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Tigray Separation: Is the agenda a monopoly of a single generation?

Tigray Separation: Is the agenda a monopoly of a single generation?

Yohannes Aberra, PhD April 27, 2020

There is a raging debate going on whether or not Tigray should form an independent state of its own or remain as an integral part of Ethiopia.  Some are completely on one side (separation and non-separation) and others (G. Amare) are advising balance. Every time I read or listen to the different views aired on the issue I am deeply worried about the self awarded mandate this generation of Tigrean politicians is trying to have on what the fate of a founding region of Ethiopia- Tigray- should be. For several generations Tigray as a founding region and integral part of Ethiopia has been the home of hundreds of generations in the past and hundreds of generations into the future. Every generation can take a mandate for its time to enhance the level of economic and social development of the Region and improve the standards of living of the population. Economic and social development is like a relay race where every generation is obliged to run its allotted distance as fast as possible in order to contribute to the winning of the whole race. Generations pick up from the previous and add their own where the running sum at every stage will be higher than the previous allowing a meaningful level of life for the people at any point in time.

There are limits, though, to what duties and responsibilities and above all mandates any particular generation can claim to possess. As generations contribute their own share to the cumulative development of the entire life time of a state or region or country they have to be very careful about how much they can contribute with how much of natural resource use. If natural environmental resources utilized in the process of development are squandered at some point(s) in the flow of generations the essence of the sustainability of development, which is about the intergenerational equity or justice in the availability of adequate natural resources will grossly be compromised. Some governments in some generations may be determined to show off by squandering natural resources to accelerate economic growth dishonestly done to ensure winning the next election. Hence, the rule of thumb of environmental resource use is “use only your share of the resources without undermining the use of the resources by future generations”. In fact there should be altruism whereby current generations may live a simpler life to allow for future generations to have enough and better. American officials are in the habit of saying “for our children and grand children”; and they mean it. Among hundreds of things, for instance, they save their own oil resources and buy from the Middle East; they even go to war for it while they have enough at home. They are going to war they don’t like to engage in because they want to make sure that their grandchildren have the same living standards or better than their grandparents have in the current generation.

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Separating a region from the mainland is not as simple as building factories by a particular generation to boost economic growth, which no doubt is beneficial to the next generation and the generations long after. The industrial revolution was just one generation’s contribution to the wellbeing of generations of humanity for the last 200 years and may continue to be important for the next 2000 years. If this generation of politicians of the State of Delaware (USA) decides to separate from the United States because they became disillusioned with the politicians in Washington DC Capitol Hill; this will not be considered like building a factory or initiating a new industrial revolution for generations of Delawareans to follow. Delaware is the founding state of the USA because it was the first state out of the 50 to ratify the Constitution of the United States of America. The best possible expression for the separation of Delaware is “Delaware would be demanding to separate itself from itself”. That “itself” is not the itself of this generation of Delawareans but also those of the future generations to come. By deciding to separate Delaware from the USA, which is a mammoth intergenerational decision, are the Delawareans of the disillusioned current generation absolutely sure that the future generations of Delawareans will love their Delawarean citizenship and never regret the loss of being American? There is a huge difference between what ordinary politicians and politicians in power do or say and the values that inseparably bindpeople of all generationsto a Nation.

To be Ethiopian is a value which should neither be expressed in economic terms nor be considered as a share holding membership in a company. It is much bigger and more complex than any foul-mouthed politicians who insult entire people, who wants to starve entire people, and dream of eliminating them. Generations of Ethiopian leaders and politicians have brutalized Tigreans for no sufficient reason at all while at the same time telling stories of Tigray as the cradle of the civilization of Ethiopia. Whoever politicians have been spitting whatever garbage and doing whatever cruel things for ages does little to shake the foundation of that value which binds Ethiopians together. Ethiopia has not been so lucky with leaders who don’t contradict themselves. It is the funniest of all jokes in the world that they love Ethiopia and at the same time hate Tigray! This is mental illness of the worst kind! One should and must run away from a lunatic in the streets to save own life. Running away from such misanthropic politicians is not the right approach; dealing with them with a sense of equality as Ethiopians is! Above all, such people who humiliate fellow citizens, threaten them, and abuse them are committing a criminal act of treason. They cannot and they are never allowed to be more Ethiopian than others. Running away from them translates very clearly that the victims recognize them as true representatives of Ethiopian Nationhood or otherwise there is some vested interest of individuals or groups in that retreat.

