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'Ethiopian’ness (ኢትዮዽያዊነት), as a weapon for what end?

By Jerusalem Barnabas
Tigrai Online April 30, 2020

Tigrai should declare independence
The people of Tigray should never be used as a ‘sacrificial lamb’ for Ethiopians agenda, any party including TPLF must keep that in mind always.

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I read Aigaforum in a regular bases but don’t comment much. Lately though I have noticed the outpouring articles and arguments on Tigray, ‘separation verses unity’ some fierce some mild. Most of the writings are thought provoking and I decided to put something to that effect. I am not an expert on Tigray or Ethiopia’s history neither am I a political proponent of any party, my writing is neither an academic piece, nor a historical analysis but a female perspective on the issue of current sentiment in Ethiopia.

I would recommend Aigaforum, to allocate a section of female column to encourage contributors once every month or bimonthly. They can write in any language they feel comfortable. I hope that will perhaps push women to send articles, poems or so. However, I would like to thank Aigaforum for persevering all these years allowing people to share their opinion, the same gratitude goes to Tigraionline too. I cannot imagine what would have happened without your platforms although now the digital world has expanded variety of medium to people.

I want to start my article by a brief commentary on something posted by Gebre Selema, titled, ‘Cost Benefit Analysis of independence of Tigrai from Ethiopia’

Thank you, Mr Selema for posting the interesting article you shared, I enjoyed reading it and your perspective was thought provoking and pushed me to share something related to famine and my thoughts around it. I am not commenting on the whole article you wrote but only the famine that you were too young to remember, until your British friend revealed that information that shocked you. Your little statement about famine provoked me to publicly share my experience of Ethiopian famine and its lasting mental scar. I hope you read this article.

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By not knowing the famine, there is nothing you have missed, except anguish. In my life time, I have witnessed two miserable famines of Ethiopia. The famine of 1973/74 and the one a decade after, in 1984. Both caused immeasurable devastation also humiliation to millions of Ethiopians. On the other hand, mobilised humans from every corner of the world to display unseen compassion and humanity also financial support to Ethiopia. You must have heard “THE LIVE AID BAND” among many of the human gesture to that global shock.

The traumatizing famine of 1984, was at a different scale. The BBC News journalist, Michel Burke, who first broadcasted it said, it is like a ‘Biblical famine’.

During that time, I watched the emaciated bodies of my people graphically displayed on TV screens for some time.

While disturbed by what the famine did to millions of people in Ethiopia, I was also humbled and energised by the selfless gesture and generosity of the ordinary British people; they gave everything they could to help Ethiopia. The Ethiopians in UK were not as many then, they weren’t economically active as they are today, certainly though, they were, politically divided.

Haunted by the daily drilling news of famine, I and few of my Ethiopian friends, initiated an event to raise money to do our bit. We decided to put an interesting programme since countless fundraising events were taking place at the time everywhere, all by the British Public.

A fundraising event was planned to be held on the evening of 8th December 1984. In order to motivate Ethiopians to come to the event, I and two young male musicians, organised a little Band of our own, a Band of three people which later took more people; we made the night a music night. For me this was a nerve raking trial but I comforted myself that it was for a good cause.

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On the day, the event was well attended, people enjoyed their time although not a joyous time. While the night was going on, I was checking everything in the hall since I had taken the responsibility for the venue that I was given for free. I didn’t want anything to be vandalised or damaged. So, while going around to check, towards the extended corner of the big hall, something caught my eyes, a big writing, with a red marker: ‘የተራበው ትግሬ እንጂ ኢትዮዺያዊ ኣይደለም’. The literal translation, ‘the hungry is Tigrayan not Ethiopian’. I was shocked and dismayed as one would imagine. Almost all guests were fellow Ethiopians and some Eritreans (though still part of Ethiopia). I went asking who did that, no one answered; I confronted few who were shuffling round the notice board, they denied any knowledge; I had no evidence, my only evidence was that, the writers were my fellow Ethiopians. I erased the White Board and went to finish the event with a heavy heart.

While the whole world was utterly distressed by the human tragedy of Ethiopia, some Ethiopians had such a contempt to their ‘own people’, the Tigrayans! To this date, I have never been able to understand WHY? Almost 36 years since the famine, but the sentiment of the above writing has expanded and worsened today and that is my observation.

Ethiopia was a country synonym with famine in the Dictionary; it was the late Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi who had it removed, I salute him for that and for changing the perception and image of Ethiopia. Meles, was a visionary, courageous, intelligent and incredibly eloquent leader who brought Ethiopia to the global, political, economic and intellectual platform, while commanding a huge respect. On the other side, some hate filled and venomous Ethiopians celebrated his death and still curse his party and people to this date because he was Tigrayan, this is the depth of hate filled opinion about Tigrayan. So, if Ethiopians feel Tigrayns are not Ethiopians as the writing above የተራበው  ትግሬ እንጂ ኢትዮዺያዊ ኣይደለም ’ whothen is Ethiopian?

