In the face of terrible civilian atrocities done to the Tigray people by the invading Ethiopian National Defense Force, Amhara militias, Eritrean military, and Somali mercenaries there are increasing reports of mercy and kindness given to their attackers by Christians and Muslims.
The city and villages surrounding Hawzen have been the victim of attack first in 1988 at a market place where hundreds of civilians where massacred and again this Spring. The following is an eyewitness account (corrected for grammatically errors) of mercy in the face of horror:
“Last March near Hawzen there were joint offensive attacks against TDF by both Eritrean and Ethiopian forces with heavily mechanized army targeting civilians. The TDF waited them in a very strategic place to counterattack which caused the enemy to be dispersed. Some of the enemy soldiers were captured by farmers who had seen friends and family cut down by enemy fire while they was trying to hide themselves around their village. The farmers held them and the soldiers started to cry …one soldier said that they deserved even death punishment but he pleaded to the farmer to be taken and killed in front of the church in order to save his body from being consumed by vulture or hyena. But the farmers were with full of humanity and mercy, they gave food and taken to POW center with out any harm.”
Here is another account from a village near Mekelle”
“In wejerat ..it is just east of mekelle. One farmer is killed by Ethiopian soldier and immediately some the attacking soldiers captured and taken to to show to the victim’s family what the soldier had done. But the family of the victim told to TDF to not harm them …since they have a family like us ..we dont need a bad thing on them we need only a verdict from God”….
In the attached picture TDF talks to gathered Amhara of a captured city to reassure them that their everyday life can continue under their local leaders.
The methods and motivation of the Tigray Defense Force are analogous to the Biblical hero, Gideon, in the victory of the Midianites in ancient Israel. Gideon is a venerated saint in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church with a connected legacy to the Tigray. They are using a method of strategic encirclement of intended targets and showing their tactical superiority in night attack followed by negotiation with local leaders to bring surrender leaving the local authorities in charge. In this way they have captured much equipment and prisoners but with minimal civilian casualties. Like the ancient Israelis they are making alliances to make their former potential adversaries see who is real enemy.
The Tigray people or Tegaru trace their heritage to the ancient Saba people who lived around the Red Sea who would give rise to the Semitic peoples including the Arabs and Israelis. Thousands of years ago the Saban Queen of Sheba bore a son from King Solomon of Israel who went on to form the Axumite Empire based in what is now the city of Axum in Northern Tigray. The early Tigrayans were followers of Judaism until they converted to Christianity under King Ezana. Their particular form of Christianity, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, is similar to Eastern Orthodoxy and still follows many Jewish customs such as dietary restrictions. The story of Gideon who is recognized as a saint for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is found in Chapter 28 of the 1 Megabyan book of their Bible.
In the Old Testament following the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt there were many ups and downs in trying to become established in Israel. Early in their history they had strayed from following God and built an altar to the false god, Baal. As a result of this God had rendered them to be constantly besieged and attacked by the Midianites who would take their crops and occupied their land. The Midianites were relatives of the Israelis, in fact Moses wife Zipporah had come from this tribe, but over the years the Midianites never accepted the covenant the Israelis had made with God. The king of the Midianites rather than having his people worship God wanted the people to worship him in a cult. God sent a prophet named Gideon to help the Israelis find their way and punish the Midianites.
The Israelis where vastly outnumbered in the tens of thousands so Gideon had recruited more than 22,000 fighters for battle. However, God said they had to be righteous so he tested with with how they would drink water from a pond. Only 300 passed the test. In order for the Jews to win the battle they had to follow God’s instructions. Gideon’s army was well trained and disciplined. Using trumpets and torch proclaiming their righteousness they were victorious in a disciplined night attack against the Midianites.
The Ethiopian Federal government is committing intended genocide robbing the future of the young people and the Tigray society by denying any funding for basic infrastructure, education, and health care in Ethiopia.
