Unveiling Lies: EPRDF on Ethiopian Nationalism and Identity

by Amsale Aberra

Amsale Getnet Aberra
Amsale Getnet Aberra

I recently came across a summary of a report submitted by the government of Ethiopia to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in the year 2009. The EPRDF as a party to the convention is required to submit periodic reports to the Secretary General to show the steps it has taken not promote racial discrimination and protect citizens from such discrimination and to fulfill its obligations through legislative, judicial, and administrative actions. Thus, the governments, in its report stated that, “[a]n individual’s ethnicity (in Ethiopia) is recognized on the self-identification of such person or his/her origin of birth. A person is entitled to identify himself as having mixed ethnicity or even not to identify himself as belonging to a particular ethnic group and identify himself as an Ethiopian.” [1]
The lies from the EPRDF government was unbearable to me because as millions of Ethiopians, I am a living witness that we, the citizens are not allowed to identify ourselves as simply Ethiopian in our Kebele issued identification cards. I am also a living witness that citizens are not freely able to move to a region where they are an ethnic minority and be able to establish a residence and equally compete with members of the majority ethnic groups to find gainful employment, which is a clear violation of the EPRDF constitution.
If I may briefly mention my own experience with ethnicity in Ethiopia, as someone who was born and raised in the capital city of Ethiopia, I had the opportunity really experience the multicultural Ethiopia at a micro level. Although I spoke Amharic at home and with my neighbor’s children, I knew that in my neighbor’s homes Tigrinya, Afan Oromo,and Sidamo languages were spoken. I can tell my readers clearly now that growing up I, as millions of Ethiopians never knew myself as nothing but an Ethiopian.
However, the day I turned sixteen was the time I went to the kebele to get an ID card and experienced the racial segregation and profiling the EPRDF had in place. I specifically remember when the woman, a government employee asked me for my ethnic group. At first I thought she was asking for my native language and I said “Amharic”. Then she asked “biher” again and I answered Ethiopian. Then she angrily said that she was not asking for my nationality. That was the point I stopped trying to explain myself. She then asked me where my father was born and I told her where that was and that was the day that I was profiled as being a member of a certain ethnic group and was told that my Ethiopian identity was less important for the government who wants to keep on use the “divide and conquer” card as long as possible. (Here I would like to mention that Ethiopia is one of the very few countries in the world where ethnicity classification is displayed in national ID cards. Rwanda was one of such countries and we all know the devastating and irreversible damages such a policy brought into the country)
A few years after the incident mentioned above, I went to a University to study law at one of the government owned universities in one of the ethnically divided regions. According to my identification card, I do not belong to the ethnic majority living where the university is located. I believe in the 5 years that I studied at the law school, I have witnessed over 7 ethnic conflicts among students who were divided merely because they were from “different ethnic groups.” Although I do know that the governments have its hand in such clashes, I also know that some students truly believed that they were different from one another because they were labelled or labelled themselves as different. Unfortunately, I do also know that such conflicts have become the norm in different universities throughout the country.
A couple of years after graduating from law school, I had the opportunity to take a course in peace studies at a University in Europe. Then, the professor asked each of us to draw a flower with five petals. On each petal we were asked us to write our identities and on the circle of the flower we were asked to write our most important identity. Doing such exercise with the class made me look back to the identity that was imposed upon me while living in my country Ethiopia. I realized that according to the EPRDF policy, my or any Ethiopian citizens’ most important identity would be his or her ethnicity. Such a realization to me really brought nothing but sadness. While the rest of the world is embracing unity, nationalism based on one country of citizenship or even an identity of global citizenship, we are still forced to live in the barbaric mindset forcing us into believing that we are different, even though we are all citizens of the same country and are results of an Ethiopian nationalism.
The discrimination and segregation faced by citizens to gain employment and enjoy favorable conditions of work in regions that they are not from is of no secret.in our current Ethiopia. It is also our reality that Ethiopian citizens are being discrimination against because of their actual or perceived affiliation with ethnically based political groups. One of the mechanisms that the government promotes its policy of divide and conquer is subjecting ethnic minorities to its  “villagization” (forced relocation) program which has a clear negative impact of breaking up families, violating their constitutionally guaranteed right to family and their right to an adequate standard of living.
At this point, although I would hate to predict a negative outcome for my country, I am also afraid that the polarization and segregation policies of the EPRDF might lead our country on the road to genocide. I am afraid that in the current Ethiopia children are thought to celebrate their ethnic identities instead of embracing or understanding an Ethiopian nationalism and  these children will soon get to an age where they can understand that being an Ethiopian is not enough to reach one’s potentials in the EPRDF Ethiopia. It is also quite unfortunate that smart and young people like Jewar Mohammed are trying to legitimize their argument of an ethnic identity above anything else mostly based on the past persecution “one’s people had faced.” Although I am not a historian by profession and it is not the purpose of my current piece, I believe reconciliation is the way to go to form a stronger nation, instead of grudge. I believe it is especially true in a country like Ethiopia where inter-racial (ethnic marriages) are practiced which have resulted in the millions of us having parents who came from different regions of the country, speaking different languages and according us multiple “ethnic identities.”
As a concluding remark, I would like to reach out to my fellow country women and men and state my frustration that the government is continuing to cheat its people and the international community into believing that we, the citizens can keep our Ethiopian identity while living in our country. This, as all know is a complete and utter lie in our present day Ethiopia.