Anything Ethiopia prides itself seems to exist in Tigray as long as Tigray existed. Tigray may not be the origin of Coffee, but certainly is the cornerstone of every history of what Ethiopia claims. Every single archaeological site and digs to date, are centered inside Tigray if this is the evidence, who then is Ethiopian?

Ethiopia is Tigray, fact. If you remove Tigray from the formula of Ethiopia’s equation, you are talking something else not the Ethiopia we know. One cannot claim the land of Tigray as its own, but dismiss and harass its habitants unless one wishes to eliminate them.

1. Why is it when all else fails in Ethiopia, the blame mostly goes to Tigray, not others? Why?

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2. If the hungry in 1984 were not Ethiopians but ‘Tigre/ ትግሬ’; what grants any citizen in that land, the identity of Ethiopian’ness/ ኢትዮዺያዊነት?

3. What constitutes Ethiopian’ness? ኢትዮዺያዊነት

4. Why is ኢትዮዺያዊነት throughout history, used as a weapon by successive rulers more so, now?

5. Does Ethiopia have one definition and one criterion of Ethiopian’ness?

6. What is that and who made it?

Like many Tigrayans, I love Ethiopia and my fellow Ethiopians. They are all the same for me as collective Ethiopians, I don’t have a favourite Ethiopian. I grew up with dignified sentiment of Ethiopia and Ethiopian’ness (ኢትዮዽያዊነት). This is my experience and the experience of many Tigrayans. Sadly though, Tigrayans are haunted everywhere by their fellow Ethiopians for being Tigrayan. They are resented and condemned, blamed for any political error or decision TPLF made.

· Is that fair?

· Is there any political party that has not made political scandal anywhere why has so much fabrication of scandal made to alienate TPLF, where are the others who were in the coalition of Ethiopia?

· Is Ethiopia after TPLF a harmonious and cohesive state now?

· Why is there so much ill treatment, assassination, dehumanisation, genocidal propaganda towards Tigrayans?

· If this is the daily living of Tigrayans in Ethiopia and elsewhere, why should Tigray and Tigrayans be blamed for thinking another option?

· Who has the right to stop them?

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Neither TPLF nor any other party, has the right to stop them, they have the right to entertain an alternative option as long as all Tigrayans agree to it. Tigrayans in history have paid the heaviest price to keep Ethiopia, Ethiopians in return don’t sleep until they see the Tigrayans ‘disappear’. Because Tigrayans are the only defiant nation who have for generations refused to be subjugated; that’s the reason the name Weyane/ Difiant spirit is still owned by Tigrayans not a word owned by TPLF.

It is only reasonable to give some credit to history, after all, TPLF is a unique organisation that mobilised the people of Tigray in millions to overthrow the dictator Mengistu. It is time for people to understand TPLF, EPLF are organisations who were able to organise their people in millions and fought for the demise of Mengistu, this is without denying what others have contributed. No other Ethiopian had 60,000 people perished fighting Mengistu and 100,000 maimed. Apart from TPLF and people of Tigray, no one had had the endurance, resilience or courage to sustain 17 years of sacrifice to form a new Ethiopia.

That new Ethiopia brought about, drew a constitution that enshrined the rights of others in the land. TPLF is part and parcel of the Tigray nation, every Tigrayan has contributed to TPLF. People of Tigray have given their children, girls and boys, men and women, uncles, husbands, wives, grandparents, aunties and uncles, nephews and nieces. Therefore, it is difficult to separate TPLF from Tigray. That doesn’t seal the place of power unless it is fit and compatible with the ambition of Tigrayans young and old. TPLF as a party has to thoroughly reform itself to embrace good governance and healthy multiparty system and Robust democratic strategy and vision both in policy and practice.

The hate to TPLF will only consume Ethiopians that includes the Tigrayans who have grudge with them while they give their personal hate a political cover. Because they hate TPLF, they daily drum up about the ‘27 years of darkness’ and many other lies as their eternal propaganda. There is a say in English that fits this; if a Tin corrodes, it has no one but eat itself’.

A targeted and depraved psychological abuse on the identity of Tigrayan must not continue for the satisfaction of Ethiopians and or Eritreans, no matter how educated or illiterate they are.

The people of Tigray should never be used as a ‘sacrificial lamb’ for Ethiopians agenda, any party including TPLF must keep that in mind always.

Ethiopian’ness, whatever that may be, will not and should not be used as a weapon against people of Tigray and I rest my opinion on that until my next article.