Ginbot 7 and Dr. Berhanu Nega’s hostility toward Oromo cause

Written by Mohammed A

By Geresu Tufa

The naked hostility of Ginbot 7 and significant sections of the Amhara elite against the Oromo national liberation struggle came to the surface over the last month.

Their radio stations, television broadcasters, writers, paltalk rooms, bloggers, websites and social media pages opened a war of attrition on the Oromo Liberation Front, Oromo activists and the Oromo people at large. All in unison took the offensive on laughable grounds. The intensity was deafening; the repetition was monotonous; the relay was wide and the substance was empty.  

As the saying goes, “old habits die hard”. Certainly, such malicious coverage was carried out in accordance with their old racist adage: “minim atamentu ye-Gallan goffere inkuan be-wejigira yisheshal be-weree”. Consumed within such racist obsession, they entertained their own illusion; celebrated a non-existent victory; propagated a non-convened congress; applauded an unfounded change of program. An article, titled “the Integrity of Public Writing” authored by Ephrem Madebo signifies the epitome of such hasty mania.

The recent land mark program change decision by one of the OLF factions has created a political wave that rocked political actors, civic society leaders and everyday Ethiopians from San Francesco to London, from Norway to Down Under and in all localities of Ethiopia.

It is clear from this statement of Ginbot 7’s leader, the media frenzy includes a mental fabrication of “the landmark program change” and the subsequent manufacturing of “political wave” that exposed the sinister motive G7 and all those who joined the mass hysteria have toward Oromo national question.

Although this hostility surfaced in recent weeks, it has longstanding genesis. To understand the incessant hostility, it suffices to look into stated policies, rhetoric and stances of the former Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) leaders and one of its offspring, Ginbot 7.

  1. During the Ethio-Eritrean war, at a meeting organized to celebrate “Operation Sunset” victory, named “Unity after Victory” held inside Addis Ababa University’s Lidet Hall, on March 1, 1999, following the “regaining of Badme”, Dr. Berhanu, one of the three panelists and a moderator of the meeting, stated:

the regain of Badme should not be considered a final victory. It should be taken as scoring the first goal. If we are to ensure the existence of Ethiopia, OLF should be eliminated. In order to do so, we ought to further pursue on the dismantling of Shabia that backs the OLF.

Such blatant animosity was revealed at the presence of thousands of university students (including this writer) and staff, invited guests, journalists, and other panelists like Dr. Gebru Mersha from Department of Political Science and International Relations, and  Dr. Tetemke Mehari from School of Pharmacy.

On another public assembly held at National Lottery Hall on April 8, 2001 to discuss ‘Academic Freedom and Human Rights’, Professor Mesfin Woldemariam and Dr. Berhanu went out of topic and indulged in vilifying the Oromo national question, the Oromo people and their leaders.

The duo attacked demands of Oromo people from two different angles. Professor Mesfin argued the Oromo question is a question raised only by petty bourgeois that were sent to Sweden and Germany and educated by missionaries. He continued, “some people affirm that the Oromo national question has popular support” and he stressed, “even if it is supported by the people, the people themselves can be wrong.”

Dr. Berhanu seconded and validated Professor Mesfin’s views that people can commit an act of folly. He then illustrated his point using two examples.  First, he used Socrates’ unfortunate death to show how people, throughout history, have been wrong. He said that Socrates was a known philosopher, educator and ahead of his time in teaching the Greek youth. But, the Greeks who were skeptical of his teachings and ideas poisoned him to death. For his second example, Dr. Berhanu used Jewish people’s rejection of Jesus Christ as Messiah. He concluded that in both cases, the peoples’ acts were flawed; and so is Oromo people’s quest for freedom.

