N.B.: This article was written in October 1998 and has been published various times since then. The first issue was published in the Ethiopian Reporter, the Ethiopian Review and some other periodicals. It was also posted on websites such as Dagmawi and Ethiomedia. The article has been posted on Facebook as well. The author’s name on the first edition was spelt “Souba Hais.” Today this article may not have the importance that it had at the time it was written because much more is known about the Irob people and their land compared to when it was invaded by the Eritrean armed forces in 1998. Nevertheless, it is many readers’ opinion that it is still useful. The article has been edited recently so some minor changes have been made to it.

By Suba Hais Oct. 25, 1998

Irob is one of the Ethiopian territories invaded by the Eritrean armed forces this year. When news of the invasion broke, I observed that many Ethiopians, including Tigrayans, did not know anything about Irob, even its existence. After almost five months, there is not much change in this regard. The aim of this paper, therefore, is to provide some information about the people and the location. It will also discuss the current condition of the people after the invasion.


The Irob people occupy a small, semi-arid, mountainous region with a wide altitudinal range in which almost all types of crops can be potentially cultivated. It is located in Agame, northeast Tigray/Ethiopia. The territory is bordered by the Endeli River to the east and to the north-east, by Shumezana to the north-west, by Guolomakeda to the west, Sae`se` to the south and Afar Region to the south-east. The Irob neighbors to the east and north-east are predominantly Muslims and speak the Saho language. The Afars are Muslims as well and, of course, they speak the Afar language which is very similar to the Saho language. The other neighbors are Tigrigna speaking Christian highlanders.

The Irobs who live in this geographic location speak Saho. Many other Irob descendants who live in the rest of Agame and some other adjacent places have adopted the Tigrigna language. Irob is an ethnic community made up of three sub-groups: Adgadi-ârere, Bouknaiyti-âre and Hasaballa. Adgadi-âre and Hasaballa are predominantly Tewahido Christians, while Buknaiyti-âre is mostly Catholic.


Most of the three Irob groups claim to be descendants of one man, Summe. Acccording to the oral history of the people and several written records, Summe’s father, Negus (King) Werede-Mehret, is believed to have come from Tsira'e in Kilite-Awla'elo, Tigray about 800 years ago. That is around the time when the so-called “Salomonic” dynasty took control of political power of the Ethiopian empire from the Zagwe dynasty. It is recounted that WoredeMehret, himself a local king, was a descendant of Emperor Yitbarek of the Zagwe dynasty. Negus WeredeMehret’s forefathers left their ancestral land probably for political reasons related to the change of political power in Ethiopia. In fact, for many centuries, the Irobs isolated themselves to this remote, militarily strategic, mountainous region keeping their distance from the political centers.

Many different tribes inhabited the Irobland before the descendants of Weredemehret went there. But most of those tribes left the region for good. The main ethnic group who dwelled in the region when the descendants of Weredemehret moved there were the Kayayta people. Today too the Kayayta people are one of the main social groups who live in the Irobland. The Aydola (Aydoli-dik) are some of the early inhabitants of the region as well. Anyway it is not the purpose of this article to deal with the question of the Irob ethnic group in general. However, putting it briefly the Irob ethnic group is a community composed of the descendants of Kayayta, Summe, Aydola, Ga’aso, Dabrimela, Hado/Hazo and some few members of other lineages.

Most of the Irobs may be descendants of the Zague Dynasty, the Lasta kings. Hence it is interesting to know that the Irob oral history narrates that, when the Ethiopian political center moved from Shewa to Gonder, some Irob leaders such as Ona Tensa’e and Ona Kumanit (Some say his son Tesfahanis) traveled to Gonder likely to get a firsthand account of what was happening and may had been to establish some type of relationship. It is recounted that the two men returned with “Gamma,” a traditional symbol of the blessing of the Emperors, demonstrating that the local authority of the individual who received the 'Gamma' had been approved.

When the descendants of Summe got to the new land, they brought with them the Christian religion, which they have kept to date. It seems that the people who inhabited the region were Christians as well. Because there are many ruins of churches apparently predated the epoch the new comers arrived. Anyway it is recounted that Summe built a new church in a locality called Halalisse near his first permanent settlement. The place where he built his first home is called Harare-Ababena and the locality where he built the church is just a stone’s throw from the first residence. They dedicated the church to St. Mary and they named it Kidane-Mehret (Covenant of Perpetual Mercy). The local residents still call the site Summae Massoare (the Church of Summe). It is said that they gave the name Tsira'e to the mountain overlooking the site of the first permanent settlement in the memory of their ancestral land.

At that time the Irobland was unexploited and fertile. Hence they enjoyed a comfortable life for centuries. Their economy was based on agriculture and pasturing. Not only then, until few decades ago, Irobland was a source of the best quality of honey, livestock and dairy products that used to dominate the regional markets. During the last four decades or so, because of drought and other man made factors, the region rapidly became one of the poorest spots. The problem is rooted mainly in the ecological and environmental conditions. Deforestation is almost complete in this mountainous region. The rare rainfalls, which usually come in the form of sudden heavy downpours, the irregularities of the surfaces and centuries of poor farming practices have combined to facilitate the erosion and depletion of the soil. The rainfalls and floods have carved much of the topography, changing it into rows of hollows and hills. The gravel, sand and topsoil have been washed away, exposing the bedrock to the surface in many parts. Besides the degradation of the terrain, the holdings of cultivated land per household are very small and unproductive.

From this brief description of the land one can easily visualize the condition of Irob farmers. During the last few decades the people farmed by terracing the hillsides. The land needs continuous maintenance so that it is not swept away by eventual sudden downpours. Now that the farmers are dislocated from their villages because of the Eritrean invasion, the hard work of terracing or maintaining the hillside lands has been aborted. This year's unusually heavy rains have compounded the problem.


The Irob lived for centuries between two culturally different societies: the highland Christians whose economic life is mainly based on agriculture, and the lowland Muslims whose economy is mainly based on pasturing. This geographical location allowed the Irob people to have socio-cultural interaction with both groups, hence, a combination of both highland and lowland cultures are manifested in the Irob culture and way of life. There are some cultural norms and ways of life the Irob people have in common with lowlanders with whom they share their language (Saho). However, they are much more connected with the Christian peoples of the hinterland than they are to the lowland people of the region. Religion, cultural food, folklore, marriage customs, social organizations etc., are almost identical to those of Tigrigna speaking highlanders with special historical and cultural bonds with the Agame people, with whom they share the Woldu-Subagadis customary law, foods like Tihlo, and drinks like the original Maess/Miess etc. Even though both highland and lowland cultures are reflected in Irob society, their culture is not a simple mixture of the two.

During the course of a relatively autonomous existence for many centuries, the Irobs waged enormous struggles (including wars) to defend their identity, and developed certain unique socio-cultural norms. Some of the values that differentiate the Irob people from their neighbors on either side include: their relatively democratic consuetudinary laws through which they resolve issues and disputes in their community, their electoral system, relatively democratic familial relationships, active and socially recognized role of women, etc. It is a society with its own myths, legends, and historical mode of existence. It is also one of the most homogenous and harmonious groups in the whole geopolitical region. Irob, therefore, is a society with relatively advanced social values, whose group characteristics and identity not only must be recognized and respected but also deserve assistance to prosper.


