By Teshome Borago
As we celebrate the anniversary of our proud military victory over the powerful Europeans in the 1890s, we should be reminded of the ongoing plight of mixed ethnic Ethiopians, one of the people reborn out of the womb of Adwa.
When we examine the existing condition of identity politics in Ethiopia, Post-1991 politics and the governing status quo in Ethiopia continue to impact our people’s narrow interpretations of identity. “I am Gurage”, “He is Oromo”, “she is Amhara” … such are the expressions we hear everyday in the streets. Most Ethiopian citizens are still forced and urged to self identify to one ethnic group; whether or not they actually descend from one, two or more ethnolinguistic ancestry. We even see this injustice during the national census and when obtaining identification cards in Ethiopia. This marginalization of millions of mixed “Ethnic Ethiopians” or the systematic restriction on our self identification continues to benefit the TPLF ruling party and its OPDO, OLF, AAPO, OFC, ODF, TPDM, SLF, ONLF, ANDM and other ideological partners. These one-ethnic organizations are still the most active in Ethiopia today and they define our current politics based on one-ethnic ideology.
So how deeply is their narrow one-ethnic ideology engrained in our minds? Sadly, it has influenced all aspects of our thought process. For example, when we look at multiculturalism and multinationalism in Ethiopia, we naively mention the list of ethnic groups individually but we rarely mention mixed Ethiopians who are the direct product of our multicultural society. Even when we look at the events of the Battle of Adwa, our politicians proudly declare how all heroic Ethiopians from Oromo, Amhara, Welayta to Gurage, Tigray etc came together united against the invading Italian army. But this statement in itself inherently ignores the fact that Ethiopians from multiple ancestry also fought and died for our country. The truth is Mixed Ethiopians born from Gurage fathers and Oromo mothers fought in Adwa. Mixed Ethiopians with Welayta fathers and Amhara mothers died in Adwa. And so many other mixed Ethiopians sacrificed their lives. Symbolic of that era, even the powerful Minister of Defense under Emperor Menelik II was Fitawrari Habte Giyorgis Dinagde, who was said to be mixed Ethiopian of both Gurage & Oromo ancestry. Unfortunately today, mixed ethnic Ethiopians are unrecognized in current Ethiopian politics and ignored by the government’s “ethnic federalism” because they are either passive themselves or they tend to choose only one of their lineage over the other.
But, it is time that mixed Ethiopians become proud of their ancestry and be heard. Interethnic mixings have occurred throughout our history in trade centers and thru migrations, including the mass Migration of semetic and Afan Oromo speakers over the last millennium. Then, the victory in Adwa exponentially increased the pace of inter-ethnic marriages in Ethiopia; especially in Shewa, Wollo regions and central Ethiopia. It is true that ethnic identities are, by nature, fluid throughout history. They might die, be reborn, expand and die again. For instance, the ethnic labels we see today (“Amhara”, “oromo”, “Gurage” etc) did not exist many decades ago and they might die or disappear as globalization penetrates more inside Ethiopia. Similarly, post-Adwa era saw the rebirth of mixed Ethiopians’ influence in politics of our country. But the extreme poverty and the pro-Amharic undemocratic policies of the Imperial regimes sparked rural grievances and it fed the grassroots support base for the rebirth of these one-ethnic organizations that exist today.
However, more than the Tigrayan, more than the Amhara and the Oromo, mixed Ethiopians have to rise up today and carry the country toward democracy because we identify and sympathize with all groups in Ethiopia. But to do this, First, we have to embrace our own complex identity. We have to declare our ethnicity as “Ethiopian.” Unlike some Amharas and other urban nationalists who claim to be defenders of the “Ethiopian” label, we mixed Ethiopians are born Ethiopian and we die Ethiopian: we have no other option. Unless we reject our true identity (unless we pick our father over or our mother or vice versa) we do not have the luxury of being from one-ethnic group because we can only be the broader Ethiopian. When we are asked “what is your ethnicity,” it is high time for those of us with multiple ethnic ancestry to be proud and loudly say, “i am ethnic Ethiopian. Period!”
Ethnic Ethiopians have been passive for too long and it is time that we unite and take action for the benefit of all people in the horn of Africa. Mixed Ethiopians living in Illubabor (where my maternal grandfather is from) share the same heritage, the same psychological attachment and the same destiny as mixed Ethiopians living in Arusi (where my paternal grandmother is from) or northern Gondar (where my maternal grandmother) and Welayta Sodo (my paternal grandfather are from). All mixed multiethnic Ethiopians have a common national experience and a shared ideology, one that does not favor one group over the other. Since mixed Ethnic Ethiopians should not attach their identity and political development with the Amhara, the Oromo or other groups; we must work to bridge these gaps. We should create our own unique political identity, preferably one that will promote more interethnic marriages and the empowerment of our mixed Ethiopian race. We should bring together the Oromo, the Tigrayan and the Amhara as well as promote peace between other smaller ethnic groups in Ethiopia. The triumphant Adwa legacy of multiethnic cooperation will be best illustrated in the 21st century reawakening of our rightful role in Ethiopian politics.