TIGREAN FASCISM PART II The Background of Tigrean Fascism in Historical Context: The Italian Fascist Occupation and the Ethiopian Students’ Movement

Kassahun Debalke Gebremariam

I. Introduction: The Perversion of the Ethiopian Mind

The Tigrean Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) has been ruling Ethiopia for the past twenty-five plus years. Although it assumed state power in the name of a pseudo-umbrella “Front” named the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF); the coalition exists in name only. The so-called Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization and the Southern Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Movement (SEPDM), are the other “member organizations” of the pseudo-coalition. However, unlike the TPLF, these organizations which purport to represent the Amhara, Oromo and Southern Ethiopian “nations” and “nationalities”, do not have any social and historical base among the peoples they claim to represent. Rather they were formed by the TPLF as mechanisms of controlling these powerful population groups by proxy.

Although it was born in the epicenter of historical Ethiopia, from the outset TPLF had espoused a clear departure from the evolved national understanding of historic Ethiopia. This, it partly owes to its origin in the Ethiopian Student Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. As an anticlimax to the powerful nation-building drive of Emperor Hailesellassie, and his loyal educated champions of modern Ethiopia, the alienated “Students” (they were really students who have never been able to go beyond that level of maturity despite their varying careers) had an inverted understanding of the Nation. TPLF emerged as an offshoot of the de-Ethiopianizing fervor in this context of the chaotic formative episode known as the Ethiopian Revolution. The mid-1970s saw the unprecedented proliferation of shallow ideological “movements” spearheaded by the Ethiopian Students’ Movement (ESM).

The major predicament of the movement is that it formulated theories to resolve non-existing problems, and then worked hard to create the problems to justify its theories. It is aptly described by the old adage about putting the cart before the horse.  Lacking sufficient understanding of the historic evolution and state formation dynamic of Ethiopia, and wholly engrossed with their own perverted conceptualization of class and ethnic relations, leaders of the Movement blindly succumbed to radical theories that have no basis in the Ethiopian reality. The level of trauma, torrid iconoclasm and fracture engendered by the utterly ignoble radicalism of the immature students is comparable to the unprecedented horror that Ethiopia experienced during the five-year Italian occupation. By a wholesale adoption of the crooked racist colonialist agenda of Western scholarship, the movement sired the alienated reconceptualization of the Ethiopian state, and the relationships between its various modes of demographic and ethno-linguistic components. In the most negative way, this episode is the most defining moment in Ethiopian history. Other moments of similar significance may be the Fall of Axum and the Oromo Invasion of the 16th Century.

Almost all currents of the student movement professed Marxist, or at least leftist, ideologies; and none of them, with very few failed half-hearted attempts, aspired to understand Ethiopia, and its people, in its own terms. The professed “high-level” intellectual sophistication, and encyclopedic reading, of the leaders did not impart in them the wisdom of looking at where they stand. Such charlatan pseudo-intellectuals as Birhane-Meskel Redda, Haile Fidda, Getachew Maru, Zeru Khishin, etc. were wrongly characterized as well-read Marxist intellectuals. But as things turned out later, actually they were half-baked bigots who basked in their own vain glory.

For the proponents of the ESM, everything Ethiopian was explained away by blind negation. The new, modern, scientific, international model was employed to define Ethiopia, and rewrite the identity of its peoples and their perceived historical relations, at the will of these self-appointed pundits. As the student movement splintered into myriads of doctrinaire political groups the unformed questions, and still unformed purported “answers” about Ethiopia and its peoples infused these groups. They were easy prey to the hegemony of the colonial frame of mind that claimed exclusive mandate to explain the whole world in its own terms, be it Marxist or otherwise.

Here lies the first experience that we as Ethiopians have submitted to the colonialism of the mind of the West. We were able to defeat physical domination by the white race. We defeated those who came with arms to break and dominates us. But our “educated” fools willingly and without a grain of thinking submitted to the colonization of the mind. They abandoned their own peoples’ civilization and ideology and gave themselves, mind and body, to the cruel machinations of the colonial masters. Those who couldn’t break us through arms, broke us through “ideas”. Those so-called “revolutionaries” of the 60’s and the 70s are criminals who handed over our existence as proud and independent nation to the scepter of “modernism”.

