Prof. Kebede says eliminate ethnicity by any and all means to preserve Ethiopia

Dr. Kebede wrote an article in which he called for the “closure” of different ethnic groups in Ethiopia but also said aversions to other ethnic groups are learned and should be unlearned. This aversion is a major feature of the Abiy Ahmed regime in contrast to Dr. Kebede.

The latest writings of an Ethiopian diaspora academic living in USA are getting a lot of attention from Ethiopian government supporters.  Messay Kebede, continues the elitist view that authoritarian means are allowable to reach the goal of Ethiopian nationhood by eliminating non-Amharic ethnicity.  For many years this academic has been a source of building a sense of Amharic elitism under the false pretense of Ethiopian national identity.

Well recognized academic Dr. Messay Kebede wrote yesterday in the Ethiopia Observer that Ethiopia has no choice but to rapidly invade Tigray in light of its “military victory”. He like many of the Amahra elites are opposed to the UN and Western democracy requests for a cease fire but instead want the war to continue mercilessly. 

His writings have changed almost 180 degrees from what he was writing prior to Abiy Ahmed coming to power to what he is writing now in support of Abiy Ahmed.  Now he calls the goal of creating a nonethnic unified Ethiopia as a legitimate excuse for overwhelming force in Tigray and Oromo while saying nothing against genocide. Amazingly his calls for oppressive Ethiopian military action stand in stark contrast to what he stated in previous writings.

Previously in January 2021 he had called for Abiy Ahmed to take down the “Oromo elites” even if he had to use “authoritarian” means as the way to allow an Ethiopian nationhood to emerge from previous ethnic centered politics. He goes further in the recent writing to predict that the Tigray and Oromo will welcome Ethiopia forces as “liberators”. After my 7 years of living in Tigray including experiencing the occupation of Mekelle whilst carrying for hundred of Tigrayan victims of Abiy Ahmed’s directed atrocities I cannot imagine how this could be true. Previously the Tigray suffered for almost 2 decades under the Derg regime without surrender.

In 2016 he celebrated the development of Amharic resistance to the Ethiopia Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front and called for the Oromo to join in that fight. He noted that other Amhara were fearful that joining with Oromo could strengthen the Oromo quest for secession. Interesting he stated at that time however that a government who had to call an army to quell rebellion was weak.

The mobilization of army units to crush a popular rebellion is not a sign of strength; it is the proof that the regime has lost all legitimacy so that it can only govern by force and intimidation. Such a regime is at the mercy of incidents, not to mention the inevitability of internal divisions and even of a coup d’état.

In this same 2016 writing, he called for those wanting change to insure that a new way of ruling is required. In other words those that come after the EPRDF should not rule in the same dominating way. This somewhat echoes the recent comments of former Ethiopian minister Falsin Abdi who resigned her position because she felt Abiy Ahmed was wanting to start a regime based upon Amhara domination. Now Messay Kebede seems to have forgotten his previous words.

This noted academic like many Amhara comes to his opinions based upon the idea that an Amharic defined Ethiopian nationalism is best for Ethiopia which requires the elimination of other ethnic identities. Whereas the Tigray and many Oromo fighting for liberation see ethnic preservation in a coalition is vital to preserving their culture and way of life.

Dr. Kebede has previously received acclaim from many among the Amhara intellectual elites for his writings on the causes and mechanisms of the Ethiopian revolution against the Derg regime in the book, Autopsy of the Ethiopian Revolution. Following the the Ethiopia People’s Revolutionary Front coming to power, Kebede was on the faculty at Addis Ababa University for 15 years. Many Amharic academics clashed with EPRDF policy of recognizing multiple ethnic identities and preserving regional autonomy including Dr. Kebede. After spending 5 months in jail he decided to immigrate to the United States in 1994 where he has been on the faculty at the University of Dayton since 1998.

Abiy Amed following Yugoslavia model for state destruction

Current armed rebellions against the central Ethiopian government

Although Abiy Ahmed Prosperity Party supporters exuberantly welcome his medemer version of a national unity  based upon the old model of Amhara elitism studies of the downfall of Yugoslavia just thirty years ago suggest it will similarly fall.  Many of those who witnessed the Yugoslavia downfall today point to the fact that political elites tried to force their version of a unity identity while ignoring altogether ethnic and religious differences in the country.

This year marked the 30th anniversary of the breakup of Yugoslavia. What was known as Yugoslavia had several ethnicities including Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Although the different groups had similar “racial history” and language there were significant cultural as well as religious differences between the groups that were not “taken into account” in creating the Yugoslavian state in 1918 after World War I.

