Tigray being forced to sail into uncharted waters
Yohannes Aberra, PhD 12-21-19
The predicament of the people of the ancient land looks like it is endless. No one seems to be interested to reduce the burden on the People. Most are carelessly bent to add fuel to the fire as if they will be free from the consequences. By pushing Tigray onto the brink they are sure that it will be only Tigray that goes off the cliff to their relief: “አንድ ሳር ቢ መ ዘዝ ቤት አያፈርስም”. Yes, one straw may be pulled out from a thatched roof without effect; but one straw may also break the camel’s back. Many politicians and “journalists”, who naively prefer to think matters as ABCD not as BDAC, are handling the Tigray vs. central government polemics in a dangerously myopic and simplistic way.
Many are deriving great pleasure from the thought of “shrinking power” of the TPLF and its ultimate “doom”. They take comfort in the phantom they have created in their minds of a separate TPLF and the people of Tigray. They know much “better” than the people of Tigray themselves that the people of Tigray hate the TPLF. They take their own favorite assumptions as realities and analyze the politics of Tigray based on that shaky ground. They attribute the cohesion between the people of Tigray and the TPLF to the coercion and imposition by the TPLF. This is the worst of all insults on the people of Tigray because if the people are joined with the TPLF because they are forced to do so by the intimidation of the TPLF then we must be talking about other people called Tigray in other countries. The assumption that the TPLF is coercing the people to support it is like painting a doomsday scenario where parents are pulled around by their children. TPLF couldn’t have survived let alone thrive and be victorious without the full support of the people of Tigray. The people of Tigray are superior to the TPLF. They know what they are doing perfectly well. Sometimes TPLF could turn out to be a troublesome child for them. That is all! No sufficiently wide holes of weaknesses are available that could be used as entry points to destroy. Why did the people of Tigray support TPLF with their lives and limbs? Because the series of central governments in Ethiopia have been always negative to the people of Tigray. This dignified people couldn’t bear the persistent humiliations that were (still coming) from the center. They preferred death to dishonor. They got the TPLF to lead them into that honorable death! Isn’t this a blood-bonded cohesion? Could it be shattered by words however harsh and degrading they are?
What is happening now reminds me of some brief but unforgettable event at Arat Kilo liberty square in 1965 E.C. It clearly indicates how perennial and deeply rooted the hate against Tigraans has been. It was a weekend and six friends from Tigray, all attending freshman programme at HSIU, were having fun with areke and tella in the shanty town of ‘Basha Welde Chilot’. A few minutes past mid-night (there was no curfew then) we were crossing the Arat Kilo Square on our way back to campus. With a few glasses of tella and areke our tongues were loose and we were freely chattering in Tigrigna as we walked along. Suddenly, policemen guarding the Ministry of Education building shouted an order directed at us to come to where they were standing. We obeyed although there was no legal reason for them to summon us to their post. We committed no crime. We were university students having fun during our leisure time. To our utter dismay they told us to wait for a police car to take us to prison. Scared as young students away from home we waited for almost half an hour for the police car to come. When the waiting became too long we became a burden for the members of the police night patrol and they chased us away. No car was coming; the police were simply harassing us to quench their own thirst for hate victims. It was a sleepless night for all of us. None of us knew what exactly our crime was except for the guess we all had in our minds: speaking Tigrigna! Three of the six friends have martyred in the struggle for emancipation (RIP: Ze-Selassie Samuel, Gebre Kiros Teka, and Ahadu Uqbu).This is where irrational hate drives you to. All of the three were brilliant students with a potential to be professors and leaders.
It is in algebra that you start from an assumption (let x be 5; but x can be anything else!) then you follow the steps and reach a “solution set”. The assumption of the “political mathematicians” is that the people of Tigray are held by TPLF coercion to support it. Thus, the solution set is to liberate them from the TPLF. How is that to be done? By defeating the TPLF? How is that to be done? Is it by blocking roads and other kinds of transportation? Is it by cancelling projects? Is it by discouraging investment? Is it by preventing visitors, etc? It is sheer sarcasm that such actions will kill TPLF and benefit the people of Tigray! This is a contradiction. While TPLF leaders are accused of amassing wealth while in power and are assumed to possess more than enough to live on; it is surprisingly believed that economic sanctions will selectively harm the TPLF. These actions directly harm the people of Tigray. Those who are taking such actions know exactly where the impacts will fall. They know the Ethiopian public is cheering them regardless. This is what they want very badly: votes at any inhuman cost! For the people of Tigray hunger is not a novel experience. Mengistu Hailemariam has unashamedly said this in public: “There is no hunger in Ethiopia; it is in Tigray””; as if Tigray is not a part of Ethiopia. It was the “hungry” people who overthrew him and made him chew his tongue. Hunger has never affected the people of Tigray when it comes to defending their dignity and decision making power on their own affairs. Hunger never prevented them from fighting against several foreign invaders to save Ethiopia from colonial rule.
