by Kassahun Debalke Gebremariam∗
Mesganaw Andualem is one of the pillars and towering figures of the Amhara nationalist movement. He played a key role in the formulation and articulation of our people’s struggle for the right to exist as a people. Now he has given us the book we all were waiting for with much eagerness. He has written his magnum opus, a momentous work that is of special significance to the Amhara People. His encyclopedic book is more than a book for us, the people of Amhara at this specific conjecture in our history. “Gihonism” is like a “Bible” for us, advocates of the Gihonist Amhara Nationalism in our struggle for survival as a people amidst the genocide and all-out oppression being perpetrated by the Tigrean fascist rulers.
We, the Amhara of today’s Ethiopia, are a highly endangered people, we are on the verge of extinction unless a popular Amhara-conscious movement rises up and wages the struggle for survival with an absolute certainty in in success. The slightest possibility of failure in this struggle means certain demise for our people. We are victims of a persistent genocide and all forms of repression for more than a quarter-century by the incumbent Tigrean fascist rulers of Ethiopia. A people of great antiquity and illustrious history, the Amhara, are one of the most ancient and civilized peoples of the World. Owners of an equally ancient language and literature, Amhara are pioneers of human civilization and the original authors of the Abrahamic and other religious systems. They are the founding rock and pillars of the Ethiopian state, which is the most ancient state in the world. Their glorious past as a people has been a source of envy among many enemies, both internal and external, who aspired to extinguish their very identity and existence as a people.
By writing this foundational book, Mesganaw, who is one of the architects of the nascent Amhara Nationalist Movement, has given the movement a very precious and powerful instrument. In recent Ethiopian historiography the identity and history of the Amhara people has been perverted and distorted by many “historians”, politicians and other actors in the Ethiopian political arena. This perversion of our people’s history has been the major tool for the genocide and other forms of extermination which are being perpetrated on our people. This distortion originates from the colonialist and racist Western “historians” and “anthropologists” who deliberately created and disseminated lies to advance their colonial and racist agenda. These Western “scholars”, who were actually agents of their own European “civilizing mission”, hated the Amhara because the Amhara were far more advanced and civilized than themselves. The Amhara were unique among Africans in refusing to submit to European “superiority” and colonial aspiration. The Amhara masterminded and led the anti-colonial struggle which culminated in the Battle of Adwa which was won by the Amhara Emperor of Ethiopia, Menelik II. The Europeans realized that they cannot break this ancient, civilized and proud people unless they create and diffuse manufactured lies and fabrications to sow seeds of discord between the Amhara and the other ethno-cultural groups constituting the Ethiopian state.”
This European distortion was naively swallowed, without any reflection, by the so-called “educated” Ethiopian elites of the late Twentieth Century. It escaped the minds of these mushroom “intellectuals” to undertake a critical examination of this poison lurking behind the façade of “modernism” The ill-conceived and diabolical “Ethiopian Students Movement” that formed the nucleus of “modern” and “revolutionary” ideas in the 1960s and 1970s just gobbled up this malicious and evil invention of the bigoted Western scholarship as the “Truth” about Ethiopia and Amhara. In so doing the Ethiopian students committed the most terrible historical mistake that led the country into the nihilistic abyss in which the country is floundering. This perversion poisoned the minds of “educated” Ethiopians of the time including Amhara intellectuals themselves. As part of this falsification of history two trends emerged. One form of these evil fabrications depicted the Amhara as a domineering and oppressing ethnic group that imposed their rule forcefully over others. The other version of the distortion was denying the separate identity of Amhara by submerging it in the sea of Ethiopian identity. For both trends, calling oneself Amhara was considered as a sin. The first trend was especially attractive for Tigrean, Oromo and other narrow-minded nationalists and fascists who used this pretext to oppress, subjugate and dehumanize the Amhara people. The Amhara are the only ethnic group in Ethiopia who are denied the right to existence and survival as a people by the ruling fascist TPLF and its allies.
As a response to this existential threat to our survival as a people, and to fight for our survival with an eventual victory of gaining our long-yearned freedom, the modern Amhara Nationalist Movement, emerged as a powerful force on the scene of Ethiopian politics. The Amhara nationalist movement beautifully named “Gihonism”, after the Great Eternal Gihon River, the Lakes of the Gihon Land, and the Mountains whose rains fill in them, has been born with much birth pang amidst strong opposition from all sides. The movement, from its very inception, faced ominous challenges from all spectrums of political forces in Ethiopia, including the Tigrean fascists and the latter’s’ opponents. Both Tigrean fascists and the so-called “Ethiopianist” or “Unionist’ opposition to them, formed a joint front to quash the emerging flower of Amhara Nationalism in its bud. However, the defiant and vigorous Amhara Nationalist Movement defied all its challengers and germinated into a huge popular movement for the freedom of the Amhara people. It vowed to unite all Amhara under the umbrella of Gihonism to wage a struggle for the very identity and survival of the Amhara people whose existence is threatened by the “Silent” genocide being mercilessly undertaken under the leadership of the Tigrean fascist rulers of Ethiopia.
