There is a crescendo of voices building as politicians, journalists and public officials rush to condemn the “war” taking place in Ethiopia and demand a cessation of hostilities. Well-meaning folks, and some with hidden agendas, are demanding that Abiy Ahmed enter into negotiations with the TPLF and to arrive at peace through inclusion.
For the average person reading the above paragraph, it sounds like a reasonable appeal. However, this view does not take into account the historical nuances that led to this conflict and the developments of the past couple of weeks which forced Mr. Ahmed’s hand. I do not write this article to champion war—I believe in my heart that wars are humanity’s greatest failure—nor is my intent to be a cheerleader for Mr. Ahmed.
However, there is a difference between aggression and self-defense. It’s on this point that I want to give the reader more context beyond the sound bites, talking points and unsought advice that are being doled out freely by the punditry over the past couple of weeks with respect to Ethiopia. Any discussion about the recent flare up in Tigray requires a broader appreciation than just the events of the past two weeks and a deeper understanding of the supposed aggrieved party.
The turmoil in Ethiopia has been decades in the making. After ruling Ethiopia for 27 years with an iron fist wrapped in barbed wires, the TPLF finally fell out of power upon the conclusion of a murderous campaign against the Oromo, Ahmara and other ethnic groups. Nearly three decades of terrorizing Ethiopians with brute force, mass jailing and documented crimes against humanity, a critical mass finally rose up and demanded change.
Facing a revolution, they agreed to a change that opened the door for Mr. Ahmed’s ascension. Instead of being thankful that they did not meet the fate of despots like Ceaușescu, Mussolini and their ilk who died by the very same bullets they freely dispensed to their countrymen, TPLF leaders ran off to Tigray and barricaded themselves in Mek’ele. For two years, they stockpiled weapons, fomented terror throughout Ethiopia, and armed violent extremists like the OLF with the aim of inducing strife and weakening Mr. Ahmed.
TPLF’s nuisance morphed into full blown menace on Tuesday, November 3rd. While the rest of the world was engrossed in the US elections, TPLF militias conducted a sneak attack against the Ethiopian National Defense Force in the dark of night and murdered scores of soldiers in their sleep. This is not supposition on my part, TPLF’s own spokesperson Sekuture Getachew brazenly confirmed on Dimisti Weyane, the TPLF’s mouthpiece media, that they in fact conducted a “preemptive attack in the mold of Israel’s Six Day War”.
This was not a preemptive attack; this was a premeditated act of sedition. Mr. Getachew made it seem like the TPLF was striking out against a foreign enemy that constituted an eminent threat to a country’s sovereignty. To the contrary, the TPLF attacked its own nation’s military and murdered the very soldiers they trained not too long ago. When militias without a national mandate attack a country’s military, it is not an undertaking of defense nor is it an operation of prevention—it is an act of terror.
It was TPLF’s aggression that necessitated Mr. Ahmed’s response; what head of state worth his salt would have stood by as rogue elements bear arms and try to impose their will at the point of a gun? Responding to TPLF’s attack with indecisiveness would have led to horrible consequences; an emboldened TPLF would have severely weakened Mr. Ahmed, sunk the whole country into a civil war and destabilized the entire horn of Africa. Mr. Ahmed did not seek this war, he was countering an unprovoked attack. The media narratives being spun that Mr. Ahmed invaded Tigray or initiated the hostilities are either grossly misinformed or they are outright propaganda.
The mendacity of the TPLF did not stop at just one attack; after plunging an entire province into the abyss and turning Tigray into a battlefield so they could use the suffering of their own population as PR fodder, they upped their rampaged by attacking innocent civilians. Last week, Amnesty International detailed an incident in Mai-Kadra where scores of men, women and children were slaughtered. According to eyewitnesses, the victims were mostly Amharas and the perpetrators were TPLF militia members. As they were screaming victim, TPLF were concurrently victimizing civilians in an act that is tantamount to crimes against humanity.
