History is rarely a quest for truth; all too often the past is weaponized by those in power to justify their abuses and to hide their excesses. Such was the case when former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn traveled to South Africa, out of all the places, to deliver a speech at the 10th annual Thabo Mbeki convention. As if the present state of Ethiopia has not been sullied enough by ethnocentrism, Hailemariam went one step further and mangled Ethiopian history in order to justify ethnic apartheid.
For those who don’t have a keen insight into the political and social dynamics unfolding in Ethiopia at the moment, Hailemariam’s speech seems like a wonderful example of Pan-Africanism that extols the virtue of unity in the face of foreign aggression. As always, the devil is in the detail. With a slight of hand, Hailemariam fundamentally altered one of Ethiopia’s proudest moment for the sake of political expediency.
Hailemariam’s deceptive recasting of Adwa took place at the 26:30 mark of the video below. He noted that Emperor Menelik II knew Abyssinia by herself could not defeat the Italians so “he went to the south and south east” in order to garner more resources. If you pay attention to the speech, Hailemariam made it a point to segregate Abyssinia from south, south east and south western Ethiopia. He even notes how some could have seen Menelik’s moves against south and south east Ethiopia as an act of aggression by Abyssinia. This is what the EPRDF does best, they peddle grievances by vilifying one tribe present the rest as victims all in the attempt to ghettoize Ethiopia along ethnic lines.
The speech takes a turn from deceptive to outright sinister when Hailemariam decided to cast the Battle of Adwa not through an Ethiopian prism but through the lens of tribalism. He notes how the Oromo nation, the Amhara nation, and Tigray fought together in order to repel the Italian army. This is history according to TPLF chauvinism; the truth is that our forefathers did not believe in the toxic ideologies of nations within a nation during the Battle of Adwa. They fought and died on behalf of one nation, Ethiopia.
Zemene zeregnenet (age of tribalism), which has metastasized into a full blown cancer in Ethiopia, is a byproduct of 27 years of ethnic politics engineered by Meles Zenawi and embraced to this day by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Though our grandparent’s generation and prior acknowledged the rich diversity of our 88 “tribes”, which are really communities, they never placed value on ethnicity above nationality. The reason why Ethiopians were able to defeat would-be colonizers at Adwa in 1896 is precisely because they were not splintered along tribal lines. The machine guns and cannon of the Italians were no match for the unity of Ethiopians.
Hailemariam and the current crop of “leaders” in Ethiopia—thoroughly infected with the virus of separatism and ethnocentrism as they are—don’t want us to look back to Adwa with a spirit of unity. They would prefer that we look to our past and see that ethnic federalism has always been with us. It’s not enough that they imported the discredited apartheid era policies of Bantustans (ethnic homelands) from the racist South African government, they are now attempting to reshape Ethiopian history to make it fit their bigoted narrative.
The irony is that Hailemariam traveled to the very country that was decimated by apartheid to make the case for ethnic federalism. Sure, on the surface it seems as though he is advocating for unity, but if you peel back the layer just a bit, it’s evident that he is actually making the case for factionalism. While most of the world is moving towards integration, Ethiopia is sprinting full force into the abyss of separatism.
Hailemariam is defending a system of ethnic apartheid that was imposed upon Ethiopia by colonial powers precisely because they could not subdue us by force. Europeans realized that Ethiopians could not be defeated as long as we were united, the only chance they had was to induce tribalism among Ethiopians. This is why the Meles Zenawi and the TPLF were chosen at the London Conference in 1991 to be the new despots of Ethiopia; they were tasked with injecting tribal friction and inciting animosity by way of “ethnic federalism”. Nearly three decades of conditioning Ethiopians to view life through tribal lenses has driven Ethiopia to the brink of disintegration.
For the record, our forefathers did not face off against the Italians at the Battle of Adwa under the banner of Oromo, Amhara, Tigray, Afar or any other “nation”, they defended our lands under one Sendek Alema that belonged to all Ethiopians. Do not let politicians like Hailemariam deform our history in order to justify their twisted ideology of ethnic separatism. We need to abandon the imprudent idea of viewing “tribes” within Ethiopia as nations. We are one country with many communities.While we should celebrate our diversity, we should never elevate our differences above our common identity. We are #Ethiopia|n. Click To Tweet
The biggest lies are often told with the faintest of whispers::
Lij Teodrose Fikremariam is the Chair of Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy. He is the direct descendant of Atse Tewodros II, the once Emperor of Ethiopia who united a fractured nation during Zemene Mesafint (age of princes) and imbued Ethiopia with a sense of togetherness that enabled them to eventually defeat Italy at the battle of Adwa. Lij Teodrose was born in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia but grew up in America. He has a Bachelor of Arts from George Mason University and an Masters of Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. Lij Teodrose believes in one Ethiopia and that a nation can only be judged by the wellness of the least among us.