When it comes to the idea of the separation of Tigray, first one must see the intergenerational nature of such decision making with the help of the following expression: “If you did not make it you have no right to ruin it”. Ethiopia of the present time is a climax of the several hundreds of generations of cumulative decisions and actions. Whatever decision each generation takes based simply on personal or group reaction, which seemed the best at the time on particular situations of a particular time, could have grave repercussions to future generations. Yohannes IV decided to march to Metema leaving the delighted Italians behind on his land; and Menilik signed the Wuchale agreement letting Italy to freely occupy the entire Bahre-Negash. It never occurred to both monarchs that because of their personal or governmental (?) decisions the following four or more generations would suffer continuous war and devastation. In science projections are made and scenarios built based on models built from available and wisely guessed data. On the basis of such projections decisions are made. Projections or predictions are very helpful to decision making to give a general idea about the future scenarios. Hydrological models are built to predict runoff and soil erosion levels 20 or so years ahead. However, the model is built on known variables only. It is possible to have a different scenario evolving as a result of unpredicted variables that may turn out to be more important than the variables which were used in the predictive models. There may be unpredicted massive human settlement in the area and massive deforestation which wrecks havoc to the model predictions.

I can assure myself and my readers as well that no one knows exactly what will happen to Ethiopia and to Tigray itself after separation. No one knows whether future generations of Tigreans will curse the current generation of Tigrean politicians for separating them from Ethiopia or bless them for their actions. No one knows, except for making some wise guesses, about how much better democracy and good governance in Tigray will be than it is/was/will be in Ethiopia. Will Ethiopia completely disappear because of a chain of separations following the separation of Tigray?  Do Tigrean politicians desire to see the rest of Ethiopia in one piece after the separation of Tigray or they would not mind or even contribute to its total disintegration? Would a separate Tigray be able to live with a healthy diplomatic relations with Ethiopia or Tigray and Ethiopian troops will perpetually face one another on their shared border and destroy any hope of development behind the frontlines in Tigray and in Ethiopia? By all this I don’t mean that the so much treasured value of remaining as Ethiopian rather than abandoning it should be taken at all costs. A household member may be continuously and harshly treated by his siblings, although she/he is their own flesh and blood, the victim will surely be in a big dilemma: “Don’t want to leave home vs. don’t want to live with the intolerable siblings”.  Instinct dictates that the reflex action is leaving Home to avoid the siblings; but second thoughts dictate acting on the siblings and on oneself to bring about peaceful co-existence. It is economically, socially, and psychologically more costly to leave Home than solving the problem in situ. All the siblings are not enemies; they are rivals! Sibling rivalry has its solutions however hard it may seem; however unbalanced the team formation may be; however harsh and uncompromising the methods of rivalry are. There were rivals during the ZemeneMesafint not enemies; there were rivals during the EPRDF-Derg war no enemies. It is from an enemy that one has to distance itself not from a rival. The methods of resolving both contradictions are not the same. Amhara and Tigreans have always been rivals but never enemies. There is no single reason for them to be enemies. They are siblings in culture, language family and religion. An endless cycle of reconciliation and fighting is characteristic of rivalry. This does not happen among enemies. None of them stop before eliminating each other. We don’t have this situation in Ethiopia

I will continue by asking a few key questions: Is Tigray at odds with Ethiopia and the former wants to abandon the latter? This question leads to another: Who is delegated to represent Ethiopia as “a separate entity” in its political battles against Tigray another “separate entity”? As Tigray is Ethiopia and Ethiopia is Tigray where and how are the battle lines drawn?The last two questions are based on what I hear from interviews of some Tigrean politicians referring to the “two sides” as  Ethiopia and Tigray. The next question is to interrogate those who boldly claim separation to be a “Tigrean question”:  How democratic and inclusive isthe quest for separation? Is it the agenda of a few emotion driven politicians or disgruntled members of the TPLF leadership whose decision to separate Tigray is driven only by self-service rather than intergenerational justice? Leaving the future generations of Tigreans aside, is even the current generation of Tigray with five to six million people on the same political latitude in the quest for separate statehood? How many of the millions of Tigreans really comprehend the issue of separation from Ethiopia they hear everyday about from the wildly enthusiastic Tigrean politicians who have chocked the media with the separatist narratives?

I know the world has never been as democratic as God created it to be. Few powerful individuals have the readiness and the means to make decisions with an adverse effect spanning for centuries. Many of them take those decisions with full knowledge of the negative long term impacts. Possessing knowledge without concomitant skill does not help in solving problems. Some may have both knowledge and skills; but are overwhelmed by greed (power, fame, wealth) which blinds them in decision making. Many of the Tigrean politicians are craving for separation as the best solution to the problems Tigray is facing in its relationship with the rest of Ethiopia. Separation is the best solution, because given the level of administrative autonomy Tigray is currently having,  it is the easiest solution! Why should the easiest be the best solution? The easiest is best solution only because it does not care about consequences; it just wants to avoid the pain involved in the search for more complex but better solutions. Alexander the Great of Macedonia was presented with a knot known in the legend as the Gordian Knot to untie.  Prophecy had it that it was the wisest of all men who would conquer Asia that can untie the knot. Alexander possessing so much of the might of the sword was unable to untie the knot. He drew his sword as he always did on men and cut the knot into pieces. The problem was not solved because the knot was destroyed rather than relieved from the tightness of the knot.