The history of education in Irob is strictly related to the Catholic Church. Catholicism was introduced to central Irob (Buknayti-are) in 1840s. As soon as the Catholic missionaries established roots in the locality, they built a school (Lideta) in Alitena in 1845. By 1850, it was legally recognized by Dej. Woubie, native of northern Gondar and the then governor of Tigray. The curriculum included Geez, Amharic, primary science, and mathematics. Latin, French, philosophy, and theology were taught in higher levels.

Lideta School has had many interruptions related to religious persecution in its long history. However, it continued to flourish and eventually became one of the oldest academic centers in the empire. It provided modern education for students from different parts of the country.

It is documented that in 1914 alone there were about 500 students in the school. However, obstacles related to religious persecution continued and, therefore, on May 4, 1916 a senatorial council, composed of the leaders of Buknaiti-are and the clergy, held a special meeting to discuss appropriate measures to be taken to obtain redress for their faith and their school.

They concluded to send a delegation to the capital to present their petition to the highest authority of the nation. Accordingly, a delegation composed of four prominent Irob natives and a French missionary was chosen to go to Addis Ababa. They were Mr. Adoumar Halibo, Mr. Menelik Woldegiorgis, Abba Tesfaselasse Woldegerima, Abba Gebreigziabiher and Rev. Edwardo Gruson, a French missionary. When they arrived they were fortunate enough to converse with Lij Eyasu (the heir to the throne) in July 1916. On July 28, 1916, Lij Eyasu officially decreed that there should not be any persecution against them because of their beliefs. He sent the official decree bearing his stamp and signature to the governor of Tigray and gave a copy to the delegation. Since then, obstacles diminished and Lideta School functioned in an ameliorated way until the time of the Italian invasion of 1935. When the Italians occupied Ethiopia they expelled from Alitena the foreign teachers who were French nationals and closed the Lideta School.

In 1919, the school sent a group of students to Italy for higher studies. Among them were Dr. Abba Hagos Fessuh of Dawhan, Irob, well known scholar and founder of the Catholic school of Dessie, and Abune Haile-Mariam Khasay of Adigrat, the first native Catholic eparch for all of the Ethiopian Empire and founder of the excellent Tsinseta School of Adigrat. Some years later, it sent another group. Among them was Dr. Abba Woldemariam Khasay of Dayya, Irob, who later (in 1959) rebuilted from scratch the current Lideta School, which had been closed and abandoned from the time of the fascist invasion of Ethiopia.

As I mentioned above, the Lideta School was reopened in 1959 and flourished again thanks to the Catholic Diocese of Adigrat. Especially due to the particular endeavors and commitments of Dr. Abba Woldemariam Kahsay, Abune Yohannes Woldegiorgis, and other concerned Irob priests and laymen. By the time of the Eritrean invasion, Lideta had been elevated to a secondary school level, and there were about eleven elementary level branches all run by the Catholic Church. There were also some elementary schools built and run by the Ethiopian government. All schools in the area occupied by the Eritrean armed forces now have been looted and destroyed, leaving Irob children deprived of any kind of schooling again.

The beneficiaries of the original Lideta School were not only Irobs. Many students used to come to Alitena, not only from the adjacent regions, but also from Showa and other far away regions. For example, Abune Asrate-Mariam Yemru, the second Catholic eparch of Ethiopia, was from Showa and received his education in Alitena. Monsignor Gebremichael (Shiferraw) Mekonnen the most prominent Amharic speaking Catholic priest from Gonder who served mostly in Addis Ababa also was educated in Lideta School of Alitena.

The graduates of Lideta played important roles in the modernization of Ethiopia in various fields. Abba Tesfa-Sellassie Wolde-Gerima of Adgadi-are, Irob, translated the chronicles of Emperor Menelik II and some other Ethiopian government’s official documents from Amharic into French. Azmatch Ayele Sebhat, also of Adgadi-are, Irob, played an important role in diplomatic and defense matters. It was he who was in the forefront in establishing an ambassadorial level relationship between Ethiopia and France and founded the Ethiopian embassy in Paris. He was also one of the most prominent patriots during the war of resistance of Ethiopian patriots against the occupation of Fascist Italy. Many other graduates of Lideta School contributed in several ways working in the developing bureaucracy. Others contributed in academic fields by establishing various educational institutions in many parts of the country.


The Irob people kept full autonomy from the central governments until early 1800s. However, they always recognized the nationhood of Ethiopia and pledged cautious allegiance to the highest leaders of the nation.

In the early 1800's, one of the Irob leaders, Dej. Subagadis Woldu became the strongest man in Agame and was competing to incorporate the whole of Tigray, including what now is known as Eritrea, under his rule. In fact, he succeeded and ruled the entire region from 1818 to 1831. The question of how to deal with the case of this ambitious rising leader raised some problem among Irob people and leaders. The dilemma was between acknowledging full recognition and authority to their hopeful brother and putting their autonomy in jeopardy, or being an obstacle to his success by opposing him. Hasaballa, Subagadis' tribe, and Adgadee-are, whose compatriot and leader Belata Fessuh had become adviser and right hand man of Subagadis, preferred not to oppose him. The leaders of Buknaitee-are in central Irob, instead, did not want to give-up their autonomy. Their determination to guard their autonomy contrasting with Subagadis' ambitions was bound to lead to conflict.

Haneita Tsaéru and Haneita Kumanit were the most prominent leaders of Buknaitee-are at the time. Haneita Tsaéru, the top elected leader of the region, was a friend of Dej. Subagadis and used to meet him on occasions. Haneita Kumanit, instead, was suspicious of Subagadis and therefore kept himself distant from him. As Kumanit suspected, Subagadis, in a very tricky way, arrested Tsaéru and started a war. Kumanit had been on guard and with his followers overpowered Subagadis' warriors, arrested his chief of staff, and liberated Tsaéru.

Subagadis had to give up the venture of putting the Irobs under control by force. After some time he invited the leaders for a compromise and negotiated solution. The Irob leaders welcomed the invitation with three major preconditions, the most important of which was Irob autonomy. Subagadis accepted all conditions and both sides reached a compromised solution. I am not going into detail about the war or other aspects of the compromise. But it is worth mentioning that Subagadis agreed not to interfere in internal matters of Irob and that the leaders elected by Irobs were going to be recognized by the central governments. The Irob leaders in exchange recognized his authority by promising to pay him symbolic taxes twice a year. This agreement had been respected until fascist Italy's invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.

Before the Italian invasion of 1935, Irob was a self-governing region ruled by its elected leaders, highest of whom held the title of Ona. The last election in which Ona Desta Woldegiorgis and Ona Gebray Enday were candidates had been held just before the invasion. The Italian fascists ignored the results of the election and appointed their own man who ruled until the end of the Italian occupation of Ethiopia.

When the country was liberated from the Italians and Emperor Haileselassie was reinstated the central government started to appoint Irob administrators. The first central government's appointee was short-lived Fetawrari Giday who was killed in a local conflict before he had even established an office. This coincided with the Woyane uprising of 1941. After the Woyane movement had been put down, Emperor Haileselassie's regime decreed the disarmament of Tigray people and the region was put under strict control.