Covered with the garb of modernism, the capitulation of the so-called militant-revolutionary generation to the dictates of the western way stands out as the first and most devastating defeat that we sustained in our history, probably comparable to the Catholic experience during Suseyenyos. A people that has never yielded for once in their history to the Alien world were betrayed by their own educated sons and forfeited, once and for all, their authenticity as Ethiopians.  It is difficult to visualize exactly at what point this un-Ethiopian enslavement to, and infatuation with, the colonized mind ruptured the generation. For me this capitulation to the “Colonizer”, this epistemic fracture that erased the authentic in the minds of those “intellectuals” is the beginning of Modern Ethiopia.

Then after the “colonized mind” of the so-called intellectuals became the leading epistemic agency of the destruction of Ethiopia. That is the turning point for the creation of new falsehoods and pseudo-definitions that perverted the way we understand Ethiopia and her people. For me that moment was the moment of rapture that tore asunder the authentic in the Ethiopian Mind. From that moment onwards, we have lost our sanity, authenticity and rationality. The domination that we defeated at Adwa, came in the backdoor camouflaged as the savior “ideology”, the liberating “Episteme” to “emancipate” us from Ourselves and give us the “mis-courage” to submit wholly to the Way of the West. After that departure, anything is possible. The students led the nation to cross the Rubicon to the realm of non-identity, the world of the “Colonized Mind”. I just wonder how those cretins in the leadership of the ESM could be characterized as “self-less” and “heroes.”

II. Italian Fascism: The Precursor for Tigrean Fascism as Enemy of the Amhara People

The Italian invasion that predated the movement by a few decades was a precursor to the unfolding dark age to come. The Italian fascist ideology had laid the groundwork for the dismantlement of the authentic Ethiopian identity that challenged the very legitimacy of any foreign ideology to dominate the Ethiopian mind. The fascists in some way tried to break the Amhara people whom they considered as the embodiment of the Authentic Ethiopian Mind. They based their task of fracturing Ethiopian identity and destroying the Amhara on a tribalist conception of Ethiopian society. They imposed their racist ideas about the “tribal” level of social structure which they thought to be the level of social formation allowed to black people. The fascists couldn’t accept the existence of an enlightened and sophisticated social and political system in Ethiopia. They couldn’t swallow the fact that Ethiopians had a far more advanced social and nation formation.

The fascist formula was intended to break the defiant nation by targeting and attacking the Amhara whom they considered as the fountain of the Authentic Ethiopian Mind. As part of this fascist anti-Amhara mobilization they created newer forms of ethnic identity that never existed. Those ethnic groups that never had defined territories and boundaries were allotted their own “historic territories” with defined borders. That was the first moment in their history at which they came to possess such rights over a defined territory. As part of the Africa Orientale Italiano, as the short-lived Italian fascist rule was called, the newly created ethnic identities were given a separate non-Ethiopian identity. The fascists merged the Tigreans with Eritrea, and created the Oromo-Sidamo group with the largest territory. They fragmented Amhara majority areas so that Amhara would have no basis for perpetuating the Authentic Ethiopian Mind and spirit.

The work of the fascists was facilitated by Italian scholars on Ethiopian studies. The works of Rossini and other pseudo-historians were the basis for fracturing Ethiopian identity. The Ethiopian Catholic Church was another important ally in this fascist endeavor to destroy Ethiopia and the Amhara people. I really find it unacceptable when modern day “historians” and other “intellectuals” cite the works of these petty-minded racist bigots such as Conti Rossini as legitimate authorities. The role of the Catholics in this racist colonial rapacity should also be recognized. Despite the huge throwback created by this fascist occupation, the evil plan of the occupiers was thwarted by the Victorious return of the Triumphant Emperor, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Elected of God, King of Kings, Emperor of Ethiopia.

