(By Yitbarek Mesfin*, UK, 04 December 2020)
Nobody in the world believes that you invade with warplanes, artillery and tanks just “to enforce law and order” and catch a few TPLF “fugitives” hiding among the rocks of Tigray. The people of Tigray are resisting a massive co-ordinated attack by three enemies all of whom have one common purpose: the destruction of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the people of Tigray.
The first one is Abiy Ahmed and his dream to be King, nay Emperor. He told everybody on his selection as caretaker prime minster in April 2018 that his mother had prophesied he would be king, and that day had come to pass. The different nations and nationalities of Ethiopia had already rid themselves of the oppressive rule of kings and dictators and quickly realised that their federal arrangement was in danger. That was why there has been and still is so much resistance by the different nationalities. Abiy Ahmed has replaced their leaders by his own yes men (yes, they were all men) who have replaced the ones that were elected by the local people according to the Federal Constitution.
There has been much inter-communal violence and killings and murders, including of high government officials whose outright assassinations were never investigated properly.
What is more, Abiy Ahmed put eight of the nine regions under military command to try to quell the widespread unrest. A Nobel Peace Prize winner putting his people under military command, and the world still did not ask questions about the incongruity of it all.
There was only one place, Tigray, where Abiy Ahmed could not impose his will. Tigrai had proven an obstacle to his dream to promote himself from King to Emperor of Ethiopia, and re-impose a unitary system of government that was discarded by the peoples of Ethiopia in 1991. He was not able to have his way. All his attempts failed, including trying to force the TPLF to join his newly formed Prosperity party in November 2019 on dismantling the EPRDF coalition. He needed more time to plan, and plot.
The Second enemy of Tigray and the TPLF was President Isaias Afeworki, the Eritrean dictator who does not believe in constitutions, elections or respect for international law and has ruled his people in virtual slavery for thirty years. He had wanted to avenge his humiliating defeat in the 1998-2000 Ethio-Eritrean ‘border’ war. He also had grudges against the TPLF from some disagreements in the days of guerrilla warfare, when both the TPLF and the EPLF (Eritrean People’s Liberation Front) fought against the Derg regime in Ethiopia in the 1970s and’80s.
What is more, Isaias Afeworki is totally against the federal system in Ethiopia. In this sense, and also in his loathing of the TPLF, Isaias Afeworki’s vengeful desires and those of Abiy Ahmed’s are in perfect synchrony.
The third party to this alliance is the Amhara Prosperity party, which is home to the extremist Amhara nationalists. These extreme nationalists consist of the remnants and offspring of the Derg regime that was defeated in 1991. They have never forgiven the TPLF/EPRDF for removing them from their unitary domination of 80 different ethnic groups for 100 years, and setting up a federal order in its place. These extreme nationalists are rabidly against the federalist order and have a visceral hatred of the TPLF and the people who gave birth to them. They are hell bent on destroying them, and restoring the unitary system of government that existed in the era of kings and dictators.
(The competition between the Tigrayans and the Amhara elites we are witnessing has its roots in the 19th century when there was competition among the various warlords for the Ethiopian crown, but particularly between the future Yohanes IV, a Tigrayan, and the future Menelik II from Showa (an Amhara. This is rather reminiscent of the War of the Roses in England in the 15th Century between The House of Lancaster and The House of York. You only see this competition in England now on the stage, in William Shakespeare’s plays for people’s amusement. Unfortunately, in Ethiopia, some people’s mentality is still back in the feudal era, even if they are fighting one another with AK-47s, tanks and warplanes instead of spears or bows and arrows).
Abiy Ahmed declared war on Tigray on the night of 4 November 2020. He told the world on 28 November 2020 that the war was over with his army entering Mekelle although we have not seen any captured “fugitives” which he had told the world was the aim of the war. If the war is indeed over as he claims, why can’t he restore the internet and telephone services to Tigray so that families both inside Ethiopia and outside can find out how their loved ones are? The reason is simple: Abiy Ahmed does not want the world to see the systematic devastation his army, with Isaias Afeworki’s army and the militias of the extreme Amhara nationalists, have caused in Tigray: homes, hotels, factories, plantations, farmers’ fields, university equipment, and so on, have been ransacked and destroyed. The aim of the war, which had been in planning for at least three years, is to completely destroy Tigray and take it back to the stone age. That this is indeed the real purpose can easily be judged by what has happened so far. It was not to catch “fugitives”.