The National State of Tigray had 9 government owned college and universities and 11 privately owned. The number of students attending all these institutions was likely in excess of 60,000 students. The flagship university was Mekelle University, a Federal facility, that was the second largest university in Ethiopia enrolling students in undergraduate and graduate programs from not only all the regional states of Ethiopia but also Somaliland, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Djibouti. Within Mekelle University are the following colleges: Dryland Agriculture and Natural Resources Management, Natural and Computational Sciences, Law and Governance, Social Sciences and Languages, Business and Economics, Veterinary science, Health Sciences and Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital.
For almost 7 years I have been Professor and Chief of Neurosurgery, teaching medical students, residents, and fellows as well as Faculty for what was the first Neuroscience PhD program in Ethiopia. Even before the events of November 2020 which plummeted into armed conflict between the Federal government and the National Tigray State there were problems brewing with the Ministry of Science and Higher Education which oversees universities as well as the hospitals they own. Whereas before we were welcome partners at discussions on the national level about educational development the Tigray region was shunned. Although the COVID-19 crisis had resulted in prolonged shutdown and budget cuts there were additional steps taken to restrict Tigray Universities.
After the conflict began in every woreda and kebele schools were ransacked, teachers killed or raped, and books used for toilet paper by occupying Eritrean, Amhara, and Ethiopian National Defense Force Soldiers who often took over these facilities to be used as barracks or even worse centers of abuse. Universities and hospital underwent artillery barrages and air strikes even while they were treating innocent civilians. Many faculty and staff have not been paid for many months (bank accounts are frozen) , physical plants have no ability to do even maintenance Supplies and equipment were stolen and often sent to Eritrea as war booty. The African Studies Association which is the largest African scholar group has condemned the action of the Ethiopian government. To rebuild and replace these losses will cost millions of birr.
After the occupancy of Mekelle by the Interim Administration of the Federal Government we were told that schools and universities would remain open and not to send the students home. However minimal funds and resources were sent to sustain the physical plants, the faculty, or even the students. Basically the Ministry just seemed to pretend we did not exist. Ultimately when the new budget was done for the coming year which normally starts in September to correlate with the New Year on the Ethiopian calendar we have learned that absolutely no budget at all was made for education or health care in Tigray. Even though the Federal Government says we are still a part of Ethiopia in reality we are being denied any funding of vital functions in society as if we are not a part of Ethiopia.
Rather than fighting about personal rights vs public health there is a Christian answer Jesus gives to his followers obviating this prominent protracted conflict about COVID-19 vaccination. Leave the willfully unvaccinated to their fate.
Although a little more than 50% of the adult population has voluntarily chosen to be vaccinated in most of the United States in contrast many Southern and Midwestern states have communities with rates as low at 10%. There is essentially universal concurrence among medical experts that vaccination will spare millions from death, prolonged illness, and disability with a very low risk of side effects.
Conservative political activists and politicians have redirected the discussion to one that focuses on the dangers of government mandates while ignoring the Constitutionally tested provision to promote the general welfare power of the government to mandate public health measures that are reasonable to protect the population. At this point I believe continued repetitive attempts to “enlighten” the immunization resistors will fail. The Center for Disease control had wanted to reach a 70% percent level of immunization to get to herd immunity which could reduce the epidemic to a rare occurrence.
Jesus in his ministry wanted his followers to make a conscious decision to follow him. Human beings are created by God with free will to sin or to love. To make right or wrong decisions for their own benefit. Being coerced into religion could not lead one to be truly faithful. Taking away that free will reduces one’s ability to willfully act justly. In the Gospel of Matthew he says if you are shunned by those who do not want you to visit or listen to you then you have no obligation to continue your effort to convince them. Instead you should “shake the dust of your feet” and move on. This is consistent with Christian morality.
I think this is the way we should deal with the anti-vaccination groups and individuals. If they become ill or die they will bear the burden of their actions. Those that believe in vaccination have the absolute right not to associate with them.
The government of Ethiopia while claiming a law enforcement operation has committed genocide to the people of Tigray and turned Tigray into a concentration camp.
What is the definition of a concentration camp?
