By Gemechu Aba Biya
As we mourn the untimely death of the beloved Hachalu, we need to reflect on how his death is the direct outcome of ethnic politics in Ethiopia. His execution was a pre-meditated political assassination intended to destabilize Ethiopia, to remove Prime Minister Abiy from power, to trigger an inter-ethnic war between the Amharas and the Oromos, to create political havoc in Ethiopia. The perpetrators hoped that the ensuing chaos, instability, and bloodshed would enable them to come to political power, but their plot sputtered because the government took swift measures.
In the wake of the assassination, the usually indecisive Abiy government took decisive actions for the first time since it came to power. It arrested Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba, two of the most prominent agitators for instability, unrest, and ethnic conflict in Ethiopia. They have been charged with hijacking the body of the late singer on its way to its final resting place in Ambo. They had conspired to use his body for political insurrection in Addis Ababa, against the explicit wishes of his family.
Jawar Mohammed has been preaching hatred against the Amharas for a long time. He has used the political epithets, “Neftegnas”, “Settlers”, and “Habeshas”, to incite violence against the Amharas. Similarly, Bekele Gerba has admitted on national TV that he suffers from “Amhara Phobia”, and has been spreading his anti-Amhara vitriol ever since he got out of prison. Anyone who suffers from any form of phobia must be committed to a psychiatric institution for treatment, away from the political scene. He is a danger to himself and to society. Jawar Mohammad and Bekele Gerba should be tried for crimes against humanity. Jawar should also be charged with instigating the political turmoil that resulted in the death of 97 people on October 23, 2019. This is an opportune movement for the government to put Jawar in jail for a long time. The government should not squander this opportunity.
The OMN: The Megaphone of Hatred and Insurrection
The government has also shut down the Addis Ababa branch of the OMN, the megaphone for ethnic conflict and political insurrection. It has been spreading hatred against the Amharas since it was established, as well as fomenting, organizing, coordinating insurgence against the government. Just a mere hour after the announcement of Hachalu’s assassination, as if on cue, it broadcast a call for revenge against the “Nefetegnas, “Settlers”, and “Habeshas”.
The OMN encouraged the Oromo youth to block all the roads leading to Addis Ababa. It urged the Oromo youth to go to Addis Ababa in large masses. It called on the Oromos in the army, the police, and the Special Forces to rebel against the government and to take “retaliatory action against the enemy”. This was sedition. The hate TV station, partially funded by the external enemies of Ethiopia—until recently the OMN was broadcasting from Cairo—must be closed for good.
The unsuccessful attempt at usurping power resulted in the destruction of considerable property, mostly belonging to non-Oromos, and in the killing of more than 80 people so far, mostly non-Oromos living in Oromia. Had the government not taken swift action, the death toll would have been much higher, and the destruction much more extensive.
The Role of the TPLF and Oromo Extremists
Government officials, including the Prime Minister, have accused the TPLF, the armed wing of the OLF, and Oromo extremists as the perpetrators of this heinous crime and the aborted insurrection. Shemelis Adugna, the acting President of Oromia, in a tearful statement, has asserted this claim. As a setup for the assassination, he alleges that Hachalu was invited to appear on OMN on June 22, with a plan to ask him questions about Emperor Menelik, the interviewer knowing full well that the artist had critical views of the Emperor, and then to use the interview as “proof” of how he was killed by the “Neftegnas” .
Consistent with his allegation, the morally bankrupt, intellectually dishonest, and politically compromised Hizkiel Gebbisa asserted on Tigrai Media House on July 2 that Hachalu was killed because he criticized Menelik, without providing a shred of evidence. A few minutes later, he accused the government for the killing. Even when lying, consistency has never been the hallmark of Hizkiel. (The YouTube video clip has been removed).
The public deserves to know who the culprits are, but is understandably skeptical, given the government’s failure in providing information on political assassinations of the past. The public has yet to know the criminals who organized the assassination attempt on the Prime Minster on June 23, 2018; who killed Engineer Simegnew Bekele on July 26, 2018; who assassinated General Saere Mekonnen on June 22, 2019.
Whether it is sheer incompetence or political calculation, the government has kept the public in the dark on previous political assassinations under its watch. The time for circumlocution, euphemistic statement is over. This time, the government must level with the public and tell the truth or else it will lose its credibility, whatever is left of it, especially among the Oromo people. The Oromo people and the other Ethiopian people demand that the perpetrators be identified and be brought to justice. Otherwise, Abiy’s political life is over.
The Abiy government’s inability to take decisive action against the TPLF, the renegade armed wing of the OLF, and the other extremists over the past two years has emboldened its political enemies. It has earned the Prime Minister contempt, disrespect, and mockery from his political opponents and from a significant proportion of the population. Jawar Mohammed contemptuously claims to lead an alternative government in Ethiopia, making Ethiopia the only country in the world and in history to have two governments simultaneously. In a television interview last month he disdainfully challenged the government to arrest him. Governing, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, includes taking bold action against political criminals. It is time to govern, Mr. Prime Minister.
