By Prof. Kjetil Tronvoll
The struggle over defining which moment in history should be the starting point to address, understand, and solve contemporary conflicts, is often obfuscating conflict resolution, as the case of the status of #Welkeit in #Tigray, #Ethiopia illustrates. Tigray and Amhara politicians and activists have both claimed historical control over currently defined #WestTigray (often termed Welkeit). The Ethiopian constitution of 1995 defines the regional states in Ethiopia, as they were delineated during the transitional period. Welkeit / West Tigray then became part of Tigray, a position disputed by Amhara political leadership today. Amhara activists and other pan-Ethiopian nationalists reject the legitimacy of the current Ethiopian constitution, as its main drafter was #TPLF. They argue that Welkeit / West-Tigray used to be part of Gondar province before the #EPRDF government reconfigured the country into a federal system and designed the new regional states. So, the current crux of the matter is how far back in time one should go to prove «historical belonging» or autochthony (i.e. «ownership”)? Tigray and Amhara activists have made references to old maps, census data, & historical place names, in defending their right to rule this part of Ethiopia. Now, a Dutch research team headed by prof. Jan Nyssen has discovered a German-made map from 1849 clearly stating that Welkeit was part of Tigray region in what was termed “Habesh” i.e. Ethiopia. Amhara region is also clearly delineated. (See https://zenodo.org/record/6480926#.YmZti9pByUk) One should obviously be careful in interpreting such ancient maps on its face value, there may be many misinterpretations and misrepresentations included in reproducing local identities and belonging by European explorers traversing Africa in the 17th century. However, it gives an indication of how the terrain was delineated into politico-administrative entities at the time. Now the question is whether Amhara activists will manage to find an even older map stating the opposite, that Welkeit is theirs and not Tigrayan. We should also keep in mind that similar “disputed” territories are found across the country between the various regional states. Particularly worrying is the territorial disputes between Amhara and #Oromo – a conflict dynamic which is escalating over the recent weeks. Ethiopia is the oldest polity in Africa south of the Sahara, its political history stretching back millenniums. It will thus be a never-ending conflict to use selective historical items to justify contemporary wars and atrocities. A negotiated settlement to the numbers of #civilwars fought in Ethiopia seems at this time hard to find, but for starters to re-draw politico-administrative entities with force and ethnic cleansing is surely not an optimal strategy to achieve sustainable #peace.