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Is it the Berlin Conference of 1884 or an alleged Teseney Conference of 1990 that threatened Ethiopian Unity more permanently?

A Critique of Prof.Getachew Haile’s article

By Selam Yiheyis, PhD (Canada)
Ethiopian News, Tigrai Online, March 13, 2016

Berlin Conference of 1884 scramble for africa

In this article, I will primarily reflect on Prof.Getachew’s profound message that he recently posted at Ethiomedia criticizing EPLF, OLF and TPLF’s alleged partition of Ethiopia in 1990, which he compared with the Berlin Conference of 1884. The second aim of this article is to deconstruct the good professor’s purported defense of Ethiopian unity as inconsistent when aligned with his previous articles that undermine the very foundation of Ethiopian Unity. I will start with the second theme and then proceed to the first, based on chronological events of his activities. In order to help me frame my discussion, I would start by posing a critical question concerning Prof. Getachew’s ambivalence: Is he a staunch Ethiopian nationalist or a bully waging grand Amhara ethnic warfare against a certain secton of the Ethiopian population (especially the Tigrayans)?


Prof. Getachew Haile is a very respected historian whose academic calibre I envy for.  Yet, I am demurred when I observe him willfully bargaining his academic integrity and conscience into defying logic and common sense when it comes to his attitudes towards the Tigrayan community. He always seems to be trapped in a battle of settling scores in an old EPRP Vs TPLF feud. And many of the younger generation are lost in terms of this old power rivalry. That feud has slipped into dust bins of history and should be left for historians’ verdict. The overwhelming majority Ethiopians have opted to live the past squabbles behind them and move forward. As our national asset, Prof. Getachew could have mastered more national prestige and multinational influence and demeanour. Yet, much like his obsession with EPRP VS TPLF partisan politics, it is strange that he preferred to besiege himself within the illusion of an Amhara superiority complex. In his article, entitled, “Yileyal gudu yebetezemdu” (2005), he had unashamedly expressed his blunt prejudice in connection to the 2005 election crisis when he emphasized his ugly message:

“...The Tigrayans, who are a minority, cannot rule the Amhara and Oromo majority!”  Even worse, he continued to say, “..as the British cannot accept Irish rule, the Iraqi would not swallow Kurdish rule ,  or the Israeli cannot fathom Palestinian rule, So does the Amaharas would never tolerate the Tigrayan rule”.

Many reasonable Tigrayans and scholars have been shocked with Getachew’s blindly anti-Tegrayan stance (not solely anti-TPLF!).  First, he could not hide his temper when he tended to label Ethiopian ethnic groups into first, second and third estate, whereupon he bluntly threw all Tegrayans to the latter category. Second, he was far from being decent that one would normally expect of him to challenge the establishment based on policy issues rather than entertaining nasty ethnic superiority politics. Yet, he exposed his paranoid and phobia towards Tigrayans that clearly demonstrates his intellectual and ethnic arrogance.  How would Getachew defend Ethiopian unity and blast the OLF-EPLF-TPLF partition of Ethiopia when he himself had consciously disowned the Tigrayans as usurpers simply for their ethnic otherness? 

I was very much mystified with Prof. Getachew’s horrible tests of scholarly integrity and expectations. One should not be a Tigrayan to be outraged by Getachew’s dangerous message, clear inconsistencies and hypocrisy. My mind was spinning in a state of ambiguity regarding the merits of his scholarship: Is there any worth in his history professorship when he bent on promoting ethnic hatred? What is the value of education if it does not bring about behavioural change and be put to the inclusive services of the Ethiopian society? Does Getachew’s parochial mentality show the end of Ethiopian scholarship or the end of diaspora historians’ role modeling in shaping successive generations? How can such a mighty scholar, with dozens of masterpiece international publications, drop his moral ground too low before our own eyes? These series of queries reminded me of one striking proverb that my friend once told me: “there are no great personalities but imposingly huge trees, like the oaks.”

A few years after Getachew posted the blog, I met him twice at international conferences. I was swinging between directly challenging him and letting my feelings go.  But, even with all the suppressed resentment and for the sake of humility, I helped him move his armchair into the bus (I sympathize that his legs were disabled by the Derg’s torture, I heard). I tamed my mind to hold on to the moral teachings of the Bible: “love your enemy! And never reciprocate evil with evil!” I pitied him because I have so many more good and respected close Amhara friends whom I adore for their integrity, their recognition of fairness and multicultural and multinational equality. I was also hoping his emotional stance would subside in time. Unfortunately for him, he kept on his parochial approach till now. What is his moral ground to alienate ethnic Tigrayans simply because they were from Tigray? I can’t comprehend it.

