Why the War on Tigray is also a war on Democracy

Eritrea Ethiopia Opinion Tigray

(By Gebremichael Zeratsion, MD) –

We are only weeks away from the anniversary of the genocidal war on Tigray by the tripartite allies in the horn i.e Abiy Ahmed with his Amhara allies, Isaias Afwerki and Mohamed Farmaajo.

To many observers, the root cause of the war is seen as a power struggle between Abiy and TPLF. This would be the most superficial assessment of the conflict.

Members of the genocidal tripartite have all their own different and purely distinct reasons to want to exterminate Tigray as a political and economic entity. But there is one element that is commonly shared by three of them, that the war is also a war on democracy.

First let’s briefly see the distinct reasons of these allied forces for their war on Tigray.

For Abiy, it is mainly about power. Driving his wishes to be a king from his mother’s prophecy, he is determined to do whatever it takes to make that prophecy come true. On his pursue of this dream, he saw the TPLF and the people of Tigray as his primary and major obstacle. Hence, he decided to reduce Tigray to an entity with no political or military significance. This is corroborated by his own words from his speech addressing journalists shortly after his forces withdrew from Tigray following their defeat. On that speech, he had said that he had degraded Mekell to the level of Beshasha, a small village where he was born.

For the Amhara elite, it is mainly about Tigray hatred emanating from longstanding historical and identity issues. Most if not all of the cultural, religious and historical essences of Ethiopia originate from Tigray. The Axumite civilization, the Geez alphabet, the Ark of the Covenant and the first mosque in Africa (Al-Nejashi) are all from Tigray and in Tigray. Both Christianity and Islam entered Ethiopia through Tigray. All these things which have become the face of the country are widely claimed by the Amhara elite to have been originated from Amhara. Unfortunately for them, you can never feel confident enough about owning what you have borrowed so long as the true owner (Tigray) exists. So, for their fantasy to be realized, the Amhara elites see exterminating the Tigrayan identity through subjugation and assimilation as their only option. The Amhara(mainly Gonder) elites, with age-old ambitions of wiping out Tigray, and inheriting Tigray’s history, culture, script, heritages, civilization..e.t.c- everything that “Ethiopia” is  proud of, took the war as a golden opportunity to fulfill their long-held dreams of annihilating Tigray. 

For Isaias, it is mainly an egoistic revenge. Isaias was badly defeated by Ethiopia (then dominated by Tigrayans) in the 1998-2000 “border war”. He has been working so hard to reverse his humiliating defeat ever since. When Abiy came to power, he saw his chance for revenge and sent his troops to Tigray not only to irreversibly defeat the TPLF but also to make sure that Tigray will not challenge his legacy in the long future. Isaias also sees Tigray as anti-thesis for his Eritrea nation-state building project. For the 9 ethnic groups in Eritrea to merge together and create a new identity called ‘Eritrean’, the identity ‘Tigray’ has to vanish; that is Isaias’ way of thinking.

Mohamed Farmaajo, although played little role in the war on Tigray compared with his teammates, he was and is part of the unholy alliance. For Farmaajo, the reason for joining the alliance was an authoritarian desire, a desire to stay in power unchallenged; in other words, his war was a war mainly on democracy- a sticking glue that keeps the unholy alliance together.

It is a well-established fact that, the turning point for the war on Tigray to be ignited was the regional election that Tigray conducted on 09/09/2020. It is remembered that Abiy threatened Tigray on election eve, saying that “mothers would cry and infrastructures would be destroyed if Tigray proceeds with the election”.  It is also a recent memory that Abiy told the public in Axum that ‘election is not a necessity for a nation’, giving examples of nations who didn’t conduct elections for decades. His prime example was Eritrea. We also know that Ethiopian government postponed elections scapegoating COVID. This trend of postponing elections was followed by Farmaajo. Well, the other guy in the team, Isaias, knows no election at all- and neither does the country he runs.

Connecting all these facts, these tripartite forces wanted to get rid of any democratic practices like elections from the horn and consolidate monarchical or dictatorial form of governments. In this mindset, Tigray was once again seen as the mortal enemy for following a different path, little bit of democracy. They saw Tigray as an entity teaching the region/horn of Africa a bad lesson (some forms of democratic values). They couldn’t tolerate any democratic practices in Tigray however limited they may be. Their logic behind this mindset is that, if Tigray practices some basic principles of democracy like elections, the people in the region will learn these practices and be a challenge to their autocratic rule. Tigray was seen as a major obstacle for this grand plan by the tripartite forces and hence condemned to be eliminated at all costs.

This is part of a grand plan by Isaias Afwerki to shape the horn of Africa in Eritrea’s image, Eritreanizing the horn. This grand plan has been there all along for the whole political life of the dictator but never got a chance mainly because of the TPLF. The 1998-2000 Ethio-Eritrea war was part of Isaias’s plan to influence the TPLF to follow his form of political structure. When TPLF/EPRDF conducted an election in 1995 (the first after taking power), Isaias was furious and blamed the TPLF to have succumbed to western influences. He then changed the course of bilateral relations of the two countries when he tried to change the TPLF’s path by force and intimidation which finally led to the “border war”.

Fortunate enough for Isaias, now he found an ally, not only that succumbs to his influence but also has the same dictatorial aspirations. Isaias saw this as a golden opportunity to erase not only the TPLF but all of its legacies as illustrated in his secret document titled “political laundry of Ethiopia from Woyane legacies”.  Political laundry was seen as a necessary first step by Isaias before seeding his grand plan of Ertireanizing the horn of Africa.

Understanding this aspect of the conflict will help in solving this conflict which has created the worst humanitarian crisis the world has seen in decades. Sadly, this perspective of the conflict is not well understood by the international community.

A takeaway message from this analysis of the conflict is that, as long as Isaias Afwerki is in power, the chances of this conflict being resolved with negotiations is very slim to none and as long as Isaias Afwerki stays in power, the horn of Africa will never have sustainable peace.


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