The protests in Raya during the ongoing national transition can be traced back directly to Ethiopia’s last political transition.

Following the fall of the Derg in 1991, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (EPDM) controlled Ethiopia.

EPDM converted into the Amhara National Democratic Movement and TPLF helped organize two other ethnic political parties to form the four-party Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

The TPLF-dominated EPRDF replaced the existing administrative regions called kifle-hagers and organized the country into regional states based on ethnicity and language. The EPRDF’s opponents believe this federal system resulted in ethnic conflicts that linger to this day.

As part of the arrangements, ethnically non-Tigrayan and non-Tigrigna speaking communities from the then Gondar and Wollo kifle-hagers (now parts of Amhara Regional State) became part of Tigray Regional State. Members of these communities were never happy at their inclusion in Tigray, but the TPLF largely crushed any resistance.

Southern Tigray Zone

I was in high school then in the district and recollect the events that followed the incorporation of Raya into Southern Tigray Zone. When the Rayan people asked to be recognized as Rayan in 1993, the Tigray authorities responded to peaceful demonstrators with live bullets. Eyewitnesses said Tigray’s government detained youth en masse and killed students.

The issue then simmered for decades.

Last year, following the removal of most TPLF officials from the federal government, Rayan activists brought the tense relationship between Tigray and the Rayan people to the attention of Addis Ababa.

According to Abate Wolde, a community leader in Waja–Timuga, in July 2018, the confrontation between regional security forces and the people of Waja-Timuga caused the death of two young men, Alemu Biruye and Adino Belay. The community leader said that as a result the federal government sent the military and deployed two battalions in the Waja-Timuga area. Following the deployment of the battalions, the regional forces left the area and settled in the Mehony area.

The Rayan Identity and Self Administration Grand Committee leaders Dejene Assefa and Agezew Hidaru said that on on Aug. 17, the head of the security forces deployed in Korem shot dead an innocent person who went by the name Zinabu America. These sources ascertain that the only thing that the victim said was: “I am not a Tigraway, I am a Rayan; and Korem is not Tigray, it is Raya.”

In the ensuing days, Tigray sent security forces that were settled in the Mehony area via the southern route to Korem via the serpentine road of Grat Kahsu. Also, another battalion was sent from the North to Korem via Maichew.

According to sources, they detained youth and took them to secret detention centers, where they remain. Eyewitnesses said security forces also went to Alamata and Waja-Timuga. The region recruited close to 30,000 potential militiamen, who were taken to training facilities in central Tigray. The new militia have been promised 2,000 Birr each a month after they complete their training and shall be deployed to control their communities.

Dejene claims that Tigray recently moved Tigrayans to Alamata Woreda where officials provided them with land. But, according to the activist, Rayan members of the Alamata City administration cabinet defied the order, as Rayans have been waiting for several years. Regardless, the order was implemented, he claims.

Post-1992 boundaries

Pre-1987 boundaries

1987-91 boundaries

The Rayan committee leaders say that Tigrayan security forces harassed Rayan people in Alamata, Ayer Marefia, and Waja-Timuga. For example at the end of August, Tigrayan courts in Alamata Woreda issued warrants to detain 149 young men in Ayer Marefia, and Waja-Timuga. These young people did nothing wrong except support the new prime minister by wearing T-shirts with his picture.

Following the invasion of the towns and villages by regional security forces, close to 550 young men were forced to flee Alamata, Ayer Marefia, and Waja-Timuga. They are staying in a temporary shelter in Kobo Raya in Amhara.

The Rayan Committee says that unless the federal government intervenes, the fate of these young people will be the same as that of the Palestinians who fled during the six-day war. That is because Tigray does not need the Rayan people, but their land. Forced displacements, disappearances and mass detentions are rife.

Furthermore, even if Tigray returned property confiscated by the Derg in Tigray, it failed to do so in Raya. The Rayan committee has records of huge blocks of land that Tigray took from local farmers in the name of investment.

