Oduu Haaraya

Vicious cycle of political conflict hindered realization of democracy via development of antagonistic ideologies in Ethiopia (1870 – 2020)

*By Malkamuu Jaatee, June 2020


The vicious cycle of political conflict sustained in Ethiopia due to several factors related to regime establishment and change. The conflict started with expansion of Abyssinian imperial territory during the era of European imperialistic power scrambled for colonization of Africa (1881 – 1914).  The Abyssinian political groups were enabled by military forces technically and financially aided by superpowers of the world since the end of 19th century to conquer the sovereign territories and to maintain brutally the conquered territories. Successive regimes of Ethiopia were invested the aids on consolidation, expansion, and protection of illegitimate authority. 

The violent expansion, establishment, and protection of Abyssinian territory negatively affected national interest of Oromo and oppressed peoples during imperial (1889 – 1974), military (1974 – 1991), oligarchic (1991 – 2018) and autocratic (2018 – ????) regimes. None of these regimes has been positively reacted to legitimate political aspiration of the Oromo people in specific and Ethiopian people in general. Recorded literature data indicated that several million innocent lives were brutally murdered by the Abyssinian armed forces during territorial expansion for land grabbing and natural resource exploitation (1870 – 1920). Millions of innocent lives were perished in process of rush up to consolidate and retain the illegitimate authority of consecutive regimes in conquered territories.

The central forces driving vicious cycle of conflict are (1st) violent expansion of Abyssinian imperial territory from present day Northern to Southern Ethiopia and (2nd) unwillingness of successive regimes to stop instrumentalization of violence to protect illegitimate authorities. The conflict is initiated by historical power struggle within two major Abyssinian political groups and between them and political organizations of oppressed nations in Ethiopia. It is developed into three distinctively antagonistic ideologies going to be analytically described based on linkages to historical aspect of the conflict and recent dynamics under the following topics: (1) Origin of the vicious cycle of political conflict in Ethiopia, (2) Differentiation of political ideologies through violent abortion of revolution, and (3) Similar characteristics of successive regimes of Ethiopia

  1. Origin of the vicious cycle of political conflict in Ethiopia

Political conflict in Ethiopia is rooted in power struggle between Amahara & Tigrean elites in control of territorial expansion. The contemporary origins of the Amhara-Tigray dispute lie in the Ethiopian empire’s dismantlement by a socialist junta known as the Derg after the 1974 revolution (ICG 2020). The conflict was started at least one century ago during emperor Yohannes (1872–1889). King Sahle Miriam (Menelik) extended Abyssinian territory toward south and east under emperor Yohannes directive. He incorporated Oromia & southern Ethiopia violently within domain of Abyssinia. During war of territorial expansion in Horn of Africa by the Arabs and Italy, emperor Yohannes killed on 9th of March 1889 at the battle of Matemma and he declared his son, Mengesha, successor of the imperial thorn. However, Menelik quickly marched north on 25th of March 1889 to receive submission of local nobles and at the same time began negotiations with Italy to be officially recognized as emperor. Though the Tigray rebelled against Menelik, neither prince Mengesha nor anyone matched Menelik’s power. The rebellion was crushed, and the prince died in 1906. Thus, the vicious cycle of conflict in Ethiopia is originated in historical rivalries between Amhara & Tigreans during territorial expansion. 

Territorial expansion of imperial Abyssinia from North to South Ethiopia under emperor Menelik harshly violated human rights of indigenous people with unfolded episodes of directly and indirectly executed genocides via instrumentalization of power of gun acquired during European imperialists rushed for landgrab and natural resources exploitation in Africa. Menelik´s desire for territorial hegemony , money, and weapons to boost his bid for the imperial throne led to his expropriation of the Oromo lands (and therefore the Oromo people`s means of subsistence) and the enslavement of their children, which brought him additional wealth through taxes on their passage through and their sale within his kingdom of Shewa (Shell 2018  page 15 – 29). Violent annexation of Oromo and other peoples into the domain of Abyssinian territory was achieved by killing several million innocent human lives. Historical records clearly indicated genocidal foundation of successive regimes of Ethiopia.