The Vilification of the Amharas
The perpetrators of the aborted insurrection intended to use the Amharas as their sacrificial lambs to usurp power, as has been done in the past. To that end, the Amharas have been labelled as “Chauvinists”, “Neftegnas”, “Settlers”, and lately “Habeshas” by Jawar. Political labels embody political messages, objectives, and directives. The message behind branding the Amharas is loud and clear: they are the enemies. The political objective is obvious: to take power.
The political directive of labelling is to incite violence against the Amharas. Politicians, political groups and parties that lack worthy political programs always resort to ethnic scapegoating, hatred, conflict, even cleansing to come to power. For the power hungry TPLF or for Jawar and his ilk, the destruction of Ethiopia and the deaths of thousands of people are immaterial. For them, country and life must be sacrificed at the altar of political power. When we combine the three aspects of political labeling, in the context of the aborted insurrection, the road to political power would have been drenched with the blood of the Amharas.
Some segments of the Oromo youth, those who receive direct order from Jawar and his acolytes, have been programmed to attack Amharas and their properties. A few minutes after the Hachalu’s death and in some cases before the announcement of his death, properties belonging to Amharas were looted, vandalized, and destroyed; and innocent Amharas were killed in some parts of Oromia.
To be sure, the political labelling of the Amharas did not start with Jawar, Bekele, or OMN. It has a long history. It started with the Ethiopian student movement, when some of the student leaders acknowledged the existence of national oppression in Ethiopia and the presence of “Amhara chauvinism”. The recognition was meant to unite the Ethiopian people in the fight for a just society. The term was quickly usurped by ethnic nationalists to advance their segregationist or separatist agendas. What was intended as a peaceful call for maintaining national unity was transformed into a war cry for destroying national unity. Haile Fida would be turning over in his grave if he realized how the term has been used to foment conflict between Amharas and Oromos.
Meles Zenawi: The Grand Daddy of Amhara Hatred
The EPLF, the TPLF, and the OLF spread the anti-Amhara epithets, but Meles Zenawi was the super spreader, legitimizer, and normalizer of the term “Amhara chauvinism”. In all his political speeches, even on his deathbed, he always referred to the Amharas as “chauvinists”. He consistently denigrated, demonized, and dehumanized the Amhara people. Jawar Mohammed, the ideological heir of Meles Zenawi, has carried on the mantle of Amhara hatred. If Meles Zenawi normalized “chauvinism” as a political mantra to abuse the Amharas, Jawar Mohammed popularized “Neftegna” as a blunt weapon with which to attack the Amharas.
In no other country has an ethnic group been so vilified, so besmirched, and so slighted as the Amharas in Ethiopia over the last half a century. Imagine the public uproar if the Jews in the US, the Kikuyus in Kenya, or the Hausas in Nigeria were subjected to the same daily barrages of ethnic slurs as the Amharas have been for the last five decades.
That there has not been a massive slaughter of the Amharas after more than half a century of anti-Amhara hate propaganda is a testament to the wisdom, tolerance, and understanding of the Ethiopian people. To avoid further killings and property destruction, the anti-hatred law should be tightened and the perpetrators of hate crimes should be punished severely.
The ethnic invectives against the Amharas have been accepted so widely that Oromo commentators, informed and uninformed, young and old, literate and illiterate, routinely insult Amharas as an ethnic group by using the designated epithets. Every political discussion on OMN had to have its quota of ethnic slurs against the Amharas. This past winter at a rally held by the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) in Bale, a seven-year old boy read a poem about the crimes of the “Neftegnas”, to the applause of the audience and Merera Gudina, the chairperson of the party. At a similar rally in Addis Ababa, a young woman admonished Oromo men for dating or marrying “Neftegna” women, again to the applause of the audience and Merera Gudina. This dehumanization, this otherization, this demonization is a prelude to genocide. It should stop.
The Poisoned Political Atmosphere
Hachalu’s assassination took place in an atmosphere of heightened political tension, intense ethnic conflict in Ethiopia. Although internal opposition to the TPLF is gaining momentum in Tigray, the TPLF is salivating for a military confrontation with the Federal Government under any pretext. Small-minded politicians are ready and willing to create a political crisis on the postponement of the election, as if Ethiopia is the only country that has postponed elections during the pandemic. The country is involved in a diplomatic tug of war with Egypt over the GERD, whose outcome is unclear. If ever, this should have been a time for national unity.
On the other hand, Jawar’s popularity among the Oromo people has waned, but he can still create havoc. After the creation of the Prosperity Party, the Abiy government appears to be regaining some of the support it lost among the Oromos and the rest of the Ethiopian people. It was under this volatile political situation that the assassination took place.