The second man who was appointed by the central government to administer Irob was Kegne-Azmach Embaye, who partially enforced in the region Emperor Haileselassie governments' policy of disarming the people of Tigray. After him, Basha Bisau/Bisheu, who was of Irob origin but neither spoke the language nor resided there, was appointed. When Basha Bisheu was nominally Mislene (local administrator) of Irob, a brilliant young Irob man who was employed in the central government's bureaucracy in Meqele, capital of Tigray, asked on his own to be transferred to Alitena to work there as a Vice-Mislene. He was the son of lastly elected Buknaitee-are leader, Ona Gebray, and his name was Woldu Gebray. This meant less salary and lower rank than the position he held, but he was determined to work for his people. Within a short period of time, he became very popular, not only because he was fair and just but, above all, because he worked hard and efficiently to safeguard the so far surviving aspects of Irob autonomy. He successfully defended to his death the semi-autonomous woreda status of Irob.

Immediately after his death, Irob was merged to the neighboring woredas of Gulo-Makada and Suruxo. It was deprived not only of its traditional autonomy and the right to elect its leaders, but even of its woreda status until the current EPRDF government re-instituted, at least, its woreda status.

Something we cannot bypass when we talk about the political history of the Irob people is their participation in the anti-colonial struggle of the Ethiopian people. The Irob elders narrate that many Irobs participated in the wars fought against Ottoman expansionists in Gura'e and Gundet, in the war fought in Adwa and other places against Italian colonialists etc. During the fascist invasion, Irob patriots lead by their indigenous leaders such as Azmach Ayele Sebhat of Adgadi-are, Dej. Kassa Sebhat of Hasaballa, Ato Fessehaye Gebray of Buknayti-are, fought the Italians from their base in Assimba.

During the years of struggle against the internal dictatorship, the Dergues' regime, the Irob people fought side by side with the Ethiopian opposition groups such as the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP), the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) etc. By the way, none of the Eritrean movements advanced into the Irob region during those years or before.

Irob, despite its physical location by the border area, in essence, is a core part of Tigray. In fact, most Tigrayan leaders who played important roles in regional and national politics were fully or partly Irob descendants. Just to mention a few randomly: Sum ‘Agame Woldu, Dej Subagadis, Emperor Yohannes IV, Iteghie Denqnesh, Ras Sebhat, Shum Agame Desta, Ras Araya, Dej. Hagos, Dej. Derso, Dej. Maru, Dej. Tedla Abaguben, Shum Agame Aregawi, Dej. Belay Weldiye, Dej. Kassa, Azmach Ayele, Dej. Gebreselassie, Dej. Zewde Gebreselassie, Betweded Hailemariam, Fitwrari Tessema Tesfay, Major Biru Sebhat, Colonel Gebray Gebrezghi, Colonel Adhanom, Colonel Abraha Adagis (Yeogaden Anbesa), Dr. Abraham Demoz, Dr. Tesfay Debessay etc.

The purpose of bringing the last paragraph to attention is not to go into any detail regarding the personalities mentioned or historical events related to them. But to emphasize that the Eritrean claim to which I will come afterwards in this paper has no historical foundation when it comes to Irob peoples' socio-political association or historical background. Concluding this part we can say that the political history of the Irob people encompasses two equally important aspects: defense of internal autonomy and respect for the unity and sovereignty of the Ethiopian nation.


The Irob land was invaded at the end of last May. The invasion and the subsequent cruel treatment of the people have not received enough coverage neither by the Ethiopian authorities nor by the news media. The first journalist who reported the invasion to the world is Voice of America (VOA) reporter Mimi Sebhatu, who happened to be in the area the day the Eritrean armed forces invaded the Irobland. However she was told by the local authority not to report that the Irob region was invaded.

Irob communities in Addis Ababa and in North America issued some statements pointing out the atrocities the invaders committed and are still committing against the Irob people, and underlining that Irob has never been part of Eritrea in any time in history. The most important account issued by an outsider is the one written by Dr. Anne Walters-Byare and circulated through the Internet. Another subsequent article is Mr. Wray Witten's report that takes accounts of other Ethiopian territories under the Eritrean invaders, interviews done with the administrators of Irob-Woreda, statement by Adigrat Catholic Church, etc. All of them revealed that the Irobs in the occupied areas are subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment from forced citizenship to expulsion from their homes.

Imprisonment, harassment, beating and killings of helpless civilians including priests, rape of women, and the desecration and looting of churches still continue. Eviction of residents from their homes, destruction of houses and the looting to Eritrea of precious wood which are used for the ceiling of Irob houses also continues. The remaining wood is being recklessly used up by the invaders for cooking and warming purposes. Personal and community properties such as farming and terracing tools, construction materials and household goods have been stolen. Health centers and schools are being ransacked. The EPLF government is also engaged in a systematic cultural destruction and stealing historical valuables.

The people are expelled without being allowed to take with them any of their household properties. Their domestic animals and beehives are left behind and are slaughtered and vandalized by the invading soldiers. Dispossessing people of all their property is one of the worst violations of human rights mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property."

The evictions are conducted during the months of unusually harsh rain and cold and have been ordered without any advanced notices, arrangements or provisions. The people who are thrown out of their homes are mostly the elderly, the disabled, women and children that were left behind when able people left the area earlier to escape the war. The evicted people are suffering in the cold mountains without any shelter or food. The conditions of those who escaped to other areas are not much better.

Some evicted women are having babies in the wild groves. The infirmed are dying because of the hardship and they do not get the traditional religious funeral ceremonies. According to the local tradition graves are built in the lots around the churches, which is impossible now as they are under the control of the invaders who converted the residences of the pastors and parochial schools into their lodgings.

Will Irob villages, which have been the bedrock of a stable society, ever again be places people can resettle in? It seems very difficult. The invaders are not only looting whatever is available but also systematically eradicating all bases the Irob can rely on for future return and placing landmines everywhere in the villages.

During the sowing season, the invaders prohibited the Irobs from planting their crops unless they accepted forced Eritrean citizenship. Those who refused were uprooted. Those who somehow managed to plant are forbidden from harvesting what they grew. It is not difficult to foresee what the fate of these people will be.

Without a doubt, all of this will make it extremely difficult to rehabilitate the displaced Irobs when the invaders eventually leave the occupied areas.

As no international and neutral forces or journalists can get to the occupied areas, the full range of atrocities being committed by the Eritrean armed forces cannot be fully revealed. The sketchy information that we have comes from those who managed to escape to Adigrat and other towns. All types of human rights have been violated extensively and it is escalating. People who were amassed in Alitena after being eradicated from other Irob villages were told, in the beginning of this month, October 98, to leave immediately. Unless pressure is brought to bear on the Eritrean invading forces, they will not desist from committing more violations against the inhabitants of the occupied Ethiopian territories.

The aim of the Eritrean invaders seems to be to eradicate Irob and other invaded peoples for their expansionist objectives. The international community, in general, and the Ethiopian government, in particular, should take urgent measures to stop the Eritrean government's madness. Humanitarian organizations, the Red Cross and other concerned agencies also should do whatever they can to help the displaced people who were dependent on food aid even before the invasion. The Eritrean government who instigated war against four neighbors during its existence of only five years must be stopped before it commits more barbarity.


The Cabinet of Ministers of the Eritrean government in its meeting held on May 20, 1998 mentioned Alitena, the heart of Irobland, among the Ethiopian territories that it claimed. It was a few days after the Eritrean armed forces invaded the environs of Yirga Triangle/Badimme in northwest Ethiopia. In their statement issued on that day (May 20) the Cabinet ironically stated: "the government of Eritrea regrets and condemns the use of force to resolve problems as it believes that the solution lies in negotiated and peaceful means." Exactly ten days later the same government invaded the Irob region.