2. During the much acclaimed resurgence of the far right neo-conservatism in the 2005 general election, the then members of CUD and current founders of Ginbot 7 run a morally deplorable and politically irresponsible campaign on some of the most crucial policy issues. Though the issues were vast, for simplicity, they can be categorized as follows:  

    1. Persistent rejection of federalism :

Leading up to the election, Dr. Berhanu was in charge of the CUD campaign operations. He designed the grand strategy for the campaign; organized campaign committees and its three subcommittees under his leadership. He devised focal issues of the campaign and planned ways of disseminating the visions and positions of the coalition. As chief architect for all these activities, he bears responsibility for all the appalling agitations.

Among these is a persistent rejection of federalism. It is a public secret that the coalition promised to redraw regional boundaries on geographical basis so as to dismantle current multinational federal structure and restore the old imperial and/or garrison state structure.

Concerning Oromia, Dr. Berhanu explicitly and repeatedly said that Oromia is too vast and must be broken into pieces. At the time, astonished by Dr. Berhanu’s blatant anti-Oromo position, Obbo Bulcha Damaksa remarked,

While a genuine federal system has not been implemented in Ethiopia, there are forces which want to even abolish the theoretical federalism which remains only in the book.”

The forces he referred to were the CUD, the current Ginbot 7 leaders in general and Berhanu Nega in particular.

To justify their sinister positions, Dr. Berhanu and co. used pretexts such as administrative feasibility and consideration for economic interests. While arguing in such a way, they have never had second thoughts on historical facts that brought about a ruthless oppression and uninterrupted conflicts that has roots in what they preach to restore and install.  Had they been successful, even the fake federal regions — Oromia in particular, would have been things of the past along with all gains attained thus far. Even today, their dream doesn’t seem to have ended; they still seem nostalgic to restore the harrowing era of the past.

    2. Land privatization :

The second platform on which CUD and the current Ginbot 7 leaders run was land privatization. They publicly propagated a policy that could turn land into a commodity that can easily be bought and sold. In order to facilitate the formulation of land privatizing policy in their manifesto, Dr. Berhanu conducted some kind of research under the aegis of Ethiopian Economic Association (EEA) and Ethiopian Economic Research Institute (EEPRI). The findings of his research were an unequivocal “no” to the land commercialization schemes by the majority of people in rural Ethiopia. Irrespective of the findings, the current leaders of Ginbot 7, along with their allies, have nurtured antagonistic advocacy of land privatization against the interests of the people. Despite his findings, Dr. Berhanu made land privatization one of the central agenda of CUD’s election campaign, which negates his claim to be a fighter for democracy—the will of the majority.

The politically tainted and ideologically upheld advocacy for land privatization by neoconservatives could have been a perfect recipe for restoration of exploitative landlord-tenant relationship that would lead to expropriation, deprivation and eviction of farmers. That is what Ginbot 7 leaders have in store for us. They preach land transfer back to contemporary landlords; but, today, unashamedly and deceptively condemn “land grab” with us. Here, it is worth noting that evil deeds are evil whether done by woyanee or by Ginbot 7.

     3. Adopting Neo-liberal Ideology Under the Flagship of Ultra-Conservatism :

 The above policy positions of the neo-cons on land tenure in particular and on other stances in general emanate partly from the adoption of neo-liberal ideology.  Conceivably, the most baffling questions about CUD and its offspring Ginbot 7 are : why did they import and adopted an alien and hegemonic political thought? What is the real nature of these actors?

As evidenced by their chauvinistic and ostracizing campaign, the primary purpose for borrowing, importing and adopting neo-liberalism is to halt demands of nations, nationalities and people of the empire. They have chosen to do so because the techniques they have employed between 1991 and 2005 did not work. The usage of “bandra” to revive Amhara patriotism as a panacea to the problems of Ethiopia did not work; because as an American historian, playwright and social activist Howard Zinn rightly remarked :

the flag is not large enough to cover the shame of the unjust political order of the empire; and is not bright enough to shine on the power trust of the new ultra-right wing conservatives. The other technique related to the flag and that is failed to work is the so-called “Ethiopianism.  

