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Source: the Elephant.

The Personal is Political

7 weeks ago, my father wrote me an email stating my rejection of Ethiopian nationalism (allegiance to an empire that neither of us lives in!) is creating a permanent rift. 

In the time that has elapsed, further reports have come out substantiating ethnic cleansing and presence of Eritrean troops in Axum, systematic rape, and #TigrayGenocide but he maintains his pro-state position without hesitance.

We have never gotten along so the idea of declaring a permanent rift when I’m 32 years old is laughable but I will say now more than ever, I feel like I have a deep political context to his patriarchal neo-colonial (yet notably self-described anti-imperialist) point of view. 

He feels that I am destroying my heritage and “his” country by talking about #TigrayGenocide and publicly questioning the “right of a sovereign nation” to invite foreign troops into a war against its own people. I think this dynamic is hard to parse for western audiences. A key landmark of Ethiopian nationalist mythology is the Battle of Adwa where the Italians were defeated and Ethiopia becomes “a symbol of Pan-African freedom” in the context of anti-imperialist struggles globally.

Scare quotes around “a symbol of Pan-African freedom” because while the aesthetic of Black Kings winning a colonial war against invading whites sounds cathartic in the context of American flavored Anti-Blackness, it was in service of an empire’s violent nation-state project Menelik,  “Negus” or Black King as reified by Kendrick Lamar, whose music I love by the way, but illustrates why this is complicated, worked with his wife Taitu to violently force indigenous and marginalized ethnic groups into nation-building described by nationalists as “consolidating.”

One of my father’s proudest moments was purchasing a painting from eBay of the Battle of Adwa, depicting sharecropping Italians in the background of victorious Ethiopian riflemen. For him, it was a mega clap back to the unbearable whiteness of America.

I was 10 years old, rocking Marcus Garvey T-shirts from 125th street where I’d pick up the latest mixtapes next to the essential oil dude and was politically somewhere hodgepodge of Ready to Die and Brenda’s Got a Baby. All I knew about that painting was who didn’t have the gun.

It’s only more recently that I can fully understand a murderous Ethio-nationalism that celebrates the toppling of Confederate statues in the US while declaring the toppling of statues dedicated to Ethiopian conquest “a dangerous ahistoricism.”

Ras Mekonnen was a Shewan royal from Sheno, grandson of the Shewan king Sahle Selassie of Shoa, the governor of Harar province in Ethiopia, and the father of Tafari Mäkonnen.  Following the assassination of Artist Hachalu Hundessa in June 2020, a statue of him was removed and burned by Oromo protestors.

My father feels my rejection of pro-state narratives is disrespectful, that I’ve quickly become swayed by Awol Allo and allied with “Oromo extremists who want to destroy *his* country”. Ethiopian politics is too complex for a simple Ferengi girl like me to possibly understand.

The point is not my family dysfunction as much as to say, the personal is political. We saw the same dismissing of Minnesota-based activists, a decade younger than me, who quickly led George Floyd protests and just as quickly took up #OromoProtests.

I always joke to the homie Ayantu that Ethio discourse is Uncle politics, dominated by older men, blogging prophecies that the rest of us are too simple or too captured by the West/TPLF/Estrogen or whatever to grasp.

This patriarchal turn is also bound up with nationalism, which is how we get Carceral war-mongering feminists like Bilene Seyoum in the diversity grammar favored by the white neoliberals.

In order to dismantle the lie that is #EthiopiaPrevails, we have to divest ourselves of “prevailing”. When you’re on the bottom, imagining us as Kings, as triumphant,  expansive can seem cathartic just like my father’s Battle of Adwa painting.

One of the things I respect about Awol Allo is that he acknowledged his role in endorsing Abiy Ahmed and changed his position. I see unpacking our allegiances, mistakes, and mythologies as central to the quest for justice. Why were the early dissenters silenced and ignored?

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