Tigray is found in north Ethiopia and is the credile of civilization of the Horn of Africa.

You are on the page where you can read the articles posted during the all months of the year.

On the sidebar, at the right side of this page, select and click a month to read articles posted in the month.

To go directly to our recent articles and documentations about Tigray click on Articles on the header of this page or click Here

"Ethiopia as a Racialized Political and Diplomatic Project

Recognizing the political and diplomatic significance of the name Ethiopia (the old name for the Black world), the Abyssinian state elites formally replaced the name Abyssinia with that of Ethiopia in the 1930s (Melba 1980). However, Ethiopian ideological history claims, “the modern Ethiopian state as the direct heir to the Ethiopia mentioned in biblical and classical sources. Ethiopian and Western scholars presented Ethiopia as an entity that had existed continuously as an integrated and independent state for three thousand years” (Sorenson 1998: 233-234). Opportunistically and skillfully, the Ethiopian state elites have used their Blackness to mobilize other Africans and the African diaspora (Harris 1986; Scott 1993), and Black U.S. policy elites against the Oromo and other colonized peoples (Jalata 2001[2012]. Several times, Ethiopian state elites have used the influence of the African diaspora for their political and economic interests, particularly in the United States, by capitalizing on the emotion they have for the name Ethiopia.

Most Blacks in the diaspora “knew very little about the social and political conditions of Ethiopia. What they wrote or said about Ethiopia was at best a manifestation of their emotional state” (Scott 1993: 26). By confusing original Ethiopia (the Black world) with contemporary Ethiopia (former Abyssinia), the Habasha elites have misled some historically naive people in Africa, Europe, North America, and the world. Most people do not understand the difference between ancient Ethiopia and contemporary Ethiopia. Because of this historical misinformation, Africans who were colonized or enslaved by Europeans, except those who were enslaved and colonized by contemporary Ethiopians, wrongly considered contemporary Ethiopia (former Abyssinia) as an island of Black freedom because it was able to maintain formal political power, albeit with the help of Euro-American powers.

In reality, fascist Italy directly colonized Ethiopia between 1935 and 1941, and Great Britain liberated Ethiopia from direct Italian colonialism, and made it its informal colony. Most Africans are unaware that Ethiopia’s political power came from allying with the colonizing European powers. Former Abyssinia (present Ethiopia) has been a “prison house” in which the Oromo and other colonized and enslaved population groups were and still are brutalized. By using the discredited racist categorization of human groups, such as Semitic, Hamitic, Negroid, and Cushitic, Habashas have a stratified hierarchy in which they place the Oromo and the others between themselves and the people that they wrongly call Shankillas—people they consider Negroid (Donham and James 1986:123-124). Despite the fact that Habashas are Black, they consider themselves Semitic by relating themselves to the Middle East, Europe, and North America and by dissociating from Africa, whose peoples they consider both racially and culturally inferior. John Sorenson (1998: 229) expresses this racist attitude as “a multiplicity of Ethiopians, blacks who are whites, the quintessential Africans who reject African identity.” Because the concept of race is a sociopolitical construct, it is essential to critically understand the historical context in which Ethiopian racism is produced and reproduced to denigrate the colonized peoples to deny them access to Ethiopian state power and economic resources. In Ethiopian discourse, racial distinctions have been invented, reinvented and manipulated to perpetuate the political objective of Habasha domination of the colonized population groups.

“The fact that racial distinctions are easily manipulated and reversed indicates,” Sorenson (1998: 229) notes, “the absurdity of any claims that they have an objective basis and locates these distinctions where they actually occur, in political power.” The Habasha elites recognize the importance of racial distinctions in linking themselves to the Middle East, Europe, and North America to mobilize support for their diplomatic and political projects. Jews, Arabs, Europeans, and Americans also see Habashas as closer to themselves than the peoples whom they consider “real Black.” The West, particularly the United States, places Habashas on “an intermediate position between whites and blacks” and considers them closer to “the European race” or members of “the great Caucasian family” (as quoted in Marcus 1996: 5). Furthermore, there were Europeans who considered Habashas as a very intelligent people because of their racial affinity with the “Caucasian race” (Marcus 1996: 7). There were also those who saw Habashas as “dark-skinned white people” and “racial and cultural middleman” between Black Africa on one side and Europe and the Middle East on the other (Marcus 1996: 7). One German scholar admired the intelligence of Habashas and noted that he never saw such mental capability among Negroes, Arabs, Egyptians, and Nubians (as cited in Marcus 1996: 6). These racist discourses go unchallenged in academic and popular discourses because they help reproduce Ethiopian racist and colonial state power. U.S. foreign policy elites, diplomats, and other officials recognize and defend such “racial pretension of Ethiopia’s ruling class” (Robinson 1985: 53). Racist Euro-American scholars use these kinds of racist discourses to show the significance of Whiteness and denigrate the value of Blackness in human civilization.