[1]  UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Reports submitted by States parties under article 9 of the Convention : International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination : reports of States parties due in 2007 : Ethiopia, 11 March 2009, CERD/C/ETH/7-16, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a07ee232.html [accessed 3 January 2014]


  1. From GETACHEW REDA (Editor Ethiopian Semay)
    Dear Amsale:
    Oh, you clearly elaborated the sickness of these Tigrayn racist elemnts to tag each of us by ethnic. This as you, I and many good Ethiopians argued that this ethnic identification paper is a gateway for ethnic cleansing as similar to the Rwanda genocide.
    Amazingly, the experience you encountered in Ethiopia when you went to the Kebele for Id card was also happened to my friend and a brother who is now living in the United States. I read similar encounter from Professor Mesfin. When my brother/friend told me such encounter- he told me , he refused to tell the Kebele authority to give his ethnic and told them ‘Ethiopian”. And the authority at the table wrote his identity as Amhara simply because he spoke to here in a good Amharic language.
    My brother/friend asked back “who told you I am an Amhara and who gave you the authority to identify me as such?” The authority replied, ‘you want the Id or no? If no, go back where you came from’. That was it. my brother felt so sick inside him, upset, so furious inside him, not knowing what to do to scotch blatant arrogance of power abuse and violation. It is sickening. These are sick elements and I am ashamed to my self to be called and added with this jungle lunatic outlaws as “Tigrayn”. I have read many books, faced discrimination from Tigrayans and Amhara and Oromo puppets, insulted by all of them for identifying myself as an Ethiopian -with all that encounter and challenge It is the most shameful memory I have as a Tigyan in my life at this moment of TPLF era. No one knows the ordeal I challenged. I beat them all with the Ethiopian identity in me.
    TPLF does not know Ethiopia as identity- Emperor Yohannes did. They betrayed his advice that Tigrayan or any once identity is Ethiopian. Because the Emperor explained;-
    ኢትዮጵያ የተባለች አንደኛ እናትህ ናት፣ ሁለተኛ ዘውድህ ናት፣ ሦስተኛ ሚስትህ ናት፣ አራተኛ ልጅህ ናት፣ አምስተኛ መቃብርህ ናት። እንግዲህ የእናት ፍቅር፣ የዘውድ ክብር፣ የሚስት ደግነት፣ የልጅ ደስታ፣ የመቃብር ከባቲነት እንደዚህ መሆኑን አውቀህ ተነሣ።“(አፄ ዮሐንስ ፬ኛ) ሲሉ የነበሩት። This is our identity we are told by our Emperors in Tigray.

  2. Thanks for your close look and putting things all together, the problem here in Ethiopia is that, we are serving as main tool for perpetuating these lies and cheating. We have to wake up and say enough is enough.