Before last May, the Eritreans never officially claimed Irob during the referendum or on any other occasion. On the contrary, they had been affirming in clear terms that Irob is part of Ethiopia. In one of the chapters of the school manual prepared by the government, where they explained about the Saho and other Cushitic languages spoken in Eritrea, for example, we find the following passage:… "Saho is also the language of the Irob people who inhabit the north eastern part of Tigray in Ethiopia." In another geographic manual prepared in Tigrinia and that contains all localities and small villages of Eritrea in detail neither Irob nor any locality in it are mentioned.

Professor Asmeron Legese of Eritrea in an interview he gave to the VOA's Amharic service last month (Sept.'98) affirmed that “his government occupied Irob region not because it claims it but for other purposes, battle strategy”. The Eritrean officials' statements have been contradictory regarding the Irob region. In private they tell you that they occupied the Irobland not to stay but for strategic purposes and that eventually they will withdraw from it. When asked in interviews or in official statements, either they do not answer or they simply say Alitena is in Eritrea, singling out one locality in the center of the region out of the whole area. When asked precisely about Irob and Zalanbesa in an interview he gave to VOA a few days ago, Eritrean foreign minister Haile Woldensae first said that Alitena is Eritrean, then, when he was asked on what bases he could say so, he said that as borders in those areas have never been properly delineated there could be mistakes and if arbiters tell us that certain territories do not belong to us, we will respect that.

Anyway, Irob has never been part of Eritrea and any claim by the Eritrean government, therefore, is baseless. It has never been administered by or paid taxes to any administration located in Eritrea, be it before the Italian colonization of the region (Eritrea), during the colonial period, during the British military administration of it, during federation or after. Even when fascist Italy occupied the whole nation of Ethiopia, reincorporating Eritrea into it, the Italians administered Irob through the town of Adigrat, not through Adiqeyih or any other administrative center in Eritrea.

Another very important point is that during the territorial conventions held between Italy and Emperor Menelik, the two sides agreed that Irob had been and is part and parcel of Agame, therefore Ethiopia. The Irob leaders played important roles in this by presenting the historical background of Irob to the authorities. A delegation led by Belata Nayzghi of Adgadee-are traveled to Adwa to meet Dej. Gebre-Selassie, the head of the Ethiopian territorial commission, to brief him about Irob's case. Other Irob leaders like Ras Sebhat did as much by personally contacting the commissioners of both sides. Thus the Irob leaders succeed in keeping the entire Irob region intact in its traditional administrative province of Tigray and it remained so until current shocking invasion.

Professor Aleme Eshete writes on the April 1995 issue of the Ethiopian Review Magazine: “The 1904 Italo Ethiopian border commission (in which the Ethiopian delegation was headed by Dejach Gebre Selassie) constituted to determine the position of the Irob had failed to satisfy the Italians who wanted to draw a border line bringing the Irob within their colony as part of Akle Guzai. The Agame chiefs, including Ras Sebhat, protested that the Irob have always been part of Agame. The Irob thus remained inside Ethiopia and there has been no borderline agreed between the two parties until the end of the Italian Fascist occupation in 1941”. Professor Aleme Eshete was a historian and lived in Rome at the time he wrote the article and he had a special permission to access documents signed between Ethiopia and Italy regarding Eritrea. He asserts that he examined Italian colonial records including Ferdinando Martini’s diaries. F. Martini was governor of Eritrea from 1896 to 1906.

NB this paragraph has been added later and the quotation is taken from “Ethiopian Review, Carving of Eritrea out of Ethiopia, An Historical Account, 1888-1908, by Aleme Eshete”.

The Irob people paid heavy sacrifices fighting the colonialists to remain Ethiopians. They have long refused any attempt to make them not Ethiopians. There will never be peace in the area unless the aggressors completely leave every part of the forcefully occupied territories. No bargains and no divisions of the Irob people will be accepted. The invaders should not be fooled by the Irob people’s refrain from counter actions during the last five months, leaving the handling of the matter to their government.

The Irob people have never bowed to foreign attempts of domination and will never in the future. The routine behavior of EPLF leaders invading other peoples' territories and suggesting negotiations will not work for them with the Irob, in particular, and the Ethiopian people, in general. The Eritrean leaders know this very well and that is why their army is not acting like a national army claiming the territories and the inhabitants as part of their country, but as a mere gang of bandits who have come to kill, ravage and steal. All they are doing is systematic destruction of everything the countryside people need to run a normal life. Any normal government, when it has any justification for its claim, tries to gain the support of the concerned people. What the Eritrean government has demonstrated so far is the exact opposite: underestimation of and disrespect for the people. When president Isayas was asked in an interview with VOA couple of months ago, if he would accept the will of the concerned people if were given referendum, first he said yes, when the journalist mentioned Badimme, then he answered no when she mentioned Irob and Zalanbessa. He added "The farmers and the shepherds do not know their borders." It is disappointing to hear such a statement from someone who lived with the countryside people for decades. Those who know the real borders in detail and where they belong are, in fact, the local people more than anyone else.

Journalists and others who wrote about the "disputed" territories also manifested the disregard for the people. What they underlined was the quality of the land: "scorched land," "rocky land" etc. Nobody showed a concern for the plight of the people. In my opinion the priority should be given to the will of the concerned peoples. There is nothing worse than telling someone, under point of gun, "from now on we give you another identity and another citizenship." No human being, in general and no Ethiopian in particular can take this. It is one of the worst violations of human rights. Even animals prefer to live in the environment they are used to. The same people currently ruling Eritrea and suppressing other peoples' fate had been, for decades, asking for a referendum for their cause.

The Eritrean government, after it occupied the Ethiopian territories that have never been part of Eritrea, argued that there are clear international borders between the two countries and that Ethiopia has violated them. The reverse is true and the international community knows that even if it has been irresponsible for not having condemned and pressured the invader to withdraw.

The Eritrean rulers have been also circulating the colonial map and asking for arbitration based on it. They are talking about the map drawn according to the “agreements” signed between Menelik's Ethiopia and colonial Italy, supported by the imperialist powers of the time. Whatever validity they may have had, those agreements were violated by Italy itself more than half a century ago. In 1935, when Italy occupied the whole nation of Ethiopia, reincorporated Eritrea into it, and created new internal demarcations for the Ethiopian Empire it voided the previously “agreed on” borders as it had been doing from the very beginning. Starting from the day Italy set its foot in Eritrea, it encroached upon previous agreements until the day it left defeated. The whole scheme of the Italians, after all, was not colonization of Eritrea, per se, but using it as a temporary station for their larger plan to colonize the whole nation of Ethiopia, of which Eritrea had been an integral part. They demonstrated this at the end of the 19th century when the Italian armed forces attempted to occupy the whole country. Fortunately, they were stopped by being defeated in Adwa and other places. Again in 1935, Italy, totally ignoring the so-called “international treaties” and borders, occupied the whole nation and reincorporated Eritrea into it. Those one- sided agreements signed at the gun point of colonial powers that had coordinated a conspiracy against the only independent nation in Africa should not be valid. Not only because they were nullified by Italy itself in 1935, but also because Ethiopia, with Eritrea included in it, was already an internationally recognized nation. Hence, colonial lines, viewed by the OAU as the only solution for African nations, whose “legal” boundaries were created by the colonial powers, should not have been the same for a sovereign nation that pre-existed the colonial repartition of Africa. After all at the time (1964) the African nations agreed to respect boundary lines created by colonial powers Eritrea was not colony of anyone, it was just 14th province of Ethiopia.