In process of violent expansion and establishment of Abyssinian rulers boundary from the current north Ethiopia to the Oromia and southern Ethiopia between 1870 and 1900, the Oromo population was reduced from ten to five millions due to combined effects of war, famine, slave trade, and epidemic diseases. The remained five million population were reduced to the status of slave on ancestral land. The successive emperors and regimes of Abyssinia were done everything possible by manipulative application of apparatus of governance power (military, diplomacy, economy, politics, bureaucracy, religion, and media)  to eliminate Oromo national identity (language, culture, and history) to achieve the total ownership of the land. The natural processes of socio-political and socioeconomic development of the Oromo nation and other oppressed nations were violently repressed via execution of multidimensional discrimination, subjugation, and exploitation. 

The leading ethnic group is the Amhara who have long dominated the central government in Ethiopia that they were administrators and leaders who settled in the conquered territories to pacify and control them for the empire (Arthur 1984).  As the dominant group, they were convinced of their innate superiority over the other groups that they actively enforced various forms of discrimination and persecution such as prohibiting the use of local languages in the church, government, courts and schools (Weiss 1980 in Arthur). Amahara political elites dominated the central government during the imperial (1889 – 1974) & military (1974 – 1991) regimes. They used governance apparatus to replace the identities of all peoples with the Abyssinian language, culture, and history to eradicate more than 80 languages. A language defines a people, a culture: Languages hold a world of knowledge that we lose knowledge and history and lose connection to a land when a language is lost (Prof. Ewa, linguistic professor).” Thus, intentional & nonintentional loss of language is directly resulted ethnic extinction. 

Resistance of Oromo and other peoples in the South against violent territorial expansion of Abyssinia developed to the level of national liberation struggle. The massacres in South at Anolee and Calanqoo were historical footprint of crimes against humanity. Erratic resistance of peasants against land grab and natural resource exploitation policy of the imperial regime continued and it was developed into peasant uprising during the mid of 20th century, for example the 1940s Weyyane movement in Wallo & Tigray, and the 1960s rebellion of Bale peasants. The movements transformed to national liberation fronts since 1960s via organization of cultural society (Afran Qalloo & Mecha-Tulema) and student union. Thus, the legitimate political movement of oppressed peoples against cruel and savage regimes developed into multidimensional national liberation fronts under leader ship of Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), Sidama Liberation Front (SLF), Benishangul People’s Liberation Movement (BPLM), Gambela People’s Liberation Movement (GPLM), and etc.

The Tigreans rebellion against Amahara supremacy developed into peasant uprising of 1940s. It was suppressed by emperor Haile Selassie`s military power aided with British air force. However, the struggle was continued underground via organization of Tigreans national movement developed into Tigray Liberation Front (TLF) & Tigray People`s Liberation Front (TPLF). Clandestine political movement called Mahibere Polotika and Tigrean student movement developed respectively as TLF in 1972 & TPLF in 1974 (Berhe 2005). Both fronts were the outgrowth of traditional rivalry between Amhara & Tigray elites over control of Ethiopia. After formal organization, TLF & TPLF approached respectively Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) & Eritrean People`s Liberation Front (EPLF) via intermediary of clandestine cells of ELF and EPLF in Ethiopia. The TPLF declaration stated that the front would dissolve and join an organization which covers its ideological views at level of Ethiopia. Thus, the armed struggle under the TPLF gained organizational momentum with establishment of Ethiopian People`s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) via addition of Ethiopian People`s Democratic Movement (EPDM) or Amahara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), Oromo People`s Democratic Organization (OPDO), and Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM) in 1989, 1990, & 1992 respectively.

  1. Differentiation of political ideologies through violent abortion of revolution 

The recent political conflicts across Amahara, Tigray, Oromia, and other regions are the continuous outcomes of national struggle of peoples in Ethiopia to achieve justice, peace, and freedom via establishment of democratic government. However, violent process of establishment and maintenance of tyrannical regimes resulted three distinctively contradicting political ideologies: (1) ethnic supremacy, (2) ethnic oligarchism, and (3) multinationalism. The ethnic supremacy is focused on continuation of the interrupted imperial project focused on systematic extinction of identities of Oromo and other oppressed nations by completely replacing them with Abyssinian language, culture, and history. The ethnic oligarchism is aimed at maintenance of dominant military, economic, & political roles via manipulation of ethnic federalism. The multinationalism is articulated to achieve self-determination rights of Oromo and other oppressed nations in Ethiopia. These unreconcilable ideologies hindered realization of democratic government in Ethiopia due to vicious cycle of political conflict manifested during the following consecutive revolutions. The national liberation struggle during 1870 – 2020 aimed at establishment of positive governance system resulted three revolutions described as February 1974 Socialist, May 1991 Democratic, and February 2018 Reformist revolutions.