The Victorious Emperor, soon upon His return, started the enormous task of rectifying the social and political fracture engendered by fascist occupation. In His wholehearted attempt to rebuild Historic Ethiopia as a modern state, He faced quite daunting challenges from many sides. The challenges came from the British who had colonial aspirations as well as some internal elements supported by the British racists. He was also misunderstood by His own people who relied on parochial and archaic feudal sentiments to abort the consolidation of power. The seeds of “tribalism” sown by the fascists was not completely erased upon Ethiopia’s liberation from Italian fascist rule by the struggle of the patriots.

Despite the enormous challenges He faced, the Emperor succeeded to uplift Ethiopia into new heights of advancement and nation building. His main attention focused on Education. He built schools and promoted a zealous policy of empowerment through education. His efforts gave fruit to a large extent in making Ethiopia great again. However, the system of modern education that he so ardently pursued had a poison in its bosom. The students that were “modernized” through the educational system became the destroyers of the vibrant state that was in the process of formation as an inclusive and stable political entity.  Those “intellectuals” who were supposed to support the Emperor in His drive to enrich Ethiopia’s progress became the agents of Her destruction through the Satanic episode known as the Ethiopian Students’ Movement.

III. The Ethiopian Students’ Movement: A Vipers’ Nest in the Bosom of Emerging Ethiopia

One of the gravest errors of the so-called intellectuals was their audacity to redefine Ethiopian identity along the fascist lines pursued by the Italians. The students adopted the fascist ideology created by the Italians to break the Amhara people and destroy Ethiopia. One of the darkest figures in this regard is a half-educated lunatic called Wallelign Mekonnen. His “theory” on the question of “nationalities” in Ethiopia was a copy of the fascist formulation that fractured Ethiopia along tribal lines. This reckless ignoramus who himself supposedly comes from an Amhara family, became the sworn enemy of his own people by characterizing Amhara as the oppressor. One can discern the level of stupidity of the student “intellectuals” by observing the fact that they were so easily swayed by a trash article written by this person. In the context of Ethiopia’s history as an enduring independent polity for thousands of years, it really bogles the imagination to understand how a poorly thought, poorly written and utterly baseless paper written by one of the leaders of the movement, Wallelign Mekonnen, could serve as the basic foundational literature for an ideology of liberation and overhauling the thousands-year old state.

The ESM built the momentum that brought about the final demise of the Ethiopian state as a state. The military allied with the students cooked a “revolution” to destroy the monarchy. The resultant revolution swept away the Crown, the symbol of Ethiopian Statehood for thousands of years (even amidst total anarchy and apparent disintegration the Crown remained a unifying element) and severed the symbiotic relationship between the Ethiopian State and the Ethiopian Church. All these sweeping “transformations” were never well considered by the leaders. The dominant political groups that formed around outspoken individuals and cliques, without exception became radical Marxists and moved to create the communist utopia in Ethiopia. On hindsight, the misconceptions and the arrogant certainty of those young people is astounding. These “educated” intellectuals who were supposed to help in creating a stronger Ethiopian state, turned themselves into its archenemies by creating an ideological structure and roadmap for the destruction of the state.

The birth and growth of the TPLF, and its evolution into a fascist totalitarian political force should be understood in this context. Its founders formed the core component of the student movement. They shared a similar myopia and theoretical deficiency in their new definition of the Ethiopian state, and the interaction between its constitutive demographic and ethnic components. With no sufficient historical and philosophical analysis, they defined Ethiopia on the basis of the 12 pages paper that was not even an attempt at any meaningful theoretical formulation. Some of the then emerging powerful political groups, such as the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Party (EPRP) dogmatically depicted Ethiopia as the outpost of world capitalism and imperialism and advocated for a popular socialist revolution based on the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. The TPLF took another branch of the same model and defined Ethiopia as the “Prison of Nationalities”. Therefore, the typical contradiction in Ethiopia, according to this line of thinking, is national oppression, augmented by class struggle.