Another point is that after Italy was defeated in Ethiopia to which it had reunited Eritrea when it occupied, it never administered separate Eritrea again. Therefore, the EPLF leaders' highly orchestrated claim that they are the heirs of a country that belonged to Italians is legally questionable. The case is not as clear as they may think. Therefore, sticking to the colonial maps will not help anyone. Instead of colonial maps, the parties would have done a better job if they tried to resolve the dispute by taking into consideration the traditional affiliation and will of the inhabitants of the “disputed areas.” The maps drawn without any scientific bases or appropriate physical knowledge of the localities will never be a solution. On the contrary, they will cause endless disturbances and instability in the region. Borders east of Belesa had not been delineated anyway. The questionable colonial treaties are not sufficient legal bases to create an international border in this case. More importantly they must not be used as a pretext to invade the rest of Ethiopia. I am not at all against the Eritrean independence as far as it is the choice of the people. However, the claim should not be based on inconsistent and legally arguable colonial footings. The destiny of peoples should not be based on illegalities and above all the colonial legacy should not transcend the historical bonds and actual choice of the people.

Another point is that after Italy was defeated in Ethiopia to which it had reunited Eritrea when it occupied, it never administered separate Eritrea again. Therefore, the EPLF leaders' highly orchestrated claim that they are the heirs of a country that belonged to Italians is legally questionable. The case is not as clear as they may think. Therefore, sticking to the colonial maps will not help anyone. Instead of colonial maps, the parties would have done a better job if they tried to resolve the dispute by taking into consideration the traditional affiliation and will of the inhabitants of the “disputed areas.” The maps drawn without any scientific bases or appropriate physical knowledge of the localities will never be a solution. On the contrary, they will cause endless disturbances and instability in the region. Borders east of Belesa had not been delineated anyway. The questionable colonial treaties are not sufficient legal bases to create an international border in this case. More importantly they must not be used as a pretext to invade the rest of Ethiopia. I am not at all against the Eritrean independence as far as it is the choice of the people. However, the claim should not be based on inconsistent and legally arguable colonial footings. The destiny of peoples should not be based on illegalities and above all the colonial legacy should not transcend the historical bonds and actual choice of the people.

If Isayas is left to proceed in the direction he has been marching so far, I will not wonder if he comes out claiming new territories based on post-1935 Italian demarcation of the Ethiopian Empire. Bear in mind that the border of “LA GRANDE ERITREA” is not limited at Mereb. He must be stopped! And the Eritrean people should not applaud whatever step Isaias takes if they want peaceful coexistence with the brotherly people of Ethiopia.

Appeal to Counter Separation of Tigray

Girmay T. Giorgis                                                                                                    April 2020

Ethiopia finds itself in turbulence and instability for over four decades. The main cause of the instability is the political publicists who emphasize any difference that may exist in the society. This has been happening since the downfall of the monarchy. Instead of focusing on uniting the people and resolving any problem that may arise in the society, regional parochialists and die-hard nationalists have been playing a destructive role. Some agitators continue to highlight differences and confuse innocent people, thus prolonging their sufferings.

One of the most troublesome cases is the way some Tigrayan activists are advocating for Tigray's separation from Ethiopia. They confuse the people of Tigray by promoting separation of the region from Ethiopia. These individuals are telling the people that there is nothing Tigray needs from Ethiopia and that the history hitherto known as a history of Ethiopia belongs to Tigray only. The basis for their assertion may be because the City of Axum, which is one of the main foundations of the Ethiopian history, is located in Tigray. If such a narrow view abounds, those who live in the city of Axum today may tell others that its history belongs only to those who live in the limits of the city.  The same can be said regarding other historic places like Lalibela, Ye’ha, etc.

It is well-known and documented fact that, in the long history of Ethiopia, peoples migrated from some regions to other areas and settled in new places. For example, it is re-counted that when Axumite dynasty lost the political power to Queen Yodit many royal family members and others migrated from Axum and other parts of Tigray to Shewa and many other parts of the country. Likewise, when Zague Dynasty lost power to the dynasty based in Shewa, the so called Solomonic Dynasty, many groups of people migrated from Lasta and adjacent regions to Tigray and Eritrea. And many other movements can be mentioned; Hence, it is myopic to assume that the people who live today in one locality of Ethiopia must be descendants of those who lived in that locality, say, two thousand years ago. So, the dwellers of Axum circa two thousand years ago may had not been necessarily the ancestors of those who reside in the city of Axum today, and in Tigray itself for that matter. The same goes for other historic sites. Those who must be credited for those marvelous sites and monuments and historic sites could have been the ancestors of those who live in those places now, or they may be ancestors of any other societal group that may have been relocated to any other part of the country and beyond, or even may have gone extinct. Therefore, all the historic sites in the country, whether they are in Tigray, in Wollo, in Gonder, in Harer, in Sidama etc. all are heritages of all Ethiopians about which all citizens must be equally proud of.

Those activists must know that their assumption that the history of the Axumite Civilization belongs only to people who now live in Tigray is tantamount to saying that those who built the pyramids in Egypt were the ancestors of the Arabs who currently live in Egypt.  Let us look at the issue from another perspective.  Is it right to say that the Eiffel Tower has nothing to do with the people of France except those who live in the city of Paris today? Or is it right to say that the Washington Monument belongs only to those who live in Washington DC and has nothing to do with other Americans. Again, can it be said that the Tower of London belongs only to Londoners and other British have nothing to do with it?  No. Those statements are not accurate. Similarly, it is not apposite to uphold historic localities in Tigray to be heritage that belongs only to those who now live in Tigray. 

Uttering that “Tigray does not need anything from Ethiopia” is a preposterous statement as well. Of course, Tigray needs so many things from other parts of Ethiopia! And other parts need Tigray. All Ethiopians and all Ethiopian regions need each another. In the era of globalization all countries need each other as well. In short, the claims being argued by some Tigrayan activists, or “scholars” to use the term they assign to themselves, regarding separation of Tigray from Ethiopia is ridiculous whatever their motive might be. Such a promotion is against the interest of the people of Tigray and so I call on all Tigrayans to stand against such inattentive publicity.

If our scholars’ concern is that Tigrayans have been maltreated in Ethiopia, that must not happen. Whenever Tigrayans are mistreated all of us, including other Ethiopians, must stand together against such wanton actions and combat the abuse. Nevertheless, advocating for separation is not a solution. No Ethiopian should be ill-treated by another Ethiopian in the country they share. As far as I know there has never been contradiction and animosity among the people of Ethiopia. Therefore, it is very unlikely that the expelling and other abuses could have been done by the ordinary citizens. Those mistreatments probably have been instigated by the ruling class or some local self-appointed leaders. They are occurrences that must be prevented by a united undertaking of the Ethiopian people, and of course by the federal and local governments.

I am posting with this short opinion an article I wrote many years ago in which I tried to show that Ethiopia is an intrinsically evolved nation. I wrote the article to challenge some regional leaders who questioned the existence of Ethiopia as a nation. I am posing it (To Read Click Here) again because there are still some negativistic parochialists who still believe the same way. For example, advocating for separation of one part of a sovereign nation is not far from repudiation of the existence of the nation itself.

