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World Why Ethiopia’s 'alphabet generation' feel betrayed

03:17  19 june  2021
03:17  19 june  2021 Source:   bbc.com

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"Much of Ethiopia ' s history is not written by trained historians, it's written by politicians - the allegation that five million Oromos were killed by Menelik for example," he says. "When you check such numbers there wouldn't even have been five million people in the whole of Ethiopia at that time." "One of the tenants of the era of Haile Selaisse was to Amharise the Oromos so that's why you will see a huge urbanised Oromo lost to their traditional names and culture and who assumed the Amharic language and Amharic names," he says. It is the alphabet generation who have bucked against this and

First, let' s start with the Ethiopian alphabet . The Ethiopic alphabet is known as the Geez script. It has close similarities with the Sabean language scripts. The script is used in Ethiopia and Eritrea to write different languages like Amharic, Tigrigna, Haderigna, Awigna,khemtigna(Wag himra Agew) It has thirteen months. Ethiopia celebrates the new year on September 11th. Currently, Ethiopia is in the year 2012. There are different tribes that exist in Ethiopia for thousands of years. Most of them have their own calendar where they celebrate their new year(Some of them are known as fiche chembelala

When Abiy Ahmed became prime minister of Ethiopia three years ago, the Oromo community felt their shackles had finally been broken.

a man wearing a suit and tie standing in front of a crowd © Getty Images

He was one of them - he understood the anger of the country's largest ethnic group who had led mass demonstrations leading to his predecessor's resignation.

He knew what that their crossed arms - the shackle symbol made famous at the Rio Olympics when marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa raised his arms at the finish line - really meant.

Feyisa Lilesa jumping in the air: Feyisa Lilesa made crossed hand shackle sign famous at the Olympics in 2016 © Getty Images Feyisa Lilesa made crossed hand shackle sign famous at the Olympics in 2016

"Many people saw [Abiy] as a new Messiah," says Merera Gudina, chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC).

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The Ethiopian alphabet or Amharic letters is also known as Ethiopic or Geez is one of the oldest used in the world. This alphabet is used by many Ethiopian languages and the various subsets include Agew, Amharic, Awingi, Bench, Bilen, Dawro, Dizi, Gamo-Gofa, Geez, Gumuz, Guragie, Kayla Although it has been tried, there is no standardized method of writing down the Amharic language into the Latin. This phonetic alphabet was manually written until the advent of the printing press which began to be utilized in Ethiopia as early as in 1910. The dawn of the computer age saw pioneers

I also promised to reach, teach and preach to Ethiopia ’ s youth this year and exhorted members of the Ethiopian intellectual class (particularly the privileged “professorati”) to do the same. I have also been pleading with (some say badgering) the wider Ethiopian Hippo Generation (the lost generation ) to find itself, get in gear and help the youth. There seems to be palpable consternation and anxiety among some (perhaps many) Hippos over the fact that I dared to betray them in a public campaign of name and shame and called unwelcome attention to their self-inflicted paralysis and faintheartedness.

For Oromos have felt like second-class citizens in their own country - once referred to even in official circles by a derogatory slur known as the G-word, the equivalent of the N-word, and made to feel ashamed of their cultural identity.

Most Oromos live in the Oromia region, as the country is divided into ethnically based states. Yet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, which is completely surrounded by Oromia, some Oromos say it was frowned upon for them to speak Afaan Oromoo in public, even on a bus.

This frustration found a voice in the "qubee" generation, which means "alphabet" in Afaan Oromoo - a reference to those who were taught in their mother tongue for the first time, a policy introduced to schools nationwide in the early 1990s after the fall of the Marxist regime.

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The two sides see Ethiopia ' s history totally differently. Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown in a revolution in 1974. Famine was banished. Large-scale civil war was ended. But Ethiopia did not see democracy. Prime Minister Abiy and his followers call these "27 years of darkness". A rising generation of young people felt silenced and shut out of political participation. They argue that a clique of Tigrayans dominated politics, the army and the economy for their own benefit.