Their plan all along was not to win on the battlefield but to draw the Ethiopian government into a battle, induce large scale human suffering and then turn on their propaganda machine to box Mr. Ahmed in and fight to a draw. That is exactly what they are doing, using the connections with the outside world, especially the West, that they cultivated for decades, they are shaping public perception and shifting blame away from them and into the party that responded to an onslaught.
This morning, news broke that the head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adanhom, has been working the phones and leveraging this network to lobby on behalf of the TPLF to the extent of working with Egypt in order to destabilize Ethiopia. Instead of tackling the pandemic and expending all his efforts to mitigate the virus’s reach, he uses his status and position to lobby for a junta that were once branded as a terrorist group. The TPLF did not rise to power and maintain it by brute force alone, they are experts when it comes to the Machiavellian game of geopolitics.
Their treachery seemingly without limit, this past weekend the TPLF fired rockets into Gondar in an attempt to accomplish with asymmetrical warfare what they could not achieve with conventional combat—rational people call that terrorism. They then tripled down on their cravenness by lobbing missiles into Asmara in an attempt to ensnare Eritrea and transform a localized conflict into a regional war. The TPLF is hellbent on regaining power even if that means putting targets on the backs of millions of Tigrayans, burning Ethiopia to the ground and inducing the potential displacement of tens of millions of people by destabilizing the Horn of Africa. This is the backdrop under which this conflict in Ethiopia is being fought.
[bctt tweet=”No, this is not a war, this is one radical faction instigating hostilities and a government acting as it should to protect the country’s integrity and guard the rule of law. #Ethiopia” username=”teodrosefikre”]
So when opinion leaders get on their soap boxes and demand that Mr. Ahmed negotiate with these ruthless marauders, I ask, would they have asked the US government to sit at the negotiation table with ISIS? Should France have sat down with the killers who attacked Charlie Hedbo and gave an ear to their grievances? Should the United Kingdom do nothing when knife-wielding zealots attacks Britons and instead invite them over for tea and crumpets?
As much as I want peace in Ethiopia, the very worse outcome would be a stalemate that ends with TPLF still intact and claiming victory as a result. If Mr. Ahmed’s actions does not result in a decisive outcome, besides encouraging TPLF to bide their time, rearm and attempt another bloody campaign, it will also inspire other violent factions in Ethiopia like the OLF to follow suit. A weakened Mr. Ahmed could lead to the implosion of the entire country as ethnic enclaves race to the exit doors and enter into a new phase of perpetual bloodshed—rivals fighting over scare resources and countless people dying over meaningless borders drawn on the basis of ethnicity.
In order gain a better perspective of this very ethnic strife that is flaring up all over Ethiopia, one must understand the heinous experiment the TPLF foisted upon the country. They knew from the outset that an ethnic minority that constitutes only 5% of the population could not subjugate the rest of the country by force alone. So they turned to another minority group that once ruled through codified segregation. The TPLF implemented a softer form of apartheid whereby Ethiopia’s major ethnic groups were given their own homelands—South Afrikaners called them Bantustans—and the drilled into the minds of every Ethiopian to think ethnicity first and common identity never.
Most people assume that apartheid was about keeping “blacks” apart from “whites”; in reality apartheid was a lot more about Balkanizing the “black” populace along tribal lines in order to incite animosity between various factions. Some of the most horrific bloodlettings during the apartheid era were tribe versus tribe—the National Party divided the native population and sat back as they massacred one another. This is the same reason why the TPLF installed “ethnic federalism”; they too fractured a nation along ethnic lines and then stoked the flames of sectarianism fueled by ancient grievances.
It is easy to jump on the bandwagon and demand peace, but peace that is built on the foundation of coercion and rooted in terrorism is a chimera. Instead of giving moral equivalency between Mr. Ahmed’s reactions and the TPLF’s acts of terror, the world should be roundly condemning the TPLF. This is not to give a blank check to Mr. Ahmed, he must continue to ensure that civilians are not targeted by bullets nor singled out for witch hunts based on ethnic affiliation. Beyond that, Mr. Ahmed needs to take every measure to assure Tigrayans that the actions against the TPLF are not against them and that they have a place in Ethiopia once the TPLF is rooted out.
