By Teshome M. Borago | Zehabesha columnist
Long before this week’s Mycadra massacre in Tigray, 2018 was one of the worst years to be from the business community in the markets of Ethiopia. One after another, minorities in markets of Ethiopia’s “ethnic states” became targets of massacres. In Ethiopia, it is always the “others,” “the Neftegna,” often dehumanized as “settlers” (“Mete” in Amharic); the “quasi-citizens” at best, who are the targets of xenophobic killings, and they tend to engage in independent labor-force and commerce inside the ethnic “regional states.”
And the middle of 2018 was a year when Ethiopia’s security apparatus was the weakest so the country got to witness how deeply TPLF’s ethnic-federalism project fractured the nation.
In Hawassa, the calendar year was dotted with killings of Wolaytas one after another, followed by burning of markets frequented by business people of mostly Wolayta and Gurage. “Addis Gebeya” in Hawassa is where the “native” Sidamas often come face-to-face with the “others,” a market symbolizing the beautiful multiethnic character of a city; but for ethnic nationalists, an obstacle to their agenda of a homogeneous one-ethnic state. Those dark days were at the height of Sidama tribalists’ demand for a separate state, so the youth had to gain attention and make a statement: an ethnic cleansing. After-all, in a backward country like Ethiopia, political movements gain a seat at the “negotiation” table and prove their legitimacy, not by how many citizens they convince, but by how many people they kill.
Then in September 2018, supporters of Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) celebrated their homecoming of their “ethnic liberators,” after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent olive branch to the OLF leadership. Soon after, another massacre occurred, this time on business people and laborers in Burayu and surrounding. Dozens of minorities from Gamo, Dorze, Wolayta, Gurage and others were slaughtered by Oromo youth who chanted “leave our land.” REUTERS media reported, “shops were looted and people attacked by mobs of Oromo youth who stormed through streets targeting businesses and homes of ethnic minorities.”
This is why the recent massacre of Amharas and others in western Tigray market town of Maicadra should not come as a surprise. It is the perfect symptom of the ethnic-segregation system established by TPLF since 1991. For years, TPLF was left unchallenged inside the Greater Tigray state it carved for itself, after moving in thousands of Tigreans into Begemder province to change the demography. Its oppressive tranquility was reminiscent of North Korea. And TPLF portrayed its expansive state as a peaceful and harmonious land (despite imposing its language against the “others” in its midst and despite being one of the most restrictive states against religious minorities like evangelicals.) In this sense, Tigray became one of the most unitary and chauvinist states in Ethiopia, unwilling to provide autonomy for minorities like in Welkait, Raya and Tsegede. Yet, it was still relatively more peaceful than the rest of Ethiopia. But all the lid came off as its power got threatened in 2020. Now, while retreating to the core/center of Tigray, the TPLF did what it knows best: organize the brutal massacre of unarmed civilians in Mycadra. As retribution, TPLF sent its henchmen into the town and incited xenophobic attacks by local mobs against Amhara and minorities. According to Amnesty International; the victims were “civilians, who appear to have been day labourers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive.” Amnesty and witnesses confirmed most of the victims were Amhara. This would constitute a combination of both ethnic cleansing and war crime by TPLF and its supporters.
Maicadra is not just another town in what in recent years became Tigray. It is a commercial town, a major trade center populated with Ethiopians of diverse ethnic background. The pattern is clear. One of the major obstacles to the infamous ethnic-federalism project since 1991 have been; (even in the most powerful state of Tigray, no matter how many times ethnic elites instigate ethnic cleansing of the “others” or change demographics) commercial centers in Ethiopia, which are like Magnets – pulling diverse communities together. After-all, at our core, we are all humans, one people, one society; and our humanity is often displayed most beautifully in the urban and market towns of Ethiopia. It is for this reason that ethnocentric elites and pseudo-nativist groups despise the urban and the market towns of Ethiopia. What happened in Mycadra was a long time coming and in the next few weeks, the towns of Tigray will be where TPLF will commit more crimes, as it gradually reverts back to its former self: a deadly terrorist and insurgency organization.
Contact writer: Teshomeborago@gmail.com