The committee has confirmed that veteran TPLF leaders own the majority of these large plots. Some other fertile areas have been distributed to new settlers from Tigray, including demobilized ex-guerrilla fighters in Alamata and Mehony areas.

The purpose of settling Tigrayans in Rayan lands is believed to be to change the demographic composition. To that effect, not only has Tigray confiscated the farmers’ land but also forced the Rayan population to learn Tigrigna in schools.

According to community leaders, Abate Wolde and Seid Hussien, 23 schools have been closed since September in Raya Waja and its surroundings because the children and their parents refused to speak Tigrigna, which they don’t understand. The leaders said Raya Waja and its surroundings are free of TPLF since August.

The committee complains that TPLF has done everything to remove Rayans from their land, and it has received some support for its positions from Amhara’s government, increasing dangerous tensions.

There are more than 550 people sheltered in Kobo, Amhara region. These displaced people cannot return to their hometowns without facing repercussions. Only last week, the Tigray government charged 31 Rayans with terrorism and arrested four of them, while the other 27 fled.

Rayan activists want autonomy

Because of such treatment, the Rayan activists want administrative autonomy within Amhara region, as the Rayan people have closer affinity with Amhara. The first step would be a referendum, but that needs to be approved by Tigray’s government.

TPLF informants advise that Tigray plans to set up three militia brigades named Walta, Dejen and Amoraw, each with 3,500 trained and armed militias to be deployed in the coming months. According to the sources, Walta brigade will be deployed in the hills surrounding Raya Waja while the Dejen and Amoraw brigades are planned to be deployed in greater Alamata and Odadima areas, respectively.

On Oct. 21, thousands of demonstrators peacefully marched through the main square of Alamata town voicing opposition to their inclusion in Tigray. In response, regional forces reportedly killed nine and wounded 20.

After the Rayan activists highlighted the issue, the youth in some Amhara towns prevented the shipment of sheep and grains to Tigray, protesting against the killing of innocent Rayan youth. The activists are working hard to bring to light every crime that TPLF commits on the Rayan people.

In outspoken opposition to the Raya policy, Zadig Abraha, a former federal state minister, has left TPLF. Andargu Berhe, an ex-diplomat at the Ethiopian Embassy in Kenya, and currently the Sudan desk expert in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also resigned from the party.

With increasingly widespread acknowledgement of the injustice of the situation, there is a need for the government in Addis Ababa to listen to the Rayan people’s grievances before it deteriorates further.

Query or correction? Email us

Main photo: Displaced Rayan people in Kobo, Amhara; submitted

This is the author’s Viewpoint. However, Ethiopia Insight is responsible for clear factual errors.

Published under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. Cite Ethiopia Insight and link to this page if republished. 

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About the author

Haileab Seyoum

Haileab is a professional engineer and a Rayan activist based in Tennessee, USA

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13 Comments

  • Dear Haileab,
    Thank you very much for this timely and balanced report. The people of Raya have suffered under TPLF’s colonial style expansionist rule for way too long. Whatever the TPLFites (including Wedi Jehan, Tekle, and Mel below) would like to think, believe or wish for, the time has come to reclaim the dignity and freedom of the people of Raya under a democratic ETHIOPIA.
    We are familiar with deceitful claims of the tribal expansionists. Keep speaking truth to power, Haileab.

  • The genius Alemayehu Woldemariam , from Raya himself residing in US, may be tempted to lash at those of you who seek a Raya self-rule by dissolving its forced amalgamation with Tigray, according to him for the lame excuse of saving ethnic federalism.
    He failed to explain dissolving the SNNPR region to re-instate the autonomous status of Gurage, Welaita, Sidama, Hadiya, Kembata, Gedeo, Gammo, etc. would dissolve ethnic federalism.
    He went further and called Oromo and Amara to gang up to oppose the quest of the above groups for re-instatement of their autonomous status. I thought this his behavior was oppressive and predatory.