I argue from the bottom of my heart that solving the problem Tigray is facing by distancing it from the sources of the problem rather than face the sources and untie them; is “cutting the Gordian knot” pure and simple. There is restriction for the separatist politicians not to take that easy route: The shared values and history as integral part of Ethiopia and the intergenerational injustice they will be committing care-freely. If we take the law very seriously there is also the element of treason in it. The easy solution is certainly going to be followed by more difficult problems that Tigray cannot handle without a lot of pain. A TPLF leader said so easily: “Separation is possible with the only possession being rocks”. In which market would any one buy this grossly negligent statement? Human beings are human beings; they don’t eat rocks no life eats rocks. Even plants eat them after the rocks turn into soils. What he said may be just a figurative speech; to mean that the political pressure on the people to go for separation makes the economic consequences trivial for the people of Tigray. I agree if that is so; but I ask: Is the political pressure sufficient for that figurative speech to hold water? Aren’t the TPLF and associates on the separation solution inflating the pressure beyond proportions? Isn’t more than half of the rage Tigray is facing from the rest of Ethiopia triggered by TPLF itself? We must see the last question insome detail next.

TPLF started its first friction with politicians and ordinary people of Ethiopia when it chased EPRP and EDU out of Tigray as if the land does not belong to them as well, as Ethiopians. Next, and what devastated any Ethiopia loving individual was the uncompromising support they gave to the separation of Eritrea in spite of the fact that Eritreans wanted to go for some negotiated settlement, most probably to the satisfaction of Ethiopians (restoring the federation). Even around the time of Eritrean referendum TPLF prevented any effort for persuading Eritreans to cast unionist voting cards and alternatively negotiate for an Ethiopian port in the east. While everyone felt that that could have been supported even by the super powers and the UN, TPLF was oddly adamant uncharacteristic of any party ruling a country without access to the sea. Any disappointment on the part of Ethiopians in this regard is understandable. It was hard for any politician or lay Ethiopian to embrace them as real Ethiopian citizens.  They promised Ethiopians to install real democracy based on free and fair elections, which would effectively replace the military dictatorship; instead they sunk in deep corruption, nepotism, maladministration; rigged elections, discouraged the opposition from making any progress, and tightly controlled the people in all spheres of life.

Worse still was the persistent propaganda campaign that suffocated the public media that Tigray was prospering.Tigray was trying to make ends meet while the TPLF media all over the country was displaying it as the El Dorado of Ethiopia.The people of Ethiopia were forced to behave irrationally as a result against any Tigrean they meet in the streets or in the neighborhoods. They cannot be blamed because they got the information about the “wealth” in Tigray direct from the “horse’s mouth”.Why was the TPLF doing this? If it was intended to deceive the people of Tigray that “they have prospered but they don’t see it” or is it to create discord between Tigray and the rest of Ethiopia so that Tigray will remain as a helpless stronghold for them in time of need? Obviously, it cannot be the former but the latter that is the truth. Adding fuel to the fire was the ill advised words and actions by some irresponsible TPLF members and/ or supporters, sons and daughters in the streets, in neighborhoods, in cafes, bars and night clubs were severely aggravating the hatred on Tigreans by the rest of the Ethiopian youth. Using the “opportunity” of the removal of TPLF leadership, which they considered as the “protector” of Tigreans politicians and ordinary Ethiopians alike had no sympathies for the Tigreans living elsewhere in Ethiopia outside Tigray. They accused every one of them as “wealthy at their expense”. Some even chased and brutalized thousands of innocent Tigreans. In problem solving doesn’t rush into hasty conclusions painting yourself as a saint; examine yourself honestlyto knowif you have also been part of the problem.

It is bewildering to learn that proponents of separation are preaching about “hatred without provocation” and hence, separation as the only solution. Some are taking the issue into unrelated territory to aggravate the anger of Ethiopians on the people of Tigray, which helps to justify their case for separation much further. Major General TekleBirhan could be entitled to his opinion as an individual that Ethiopia is a hopeless case while tens of millions feel otherwise; that he hates the Amharic language while his rank and 27 years of invigorating career were earned using Amharic in the work place in INSA; he fought for Tigray only; unless otherwise he was the only fighter in the TPLF most fought to free Ethiopia from the Derg. Everything he said may be his right but the timing is disastrous and could be belittling for his personality. He did not say all this for 27 years. Why? Why is he saying this now? Isn’t this the lack of integrity from a senior army officer to throw the plate from which he has dined? The worst consequence of his irresponsible interview could be Ethiopians may consider him as representative of the attitudes of Tigreans. I advise Ethiopians to hear what the people of Tigray feel directly from the people themselves rather than from such individuals who have their own vested interests on the matter.

Let me finish with the quotes by two prominent world minds about the decision making process, which I think is relevant for the separation- no separation debate:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Albert Einstien

It is so much easier to suggest solutions where you don’t know much about the problem” Malcolm Forbes

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