Ethiopia is a sovereign nation and Tigray is its integral part. Whenever incidents like expelling Tigrayans from other parts of the country or other mistreatment occur, we must fight against those actions by joining forces with other Ethiopians who oppose such actions.  We must strive to make the country a place where all nationalities live in peace and harmony. Opting for separation is defeatism and unfeasible. The fact that the peoples of Ethiopia speak different languages and live in various regions does not make them unrelated peoples.

The lines that separate one Kilil from another are simply administrative lines that separate one jurisdiction from another within the same sovereign country. They are not international boundaries or borders.

In fact, some of them may be related to people on the other side of the line more than those who live in the same jurisdiction with them. Let me call attention to a reality on the ground. Are not those Ethiopians who live in border areas between Tigray and Wollo the same people whether presently they live in the so named Amhara kilil or Tigray kilil? Or let us look at the subject matter going down to provincial (Zobas) or district levels. Does the administrative line between Adwa and Agame make the people who dwell on either side different peoples? The same is true in many other parts of the nation of Ethiopia.

In conclusion, the best thing the Ethiopian political activists can do for the people of Ethiopia is stop disseminating hatred and separatist propaganda and toil to harmonize people and help them to mitigate poverty by concentrating on development.

Circumstances Hindering Ethiopian Stability and Peace


Girmay T.Giorgis                                                                                                       October, 2011

Since the 1974 revolution which deposed the monarchy and eventually was hijacked by the armed forces, the Ethiopian political climate has remained tense for almost four decades. The military regime that usurped the February Revolution of 1974 is gone but only to be replaced by a more sophisticated dictatorship. So much has been written in papers about the general condition of the country, but no equitable solution has been materialized. This is largely because the political arena has been dominated by two extreme forces: those who wish to portray Ethiopia as a nation without divergence, on the one hand, and those who question the very existence of Ethiopia as one inclusive sovereign state, on the other.

Consequently, the illusive posturing of these two forces has confused ordinary citizens at home and in the diaspora for decades. As a result, many citizens have been turned away from the effort they were engaged in to democratize the country and some others have been swayed to fight with separatist forces. Thus, many Ethiopians have been put into a dilemma, and hence an identity crisis, in the name of “national liberation” instigated by narrowly focused regionalists, including those currently ruling the country. Because of these forces, the political climate remains complex and muddled. In other words, the unity of the Ethiopian people and enduring stability in the country remains fickle. The current regime claims to have solved the question of nationalities by creating ethnic based decentralized states on paper. In reality, all of them are under the direct control of the ruling party that highlights whatever differences there may be among the people and uses that to divide and rule.

The ethnic based grievances the current rulers and some separatists are using for their adverse objectives are cumulative effect of the courses of actions of the past regimes. At the same time the regional movements, who fomented hatred by wrongly considering innocent people responsible instead of holding the regimes accountable for their policies and actions, also share in the responsibility for the ensuing crisis.

The positions of the two sides can be summarized as follows: one side tries to concoct the political history of Ethiopia as events where no one has ever been privileged or discriminated against because of his/her ethnic origin and/or religious affiliation. This group does not acknowledge the dominant role of the Amharic speaking ruling class during the monarchy, nor the abuse inflicted on the various language groups and religions by the ruling class. This group neither shows any willingness to understand the wrong doings of the past regimes, nor does it express any concern regarding the feelings of the members of the groups who have been linguistically or religiously disregarded. In the name of “one nation” and “one people,” this category of Ethiopians plays a destructive role in the effort to unify the people and to preserve Ethiopian unity. According to the spokespersons of this category of Ethiopians, it has been the Amharas and the Tewahido Church that preserved the history and independence of Ethiopia. To portray the Amharas as sole preservers of the history and independence of Ethiopia is simply untrue. On the other hand, the role the Ethiopian Church played to preserve the unity of the Ethiopian people is noteworthy.

That being said, the protagonists on the other end of the spectrum are repelled by anything that has to do with unity. They deny that any relationship has existed among the Ethiopian nationalities and ethnic groups except that of a “colonizer” and a “colonized” or “oppressor” and “oppressed.” At the same time, they refute the existence of Ethiopia as a sovereign independent state and its long history. As far as they

are concerned, Ethiopian history is legend and myth. The proponents of this idea do not acknowledge the existence of Ethiopia as nation before European colonization of Africa. They also try to identify Ethiopia as a colonizer. Some of them talk about “Ethiopian colonialism” while some others call it “Abyssinian colonialism.” There have been some who, strangely, used the words “Amhara colonialism” as well. Some others talk about “Tigrean colonialism” since the current rulers came to power. In reality, none of the above characterization makes sense and the last two are particularly outrageous.

Those who use the first label, state that Ethiopia did not exist before the epoch of European colonialism. According to them, Ethiopia and Eritrea were created as nations at the same time by European colonialists. The promoters of this theory have been the Eritrean fronts and some leaders of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front. Needless to point out, the purpose of such an argument is to refute the historical ties between the Eritreans and other Ethiopians thereby advocating for and legitimizing Eritrean separation from Ethiopia. These groups branded the relationship between Eritrea and the rest of Ethiopia as that of colonized and colonizer.

Some other regional organizations that have been formed within Ethiopia asserted that, at the end of the 19th century, Ethiopia participated in the repartition of Africa and colonized regions which are today part of Ethiopia. It is interesting to note that these groups are created by those elements who fail to recognize the very existence of Ethiopia itself before the advent of the European colonialists. It may be better to leave it to them to answer how a country that had not existed colonized others.

It is true that many Ethiopian nationalities were annexed and treated by the aristocratic ruling class as second class citizens in their own country. However, that is history now thanks to the concerted struggle of Ethiopians from all nationalities who rose up united in 1974. However, the 1974 revolution did not achieve its intended goal, i.e. empowering the people. This failure cannot be attributed to the usurpation of power by the armed forces only; some polarizing elements in the society had to take its share of the blame as well. Namely, those who were still living in the past resenting what happened to their ethnic groups in the history of the nation and, as a result, abandoned the united effort and embarked on forming local “liberation” fronts instead of trying to rectify the wrong doings in the society together with others. The Tigray Peoples Liberation Front and The Oromo Liberation Front are good examples in this regard. There were also those diehard elements who wanted to keep alive the old system where a few landlords kept the country stagnant. Because of those obstacles, the goals of the revolution that got underway by the united insurgency of various segments of the Ethiopian society which erupted in 1974 and ousted the regime of Emperor Haileselassie have remained unattained. These polarizing positions have been a serious obstacle to the formation of a stable, cohesive and democratic Ethiopia.

Various arguments have been produced to deny the existence of Ethiopia as an independently evolved nation before the advent of European colonialism to Africa. The most challenging argument in this regard has been the theory contending that capitalism and industrial revolution are a sine qua non prerequisite for the emergence of nations. It had been argued that the concept of nation as a community of people living in a juridically defined territory under a single government is directly tied to the development of capitalism and industrial revolution. According to those who uphold this theory the European nation-states were formed because of those circumstances and the countries found in the continents that were colonized by the Europeans were created by the colonizers.

What does a nation mean anyways? Webster defines the word nation as follows: 1) “A people inhabiting a certain territory and united by common political institutions; the country or territory itself. 2) An aggregation of persons speaking the same or cognate language and usually sharing common ethnic origins.”