According to the highly respected encyclopedia Britannica a concentration camp is “defined as an internment centre for political prisoners and members of national or minority groups who are confined for reasons of state security, exploitation, or punishment, usually by executive decree or military order”. What the Ethiopian government has done to the Tegaru, Irob, Agaw, Kunami, Afar, Orthodox, Catholic, Christian, and Muslims who live in Tigray meets every requirement stated in this definition of a concentration camp and in every way just a deadly as those recalled from previous examples when evil predominated a society.
Actions of Ethiopia against Tigray are more than law enforcement
When the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and Eritrean Army units invaded the Regional National State of Tigray in November 2020 the leadership of Ethiopia specifically stated that was being undertaken was a law enforcement action to capture the leaders of a “terrorist group”, Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and that there was no intent to take action against the civilians of Tigray. In fact they explicitly stated they were proceeding with this invasion to not only capture the leadership but also to protect the security and life of their “brother” Ethiopians.
At the time of invasion I was Chief of Neurosurgery and on the faculty of Mekelle University, a federal university not under the Tigray state, which had medical students and specialty trainees from almost every regional state in Ethiopia as well as surrounding countries. Additionally it administered Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital which served a population of about 10 million including not only Tigray but also Afar, northern Amhara, and recently even Eritrea intermittently when the border was open. Additionally we occasionally cared for patients from Addis Ababa and the SNNP (Southern Ethiopia).
Following the complete take over of Tigray we were initially told by the Interim government and military commands that the government, medical, and educational services would be quickly restored. But instead they quickly deteriorated well before the reorganization and re-emergence of the Tigray Defense Forces. Except for a very short time of a few weeks early on the following have been cut-off and never restarted including banking services, electricity, telephone and cell, internet, water, civil infrastructure management, hospital supply, schooling, etc.
Although the Federal government claimed it was giving 70% of the trickle of very basic aid that was coming in reviews by well established international authorities revealed it was less than 3% of the total which was in itself dramatically less than required.
As the weeks progressed the undeniable evidence was increasingly seen that sexual abuse of women now estimated to be in the thousands, extra judicial killing of whole villages, routine execution of males even those below or above that generally considered to be militarily capable were reported even by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. Although there may be a possibility of some actions by Tigray militia which also require investigation the exponentially greater magnitude affecting hundreds of thousands of violation of human rights and killing by soldiers under the direct command of the Ethiopian government cannot be denied. If not stopped the number being threatened will rapidly accelerate to millions.
Instead of taking corrective action to improve the humanitarian situation which would possibly yield the benefit of making the civilian population of Tigray more peaceful instead new arguments surfaced from mouthpieces of the Prime Minister’s advisors that due to previous claims of unfair treatment by the TPLF that justified the violations of human rights currently underway. Videos emerged stating that every Tigray should be killed at birth. Eritrean and ENDF soldiers have stated to neutral third parties that they were instructed to rape women to destroy the chance for Tigray to have children.
Religious institutions, artifacts, and worshipers were targeted for destruction which had nothing to do with a “law enforcement” action. One of the most important Mosques in the world in Negash where the followers of Mohammed took refuge from prosecution from pagan Saudi rulers at the invitation of a Christian king was intentionally bombed and ransacked. What does that have to do with “law enforcement”? Monasteries in Western Tigray with religious texts hundreds of years old were attacked with their treasures destroyed and clergy assassinated. The ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Church which traces its roots to the early Jewish religion of Menelik I and then the Christian kingdom of Ezana in Axum was desecrated with the murder of at least 80 unarmed worshipping civilians. What does that have to do with “law enforcement”?.
It is well documented that Eritreans, ENDF, and Somali mercenaries destroyed factories and businesses including those of foreign investors who generated income for the Ethiopian government and provided employment for civilians. Many pieces of equipment of not only these but also the national Ethio-telecom company were taken by Eritreans as war bounty to Eritrea. How does this destruction of Ethiopian federal property qualify as “law enforcement”?
The invading forces were instructed to destroy seeds and prevent farmers from planting crops. Many livestock were killed to be consumed by no one or taken to Eritrea in trucks. Both aid and commercial food supplies where blocked from entry to Tigray. Gradually both the Federal Government and the government of Amhara began to change their tune to explain this by saying that the population of Tigray was too supportive of the TDF and that NGOs were smuggling weapons with the aid. They accused organizations with much greater long standing reputations of wrong doing with no evidence instead trying to cover their own genocidal intent.
