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Professor Asmerom Legesse’s A historical Analysis and Psychological Profile of Emperor Yohannes IV  

Professor Desta, Asayehgn

As a student in high school, it was unfortunate that I had no opportunity to relate and apply my studies to my locality or Ethiopia at large, because I was schooled under the curriculum and books written for the British colonies in East Africa. Given this, I resorted to rote memory all the subjects I sat for the Ethiopian School Leaving Certificate Exam (ESLCE), needed for the entrance to the Ethiopian University.                                                   

When I entered the Addis Ababa University, I had to register for the interdisciplinary courses in Ethiopian studies that were mandatory requirements for the General Education core.  I vividly remember the textbooks that gave me groundwork and offered me thought-provoking and meaningful learning experiences. Included were:  Donald Levine’s “ Wax and Gold: Tradition and innovation in Ethiopian Culture” (1965),    William Shack’s “The Gurage: A People of the Ensete Culture” (1969),  Richard Pankhurst’s  “Economic History of Ethiopia” (1968), and  Mesfin Woldemariam’s  “ An Introductory Geography of Ethiopia” (1968).    

In retrospect, I would say that the instructors who taught me the introduction of Ethiopian Studies courses were not only well-prepared but also caring. They went beyond their call of duty to give me challenging feedback and sharpened my critically thinking.  Furthermore, in contrary to the conventional socialization process I had undergone in both primary and secondary schools, the instructors of the courses in Ethiopian studies provided me with the necessary tools to critically examine the status quo and realize that Ethiopia was a mosaic, inhabited by distinct historical cultures, and a land of linguistic groups.

My interaction with talented and knowledge driven students from different ethnicities, social class backgrounds, and involvement in student government and extra-curricular activities served me as eye-openers and gave me meaningful learning experiences to master the Ethiopian landscape. Still, I cherish what I gained at the university in Addis Ababa as part of my personal growth and development.     

In addition, the nine-months in the Addis Ababa University Service Program that I had to go through before my senior year helped me to seriously examine the various class disruptions and student demonstrations, allowing me to objectively reflect on the relevance surrounding the content of the various socialist-based slogans that students were uttering at the university. Painfully, I arrived at the conclusion that, except for our demands for land reform, I actively helped the organizers of the demonstration in collecting factual information about land ownership around Worailu, Wello, where I was teaching, and thereby got me  arrested until I was pardoned by the then Emperor Haieselassie;  I found the other student demands that we verbalized over the years at the university in Addis Ababa were irrelevant to bringing fundamental changes, instead they cause upheavals and disharmony in Ethiopia. Thereby, I resorted reading and assessing the relevance of democratic values to the Ethiopian socio-political system.

Upon consultation with two of the university professors of Ethiopian Studies who supervised me while I was engaged in the Ethiopian University service at Dawrewa, Eritrea, for the first time, I learned that some Ethiopian societies practiced democracy starting in the 16th century. One professor who came to supervise was kind enough to bring to my attention that the Oromos of Ethiopia used a full-fledged egalitarian democratic system, or Gada, to govern themselves. For further reading, on the Oromo Gada system, the professor referred me to read Professor Asmerom Legesse’s (hereafter referred to Asmerom) research on the Oromo Gada system of egalitarian democracy.  

Except what I read here and there, or heard about Asmerom’s piece of work, it took me a while to get Asmerom’s book: “Gada: Three Approaches to the Study of African Society (1973). To understand in depth about Asmerom’s research, I registered to take the emic (insider’s) and etic (outsider’s) qualitative anthropological research methods offered by well-known anthropology instructors at Stanford University of California. Since then, I would say that Asmerom’s work still resonates and remains entangled in my mind. I am happy and thrilled to see that my former employer, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, (UNESCO) has adopted and displayed the Gada system as one of the world’s intangible heritages. I am sure that many member countries of UNESCO will draw great lessons from the African Oromo Gada system of democracy.   