Despite the fact that their skin color is Black, Ethiopian elites joined their racist White counterparts to devalue the humanity of Black people (Jalata 1999).  While glorifying the culture and civilization of Habashas, European racist scholars, such as Edward Ullendorff (1960: 76), advanced the notion that the Oromo, as a barbaric people, did not possess “significant material or intellectual culture” that would allow them to “contribute to the Semitized civilization of Ethiopia.” To demonstrate the superiority of the civilization and culture of Amharas and Tigrayans, racist scholars downplayed “the African-ness of ancient Ethiopia [Abyssinia] . . . to emphasize its similarities to European societies” (Sorenson 1998: 29). John Sorenson (1998: 234) expounds, “along with the emphasis on a Great Tradition in Ethiopian history, came a specific configuration of racial identity. As in other discourses of race, this configuration merged power with phenotypic features in order to devalue the Oromo and other groups as both ‘more African’ and ‘more primitive’ than the Amhara [and Tigray]. The Oromo were presented as warlike, essentially ‘people without history’ and without any relationship to the land.” In Ethiopian studies, the Oromo were depicted as “crueler scourges” and “barbarian hordes who brought darkness and ignorance in the train” to Ethiopia (Harris 1844: 72-73); they were also depicted as evil, ignorant, order-less, destructive, infiltrators, and invasive (Abba Bahrey 1954; Bruce 1973; Marcus 1994; Ullendorff, 1960).

In addition, the Oromo were seen as “a decadent race” that was “less advanced” because of their racial and cultural inferiority (Fargo 1935: 45). Therefore, their colonization and enslavement by the alliance of Ethiopians and Europeans were seen as a civilizing mission. Because in racist and modernist thinking, historical development is linear and society develops from a primitive or backward stage to a civilized or advanced one, the Oromo, who have been seen as a primitive people, are also considered as part of a collection of “tribes” or a single “tribe” or a “cluster” of diverse groups that cannot develop any nationalist political consciousness except tribalism (Clapham 1969; Gilkes 1975: 204-206; Marcus 1994: 4). Racist and modernist scholars have also denied the existence of a unified Oromo identity and argued that the Oromo cannot achieve statehood because they are geographically scattered and lack cultural substance (Clapham 1994; Levine 1994; Perham 1969: 377). Generally speaking, both the Ethiopian elites and their Euro-American counterparts have built Ethiopianism as a racial project at the cost of indigenous Africans, such as the Oromo. John Sorenson (1998: 232) writes, “Western discourse . . . duplicated many of the assumptions and ideologies that had been put in place by the ruling elites of Ethiopia, constructing the latter as the carriers of a Great Tradition which was engaged in its own Civilizing Mission with respect to what it regarded as other uncivilized Groups in Ethiopia.” 

The Impact of Racism on the Oromo and Others
Just as successive Amhara-dominated regimes engaged in terrorism and genocide (Jalata 2000) and exploited the resources of the Oromo, Afar, Ogaden Somali, Sidama, and others, the Tigrayan-dominated regime engaged in similar practices to suppress the national movements of these indigenous peoples in order to maintain a racial/ethnonational hierarchy and continued subjugation. With the intensification of the national movements of these subjugated nations, the Tigrayan-led regime had been engaged in massive human rights violations, terrorism, and hidden genocide. While engaging in state terrorism in the form of war, torture, rape, and hidden genocide to control the Oromo and others and loot their economic resources, the Tigrayan state elites claimed that they were promoting democracy, federalism, and national self-determination. Supported by the West, mainly the United States, and using political terrorism, this regime dominated and controlled the Oromo and others, denying them freedom of expression, association, or organization, as well as access to the media and related forms of communication and information networks (Jalata 1993/2005: 86). The Meles regime used various techniques of violence to terrorize the Oromo who were engaged in the struggle for liberation and democracy. Its soldiers whipped or tortured; locked in steel barrels or forced into pits where fire was made on top of them; fixed large containers or bottles filled with water to men’s testicles; or, if their victims were women, bottles or poles were pushed into their vaginas (Fossati, Namarra, and Niggli 1996).