The government of Ethiopia as late as 2019 was a signatory to the Genocide Convention of the United Nations which states verbatim any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
Killing members of the group;
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The treaty recognizes the following two elements of the crime
A mental element: the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”; and
A physical element, which includes the following five acts, enumerated exhaustively:
Killing members of the group
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group
Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia and head of his self created Prosperity Party, to many rather than bringing a new vision which encourages development of a universally accepted national unity has instead re-aggravated old flames. His inability to escape internal colonialism, a recurring theme in Ethiopian politics, may be the straw that broke the camel’s back in breaking up the Ethiopian empire.
The rise of Abiy Ahmed was propelled first by the strong calls for inclusivity of the Oromia who make up at least 30% of the Ethiopian population in government. However the initial enthusiasm in cooperation was tempered when a division of the goals developed between many Oromia leaders and the Prime Minister was created. The Prime Minister switched allegiances to the Amhara elites who argued for a more traditional Amhara led model of government giving more power to the central government and less to the regional states. Even though currently the Tigray “rebellion” gets the most national attention there now opposition groups many of which are carrying out armed insurrection in most of the regional states of Ethiopia.
Internal colonialism is a reoccurring theme in the struggle for control of the Ethiopian federal state. We often hear the term colonialism and see it most commonly applied as an external phenomena referring to the history of European powers attempts to colonize and control African states over the past two centuries but internal colonialism especially in the case of the Ethiopia, a country which claims it has never been colonized by an outside nation, is one of the dominant forces against sustainment of peace in a empire of many nations.
In 1925 Adolph Hitler described the concept that Germany as an integral part of Europe, had the right to acquire adjacent lands that were poorly utilized and under populated as a result of the unfair treaties ending World War I in 1925. He saw his ethnic group as a part of greater Europe who by right of superiority which was inherent in their nationality had not only the right but the obligation to take control of his neighbors. A description of this type of justification for political action would wait until many years later.
Although first used briefly to describe the situation in South African apartheid in 1957 this concept becomes well defined by the Mexican sociologist, Pablo González Casanova, in his 1965 book, Democracy in Mexico where he defined internal colonialism as a result of the structure of social relations and exploitation between heterogeneous cultural groups. Although the term is named “internal” he notes the effect of outside powers global and regional does have an effect on this interaction. Traditional social struggle theory as one between classes such as in Europe and the United States is not the only relevant or maybe even predominant factor. Patrimony and oligarchy tend to develop in the push to create strong capitalist systems to engender economic viability of the state. Paulo Henrique Martins , French scholar has described that there is a relationship between social, political, and intellectual imagery that develops and helps steer political action by the dominate group over the lesser ones.
A well known phenomena commonly seen in developing countries as noted by the World Bank is that their capital cities tend to develop much faster then the rest of the country. I have written about how the Addis Ababa identity differs significantly than that of the rest of the Ethiopia. Peter Calvert has described how this accelerated growth of cities and its effects on the surrounding area becomes the center of power, identity, and social action. It should be noted that Ethiopia is most rural country in world (90%) such that Addis Ababa with a population of 4 million in a country with 110 million represents barely 0.4% of the population. As I have previously written the growth of other cities and universities is beginning in other regional states but they have little political impact.
Ethiopia was ruled by Amharic royal for centuries until attempted coups began in 1960 ultimately leading to a socialist communist takeover in 1974 called the “Derg” or worker’s party which was heavily supported by the Soviet Union. It was quite repressive although ideally not specifically linked to any particular ethnic group. Then a popular uprising revolted against the Derg leading to new leadership lead by the Tigray Liberation Peoples Front in cooperation with other ethnic fighter groups. Following the death of Melez Zenawi in 2012 uprisings in the Oromia and Amhara regions eventually lead to the placement of Abiy Ahmed, a half Oromia, half Amhara as the Prime Minister in 2018.