Having said that, I was looking for the time when Asmerom would be at liberty to supervise research that focused not only on the etic (outsider’s) approach but use the emic-based (insider’s perspective) anthropological methodology to investigate democratic practices that prevailed within the Wajarate people of Tigray, Ethiopia. I am sure that this would have been a golden opportunity for Asmerom to take his study to heart, and without a direct interpreter, use Tigrigna as a vehicle to investigate the Wajarate people’s democratic culture.

As a footnote, I need to be intellectually honest to mention that I found Asmerom’s earlier study about the Oromo Gada democratic culture slightly flawed. Instead of using an emic anthropological qualitative methodology, Asmerom only relied on etic perspective because he was not well versed in Afaan Oromo. He relied too much on an interpreter and maybe he involved his hyphenated Oromo life partner at the time to help him identify the prevalence of Democracy within the Oromo culture of Ethiopia and Kenya.

Put differently, it needs to be understood that the emic perspective requires knowledge of local language to communicate and do participant observation to understand the culturally acceptable ways of the local realities and possibly mitigate potential researcher’s obtrusiveness and bias.  On the other hand, the etic anthropological perspective that Asmerom heavily used to study the Oromo Gada system was focused on the study group from the outside, and then systematically analyzed the collected data to arrive at a conclusion.  That is, I am sure Asmerom would agree that his study would have been more authentic had he used emic in conjunction with the etic approach.         

In recent times, it is unfortunate that Asmerom has been demonstrating some deviations from sound and rigorous academic work. As convincingly stated by the Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights, Asmerom unfortunately is in the process of displaying some type of “Intellectual dishonesty”. He has ended up becoming one of the speakers and apologists for the brutal regime of Isaias Afeworki (EMDHR, August 2016). In addition, without using any sound methodological framework, I am astonished to see that Asmerom is galvanizing a political propaganda and deep hatred towards the Tegaru and drawing psychological profiles of dead heroes, like Emperor Yohannes IV.

It is quite surprising to hear that Asmerom’s claim that the impregnable hero, Emperor Yohannes IV, use to suffer from “inferiority complex,” or lacked self-esteem, because during his reign, Emperor Yohannes used Amharic rather than the Tigrigna language as the official language of the Ethiopian Empire,. In addition, Asmerom asserts that Emperor Yohannes IV used Amharic in the palace and daily life. At this juncture, what could be said is that had Asmerom thoroughly referred to the Ethiopian History, he could have known in advance, that is before he opens his mouth to articulate this nonsense, that Amharic was made as the national language during Emperor Tewodros’ (1855-1868) era rather than during Atse Yohannes IV’s  (1872-1889) period.  Consequently, Emperor Yohannes IV, as wise as he was, diligently pursued the footsteps of Tewodros using Amharic rather than Tigrigna as a national language. Leaving aside Asmerom’s hub hazard argument, it is worth underling that because Emperor Yohannes IV prudently followed the footsteps of Emperor Tewodros, he wisely maintained stability and pursued the integration of the then, the semi-federated Ethiopia Empire.    

Though it is very trivial, Asmerom’s characterization that Atse Yohannes IV suffered from inferiority complex syndrome seems to be contrary to the interview he gave to President Isaias’s propaganda machine, the ERiXpress, on April 20, 2019 about his family’s guiltlessness. During the interview process, Asmerom outrightly praised Emperor Yohannes IV for releasing members of his family from prison because they were arrested by the Orthodox Church for being indulged in the translation of the Holy Bible from Geez to Tigrigna. Alas, when we compare  Asmerom’s  earlier statement that Emperor Yohannes IV was suffering from “inferiority complex” with the positive excitement that he expressed about Emperor Yohannes positive verdict that he gave about his family members innocence,  we rest the case that Asmerom is losing his sense of judgment or Asmerom seems to be undergoing through sign and symptoms of diminution. If not, he should have told his viewers that some members of his family were arrested and persecuted by the Orthodox Church not because they were translating the Bible from Geeze to the Tigrigna language, but unfortunately they were attempting to introduce a foreign religion (most probably, Protestantism) to the country.

