NES COMMENTARY No. 26
Network of Ethiopian Scholars (NES)
October 31, 2008
Title: The Significance of Ethiopia’s History of National Resistance for African Unity and Dignity. PART - III
“It is a well-known fact that we always recognise our homeland when we are about to lose it.” -Albert Camus“Do not forget your history and destiny.” - Bob Marley
In part III we concentrate on the generational mistakes that require courage from all of us to admit and try to correct it. All must learn to show humility: those of us who have survived the Red Terrors; and those also who uphold the so-called ‘the nation, nationalities and peoples’ mechanistic-reductionism to an ethnic formula by erecting ambiguous and self-serving programmes of either with Ethiopia as it is if possible, or without Ethiopia if not possible (See the TPLF’s1976 Manifesto); and today’s mushrooming vernacular-ethnic based political parties populating the country’s political space under the spurious guise of promoting democracy. All must re-evaluate their politics by factoring in the relevant but up to now much ignored Ethiopia’s positive historical data.
It is not too late. All can learn to know history, and with knowledge must come also humility for the sake of getting Ethiopia completely on the direction that unites rather than permanently fractures. We call on all to show humility before the judgment court of history and pay respect to the achievements of those who bequeathed a historical logo of national resistance that has inspired not only our own people but Africans at home and in the Diaspora and all those colonised peoples the world over.
As far as India, Ghandi was making collections to help the Ethiopian resistance in the 1930s, and African Americans were ready to fight with Ethiopia. We must never try to devalue a historical achievement of resistance that meant a lot to all those who struggled against the imperial-colonial system. The historical record of standing up against the colonial system qualifies Ethiopia to be a respected historical nation and indeed a civilisation-nation, and not to be fought as many of our ethnic entrepreneurs have made it a habit to an extent of costing us both the loss of both this history and Ethiopia itself.
All thoughtful people who respect the hard earned historical achievements must also respect Ethiopia’s history and its significance for both Ethiopia’s future and Africa’s future. Get up, and stand up for the right to respect this history and even better still build on it instead of disorientating such a worthy nation with all sorts of half-baked ideas that have miss-directed the effort to transform and modernise the country.
Let the country, having beaten one great humiliation, which is, fascist colonialism, should be enabled by its own children to focus and concentrate with one goal to defeat the second unacceptable humiliation. That is the call is to enjoin all of us to learn to unite with purpose and commitment to feed all the people irrespective of race, religion, ethnic origin, language or beliefs as an urgent priority.
2. Learn from Mistakes: Appreciate Ethiopian History of Resistance and Experience to build from it to Shape Ethiopia’s Future
The generations in the post-war period have ignored what is critical: the significance of Ethiopia’s history of national resistance and the historical logo it provided for African colonial freedom. All those who have ignored and paid lip service to their history and who refuse to build their future by recognising their historical achievements will suffer. Ethiopia continues to suffer for such oversight and hubris.
Today the elite have substituted ideology by devaluing the importance of a national-patriotic project for building the future by due appreciation of the country’s rich historical experience. We must admit we were wrong as a generation to do so. Ignoring and not being able to build on Ethiopia’s notable historical achievement is a generational mistake that we must all accept with humility and begin to learn from our mistake if we are truly honest and respect the people, the country, the nation, Africa and all justice loving people who suffered colonial humiliation in one form or another in the world.
Not only was it wrong to eclipse Ethiopia’s historical achievement with ideology, but also the ideology we spread was not fully understood and historically contextualised. It was an ideology that was also ill-digested, never fully grasped by all those who fanned it out with a pamphleteering culture which still has not left us at all. Such a disposition and proclivity keep subverting our best intentions. We suffer from a lack of depth in our reflection and our inability to integrate the new from the outside with the realities inside Ethiopia. We lack deeper understanding with the history, context and social practice of our people, nation and country. We cannot say those who rule us either care or show any concern to understand. We cannot say those who are in opposition except those who stand for Pan-Ethiopian national patriotic agenda also fully understand history. What Fanon called the ‘useless classes of elites’ remain useless? But we must encourage and incentives them to learn to become useful and productive. We must also learn to appreciate what deserves genuinely appreciation.
The ideology that was imposed on the hapless nation ‘the right to self-determination including secession’ was like adding water to oil and hope to get a new compound. It became too irrelevant to unite the nation to focus on issues that matter. It, in fact, has been encouraging to foster ethnic vernacular agitation contrary to the ideology which claimed by promoting this ideology, the nation will be united!
Another country which is a historical and civilisation nation like Ethiopia had elites that were not what Fanon would call the useless classes! The society, the history and the culture were able to give anything that came from outside to have Chinese characteristics: Christ, Buddha, Mohammed and Marx - their teachings went to China but were given Chinese characteristics and were re-shaped with a hybrid synthesis and imagination with their Confucian tradition, history, culture and philosophy.