The second definition is about similarities of people who may or may not co-exist in one country but who share a common ethnic origin. For example, Arabs who live in different countries may consider themselves members of one nation/nationality. The French, the Germans and the Italians whether they live in their respective republics or in Switzerland belong to their respective nations in that regard. In our geopolitical region, the Afars, the Somalis, the Tigrayans etc. inhabit different territorial states but when it comes to their nationality they each are one nation. The word nation used in that sense therefore applies to linguistic and cultural groups that have not to belong to one juridical territory/country.

On the other hand, Webster‟s first definition quoted above deals with people contained within a definite political entity, hence, a country and a history that they identify with and common heroes. When it comes to Ethiopia, for example, the victory of Adwa belongs to all Ethiopians and war heroes such as Alula Engida, Abebe Aregay, Gobena Dache, Belay Zeleqe, Zeray-Derress etc. are heroes of all Ethiopians. The same goes for internationally renowned sports title holders such as Abebe Biqila, Derartu Tulu, Haile Gebreselassie, Fatuma Roba, Mammo Wolde, Miruts Yiftter, Qenenisa Beqele, Tirunesh Dibaba, etc. They are Ethiopian champions that make all Ethiopians proud.

Anyway, if we agree with this Webster‟s definition, it can be concluded that nations existed long before the industrial revolution and the development of capitalism. Capitalism and the industrial revolution are important factors that played a significant role in the development of nation-states. However, these factors have not been the only ones; neither were they the most decisive elements. Hence, to maintain that the development of capitalism and the industrial revolution were the only prerequisite for calling a certain territory a nation seems too deterministic.

The rise of nations took various forms of evolution in different epochs and different parts of the world with many common characteristics. Ethiopia is one of them, in fact one of the earliest. Without getting into the details of the sociological phenomena of the formation of a state, it would be imperative to point out the events that urged social and societal groups to put themselves into larger coalitions. The oldest and probably most common aspect that induced human beings to organize into political entities and played a very important role in the endurance of the entities (city-states, nations, and empires) is the security problem. Conflict and security problems have always been at the center of human history. Since prehistoric times, the leaders of small and weak political groupings/units such as tribal chieftains, community leaders, etc. established alliances for common security. This, in turn, alerted other groups to do the same. In that fashion, various entities were created.

The coming together of various groups had not always been voluntary. There had been entities that were annexed by force and remained permanent parts of larger or more powerful entities. In most cases, however, the need for protection persuaded groups to unite voluntarily. The divisions and contradictions amongst themselves had been reduced to a secondary level and the fear of outside attack urged many of them to organize into larger political units that could guarantee protection. In other words, when outside powers became imminent dangers to certain geographical regions, the basic political entities, nationalities, ethnic groups etc. opted for larger nationalism. The unity of Ethiopians to collectively defend their region

from foreign invasions is a good example of this. Such unity was displayed: 1) when the Aksumite kingdom of Ethiopia defended its region from being annexed by the Islamic-Arab Empire that had been rapidly expanding ever since Prophet Muhammad founded Islam, and mainly after his followers conquered Mecca in 632 A.D. That movement quickly spread out to areas stretching to the whole Middle East, Central Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, to the borders of China, North Africa and South-West Europe in a short period of time. Ethiopians saved their region from being annexed by such a potent world-power. 2) The Ethiopians defended themselves also from repetitive invasions of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries; and the Egyptian and Mahdist/Dervishes incursions, again, in the 19th century. 3) It is also a well known fact that the united Ethiopians defended their independence by defeating the Italian invaders in 1896.

Events and accomplishments like those encouraged smaller units to yield to the political support of the stronger and to recognize its authority. They shifted their support to whoever possessed the power of protection from alien invasion. As a result, leaders of a given region who accumulated power of protection and common security for fellow human beings living within their boundary developed some type of legitimacy. Such a region tended to become a basic political entity, a nation. Incidentally, the invention of firearms, which also preceded the capitalist mode of production and industrial revolution, was an important factor that bolstered the military means of defense and, as a result, facilitated a territory‟s ability to stand sovereign. The more the political regions united, the more they became stronger and reliable defenders of themselves. As a result, more people transferred their political loyalties from their local leaders to a greater authority who could guarantee wider protection not only from eventual alien aggressor, but also from internal insecurity such as the safe movement of trade and other interactions.

In ancient times, some of the political entities grew into sovereign and powerful empires in the fashion mentioned above. Some of those powers, for example the Roman Empire and Arab-Islamic Empire, disintegrated while some others, such as the Ethiopian, Chinese, Iranian/Persian, and Turkish/Ottoman survived till the present-day as historically evolved territorial states or nations. The borders of these nations might have expanded or contracted and, in some cases, the names and political centers might have varied from time to time. However, the cores of these nations remain basically the same and they demonstrated their independently evolved existence with their uninterrupted continuity. This should be the context in which the development of the Ethiopian state and its continued existence should be viewed.

Ethiopia evolved independently as a multi-ethnic nation, and proved its uninterrupted existence for well over 2000 years. An Italian historian, Carlo Conti Rossini, once described Ethiopia as a “mosaic of people”. A mosaic is a charming combination of a variety of things joined together. Hence, the fact that Ethiopia is home to various nationalities or language groups is a beautiful gift that we all should be proud of and cherish. We should benefit from that richness of various languages and cultures by accommodating all and helping them flourish. I sincerely think it is a blessing to have a country like that if our hearts are big enough to accept it and if all of us cooperate to make the house warm enough for all of us.

Someone may rightfully argue that all territories that today make up part of Ethiopia had not always been integral parts of the historic Ethiopia that has existed since ancient times. This may be true and there are other regions that were part of it and they are not anymore. In any case, the core has always uninterruptedly existed. The Zagwe Dynasty inherited the same nation the Aksumites constructed and ruled. The Aksumite Empire itself developed as a continuation of the Daamat civilization that started to

evolve about 500 B.C. in northern Ethiopia. Likewise, the Shewa based dynasty, the so-called Solomonic Dynasty, succeed to the same nation that the Zagwe Dynasty governed; in fact claiming that they were more legitimate heirs of the Aksumites. By the way, many of the Shewan kings used to go to Aksum for coronation and that is another demonstration that the country was one united nation. Ahmed Gragn, the Gonderine kings and modern time emperors like Tewodros, Teklegiorgis, Yohannes, Menelik and Haileselassie; and contemporary leaders as well, all are inheritors of the same nation.

Another example of national continuity is the way in which the emperors who came to power from different regions of the country at different times, even centuries apart, chose their coronation names in honor of previews kings that came before them. For instance, if we take the name Tewodros, the first one reigned around 1411-1414 and he was from Shewa, the second one reigned 1855-1868 and he was from Gonder. If we take the name Yohannes, the first one reigned around 1667-1682, the second one reigned for some months in 1769 and the third one reigned in 1840-1841. Three of them were from Gonder area, but belonged to different family trees. Yohannes the fourth reigned 1868-1889 and he was from Tigray.

Yet another example of national unity sentiment was demonstrated even during the Zemene-Mesafint (the Era of Princes), when anarchy prevailed in the kingdom. The contending princes did not opt for separation of their regions to create another country. Each one’s aspiration was to become king of kings of the entire nation. Parenthetically, it is important to note that the country never remained without a legally crowned king even during the Zemene-Mesafint. These are some small examples to show that Ethiopia has continuously existed as one sovereign nation for many centuries.