Leaving aside Asmerom’s illusionary and ahistorical statements about Emperor Yohannes IV, authoritative political historian Dr, Ghelawdewos Araia ascertains that Emperor Yohannes IV is the greatest ruler and depicts him as the hero of heroes in Ethiopian history. He brilliantly put,

    …inferiority complex cannot at all depict the greatness Emperor’s persona; this Emperor, after all, was courageous, defiant, and no nonsense king of kings when it comes to the defense of Ethiopia; he led battles in which he crashed the Ottoman Egyptian troops at Gundet (1875), and Gura’e (1876), and routed and defeated the Italians two times; first at Sehati in 1885 and then at Dogali (led by his General Ras Alula) in 1887. A person with the highest sense of self-sacrifice cannot suffer from inferiority complex (Araia, April 30, 2019).   

It is shameful that Asmerom charges Tegaru as evasive in nature and he gives his advice that the Eritrean brother and sisters shouldn’t honestly deal with them.   Although, going one step further, he presents his arm-chair panacea that if the existing conflicts between Tegaru and the Eritreans is at all to be resolved permanently, Asmerom strongly asserts that both Eritreans and Tegaru need to undergo through a thorough conflict resolution process.

Understandably, except for the summer vacations that he used to go to Asmera and wander aimlessly through the beautiful streets, starting thirteen years of age, Asmerom grew up in the fortunate neighborhoods of Dessie, Addis Ababa, Kampala (Uganda), and then in the United States of America. Given this upbringing, one wonders why Asmerom has volunteered to be re-socialized and live in Eritrea under servitude of the murderous government that has no regard for human rights. Thus, we can say that Asmerom is ignorant of the deep relationship that exists between Eritreans and Tegaru. For minor family disagreements that might arise among members, Asmerom should be aware that except from 1998-2018, no major irreconcilable differences existed between Eritreans and Tegaru. Blood wise, they are brothers and sisters.

What is more, as he claims, if Asmerom was a student of the honorable Woldeab Woldemariam, he should have remained polished enough to show decency to Tegaru. After all, the Honorable Woldeab Woldemariam was a strong proponent of Tigray-Tigrigne because he believed that Eritreans and Tegaru are endowed with inalienable blood linkages. 

 A case in point is, for about twenty years (1998-2018) the boarders between Eritrea and Ethiopia remained closed. Recently, without any official protocol, the borders between Ethiopia and Eritrea were opened. I don’t know if Asmerom’s eyes were open; we saw that thousands from both sides: Eritrea and Ethiopia, flocked to see their relatives, loved ones, and friends.  From this obvious case, Asmerom should have an understanding that though leaders have been deliberately using irresponsible propaganda for the last twenty years to create permanent enmity, from their heart, Eritreans and Tegaru know they are brothers and sisters. That is why, they fought together the war of insurgency against the atrocious Dergue and finally marched victoriously together into Addis Ababa in May of 1991. 

Once more it is worth mentioning that it was perplexing for me to hear from the interview Asmerom unashamedly asserted to ERiXpress ( April 20, 2019), that if Ethiopia had ultimately defeated the Eritrean forces during the during the 1998-2000 war conflict, the late Prime Minister Meles had the desire to install Tegaru in the Eritrean power structure. It is sad that Asmerom had closed his mind to what everybody knew and what was ascertained by the then Eritrean Foreign Minister, Halie (Deru’e) Weldetensae, that the Eritrean forces were overpowered. If the late Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles did not call for the withdrawal of the Ethiopian forces from Eritrea, the Ethiopian forces would have easily marched to Asmara and then relieved the Eritrean people from the agony of suffering under the yoke of Isaias’ authoritarian leadership.   

