A video of some Amhara elite groups meeting to inaugurate “the Amhara Manifesto” was leaked on social media recently. The meeting was attended by well-known personalities, including journalists, university professors, and other notable Amhara individuals in the diaspora.
The presentations and opinions expressed in the meeting were full of conspiracy theories, half-truths, twisted mythologies, and blatant lies weaved together in defense of the return of an unapologetic Amhara supremacist order. The bizarre spectacle reached its zenith when the chair of the meeting invited an individual introduced by a pseudonym as Mr. Begosew.
The speaker noted how delighted he was to be joining the discussion from “the frontline at Ataye in Shawa-Robit,” one of the scenes of extraordinary violence destabilizing Ethiopia over the last year. He said he is one of the organizers and leaders of the Fano, an informal Amhara paramilitary group. Begosew addressed the gathering and pleaded for support from the Amhara diaspora to finance their political and armed operation. At the end of his speech, Begosew claimed that the Fano is led by spiritually inspired holy fathers and a divinely anointed “holy” king.
A “prophecy” about the coming of a “divinely anointed king” has been circulating on different social networking platforms over the last three years. It stipulates that an Amhara king will rise and subdue all other groups in the country through force and reign over the whole country. The savior king backed by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) priests and monks will overcome all the challenges from both domestic and external actors. And the Amhara-led Ethiopia will defeat all global powers at various battlefields and be a global superpower, the prophecy states.
Bogosew told the Amhara elite at the gathering that “Amhara means king; Amhara means Christ; Christ means King,” and the battle we are fighting is a holy war supported by the Virgin Marry Holy Father. “We represent the Holy Spirit, and all other groups outside ours represent Satan.” He claimed that they have been organizing an underground paramilitary group throughout Ethiopia for several years. And that their underground network extends from Gondar in northern Ethiopia to Bale, Illubabor, and Wollega in the west and other parts of the country.
“We have only a short period of time. We have a number of tactics. The battle began in 2012, and we know that it will be intensified in 2013, especially from the middle of the fasting season,” he said using the years in the Ethiopian Calendar. Begosew continued his address and alleged that they would encounter three challenges in pursuing their divine mission.
He claimed that the battle has already commenced and that the enemy they face is domestic and foreign. Begosew then went on an unhinged rant claiming that their first enemy is not the OLF but rather the historical enemies of Ethiopia working against it since the 16th century. He claimed that the imminent threat is from the state, noting that “today, the clear and present danger is from the government itself, from the OLF government. The current government is an OLF government.”
The second challenge will be famine, he continued. There has been a good crop yield for the last two years. So, we have to store food in identified locations. When the foreign attack comes, it will be beyond our capacity, he told the audience. Our men will fight to the end. But, to save the Amhara lineage, there are identified places to hide women and children in all four corners of Ethiopia.
Begosew identified the third challenge as a disease. “The Ahzab (a term the EOTC uses to refer to the non-Orthodox and, in fact, all other than Orthodox Amhara, including Christian governments from the U.S., and the U.K., and the Arab world) will all stand against us. So when these powers come to Ethiopia, they will bring a disease called ‘bidbid,’ which is far more dangerous than Corona,” he told the meeting.
Begosew underscored the need to stock ammunition and food in churches and monasteries. Then, as he began speaking about the “holy king” currently commanding the Fano, the convener of the meeting reminded Begosew to wrap up the conversation and not divulge confidential information on a public forum.
Behold, this is not an ordinary zoom chat room. Well-known Amhara intellectuals and other notables attended it. The meeting chair and attendants listened intently and did not challenge the conspiracy theories or question the speaker’s war plans.
The claims made by Begosew are not superstitious beliefs of fringe groups. However, it is a widely held view among many Amhara elites. His speech reminded me of a film I watched last year. I took a bus from Addis Ababa to a regional town, and the bus operator was offering various Amharic movies for its travelers. One of the Amharic films, titled ETHEL, talks about a prophecy of an Ethiopian renaissance. In the story, an Ethiopian ex-pat who’s been living in the diaspora returns to the country. The individual has forgotten all the traditions of his birth country and adopted a western lifestyle. Since his mother lives in the rural countryside, he stayed with his aunt in Addis.
His elder brother is the head of the Ethiopian Intelligence Service and a very conservative man. He tried to convince the lead actor to give up the western lifestyle and adhere to the Ethiopian living style. The actor then dates many girls in Addis and, finally, gets engaged to a lady of his choice. He gave his fiancé a gold Nishan, a traditional Ethiopian title of honor for national heroes, that his mother gave him during childhood.