The monarchy gave way to a communist regime at the end of World War II during which many partisans were split between supporting the Allied and Axis powers. The new communist ideals fashioned under Josip Tito ignored language and ethnicity but instead claimed that a common goal of “self managed socialism” was the main contributing factor to a Yugoslavian nationality.

Historians have noted that the education system and cultural recognition mechanisms of the time did not present the presence of a “multi-cultural” society but only that a history of national unity from a common struggle defined the country.

Upon the death of Tito in 1980 the long standing denial of ethnic identities and their suppression gave way to overflowing cries of discrimination and favoritism. It is interesting that many who have studied this change remark that ethnicity itself was not the cause for change but the existing pattern of political elites of a few ethnic groups to claim their concept of national identity was superior to other groups ideals. Ethnicity became a tool of political power, oppression, and ultimately resulted in the killings of thousands.

The breakup of the former Yugoslavia

Muslims, Christians, Catholics, Orthodox, Serbs, Montenegerins, Macedonian, Bosnians, Croates, and Slovennes all began to be polarized from each other. Even within groups there was division based upon how devoted one was to one’s own ethnicity or religion. In seeking recognition for their own religion it became a political tool for manipulation and oppression as well as ethnicity.

Abiy Ahmed who was once the representative in the Ethiopian Parliament for the Oromo region immediately north of the capital, Addis Ababa, made his early reputation as a mediator between religions and protector of Oromo rights to housing. However over the past two years he has found tremendous political support and power by realigning himself with mostly Amhara elites who have revived the concept of Ethiopia having an Amharic manifest destiny. Like those who tried to create a central unity in Yugoslavia he is supported by academics who speak not in terms of historical fact or scripture but in flagrant political  language which proclaims this is the only manner in which Ethiopia as a nation can thrive. That this approach will lead to it becoming an international super power. No regard is given that while for last ten years it approached Gross Domestic Product Growth of almost 10% annually it is now in reality a -2% for this year and in unescapable debt.

As regards those who are not Amharic he is saying that they can be a “part” of this unity if they agree to suppress dissent on his approach. Whereas initially he called for a free press, release of political prisoners, and openness in political discussion this has been transformed to a tyrannical state where dissent is rewarded with a branding of “terrorist” that can lead to imprisonment, confiscation of assets, or even assassinations. Healthcare, banking, communication, food, security, and right to life are reserved for those who agree with the Abiy Ahmed version of medemer while others will be deprived.

Just as in Yugoslavia this strict acceptance of only the Prosperity Party ideal of being an Ethiopia has resulted in open rebellion in not only Tigray but also Beningshagul, Amhara (Qemont and Agaw), Oromo, Somali, Afar, and Gambella regions. The fastest growing revolt is occurring in the region of Oromia of his own ethnic group. 

Noted authority on Ethiopia, Alex De Waal, wrote this week that Abiy Ahmed has turned up his rhetoric to excite his supporters while many other African leaders are increasingly shunning him.  The United States previously the foremost supporter of Ethiopia finds itself having to impose sanctions because of overwhelming evidence of mass genocide. Both De Waal and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez both have indicated that they believe Abiy Ahmed is a risk of destroying Ethiopia if he does not change course. In an interview with Al Jazeera, the UN Secretary General stated that Ethiopia cannot defeat the Tigray forces.



Fear of kingless country prophecy, Zemene Mesafint, drives Abiy Ahmed supporters

Like ancient Israel Ethiopia will fall without cohesion of a strong pious leader endorsed by righteous religious authority. This long and widely held political religious viewpoint has been directly assimilated into support for Abiy Ahmed by his supporters. They prophesize his fall from power will bring an unholy chaos and downfall of the state.

Abiy Ahmed visits deposed Abune Merkorios of the Ethiopia Orthodox Church who is supported by many diaspora

The origin of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) traces it history first to Hebrew traditions historically brought to Ethiopia by the Queen of Sheba and her son Menelik I who was fathered by the Hebrew King Solomon. Subsequently Judaism as the state religion gave way to Christianity in the third century AD under King Ezana. The EOC retained many Jewish features such as the kosher diet in part because of the nine Syrian Jewish Christians who came to Ethiopia and brought Scripture in the Geez language. Tewahedo, the concept of Jesus being of one mixed substance indivisible one from the other, separates it from Western and Eastern European Christology. Many Ethiopians see the parallels in the story of the struggle of the Jewish state and that of Ethiopia. They see this struggle as being dependent on the pious observance of the Ethiopian people.