They also sought to put themselves in the service of an apparently triumphalist global neo-liberal powers that prevailed over the last three decades. From the endless conspiracies of their establishment, they know that gaining upper hand and control over rivalries require putting themselves in the service of competing global powers.

Menelik’s deal with foreign forces against Yohannes; and the latter’s role in Tewodros’ defeat by the British are historical facts in point. With this as a reference, their choice of jumping on the ‘democratization’ bandwagon and adopting ‘neo-liberal agenda’ was not because they wished to see a democratic system or speed up economic growth  but to  garner external support as an opportunity to grab power and reverse various gains of the oppressed nations, nationalities and peoples in Ethiopia.

The also saw neo-liberalism fit for their project because it is part of the ‘New Right’ ideological project that seeks to fuse rugged individualism, laissez-faire economics and social Darwinism with essentially conservative philosophy.

They hankered after individualism, not for the desire to respect individual rights, but because of the need to hamper collective rights. Their hidden intention was to generate atomistic (individuals as isolated as atoms) political community of nations and nationalities. Such intention of the neo-cons underpins Thatcher’s famous assertion that “there is no such thing as society, only individuals and their families.” Their intention is rooted in a fear of collective peoples’ power, which brings into question their belief in the “rule by the demos”-democracy that undermines their quest for eternal domination and exploitation.  

The neo-cons phrase mongering of laissez-fair economics was also driven by ill motives. Their literatures reveal a principal focus on privatization, deregulation and free market theology. A focus grounded mainly on their motives to regain control over the resources of the south. The neo-conservatives are pursuing the borrowed ideology at the time when the viability of unregulated free market economics has been called into question; when its disadvantages became apparent; and when widening inequality and the growth of social exclusion became unbearable. As such, the economic model they aspire to apply to an unfamiliar traditional society is a recipe for rampant greed and egoism–and does not provide moral basis for socially just orders.

The other distinctive feature of neo-liberal actors is ‘Social Darwinism’, a doctrine known to be insensitive to poverty and social inequality. It is the application of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and mutation in the natural world to human society. The Ethiopian neo-cons’ adoption of this ideology was motivated by a desire to cause harm to the nations and nationalities annexed into the empire by their predecessors.

By employing Social Darwinism and constructing social and political theories on such grounds, the Ethiopian disciples of the pioneers of the theory yearn to make the society a battle ground for ‘survival of the fittest’, where the weakest will perish — the rise to the top of the advantageous and the fall to the bottom of the disadvantaged. Thus, the neo-con’s choice of neoliberalism is to provide bold expression to naturalness of inequalities, hierarchical social positions, and monopoly of political power already in place.   

This leads us to the second question: what is the real nature of these actors? The champions of neo-liberal ideology are an amalgamation of insular Amhara nationalists and a few self-interested cohorts. As insular nationalists, they are extremely limited in outlook and concerned only with their own group interests. They are allergic to new ideas and different cultures.  They are mergers and mixtures of neo-conservative and neo-liberal entities and elements that rallied behind the slogans: “one nation, one language, one flag”; “Ethiopia or death”; “Ethiopianism shall triumph”.

This can be readily understood from the entities that merged to form CUD. From All Amhara People’s Organization (AAPO) to All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP), Ethiopian Democratic Unity Party (EDUP-M), Rainbow Movement for Democracy & Social Justice, and Ethiopian Democratic League (EDL), all are made up of extreme right-wing elements and/or self-interested cohorts. What is liberal of Ato Hailu Shawul and Professor Mesfin Woldemariam? What is liberal of AAPO Youth wing breeds? Even if the accomplices are considered seriously, they are not liberal but interest calculators. Besides, one should take note that Ginbot 7, as a formation of dropouts from all those entities, shares the sum total character of its wellsprings. Therefore, the ideology borrowed, imported and adopted is liberalism without the liberals.