Ethiopia is Africa' s oldest independent country and its second largest in terms of population. Apart from a five-year occupation by Mussolini' s Italy, it has never been colonised. It has a unique cultural heritage, being the home of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church - one of the oldest Christian denominations - and a monarchy that ended only in the coup of 1974. It served as a symbol of African independence throughout the continent' s colonial period, and was a founder member of the United Nations and the African base for many international organisations. Drought and civil conflict left Ethiopia in a state of

"Qubee" also makes a political statement, pointing to a decision for the Afaan Oromoo language to adopt the Latin alphabet, distancing itself from the Ge'ez script used in Amharic - the working language of the country.

And with more education, came a political awakening.

"As more educated Oromos started comparing their history with other histories like that of South Africa, they realised that the inferior position assigned to them by the system was unbearable," says Faisal Roble from the US-based Institute for Horn of Africa Studies and Affairs.

'Brutality exaggerated'

They learnt how modern-day Ethiopia was formed under Emperor Menelik II through conquest - and how their land was lost.

But not all Ethiopians see it the same way.

Menychle Meseret, an academic at Ethiopia's University of Gondar, says many of the claims about Menelik's brutality are baseless and exaggerated for political gain.

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" Ethiopia has never imported an S -300 series or S -400 series system and neither have any neighbouring countries," says Justin Bronk, of the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi), in London. Hundreds of Facebook users have been sharing a picture purporting to show a downed Ethiopian military plane burning on the ground. One post says: "Tigray special forces were attacked from the air. "They have destroyed one [ Ethiopian ] fighter jet and killed lots of special-force military (commando).

Generation Alpha (or Gen Alpha for short) is the demographic cohort succeeding Generation Z. Researchers and popular media use the early 2010 s as the starting birth years.

a statue of a person: Emperor Menelik II fought off Italian invaders, but has a mixed legacy in Ethiopia © Getty Images Emperor Menelik II fought off Italian invaders, but has a mixed legacy in Ethiopia

"Much of Ethiopia's history is not written by trained historians, it's written by politicians - the allegation that five million Oromos were killed by Menelik for example," he says.

"When you check such numbers there wouldn't even have been five million people in the whole of Ethiopia at that time."

Yet Oromos did feel economically and culturally subjugated, which Mr Faisal puts down to the royal elite regarding them as "uncivilised", a view which continued during Emperor Haile Selaisse's four-decade rule, until his overthrow in 1974.

"One of the tenants of the era of Haile Selaisse was to Amharise the Oromos... so that's why you will see a huge urbanised Oromo lost to their traditional names and culture and who assumed the Amharic language and Amharic names," he says.

It is the alphabet generation who have bucked against this and embraced their cultural identity - they want their language to be recognised as one of the country's working languages, they want to feel at ease in Addis Ababa, which they call Finfinnee, and have more of a say in its administration and growth, they want more autonomy over Oromia and they want jobs.

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This new-found confidence was encapsulated by Hachalu Hundessa, a former political prisoner turned music star whose lyrics fuelled the Oromo protests.

a couple of people that are talking to each other: Oromo cultural pride is now being expressed in fashion © Getty Images Oromo cultural pride is now being expressed in fashion

Amid the euphoria that greeted Mr Abiy as Ethiopia's first Oromo prime minister, things did change.

Oromo fashion shows were held in Addis Ababa, the Oromo's Irreecha thanksgiving festival took place in the capital for the first time in a century. Political prisoners were released, opposition figures, including the hugely popular Oromo media mogul Jawar Mohammed, were welcomed back from exile.

Hero killed

There was a little unease about some of Mr Abiy's other political reforms, but last year things deteriorated fast when Hachalu, who had said he was getting death threats, was killed - the motive is still unclear.

For the alphabet generation, their hero was dead - it led to a wave of ethnic unrest, leaving more than 160 people dead and the arrest of opposition figures like Mr Jawar, who now faces charges of terrorism and incitement to violence.

a close up of a person wearing a hat: Hachalu Hundessa, seen here in traditional Oromo costume, had become increasingly politicised whilst in prison © Reuters Hachalu Hundessa, seen here in traditional Oromo costume, had become increasingly politicised whilst in prison

Any democratic government would be left with no choice but to enforce the law when confronted with such scenes, says Mr Menychle.

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Yet the repercussions have led Mr Jawar's OFC and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) to boycott next week's general election.

"The political space has been shrinking. For example last year we had 206 offices across Oromia and now we have only just three offices," says the OFC's Prof Merera.

Mr Abiy's Prosperity Party (PP) will have no real competition in Oromia. This is the party he formed after dissolving the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of four ethnically based parties formed in 1988 to fight the Marxist regime.