In addition, the soldiers of the Tigrayan-led regime openly shot thousands of peaceful peoples in Oromia, leaving their bodies for hyenas, burying them in mass graves, or throwing their corpses off cliffs. Other methods of killing include burning, bombing, cutting throats or arteries in the neck, strangulation, and burying people up to their necks in the ground. As Mohammed Hassen (2001) estimates, between 1992 and 2001 about 50,000 killings and 16,000 disappearances (euphemism for secret killings) occurred in Oromia alone. Furthermore, he estimates that 90% of the killings were not reported. To hide these state crimes from the world community, the Meles government did not “keep written records of its extra-judicial executions and the prolonged detention of political prisoners” (as quoted in Hassen 2001: 33). The regime killed or imprisoned thousands of Oromo students because they engaged in peaceful demonstrations. Saman Zia-Zarifi (2004: 1), the academic freedom director at Human Rights Watch, notes, “Shooting at unarmed students is a shameful misuse of government power” in Ethiopia. The political agenda of the destruction of the Oromo society is not a new phenomenon. The West has been supporting this political agenda. The massive killing of the Oromo by Abyssinian colonialism was never condemned as genocide. As Leenco Lata (1998: 135) notes, “Despite its unparalleled brutality, Menelik’s conquest escaped condemnation as the only positive historical development in the Africa of the late 1800s. To achieve this, the Oromo were made to appear deserving to be conquered.” Just as genocide committed by Menelik and his followers escaped world condemnation, so is the ethno-national cleansing that was systematically committed by the Meles regime. According to Lata (1998: 135), “The massacre of Oromo by any one of the Ethiopian forces rarely gets mentioned in Ethiopian or Euro-American writings. The slightest threat to the Abyssinian by the Oromo, however, can throw up a storm of protest and condemnation.”

The popular and academic discourses on the Oromo and others are full of racist prejudices and stereotypes. When Habashas want to make a point of the alleged inferiority of the Oromo and others on the racial/ethnonational hierarchy, or to deny them their humanity, they debase an individual and her or his nationality by asking, “sawu nawu Galla?” (Is he a human being or a Galla?) This query shows that Habashas consider the Oromo and others as inferior human beings. Even Christianity is used to promote racism in Ethiopia. For instance, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church publication denounced sexual relations between Habashas and the Oromo and others by saying that Jesus would punish those who would have sexual intercourse with “the cursed, the dumb, the Moslems, the Galla, the Shankilla, the Falasha, the horse, the donkey, the camel and all those who committed sodomy” (as quoted in Lata 1998: 143). This religious tract was written in Geez (an old Abyssinian language) and translated into Amharic in 1968. While its original date of writing and authorship are unknown, the piece has been popular and widely recited by literate Habashas. The Oromo, Ethiopian Jews, Muslims, and various peoples were categorized with beasts, such as horses, donkeys, and camels. The implicit intention of the Orthodox Church was to draw a racial/ethnonational boundary between Habashas and non-Habashas to maintain the racial/ethnonational purity of the former. Habasha stereotypes depict the Oromo as a dirty people; the expression “Galla na sagara eyadare yigamal” compares the Oromo to feces and claims that the Oromo continue to stink like feces with passing days. This expression warns that the closer you get to the Oromo, the more you find how they are bad and dirty. This racial insult is used to create suspicion between the Oromo and Habashas.

Another expression depicts the Oromo as a rotten people (“timbi or bisbis Galla”). Yet another expression explains that the Oromo cannot be clean even if they wash themselves again and again; it says that “Galla na Shinfila ayitaram,” which literally means, “Even if you wash them, stomach lining and a Galla will never come clean.” A Habasha expression claims that the Oromo’s attempt to be civilized cannot be successful because they are predestined to fail in civilization projects. The saying “Galla sisaltin bacharaqa jantila yizo yizoral” attempts to show that even if he or she is civilized, an Oromo does not know the true essence of civility. Literally this saying translates, “When an Oromo is civilized he stretches his umbrella in moonlight and walks around so that he can be seen by others.” Simply put, because the Oromo are stupid, they do not know how to behave in a civilized way. The expression “Ye Galla chawa, ye gomen choma yelewum” depicts the Oromo as a society that does not have respected and notable individuals. The literal translation of this expression reads, “As there is no fat in vegetables or greens, there is no a gentleman in the Galla community.” Generally the Oromo have been seen as a useless people who do not deserve respect.

