Gondar is famous worldwide for its incredible 16th century castle, and forms a key part of northern Ethiopia's incredible history. Last week, however, the city was in the news for a different reason. Thousands of people from all across the region took to the streets to protest against the powers that be, waving the old tricolour flag and expressing allegiance with the Oromo protesters. With major political angst being expressed in two of the world's major powers, the UK and the US, the question is - where could this lead?
Tourism has been a growing industry in Ethiopia and a vital source of foreign currency of late. Among the attractions of historical significance in the country, the Fasilidus Castles in the old capital of the Kingdom have been among this few wonders of architecture that visitors have been intrigued by. It leaves them questioning how such an intricate design could ever have been built back in the 16th century.
The Scottish explorer James Bruce wanted to discover the source of the Nile River and had travelled upstream starting from Egypt. He had come to Gondar in the middle of 1770’s, when it was under the reign of King Mera Tekle Haimanot.
Historians have told us that the capital city kept changing from Axum to Gondar and even to Lalibella in Wollo before the Shoan dynasty came to power and made Ankober its capital. This was before Emperor Menelik engaged himself in the business of creating a united Ethiopia, which took him to the south and other directions.
Other historians – the likes of Tekle Tsadik Makuria and others – have written a lot about the ancient kingdoms and the level of intricacy of the castles of Gondar, the water fortress around them and the steam bath holes, as well as the complexities and wisdom of that period.
At present, the “Diaspora Day” celebrations taking place at Bahr Dar, the capital of the Amhara Regional State, has coincided with Europe’s vacation season and increased the number of tourists visiting Gondar and other places.
Last week, on Sunday, Gondar was also making headline news in the media for a different reason. Thousands of people, men and women, young and old, had made it to Gondar from all parts of the region to take all their complaints and political demands to the streets and main squares of the city.
There were many scary speculations by people, who had heard the news that armoured security officers had taken key positions around Gondar.
Ato Bereket Simon and other officials had pleaded to be given some time before they could bring their response. People had accused him of being a fall out for their causes and in earnest no more than an errand representative only in name.
The massive protest was full of derogative references and demands for the release of captain Demeke Gizaw, who has allegedly been detained as a scapegoat.
The peaceful protestors also shouted their allegiance to their Oromo brothers, who were put down by officers expected to protect them and ensure their security. There were also slogans demanding for democracy, which by definition entails accountability and transparency – not by officials labelling the killings as commensurate and not repressive!
The investigations made by the so-called Humanitarian Commissioner, who was also behind the unforgivable voting procedure led by Professor Mega Bekana, has instead of presenting his investigations to the Judiciary, given his evaluation as not “repressive” more than necessary.
The killing of Oromo youth by armed officers has also become a way of life under the cover of fighting “terrorism”. But what terrorism means in reality is not spelled out transparently, as far as any command of the language of terrorising people could go.
People ask themselves whether a one-to-five cellular arrangement, making each member spy over the other, is not in itself terrorism of a subtle kind.
They had not only claimed with the strongest term possible that “Wolkaite and Tegeday” have always been part and parcel of the Amhara ethnic group. They underlined that they have no animosity with the people of Tigray and have always lived together in harmony and good friendship.
Some of the members of the state media, while confirming that the Gondar protest had taken place during the morning hours of last Sunday, added that the demonstration was not approved nor given the blessing of both the city official and the Regional state. But they did not point out whether it was legal or not according to the provisions in the constitution.
The slogan sang out by the protestors expressing solidarity with the peaceful Oromo demonstrators has apparently disappointed many who would have liked to see a crack between the two ethnic groups. What was perhaps most daring and unusual was the vivid waving of the old tricolour of the historical flag – green, yellow and red, without any other mark on it. This is, of course, a gesture of how much the protestors are not with the restrictions of the government’s laws against failures to abide by the new flag. The tricolour, which was taken as a sign of liberation for centuries and which has been adapted by many other African countries in one form or another, does not seem to be well taken with the new change despite the yearly celebrations of ‘Flag Day’.
By some historical irony, the recent referendum held in Great Britain and the race for office between the Republicans and the Democrats in the US is believed to give ample lessons to those countries like ours where people crave to enjoy their democratic rights. Where do we go next?
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