      4. Adamant denigration of identity politics and demonizing the rights of national groups to organize and their demands:

Since the resurgence of neo-conservatism and the shift of progressives to that camp, the Amhara community has fallen back at the hand of rigid reactionaries whose primary obsession has been the demonization and criminalization of the struggle of the oppressed people.  For long, from the days of Professor Asrat Wodeyes’s “Ye-Amara Kanfer ayinqataqatim, bibitu ayishetim” and “Latin yemeretu, yegna tiqur ferenjoch” to the rhetoric of Dr. Berhanu, the day-to-day words and deeds- typically the works of the gutter media of these elements – reveal this bare truth.

In these denigrating endeavors, they attack identity politics by categorizing it as “Ye-gosa politics or Yezar politics”. Whereas the neo-cons themselves promote crude racism and customary Amhara politics wrapped in an imperial state banner, they condemn other national groups for claiming recognition of their legitimate national identities. To the neo-cons, others’ identities are not as good as theirs. Another way said, their group identity is good and other national groups’ identity is bad. To them, their nationalism is didactic and others’ nationalisms are immoral. To them, Amhara nationalism is of superior quality that ought to be imposed on others; yet Somali nationalism, Oromo nationalism, etc are of inferior quality that must be destroyed.

Based on those political stances, the neo-cons demonize the rights of national groups to organize and articulate their demands, including the establishment of political parties that promote and protect their group rights and interests. They sap their energy defaming and attacking, Ogaden, Oromo, Sidama etc nationalist parties. They wish to police what can be said and how it should be said. All while, they are organized on the basis of their own ethnicity but they make all sorts of distinctions against others. Isn’t this evil to be called by its name?

5. Securitizing the Oromo national question:

For long, Ginbot 7 leaders, in particular Dr. Berhanu has been engaged in sinister rhetoric against the Oromo national struggle for self-determination. The toolkits of his rhetoric are numerous. Among these; his narration of the feelings of Oromo prisoners stated in his book; his interview on ESAT that highlights the presumed danger that Oromo nationalism poses to the existence of the Ethiopian State; and his constant rhetoric as to where the Oromo ‘homeland’ is and how its boundary demarcation requires closer scrutiny.

In all cases, the Oromo question is considered by Dr. Berhanu not as matter of normal democratic struggle but an existential threat to the imperial state; and even seen as a “fifth column”. This is what political scientists call “the securitization of ethnic relations.”  

In securitizing the legitimate demands of Oromo, Dr. Berhanu and his cronies, overtly or covertly, level up to both the old and the new ruthless oppressors of the Oromo. Returning to Ethiopia in early 1990’s, using Tamerat Layine as a facilitator, Dr. Berhanu aligned himself with Meles’ regime, with the aim of using his personal ties with top officials to persuade them to reverse the gains of the oppressed people, particularly the Oromo.

During his partnership with the dictators, Dr. Berhanu was known for his relentless campaign, both against domestic audience and the diplomatic corps, to legitimize the state’s war against Oromo resistance that is believed to have killed over 20,000 people. Dr. Berhanu and his associates seek to eliminate the OLF and are known to support the continuation of historical injustices against the Oromo. By securitizing the Oromo question, Dr. Berhanu, like woyanee and the old guards, yearn to silence Oromo voices whenever and wherever articulated. Where do these acts put Ginbot 7 on the political spectrum? Without doubt, on the undemocratic, reactionary, and ultra right wing political spectrum.

This ultra-right wing and reactionary position of Ginbot 7 becomes indisputable when we examine how national questions/identity politics are treated in democracies. In democracies, national questions are entirely ‘desecuritized’.

Identity politics is a normal day-to-day politics. It’s taken out of the ‘security box’ and put into the box of democratic politics.  There are several western countries that have active movements seeking national self-determination: Quebec, Flanders, Scotland, Puerto Rico and Catalonia. In all these cases, there are functioning vocal political parties that contest dominance by hegemonic groups; and even question the legitimacy of the existing state.  In some cases, such parties have even seized power at a regional level. In almost all, politicians demanding independence speak on television; sit in on parliamentary committees and openly campaign in the streets. Yet, in all cases, political actors in democratic multi-national states have never securitized demands for self-determination.  

