Page semi-protected

Ethiopian nationalism

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The plain green, yellow and red flag of Ethiopian nationalism.[1][2][3]

Ethiopian nationalism, also referred to as Ethiopianism or Ethiopianness, is a political principle centered at unification of Ethiopian identity. The ideology was traced throughout ancient history, from Ethiopian Empire to the Derg rule.[4][5][6][7] For more than a century, Amhara ruling elite used this ideology to pursue an assimilation policy and consolidate power.[8] The conflict started between Abyssinia, ruled by Amhara ethnic groups, and various subjugated ethnic groups such as Oromo, Sidama, and Tigray. In 1991 Eritrea achieved independence as the Derg collapsed and the TPLF assumed power and created an ethnic-federal state.[9] The Amhara culture dominated throughout the eras of military and monarchic rule. Both the Haile Selassie and Derg governments relocated numerous Amharas into southern Ethiopia including the present-day Oromia Region, where they served in government administration, courts, church and even in schools, where Oromo texts were eliminated and replaced by Amharic.[10][11][12] As a result of these steps, ethnic tensions surged against the Neftenya system where the Oromo, Somali, and Tigray peoples, each of whom had formed separatist movements such as the OLF, TPLF, ELF and ONLF struggled to leave the Ethiopian Empire, which led to the Ethiopian Civil War.[7] Oromo and Amhara nationalists continue to have conflicting narratives over the status of Addis Ababa.[13] The Abyssinian elites perceived the Oromo identity and languages as hindrances to Ethiopian national identity expansion.[14] Until 1991, the Amhara dominated politics in Ethiopia.[15]


Painting depicting the Battle of Adwa of 1896 where Ethiopian forces were victorious over invading Italian forces. The victory is cherished as an example of Ethiopia upholding its independence against European colonial powers, and is annually celebrated in Ethiopia in Victory at Adwa Day.

The conception of an Ethiopian nation by Ethiopian nationalists is stated to have begun with the Aksumite Kingdom in the 4th century A.D.[5] The Aksumite Kingdom was a predominantly Christian state that at the height of its power controlled northern Ethiopian Highlands, Eritrea, and the coastal regions of Southern Arabia.[5] The Aksumite Kingdom was responsible for the development of the religious movement that became the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.[5] However, the expansion of Islam in the 7th century caused the decline of the Aksumite Kingdom, and most of the lowland populations converted to Islam, while the highland people remained Christian.[5] Since the Aksumite people became divided between Christian highlands and Islamic lowlands, religious and tribal tensions and rivalries between the people intensified.[5] The Aksumite society changed into a loose confederation of city-states that maintained the language of Aksum.[5]

The establishment of modern Ethiopia was led by particularly Amhara emperors Tewodros II of Gondar and Menelik II of Shewa. Tewodros governed from 1855 to 1868, followed by Yohannis IV, who was from Tigray and was emperor from 1869 to 1889 and managed to expand his authority into Eritrea, followed by Menelik, who governed from 1889 to 1913 and repelled the Italian invasion of 1896.[5]

Ethiopia, unlike the rest of Africa, had never been colonized.[5] Ethiopia was accepted as the first independent African-governed state at the League of Nations in 1922.[5] Ethiopia was occupied by Italy after the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, but it was liberated by the Allies during World War II.[5]

After the second world war, Ethiopia annexed Eritrea.[7] However, ethnic tensions surged between the Amhara and the Eritrean, Oromo, Somali, and Tigray peoples, each of whom had formed separatist movements dedicated to leaving Amhara-dominated Ethiopia.[7] After the overthrow of the Ethiopian monarchy by the Derg military junta, the country became aligned with the Soviet Union and Cuba after the United States failed to support it in its military struggle with Somali separatists in the Ogaden region.[7] After the end of military government in Ethiopia in 1993, Eritrea separated from Ethiopia.[7]

Legacy of independence

In March 1896 a definitive battle took place between the forces of colonial Italy and those of the Ethiopian Empire in a town in northern Ethiopia called Adwa. The battle was short but extremely violent with tens of thousands of deaths. At the time Emperor Menelik II had mobilized the Ethiopian people regardless of class and ethnicities. The mobilization drive would see millions of Ethiopian citizens march from their towns, villages, and cities into the Northern Highlands for the preservation of their African Empire. This battle would end in a decisive victory for Ethiopia, marking the country with a unique legacy of independence in the face of European aggression.[16]