  3. Hi Amsale,
    I also received this identity card. I was an educator in aunivesity in the country at some point. I had to go to kebele to get new ID to deal with some social function. A lady (obviously with Tigrigna accent) flatly told me to enter my ethnic orign into the piece of paper called ID.
    That was one shocking day for me in TPLF ruled Ethiopia(one of the regretable wonders of the “visionary” leadar of the time!). Thus far I keep that ID depicting my ethnic orign in safe for history in memory of the narrow minded “visionary(ies) [form Tigray/hybrids from eritrea]. Time will judge their deeds-so called EPRDF ethnic and developmental leaders.
    At some point I was also able to witness discrimination of one poor lady from a region requesting an ID to live in Addis ababa. I thought it was legitmate for any Ethiopian to request ID to live any where in the country. The lady was from one of the southern regions where EPRDF lost election in 2005. I thought it was a revenge to that (through out history whoever rules the country owns the country any way-now tigray tegadalays do so!) the lady was verbally abused and shown the way to get out office with out gettting the ID.
    Remember also the recent forced eviction of Ethiopians from southern region?….from oromia too. The discrimination continues…
    I have also witnessed all other blundders carried out by TPLF office holders in government and NGO offices[it is usually easy to identify them- you know]. I knew the country was not what what many thought we had in the name.
    I left the country silently, feeling that is not the inheritence I wanted to leave behind for my kids.
    Today I was reading a banda named Dejazmach Hailesselasie Gugsa of Tigray who willingly sold his country and collaborated with Italians. So I realized selling/deconstructiong Ethiopia by some one from Tigray is not a new stuff. Up until we see some strong nationalist leader from same region who might undo the vice, perhaps the likes of me and other Ethiopians with similar mind will remain suspicious of leaders form the region [though we have many nationalists from same region]!
    The discrimination in the country is on by narrow Ethnic centered communists from Tigray and their benifcieries! The silent is watching wondering what is to come next!
    And it is regretable that some decieved non-pragmatic fanfarers (like Jewar) keep on chanting oromia…bla..bla (rather than upholding univeral human right declaration, even after going to university(ies) that believe/s in human right) drinking from the same poison wayane got intoxicated; even after old class OLF guard including Lencho has gone bankrupt!
    God save Ethiopia

  4. ሃይለስላሰ ጉግሳ እና ብዙዎች ከመቐለ ጀምሮ እስከ ኣስመራ የተዘረጉት ዘር ማንዘሮቹ በቁጥር ሶስት ባንዳነት መመዝገብ እንዳለባቸውና፣ ቁጥር አንድና ቁጥር ሁለት ባንዶች ደግሞ እነማን እንደሆኑ እስከምክኒያቱም ጭምር ካሁን በፊት ስላስቀመጥኩት፣ አሁንም ደግሜ እዚህ ላይ ከመዘርዘሩ ብቆጠብና፣ ግን ደግሞ በአንድ በኩል፣ “ደገኛ እንጂ አማራ የሚባል ነገር የለም” ያለው አፍ፣ በሌላ በኩል ደግሞ “መላ አማራ” የሚለውን ድርጅት ሲያቋቁም የታየው፣ ዘላለሙን የስልጣን ጥመኛው “የጠላትን እየማሉና እየተገዘቱ ነው ማሸነፍ” “አርአያት” አራማጆችን፣ እኛ እንኳን ሳንቀር የተገነዘብነውን ምሳሌአቸውን፣ ማለትም “የሌላውን አይን ከማየትህ በፊት የራስህን አፅዳ” የሚለውን በስነ ስርአቱ እንድያላምጡት ልናሳስባቸው እንወዳለን…………!
    ለወደፊቱም እኔ ማለትን ብቻ ሳይሆን፣ እኛ የሚለውንና ሁሉንም ኢትዮጵያውያንን የሚያጠቃልለውን Unity in diversity ፖለቲካን ብናራምድ፣ ህዝበ ኢትዮጵያ ብሓፈሽኡ ተዓዋታይ ይኸውን………!

  5. You Amara we are very sorry you lost your chance to keep ethiopia together , Ethiopia is today in a state of unity in diversity. TPLF is smart than u and your time is finished. I am somali by ethnic and ethiopian first my ethnicity then citizen. But 23 years before i was not ethiopian but somalis living in Ethiopia.
    What i want to assure for u here is that all the youg ethiopian under the age 30 do not speak Amharic specially those from Oromia , Somali , tigray and others which represent 74% of the students in university so the official and comunication language in the country will English.Wait a moment i know you then trully confuse now still you have jock.

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