Notwithstanding these democratic exercises, Dr. Berhanu and his partners cry for moribund model of assimilation, homogenization, and centralization and for sustaining predatory establishment of empire builders. In doing so, they chose to condemn victims and praise perpetrators; they chose to promote the interests of the hegemonic groups and label the demands of the oppressed as dangerous. They zealously admire war of expansion/conquest and chronic evils that have historically turned the majority of Oromo people to ‘minoritized majority’ that exposed them to a century old repression. They attempt to securitize even the most democratic demands such as: decolonization, referendum, and the choice of alphabet. This shows that Ginbot 7 is working to bulldoze everything Oromo.

It is undeniable that Dr. Berhanu and co. is fighting for the former oppressors and stand in the same row with incumbent tyrants. In this fight they both want to see weakened and disempowered Oromos and other nationalities.  Anything that benefits the majority is seen as threat to them; and therefore, national question and identity politics becomes a security question.

According to political scientists, dominant political actor makes choice about whether or when to highlight these factors in public debate.  A security threat is something that is deliberately inculcated and reproduced by certain elites of the hegemonic group for their own self-interest. Strictly speaking, an issue only becomes securitized if such elites decide to characterize identity politics as existential threat

In our case, in order to sustain embedded hierarchies, structural violence and historical injustices, Ginbot 7 and its associates propagate unjustifiable security threats. As such, their position represents a conscious choice and political strategy. But why did they choose and adopt this strategy?

They securitize national question for two reasons. (1) To trample the democratic process of resolving the problems.  As Ole Waever notes, by securitizing demands, political leaders claim that security matters be addressed prior to the national group’s demands.  Operationally, this means to use whatever means necessary to block claims and/or demands. (2) Securitizing demands also trample issues of justice. The entire question of justice becomes submerged under security issue.  Isn’t this a menu of violence and bloodshed?

Under condition where the demands of the Oromo people and other oppressed nations are securitized; justice would be curtailed and displaced by security issues; and the space for democratic settlement of chronic problems drastically shrinks. Hence, its worth taking note that the willingness to play security card in a reckless and irresponsible fashion damages inter-national groups’ relations, weaken  measures of conflict resolution,  hamper  democracy, and peace.

  1. Willful denial of historical injustices :

Since their resurgence, the neo-conservatives have explicitly denied historical injustices against the annexed nations and nationalities. In their everyday political activities, instead of truth telling, the amalgams of neo-cons base their arguments on amnesia- deliberately neglecting and even denying historical injustices. They even go to the extent of producing  justifications in favor of historical wrongs.  Such attempts can be observed in recent writings, discourses and speeches of Ginbot 7 leaders and their blind followers (Please see Netsanet, Fitih, Democracy ina Andenet, 2010, P: 89; Passim).

Their justification attempts can be summarized as: putting political oppression, economic exploitation and social subjugation against the oppressed nations on equal moral ground with that of the oppressor; unjustifiable justification of the war of expansion/conquest and the barbarous atrocities with irrational statements; and invoking fairy-tale history for the annexation.

This is taking place at a time when the oppressed people both in Ethiopia and all over the world are intensifying claims for rectification of historical injustices. There is a strong feeling among the Oromo that historical wrongs have not yet been recognized and acknowledged. Ginbot 7’s unwillingness to remedy is disturbing.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that looking back on history helps us focus on future coexistence. In history, the system of Abyssinians consisted millions of evil acts woven into the system and carried out on daily basis for almost a century. It continues to be replicated. What I have laid out above is yardsticks of this replication process. This ought to be ceased if the future is expected to be free of the hitherto vicious circle.

*Geresu Tufa is an International Business Management student and can be reached at geresu@gmail.com.



About the author

Mohammed A

Mohammed Ademo is a freelance journalist based in Washington, DC. He's the founder and editor of OPride.com, an independent news website about Ethiopia.

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