    • Ahmedeen, I’m unclear why you are making Alemayehu the focus of your comment here, and I suspect your comment contains false statements. Can you please try and stick to the facts and adhere to the current topic. I reserve the moderator’s right to not tolerate what I suspect to be falsehoods and consider to be gratuitous ad hominems. Please bear that in mind when you comment on this forum. Thanks

      • Yes, I will. Thank you.

        I went back and re-read Alematehu’s article titled “Ethiopia’s Federation needs reviving, not reconfiguring”, Jan.10,2019.
        Sub-topic: “Brickmanship”, a paragraph reads as follows.
        “Across the land a break down of the party-state apparatus seems to have led to multiple instances political aggression. To muddy the water further, the Southern Nations seem bent on taking the constitution at its word, as multiple constituent units push for statehood, to the detriment of EPRDF cohesion”.
        Here is why he opposed the dissolution of SNNPR to give way to the re-instatement of the ethnic groups’ autonomy that made SNNPR.

        ..

        To muddy the water further, the

  • Dear Haileab Syoum,
    I am very grateful for your timely and informative article about Raya. It is wahat is truely happening now in my hometown Alamata and Korem towns. It also extends to Chercher Mohony. I hope you will also utter your voice louder about Raya in the days to come.
    Regards,

    Getachew kebede (Rayan activist and the identity and self-rule committee member)

  • Dear author Haileab Seyoum!
    Many of th points you made are untrue and biased. May be, you are not close resident in the area you are referring to or you are receiving misinformation from people like Dejene Assefa Damtew who is doing negative activism and trying to turn our community and our hometown in to a war zone as ordered by his pay masters( The Neftegnas).
    I will try to see point by point on the main issues you raised:
    1. Never forget >98% of Tigriyan Raya area is inhabited by Tegarus and mother tongue Tigrigna speaking people, with the exception of residents of Waja, Babokurma, Selen Wuha and Merewa-these localities (Kebeles) are only three with a total population of not more than 30,000. The other 15 rural localities with a population of more than 130,000 are Tigrigna speaking people and in fact Tegarus and few assimilated Oromos. The whole Ofla-Korem with a total population of 185,000 people is Tigrigna speaking district! Alamata town, having a population of 73,500 (64,000 are Tegarus) is mainly Tigrigna speaking town. In 1993, when the ethnic-based federal arrangement was made, the Amharic speaking/Amhara Raya has joined the Amhara region. Tigrigna speaking Raya incorporated to Tigrai region. This was what happened. There were no any riots or incidents those days. In fact, the Amharas who made their living in Alamata and Korem were disappointed about that arrangement-not the majority,Tigrian Rayas!
    2. The August 17th, 2018 incident in Korem town was just a fighting incident between two men who had long time disagreement on personal issues. Both the killer and the victim are originally from Ofla Wereda( they are Balabats accourding to the local expression), in fact from Adigolo rural locality. Zinabu America, the deceased, was a broker while the killer, Seyoum was a civil servant, working as a member of the town’s cabinet-now he is in jail because of his crime! The incident was not totally political!!!
    3. No one had been jailed or intimidated because he/she wore T-shirts on which PM Abiy’s photo are posted. You can find few people doing like that even now, where many have given their back to him. Many small three wheel taxes(Bajaj) work with Abiy’s photos and his slogans like Medemer and so on!
    4. Tigrigna is our mother tongue in Raya! It is unwise and shame to deny this very fact! No one has forced our people to learn Tigrigna in school! This was in fact one of the basic rights that the people of Raya had been forbidden by the previous rulers! I share your point, Tigrigna shall not be imposed to those minority people whose mother tongue language is Amharic!
    5. In the the Oct 21, 2018 incident, the was rather unauthorized and illegal demonstration that has targeted in attacking businesses, and innocent people, confiscating and destroying properties in the name of demonstration that resulted in the death of four young men and a number of injuries! Four is not a small number. But that is the fact! I have no idea why you do exaggerate the number!
    In conclusion, negative activism doesn’t help the poor residents! People whom you have referred are the most hated and poor personalities who failed to make their living under normal conditions and who are being led by their pay masters to make our home land a war zone. One side story is not complete story. The publisher of this treatise must come and verify all the claims made by this author.