Ethnic conflict, the child of ethnic politics, has engulfed Ethiopia ever since the TPLF came to power in 1991. In the past, it was simmering under the surface. Now, the extremists have brought to the surface. While Oromo extremists, with the financial support of the TPLF, have deliberately tried to exacerbate ethnic conflict in Ethiopia, some commentators, bloggers, and political groups within the unity camp, have contributed deliberately or inadvertently to the ethnic tension that we find in Ethiopia today. To ignore this fact is to be disingenuous.
Some have openly rejected the historical injustices that the Oromo people experienced under past governments in Ethiopia. Genuine national unity and lasting peace require acknowledging these injustices. We need to acknowledge the historical wrongdoings, without embellishment or deprecation. National reconciliation is the perquisite for peace and national unity.
Second, some in the unity camp, intentionally or unintentionally, insult the Oromo people. When discussing the heinous crimes committed against the Amharas, they blame all Querros, calling them terrorists. This is fundamentally wrong. It is a tiny fraction of the Querros, those under the direct command of Jawar, who are committing the crimes. Labelling a sizable demographic group as terrorists is factually, ethically, and politically wrong. This kind of blank condemnation does not bode well for unity. It provides ammunition to Oromo extremists. It drives the Oromo youth to the extremist’s camp. Just as we reject the labelling of the Amharas, we should reject the labelling of the Oromo youth. Understanding should replace labelling.
In any society, whenever there is political turmoil the manipulated, misguided, misled, and confused youth often resort to criminal acts. In December 2019, the Amhara youth burned down mosques and businesses owned by Muslims in Motta, Gojjam. Would it be appropriate to label the Fanno, the Amhara youth, as terrorists? To call the Fannos or the Querros terrorists is to commit the fallacy of composition. What is true of certain elements is not true of the whole.
And then there are the purists, for example the commentators at Ethio 360, who relentlessly attack the Prime Minister for everything he does, even when he is planting trees, because he is not Ethiopian enough or because he is too much of an Oromo nationalist. Yes, he is imperfect. Yes, he has made mistakes in the past. Yes, he is an Oromo, but that is the greatest asset an Ethiopian leader can under the current situation. These purists should realize that Ethiopia will never be ruled again by unilingual Amhara or Tigre. That time is past. Whether they realize it or not, he is the only leader that we have today who has the intelligence, the charisma, and the vision to lead Ethiopia, indeed to save Ethiopia. The consistent attack on Abiy contributes to the achievement of the goals of the Oromo extremists. If the purists continue their unyielding attack on Abiy, the Mother Ethiopia they cherish so much will turn into a childless Ethiopia, a vilomah.
Lastly, there are the Amhara extremists who openly insult the Oromos and the other ethnic groups. One Amhara extremist says, “Ethiopia should worship its creators: the Amharas”. This is a most offensive statement to all Ethiopians, particularly to non-Amharas. It is also an excellent ammunition for Oromo extremists to attack Amharas and national unity. The Amhara extremists, just like their Oromo counterparts, peddle conspiracy theories. They perceive everything the Abiy government does, every move the Mayor of Addis Ababa makes, as a giant step towards the extermination of the Amharas.
This kind of political paranoia generates an equally paranoid rhetoric and action that plays into the hands of the Oromo extremists. The authorities have reported that Eskinder Nega has been arrested for distributing pamphlets and for organizing the youth against the “impending onslaught of the Amharas” in Addis Ababa. If this is true, he was unwittingly participating in the aborted insurrection. Mature leadership must trump over adolescent hyperbole.
Hachalu: The Proud Oromo, the Great Ethiopian
Hachalu Hundessa was not just a popular singer, he was a freedom fighter. He was imprisoned for five years when he was just 17 years old by the previous TPLF-controlled government for supporting the struggle for democracy. He galvanized the Oromo people and the rest of the Ethiopian people, men and women, young and old, to fight against oppression, with his freedom songs. His defiant musical performance, infused with a call to resistance, in the Millennium Hall on December 9, 2017, at the risk of his life, resonates well even today among all Ethiopians. His songs have become the soundtrack of resistance, justice, unity, and freedom.
Hachalu Hundessa was a proud Oromo and a great Ethiopian. Asked about what being an Ethiopian meant to him in 2018, he responded, “Ethiopia is a beautiful mosaic of 80 flowers. I reflect and embrace this beauty”. His was the voice of a genuine Ethiopian. In an interview with OMN on June 22, when goaded by the interviewer to denounce Abiy as a “Neftegna puppet”, to make his answer consistent with the OMN’s anti-Amhara narrative, he refused to do, but instead denounced Bekele Gerba and Hezkiel Gebisa who are collaborating with the TPLF. He vowed that he would never go to Mekele, until the TPLF repents for its crimes against the Oromo people and apologizes to the Oromo people.
He was assassinated because he was a famous Oromo Ethiopian. He was devoured by the politically hungry cabals. Just as we all appreciate his music, songs, and lyrics, we should all join hands to fight for equality, irrespective our ethnicity and religious affiliations. May he rest in peace; may his memory inspire us to stand up for unity, justice, equality, and freedom for all Ethiopians.