The Crisis in Tigray: a war covered by fog of lies and the truth behind it
Ethiopia is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great-grandmother of tradition. Ethiopia has seen all forms of governance, but it has been the land of relative peace and harmony for the last 27 years under the Federal system. It has been a rapture for co-existence, brotherhood, and religious tolerance. The country managed to retain secular values in the face of immense ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity.
The country has been well-known for its vibrant economy, growing democracy, independent judiciary, secular ethos, and cultural diversity. International institution, economists, and travelogue writers have frequently praised the country for its fast-growing economy.
The modern Constitution of free Ethiopia promotes and self-administration. The very idea of Ethiopia invoked in the Constitution is one of secularism, freedom, and sagacity. It is due to these ideals that the Ethiopian Constitution does not insist on a single language or religion but embraces diversity of languages, cultures, religion and customs. But, over the course of the last 3 years, the beautiful soul of Ethiopia has been defaced. The land has been battered by a tsunami of hatred political and ideological views. The country is lamenting the loss of its soul. The very word, Ethiopia, has come to represent repression of the selected ethnic groups and regions. Tigrayans are the primary victims of the despotic government. The transformation of a growing democracy into seemingly anarchy and apathy should be a grave concern and worry for all of Ethiopians. This un-wanted transition has not only disfigured the image of the country, but it has also fractured the coexistence and muti-cultural heritage of the nation. The harmony that once existed between different communities has been torn apart. The feelings of goodwill and pride towards the motherland are now replaced with bitterness and contempt.
The sheer egoism of politicians specially elites of the so-called Amhara ethnic group, the deceptive mass media, and the self-serving regimes have collectively betrayed the nation specially the Tigrayans. They are manipulating and misguiding Ethiopians as well. They are rewriting the history of 27 years of the country under ethnic based federal government, imposing unitary ideology, and enforce vilifying narratives. The media in particular has acted as the right arm of tyranny. The government invaded Tigray inviting foreign countries and the regions to subdue its people and regional government. Following the open war on the people of Tigray, there is continuous large-scale human rights abuses taking place, including widespread sexual violence, extrajudicial and mass killings, using hunger as a weapon of war, blocking humanitarian access and forced removal of Tigrayans. Distraction of civilian property including water resources, hospitals, and medical facilities is continuing in the region. Eritrean troops, Amhara militia and government soldiers are committing those crimes on daily bases. On top of the continued genocide, UN Office Humanitarian Affairs warned that Ethiopia could experienced its first famine since the 1980s because of this protracted conflict. Tigray the land of saints and Sufis has been destroyed and looted. At this time, the situation of Tigray does not inspire anymore; this land only inspires lament and dirges!
The truth behind the war and how it was started is not communicated in right way to the world. The Federal government has narrated it wrongly and deceived the world by white lies. But the reality is as follows.
Following intensified protests from 2015-2017 in Oromia and Amhara regions against the EPRDF coalition government, with anti-Tigrayan sentiments, PM Hailemariam announced resignation in 2018. Abiy Ahmed, a relatively unknown and who had worked as acting head of the Information Network Security Agency and latter Minister of Science and technology, got selected to lead the EPRDF and implement the reforms that were recommended by the EPRDF’s ‘deep renewal’. The appointment of Abiy Ahmed as the PM of Ethiopia led to optimism and hope across the country. However, He moved quickly to build his power base. Anti-TPLF/Tigray narrative has become part of his political strategy to consolidate power, and this resulted in anxiety among Tigrayans.
As the Prime Minister has Lacked a strategy on how to lead the country, ethnic affiliated conflicts across the country have been increasingly taking place causing internal displacement of millions. Having noticed the overall crisis, TPLF has started airing concerns, especially the way the federal government has been unconstitutionally reacting to some of the crisis in the country and about the ‘non-transparent peace deal’ with Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea. The Eritrean leader has openly declared his support for Abiy and overtly suggested action against the TPLF, a ruling party in Tigray.
Despite the mounting problems across the country, PM Abiy still focused on rehauling the institutional and political space to fit his power ambitions. Crucially, he initiated a process to merge the EPRDF coalition into a single party, the Prosperity Party (PP). TPLF declined to join the PP, expressing its concern that Abiy was deviating from his ‘assignment’ as a transitional leader. Purge against Tigrayans has been intensified, and state media increased their anti-Tigray rhetoric (including repeatedly blaming ‘Tigrigna speakers’ for past government miss-deeds).