None of these trends presented a deep theoretical and historical analysis of Ethiopian society. They formed opinions, slogans and clichés; and they tried to create or adapt theories that would justify the already formed opinions. They did everything in an inverted way. The hardliners in the first line waged a pernicious struggle with the military junta that took power by dismantling the Crown. TPLF, and other cliques with similar ethnic orientations, went to the countryside to wage “struggles” for “liberation”, more on the line of anti-Colonial liberation movements in Africa. Some of them, including TPLF, framed themselves as “Liberation Movements” seeking emancipation from the colonial empire-state. Called Ethiopia. The enigma is that, unlike colonial structures in Africa and elsewhere, the so called colonial empire is a state formed by the so-called “colonized peoples” that these organizations are striving to liberate. There was no colonial empire; and there were no colonized people. In their immaturity and blindness, TPLF and similar entities fabricated nonexistent “problems” and generated a hodgepodge of theories to “realize” (in the sense of to make what is unreal appear as real) those created problems. Here lies the fascist essence and core of the TPLF, which, coupled with its accidental military victory and assumption of state power transformed it into a veritable fascist force.

IV. TPLF and Tigrean Hatred towards the Amhara

From the beginning TPLF formulated an agenda of creating “Greater Tigray”- a prosperous, independent Tigrean polity by severing its ties with historical Ethiopia. There was no reason, or explanation, why historical Ethiopia should be dismantled in order for Tigray to be great or prosperous. But TPLF had to come up with a set of “Alternative Facts” to explain away the connection between Tigray and Ethiopia and create a system of inherent antagonism between Tigray and Ethiopia. The existing solid historical narrative of the ancient Ethiopian Kingdom unified by a common ideology articulated by the Ethiopian Church and the Judaic tradition, had to be rectified at any cost for its perverted agenda to hold. Whatever Ethiopia was, Tigray was in it. If Ethiopia had been a colonial power, then Tigray is in it as a colonizer.

To counter this TPLF had to create a new fiction, a new alternative explanation of Ethiopian history. Based on its despotic, doctrinaire and arrogant attribute as part of the student movement, TPLF had disabled itself from coming to terms to reality. The only way to continue the struggle, for which there was no need, was by blindly insisting on the reality of fabricated historical distortion. Otherwise, if its founders dared to open their eyes, understand and grasp the historical reality and enigma that was, and is, Ethiopia; the struggle waged with so much conceit would lose a semblance of justifiability and wither way. So, the leaders opted to cling to their self-fabricated bigotry and pursue it by covering it with deceptions, lies, misinterpretations and misrepresentations. As inherently fascist totalitarian movement TPLF defined, created and perpetuated artificial definitions of, “Truth” and “Reality” and made itself the arbiter of right and wrong. It assumed a new epistemic role as the ultimate oracle of Ethiopia’s historic structure as a state.

Since TPLF relied on a nonexistent problem between Tigray and Ethiopia, so it has to create an enemy who will carry the brunt of the oppressor, the colonizer representing the real enemy, which is Ethiopia. TPLF found this enemy readily in the Amhara, the other arm, with Tigray, of historic Ethiopia. In this process TPLF was helped by the deep-seated Tigrean treachery and bigotry towards the Amhara. As outlined in the earlier article, throughout history, Tigreans have been traitors. The people and elites of Tigray have shown deep animosity towards the Amhara. Even if TPLF can be accused of formulating Tigrean fascism as an ideology for destroying the Amhara people, this sentiment didn’t come out of the blue. To a great extent it flourished on the background of Tigrean hatred towards the Amhara.

The Amhara have been vilified by the Tigreans long before TPLF came into existence. But their hatred was not crystalized into a structured ideology. Their history as part of Ethiopia together with the Amhara precluded the escalation of this Tigrean animosity into a complete break with the Amhara. The TPLF, based on and helped by this pre-exiting Tigrean hatred towards Amhara, crystalized this sentiment into a political ideology with structural elements aiming at the destruction of the Amhara people. In so doing TPLF broke the spell that united the Tigreans with The Amhara despite their inherent animosity.