We cannot say that everything that came to Ethiopia also was re-founded and re-shaped with Ethiopia’s core histories and values. That is where our generations failed Ethiopia not to learn, but learn badly and destructively. It is always good to learn from outside, but it is also important to select what to learn and how to learn, and appropriate lessons well rather than engage in hollow mimicry.
3. The Generation that Fanned ethnicism must learn to reject the Ideology of such sub-nationalism!
We can see that ideology of ethnicism that has been applied fully now in Ethiopia has been one that has been enunciated with such mendacity by the Austrian fascist whose statements in his book on ‘tribes’ resemble eerily with all those who fan the erroneous concept of “Abyssinian imperialism’ today. All those who claim that Ethiopia is an ‘invention,’ it does not exist, became paradoxically and inadvertently strange bedfellows with the fascist writer whose book we have introduced for all to read. When the fascists spread the ugly notion that only ‘Amharas’ stand for Ethiopia, that was a gross insult to all the people, however diverse they are, from those who fought against Italian aggression from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean! It is the disservice to all the patriots drawn from all the diverse communities that fought valiantly for Ethiopia.
The fascist writer himself admits the resistance against Italy was every where: Some examples he cites (See pp-48-49). Amongst others the author mentioned ‘The Abyssinian tribe of the Anauks”, “the Abyssinian border tribe from the Province of Dankali” and others! So it is not only ‘Amharas’ but other Ethiopians from every part of the country have fought by the own admission of the fascist writer.
It is clear the isolation of ‘Amharas’ was more an ideological gimmick to divide and rule, and also to target them for poison gas aerial bombardment, than a true record of what took place. It was not based on a real appreciation of who was actually fighting Italian fascism. Everyone fought from the ordinary peasant to the emperor of the time in Ethiopia valiantly. If that emperor had not been Haile Selassie, any other person in his position would also have led the resistance. It has been acknowledged despite poorly armed resistance fighters with outnumbered Italian troops; Ethiopia held its own and even scared the Italian aggressors by holding on the resistance for nearly a year before the Italians entered the Capital.
The misuse and abuse of the name ‘Amhara’ serves clearly ulterior motives. It is nothing but a gross insult to all the other communities and vernacular groups that have equally fought them from Eritrea to the inhabitants of the Omo River in the South?
The fascists claim that Ethiopia’s anti-colonial resistance is anti-white and an anti- European race, which too is a strong propaganda ploy to isolate Ethiopia in the League of Nation. In fact, many white people did support the Ethiopian cause.
Has not, for example, Ethiopian resistance been supported by Italian anti-colonialists, Sylvia Pankhurst, Spencer, Swedes, Russians, Americans, Mexicans and many others. Ethiopia’s resistance and the leaders of the resistance were not anti-foreign. They were anti-fascist, anti-colonial. They must be respected not condemned for their stand. History must recognise their efforts.
We should make a wake-up call on our generation including those who now rule or miss-rule the region from Eritrea to the Indian Ocean in Somalia to be humble and acquire high knowledge with high humility and recognise that those who passed paying the price must be recognised and not condemned. The best recognition is to preserve the Ethiopia that they fought and died for! Nothing will vindicate their sacrifice than to keep Ethiopia strong, alive and developing!
4. My generation has been wrong and we need to respect and learn from History!
My generation was right to raise issues of social justice, human rights, social solidarity and democracy, but this should not have been at the expense of Ethiopia’s historical achievements. It should have built the new social change on that historical achievement rather than negate history and Ethiopia together. The generation should have derived an agenda of patriotism with social justice and democracy that would have made its contribution relevant and enduring, the country to develop and complete the haphazard efforts of the earlier era to undertake modernisation.
No one can accuse my generation that their intention was not noble. But there is no doubt that the consequence from lack of generational historical sense has cost Ethiopia dearly.
My generation of Ethiopians with intentions to do no harm ended up doing huge harm by not understanding the significance of Ethiopia’s national resistance not only to Ethiopia’s future but also for Africa and indeed the colonised world as a whole, which their predecessors understood so clearly, as conceded even grudgingly by an Austrian arch fascist enemy of Ethiopia! Instead of building on a patriotic agenda from Ethiopia’s historical achievement and develop a robust development strategy to transform the people, the country, the society, the economy and the nation irreversibly to get out of the low poverty equilibrium trap, ‘the history averse and history condemning’ elites created a false ideological agenda that played entirely into those who always wanted to eliminate the country. The Ethiopia that bore the shining example of non-surrender and non-capitulation to the world imperial-colonial system has thus been entangled in a web of conflict, war, poverty, growing social inequalities and threat of disintegration ever since!