The Battle of Adwa is the foundation for Ethiopian nationalist ideology. For many Ethiopians, the threat of foreign invasion is the rallying cry for patriotic sacrifices and nationalist ideologues. By the time the battle of Adwa took place almost all of Africa was dominated by European forces. Ethiopian independence broke the mold of European superiority and provided a beacon of hope for black nations and peoples around the world. For many Ethiopians, this moment represents a transitional moment, in which the nation realized its teleological doctrine. While the first war against Italy was a uniting war, the 1934 invasion by Benito Mussolini was extremely divisive. An observation on the Ethiopian nation Charles McClellan argues that the Italo-Abyssinian war of 1934 was in fact "as much a civil war as one against foreign aggression."[17] He also argues the political and factional differences which emerged in Ethiopia prior to the war, were not resolved by the Italian invasion but instead were amplified. This in the authors opinion led to an era of bitter factionalism which would "define the dynamics of post-war Ethiopian politics."[17]

Era of ethnic federalism

The Lion of Judah flag has been prominent during Ethiopian Empire under Haile Selassie's administration.

In 1991, the TPLF has had almost complete control of the national government, leveraging its power to concentrate wealth and development into the Tigray Region. The hegemonic rule of the Tigray people in Ethiopia was in many ways a reaction to the predominance Amharas had in media and governance. The hegemonic rule of a few ethnic groups or in some cases a single ethnic group has marginalized many groups within Ethiopia and has led to a cycle of violence and retribution. In the early 1990s, the TPLF believed that through an ethnic federalist state system, one in which regions were assigned and divided by the ethnic population. They regulated:

"(1) reduc[e] the inter-ethnic conflict that has divided Ethiopian society for centuries; (2) promot[e] equitable material conditions in all areas of the country; and (3) improv[e] the efficiency and effectiveness of public sector performance at the field level. They argued they could use political and administrative devolution to promote these objectives without threatening other important objectives, such as economic growth and political stability."[18]

While these regions weren't given "extensive sub-national control over technical policies, laws, regulations, and tax" their creation lent credibility to the different independence and ethnic nationalist movements around the country.[18] For Ethiopian nationalists, this credibility has emboldened different groups, giving them more cohesion, whilst corroding national unity and notions of Pan-Ethiopianism. The increased autonomy of these groups contrasted with the increased repression by Tigray elites created a situation in which the ruling class was both empowering groups through greater ethnic cohesion, but transparently stifling their political will. As evidenced by the 2005 elections the TPLF use of violent repression to subdue detractors of the ruling coalition only had the effect of radicalizing ethnic parties and increasing ethnic divisions. Many Ethiopian nationalists view the system of ethnic federalism as having made governing in Ethiopia a zero-sum game. To win power in Ethiopia is to deny any other ethnic group significant power. By expelling notions of Ethiopianism or multi-ethnic Ethiopian national identity from the national political dialogue the TPLF has increased the ethnic cleavages and created a system revolving around ethnic affiliation, void of political ideology. In 2015 after a master plan was unveiled to expand the boundaries of the capital Addis Ababa into Oromia in 2014, thousands of Oromo Youth Liberation Movement members took up to the streets demanding increased political representation, an end to the TPLF sponsored Master Plan and avenues of dissent.[19] Although the ruling party tried to blunt these protests through physical force they only grew and Amharas "angered by an unfulfilled demand to retake control of some of their lands" launched protests of mostly Oromos and Amharas (but also other Ethiopians) demanding proportional political representation and influence.[19] After a 10-month state of emergency imposed by the TPLF, which saw the abdication of prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Abiy Amhed—was selected by the ruling EPDRF coalition as the next prime minister due to his mixed Oromo-Amhara ethnic ancestry with a preference to his Oromo identify. Since Abiy taking power, he has taken up major reforms allowing back political dissidents, releasing some political prisoners, and liberalizing the economy.[20] While his drive to reform and democratize the nation has garnered him support across the country he still has not addressed the fundamental issues of the ethnic federalist system, which in the Pan-Ethiopians' opinion is the root cause for ethno-nationalist politics and tensions. Ethiopian nationalists believe that ethnic federalism must be ended to shift Ethiopian politics from ethnic patronage to ideology, it must be ended to induce national cohesion and blunt sectarian loyalty, and through the blunting of ethnic cohesion induce an era of unity and prosperity.