Early on the EOC differentiated itself from the Western Roman Catholic Church and the Byzantium Church in the this concept of Tweahedo but also by accepting Donatism. In simple terms this meant that priest had to be absolutely holy and without corruption otherwise they are incapable of performing priestly duties including especially rituals of forgiveness and the eucharist. It also gave them a higher status in many ways to even the monarchy or political leaders. This lent and continues to lend authority to the words of clergy to the population.

They did however look to Emperor Constantine as a model of imperial orthodoxy. Similar to what happened in Europe during the middle ages a partnership developed between the EOC and the monarchy. The holy nature of the clergy gave them authority to proclaim Ethiopian monarchy as being chosen by divine will.

Strength through unity expands the empire and protects it

Initially the Ethiopian empire was born out of the Axumite Empire bordering the Red Sea and even some territory in Yemen consisting of the Semitic speaking peoples we know today as the Tigray and Amhara. Over the centuries holdings in Yemen were lost but the new Solomonic dynasty began to spread south and west. The Cushitic peoples of western, southern, and eastern Ethiopia were overcome and became subjects of the empire. However fierce rivalries grew within the empire leading to many episodes of betrayal, assassination, and wars. Additionally there were times when Muslims who make up at least a third and maybe 40% of the population fought the empire.  Ethiopian Christians believe their “God derived” unity and tolerance towards Muslims who accepted subjugation preserved the Christian state.

This intertwining of destiny, religion, and the need to keep power created even academic misrepresentations of Ethiopian history propagated by the ruling Amhara monarchy. For example that the Oromo people were immigrants to the Ethiopia and that Muslims were meant to be graciously accepted as refugees from the pagan Saudi kingdom but not part of the Ethiopian manifest destiny. Cushitics  were inferior and meant to be ruled by Amhara.

The prophetic chaos of the time of princes (without a king)

Fear of the danger of collapse of the empire from disunity happened during the period referred to as Zemene Mesafint in 1769 through 1865AD which is an analogy to the collapse of the 12 tribes of Israel in Jewish history which rendered them susceptible to invaders. Additionally the analogy goes further that this collapse was due to following away from God. Even though the Emperor Tewodros II lost to the British in war and committed suicide he is glorified as an example of strength in this unity.

Divisions develop in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church

Over the past century the EOC has developed significant divisions in its ranks. Over a half century beginning in the Caribbean Islands critics of the leadership of the Ethiopian Church began to develop. This was in part driven by the concept that Cushitic peoples of Ethiopia especially in the western and southern regions did not have the same citizenship status or rights as Northern Ethiopians. Amharic royalty had become the holders of power leading to the allowance of slavery and land acquisition of Cushitic’s. Many Oromos were characterized also as pagans for not joining the EOC. This facilitated their increased conversion to Islam and opened the way for the introduction of evangelical protestants to flourish.

Large numbers of diaspora came to the United States and Europe during the Derg regime Tigray Peoples Liberation Front conflict which followed the end of the monarchy. Opposition groups distrusted the appointments of the Patriarchs leading the EOC in Ethiopia as being too aligned with the Derg and subsequently the TPLF. Three groups of EOC churches developed, the unrecognized Holy Synod in exile, the neutral, and those loyal to the Patriarch over the past two decades.

Additionally, many Protestant converts, both in the diaspora and native Ethiopian population have now joined up with those in the Holy Synod in Exile fearing that a repeat Zemene Mesafint will happen. Currently under order of the the Prime Minister of Ethiopia,  Abune Mathias, the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, has accused the government of wanting to destroy Tigray and been placed under house arrest.

The Tigrayan Abune Mathias of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is under house arrest

Many Ethiopian Protestant converts and exiled EOC members as well as Amharic factions in Ethiopia see Abiy Ahmed as the continuation of the partnership of political religious alliance that has been the prophecy of success for Ethiopia. While others see this as just a pretense for the continuation of expansionist Amharic elitism camouflaged by religion. 




The Rise of Ethiopian Clerico-Fascism supporting Abiy Ahmed

The term clerical or clerico-facism was first used relative to Ethiopia by Italian opponents of Mussolini invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Almost a century later  clerico-fascism returns to describe Christian clergy in Ethiopia as well as diaspora in the United States and Europe who support completely the brutal invasion of Tigray by Abiy Ahmed.

Initial enthusiasm for religious unity under Abiy Ahmed leadership has faded to an Abiy Ahmed centric view

Currently in Ethiopia, the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, son of a Christian mother and Muslim father, but now a Pentacostal Christian is being criticized as being a clerico-fascist by opponents to his regime. They see this clerico-facism as really Amharic elitism by another name.