Tigray is being shoved into uncharted waters by the arithmetocrcy that has been guiding political thinking in Ethiopia for the last three decades. This is the tyranny of the demographic majority. Everybody knows the answer to the following question: What was the most frequently mentioned figure in Ethiopian politics for the last thirty years? The answer is: “Six-percent”. When the opposition to the TPLF criminalized it as a minority rule of six-percent, they were “unknowingly” referring to the people of Tigray! TPLF is not six-percent. Six-percent of what? Of all politicians in Ethiopia? Of all parties in Ethiopia? It is the people of Tigray who are six-percent out of the total population of Ethiopia. They are knowingly or unknowingly referring to a”rule by the people of Tigray”. This is an acknowledgement of what they otherwise don’t want to admit out of fear of uniting TPLF and the people. Anyways, the reference to the six-percent has involuntarily exposed who their real target is. They are targeting the TPLF because they think it is the Achilles heel of Tigray.
Some unwise Tigraian politicians and ordinary people are participating in this intricately woven scheme by trying to please the opponents by picking on trivialities that they think could help them to weaken the TPLF and pave the way for political power in Tigray (appointment from the Center!). This is repeating the ugly history of Tigray in which the noble men were doing all kinds of tricks on each other to please the Arat Kilo Palace. No one was pleased; but everyone was mocking them for their power-blinded mentalities and suicidal actions. It is only livestock that spoil their barn. Widening differences and fanning conflicts within Tigray, by Tigraian renegades, is nothing different from what the cattle do to their barn! This is what the nobility in Tigray did for nearly 50 years after Yohannes IV. It is sheer ignorance of Ethiopian politics vis-a-vis Tigray to try to repeat it. The imprudent opposition in Tigray is trying to destroy the fabric that holds the people of Tigray together. They are fanning differences by Awraja as if this is a new thing and is going to solve the current shared problem that the entire people of Tigray are facing. Such statements as “TPLF is dominated by Adwans and have been the main beneficiaries; Enderta, Tembien, Shire, Raya, are being harmed and oppressed by them, etc.” This is not the right time for such silly temper tantrum. Whatever happened and is happening is the misdeed of the elites not of the people of Adwa! The latter have suffered as much as any Tigraian from poverty and maladministration. Coming together and discussing the future is the solution not destroying the fabric that binds Tigray and exposing it to harm.
What Ras Seyoum succeeded to do by befriending the killers of his father, by handing in his own son to central authority in Addis Ababa, and surrendering his guest Atse Eyasu Michael, was to aggravate the bad situation in Tigray. No one in Arat Kilo felt grateful for the “favour” the Tigray nobility were trying to do for it at the cost of the security of the Region. No help came from Arat Kilo to pacify the internecine war in Tigray because it was a blessing in a bad guise for them to weaken the pretenders to the throne from the North. History seems to be repeating itself, this time again with the help of some disgruntled “modern nobles”. History punishes these kinds of people. Not a single statue or building or road or bridge is built to commemorate Ras Seyoum, Dj. Gebreselassie, Ras Sebhat, and others who selfishly plunged the people of Tigray into fratricide. The current division by awraja is the creation of those members of the nobility. Those who are using it now are no different from them! The history of Tigray will judge them brutally. There is no doubt that Tigray will outlive them.