Abiy and the Prosperity Party have been seen as supporters of Ethiopian civic nationalism due to the merger of the Oromo Democratic Party with the Amhara Democratic Party, Argoba People's Democratic Organization, Benishangul-Gumuz People's Democratic Unity Front, Ethiopian Somali People's Democratic Party, Gambela People's Democratic Movement, Afar National Democratic Party, Hareri National League, and the Southern Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement ethnicity-based political parties into the new multi-ethnic Prosperity Party, thus moving these predecessor parties away from their ethnic nationalist and pro-ethnic federalism past into a party that promotes Ethiopian national identity, and non-ethnicity based federalism – all of which are seen by opponents as steps towards taking political powers based on group rights away from the various ethnic groups, while proponents see it as a way to move Ethiopian politics and governmental administration away from ethnicity-based identity politics, supporting the individual rights of each person, to mitigate the rise of ethnic nationalism, to foster national unity and solidarity, and to include in the democratic process political parties of several ethnic groups and regions that were once deemed too inferior by the Tigray People's Liberation Front-led Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front regime to fully join the one-party dominated coalition government or be full partakers in revolutionary democracy because of their largely pastoralist way of life.[21][22][23][24][25]

See also


  1. ^ W. Mitchell Journal of the Royal United Service Institution, Whitehall Yard, Volume 41, Issue 2 – Google Books" 1897. p. 1190.
  2. ^ Flag Research Center Firefly The Flag Bulletin, Volume 27 – Google Books" Flag Research Center, 1988. p. 11.
  3. ^ Michael B. Lentakis Ethiopia: A View from Within – Google Books" Janus Publishing Company Lim, 2005. p. 11.
  4. ^ Ethiopia urgently needs inclusive national dialogue, March 30, 2021
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Motyl 2001, pp. 149.
  6. ^ Ethiopia: Defining Amhara nationalism for a better country, September 27, 2020
  7. ^ a b c d e f Motyl 2001, pp. 150.
  8. ^ Ethnic Decentralization and the Challenges of Inclusive Governance in Multiethnic Cities: The Case of Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, retrieved December 20, 2014
  9. ^ Chronology for Amhara in Ethiopia, 2004
  11. ^ Country Information Report ethiopia, August 12, 2020
  12. ^ Ethiopia. Status of Amharas, March 1, 1993
  13. ^ What is driving Ethiopia's ethnic conflicts? (PDF), retrieved November 28, 2019
  14. ^ The Politics of Linguistic Homogenization in Ethiopia and the Conflict over the Status of "Afaan Oromoo", July 1970
  15. ^ ETHIOPIANS: AMHARA AND OROMO, January 2017
  16. ^ Jonas, Raymond. The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire. Harvard University Press, 2011,
  17. ^ a b “Observations on the Ethiopian Nation, Its Nationalism, and the Italo-Ethiopian War.” Northeast African Studies, vol. 3, no. 1, 1996, pp. 57–86. JSTOR,
  18. ^ a b Cohen, John M. “‘Ethnic Federalism’ in Ethiopia.” Northeast African Studies, vol. 2, no. 2, 1995, pp. 157–188. JSTOR, JSTOR,
  19. ^ a b Kestler-D'Amours, Jillian. “Ethiopia: Mass Protests 'Rooted in Country's History'.” GCC News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 20 Feb. 2018,
  20. ^ Burke, Jason. “'These Changes Are Unprecedented': How Abiy Is Upending Ethiopian Politics.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 8 July 2018,
  21. ^ Allo, Awol K. "How Abiy Ahmed's Ethiopia-first nationalism led to civil war". Retrieved 2021-01-20.
  22. ^ "Context and Updates on Current Issues in Ethiopia". Embassy of Ethiopia, London. 2020-07-08. Retrieved 2020-12-16.
  23. ^ Gedamu, Yohannes. "The new political party of Ethiopia's Abiy holds much promise but faces significant hurdles". Quartz Africa. Retrieved 2021-01-20.
  24. ^ Gebreluel, Goitom. "Analysis | Ethiopia's prime minister wants to change the ruling coalition. Who's getting left out?". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2021-01-24.
  25. ^ Mamdani, Mahmood (2019-01-03). "Opinion | The Trouble With Ethiopia's Ethnic Federalism (Published 2019)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-01-24.