My generation must recognise that we were too dismissive and condescending with little or no knowledge of the significance and meaning of Ethiopia’s national history of resistance against the world colonial system to consolidating Ethiopian unity with diversity nationally and with African unity continentally.The fascist author himself told us very clearly their plan to eradicate Ethiopia by inciting and intensifying intra-tribal contradictions and conflicts! Reading the book indeed sends shivers to ones spines seeing the length to which the colonial and imperial powers have gone to make Ethiopia remain permanently in a state of destructive conflict. To this day, Ethiopia has not come out of the seemingly endless state of conflict, war and hunger! It seems to have fallen under arrogant ruling elites whom Fanon describes as a “useless class” who still do not know how to oppress the people except by threatening to kill them with sub-level ‘tribalism’, violence and massive deception and disinformation.
5. Ethiopians in the Resistance were Aware of the Significance of Ethiopia’s Wider Role to Africa
We have always been told what Ethiopia meant based on the views of others from Africa and outside. We never were able to tell the history of what Ethiopians themselves understood by relating the larger significance and meaning of their national resistance to Pan-African unity.
When Ethiopia was attacked we know many Africans within Africa, African Americans, Caribbean’s and others tried to help in any way they can. When this is well known, what is not known is how much Ethiopia itself in terms of policy not just example of resistance stood for the dignity and liberty of the Africans the world over. Ethiopians can only be proud that their country had the wisdom and the principle, the spirit of independence and the courage to stand not only for itself but the whole African world since the European Scramble for Africa until 1974.
Ironically this side of Ethiopia’s role was revealed by its enemies who feared that Ethiopia’s victories can derail the entire colonial-imperial project. It is incredible how much they overestimated Ethiopia’s role not only in Africa but also in even mobilising what we may call now the then colonised world!
They were so afraid of this side of Ethiopia’s role; they concocted a double strategy of uniting the colonial world to limit Ethiopia’s capabilities despite the ability of some of the emperors (e.g. notably Emperor Menelik) to exploit weaknesses in their ranks.
Today Ethiopia continues to suffer from the formula the colonial powers laid for sustaining the seeds of internal conflict to realise their larger objective of weakening Ethiopia’s national resistance and acquire the surrender from Ethiopia they wished desperately to get, which they never got. That the imperial-colonial system wanted Ethiopia to surrender and capitulate is well known, given the numerous conquests, unequal treaties and double standards for Ethiopians and Europeans in Ethiopia. That they never managed to get it is a real testament to the spirit of Ethiopia that we must always cherish and celebrate- a history of national resistance never to surrender to colonial enslavement at whatever cost for Africa!
What is better known is Ethiopia’s capacity never to have surrendered or capitulated to the imperial and colonial system. What comes as surprisingly new to us is the cost paid by Ethiopia for never surrendering or continuing to mount national resistance no matter how difficult the challenges! The colonial powers seemed to have been affronted and took Ethiopia’s success as insolence to be rectified only by its complete paralysis by sowing the seeds of conflict and destruction in the country using the right to self-determination of’ tribes’ as a weapon.
Nothing short of Ethiopia’s extinction to continue as a viable nation was the conventional colonial plan. That Ethiopia existed despite this deliberate strategy to destroy her says more about the resiliency and tenacity of Ethiopians than any concession to let her exist by the imperial-colonial system.
6. Concluding Remark
The history of how Ethiopia survived must be told and re-told tirelessly. Those who do not want this history to be told must be resisted. Without an understanding and awareness of this history, the destiny of this nation will not be secured for good. Today Ethiopia should have been in a much better situation than it is now in the 21st century. We must excavate what went wrong and learn never to ignore or demonise Ethiopia’s history if we wish to discover quickly a worthy direction so that the people can have adequate food, shelter, clothing, education, health and infinite well being. It is never too late to learn and to change paradigm from what creates division and conflict to what brings unity, perspective and foresight to move mountains with the nation, people and country living in perpetual solidarity, justice and human rights! A new perspective that appreciates history is needed to change the destructive politics into a constructive politics for change.
The real puzzle is this: Why in the 1930s a fierce proponent of Ethiopian colonial enslavement wrote this odious book holding fast a position that Ethiopia was potentially able of giving leadership for entire Africa and even to the extent of recognising its potential to support and be an example to the rest of the non-colonising and non-imperialist world?
1. What did Ethiopia mean to its colonial enemies? It meant either a country that must be colonised or destroyed. No other option existed. If not colonisable, use self-determination of ‘tribes’ against the oppression of ‘Abyssinian imperialism’ to break it up and weaken it to a point of complete annihilation.