Erratic national movements before and during 1960s were gained political momentum and developed into revolution. The peasant uprisings integrated with civic society establishment and student movement of the 1960s cumulatively resulted an eruption of revolution in February 1974. This popular uprising directed organization of the following political parties or fronts: All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement (1968), Ethiopian People’s Liberation Organization (1972) later called Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP), TLF (1972), OLF (1973), TPLF (1974), Marxist–Leninist Revolutionary Organization (1974), Ethiopian Oppressed People’s Revolutionary Struggle (1975), Labour League (1975), Revolutionary Flame or Military committee called  “Derg” (RF 1976), and Union of Ethiopian Marxist–Leninist Organizations (1977, the union of all without EPRP, TLF, OLF, & TPLF). Land for peasants and self-determination rights were the slogans of the revolution. However, the revolution was aborted, without achieving its goal, by military power of the “Derg” regime via dismantling all political parties. The regime brutally dictated the political fates of peoples of Ethiopia. It relentlessly continued political ideology of ethnic supremacy with cover of socialist revolution. 

Mismanagement of the revolution by military power of the “Derg” regime resulted in continuation of political conflict in form of armed struggle. Leaders and members of the EPRP, ELF, OLF and TPLF escaped from atrocities of the regime and they organized armed struggle in North, East, and West fronts. The EPRP dissidents escaped from Gonder to Tgray were reorganized in 1980 as EPDM (ANDM) under leadership of TPLF. The OPDO was formed in 1989 by the TPLF from prisoners of war captured by EPLF in Eritrea and TPLF in Tigray to serve interests of both EPLF and TPLF by counterattacking the OLF, the vanguard of national liberation struggle of the Oromo people. The EPLF & TPLF organized the EPRDF as political and diplomatic tool in 1989, after they formed military alliance in 1988. They rushed and controlled emperor Menelik palace in Addis Ababa and successfully formed provisional government of Eritrea and transitional government of Ethiopia in June 1991 by dismantling military infrastructure built over a century on ideology of ethnic supremacy (1889 – 1991). The armed struggle (1974 – 1991) developed into the 2nd revolution expected to facilitate establishment of democracy. However, the revolution was distorted by military power. The TPLF focused on organization of ANDM, OPDO and SEPDM in violation of sovereign rights of the peoples of Ethiopia to use these surrogate political parties as raw materials in formulation of the EPRDF. It used the EPRDF as a tool for establishment of ethnic oligarchism with cover of revolutionary democracy.  

The TPLF regime hindered establishment of democratic government in Ethiopia from the very beginning in June 1992 that it violently excluded participation of independent political organizations on election, for example the OLF and others. The TPLF and the OLF were agreed upon encampment of armed forces of respective fronts to conduct free and fair election in absence of military power interference. However, the TPLF regime refused encampment of its military force and directed its armies to surround the encamped Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), the armed wing of the OLF. The surrounding TPLF armies occupied the vantage points and encircled the OLA in camps that they attacked and forced the OLA to leave the camps breaking the encirclements (Guutama 2003). Thus, the agreement was violated by savage military action of the regime. Many gallant sons and daughters of Oromia lost their lives and tens of thousands of Oromo civilians were arrested and imprisoned in malaria infested military camps where deliberate intoxication has been secretly done. In subsequent years, many patriots among them top leaders, OLA commanders, and leading cadres scarified their lives for a legitimate Oromo national struggle they had wowed to defend.

The regime misused military, economic, and political powers resourced by external aids to build and maintain governance system based on ethnic oligarchism. Brutal characteristics of the regime demonstrated by politically motivated extra-judicial killings and disappearances of several thousand civilians, massacred thousands of innocent lives, detention without trial, displacements, increased refugees, suppressed free media, and systematically sponsored conflicts in the Horn of Africa through weapon supply  to Al-shabaab in Somalia and inter-ethnic war in the southern Sudan. It dictated the political fates of peoples in Ethiopia via multidimensional violation of human rights combined with modern land grabbing and exploitation of resources of Oromia and Southern Ethiopia. The national liberation struggle against oligarchism gained momentum via erratic protest of Oromo students across schools, colleges, and universities over 20 years. The protests developed into Oromo youth movement and transformed to popular uprisings across Oromia and other parts of Ethiopia. Thus, the peaceful protest resulted eruption of the 3rd revolution in February 2018. The revolution is expected to break the vicious cycle of conflict in favor of justice and peace. However, misuse of military power resulted the continuation of vicious cycle of political conflict.