    • While the article about Raya sent from Tennessee, USA is largely based on hearsay, your response reads like an eyewitness account based on the facts and circumstances you have seen and you know about Raya – as you say, your hometown, your region. The article avoids mentioning population size and percentage and the reason is quite obvious – since >98% of the people are Tigrayans, this is an inconvenient truth that does not fit in the narrative the writer is spinning. For the <2% of the people, I believe TPLF would be willing to work things out with the communities, but not if they are being incited to cause unrest. In your response you refute and discredit, point by point, the falsehoods in the article. I believe the article is another example of the overall political hysteria against TPLF…But the truth matters, and your response is quite a gem – factual and rational. Thank you !!

    • I appreciate Wedi Jehan Abay for taking his time to read my piece and provide his comment. I would like to respond on the comments in the order Wedi Jehan Abay listed.

      1. Wedi Jehan Abay states that more than 98% of ‘’Tigriyan Raya area” is inhabited by Tegarus and mother tongue Tigrigna speaking people [there is no such thing as Rayan Tegaru but we shall continue for the sake of argument]. He further says that there are about 30,000 non-Tegaru residents in Waja, Babokurma, Selen Wuha and Merewa. Last but not least, he admits that there are 9,500 non-Tegarus in Alamata town alone. Assuming the veracity of these statistics, by Wedi Jehan Abay’s own admission, there are 39,500 non-Tegarus constituting less than 2% of the Rayan population. If we consider the 39,500 people to constitute 2% of the general population, that will lead us to the conclusion that the total population of Raya included in Tigray to be 1,975,000. And if we consider the 39,500 people to constitute less than 2%, then the total population will be close to 2 million. However, the official figure for the population of Raya included in Tigray is less than 600,000. So, for this reason, Wedi Jehan Abay’s numbers do not add up. These are the facts, and as they say, facts are stubborn things.

      2. There was no official trial of the murderer nor was the murder reported in any of the Tigrigna news media. So, “The murderer has been jailed’ is a mere prayer to avoid responsibility. Furthermore, as clearly stated the murderer was a cabinet member and we all know all cabinet members are party members. For this reason alone, the murder has a political dimension.

      3. This is outright denial of the facts which does not need commenting on.

      4. The Rayan society is NOT monolingual. All communities must have a right to use their languages. Tigrigna was and is still imposed upon all Rayans against their will. To deny this fact is self-deluding. Wedi Jehan Abay says,”… Tigrigna shall not be imposed to those minority people whose mother tongue language is Amharic!’’ I don’t know what that means when the facts show no other language can be used in schools and courts in the annexed Raya. I don’t know how I can help Wedi Jehan Abay observe and understand the TPLF’s enormous effort to create a homogenous Tigray society cleansing every non-Tigrigna speaking communities in the area that the Tigray government has jurisdiction on.

      5. The Ethiopian constitution does not require people to get authorization from anyone; they just have to notify authorities and as such no demonstration is illegal. Reading the constitution may help understand the situation. In addition, Wedi Jehan Abay says, “…I have no idea why you do exaggerate the number!” I have no idea why Wedi Jehan Abay deliberately minimize the number and sticks to his own alternative facts. Wedi Jehan Abay, please understand even one individual’s death is too many for us and agonizes us to no end.