Getachew has defied the simplest logic, as a historian.  If governing the Ethiopian state essentially requires Ethiopian citizenship, merit and organizational affiliation to a party, what an earthly logic would deprive the Tigrayans from assuming leadership roles as long as they remain Ethiopians? Is it better to offer Ethiopia to Shaebiya as a gift to mess with it, as many power monger ex-CUD rulers (like the traitors Dr.Berhanu) are now doing, rather than recognizing and accepting the fact that any Ethiopian citizen, regardless of ethnic stock, can be a leader as long as he/she has what it takes? Getachew seems to be caught up in a parochial mindset and myth that Amharas are borne to govern Ethiopia for eternity, which has no place in modern day Ethiopia. All Ethiopians are born equal. PERIOD. Whether it is fact or myth, Getachew knows too well that an Amhara chief, Yikuno Amlak of Shawa, who claimed to have restored the Solomonic dynasty, had initially justified his claim to the throne by tracing descent from the last Aksumite king. If the Tigrayans are dubbed as successors of the Aksumite kingdom, then the Amhara ruling elite would be equally dubbed as descendants of Sahle Silasie’s Kingdom of Shawa. And by extension, this would tantamount to doubting Menelik’s roles as the founder of modern Ethiopia

If Aksumite descendants could rule Ethiopia for over eight centuries until the 1974 revolution, then what is the big deal if we see a few members of the EPRDF elite from Tigrayan ethnic group in senior leadership positions? I am not claiming that Tegrayans should impose themselves on other ethnic groups. This civilized value in sharing power may be one of the reasons why TPLF never presented a candidate to lead the party (EPRDF) after the demise of the late Prime Minister Meles. The TPLF had out rightly endorsed Primer Haile Mariam Desalegn’s succession while other coalition members of the EPRDF (ANDM & OPDO) had presented their respective candidates. By extension, TPLF’s disclaim suggests that they are fed up with the Ethiopian elite’s “grievances” of its alleged dominance. The EPRDF has also been gradually moving on to install non-Tigrayans on positions of greater political and diplomatic importance.  This will take me to the second main theme of my critique.

Prof. Getachew has recently written an article on ethiomedia where upon he resembled the 1884 Berlin Conference with the Teseney Conference of 1990. The former, held between European colonial powers, hastened the European scramble for Africa while the latter Tripartite Conference (between OLF, TPLF, EPDM/now ANDM), which Getachew told us dealt with, the scramble for Ethiopia, under the auspices of the Shaebiya. First of all, I appreciate him for informing us if at all such a conference was held that “partitioned” Ethiopia into ethnic regions. Regrettably, he never offered us with full-fledged account of the Conference and his sources (types, accessibly, and credibility). As a historian, he has this professional and methodological burden of responsibility upon himself.

Honestly, it is my first hand information, and I think it would have made better sense if he could provide us with a concrete source to sustain his claims. Leaving the issue of sources aside, what I disliked more, however, is again his holistic blame of the Tigrayans conspiracy of dividing, weakening and destroying the very Ethiopian foundation. First, conspiracy theory is often liable to gross mistakes, for it is difficult to verify.  Second, if we have to extend conspiracy deeper in history so as to trade blames upon one or another elite for the partition of Ethiopia, he cannot deny that Emperor Menelik and his cousin, Ras Mekonnen would be in their worst position for signing up the Wuchale Treaty of 1898 and the Rome Additional convention of 1890, respectively. These two treaties were signed with those Italian colonialists and ardent members of the Berlin Conference. The Italians, with their ultra expansionist motto “Italy also deserves a space in the SUN”, openly declared Eritrea as colony and Ethiopia as a protectorate solely on the basis of Wuchale Treaty and Rome Convention. Menelik had gone to the battle of Adwa, not to reverse Eritrean colonial status, which was confirmed by the Addis Ababa treaty that ended the war, but to defend his political war thereby by save the rest of his empire. As the EPRDF prematurely ended the Badme war without ending the Shaebiya agenda, so did emperor Menleik ended the Adwa victory short of liberating Eritrea and short of ending the Italian threats, as revealed latter with the Fascist Italian occupation of 1935-36. Thus, I would strongly argue that it was neither the Berlin Conference of 1884 nor the Teseney conference of 1990 that threatened Ethiopian Unity more permanently. If we have to be honest with ourselves, it was the potentially far more dangerous flirtations between the Italians and Menelik, enshrined by series of treaties (1883, 1889, 1890, 1896, 1902,1908), that had left indelible marks on the partition of Ethiopia more permanently than the alleged Teseny Conference of 1990 claimed by Getachew. The annals of history clearly revealed that Empress Taitu was critical of her spouse Menelik for selling out Ethiopian historical territories in the north and had put strong pressures to stage the moral ground for going to the historic Battle of Adwa.

