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THE IDEA OF AMHARA IDENTITY [Abstract ID: 0505-03]
Discerning the ethnic dimensions of politics is rightly considered as indispensable to understanding contemporary Ethiopian politics. The Ethiopian political landscape since the 1960s was marked by the dominance of “competing ethno-nationalisms”. Most, not to say all, of these ethno-nationalist movements are underpinned by a common hatred of the ‘Amhara’. To put it in other words, the nationalist movements that engulfed Ethiopia were based on the otherness of the Amhara. The nationalist movements claimed that their national territories were incorporated, colonized by the Ethiopian ‘empire’. In addition, the alien Amhara, the generic name for all non-nationals, were also accused of domination over others beyond their own locality. Beginning from the early 2010s, however, a massive invention of an Amhara ‘national’ identity has taken place. To be exact, there already were several ways in which Amharaness was defined. Amharaness was defined essentially in religious and cultural terms. Nonetheless, that has changed basically in the context of the post-1991 political dispensation. This study focuses upon examining the trajectories of the Amhara identity. The argument here is that the idea of Amhara-ness was transformed in the course of history from a particular identity for the Amhara living in Wollo to a national identity without firm geographical borders. Importantly, to be Amhara did not necessarily mean living in Wollo. In fact, there are also other identities in Ethiopia. Nonetheless, Amharaness is more open, tolerant and inclusive than all others. And, recent attempts at creating a particularistic identity are mere aberrations.