Had Herman Cohen heard what Ethiopians have been feeling about him…


 “Failed coup in Ethiopia’s Amhara state was an attempt by ethnic nationalists to restore Amhara hegemony over all of Ethiopia that existed for several centuries prior to 1991. That dream is now permanently dead.”

These are the words of the veteran American diplomat Herman Cohen in his tweeter account posted on 24 June 2019. Alas! Even the military junta of Col. Mengistu Hailemariam was included in Amhara’s hegemony.

Are those really the words of a seasoned diplomat of our world superpower? Why was he bold enough to come to such a disgusting conclusion? Was he ignorant of the true Ethiopian history? Or was he perverted enough to incite hatred among Ethiopian ethnic groups and destroy Ethiopia altogether?

Those are some of the questions that Mr. Cohen should answer. But I would like to remind him how Ethiopians wisely advise an individual, like him with an Achilles heel. “Had she heard what her neighbors talked about her, she shouldn’t have gone to the market place.” That is to say that Mr. Herman Cohen should have not made his comment as such public while we all Ethiopians know what he did to us.

That is why Ethiopians, particularly those in the Diaspora community went outrageous against him and his recent comments as soon as he posted them. Some of them are still demanding for immediate apology for his comments are tantamount to hate speech against the Amhara people, which should otherwise been punishable by law had he made it against a certain American community.

Some Ethiopians believe that Herman Cohen has never understood the true history of Ethiopia in his life time. Others view him as a man of knowledge but with ill intentions. His views on Ethiopia, so the first group says, were primarily shaped by deliberate fabrications made in such a way to facilitate armed struggles in Ethiopia in the 1960s.

The true history, however, indicates that Ethiopia as a state existed for more than three thousand years of recorded history.

Kings and queens of the time, whether they were from Amhara or Tigrai or other ethnic groups, used to claim that they have been assigned by God and have divin rule over all subjects, including their own ethnic groups. They were even given the status of god and goddesses by their subjects.

Even if most of Ethiopian kings were said to be Amharas, they have extended their territory and preserved their country from colonial powers.

So, is that what the Amhara hegemony means for Cohen? Would all the kings and queens of the old days were representing the Amhara people, which is still having a great difficulty in meeting the two ends?

The rhetoric that portrays the Amhara as hegemony or in some cases as a colonial power is a recent phenomenon, which exactly came in 1960s, partly due to Italian colonial power legacy who tried to divide the nation based on ethnic lines.

That time the discourse came painting Amhara as invader and colonizer. Following the downfall of the last emperor Haileselasie in 1974, as many as 60 officials including those from ethnic Amharas were executed without fair trial by the military junta who claimed power after the revolution. However the Dergue regime itself was depicted as extension of Amhara hegemony by separatist groups and by Herman Cohen.

Cohen aligned himself with a certain narrative that Amhara nationalism is meant a return of kings and queens of the past. Does he know the politics and the day-to-day lives of the miserable Amharas in Ethiopia? Or is he afraid of Amhara nationalism, unlike some he favors most?

The man who played unmatched role in breaking up the unified Ethiopia in 1991, and masterminded the secession of Eritrea, now tries to tell us that the “Failed coup in Ethiopia’s Amhara state was an attempt by ethnic nationalists to restore Amhara hegemony over all of Ethiopia that existed for several centuries prior to 1991.”

According to Professor Alemayehu Gebremariam (Almariam), 1991 was such a big year for Herman Cohen. “In 1991, Herman Cohen took a barrel of gasoline and dumped it on the fire of civil war burning in Ethiopia”. So some 28 years later, Herman Cohen is trying to do the same thing on smoldering ethnic fires.

“In 1991, Herman Cohen was the kingmaker in Ethiopia…In 1991, Herman Cohen was the malignant mastermind who signed, sealed and delivered the secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia,

“In 1991, Herman Cohen, with the stroke of the pen, executed a coup d’état in Ethiopia. In 2019, Herman Cohen defames an entire people as “ethnonationalist hegemons” because of a misguided actions of a few disgruntled officials involved in an amateurish and doomed from the start coup d’état,” Almariam says referring to June 9, 1991, Newsweek piece: “COHEN’S COUP IN ETHIOPIA?”

This was what Newsweek wrote then:

“The real bombshell that day came out of London, where Cohen, a 35-year veteran of the Foreign Service, reversed decades of U.S. policy by calling a referendum on independence for Eritrea-for which Eritrean nationalists have fought a 30-year war–a ‘good idea.’”

The man who signed, sealed, shredded and sold Ethiopia is now talking about ethnonationalists’ coup and “centuries long Amhara hegemony”. The man who signed, sealed, shredded and sold Ethiopia in June 1991 is demonizing Amharas in June 2019.

But what is Cohen’s evidence of “Amhara hegemony”?

Without a doubt, Cohen’s historical reference on “Amhara hegemony” is the Manifesto of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front. According to TPLF historiography, “Eritrea is an Ethiopian colony. Ethiopia is a country created by (Emperor) Menelik. Tigray is an independent sovereign country which was invaded by (Emperor) Atse Menelik and became an Amhara colony. Tigray is a colonial territory of Amhara.”

And the conclusion Almariam made over Cohen’s comments give sense. “Herman Cohen should know that demonization of a people is the first step to seeking a final solution for them. Talk of hegemony ends up in action to eliminate the purported hegemons. Using words like “hegemony” to indict an entire ethnic and religious group is an invitation to others to inflict violence on them. Herman Cohen should know that.”

The most important thing is that what the Amharans want at this moment is equality and unity. They never sought hegemony as Cohen and his sole references say. The rest of Ethiopians are also testimonies to this fact. What the Amharas, and all Ethiopian people dislike most is foreign intervention in their internal affairs.

History is the best teacher. Or else, as the English proverb goes “You can’t teach an old dog new trick.” It would be very difficult to teach Herman Cohen the true history nor to teach Ethiopians to accept foreign interventions willfully.

The other important fact is that as Almariam clearly pointed it out “Ethiopia is an ocean. If a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty (applying Mahatma Gandhi’s wisdom to Ethiopia).”

The Ethiopian Herald July 10/2019