The reformist group with hidden ethnic supremacist ideology secretly organized in the TPLF/EPRDF regime since 2005. It emerged in 2018 as a fake Oromara group to mislead the public by coining the revolution as reformation, integration, synergy, or prosperity. This autocratic group transformed within the oligarchic regime and it emerged as Prosperous Party (PP) vowed to safeguard the Abyssinian empire with political slogan of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ethiopia. Thus, it demonstrated the violent policy and it brings forward the politics of ethnic supremacy (1889 – 1991) existed before emergence of ethnic oligarchism. It consolidated its power based on military infrastructures traditionally based on external aids. It showed similarity to the predecessor regimes by perpetration of crimes against humanity to establish and protect its illegal authority. 

Peaceful establishment of political road maps leading to democratic governance system is autocratically hindered by the PP regime characteristics resembling the military junta and the oligarchic TPLF regimes. The regime violated the reconciliation agreement made between the government of Ethiopia and the OLF on 7th of August 2018 in Eritrea, Asmara. It continued cruel policies of past regimes by declaring war on Oromo people since October 2018. Human rights violations data recorded in reports organized by OSG, OMRHO, and AI during respectively December 2018 – December 2019, December 2018 – January 2020, and November 2019 – March 2020 clearly indicated multi-dimensional human rights violations conducted in Oromia. The security/military forces of Ethiopia directed by colonel Abiy Ahmed (the 7th emperor of Abyssinia as the Prime Minister and commander in chief of the security forces) conducted the following major atrocities against humanity: 

  1. The security forces actively engaged in disruption of peaceful lives of the entire society by intensification of extrajudicial killings of civilians
  2. Bombardment of houses, farms & forests by fighter jet & helicopter resulted in indiscriminate destruction of human lives, animals, crops, wildlife, and forest
  3. Politically motivated arrests, long detention without trials, displacements, rape, torture, and killings are curlily conducted to destroy human rights of the Oromo people 
  4. Tens of thousands of civilians (farmers, merchants, students, teachers, and civil servants) were arrested and detained in various detention centres 
  5. Thousands of Oromo civilians were extrajudicially killed and many innocent families are daily injured, maimed, or killed merely by historical hatred driven by ideology of ethnic supremacy 
  6. Humiliating the entire society by raping women, daughter, and mother side by side
  7. Burning of houses, crops, and all farm products in rural areas during crop harvest season are intentionally designed to starve millions of people by artificial famine
  8. Disruption of basic (water, food, and medical) services by shutting down water and electric power lines to inflict multiple sufferings on the entire population 
  9. Intention of secretly executing epidemic diseases & chemicals as weapons of mass destruction 
  10. Since January 2019, telecommunication and internet lines frequently or totally blocked in western & southern Oromia to hide crimes against humanity executed by the regime`s military 
  11. Similar characteristics of successive regimes of Ethiopia 

Centralization of governance power of successive regimes of Ethiopia manifested by exclusiveness, top-down authority, unrepresentativeness, nonaccountability, ambiguity, and cheating. The current autocratic regime inherited the following worst governance culture from the predecessors: corruptive manipulation of military power, economic exploitation, unconstitutionality, disrespect the treaties signed, violation of ratified covenants of international human rights, institutionalization of crimes against humanity, and genocide. The right to life and liberty of Oromo and oppressed peoples in Ethiopia is blatantly violated in disrespect to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Thus, justification of injustice via constitutional manipulation and violation of international treaties effectively undermined peaceful transition from tyranny to democracy and finally resulted in vicious cycle of conflicts persisted for one and half a century. 

Land is Ethiopia’s most valuable resource, as well as the fundamental, perennial cause of conflict throughout its modern history. Control of land is of vital concern to those who live off agriculture; at present about three quarter of the population. Control of land is also of vital concern to the state, partly as a source of revenue, but mainly as the means of exercising control over the rural masses. Every Ethiopian regime in the past used a different approach to maintain such control; from the quasi-feudal arrangement of the imperial regime that collapsed in 1975, and the nationalization-cum-collectivization of the military junta known as the Dergue (1975-1991), to the ‘developmental state’ of the EPRDF, the rebel movement that seized power in 1991 and commenced to implode in 2018 (Markakis 2020). Thus, the practices of land grabbing and resource exploitation in Ethiopia are directly implicated colonial aspect of territorial expansion of Abyssinia.

