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Ethiopia: Between the Devil and the Deep Muddy Lake Tana

Ethiopia: Between the Devil and the Deep Muddy Lake Tana

Aynalem Sebhatu


With a full swing of ethnic cleansing in western Tigray taking place, with all eyes of the worldwide open, one might innocently think that no one should deny it. But the Amhara extremists who buried their head in the deep muddy water of Lake Tana provide “alternative facts” with remarkable rigor of denials. Much as the officials of the Amhara regional state dislike admitting it, their cadres generally planned the ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans for a long time. Afterall, in most cases of ethnic cleansing and genocide are generally propelled by elites. Their mass media and their affiliated social media have been used to spread dangerous messages and inciting violence thereby fabricating justifications for mass atrocities.

The Amhara extremists have generally harbored categorical hate toward Tigrayans and they are reaping what they have sown now. Tigrayans are roundly condemned as an excuse for the failure of Amhara political elites in addressing the problems facing the people of Amhara. A face-saving solution: slaughtering and expelling Tigrayans out of western and southern Tigray.

The Amhara forces, the Eritrean army and the Ethiopian army are continuing to slaughter, rape, loot, starve and are expelling thousands of civilian Tigrayans. For months, information has trickled out that the Amhara and the Eritrean forces have systematically ethnically cleansing from western, southern and northern Tigray. At least one million Tigrayans are missing according to one official of the interim administration of Tigray. Within the last few days, different corroborating reports, from reputable news outlets and human rights agencies, offered evidence of ethnic cleansing and genocide, drawing grave alarm and condemnation from the international community.

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While Tigrayans are suffering going through the genocidal war, most of the people of Ethiopia are leading their lives with indifferent attitudes and leaving the shedding of blood and tears to the Tigrayans. At best, the reported horrific atrocities are absorbed in cold and distant feelings with a sense of detachment. The widespread of such feeling indicates the uncompromising culture of Ethiopian politics as well as the critical shortage of humanism.  The reactions of Ethiopians will perhaps be a lot to stomach for Tigrayans, but it effectively works for the planners of the war in Tigray.

Last week, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) highlighted the plight of the Tigrayans. But the Security Council’s meeting on March 4th ended without agreement thanks to China, Russia and India’ s objections on the ground of interference of internal affairs of a sovereign country. This signals the widening gap between the promises of the 1948 UN General Assembly’s unanimous passage of the Genocide Convention and the implementation of it. With the widespread of identity politics and resources constraints at every corner of the world, mass atrocities and genocide are likely to come more frequent and more erosion of moral resolve to combat it.  

Abiy Ahmed made a pact with Isaias Afewerki and with Amhara political elites for his adventure in Tigray.  His two partners face serious charges ahead: genocide, mass atrocities, mass rape and ethnic cleansing. Reputable human rights agencies and the U.S. internal reports show Isaias Afewerki’s army systematically killed and expelled Tigrayans from northern Tigray with genocidal intentions.  The Amhara forces slaughtered innocent civilians and expelled thousands of Tigrayans from western and southern Tigray. Along with his two partners, Abiy is a central player of the war in Tigray and increasingly finds himself between “the devil and the deep blue sea” or if you will between the devil and the deep muddy lake Tana.

Antony Blinken, Secretary State of the U.S., expressed his concerns about escalating violence and human rights abuses in Tigray.  When the US State Department tightens the noose, by releasing a statement urging the withdrawal of Eritrean forces and Amhara forces from Tigray as a first step for resolving the conflict, Abiy Ahmed finds himself between a rock and a hard place. Precisely because Abiy has no control of the Eritrean forces and the Amhara forces nor could he seek to leverage the power of his office or the power of his army.

There are unverified reports that Abiy Ahmed sought to leverage the power of his office on moderate Amhara politicians, but his pleas to Amhara politicians appeared to have left them unconvinced.  If true, however, they reflect as badly on his Prosperity Party, as the ruling party, as on him.  This illustrates both his political mindset and his naiveness to put things on a proper footing. Abiy Ahmed’s willingness to discreetly use some officials of the interim administration of Tigray to publicly pronounce the urgency to withdraw Eritrean and Amhara forces from Tigray seems the only alternative left for him. He effectively used the interim administration as a surrogate and deflected the political heat away from his office. Abiy’s act of cowardice is going to be costly, and It would not be surprising to see officials of the interim administration targeted, politically and physically, by the Eritreans and the Amhara in the near future.

The motivation of the Amhara elites and their followers is to ascend to power by subversion and transgression, to rewrite the history of Amhara for the larger purpose of delegitimizing the constitution and the federal system of the country.  Creating historical myths and an Amhara based rewriting of the Ethiopian history are reckless conspiracies to appropriate and politicize the country’s history. It is simply and purely an Orwellian project that will ruin the core of Ethiopian unity. In the long run it may be futile.

For the last three decades, the perception of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) and its capacity to defend the country was commendable. Currently, the perception, the morale of its members, its strength and its deterrent effect are significantly diminished. The ENDF is grappling with a host of issues and faces an extremely challenging national, regional and local securities environment. The ENDF’s progress in building its readiness and the challenges it faces in recruitments, in modernization of its force, in its force structure and in developing its warfighting concepts are increasingly becoming difficult at this moment.

Abiy Ahmed bears its own share of the blame for the degraded and eroded status of the ENDF. In the months leading up to the war in Tigray in early November, most of the Ethiopian generals did not have a clue what the military plan was and partly this shows Abiy Ahmed’s distrust of his generals. The plan’s timetable, such as in capturing Mekelle, was set by Abiy Ahmed without any considerations of the reality of the military operation and the actual situations of armies in the war theatre. The speed and desire of the Ethiopian military in fulfilling Abiy’s timetable came and went with a huge loss in manpower. It is sufficient to add that no matter Abiy’s power, the rank and file of the ENDF bear a sizable share of blame for sizable losses in the battlefields of Tigray and for the genocidal war in Tigray.

As the war in Tigray continued, the command relationships became more confusing for the Ethiopian military leadership, but Eritrean generals have the final say on the details of military operations. The rank and file of Ethiopian army fueled with anger and resented the fact that they are sidelined from critical military operation decisions that put their army in a disadvantaged position compared to the Eritrean army. In effect, the ranks and files of the Ethiopian army are accusing the Eritrean army using them as cannon fodders. A few times the anger exploded, and the Eritrean army and the Ethiopian army fought and shoot at each other.

Alas! That is where we are for now.  My deepest fear is that the international community’s agreement that ethnic cleansing and genocide are wrong would not be escorted by a willingness to stop it.  The frequent occurrences of crimes against humanity around the world with impunity is unsettling and disturbing for sure.

Tigray will prevail!

Eternal glory for our martyrs!


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