United We Stand, Divided We Fall!

By Elias Hussein[1]

The current precarious conditions in which nations, nationalities and peoples in Ethiopia find themselves, brings to mind an expression that was popular in colonial America, “We Must All Hang Together, or Most Assuredly, We Will All Hang Separately”. Benjamin Franklin is said to have uttered those words asking the states to stick together against their common enemy, the Great Britain colonial power, at the time.

Although Mr. Franklin issued this famous warning 245 years ago, they still ring just as true today to every nation and nationality facing threats from Amhara ethno nationalist political elites, and the Government of Ethiopia (GoE), that are working in tandem to turn back the wheels of history and return the country to the imperial era.

Ethiopia, as we know it today, came into existence in the second half of the 19th century as a result of a devastating program of imperial expansion via military conquest by Menelik II  (reigned 1889 – 1913) of Abyssinia.  Instead of uniting against their northern neighbor in defense of their sovereignty, in some cases, the conquered nations assisted Menelik II to subdue them one after the other. By doing so, they relegated their peoples to slavery and serfdom and, subjected their identity to near wipeout for over a century. They failed to “hang together” and were, surely, “hung separately”. It has taken them over a century of blood, toil, tears and sweat to come close to achieving  the right to self-govern, and to develop their identities in the form of a multinational federal constitution ratified in 1994 which remains true today largely just on paper.

ASOSA, ETHIOPIA – DECEMBER 08: Ethiopians celebrate the 9th Nations, Nationalities and People’s Day at Asosa stadium in the western city of Assosa, capital of Benishangul-Gumuz State on December 8, 2014. Ethiopians turned the anniversary into a national event nine years ago, dubbing it “Nations’ and Nationalities Day,” during which they celebrate the country’s unity and its cultural, religious, linguistic and ethnic diversity. (Photo by Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

By now, the lesson from this history should have been plain to all conquered nations in Ethiopia that united we stand, divided we fall.

Today, it seems history is repeating itself. Menelik’s grandchildren, bent on returning Ethiopia to its former “glorious” Amhara imperial hegemony, are working hard to dismantle the multinational federal constitution. Ethiopia’s “glorious” past is one in which emperors ruled their subjects and waged wars against diversity, democracy, self-determination and freedom in the name of unity – a euphemism for accepting the Amhara culture as “national culture”, Amhara language as “official language” at the expense of cultures and languages of other nations and nationalities. This is why Amhara ethno nationalists (neo-neftegnas) swell the ranks of Abiy’s government and are the most vocal supporters of his vision, “medemer”, or being-one or melting together which many interpret, rightly, as becoming Amhara and accepting Amharic and Amhara culture as the premier Ethiopian language and culture.

ASOSA, ETHIOPIA – DECEMBER 08: Ethiopians celebrate the 9th Nations, Nationalities and People’s Day at Asosa stadium in the western city of Assosa, capital of Benishangul-Gumuz State on December 8, 2014. Ethiopians turned the anniversary into a national event nine years ago, dubbing it “Nations’ and Nationalities Day,” during which they celebrate the country’s unity and its cultural, religious, linguistic and ethnic diversity. (Photo by Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

“Conquered and oppressed nations in Ethiopia must unite in their resolve to protect their identities from destruction, their resources from exploitation, and to achieve peace, democracy, and their inalienable right to self-determination.”

Assisted by the Ethiopian National Armed Forces, the Amhara regional special forces and the Eritrean invading army, they are subjecting the country to “massacres, indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, unlawful killings, widespread pillage, looting, rape and sexual violence, destruction of refugee camps and crops, arrests and killing of journalists and humanitarian workers, and impeding access to vital aid. There have been reports of ethnically motivated violence and forced displacement…” in Tigray, Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz regional states. Amhara elites have made it impossible for Ethiopia to achieve peace, democracy and for the constituent nations to exercise their rights to self-determination as enshrined in the constitution.

Text Box: “Amhara elites have made it impossible for Ethiopia to achieve peace and democracy, and for the constituent nations to exercise their rights to self-determination as enshrined in the constitution.”