The genesis of current Eritrean separate statehood lies in those treaties and the position of Shawa Amahara elite who irresponsibly split the Tigrayan stock into two and thereby failed the Ethiopian stake over the Red Sea Coast once and for all. Emperor Haile Silassie’s daring diplomatic struggle and early success to restore Eritrea couldn’t be sustained partly due to his mishandling of the Referendum in 1962 and rushed re-unification. The problem lent itself to the more protracted Eritrean war and the subsequent inherited current security deficits and proxy wars of the Horn of African politics.  Could the TPLF forestall the secession of Eritrea? NO! What about Derg? At least, it had better chances of success than TPLF/EPRDF. Did the Derg failed, alienated and harassed the Tigrayans? Yes, Indeed. Particularly, the Hawzen massacre of 1988 under the ill-fated command of Shambel Legesse Asfaw was the last straw. It provided the TPLF carte blanche to draw masses of Tigrayans into their side in a matter of months or weeks which they found it difficult to master for over 13 years. Until Legese Asfaw’s diabolic “drain the ocean in order to catch the fish” policy, most of Tigrayans were at best neutral or at least skeptical of the TPLF and its underlying political motives. Even considerable peasants were dislocated and were residing in urban areas (as internally displaced people) with the assumption that the government would once again regain its jurisdiction over the TPLF held territories. It is pity that Prof.Getachew is repeating the Derg’s song and kept on bullying all the Tigrayans for their identity. 

Let me pose a question before wrapping up. Does joining the TPLF disqualify the overwhelming Tigrayans from being Ethiopians? No, in fact to the contrary, they joined and continued to engage the TPLF because they are convinced that it can bring about change in the country’s socio-economic transformation. Indeed, there were significant achievements. Many radical diaspora scholars of Ethiopian origin kept on bomb shelling the TPLF/EPRDF but cannot utter a word in the USA where “flip racist” candidates, like TRUMP (openly anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant) on the verge of Republican nomination. Getachew sounds to me like an Amharic speaking TRUMP of Ethiopia. As TRUMP’s arrogance and bullying earned him the severe criticism “money does not buy class!”, Getachew’s professorship is under disgrace. Alas! His unbridled arrogance to the Tigrayans and, to an extent, to the Oromos has consequences of losing the respect of all the rest of Ethiopians, in a typical Amharic adage: neg bene! The good professor should openly apologize for his divisive ethnic politicizing and come back to his senses. Conclusion

I have been reflecting on Getachew’s ideas. Emperor Menleik’s flirting with the Italians had left an irreparable damage upon Ethiopian national interests. I stress that it was the series of treaties signed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries between the Italian colonists and Menelik, more than the alleged Tri-Partite Teseney conference(of TPLF/EPRDF-EPLF-OLF), that had more permanently threatened Ethiopian unity. The Teseney conference, if it ever happened, is an episode and an ultimate by-product of the heinous treaties between Menelik and the Italians. This does not blind us from acknowledging Emperor Menelik’s remarkable achievements for Ethiopia, such as the expansion of modern Ethiopian territories in other directions, and the reunification and state centralization of modern Ethiopia. The current radical diaspora opposition and their intellectual and/or ideological brain houses, like Prof. Getachew, should revisit their undesirable moves. Ethiopians should leave the past political squabbles behind us and focus on Ethiopia’s current fate and the future.


Ethiopia does not deserve another zamane mesafent. Let us refrain from playing with fire in the troubled waters of the Horn of Africa. Poverty and Shaebiya still remains the more formidable threats for Ethiopia than inter-elite power contests. The recent Oromo riots have to be taken as a national alarm signal than a prelude for another round Zamane mesafent power struggle. First things come first. Prof. Getachew need not trade Ethiopia’s integrity for simplistic personal ego. After all, as Waren Buffet’s famous quote has it: “It takes two decades to build a reputation, but five minutes to destroy it!” Inciting one ethnic group against the other is too cheap and cynical that doesn’t worth your academic excellence. Ethiopians are watching you either opt to a noble legacy or harvest the seeds of toxic hate you sow (chew lerasih sitil taft!).

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