Opposition intensified against Abiy in Oromia for his ‘unitary’ tendencies and for ignoring the plight of the Oromo Protests that brought him to power. By the end of 2019, all regions except Tigray were put under state of emergency and run by hand picks of PM Abiy Ahmed.
Abiy and the Ethiopian government persistently allege the war on Tigray was triggered when the government of Tigray launched a surprise attack on a federal military base. However, the chronology of events leading up to war shows clear intent of PM Abiy and his collaborators to attack Tigray before November 4, 2020.
In early 2020, under the pretext of protecting the public from COVID, Prime Minister Abiy’s government postponed upcoming national, regional and municipal elections indefinitely. The government said it would instead schedule elections “when the pandemic is over”. However, Tigray decided to hold the regional election on time saying it was unconstitutional to postpone election taking Covid 19 as a scapegoat.
In May 2020, following Tigray’s decision to hold its regional election, Abiy said such elections would endanger peace and security; therefore, the government would be forced to “take action”. He however failed to expound on what he meant by “taking action”.
On September 9, 2020, Tigray held its regional election. 2.7 million People voted and TPLF won in a landslide. On October 7, 2020, the federal parliament voted to sever ties with Tigray’s newly elected government. This marked the beginning of a war of attrition against the Tigray region. The federal government diverted the region’s budget, instructing the Ministry of Finance to disburse funds to lower-level administrative districts bypassing the executive bodies. The federal government also withheld funding for the safety net program, a cash subsidy program for the poor funded by western donors. In the midst of an ongoing locust invasion, federal officials halted operation of chemical spraying aircraft and blocked the import of a chemical spraying drone donated by the Tigrayan diaspora and neglecting Tigray when distributing COVID masks to students. Even the federal sports commission circulated a memo instructing national leagues to sever ties with the Tigray region. The Ethiopian Postal service ordered its employees not to accept couriers destined to Tigray. Federal public notary on its part rejected to legalize documents originated from Tigray on the ground that the government in Tigray was illegal.
In October 2020, the federal government put into motion the final phases of an operation to strike Tigray. On October 14, President Isaias of Eritrea visited headquarters of the Ethiopian Air Force in Bishoftu, Oromia region. On October 25, efforts renewed to transfer divisions and heavy arms of the Northern Command from Tigray to neighboring region, but it was firmly objected by the Tigray leadership. On October 27, Prime Minister Abiy made “a one-day secret trip” to Asmara where he met with President Isaias in preparation for an attack on Tigray. On October 29, Brig. Gen. Jamal Mohammed of the ENDF flew to Mekelle to assume his post as the new deputy head of the Northern Command. Upon arrival, he was turned away by Tigray regional government. The Tigray regional government reiterated its stance not to implement federal directives following October 5 (the date that federal government’s mandate expired). Hence, the newly appointed commander of the Northern Command, Brig. Gen. Belay, and his other deputy, Brig. Gen. Seid Tekuye, were “politely informed” in advance not to travel to Tigray to assume their new posts. Tigray region authorities acted in part to prevent him and his deputies from being embedded in the Northern Command as part of the currently unfolding operation.
November 1, 2020, Eritrea issued a menacing statement declaring it was “game over” for the TPLF and claiming it (TPLF) is “quivering in its deathbed”. Ethiopian federal forces started mobilizing from Guliso District of West Wellega Zone, in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, t the city of Shilaabo in Ethiopia’s Somali region, and the ENDF was ordered to be on “standby”. Additionally, 2,500 soldiers from the neighboring Federal Republic of Somalia were transported by bus overnight from Eritrea, where they were being trained, to Tigray.
November 2, 2020, a statement was issued by the European Union’s High Representative Josep Borrell, stating that all parties, as well as Ethiopia’s neighbors, should abstain from provocative military deployments. President of the Tigray region, Dr. Debretsion, also told reporters that the federal government was going to attack Tigray. In a televised address, he further stated “we have prepared our special forces not in need of a war, but if the worst comes, to defend ourselves”.
November 3, 2020, the federal parliament proposed declaring the TPLF a terrorist organization before the fighting begins. By late afternoon in Ethiopia, polls opened for the US election. Coverage of the election would predictably saturate the media for the next several days. The events were apparently timed to coincide with the global media storm as a form of cover. On the same day, based on the request of PM of Ethiopia, Sudan’s military leader Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan agreed to close the Ethiopia–Sudan border to “prevent border infiltration to and from Sudan.