As a result, depending on whom you ask, Ethiopia is a failed state or on the verge of becoming one. For instance, according to Mulugeta G Berhe, Ethiopia is “fast moving towards becoming a failed state“. Dawit Woldegiorgis declares “Ethiopia is a failed state by all indicators“. But, a  failed, or a soon to fail, state cannot feed its people much less provide peace, democracy, self-determination, or prevent conflict, or protect and serve the interests of  its constituent nations and nationalities. Yet, every nation has its own interests that it shall defend at any cost. According to Morgenthau the most vital being the survival of the nation’s identity — “the protection of [its] physical, political and cultural identity against encroachments by other nation[s]…” . This is a permanent and primary interest of a nation. “Nations are always at work to secure their national interests and in doing so they adopt a number of methods” one of which can be fighting a war – a willingness to expend blood and treasure to defend their vital interests.

ASOSA, ETHIOPIA – DECEMBER 08: Ethiopians celebrate the 9th Nations, Nationalities and People’s Day at Asosa stadium in the western city of Assosa, capital of Benishangul-Gumuz State on December 8, 2014. Ethiopians turned the anniversary into a national event nine years ago, dubbing it “Nations’ and Nationalities Day,” during which they celebrate the country’s unity and its cultural, religious, linguistic and ethnic diversity. (Photo by Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

It is precisely for this reason that many nations in Ethiopia are forced to go to war: to defend their identities and their rights. The Oromo, the Tigaru and the Benishangul-Gumuz people are each engaged in one today, against a common enemy – Amhara ethno nationalist political elites.

As victims of Ethiopia’s failed nation-building exercise, in which their identities have been slated for destruction, they have common vital national interests they ought to partner to defend and protect. Each of them aspires to preserve and develop its identity – to govern itself, to control its resources, to develop its language and culture, and to defend its borders, and to exercise its sovereignty. Each of them wants to regain their fundamental freedom in line with the principles enshrined in the UNO charter. They want to live in dignity, and free from subjugation and exploitation in peace and democracy. They want protection from the dispossession of their ancient homeland. They want freedom to determine their own future and to control their own political, social, and economic destiny. These are the vital interests of each nation that are currently under attack by the Amhara state leaders and elites supported by the Government of Ethiopia  and Eritrean defense forces – a foreign army invited to invade – because they share a common national interest of defeating and re-conquering oppressed nations and their resources.

It is a simple logical necessity for the conquered nations to pool their resources together and fight a common enemy in the interest of self-preservation. Yet, we do not see a united group of conquered nations and nationalities coming together to act in unison to defend and protect their common interests. No united army marching against Amhara Special Forces and their allies is visible on the horizon. It seems they have not learned from history – their own history of subjugation.

Those that are under attack are fending off on their own. Those that are yet to be attacked are watching idly perhaps until the enemy knocks on their door and violates their women, kills their young, dishonors their old, and takes away their relative peace. I can almost hear them in my mind, in a few months’ time, paraphrasing Martin Niemoller’s confession, about Nazi incremental purging of their targets to which he would eventually fall victim: “They first came for Oromos, and I did nothing. Because I was not Oromo. Then they came for Sidamas, and I said nothing. Because I was not a Sidama. Then they came for Tigarus, and I looked away. Because I was not a Tigaru. When they came for me …”.

The time to unite and push back against Amhara ethno nationalists is today, before it becomes too late. Oppressed nations ignore Benjamin Franklin’s warning, and Niemoller’s confession about failing to be morally courageous in the face of an impending evil, at their own peril.

For the oppressed nations, failure to feel the sense of urgency to unite and resolve to protect their identities from destruction, their resources from exploitation, and to achieve and keep their peace, democracy, and their inalienable right to self-determination would be tantamount to endorsing the return to the tyranny of the unitary state similar to the imperial, and military regimes from conquest in late 19th century to late 20th century.


[1] Elias Hussein is a student of politics as both history and philosophy, and lives in the USA.

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