It had been dominated for more than two decades by Tigrayans, who make up around 7% of the population - another factor in the Oromo protests that brought him to power.

'Togetherness'

Mr Abiy's idea was to have a more ethnically diverse party - the country has more than 80 ethnic groups - but with a unity of purpose to resolve ethnic differences which often boil over to violence.

This vision is in his book Medemer, published at the time of the PP's launch, an Amharic language term that can be translated as "coming together".

a screenshot of a cell phone © BBC

Oromos number around 40 million out of Ethiopia's population of 115 million.

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"Calling for unity and togetherness is a good thing," says Mr Menychle, "because if you see Ethiopia today, ethnicity is stretched to the maximum, where people are dying, saying: 'You're not for one of us.'"

However, Mr Abiy has been Machiavellian in his determination to set up the PP, says Mr Faisal, ditching Oromo allies who disagreed with him like Lemma Megersa. Mr Lemma had nominated him for prime minister, but was sacked last year as defence minister for criticising the PP's creation.

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Mr Faisal agrees that the PP has opened its doors to more groups, but says it could be a way to impose "autocratic rule" - something Oromo politicians who favour a more decentralised federal system fear.

"Clever city boys took him over," says Prof Merera, alluding to how he feels Mr Abiy turned his back on the promises to Oromia's youth and has been swept along by ethnic Amhara sympathies.

Mr Faisal puts it more bluntly: "Abiy realised that Amharas control the intellectual power, the media, the plutocracy… he came to realise that the only way he could control Ethiopia was by aligning to the Amhara ideology."

The same month as Medemer was launched, Menelik's renovated Imperial Palace in Addis Ababa was opened to the public for the first time, along with 15 acres of grounds called Unity Park. It had been lovingly renovated and inside was a life-size waxwork of Haile Selassie.

a person wearing a uniform and sitting in front of a curtain: A waxwork of Haile Selassie on his throne can now be seen at the Imperial Palace © AFP A waxwork of Haile Selassie on his throne can now be seen at the Imperial Palace

Mr Abiy took care to say it was all funded by donations - but Mr Menychle says it all fed into the rhetoric of opposition Oromo politicians wishing to make political gain.

The academic argues the prime minister has in no way let Oromos down when it comes to the PP or language.

"The government is also working on this language issue - if this is the demand for Afaan Oromoo to be a working language, it will not be a problem."

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In fact he says Mr Abiy has been at pains to strengthen institutions, with the appointment of Birtukan Mideksa to head the electoral board and Daniel Bekele, once head of Human Rights Watch's Africa division, to lead reforms at the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) - both of whom had been jailed in the wake of the disputed 2005 parliamentary election.

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The state-linked EHRC has been outspoken in its criticism of atrocities being carried in the Tigray region, where war erupted in November, and of abuses in Oromia - recently condemning the public execution of a teenager suspected of being a rebel, an allegation his family deny.

'Double-edged sword'

And it is the rebel insurgency in western and southern Oromia and subsequent crackdown where Mr Abiy comes in for criticism from everyone. These are no-go areas which suffer internet blackouts and where elections will not be held on 21 June.

map © BBC

"We are killed by double-edged swords," a resident in western Oromia told BBC Afaan Oromoo, meaning civilians were being killed by both the rebel Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and the security forces.

For Mr Menychle the prime minister, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, was too hasty in 2018 in inviting groups like the exiled OLA back without first agreeing the terms of their return, especially for those who were armed.

After the OLA's homecoming, negotiations over disarmament and integration into the security forces broke down, fuelled by distrust over Mr Abiy's vision for Oromia.

And Prof Merera fears these elections will not deliver durable peace and stability - to the detriment of the alphabet generation.

"A country at peace gets good governance and in turn meaningful economic development. Our youths are flocking to Yemen, flocking to South Africa, flocking to Europe and then losing their lives.

"The young people especially want real change."

Sudan wants UN Security Council to discuss Ethiopia’s Nile dam .
Sudan, Egypt want international community to intervene ahead of Ethiopia’s plans to go ahead with the second filling.Ethiopia is pinning its hopes of economic development and power generation on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), while the two downstream countries – Egypt and Sudan – are concerned about it and seeking a binding agreement on the filling and operation of the dam.

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