War planners around the world know this one fact—especially when it comes to insurgency campaigns—achieving a military objective and declaring victory is always the easy part, the more difficult path is maintaining the peace. This is the exact dilemma that is facing Abiy Ahmed and the Ethiopian government; after sweeping into Mek’ele last Saturday, in ways that I was truly shocked by as I imagined the TPLF would resort to a door-to-door guerrilla campaign, Mr. Ahmed has to act quickly in order to assure Tigrayans that the operation to root out TPLF was not aimed at the population writ large.
To his credit, Mr. Ahmed took a step in that direction last Monday when he sounded a note of clemency and reminded the citizenry that even those who picked up the gun did so because most of them carried pains of mothers lost, fathers maimed and children who were no longer visible. Mr. Ahmed also cautioned Ethiopians to not celebrate overtly, a stance that I wholeheartedly agree with. Now is the time that calls for humility and sober judgement; boasting and puffing up chests will only feed the perception by Tigrayans that other Ethiopians are gloating at their expense. This feeling could give birth to a next generation who want nothing more than payback.
It is on this front that I too exhort fellow Ethiopians to not repeat the mistakes of the TPLF and to avoid reverting to the same callousness that some TPLF supporters displayed when Ethiopians used to bring light to the suffering of marginalized communities. If something is wrong when it is being done to you, it is equally wrong when you are the one doing it to others. People who know the pains of being maltreated should have empathy instead of being vindictive. This is not the time for victor’s spoils, the government has to act with urgency and assure Tigrayans that they have a seat at the table. Moreover, though I agree that the campaign to expel TPLF from Tigray was necessary, I am not blind to the plight of the average Tigrayan who could not reach their family members in Mek’ele and beyond or the Tigrayans who were stuck on the front lines and experienced the horrors of bombs exploding in the near distance.
My father Tesfahunegn Mengistu is stuck in #Tigray. Last I heard from him was on October 23rd. He traveled to Tigray for business. He is a diabetic 67 year old man, who can't survive without his insulin and other medications, which I am afraid he is running out.
— Aman Mengistu (@AmanuelTesfa7) December 4, 2020
There are perils that lie ahead for Ethiopia and most of those dangers are matters of ego and pride. Ethiopia has been roiled by continuous cycles of strife which beget endless loops of grievances. There is a reason why Ethiopia is currently on fire at this moment, ethno-centrists are not fabricating stories out of thin cloth; the truth is that there have been injustices committed against various ethnic groups going back to Zemene Mesafint and prior. Demagogues like Jawar are not so much lying as they are emotionally manipulating people by weaponizing grievance. What they omit from their snake oil narratives is that while the average Oromo might have been excluded and made to feel like a third class citizen, so did the average Amhara who was being mugged by poverty. In Ethiopia, all ethnic groups bore the brunt of exclusion and continue to suffer without regard to their identity. Only a sliver of society lived like sultans while most were being ground into dust.
It is pride that makes people say “just me” when the reality is that poverty and uncertainties come for all and they do not discriminate based on ethnicity. Pride prevents empathy and instead breeds indifference which eventually metastasizes into animosity. What is needed to wring this toxic vanity that has gripped too many Ethiopians is a national campaign of healing and reconciliation. This requires modesty on the part of the governed and the governors. Healing also requires incremental steps away from anger and walking instead towards compassion.
I used to tell anyone who used to listen back in the day that my enemies are not Tigrayans even as I did my level best to condemn and criticize the TPLF. I even went as far as making a distinction between TPLF and the original Woyanes. Woyanes were fighting the Derg, I have no qualms with them about that. However, the TPLF hijacked the Woyane movement and pushed out a lot of old guard from the Woyanes and imposed a Marxist governance that was rooted in ethnic supremacy. Ethiopia is a mother that is crying and being tormented as she witnesses he children fight and refuse to work together for the common good.
As Obang Metho notes in a letter that he wrote to the TPLF and their most ardent supporters eleven years ago, he prophetically predicted what would happen next if the cycle of “victor’s rights”, what he termed “one village rule all” mindset, is perpetuated:
“We Ethiopians are caught up in a cycle of replacing one ineffective and abusive government of a “village group”, (meaning our ethnically-based political groups like the TPLF) with another that duplicates the actions of the last, with the same predictable results. Each new group rises up out of oppression, but fails to learn the lessons of its own past. Instead the new group greedily seizes the new found power, becoming the next “village” opportunist and oppressor, brutally lashing out in pent-up anger and repression against their “previous oppressors” and “new opponents.” Suppression begins against any competing groups vying for power, including those wanting “a legitimate voice in their own regional affairs.” Eventually, the cycle will be repeated with new victims and perpetrators. Let’s look at the stages we have been going through as a country.” ~ Obang Metho
Mr. Metho’s letter is just as relevant today as it was in 2009, except this time it is Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who is potentially traveling down the same path of “one village rule all” mindset. It has been a week since Mek’ele was repatriated by the Ethiopian National Defense Forces yet the city, and 500,000 residents with it, is still reportedly without access to the internet. To give a speech is one thing, but deeds have to follow. Mr. Ahmed can’t speak of giving grace to TPLF forces while concurrently keeping a whole region plunged in darkness. I’m not sure there was ever justification for cutting off the internet to Tigray to begin with; now that the conflict has come drawn to a close, Mr. Ahmed will lose all credibility if internet is not restored to Tigray promptly and urgent steps are taken to provide assistance to those who need it.
It was just a week ago that I wrote an open letter to PM Ahmed expressing my support for the campaign he was forced to undertake and wishing him success as long as his aims were altruistic. However, in that same article, I noted that I would not hesitate to speak out if I feel as though his actions were against the best interests of everyday Ethiopians. I did not fathom at the time that the benefit of the doubt would last less than a month let alone a week. However, the steps that Mr. Ahmed are taking is alarming to say the least. Best case scenario is that Mr. Ahmed removed a cancer and is now trying to heal the patient; worst case scenario is that he removed a threat in order to consolidate power on his way to becoming Meles 2.0. While I pray for the former, I fear the latter. I will not seal my lips for the sake of expediency and watch as #Ethiopia replaces 27 years of TPLF terror with a new era of OLF hegemony. Click To Tweet
Ethiopia is a country that is bracketed by a famine of the imagination, if we put aside our differences and learned to work across the divides that have been imposed upon us by outsiders, there is no reason why Ethiopia can’t become the Japan of Africa and be a light for all marginalized people around the world. This requires a mind shift among leaders and the general population; it is high time to put aside empty pride that has only led us to empty stomachs and emptied national resources. If we are able to align our passions with a collectiveness, the change that would unleash for Ethiopia would be transformational.
The challenge before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed are many, but chief among them is to ensure that he leads through inclusion and offers policies that empower Ethiopians instead of enriching outsiders. As I noted last week, I will use this platform to give credit when it’s due and to criticize as necessary. When it comes to noxious pride that is suffocating Ethiopia, Mr. Ahmed must lead through example, speeches alone will not solve the problem. Moreover, the photo ops should really be put away, we don’t need pictures of Mr. Ahmed driving trucks or planting trees, what Ethiopia needs is bold leadership who offers a vision of a united Ethiopia that honors our diversity. Only when people feel economically secure and feel that their voices are included can Ethiopia go, as Mr. Metho frequently says, go from being beggar country into a better country. Now is not the time for payback; outside of ensuring a limited few with positions of power are held accountable, the posture in #Ethiopia should be one of reconciliation and looking towards a future of inclusive justice. Click To Tweet
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