According to Belgian NGO, EEPA, by this date, Eritrean troops were already present in the Tigrayan town of Gerhu-Serenay along the Eritrea–Tigray border. Brig. Gen. Mulualem Admasu of the ENDF also revealed in an interview that on this date “tanks were readied, ammunition loaded, and battalions deployed”. An aircraft purportedly carrying newly minted banknotes takes off from Addis Ababa destined for the Tigray region capital. The timing of this flight corresponded closely with reports of an aircraft transporting commandos which landed in the Tigray region capital the following morning. This report was further corroborated by its striking similarity to the incident in 2018 when an aircraft full of federal police arrived unexpectedly in Tigray, which was repulsed by the Tigray forces.
On the other hand, Amhara region police commissioner, Abere Adamu, said in a public address that on this date “deployment of forces had taken place on our borders [of the Amhara region] from east to west. The war started that night after we had already completed our preparations”. Amhara region Special Forces Sergeant Tadilo Tamiru and his 170-man unit are already situated in a small town along the Tigray–Amhara border before fighting commences. They later joined the battle that broke out Close to midnight, in the town of Dansha, western Tigray.
November 4, 2020, at1:00 AM, the federal government disabled all telecommunications (including internet and telephone services) in the Tigray region. Communication is not yet fully restored to date. On the same day at 1:54 AM PM Abiy declared war on Tigray via Facebook post alleging the TPLF had tried to “plunder” the Northern Command.
The timing of the war is another evidence that clearly shows who start the war. November is the peak time that Tigrayans gather their farm crops. How on earth an elected government start a war on it land at this time? It is clear that the joint forces chose time in order to stave the people.
Following a robust discussion between the Tigray leadership and the Northern command, majority of the Northern Command members sided with Tigray. Those who sided with the federal government were given safe passage to either the Amhara region or Eritrea. This is corroborated by first-hand accounts of pro-federal government soldiers caught in the clashes. They described a firefight, being captured, and then released—far from the cold-blooded massacre Prime Minister Abiy alleged in the days following November 4.
The Tigray regional government vowed to defend the region but welcomed negotiation and a stop to the fighting. Prime Minister Abiy on the other hand rejected any form of dialogue and vowed to continue fighting until the TPLF is apprehended. The prime minister’s narrative is clearly dubious. All signs indicated that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed started the war on Tigray to eliminate the constitutionally elected government of the Tigray region.
In a nutshell, this war on Tigray was in the making well before November 4th jointly by five forces with clear reward and motivation. The principal motive of Abiy Ahmed is to remove the last obstacle to securing his place as the next Ethiopian king and shaping the country in his own image while Isayas’s motive on the other hand is taking revenge against its long-standing enemy TPLF, a strategically positioned haven for Eritrean refugees and opposition. And that of Amhara politicians the main supporters of the formation unitary is claiming “lost” territories in western and southern Tigray due to Ethnic based Federalism. The main goal bringing all the three forces to join their power against Tigray is subjugating Tigray and Tigrayans for generation. For UAE, the main motive is its geopolitical interest in the greater Red Sea area while For Somalia, mainly President Mohammad Abdulahi’s search for like minds for his quest to extend election and stay in power.
The war which was planned to finish in weeks has gone wrong and prolonged for more than half a year. The joint forces tried repeatedly to end it with massive attacks but the angered youth of Tigrayans are fiercely fight the joint forces under the command of Tigray Defense force. Majority of the villages and small towns are under TDF. Abiy`s soldiers and Isaias` soldiers are losing courage. A number of soldiers escape from the war fronts changing their uniforms by civilian clothes.
With the involvement of full-scale Eritrean forces, around 3000 soldiers from the Republic of Somalia and the use of drones owned and operated by the UAE, one can safely say that the war on Tigray has gone international. For the time being the south and western part of Tigray is under Amahara region while its northern part is under Eritrean government. Contrary to the international calls, the ethnic cleansing, genocide, widespread sexual violence, blocking humanitarian access, deliberate historical and cultural destruction continues. No one knows where and when will the war end but as Tigrayans are fighting for their survival, their victory is inevitable.
Berhane Gebremeskel former Ethiopian diplomat