Although initially promising free speech, welcoming of opposition groups, political prisoner release, free press, and creating a new political party based upon a unifying national identity all was short lived. He went on to imprison Oromia allies who helped bring him to power, made dissent illegal by person or press, outlawed the leaders of the Tigray regional state calling them terrorists and finally invaded Tigray with the help of an old enemy Eritrea.
When you look at Ethiopia it is a tough region in which to thrive. There is very little water for agriculture and very little land which is really productive for food. The term internal colonialism was used by Oromia opposition groups against the TPLF during their dominance as they felt the federal government was interfering too much in land use and distribution decisions. Similarly the area of Western Tigray which is also very fertile has increasingly been claimed by Amhara elites.
As I previously discussed there has never been a strong claim of a national unity except by the Amhara peoples. Many other groups continue to claim national ethnic identity that trumps their Ethiopian identity. Those who are more educated and/or spent significant time living or being in university in Addis Ababa are more likely to see their Ethiopian identity over their regional one.
Meles Zenawi the late leader of the TPLF developed the concept of the democratic developmental state. This was based in large part in how South Korea recovered following World War II and the Korean conflict where at first their was a military oligarchy that had a first priority to create an infrastructure and lead business initially but then over time would allow more economic Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). freedom of private interests but with significant government input. Although there was a vision of a coalition of nations in forming the government via Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) Meles realized that there was in fact a danger of internal colonialism taking root. The argument of one nation versus a confederation of nations was continued by opposition groups which magnified upon his death in 2015.
Updated 9/4/2021 Killing thousands of innocent villagers, raping thousands of women and girls, as well using starvation as a weapon in the name of Jesus Christ does not justify war as claimed by Amhara President Agegnehu Teshager. Instead more than a thousand years of history and theological tradition for both Christianity and Islam about what constitutes a just war supports that the Tigray regional state is the righteous party.
When is conflict a just war (Jus ad bellum)?
Both the Bible and the Qu’ran both say that war is a condition that will always afflict mankind. Jesus Christ said that man will always suffer calamities both natural and war between states. The Apostle James said that wars are caused by the “lust” of what the other party has obtained and selfishly wishes to take through violence.
The ancient Jews, the Babylonians, and the Romans believed that a violent response to war was appropriate if it was of an appropriate measure to the offense suffered. A principle known as lex talionis.
There has always been a Christian disagreement on whether Jesus called for complete pacifism in responding to violent offense which would theoretically best diffuse malintent and prevent a sinful response. Ultimately the righteous would be rewarded for their suffering in this world or the next. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the 20th century German theologian, advocated complete pacifism which led to his execution.
For centuries beginning just a few hundred years following Christ an alternative theory has been that war was justified under specific circumstances. Jesus’s call to “love thy neighbor” and that “giving up one’s own life to save another” are acts of faith as well as his “righteous” anger at the money changers in the Temple have been interpreted to mean violence can under certain conditions be responded to by violence.
Discussions of just war began with classical Greek and Roman philosophers like Plato and Cicero and were added to by Christian theologians like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Continuing to contemporary times Catholic Pope Benedict XVI said that “defending oneself and others was a moral duty and obligation”.
The following are principles which have been generally agreed upon by Christians for a just war
1. The war must have a just cause – such as against invasion, or for self defence – and not to acquire wealth or power.
2. The war must be declared and controlled by a proper authority, such as the state or ruler.
3. The war must be fought to promote good or avoid evil, with the aim of restoring peace and justice after the war is over.
4. The war must be a last resort when all peaceful solutions have been tried and failed, such as negotiation.
5. The war should be fought with “proportionality”, with just enough force to achieve victory and only against legitimate targets, i.e. civilians should be protected.
6. The good which is achieved by the war must be greater than the evil which led to the war.
Islamic law allows the use of force in self defence and in defence of those who are oppressed and unable to defend themselves.
1. Only under certain conditions allow anticipatory self defence.
2. Only the head of a Muslim state (a ruler or caliph) is allowed to declare jihad.
3. Islamic law imposes certain restrictions on the use of force in self defense, i.e., military necessity, distinction, and proportionality.
