By Daniel Teferra (PhD)*
The current regime abolished the old provincial system with stroke of the pen and created ethnic territories instead. Consequently, Gondar, Wallo, Gojjam and Shoa were merged into a single territory called Amhara. However, the Amhara are not a homogeneous group. They identify themselves by region, not ethnic group.
The Oromo provinces of Bale, Arsi, Wallaga and Illubabor were combined into what is known as Oromia—an expansive territory crisscrossing the country from three directions: south, southeast and southwest. However, the Oromo also identify themselves by region. Likewise, the old Sidama provinces were taken out of their history and named southern nations, nationalities and peoples..
The old province of Tigre was extended to the Sudan border on the northwest, annexing a chunk of Gondar. Historically, the people living in the annexed area are descendants of the Amhara and Tigre. But the government now wanted to give the land to the Tigre, causing an uprising in Gondar on July 31, 2016, which re-ignited Ethiopian nationalism.
The Gondar uprising can have far reaching consequences. In the first place, it is taking place in the north where Ethiopian nationalism is strong. People are asking for the right to own their own land. They are demanding to return to their own source, Gondar. They do not want Ethiopia to be divided by ethnic groups. They fly Ethiopia’s original flag, seeing themselves as members of one Ethiopian nation. They do not want to be ruled by TPLF.
Ironically, the first Woyane uprising in the early 1940s had raised similar demands. Woyane was a popular and powerful resistance. The people of Tigre rose in rebellion against the central government because they did not want to be ruled by the Shawa elite. Their battle cry read, “God is our ruler, Yohannes is our religion and Ethiopia is our flag.”
The current regime, like its predecessors, thinks that it can stay in power using force rather than democratizing the country. The government and its allies are touting the so-called double-digit growth rates to hide the reality on the ground. It is quite a stretch to argue that the well-being of the people has improved because the government has built roads and bridges. People are actually starving in Ethiopia.
The Gondar uprising has punctured the government’s policy of ethnic federalism and exposed the weakness of the regime. Fighting in unison for their democratic rights, the people of Gondar have set an example for the rest of Ethiopia to follow.
*Emeritus Professor Economics at FSU; UW-Whitewater, email@example.com.