳግማዊ አጼ ምኒልክ ሩኅሩኅ ነበሩ።አገራቸውን ለመውረር የመጡ ምርኮኞች ጣልያኖችን እንኳ በርኅራኄና በደግ አያያዝ ነበር የያዟቸው።እኝህን ሰው ጡት ቆርጠዋል/አስቆርጠዋል/ ብሎ መፈረጅ አግባብነት የሌለው ትንሽ የፓለቲካ ጠቀሜታ ለማግኘት የሚነዛ ርካሽ ፕሮፓጋንዳ ነው።ምኒልክን ጡት ቆርጠዋል ብለው ለማስጠላት ሀውልት ያቆሙ አካላት በድርጊታቸው ማፈር እና ያንን አሳፋሪ ሀውልትም ማፍረስ ይገባቸዋል። ምኒልክ በግላቸው እንደዚያ ዓይነት ተግባር ጨርሶ አይፈጽሙም።…….እኔ ባደረኩት ምርምር ጡት መቆረጡን የሚያረጋግጥ አንድም ሰነድ አላገኘሁም።…’
The book demolished TPLF’s hearsay and put into bed this TPLF’s fabrication of King Menilik soldiers ‘cutting women’s breast’. No wonder TPLF is behaving like a mad dog and arresting street vendors who are selling the book to the public. TPLF can not prevent the truth from prevailing by arresting street book vendors!
In short, the focus now has to be to strengthen the solidarity further at all level. The solidarity has to include all Ethiopians in all regions including the Tigray people. I stress, Tigray should not be left for TPLF as its fiefdom. Our fight is against the TPLF but not against the Tigray people. We all need to reassure the Tigray people both in words and deeds that their bright future and destiny is with the rest of the Ethiopian people.
We have to work tirelessly on building bridges between the people. The people need to come out of TPLF’s created ‘ Killil’ and communicate with one another as free Ethiopian brothers and sisters with a view to getting rid of the common enemy, TPLF. TPLF has to be isolated. TPLF’s divide and rule wall is collapsing. We need to make sure that the wall has come down completely.
Working towards common agendas:
A big task lies ahead. It is a big challenge we all have to face. We all have to raise to the occasion, stand tall and be counted. Together, we need to plan and dictate our destiny. Ethiopia is on the crossroad yet again. We have to seize the opportunity and act responsibly. We can’t afford to be a bye standers and leave everything for fate. It is our life, our future and destiny.
It is one thing to unite against a common enemy. In fact, it should not be that difficult. But It is another thing to plan the way forward after getting rid of TPLF. We had seen the collapse of the King Hailesselasie’s and Colonel Mengistu’s regimes. Although all were united against the common enemy, no effort was made to dictate the future and what/who replaces the regimes. We went from bad to worse each time. The quest for change was hijacked by the TPLF and the military junta. We should not allow ourselves to make the same mistake for the third time. No excuse.
In order to avoid a catastrophe for the third time and guarantee a smooth transition after TPLF’s demise, we need to create and agree on common agendas now. The common agendas need to address Ethiopia’s people long overdue quest for lasting peace, stability, justice, democracy, etc. The common agendas should reassure the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ethiopia. The common agenda should empower the people to make them masters of their destiny.
What should the common agendas include then?
With immediate effect,
- To defeat TPLF, we all need to work hard to keep and strengthen the solidarity among the people. Not only at a party or elite level, but we also need to encourage the people to break the Killil barrier and communicate with one another. Idirs, Equbs, any self-help associations, elders, churches, mosques, etc. need to encourage the people to transcend ethnic and religious differences created by the TPLF & build a strong solidarity among the people. There is even a bigger role to be played by artists to this effect. There is a role for each and every one of us. If a solid solidarity could be maintained at the grass root level both at home and abroad, we then do not need to fear about balkanisation of Ethiopia. Solid solidarity at the grass root level is a sure be to avert civil war.
- TPLF’s communication minister’s, Ato Getachew Reda’s, current remark of the Amharas and the Oromos as ‘fire and hay’ and the statue in Arsi with a cut breast should always remind us that TPLF would be working hard as always until its demise to break our solidarity. We have to be alert to foil any such sabotage by TPLF. Whenever we hear or read anything that puts the people’s solidarity at risk, we should ALWAYS remember Ato Getachw Reda’s speech. Such a hate speech or writing can ONLY come from the usual suspect; TPLF.
- We all need to be very careful on what we do and say that puts the people’s solidarity in jeopardy.
- Artists, the media, churches, mosques, political parties, elders, prominent people should persuade the security, police and the army not only to stop killing the defenceless and peaceful people but also to side with the people. ANDM and OPDO members need to be encouraged to abandon TPLF, leak its secrets and join the people.
- TPLF needs to be stretched, and all opposition activities should be coordinated at one time all over Ethiopia. The protest should include demos, strikes, home sit-ins, etc. Both local and national issues should be articulated and reflected on every protest.
- Careful lists of TPLF business organisations have to be compiled and disseminated to the public to boycott them.
- The priority has to be to keep the protest alive until the end and get the job done.
We need to discuss and form a consensus on the following issues quickly. The list in not exhaustive. It is only indicative.
- Do we need a federal system? If so, what kind of federal system? What is wrong with the current federal arrangement? How could they be rectified? At least there must be an agreement for minorities in every federal region to use their language at school and courts, to be able to elect and get elected.
- What is wrong with TPLF’s constitution? How can we right the wrong? Which articles are we going to repeal and why? Or do we need to get rid of it completely? At least there must be an agreement to the effect that any Ethiopian can choose to live, work, do business, elect, be elected, etc. at any parts of Ethiopia.
- What would happen to the current army, police and security?
- What would be the fate of TPLF? Do we need national reconciliation? If so, what are the parameters and ambits of it?
- What would be the fate of TPLF’s business organisations?
- What are we going to have in place for the transitional period? For how long and what would be the mandate for it? How do we establish it? Who should draft the transitional charter and what does it include? What do we need to focus on the transition period? Who and how would we compose the police, the security and the army during the transitional period?