Finally, Asmerom claims to be a human rights advocate because he did a survey research that dealt with the Eritrean deportees from Ethiopia. I strongly empathize with the 1998 Eritrean deportees. It is my stand that the Ethiopian Government should haven’t deported the Eritrean citizens without allowing them to undergo the substantive due process of law stipulated in the Ethiopian Constitution. Though Asmerom has titled it: “A Scientific Survey of Ethnic Eritrean Deportees from Ethiopia Conducted with Regard to Human Rights Violations”, I feel that the word “Scientific” is a misnomer. Asmerom’s research is highly emotional. For example, Legesse (February 22, 1999) states that “…[the] purpose of the study is to examine whether and what kind of human rights violations have been committed in the process of those deportations”.  If Asmerom was to pursue a scientific point of view, in his introduction, he should have objectively documented why the Eritreans were deported and narrated the deportation process.  Once that was systematically established, Asmerom could then review the literature and establish a theoretic framework to systematically analyze whether the Eritrean deportees faced human rights violations.  

 Similarly, though not part of his research endeavor, Asmerom emotionally defends that no atrocities were committed on Ethiopians living in Eritrea by stating that “…in contrast to the mass deportations from Ethiopia, Eritrea has a declared policy of not harassing or expelling the larger Ethiopian population that lives in its territory.” Obsessed by emotions and personal feelings, Asmerom (February 22,1999) stated that the United Nations (UNDP, UNICEF) and the  US State Department, have “nearly” established that there was no “significant or extensive evidence of human rights violations on the Eritrean side or that most Ethiopians who left Eritrea did so voluntarily or because of changes in the labor market,” (Legesse, February 22, 1999).

 Although Asmerom attempts to give the impression to his readers that he followed the scientific method to conduct his research, the finding and methodology indicate that the so called “research” was purposely selected to prove his point and to defend the indefensible and reprehensible crimes and failures of his patron regime  (EMDHR, August 2016). In reality, the testimony given by the Human Rights Watch Eritrea & Ethiopia (June 1998 – April 2002) documents that the Eritrean authorities insisted that the departure of the 21,000 Ethiopians from Eritrea were voluntary. Nonetheless, the Human Rights Watch cleverly narrates that the Eritrean Government used too much coercion against Ethiopian residents in Eritrea. Many of the Ethiopians deported from Eritrea to Ethiopia complained upon arrival that they faced beatings, rape, and the confiscation of their properties. Furthermore, those Ethiopians who stayed over forty years and were either given permanent resident cards or, if they wished, they could be Eritrean citizens. Still, these groups remain under surveillance and their daily activities are monitored.

To conclude, instead of voluntarily undergoing oppression and conducting a historical and unscientifically research, if mental sound and age does not catch up,  it is high time that Asmerom goes back to apply the hallmarks of scientific investigation techniques in conjunction with intellectual ethical standard to thoroughly investigate the reasons why Eritreans are forced to live  “ …behind one of the world’s fastest-emptying nations: a country of about 4.5 million on the Horn of Africa, governed by a secretive dictatorship accused of human-rights violations,” (Matina Stevis and Joe Parkinson, Feb. 2, 2016).  To reiterate, rather than being the defender for an autocrat, let us hope that Asmerom wakes up one day and makes concerted efforts to rescue the subdued Eritrean masses.  


Araia, G. (April 30, 2019). “Asmerom Legesse’s Babbling Stereotype Against the People of Tigray.” Institute of Development & Education for Africa, Inc. Retrieved from Https://www.africanidea.org/ Asmerom_Legesse_Babbling.htm/.  

Legesse, A. (February 22, 1999).  “A Scientific Survey of Ethnic Eritrean Deportees from Ethiopia Conducted with Regard to Human Right Violations. Retrieved from dehai.org/conflict/uprooted/uprooted2.html, accessed 5/30/2019.

EMDHR, Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (August 2016).

Stevis, M. and Parkison, J. (February 2, 2016). “African Dictatorship Fuels Migrant Crisis: Thousands Flee Isolated Eritrea to Escape Life of Conscription and Poverty”. The Wallstreet Journal.  Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/artices/eritreans-flee-conscrpition-and -poverty-adding-to-the-migrant-crisis-in-europe-1445391364.

Human Rights Watch Eritrea and Ethiopia (June 1998 – April 2002). “The Horn of African War: Mass Expulsions and the Nationality Issue.” 350 Fifth Ave 34th Floor New York, N.Y. 10118-3299. Retrieved from http://www.hrw.org. (212) 290-4700 1630.