4. Accepting an offer of peace and humanity are also relevant conditions. If an enemy stops fighting then the war must stop and peace immediately sought.
The onset and course of the conflict
After the selection of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018 he began to diminish the power of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Being just 6% of the population they had little representation in the Parliament. Although there was a brief honeymoon, the PM began to decrease their power by cutting the regions budget, labeling them as terrorists, and removing them from positions of authority in government. There existed a bitter feeling of resentment especially in the Amhara region against the TPLF for claims that the TPLF had illegally taken land from the Amhara region and carried out violations of human rights on Amhara in past decades. Ultimately the Parliament under the PM’s direction labeled them a “terrorist group” unable to hold any position in government. No formal actions called specified in the Ethiopian constitution were carried out which were created to settle disputes between member regional states. Action by fiat was carried out without attention to legal remedy for accused wrongs.
Several attempts were made to land Federal police forces in Mekelle to arrest prominent TPLF members which were repelled. Then on the early morning hours of November 4th the Ethiopian National Defense Forces in Tigray and the regional Tigray police and militia forces went into conflict. The exact circumstances are unclear although it seems to may have been a pre-emptive attack by the TPLF.
The Tigray region was overrun by Amhara militia, ENDF, and invading Eritrean forces causing a retreat by the TDF(Tigray Defense Force). There have been reports of atrocities by both sides although clearly the enormity of starvation, extra-judicial killing, prisoner execution, raping of women, killing of children, theft of property, destruction of medical facilities and utilities, ransacking of schools, etc. is overwhelmingly evident to be by the Ethiopian forces and their allies.
The TDF has rebounded and is now almost at the gates of Addis Ababa having basically decimated the Ethiopian forces whilst the Tigray civilian population has no water, no food, no electricity, no hospitals in good shape, no medical supplies, ransacked schools, no phone, no internet, and an ongoing siege against supplies except for a small trickle.
The government of Ethiopia has maintained that it is performing a law enforcement action against Tigray while maintaining that there is no hunger problem and that they are acting on the best interests of the Tigray people despite the fact the TPLF won more than 9o% in an election shortly before the war started and by the words of the Prime Minister that the people of Tigray were too supportive of the TPLF.
By any reasonable measure the evidence is clear as to the aggrieved status of the Tigray
While at the same time saying that the Tigray people(Tegaru) are somewhat innocent of wrong doing the government of Ethiopia has not recognized that they have any standing or rights in persecution driven by ethnic identity. The elected government of Tigray acted in self-defense against egregious acts of failing to provide basic human services which threatened the security, livelihood, and lives of over 7 million Tigrayans. There are constitutional and federal proclamations available which could have been used to address the grievances against the government of Tigray. It is glaringly obvious that the savage military campaign carried out and continuing by the Ethiopian government is really a lust for revenge and power. There was no threat to Ethiopian government evident until the situation escalated by the unconstitutional actions of the Ethiopian government.
My experience in Ethiopia has taught me that how the people of Addis Ababa see Ethiopia is often from a much different perspective than how those in other ethnic groups living outside Addis Ababa especially those not Amhara see the country. This creation of a capital identity group versus a regional identity group plays a role in understanding the current Ethiopian conflict. The different perception of an Ethiopian identity creates an ideological conflict that is difficult to overcome.
I have lived in Ethiopia since 2012 functioning as an academic neurosurgeon training students, neurosurgical residents, fellows, acting as an advisor, as well as doing intense research on the scourge of neural tube defects. Initially I lived in Addis Ababa, the nations capital, then in Dessie in the Amhara region and then since 2015 in the capital of the Tigray region, Mekelle. When I moved away from Addis Ababa, still for many weekends I would travel to Addis Ababa to see patients and also do consulting for NGO development, business interests, and government health concerns. In both Amhara regions and the Tigray region I made trips to the countryside rural areas to meet with the rural people to try to understand how they live and what contributed to the incidence of neural tube defects for which I helped create research sites throughout Tigray and recently trying to establish in Oromia which was interrupted by the war.