2. What did it mean to other Africans who stood by Ethiopia and its history of national resistance as a great inspirer by expressing nothing but pan-African resistance to restore African dignity and humanity?
3. What did it mean to Ethiopians who were resisting colonialism and imperialism and who fought and passed a national history of resistance as a positive data? Ethiopia meant a lot. First they were also Pan-Ethiopian patriots and understood their role as such. They were not only Ethiopian patriots; they were also Pan-African patriots. Moreover they were a shining example to the colonised world. History will be kind to them. They were not perfect. They were not democrats. Their social policy was more traditional than scientific; neither fair nor imbued with justice at the local level... They did not undertake land reform. But they stood against the colonial world and left a country that, if the generations that follow were equally committed to Pan-Ethiopian patriotism and Pan-African patriotic nationalism, Ethiopia could have been playing an inestimable and positive role in Africa and the world today.
4. What does today’s Ethiopia’s own generation understand by the history of Ethiopia’s epic national resistance not to be colonised and not to be broken up into pieces? Do the current generations understand Ethiopian history and anti-colonial record as part and parcel of the sum total of pan-African history or do they understand it as the sworn enemies of Ethiopia who left no stone unturned to colonise or break it up? This is a great challenge to all those who have been playing politics in Ethiopia. Face the challenge or quit doing your destructive politics! The first is to show humility and recognise mistakes committed against Ethiopia, the people and the nation.
This generation must learn to rededicate themselves to undertake a painful evaluation of its errors, recommit themselves to build politics away from ethnicism to Ethiopian patriotic civic national citizenship, build pan-Ethiopian and pan-African institutions with resolve, determination, knowledge and historical foresight, and create a united patriotic passion and sentiment in order to transform the country rapidly to emerge as a strong developed nation in the 21st century playing a positive role to overall African development and structural transformation.
This generation of politicians that have scattered as ethnic entrepreneur-politicians must stop implementing a politics of difference and identity that splits Ethiopia. They must stop copying what worked for the colonialist/fascist project and go for an alternative pan –Ethiopian and Pan-African manifesto to rebuild Ethiopia with the principle of unity with diversity and not enmity. It is remarkable after nearly 80 years from the 1930s the colonialist manifesto is being implemented in Ethiopia by home grown ethnic entrepreneur- politicians from different parts of the country.
We must reject singling out the ‘Amhara or the Amhar-Tigrean people’ or the so-called ‘Abyssinian colonialism’ thesis for spreading hate and unproductive politics. It is the hate politics of the fascist era that made the innocent people to be incinerated with poison gas.
In fact the areas where the ‘Amhara’ live that was deliberately selected by the fascists with evil cruelty to drop poison gas and commit genocide should have had a national memorial museum with full compensation for all that suffered from those who committed this perfidy. A patriotic Government in Ethiopia would not have any hesitation to create this national museum in recognition of those that perished fighting fascist aggression and to bequeath historical lessons for future generations.
Those in power must mend their ways and drop the ideology of ethnic federalism and learn to appreciate Ethiopian and African patriotic history by going with a big-bang for Pan-Ethiopian and Pan-African unity and civilisation with humility.
Those in opposition must equally adopt pan-Ethiopian and Pan-African visions and programmes by building from Ethiopian history a future for all citizens irrespective of religion, language, ethnic origin, belief, ideology and any other difference.
The ethnic nationalist parties must stop blaming a whole community for any wrongs of the past. There are some who continue to fight what they call’ Abyssinians’, sometimes this Portuguese invented name in the 15th century is applied to ‘Amharas’, at other times, it is used to include and lump together ‘Amhara-Tigre.’ Abyssinia is a derogatory term. Ethiopians must reject it and use the proper name Ethiopia whose people may be diverse but are and must be united to a man to transform their country together.
The fascists blamed the ‘Amhara people’ for not allowing other tribes to be civilised by them. Such a wholesale blame of a whole community and even a leader issued from such community is nothing but primitive.
Finally, Ethiopia should aim high and not split itself into pieces. It will always be making big mistakes not to build its future on its proved and tried national historical achievement. The future is bright as long as we learn to back cast from our history to forecast our collective destiny as Ethiopians and Africans with patriotism that endows our personality with virtue and solidarity without prejudice to any other nation and people on this earth. Let us plough on the right terrain and walk the right path and begin to talk the politics that can stimulate the productive direction that makes real difference to our peoples’ lives.
Mammo Muchie, DPhil
Coordinator of DIIPER
Research Centre on Development Innovation and IPER and also
NRF/DST SARCHI Chair Holder, TUT, South Africa
Tel.no. 00-45 9940 9813
fax.no. 00-45 9815 3298