By Yonas Biru, PhD
Whenever I think of PM Abiy, I think of a man suffering from what author Antony Robert calls the Niagara Syndrome. Think of a man swimming in a raging Niagara River closer to the falls. Imagine him passing every rock that stands in his way and focusing on the next rock, but not seeing far enough ahead of himself to avoid the falls. The Welkait issue is beyond the Prime Minister’s pay grade.
To top it off, Amhara and Tigray politicians are irredeemably polarized, locking horns in a zero-sum game. Sadly, neither has seasoned or rational political class. The solution will not come from them. They have not resolved anything of substance through dialogue. They kill each other until they are tired and take a break to start over again. The PM cannot be a mediator. His MO is to side with one and kill the other and buy time to switch sides and go after his former partners. Only UFO freshly landing on earth may think Ethiopian solution for Ethiopian problem. Ethiopia is in an entropic spiral towards collapse. Experts in entropic science tell us the only way to break the spiraling chaos is by introducing powerful external energy.
If sensibly engaged, external parties such as the US and EU can play a pivotal role to break the impasse. The international community requires to be judicious without being judicial and impartial without being neutral. This is where the challenge lies. The fact that you are the third US Envoy since April 21, 2021, attests to the challenge.
Ethiopia is an extraordinarily opaque nation. The political theater in Ethiopia can be synthesized and encapsulated in one pregnant line. It is a theater of the absurd where the protagonists and the antagonists are 16th century primitive tribalists (Oromo and Tigray) and 17th century monks elbowing each other to claim the 21st century. The international community can play a decisive role if and only if it figures out what tickles their 16th and 17th century fancies and manages to tactfully sidestep them with without trampling on them.
If you fail to understand what makes Amhara’s, Oromo’s and Tigray’s soul sing and their spirit dance, you will end up being a part of the problem. You will ultimately abandon your efforts and leave behind a country in worse shape than you started with.
The solution for Ethiopia comes by changing the rules of the game not by trying to find a common ground between them. In the current game, there is no middle ground. If by some miracle you tease out a common ground, they will change it into a battle ground in a New York second.
All the atrocities you have heard about in present day Ethiopia are not driven by political conflict in the traditional sense. They are energized by impulse-driven primitive instincts that are par for the course forpeople stuck in the 16th and 17th century frame of mind.
My focus in this article is the Tigray-Amhara conflict, namely Wolkait and Raya issues. During the 27 years of TPLF rule, Tigray was treated as the Alpha tribe. They took whatever they wanted to take from whomever they wanted to take it from. Tigray is listed in the Constitution first. The listing is not alphabetical, or by the size of the tribal population. Nor is it by land mass.
Although Tigray represented only 6 percent of the nation’s demography, it was given proportionally more voting rights than it is concomitant with its population size. For example, it has 38 seats in the national Parliament, 40 percent more than the Somali nation that has a greater population than Tigray.
To strengthen its economic base, the TPLF annexed swaths of fertile lands from the Amhara tribal land. This has been acknowledged by the Hon. Ras Mengesha Seyoum, a Tigrayan and former governor of Tigray under Emperor Haile Selassie. Ras Mengesha is 96 years old, as long as he remembers since his childhood, the land was under Amhara. Dr. Aregawi Berhe, the founding chairman of the TPLF is also on the record acknowledging TPLF annexed Wolkait area to open a gate for weapon smuggling through Sudan. There are many TPLF founding members confirming this.
On its part, TPLF claims the lands in contention were originally part of Tigray before Amhara annexed it God knows when. They present a 16th century map to make their case. If one follows their logic, California and Texas will belong to Mexico. Part of France will be claimed by Germany. Portugal and Spain would not exist in today’s world. To complicate matters, Amharas also have old maps from the centuries past proving their claim. Regardless of who has a legitimate claim to the contested lands, the problem is legal ownership. But both Amhara and Tigray want a political or military solution.
During the 27 TPLF era, TPLF engineered demographic change in the contested lands to have a Tigrayan majority. Though both people of Amhara and Tigray lived in the two lands, since 1991, schools stopped teaching in Amharic. All children regardless of their mother tongue were taught in Tigrigna as part of TPLF’s demographic engineering. As part of its demographic engineering, the TPLF settled its former fighters in tens of thousands and continued to do so over the 27 years of occupation.
Over the last five years, there was demographic reengineering that turned the tide in favor of Amhara. Tigrayans were pushed out and Amharas were brought in. TPLF now wants to reestablish the demographic composition to its November 2020 status quo and have a referendum once the 2020 status quo is established. This is TPLF’s preferred political solution when the problem is inherently a legal one.