The creation of monarchial command center
Addis Ababa is a relatively new city. Although there was some settlement there by the Oromia who called it Finfinne its urbanization began when the Ethiopian Amharic Emperor, Menelik II, moved there in the late 19th century to create a more centralized command post to control his domain that extended much farther south then northern Ethiopia. As has been well written about about the capitals of many developing countries, Addis which is the short term used by locals, became more cosmopolitan then other areas. A large influx of Amhara gradually moved into what had previously been Oromia. They encouraged the development of educational institutions, commerce, diplomatic interaction, and modernization of the city which rapidly outpaced that of the other areas of Ethiopia.
Immigration from many regional states to Addis Ababa blends into a city identity
Immigrants from every region of Ethiopia came seeking work and opportunity they could not find in the countryside. Whereas in the countryside, which makes up the largest percentage of a rural population in the world among countries, lived a life less cosmopolitan and urban. While inter-ethnic marriage became very common in Addis it rarely happened and is often shunned in the countryside. The everyday language and identity in the countryside is the local one whereas in Addis those who were born and raised there identify themselves commonly as from Addis Ababa adopting Amharic as their main language and the Addis identity. They transform from their local ethnic culture to the Addis culture in one generation.
The current generation who was born in raised in Addis Ababa or went to university in Addis Ababa is more likely to accept the idea of a national identity to Ethiopia which makes a very small percentage of total Ethiopian population. Many have never been to the countryside and cannot relate to it other than it was where their ancestors grew up. This division of identity and experience no doubt plays a role in what is happening in Ethiopia today.
Those living in Addis Ababa have been raised with and most easily accept the idea of single Ethiopia identity predicted by such western social writers such as Levine. On the other hand researchers who spent time in the country side such as Young see Ethiopia as an empire of differing nations prone to recurring conflict.
The autonomy of the regional states and regional educational development empowers regional identity
Since the post Derg era began all the regional state capitals have had universities built. Although initially they were staffed by mostly Amhara faculty that is giving way to more regional ethnic faculty. Many of these faculty have had to chance to study abroad or least cooperate with international institutions.
Over the past several decades thirty-three universities have been built in the many different regions of Ethiopia. Whereas the center of intellectual development was in Addis and primarily dominated by Amhara now there is a new spring of ideas and identity perceptions arising in each region. Thus new growth of regionalism is a strong counter to centralized Addis Ababa identity which promotes one national identity. Instead of all regional leaders going through a transformational experience of living in Addis Ababa for a time during their education that may alter their identity they are now being educated in regional universities by increasing regionally trained faculty and influenced by regionally experienced elders of the community.
“You can bring a horse to water but you can’t make him drink!”
A reflection on Florida’s #COVID-19 Crisis and reluctance to vaccination
So yesterday I am in my local Walmart store in Florida which has become the new town square of suburban America. Every five minutes the speaker system throughout the large superstore is announcing that free COVID 19 vaccines are available with minimal waits right now. It was about 6 PM on a sunny afternoon and the store was moderately filled with a heterogeneous group of shoppers of different ethnic groups and ages. I wondered how many of them knew that Florida had become the number one state of new infections over the past week.
I remembered that the Republican party in Florida had said that yes COVID 19 was dangerous but only to seniors and that young people should not worry. Florida Governor DeSantis just a few months ago said the virus was no worse then the flu and that it would not cause significant hospitalizations. Now of course the rising tide of affliction is affecting, hospitalizing, and killing greater numbers of people ages 20 to 40 because the delta variant making up 83% of cases is much more infectious. In Florida this group has had low vaccination rates.
As I walked through the Walmart nobody was wearing a mask. The hand sanitizing station was unattended. Everyone entering the store just passed by it. Then I wondered over to the pharmacy to see if there was a line to get immunized. To my surprise there was none.
This made me think about an an old saying I learned a long time ago when I was working on ranch in South Texas. “You can bring a horse to water but you can not make him drink!” If we look at vaccination as an analogy to water we can see that the constant barrage by conservatives and other anti-vaxers has created a malignant lie that the water is poisoned. Large numbers of people have been convinced that they should act against not only their own interest but against that of their family, their community, their nation, and even the world. Let us hope that the horse will get thirsty enough to finally take that drink. For this to happen they have to realize that they have become pawns in a political power struggle that cares about winning not about health.