For those who are not Ethiopian or from the surrounding region reading this who might wonder “how is this relevant to me”, let me take you back seventy years ago when fascist invaded Ethiopia and the world dithered while my birthland burned. The embers that started in Ethiopia spread like wildfire and eventually enveloped Europe, Asia and the flames were felt in the homes of Americans. Whether you live in Amsterdam, Anaheim or Addis Abeba, the reality is that we live in an interconnected world, injustice ignored in far off lands can metastasize and have global consequences.
Let me end this by addressing Ethiopians specifically; we are a nation that have endured countless bouts of suffering and agony. Yet through it all, we weathered storm after storm and survived fire after fire because we cared about each other without asking about our differences. The Ethiopia I know is that where strangers give gurshas to other strangers before they even know their names. The Ethiopia I love is one where we eat, dance and pray together irrespective of our background and our experiences. Stop looking at life through ethnic filters, that is a toxic ideology meant to destroy us from within, think about that the next time you want to only talk about your ethnicity’s suffering or you turn a blind eye to the pains of another ethnic group.
This vicious strain of identity politics, a tribal hustle, that weaponizes people's legitimate grievances & misdirects frustrations/passions away from the ruling class & instead conditions us to train our anger at fellow strugglers, is more lethal than COVID:: #Ethiopia #USA
— Teodrose Fikremariam (@TeodroseFikre) November 18, 2020
Moreover, with respect to this current conflict, now is not the time to gloat nor is it a time to exact vengeance. Tigrayans are our brothers and sisters, do not let jingoism blind you to their suffering. We are a deeply spiritual people, though I do not advocate turning a cheek when it comes to TPLF, it is imperative that we do not alienate and castigate Tigrayans as a whole for the sins of a few who prospered while most suffered. Be mindful that Tigrayan citizens, who are not involved in the TPLF infrastructure, should not be judged collectively for that is immoral. They are reacting with anger because it is their neighborhoods and families who are bearing the brunt of this conflict. Be compassionate above all.
On a broader level, what we really need is to get to a place of healing. We are a nation that carries generations, if not centuries of hurts in our spirits, the violence that we see play out is a manifestation of undealt traumas that we harbor in our hearts. It is time for us to have a reconciliation campaign; if a politician won’t do it, we must take it upon ourselves to start that initiative, one where space is given for people to express their hurts without vilifying others. In order to achieve this outcome, we must find it within ourselves to reach across the divides erected before us and talk to others who don’t speak our dialect, who don’t dance like us, who don’t pray like us with the understanding that we are Ethiopian regardless.
There are historical injustices that are buried deep in the hearts of many, we must find a way to exorcise these ghosts for the sake of our ancestors, ourselves and our children. However, taking on the grievance politics of the world and segregating ourselves based on identity is not healing us but leading us into the headlights of an incoming train. The way for us to move forward is not through bullets and bombast but through dialogue, compassion and empathy.
I know things seem dark at this moment, bracketed between the conflict in Tigray, ethnic strife that is countless innocent lives on a regular basis and the stresses of a pandemic, it feels like we are living out a biblical plague. However, this I am certain of, it is precisely the darkest moments that give birth to our brightest blessings. I speak of this from personal experience, it was not too long ago that I was broken and alone, a few years latter I’m blessed with a wife and a son. The same place where mothers cry and children suffer, there will come a time when God turns our misfortune around.
We must learn to listen as much as we want to be heard. In the end, the answer to our issues is not politics but the unity that once kept us free from colonization. Let us put embrace solidarity that transcends social divisions and above all let us put humanity above ethnicity.
ትዮጵያ ለዘላለም ትኑር::
This video below is a dedication to all Ethiopians, pay attention to the words at the beginning and then watch the video mixed together with the music, may we stop turning our diversity into liabilities and instead embrace our differences while realizing that we are in this together. #HealEthiopiaTogether