The people of Tigray had been through this fire before in the Derg era (1974-1991) and came out triumphant. There is, and will be, great hardship and suffering in the present struggle as well. But the people of Tigrai are confident that they will bounce back and rebuild their communities and destroyed infrastructure with the help and good will of the international community. The Tigrayans should be held in high esteem for their principled position in defending the federal constitution and trying to stop an incipient dictatorship (like that in Eritrea) before it takes root.
The Tigraians have not broken any laws, invaded anybody or tried to cede from Ethiopia, so they do not deserve to be attacked by the full force of these three entities. The bullies have already thrown at them most of what they had: the full force of the Ethiopian army and air force, most of Eritrea’s army divisions and air force and the militia of the extreme Amhara nationalists gathered under the Amhara Prosperity party. That is besides drones ‘borrowed’ from the UAE base at Assab, Eritrea. But these forces still haven not managed to defeat and subdue the people of Tigray, just 6% of the 110 million population of Ethiopia. Tigray has resisted all these forces.
What can these fanatical enemies do next? That will be Abiy Ahmed, Isaias Afeworki and the extreme Amhara nationalists’ dilemma. According to some Tigrayan leaders appearing on the Tigrinya and Amharic media, the Tigrayan defence forces have apparently been following defensive tactics thus far. They say the war has only just begun and the offensive is yet to come. Their opponents have already committed most of their forces in a kind of blitzkrieg, and apparently have been largely decimated by the Tigrayan defence forces and militia. That is why these enemies had to rely on bombings with artillery and warplanes. This blunt technic of war has resulted in many IDPs (internally displaced people) besides the refugees who have managed to trek to Sudan that is if the Ethiopian army has not blocked their escape routes.
From the size, scale and nature of the war on Tigray, it should now be abundantly clear to the international community that the aim was not really to apprehend a few “fugitives” belonging to the TPLF but a co-ordinated attack by three different forces to try to wipe Tigrai and Tigrayans from the face of the earth.
This can be attested by the fact that it is not just Tigrayans within in Tigrai that have and are suffering. There are mass arrests of Tigrayans in other parts of Ethiopia too. They have been dismissed from their jobs and robbed of their money and property merely for being Tigrayans. One of the most stupid examples is the dismissal of the much-praised chief executive of Ethiopian Airlines, under whose stewardship the airlines has become one of the few successful and profitable airlines in the world in the last 10-15 years.
There are many sad stories like this. The extreme Amhara nationalists have even tried to besmirch the name of Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus1, the current Director of the World Health Organisation, in order to have him removed from such a prominent international post. Once again, he happens to be a Tigrayan Ethiopian.
In conclusion, the international community should demand strongly that:
- This war must be stopped immediately so that people can receive humanitarian aid and the injured can get medical treatment;
- Telephone and internet services to Tigray should be restored immediately so that people inside and outside Ethiopia can find out about their families; the international humanitarian organisations and NGOs can also hear and see for themselves what has/is happening in Tigray.
- The atrocities that have been committed, and are still being committed, in this war and in the other Ethiopian nations should be thoroughly investigated by an independent body, preferably a UN-mandated body. The war is not over as Abiy Ahmed likes the world to believe;
- The warring parties, and particularly Abiy Ahmed, must be reminded again that the way to resolve political problems is by an inclusive dialogue with all parties round the table2, not by bullets and bombs.
* Mesfin Yitbarek is a pen name, to protect the writer’s family in Ethiopia.
1Ethiopia’s military chief calls WHO head Tedros a criminal supporting a rebel region
2 On 6th November, TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael wrote to the AU Chair Cyril Ramaphosa agreeing to peace talks.