Moreover, towards the end of the19th century, the united people of Ethiopia proved their country‟s solid existence as a sovereign independent nation and officially secured its nation-state status when the European powers colonized other African regions. Ethiopians of today should recognize that, at least since then, all of us have been an integral part of one sovereign nation. And that should be sufficient to meet the requirements to be considered indivisible members of one nation and to live in harmony. Some may have been annexed by force, but this is not unique to Ethiopia. Mergers of political entities in the world did not happen always voluntarily as mentioned above. There were times when weaker entities were annexed by stronger ones and then integrated or assimilated gradually. To try to reverse those integrations or assimilations would be another detrimental venture. There are also a lot of cases where the same language groups had been territorialized in different nations by the colonialists. To try to correct that in order to establish nation-states based purely in language and culture groups would be another utopian gamble.

We will seldom find in the world a country composed of only one ethnic group or tribe. Even those European nation-states today are known as the most unitary were originally constituted by different ethnic groups. Let us cite three nations referred to as the most unitary states: France, Italy, and Spain. Early on, France was established by peoples or tribes like the Gauls, Franks, Celts, Teutons, Latins etc. The people of Italy are descendants of many tribes such as the Etruscans, Greeks, Latins etc. Spain originally was composed of peoples like Celts, Phoenicians, Greeks, Arabs, Moors etc. Now they are all mutually assimilated in their respective nation-states and they are known as French, Italian or Spanish/Spaniards. Much more can be said about diversities in other nations.

Hence, Ethiopia is not the only country with various nationalities or language groups; and relationship among them has not been worse than it has been in many other countries. The Amharic speakers in

general, and the northern Shewans in particular, have been blamed for oppressions against other nationalities in the country during the monarchy because of few aristocrats. The beneficiaries, however, were just a few landlords. The conditions of Northern Shewans or other Amharic speaking masses were not better than that of other Ethiopians. Therefore, even though injustice had been committed against various nationalities in the past, the Ethiopian regional political movements, instead of ruminating on the wrongdoings committed in the past and consequently advocating for division, should try to promote unity and harmony among the Ethiopian people. Likewise, the other side should not pretend as if injustice has not been perpetrated in the Ethiopian society. Someone said “freedom will come when the oppressor feels the pain of the oppressed.” So recognizing the unfairness committed in the past will accelerate our concurrence. Nevertheless, the fact that injustice has been committed in a nation or the fact that there are various language groups in one nation does not mean that the citizens of that nation are not one people. Hence, it is not our diversity that divides us; it is our inability to recognize it. After all, who said that being ruled by local leaders, per se, will bring better governance? In fact, in some regions even worse repressions have been committed by local brutal self appointed leaders. The main thing is to endeavor jointly to create a democratic society. One of the most important things lacking in Ethiopia today is national cohesion. Once you have that you have stability and peace. Once you have reliable stability and peace, all other things such as democracy and economic development improve with time.

Currently, both the ruling party and some opposition groups are the cause of division and instability. Many of the current Ethiopian politicians, whether they are in power or part of the opposition, put their sectarian interest above the national interest. Most of them capitalize on what separates us instead of stressing what unites us. This is a step backwards compared to the previous generations. For example, The Ethiopian students and other nationalists who struggled raising the slogan “land to the tiller” during the monarchy were not only those who were born in the areas where the landlords directly oppressed the owners of the land, but also students who came from other parts of the country. They clearly believed that problems occurring in one region were problems of all Ethiopians. They knew that “when one organ suffers the entire body suffers.” That generation viewed Ethiopia as one inclusive nation.

In contrast, today many Ethiopians, including some of those who aspire to be leaders of the country, do not demonstrate nationwide concerns. For example, many of them do not voice anymore any concern about the northern Ethiopian territories such as Badimme, Irobland etc. illegally awarded to Eritrea and citizens abducted from those areas by the Eritrean armed forces. Although Irob community in North America, Irob Rights Advocacy Association and other Irobs such as facebook groups have provided detailed information about those territories and abductees; and repeatedly appealed to all Ethiopians to voice against the injustice being committed, to this date most of the Ethiopian organizations are not heeding to their call. Another point of concern is that some of the political organizations are not talking anymore about the importance of a sea access for Ethiopia and those who raise the question talk about the port of Assab only. The question of sea access should stay high on the agenda of Ethiopian political parties. And, in my opinion, the question of Assab should not be seen separated from Afar people and their land. Concerns for all citizens and for all parts of the nation should be reflected in the political parties‟ strategy and public expressions. Advancing national agenda where every Ethiopian would feel included is absolutely necessary. All leaders and citizens must have a collective consciousness of nationhood. Localized ventures will not get us anywhere.

All of us must be aware that „united we stand and divided we all fall‟. The only ones who will benefit from our divisive politics are the enemies of Ethiopia. Therefore, we must free ourselves from clannish mistrust and politics of hatred and revenge, which could only harm all of us. I think it was Gandhi who said: “an eye for an eye would make the world blind”. If we cannot get out of politics of revenge we will all lose.

At the time others argue about what they think to be right or wrong for their countries and people, or about rightist views or leftist views, or again, conservative or liberal ideologies, we still talk about Amharas, Oromos, Tirayans etc. What a shame! Both the current government and some opposition groups must be reproached for this and both are responsible for keeping Ethiopia in limbo. The leaders of the opposition camp must be reprimanded also for not being able to settle their differences and coordinate the struggle of the Ethiopian people to build a common democratic house and durable stability with or without the party currently in power; with, of course, if the party changes the policy it has been following so far and become ready to accommodate.


One can still hear some Ethiopians identifying themselves with their regional identities, instead of saying I am from Ethiopia, when asked where they are from by other people. Still worse, there are some of those currently ruling the country, and in fact occupying the highest office, who have openly affirmed that if things do not go the way they want they will declare independence of their region. They also said that they are ready to attack Ethiopians in defense of another country. This is identity crisis and treason and it is one of the reasons that motivated me to write this article.

If we all are really aspiring to survive as a people and prevail as a nation, all of us must act in the framework of one sovereign country to build up a nation where all its parts feel at home. Neither trying to separate its parts, nor trying to dominate its parts by one group will work or benefit any of us. How many generations should suffer before we become a good example of unity? How long will it take us to unite and rectify our ailing nation? If we do not operate in the framework of one nation, none of us will succeed. This includes those in the diaspora who, united as one Ethiopian community, would have achieved so much in their host country.

The two extreme views mentioned above are still existing problem and that mentality is, to a certain extent, behind the impossibility of the opposition parties to unite today as well. A moderate voice that would keep the balance is long overdue. If we are unable to get out of that vicious circle we will not embark on a right road. Hence, the first thing that should be a common denominator for all Ethiopians is, the acceptance and recognition, that everyone in Ethiopia belongs to one nation and act accordingly. There are still some Ethiopians who do not accept that all Ethiopian nationalities and language groups are a community of people of one inclusive nation. Working within the framework of a united nation is the only viable step in the right direction. The problems we have are shared; therefore, a solution can be obtained by common endeavor, acknowledging both our diversity and unity.


Memo: The first part of this article was initially published in Meskot magazine in 1994 under the title “Ethiopia: Myth or Reality”. Due to the discontinuation of Meskot, the following part was delayed to this date. Hence, taking into account the length of time elapsed between now and then, the author has chosen to incorporate it herein with some minor modification without changing the main content.