      • I don’t know where to start. Half of the article is a restating of positions held by the Committee. 1/3 of the article devoted to analysis. Remember, there are no facts in this world, just perspective. Hence, Menelik is a hero to some and a dictator to others. Ahmed Gragn is a barbarian to some and a liberator to others. In the same vein, you are offering a perspective of the Committee and building your analysis based on a perspective which you argue as “truth”. Maybe a bit of humility would enable us to move beyond your “truth” and also those who oppose you with their own set of “truths”.
        The undeniable real reality is interdependence. And Rayan society is a perfect example of interdependence. It is polyglot, adaptable in Amhara, Tigrai, Oromo, Afar society and has elements of each culture. To declare Raya is closer to Amhara than anything else, is to commit the same mistakes that you accuse the TPLF of doing. To be honest, much of human societies are fluid in identity and language- the fabrics of what makes us human. For instance, with all the hoopla of recent English nationalism and Brexit, much of the english language and customs has elements of French, Welsh, Gaelic. And vice versa. Tell of me of culture that is inherent, and I will split the Red Sea into two. To adhere to a deterministic camp, saying Raya is Amhara or Raya is Tigre or even to say Raya is Raya (since we are all interdependent, Raya is also not just Raya) is to fall into the grave mistakes of extremism and its associated ills: tyranny, domination and crudeness. It also shows your analytical methods rely on “fact” throwing when in truth such “facts” are epistemologically erroneous.
        If you care about the Raya people, it helps to see the whole than the single tree in the forest. The view is important. The Raya people are a perfect example cautioning us to see the forest as a whole, a valuable lesson for Ethiopia in general. The Raya situation is the perfect example to free us from the kingdom of extremism: The view to see things as intrinsic.

        • Dear Mel,
          You started you comment saying, “I don’t know where to start.” That was the marker beacon that showed me where you would land in the end. Then you continued doubling down your confusion saying, “Remember, there are no facts in this world, just perspective.” In the literary meaning of the word fact, the geographic maps and the suffering of Rayan people I included in my piece are facts irrespective of your perspective. Please remember we are not in a philosophy class.

          Dismissing this excruciatingly painful experience of innocent Rayan people is an astonishing bare-faced callousness. The mere thing that you are unable or unwilling to see facts does not mean the facts don’t exist. To believe that facts don’t exist in the world warrants a head exam. Because facts exist in the world regardless of perspective. I wonder how you quantify the piece saying, “Half of the article is a restating of positions held by the Committee. 1/3 of the article devoted to analysis.” while you failed to pin point a single factual error.

          • Dear Haileab,
            Our facts are based on philosophy. So when we make a map of Raya or Tigrai or Amhara or whatever, we assume there is such an entity as Amhara or Raya based on a philosophy of qualification. So, I don’t contest the maps that are there for everyone to see…but I contest the premises of such a map. This may sound philosophy to you, but I believe it gets to the core of the issues. The other two respondents have clashed with you over “facts” and I do not think yu have gotten closer to a consensus. When facts are mere regurgitation of a viewpoint, it is imperative to examine the ideological underpinning of these “facts”, which is not to your liking.
            Dear Haileab, our world we live in is created through ideas. If you love the Rayans, as I do, try to at least question the positions you hold and whether it is deterministic or not. People should not be reduced to a creed and size, what we do to cattle and sheep. Rayan society is infinitely more complex than being simply belonging to TIgrai kilil or Amhara or even Raya. Redrawing maps, separating from Amhara or Tigrai or even self rule is actually the antithesis of Rayan society shaped by language shift, assimilation, migration, conquest, wars, polyglotism. Don’t confine them to a killil or self rule in order to show how great they are, precisely what we do to the great tigers and lions in a zoo.

    • Hi there. Thank you very much for your comment. I am closely following your interesting and useful exchange with Haileab

    • Wedi Jehan Abay
      If the people that live in Raya are Tigre, why is TPLF oppossing or not accepting refrendum which the community represenatives are demanding? If you mean the facts you have are true, are you willing to work with the committee so that refrendum would be conducted?