In 1920s Italy, the rise of Benito Mussolini found support with the Partido Poplare Italiano who advocated a joining of fascism and Catholicism. At the time the Catholic Church world wide was deeply concerned with the threat of communism and socialism which advocated loyalty to state above all else. That religion was an antiquated system contrary to the state. The marriage of Catholicism to facism offered a clear path of survival to the church all though opponents saw it as heresy.

After being elevated to Prime Minister from being the head of the Oromo Regional political party he went on a tour of the United States in 2018. He was accompanied by Jawar Mohammed, a Muslim diaspora leader, who both advocated a national identity overriding regional nationality as well as cooperation between all religions including Orthodoxy, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, and others.

Now three years later radical Christian voices have become not only the main defenders of his policy of oppression and non-negotiation with political opponents and Tigray but appear to be even writing his policies. To understand this further we have to back in time to review the religious history of Ethiopia. The Prime Ministers promise of medemer, mixing for the benefit of all Ethiopians, has been changed to the old theme of Amharic elitism.

Legend has it that the Saban Queen of Sheba met King Solomon of Israel producing a son, Menelik, who began what is known as the Solomonic dynasty of Ethiopia. The Axumite Empire based in what is now the Tigray Regional State and Eritrea of initially ruled by the ancestors to the Tigrayans but gradually the Amhara region who are also descended somewhat from this empire took over. For centuries there was a close relationship of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) and the monarchy such that Ethiopian identity was tied to this religion for both Tigray and Amhara. Muslims came to Ethiopia to seek refuge during the Prophet Mohammed’s struggles with the pagan Saudi Arabian leaders and were welcomed. Today they make up a sizeable minority in the country as a whole but traditionally were marginalized by not be allowed to own land. There ability to construct mosques in areas of Ethiopia were always restricted.

The ancient EOC began in the Semitic Tigray and Amhara region but over the past approximately 200 years its dominance spread with conquering of Cushitic kingdoms in the western and southern regions of Ethiopia. The religion, Amharic language, and many cultural practices of the Northern regions were exported to the new conquests. In fact just before the beginning of the 20th century, the monarchal capital was shifted from Northern Ethiopia to Addis Ababa in the center of the country in what was Oromo territory. This was done to allow for the Amhara rulers to better defend and govern their larger territorial gains.

The EOC promoted the idea that the Semitic kings were chosen by God to rule over all of what we know call Ethiopia. The Bible they use was written in Geez a precursor to the current Amhara language and the official language of trade and government become Amhara. Additionally the EOC promoted the idea that the Oromo and Southern peoples were of an inferior nature to the Semitics of the North. This resulted in the EOC approving of land seizure, capture,  and use of Southern and Western non-Semitic Cushitic’s to be used as slaves.

The Protestant conversions began in the Southern and Western regions by Western missionaries in the late 19th century and continuing today who told the people that they had equal status under God. Today the Protestant churches, mostly Pentecostal, are growing fast and have moved up from the Southern regions to central Ethiopia including the capital city of Addis Ababa. They have little presence in Tigray which has small groups of Catholics and Muslims.

When Abiy Ahmed toured the United States it excited both Amharic diaspora who were EOC and also the newer evangelical protestant. Pentecostals believe in the concept of Arminianism which clearly proclaims that salvation is rigidly defined by their specific definition and all others deserve suffering and hell completely. Other types of evangelical Christians believe in the Calvinistic idea that only a few are pre-chose by God even before birth for salvation and leading society. A tri-partite alliance of Pentecostals, evangelical Christians, and significant elements of the Amharic EOC has formed as stalwart advisors and defenders of the policy of aggression to only the Tigray but other minority groups in Ethiopia. In Ethiopia and other countries with large numbers of diaspora major divisions have arisen within the EOC.

Abiy Ahmed’s opponents say that he has under gone a transformation from calling for equality to one that really promotes Amhara elitism. As noted by many historians such as Professor Christopher Clapham who writes: “Although Ethiopia has continuously formed a multi-ethnic political system, participation in national political life normally required assimilation to the cultural value of the Amhara core: the Amharic language, orthodox Christianity and a capacity to operate within the structure and assumptions of a court administration.”

Ethiopia has always been an empire not a nation for the Tigray

Tigray Defense Forces parade their success
There is a global misperception often forwarded by Amhara expansionists that Ethiopia has been a nation for centuries. But instead the area we call Ethiopia came into being less than 200 years ago when Amharic kings become dominant over the Tigrayan monarchy and then conquered Cushitic peoples in Oromia, the Southern Nations, the Afar, and were “gifted” part of Somalia by European powers. In reality the Tigray have always thought of themselves as a nation in an empire.
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 last summer who had 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 approximately the past 150 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.
Peasant Revolution in 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?
This article has been updated from its original form