Saturday, May 18, 2024
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Bahir-dar: Torturing Somali History

By Faisal A. Roble

At a time when Abyssinian ideology is waning, it gets a savior from an unlikely corner -the Somali Regional State (SRS).

Acting President Mustafa Omar
of the Somali Regional State (SRS)

History is controversial not only because of past events but also because of its illuminating light to guide us from not repeating the past’s follies. Those who deny the weight of history also fail to seek advice from It. If correctly understood, or rightly interpreted, history could serve as a valuable guide for future inter-communal understanding. It could also enhance sustainable peace.

However, distorting or manipulating history is tantamount weaponizing it. And that is exactly what had transpired in Bahir- dar.  Abyssinian history was weaponized to make a bunch of young Somalis feel inferior under their skin.

In the now-infamous Amhara-Somali high-level convention at Bahir-dar, July 18-20, 2019, an implicitly biased history, with a racist bent, was presented to a crop of young, less educated, and community leaders from the Somali Regional State. The presentation provided by sophisticated and unreconstructed Amhara supremacists were directly detrimental to Somalis. Equally, this same presentation was offensive to Oromo, Afar, Sidama, Walyta, Gurage, and others. Lionizing emperor Menelik did the job.

Misled by church historians, chauvinists, revisionists, the Somali delegation was fed Ethiopia’s version of “Cinderella of the Empire” history.

Historically speaking, peoples that are colonized are not free after colonials turn their lights off and leave. Their effects linger around for generations. Most importantly, the psychological damage continues.  Miseducation and cultural assimilation are the venues to permanently scar the efficacy of those colonized.

In Black Skin White Mask, Franz Fanon talked about the mental colonization of the Negro. W. B. Dubious documents the tortured Black American soul – half white half black.

The two-centuries-old Ethiopian oppression of the Somali people (also true here for Oromo, Afar, Sidama, etc.) produced colonial conditions in the vast Somali periphery. Fear, intimidation and less than feeling in the presence of more educated Amhara is a trait one can easily see with Somalis and other oppressed nationalities.

In the last few years, these traits have set roots among the urban dwellers in the Somali region. Since the late Meles took power, not only Somalis accepted their Ethiopianess, but one of the subjects some of their demands towards their initial objectives.

Accordingly, acting President Mustafa Omar, like his predecessor, labored hard in a follow-up speech to the convention to try to explain why his people need no other label than Somalis, not Ethiopian Somalis. Unbeknownst to him, the Ethiopian federal constitution refers to the Somali region as simply “Somalia.” Even so, the people of Somali Regional State never fought for the correct nomenclature. They did not fight to be less hyphenated and be called simply Ethiopian.  That is a narrative to feed hungry bellies of “Andinet” unity groups. For the record, Somalis fought for independence, democracy and peaceful coexistence with all their neighbors.

In Bahir-dar, we witnessed tortured Somali souls that could not even defend their history. Suppressing your views about history is one of the virtues of colonized people like my Somali people. Oromo by far liberated their minds whereas Somalis regressed to be defined by their own yesteryear’s oppressors. It is a retrograde that befall Somalis.

Deputy President Mustafa Omar was in effect abused and tortured in the hands of Figru Toloso and others who triumphantly claimed Mogadishu, Berbera, and the entire Somali peninsula was an Ethiopian province or “gizat.” To the dismay of many non-Abyssinians, Mustafa was cornered to even declare Ethiopia’s history of oppressed nations’ struggle as a background noise, not a front-burner issue.

The chauvinists who hosted the young Somalis even dared to equate Menelik to Mandela and Gandhi. Despite his massive massacres of Walyta, the Gurages, the Oromo of Chalaqo and Somali in Harar, “Imiye” Menelik was given a “humanist” portrait.

On the other hand, the unsuspecting disheveled Somali delegation was given enough dose of the endearing role of balabats in the governance of their own country (Sumale gosawoch). In other words, imperial Ethiopia ruled Somalis through a class of salaried balabats, a precursor of today’s Somali version of “Black Skin White Mask”

Mustafa Omar fits the bill. He has subjected his feelings and his history to the whims of the children of yesteryear’s colonizers. Mustafa fall victim of his past socialization whose design was orchestrated in the hands of Abyssinian educators. He endorsed history from above – his master’s history at the expense of his own.

An in-depth look at the history of the Somali region shows that Haile Selassie and Mengistu Haile Mariam ruled the region in the same manner that Lord Lugard ruled Britain’s colonies in Africa – that is working through a proxy elite group, including traditional elders, while governance and real power was in the hands of a vast military and security apparatus recruited from and loyal to the center. Since 1991, a set up by the late Mele Zenawi, put in motion to rule the region through what the French colonial power called evolve’ (evolue’s).

With evolve’, the colonial system creates a class of indigenous miscegenated or assimilated individuals whose loyalty and theoretical constructs in history are in line with the ruling elite that hitherto colonized them. For example, Jean-Bedel Bokassa mandated school children be taught Latin and Greek civilization at the expense of his African. Mustafa showed leniency to authenticate his oppressor’s history at the expense of his own.

The current crop of rulers in the Somali region typifies evolve’ with an added burden of less education and less versatility in their own history and that of their oppressors.

Mustafa is a reader of Francis Fujiyama’s “The End of History” and sees in that book a solace – to escape from a painful past and embarrass a less predictable future, the later one offering the promise to belong to a powerful ally’s orbit.

It is within that context that he negates the history of oppression of nationalities. In other words, like Fukuyama, he endorsed a philosophy that closes the last chapter. Unfortunately, in return, he accepted a present that belittles his history and may lead him to a rocky future.

Faisal A. Roble
Email: [email protected]
Faisal Roble, a writer, political analyst and a former Editor-in-Chief of WardheerNews, is mainly interested in the Horn of Africa region. He is currently the Principal Planner for the City of Los Angeles in charge of Master Planning, Economic Development and Project Implementation Division

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