Ethiopia’s garment of religion is the best cloak for power and oppression

Islam Gabr
9 Min Read

In a previous speech, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced himself as the country’s “seventh king”. He was referring to his Orthodox mother’s performance of divination for him when he was young. This self-presentation strongly brings back to mind the history of Ethiopia’s Christian imperialism.

Since the Oromo protests that lasted from 2014 to 2018, Ethiopia rapidly evolved disobediently. In 2018, Ethiopia’s first Protestant Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned, and in March 2018, Abiy Ahmed succeeded him. Abiy was a young Oromo leader and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPRDF) former surveillance head.

Abiy became Ethiopia’s first Evangelical prime minister. He was enthusiastically described by many Ethiopians, particularly Evangelicals, as messiah, the new “Moses”, or “King David”, who would save Ethiopia. He comprehended that he couldn’t evolve as the seventh king of Ethiopia without the buy-in of Ethiopia’s Evangelical doorkeepers, so he brought them into his close circle.

He publicly supported extremists in the Orthodox Church, like Daniel Kibret, a well-known Orthodox scholar in Mahibere Kidusan or the “communion of saints.” This strong group is a right-wing Orthodox juvenile campaign that aims to restore the Orthodox Church’s historical hegemony. Unsurprisingly, Daniel is also famous for his bigotry against Muslims and Protestants. However, many Protestant leaders acknowledged his power and embraced him. After Abiy selected him as his personal counselor, Daniel gave a textbook genocidal speech calling for exterminating his Tigrayan enemies, describing them as “weed” and “devils”. Daniel is now a member of the Ethiopian parliament. 

The Orthodox kingdom’s starless red, yellow, and green flag was revived and became a fierce sign of imperial homesickness. This Christian nationalist flag is everywhere in Orthodox churches and is a reason for a painful clash in Ethiopia Today. A prominent Ethiopian activist said that multiple Oromos consider it a symbol of domination and mastery. 

Evangelicalism’s rapid growth is robust in Oromia and the southern regions of Ethiopia, where many have felt crushed and impoverished by Ethiopia’s Orthodox kingdom. This campaign has injected the “wealth gospel” into the famous Ethiopian civilization. Its principle asserts that if you unquestioningly consider your spiritual leader and confirm it by charity money, God will give you health and wealth. Ethiopia now has a booming industry of modern prophets and motivational lecturers promising wealth. In multiple ways, Abiy himself is a thriving speculator. He also replaced the old EPRDF with his new “Prosperity Party,” whose spiritual overtones should not be skipped.

According to the Ethiopian constitution, (Church and state should be separated). Abiy, however, started an umbrella organization (the Ethiopian Evangelical Council) that contained a group of 15 well-known Christian influencers. Abiy raised his intended vision to 400 Christian leaders at the Palace.

Abiy said: “The constitution says church and state should be separated, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t work together.”

Gaining a Membership in this party has accrued lucrative business deals, land grants, and positions in political power. When Abiy was questioned about his intentions for the council, Abiy laughed and replied: “That is a complicated question to answer. You want a strong institution. But I intend to expand the kingdom of God.”

“The church is not a democracy! What you know doesn’t matter in Ethiopia. Who you know is everything,” said Betta Mengistu, a founding father of Ethiopian Pentecostalism and a key player in Abiy’s Ethiopian Evangelical Council. Currently, these Christian princes know Abiy, and “wealth” appears to be streaming.

Christian expansionism vitalized the dominionist and seven mountain faith in Ethiopia. This political belief encourages the idea that if Christians can control essential sectors like politics, business, and culture, the community can be “seized for Christ.” This is the Pentecostal similarity to Orthodox imperialism.

Evangelicals then prepared a confidential procedure manuscript for asserting impact in the postponed 2021 federal election, and some well-known Evangelicals triumphed in public office. The dominionist paradigm created momentum within the Prosperity Party.

After earning access to privilege and authority at the Palace, few Christian leaders have publicly admitted this horrible brutality is occurring. Some hold scapegoated Islam, fueled Christian nationalist conspiracy theories, defended the civil war in the north, which incidentally pits mainly Orthodox Tigrayans against mostly Orthodox Amharas, and others depicted the conflict as God’s will, said an Ethiopian researcher who spoke anonymously.

Today, Ethiopia seems hauntingly like a Zemene Mesafint reduced spiritual “Era of the Princes.” This recognized expression in Ethiopian historiography harkens to the era of extreme disruption between 1706 and 1855. During this time, restricted princes struggled against one another for imperial control and burst the country.

A civil war ensued in the north for 18 months. Tens of thousands of individuals have been slain, nearly a million Ethiopians encounter starvation, and millions more are displaced. The roots of future wars have already been planted.

Brutality is ruining different regions of the country, including Oromia, Benishangul-Gumuz, and elsewhere. Slaughter, mass rapes, and other horrors are becoming heartbreakingly regular headlines. Muslims were slaughtered, and mosques were burned down purportedly by “Christian extremists” in the historic imperial Orthodox capital of Gondar. The media is soaked with polarizing “enemy” speech, demonization, and hate.  African civil society organizations alert that violence on the ranking of the Rwandan genocide could still explode.

Prominent Evangelical leaders demand that what the world genuinely sees is a recovery of Ethiopia’s holy greatness. Abiy’s dehumanizing lectures against his Tigrayan “enemies” as a “cancer,” “hyena,” and “weed” who must be destroyed. 

“Ethiopians and observers of Ethiopian politics may smoothly agree that Ethiopia’s main worst bad habit is indeed state violence. Every Ethiopian administration has operated it as the primary means of holding power. It has become so wired into the perspective and institutional tradition of the Ethiopian state. No modification of time and circumstances has been able to change it.”

Solomon Dersso, the former chairperson of the African Union’s Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, has written trenchantly.

Christian leaders are in the front row cheering and holding their privileged or intimidated silence. Ethiopian history, however, also has a juvenile line of protest. Abba Estifanos died in jail for publicly critiquing the dictatorial violence of Emperor Zera Yacob in the 15th century. The Muslim party Dimtsachin Yisema’s “Let Our Voices Be Heard!” became the first nonviolent religious rally campaign in current Ethiopia against the government intervening in religious leadership in the 21st century. Abune Mathias, leader of the Orthodox Church, has courageously called out against genocidal violence in Ethiopia Today.

This tradition can be resumed today for an inclusive reconciliation of Ethiopia. Of course, it needs powerful ethical bravery. It demands condemning all forms of religious domination, divesting insider privilege and authority, and renouncing loyalty to Abiy and other rulers who create their thrones on religious arrogance. There is no time to waste.

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