Italian narratives about the Amhara helped lay the seeds of genocide in Ethiopia

Despite the eventual defeat of the Italian Fascist invasion, the narratives undermining Ethiopian nationalism remained. In the 1960s, radicalised Ethiopian students embraced the colonial interpretation of Menelik’s territorial expansion. The radicalisation of students was driven by a Leninist understanding of nationality which became popular in Ethiopia during the 1960s. Lenin believed that mankind can achieve the inevitable merging of nations only by passing through the transition period of complete liberation of the oppressed nations.

Students began to view Ethiopia as a ‘prison house of nations, nationalities and peoples’. Walelign Mekonnen – one of the prominent student activists – attacked Ethiopian nationalism, arguing that Ethiopia is not really one nation. Instead, Mekonnen argued, Ethiopia is made of dozens of nationalities with their own languages, ways of dressing, history, social organisation and territorial lands. Borrowing narratives from the Italian colonisers, he concluded that Ethiopian nationalism was propagated by the Amhara ruling class and was a ‘mask’ used by them to oppress other ethnic groups.

Constructing the image of the Amhara as an enemy to inspire political mobilisation, radicalised students established ethnonationalist groups in the 1970s to liberate the designated oppressed ethnic groups from Amhara colonialism. They devised a political strategy that portrayed Amhara as the enemy of the entire non-Amhara population. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) declared that the aim of its struggle was anti-Amhara national oppression, claiming that all forms of injustice in Ethiopia stem from the alleged Amhara ruling system. The overall objective of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) was the realisation of national self-determination for the Oromo people and their liberation from oppression and exploitation perpetrated by the Amhara people.

These ethnonationalist fronts seized power in 1991 by defeating the Derg regime, a Military-Marxist government that had ruled the country for seventeen years. They continued to employ the image of Amhara as the enemy of other ethnic groups to mobilise non-Amhara populations in their own interest even after assuming power. Their rhetoric reduced Amhara to subhuman creatures by excluding them from moral realms and made them suitable for various forms of degrading treatment, such as kidnap, torture, and eviction from their homes.

Government officials spread anti-Amhara propaganda by leveraging their influence over the media and direct access to the public. The culmination of the continuous vilification of Amhara was the instigation of genocide against them. Beginning during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia, the scale of the Amhara genocide increased at an alarming rate after ethnonationalist groups seized power in 1991, reaching a crescendo after Abiy assumed office in 2018.


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Written by Ethiotime1

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