Systemic genocide is designed by successive tyrannical regimes of Ethiopia to achieve the political goal of complete ownership of the land and natural resources in Oromia and Southern Ethiopia through silent eradication of the indigenous communities in the long-term. Both the past and current regimes relentless strategies aimed to realize the failed project of maintenance of unitary nation founded violently on Abyssinian identity with policy of systemic extinction of language, culture, & history of Oromo and other nations via destruction of livelihood bases. Resistance to racist and fascist structures of these regimes resulted multinational movement to reverse the policy of crimes against humanity consecutively practiced by each regime. Therefore, the national liberation movement against successive cruel and oppressive governance system of Ethiopia is the struggle for survival.

The tyrannical system of the imperial (1889 – 1974), the military (1974 – 1991), and the oligarchic (1991 – 2018) regimes relayed on military power to establish and protect the authority void of legitimate constituency. Legitimate authority is achieved only via establishment of government of the people, by the people, for the people.  However, all worked hard to maintain the status quo based on military infrastructure built by foreign aids. The autocratic PP regime is similarly implicated persistence of vicious cycle of conflict via instrumentalization of violence to reconstruct Abyssinian empire based on political ideology of ethnic supremacy with the cover of reformism/synergism pretend to be the guiding principle of governance. Even though, the synergism (`maddamar`) concept is literally different from socialism of military junta and revolutionary (developmental) democracy of the oligarchic regimes, its end goal is not different from the past regimes, i.e., maintenance of tyranny.  


Resistance against the imperial, the military, and the oligarchic juntas gave birth to organizational leadership of national liberation movement of the Oromo and oppressed nations. The movement developed to multinational liberation struggle with progressive political momentum to achieve justice and peace via realization of self-determination rights enshrined in universal declaration of human rights as an integral element of fundamental freedom

Neither socialism of the military junta nor developmental democracy of the oligarchic regime and synergism of the autocratic PP gained moral capacity to establish justice and peace, because the fundamental human rights to be universally protected were violently simplified as the class struggle between landlord and tenant during 1974 – 1991, illegitimate ethnic representation during 1991 – 2018, and fake prosperity politics recently (2018 – ????). Therefore, the Oromo people and the oppressed nations in Ethiopia must strongly fight with any means possible to retake their human rights, natural dignities, country, land, and resources.

National liberation fronts and parties of oppressed nations in Ethiopia should establish alliance based on multinationalism to effectively realize objectives of the struggle. Reunification of oppressed peoples with the spirit of humanity via their legitimate organizations is needed to produce popular power responsible to avert the evil activities of the messengers of political devils known by their unprecedented crimes against humanity. The Oromo and other oppressed peoples must build the capacity to liberate their country (land) from exploitation, injustice, and terrorism perpetrated by modern system of colonization maintained by ideologies of ethnic supremacy and oligarchism.

Though the past consecutive revolutions have been intentionally distorted, it seems political game of the Abyssinian empire is at its final stage. Sovereignty and territorial integrity of the peoples violently annexed to the Abyssinian empire must be retaken at any cost. Realization of justice and peace as pillars of stability in Ethiopia and Horn of Africa requires removal of barbaric barriers responsible for vicious cycle of conflicts claimed several millions of human lives during the last 150 years and continued today. Violent suppression of legitimate multinational struggle consequentially initiate disintegration of Ethiopia with multidimensional disasters uncontrollable by any force. 

Since decades, both international and local human rights organizations have frequently produced reports of politically motivated human rights violations perpetrated during successive regimes of Ethiopia with disregard to people’s constitutional rights and international treaties. However, the international communities and superpowers aided successive regimes of Ethiopia have not been given meaningful consideration to the independent voices for victims of tyranny. The United Nations in particular, and the international communities in general, should take into consideration reports of atrocities against humanity in Ethiopia to avoid undermining the capacity of the victimized nations required to realize peace via fair accessibility to international justice system.

I would close the conclusion with a song of king David. “God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgement among the `gods`: How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless, maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. They know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.” (Psalm 82: 1 – 5)


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