Mesganaw is one of the scintillating figures of this glorious movement that is engulfing the Amhara youth throughout Amhara Land in Ethiopia and the Diaspora. He has worked hard in articulating this ideology for the empowerment, liberation and survival of the Amhara people. His book is a significant leap forward in the emerging Amhara Nationalist Movement. It signifies the level of maturity that our movement has achieved in the short period of its development.
The book is divided into 10 chapters. The author begins with setting the historical and structural foundations of the Amhara identity and consciousness. Digging deep into the Thousands of years of accumulated spiritual, literary and historical wealth of the Amhara, he builds a beautiful edifice that grounds the firm foundation of the Amhara People in the Heart of The Great Gihon River, the Great lakes, and the Beautiful Sky-sailing Mountains, which span the heart of ancient and present Amhara Land. Throughout the book, he depicts the image of Amharaness as both an Ideal/Spiritual and Temporal/Historical identity that undergirds the thousands of years of civilized existence as a people. He uses his knowledge and skill as a Cognitive anthropologist to delve into the psychological, mythological and historical consciousness of the Amhara people, and comes up with a well-defined, well-articulated and well-built structure of Amhara Identity and consciousness that reflects both the timeless and time-bound layers of Amharaness.
He explores the various challenges the Amhara have faced throughout their history. He outlines the role of the Religious wars of the 16th Century and the subsequent Oromo Invasion that greatly undermined the historical greatness of the Amhara people both as a people in their own right and as a pillar of Ethiopian statehood. The various coping mechanisms that were developed in response to such challenges as well as the insurmountability of the problems created by the devastating Oromo Invasion are discussed at some length. The medieval Ethiopian Monk, Thinker, Spiritual Warrior and Amhara Nationalist, Abba Bahrey, remains to be the inspiration of the author throughout his work. The words of this Great Amhara Intellectual of the 16th Century and the great admirer of Emperor Sertse-Dingil, called Melek-Seged in His Crown name, who tried to curb the momentum of the Oromo Invasion, stands out as a unique light in that dark period of our people’s history.
By linking the contemporary mind-numbing cataclysm to the age of Abba Bahrey, Mesganaw efficiently addresses the challenges that the Amhara people are facing from all sides, both internal and external. The harshest challenges, brewed by Tigran elites, who have now led Ethiopia into the darkest chaos in her history through their concocted concoction of Africa-born fascism that aims at exterminating the Amhara, are dealt with in sufficient detail. In articulating these challenges, he outlines the historical and ideological setting within which the anti-Amhara ideology and politics of the Tigreans was born and gained command of the Ethiopian polity. He also addresses the challenges from the so-called “Unity” camp that deliberately undermines our people’s right to their own identity and existence as Amhara. In so doing the advocates of this camp pose threats aimed at weakening Amhara Nationalist consciousness under the pretext that Amhara identity cannot be conceptualized separately from Ethiopian identity. The author cogently argues that both the Tigrean anti-Amhara sentiment, and the “Ethiopianist” denial of separate Amhara identity are equally disastrous for Amhara survival.
The book concludes by articulating the prime features of Amhara Nationalism. He formulates a theory of liberation that strives to find a solution for the Amhara problem through a structural transformation of the Ethiopian state. Based on a realistic and well-informed assessment of Ethiopian political reality, as well as an articulation of the millennia old history, aspirations and development of the Amhara people, he argues for a solid Amhara Nationalist political movement that can provide a lasting and viable solution for the longstanding predicaments of the Amhara people.
To sum up, “Gihonism” is both a scholarly work and a political manifesto. In the tradition of the Great Amhara scholars of yore, Mesganaw has combined both idealism and realism in this seminal work that will occupy a unique place in the history of the Amhara people. For Amhara Nationalists, the significance of Mesganaw’s book can be compared to what the “Torah” is for the Jewish people. The book is the pillar of the Amhara struggle to preserve their identity, a guiding light for our struggle for survival. It is a book that combines radical Amhara Consciousness with revolutionary action for survival. It serves as the cornerstone of our struggle to recapture our eternal grandeur as an ancient and civilized people with undefiled and unadulterated identity and self-esteem. It is a revolutionary manifesto of our unyielding persistence and fight to ensure our survival in the here and now. It is also a messianic work that galvanizes the Amhara people towards a yearning for, and commitment to, a glorious and great future as a people. “Gihonism” is a must-read book for every Amhara.
“Gihonism” can also be a great resource for those interested in understanding the political reality of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. But most of all, Mesganaw has written a much-needed and timely book for those of us-Gihonist Amhara Nationalists-deeply involved in the struggle for the identity, survival and greatness of our Amhara people. The Amhara nationalist struggle owes him much gratitude for his selfless devotion to the noble cause of the Amhara nationalist movement.
∗Kassahun Debalke Gebremariam LL.M. is a JD Candidate at the University of California Davis School of Law. The author of this review can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org