One day, the two brothers visit their mother and decide to stay for a while. The lead actor showed his mother, the picture of his fiancé wearing the Nishan. The mother was so shocked by the fact that her son had given the Nishan to his fiancé, and she died out of a heart attack. The dying mother told the lead actor that he should talk with a nearby priest about the Nishan.
The priest tells the lead actor that there is a prophecy about an Ethiopian renaissance. “Ethiopia used to rule the whole of Africa and even Europe. After the decline and fall of the Ethiopian empire, it will re-emerge and rule the whole of Africa after 14 generations from the time the prophecy was made,” the Priest recounted. The priest explained the prophecy for the lead actor and told him that the lead actor is in the 13th generation. If the lead actor manages to reclaim the Nishan and transfers it to the next generation, his first son, Ethel, will be the promised savior king that will herald the Ethiopian Empire’s renaissance, the priest added.
The text messages
In early 2018, I came across SMS messages circulating through mobile texts and messengers. The texts allege that the message came from fathers in the monasteries. The general message is that there will be a widespread war in Ethiopia in the next four years, and, at the end of the war, Amharas will take over the country to return it to “its glorious heights.” The messages urge the Amhara to take the devil’s path to accomplish their goals. Another lengthy message allegedly prepared by a diaspora-based Amhara group and circulated on social media made similar suggestions about restoring Amhara power and pride by any means necessary, including by establishing death squads.
The path of Tewodros II
Leaders of the opposition Amhara National Movement (NaMA) openly opine that the way for salvation for the Amharas is in the path of emperor Tewodros. The bandit Kassa Hailu took the name Tewodros to fulfill “a prophecy” about the rise of a divinely anointed king called Tewodros who will reign in Ethiopia. The 19th-century emperor then unleashed bloody force to subdue everyone on his way. He fought with leaders of different regions and took harsh punitive measures against the Orthodox Church leaders; he imprisoned messengers of King Victoria of England, inviting British military operations that caused his demise. Like the emperor, the Fano leaders and their sympathizers also believe that the current political crises in Ethiopia can only be resolved through violent wars.
The danger of the “prophecy”
Prophecies have a great place in Ethiopian society. They have been used, among others, as grounds of legitimacy for the reign of kings, as a morale boost in wars, and as a response to various crises. In fact, many usually ask if there is a prophecy regarding specific issues by clergy members of either religion. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed himself spoke about his mother’s prophecy several times, including before parliament, claiming she foretold that he would be the 7th king of Ethiopia. Church leaders are also prophesizing Abiy will reign over Ethiopia for the next ten years. Some individuals with significant followers are also claiming to be the 8th king of Ethiopia.
The danger is that believers of the prophecy see war as the only viable option to overcome Ethiopia’s current political maelstrom. In addition, to emerge as a winner, in the end, they believe that the battle should begin from within the Amharas. Therefore, Amhara nationalists should first clean the house of notable Amharas who move against the prophecy and dissenting voices within the region. This mentality might have caused the assassination of the Amhara state president on June 22, 2019. The prophecy might have also been partly responsible for the devastating war between the Amhara and Qimant in Gondar, where dozens died on both sides. Further, repeated attacks by the Amhara Special forces against farmers in the Oromo Special Zone are partly nurtured by the prophecy. The aim is to clear “non-Amharas” from the Amhara region, as Begosew alluded to in his address to the online meeting.
The political crisis in Ethiopia is worrisome. The conflicts have already pushed the country to a civil war on multiple fronts: Tigray, West Wollega, and Benishangul-Gumuz. Communal violence has become a norm. Killings and displacements are day-to-day occurrences. In the midst of all these challenges, the economy is sinking. Youth unemployment is skyrocketing.
Yes, Amharas have suffered their part, as did other peoples of Ethiopia over the past decades. Ethiopia’s political crises, particularly over the last three years, caused the killing and displacement of thousands of Amharas, Oromos, Tegarus, and others in all corners of the country. A superstitious belief that dictates war as the only means to such a crisis can only exacerbate the problems. Therefore, Amhara elites, scholars, and intellectuals should push back against the dangerous mythologization and theologization of politics and encourage these actors to embrace dialogue, peace, and co-existence as a way forward.
No party or individual can overcome the challenges facing Ethiopia alone. Therefore, it is wise to abandon deranged superstitious beliefs and embrace a rational, methodologically sound approach to overcome our complex problems. More specifically, the only way to overcome the multitude of challenges in Ethiopia is an all-inclusive political dialogue underpinned by current scientific knowledge, not a false prophecy.