Recently the world was stunned when the very small region of Tigray managed to retake most of its territory back from the federal forces of the Ethiopian national government who has one of the largest armies in Africa. To those who know the past 100 years this is not so surprising. A look at the recent history of the Ethiopian empire, a collection of many ethnic groups struggling for dominance, over the past century lends insight to current events.
How Western Civilization Has Looked at Ethiopia
Many scholars had looked at what had happened to Ethiopia in the 19th and 20th centuries trying to understand its evolution and how it would progress. Donald Levine wrote in his work Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society that Ethiopia would develop a national identity due to experience of war, famine, religious conflict, trade development etc. The dominance of Amharic emperors during this time period until the late 1960s favored the development of an idealistic concept of Amharic elitism as a central theme as well.
Although many languages both Cushitic and Semitic are spoken in Ethiopia, for hundreds of years the Amhara leadership of the country (beginning with the monarchy) as well as the Ethiopian orthodox church essentially mandated that the Amhara language would be the official language of commerce and government. Elite schools and universities taught in Amharic thus its speakers were seen as superior to the non-speakers of Amharic. Those wishing to become “educated” had to learn Amharic. Political ideas and policies thus became mostly associated with this Amharic elitism. Until just the past two decades attendance of the prestigious Addis Ababa University was limited to the Amhara.
What is the Tigray Identity
The Tigray people claim their ancestry to the Axumite empire which was started by the Queen of Sheba, a Biblical figure, who lived thousands of years ago ( an aristocrat of the ancient Saba people who lived about the eastern and western areas bordering the Red Sea and spoke a Semitic language). Legend has it she conceived a son with King Solomon of Israel and converted to Judaism. Centuries later the Axumite empire converted to Christianity under King Ezana. Although early kings of Northern Ethiopia were Tigray they eventually lost power to the Amhara whose background is also related to that of the Tigray. The Tigray have a long tradition of being a warrior clan. In fact going back centuries in both domestic battles and battles against foreign invaders their abilities as fighters and commanders of armies were always sought. At same time these qualities have always fostered suspicion by other ethnic groups especially when the military services of the Tigray were no longer needed. Most recently the term Tigray is most often used to describe the region while the term Tegaru is coming more into use to describe its people and now even being used to differentiate them from Eritreans.
The Rise of the Tigray
The rise of the Tigray who make up only 6% of the population of Ethiopia to lead an alliance that would topple a powerful government without any outside assistance starting from essentially no resources was unexplainable to scholars. Daniel Young a journalist with the Sudan Times began to follow their rise in 1988 and eventually wrote the definitive scholarly work “The Peasant Revolution of Ethiopia”.
He did numerous interviews with peasants after gaining their trust. He noted then as did others that although there has always been talk about a greater nation for the most part over the past century there have always been nationalist movements within Ethiopia. Ethiopia has always been a empire and not a nation. Although the goal of the Tigray (Tigray Peoples Liberation Front) was primarily to overthrow the Derg (a quasi communist-socialist multiethnic movement which included many military leaders and was supported by the Russian communist party) the TPLF developed the concept that to be successful they had to gain great support from the countryside peasants. One important component was they incorporated educated Tigray women into leadership roles. The Tigray were remarkable for developing and sticking to their ideals and goals, creating alliances, strong action against dissent for which they have been criticized, and finally for basing their strength from a bottom up approach which is significantly different then the Amhara elite model which is a top down scenario.
Bottom Up versus Elitist Lead Revolution
From a social science perspective there has always been controversy over whether a revolutionary movement can be driven by perceived peasant led initiatives (bottom up) or by elitist lead initiatives. The successful revolt of the Vietnamese against French Colonialism and American interference is often demonstrated as a model of the bottom up approach. Thus what we are seeing now is a repeat of this ongoing struggle in Ethiopia of peasant based vs elite based focus and empire vs nation identity once again. How will it turn out?