Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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ALI Noor Mohamed, United Arab Emirates University

For the great majority of sub-Saharan African states, the thorniest post-independence issue has been the problem of their ethnic composition. State boundaries were drawn without regard for territorial boundaries separating ethnic groups many of whom had a history of hostilities and rivalries going back centuries. This problem has especially plagued the greater Horn of Africa region – theater to some of the longest civil wars in modern world history. Radio has been used to propagate belligerent inter-ethnic narratives both within and across national boundaries and has thus served to foment instability. This paper focuses on negative and belligerent Somali narratives aimed at the Amhara ethnic group of Ethiopia. The narratives can be traced to the 16th century religious wars between Somali nationalist Imam Ahmed Ibn Ibrahim Al Ghazi (popularly known as Ahmed Gurey) and Abbysinian emperor Lebna Dengel whose dominion over Muslim populations in eastern Ethiopia, including Somalis, irked the Sultanate of Awdal from which Imam Ahmed Gurey hailed. These narratives have been kept alive through the centuries by folk tales, traditional songs, pastoralist chants, and poetry. They reached fever pitch levels during the border wars between Somalia and Ethiopia in 1964 and again in 1977. The proliferation of community radio throughout Africa in the 1990s has countered this trend by delivering cross-border peace narratives. Following the disintegration of the Somali state, effective peace narratives in the breakaway region of Somaliland contrasted sharply with narratives in southern Somalia. We use qualitative content analysis of radio fare in the form of pop music lyrics, traditional songs and poetry to draw the contrast in Somali-language narratives that define the Amhara ethnic group of Ethiopia.