In the US, Federalism has two sovereign powers—the national and state governments – thereby balancing the influence of both. In Ethiopia sovereign power is exclusively with the tribal homelands. In that sense the annexation of the Amhara lands by force during TPLF’s reign was like an invasion of sovereign Amhara land by an external invader. Assume the federal government handed Wolkait to Tigray by force or referendum using the new demographic composition. Assume also Tigray decided to secede from Ethiopia, invoking Article 39 and became a new country – The Republic of Tigray. What will stop Tigray from expelling all Amhara from the Republic of Tigray?
Even if Tigray stays within Ethiopian proper, nothing stops Tigray (a fully sovereign land) from expelling Amharas once they establish legal ownership of Wolkait. Is this not what Oromos are doing to Amhara currently? Is it not what TPLF did to Amharas in the 1990s? It is one thing if Tigray expels Amharas from its legally established tribal land. It is another for Tigray to takeover Amhara’s land and turn around and kick them out. The reverse can also be true if the rightful owner of the land is Tigray. The victims can be Tigrayans.
As long as the current Constitution is the governing document of the country, the first critical issue that must be to address who does the contested lands belong to? Once that is sorted out, there are many second-best options. I say second best because a first best solution does not exist within the current constitution.
Let us say legal experts determine the land originally belonged to Amhara. Then there are many options. If Tigrayans are majority, the land can be a special administrative zone within Amhara. If the reverse is true, If the land originally belonged to Tigray, then how to accommodate the Amhara within Tigray proper can be determined.
We know there are many places including in Oromo tribal land where Amhara are the largest group and Oromos are minority. Yet the Oromo are administering the region even where they are a demographic minority because they claim the land belongs to them. Why is a different model used when it comes to Amhara? Determine legal ownership first and worry about how to address resettling IDPs.
It is the mother of all hypocrisy for the PM whose tribal land is expelling over a million Amhara and now force Amhara’s to facilitate the return of displaced Tigrayans and restore their full rights including their right to govern themselves. Why does the PM enforce the same rule in the Oromo tribal land. The recent statement that the Minister of Defense (a Tigrayan) made about returning Tigrayans to Amhara land is puzzling for various reasons. First why would the Minister of Defense get involved in political conflicts? Second, where was he when Amharas were evicted out of the Oromo tribal land in hundreds of thousands. Where was he when Amharas were evicted out of Wolkait in the first place?
I want to stress I am not against Tigrayans returning to their homes regardless of who is the legitimate owner of the land. My point is the blatant difference in the way Amhara is treated.
Please keep in mind that in 1991, the Constitution was created by OLF and TPLF to weaken the Amhara. Amhara is the only region that lost land in all four corners – some going to Afar, some to Tigray, a large part to Benishangul and an even larger parcel to Oromo. No other region has lost on all four corners. For example, Tigray gained two large swaths of fertile lands from Amhara and gave desert lands to Afar.
In Benishangul-Gumuz region, according to the government’s own record, Amhara is the second largest population. But the name of the region mentions the first and third mostly populated tribes, omitting Amhara. The free-range constitutional right is not lost on leaders of the so called “nations and nationalities.” For example, Article 2 of the Benishangul-Gumuz Constitution promulgates the region’s rightful owners are ethnic Berta, Gumuz, Shenasha, Mao and Komo.
Amhara the second most populous tribe is recognized but does not have citizenship rights. At best, Amharas, the supposed none-native residents, are treated as unwelcome settlers. At worst, they are regarded as invaders and subjected to forced displacement and atrocious mass murders.
The international community need to understand there is a systemic constitutional and political agenda to weaken and completely disenfranchise the Amhara. Let us look at the population issue. In the 1984 population census, Oromo accounted for 29.1% of Ethiopia’s population followed by Amhara at 28.3%. The difference in population was 332,414 in favor of Oromo.
In the 1994 census, the first under TPLF, Oromo accounted for 35% of the population. The corresponding figure for Amhara was 25.9%. The population difference between the two skyrocketed to 4,898,228 in favor of Oromo.
In the 2007 census that was conducted under TPLF for the second time, the Oromo population accounted for 36.7% of the population. Amhara was 23.3%. The population difference increased astronomically to 9,944,415. Between 1984 and 2007, Oromos population jumped from 29.1% to 36.7%. In contrast, Amhara’s population shrank from 28.3 to 23.3%.
The data shows between 1994 and 2007, the population growth for the Oromo was 2.9%. Amhara was the lowest of all tribal homelands at 1.7%. If these growth rates are used to project Oromos and Amhara’s the population difference between 2007 and 2023 will be far more than 10 million. This is not population demography. It is stupid tribal politics perpetrated by stupid people.
Any international intervention that does not take the systemic Amhara disenfranchisement by Oromo and Tigray tribal overlords will only make the situation worse not better. The worst the international community can do is trying to solve a land ownership problem using political, military, and/or diplomatic tools.
Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of ethiopiantribune.com
By Yonas Biru, PhD