In order to accomplish this rapture, the Amhara foe has to be vilified and dehumanized to serve as the point of reference for the so-called liberation movement. Hence, Amhara became synonymous with the Devil. This was hard to swallow even for some of the most ardent proponents of Great Tigray. Despite the Tigrean hatred to Amhara mentioned before, Amhara lived with Tigray for thousands of years. The people of Tigray knew this, and despite the intense rhetoric from TPLF the people found it unpalatable to consider Amhara as the Eternal and Irreconcilable enemy which had to be utterly destroyed for Tigray to exist. The depiction of Amhara as an alien devil with whom Tigray cannot share space and time, had to be persistently hammered for the TPLF itself to internalize it and for the people of Tigray to accept it as a point of rallying. This was the second fascist attribute of TPLF. There has to be an enemy, even if there wasn’t. it is Amhara, even if it is suffering the same fate as Tigray. And the struggle against Ethiopia, depicted as a struggle against the Enemy, Amhara, has to be pursued. This is fascism and totalitarianism that brutally converted Tigray from a brother to the enemy of Amhara, which translated into a final severance of Tigray’s tie of identity with Ethiopia. Amhara created as an enemy to be fought against became a real enemy in due time.

From the outset the TPLF understood that even if they yearn Tigrean independence, it is not something within their grasp. Tigray is barren, it is a waste land devoid of any resources. Its survival depended on the resources from Amhara Land. This reality forced the TPLF to somehow deescalate its enmity towards Amhara and Ethiopia. There were also residual Ethiopianist sentiments to which a certain portion of Tigreans adhered to. Tigray itself is a parochial society fractured along regional lines. Some parts of Tigray, such as Tembien had stronger attachment to Ethiopia and the Amhara people. In order to succeed in its fascist drive to colonize Amhara and other parts of Ethiopia, TPLF knew that it had to unify all Tigreans as mortal enemies of the Amhara.

TPLF was convinced that no matter how much orchestrated, this ideology of apocalyptic enmity towards Amhara and Ethiopia cannot be fully adhered to by all Tigreans. To address this challenge TPLF had to modify its narrative and formulate a different approach. In this approach Amhara is still the enemy, the Oppressor, that is the bottom-line. But the irreconcilable enmity between Tigray and Ethiopia was somehow de-emphasized. Now, the TPLF assumed the role of liberator of oppressed nations and nationalities throughout Ethiopia, enigmatically including some portions of the oppressor Amhara. This was not a change of heart; it was a mere change of words, as subsequent facts showed.

In line with this modified strategy a new set of “Alternative Facts” have to be created. This fictionalization of history didn’t require a major departure from the original caricature of Amhara as the archetype of the Demon of oppression that it imposed on the Oromo, the Somali…. Moreover, TPLF fabricated a false alarm of disintegration of the Ethiopian state due to TPLF-fabricated colonial oppressions of nations and nationalities. It deliberately fabricated, memorialized and disseminated a fabricated propaganda of doom that depicted the centuries-old state formation, integration and unification of Ethiopians as a hotbed of national oppression. This narrative attracted the attention of disgruntled “nationalist” elites that have their own egoistic animus towards the Ethiopian State.

The above gives background analysis for the rise of Tigrean fascism. The ethno-nationalist fascist ideology that grew out of this quagmire became the tormentor of the Amhara people and the destroyer of the Ethiopian state. As a result of the consistent implementation of the Tigrean fascist blueprint, Ethiopia has been destroyed. The Ethiopian state has been completely destroyed and replaced with an anarchic conglomerate of warring “tribes” as the Italian fascists aspired. The Tigreans became the instruments for the fulfillment of the fascist dream to exterminate the Amhara and erase Ethiopia from the face of the Earth. This situation necessitated the birth of an Amhara Nationalism that strives to preserve the Existence and Identity of the Amhara people. It is called Gihonism, and it is spreading among Amhara youth and intellectuals like wildfire. In the coming article, we will explore the development of Tigrean fascism with particular emphasis on its genocidal impact on the Amhara people. We will also see how Tigray and Tigreans became the Immortal and Irreconcilable Enemies of the Amhara People.

Kassahun Debalke Gebremariam LLM, JD Candidate, University of California Davis School of Law. Please leave your comments at kdebalke@gmail.com