But, in reality, the achievements of the Oromo made Ethiopia to be known to the world. For example, Abebe Biqila was an Oromo marathon champion who won the 1960 Summer Olympics gold medal in Rome while running barefoot, and the second gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics on behalf of Ethiopia. There are also many Oromo long-distance runners, including Feyisa Lelisa, Keneisa Bekele, Derartu Tulu, Genzebe Dibaba, Mesarat Dafar, and Almaz Ayana, who increased the recognition of Ethiopia in the World. The well-known singer of Ethiopia, Tilahun, Gesese, was an Oromo who passed as an Amhara, too. Paradoxically, Haile Selassie and Mengistu Haile Mariam who were the head of the Ethiopian State had Oromo fathers although they disassociated themselves from an Oromo identity and considered themselves Amharas in order to get legitimacy from the Amhara establishment and institutions, such as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. However, the Oromo have been insulted for even trying to assimilate to Ethiopian culture by speaking an Ethiopian language. Habasha racists have expressed their anger toward the Oromo who have mispronounced Amharic words by saying that “Afun yalfata Galla; tabitaba Galla” (an Oromo who cannot express himself clearly). To psychologically demoralize the Oromo, the Habasha discourse also depicts the Oromo as a cowardly people who cannot resist subordination; the saying “and Amhara matto Galla yinadal” clearly shows the essence of this discourse. Literally it translates, “One Amhara can force one hundred Oromos into submission or subordination.” But, historical evidence indicates that until they allied with Europeans and obtained modern weapons, Habashas saw Oromo fighters as their nightmare.

Even a poor Habasha or a leper claims that he or she is better than a Galla; the expressions “Even if I am poor, I am not a Galla,” and “Even if I am a leper, I am not a Galla” clearly show how most Habashas, including the sick and the poor, claim racial/ethnonational superiority. Generally speaking, Habashas have “looked upon and treated the indigenous people as backward, heathen, filthy, deceitful, lazy, and even stupid—stereotypes that European colonialists commonly ascribed their African subjects” (as quoted in Tibebu, 1995: 44). Furthermore, Habasha social institutions, such as family, school, media, government, and religion, reproduce and perpetuate these racist prejudices and stereotypes within the Ethiopian society. Explaining how racial insults wound the colonized people, Richard Delgado (1998: 346) says, “The racial insult remains one of the most pervasive channels through which discriminatory attitudes are imparted. Such language injures the dignity and self-regard of the person to whom it is addressed, communicating the message that distinctions of race are distinctions of merit, dignity, status, and personhood. Not only does the listener learn and internalize the messages contained in racial insults, these messages color our society’s institutions and are transmitted to succeeding generations.” These prejudices and stereotypes consciously or unconsciously have influenced Ethiopians and Ethiopian studies. Ethiopians, and particularly those Ethiopian scholars and Ethiopianists who have been influenced by these assumptions, have never respected Oromo culture and have opposed the Oromo struggle for social justice, democracy, and human rights under a variety of different pretexts.

Some assert that because the Oromo are dispersed among other peoples, the question of national self-determination is not applicable to their cause; others argue that the assimilation of the Oromo to Habashas both biologically and culturally prevent them from having a cultural identity that enables them to have national self-determination (Lata 1998: 139-144). Furthermore, because the Oromo are considered “invaders” of Ethiopia, some Ethiopian elites argue that the Oromo do not deserve national self-determination because the region that they call Oromia does not belong to them (Gerbee 1993: 50). This assertion implicitly assumes that the Oromo must accept their subjugation and second-class citizenship, or they must leave the Ethiopian Empire before they will be totally annihilated for continuing to demand national self-determination, statehood, and democracy. Ethiopianism hid the true nature of Ethiopian racism and colonialism. The Habasha elites have also used Ethiopianism to claim the unity of the colonizer and the colonized population groups in the Ethiopian Empire while committing such serious crimes against humanity. It is no wonder that all the colonized population groups in the Ethiopian Empire reject the ideology of Ethiopianism. In particular, the Oromo have developed national Oromummaa (Oromo-centric worldview, culture, and nationalism) to oppose Ethiopianism and to dismantle the racial/ethnonational hierarchy and Ethiopian settler colonialism and its institutions. "Professor Asafa Jalata Deragatory terms :'Galla' for Oromo and 'Arusi' for Arsi in the map of 1945!