Let me come back to the six-percent (TPLF/Tigray), which was removed from power for not fitting into the “democratic principle of majority rule”. From birth to adulthood democracy was not about demography as the prefix may suggest. Democracy is not about demographic majority but about electoral majority. The latter is about ideas not about ethnicity. A majority in democracy does not mean the group (racial, religious, ethnic) constituting 50+ of the total population is entitled to rule the rest in perpetuity. This is what is known as “arithmetocracy”: tyranny of the demographic majority, in contrast to, democracy a rule of the majority of the electorate. In democracy party candidates campaign for election by describing to potential voters how superior their (their parties’) political philosophy and development policy are. They don’t tell the voters that “they are fellow Oromo or fellow Tigray or fellow Amhara”. There is nothing superior or inferior in ethnic identity or in religious affiliation or in skin color, to convince voters to vote for a candidate or for a party. In this situation no one can get electoral majority vote only for being a fellow ethnic. The candidate is to be a PM or MP or minister not a tribal chief or a pope.
If TPLF’s revolutionary democracy is accepted by the majority, crossing ethnic divides, it gets majority vote and becomes majority rule (democracy). If TPLF’s revolutionary democracy is acceptable to the majority, but TPLF does not get majority vote, the only reason could be the election is based on demographic percentage not by ideology. So, TPLF was not removed from power because of its revolutionary democracy and constitution based on ethnic federalism, which were also adopted by the other EPRDF coalition parties and all of the EPRDF affiliated parties, but because of its ethnic demographic base was only six-percent. So it would take, for revolutionary democracy to be applied, a party based in a demographic majority ethnic group. It is who owns the political philosophy that matters not what the ideology is regardless of who owns it. That is why the “majority” parties (Oromo and Amhara based) are not worried about clearly telling us what their leading ideologies, guiding their development policies, are. They know they can be elected, regardless, to the arithmetocracy by their sheer percentage out of the total population of Ethiopia.
As the TPLF continues to defend its revolutionary democracy and constitution based on ethnic federalism it is considered as a tiny nuisance to be muted by any means. To counter the vocal TPLF and the people of Tigray from regaining the electoral majority the demographic majority is working hard on four fronts: one is to forge an ethnic alliance to attain a super majority (Oromara) to trivialize Tigray. The second is to isolate TPLF and Tigray from the other regions (Afar, Somali, Benishangul, the South, and Gambela) who are the key beneficiaries of revolutionary democracy and constitution based on ethnic federalism. Once this is accomplished TPLF/Tigray will be left as a pariah regional state. The third is to shrink the geographic extent of Tigray and reduce its political and economic viability by instigating separatist rebellion in its peripheral zones (west and south). The fourth and most complicated is the unholy alliance with the dictatorial PFDJ leadership to complete the psychological encirclement of Tigray. In fact, the latter is only temporary. There is always an expiry date for dictatorial rule. Eritreans are saying enough is enough. It is not my job to advise the current leadership of Ethiopia to refrain from friendship with a dictatorial regime that is deeply hated by Eritreans. This may adversely affect future relations with democratic Eritrea.
Initially the Oromara block was created by parties (OPDO and ANDM) not by the will of the people of the two nations. The aim was to remove the TPLF. Economic and social cooperation between regional states is possible and even encouraged; but it is illegal to form political blocks of two or more regional states in a federation. It is only independent states not federal states that have the legitimacy to do this. With the election only half a year close the Amhara and Oromo alliance is taking a different shape. I am not against; in fact I am in favor of, the Oromos and the Amharas talking to one another. It is their historic belligerence that has been shaking Ethiopia for a century or more. It will be a blessing for the entire people of Ethiopia if they can resolve their differences by peaceful means instead of fatally irritating one another through palace renovations, statues, and militant songs and poems. Unfortunately, this is not the basic reason for the alliance they are trying to forge through the joint meetings of their scholars. In the words of Merara Gudina “it is about the 62 percent that has the responsibility to shape the future of Ethiopia”. This is alarming to say the least! Arithmetocracy is in the making six months before the election date; an election we hoped will be the election of ideas. First of all there is no recent enough census that can confirm Merara Gudina’s percentage. The last census was 14 years ago. No one knows what has been happening in the meantime as far as population dynamics is concerned except for the half-truth statistical projections. So, 62 percent is inappropriately coming from a political scientist not from a demographer.
Figures don’t matter here. What matters is what the scholars and politicians native to the two regions (Amhara and Oromia) are trying to accomplish. Although their ethnic based parties have little in common as an ideology to present to the electorate both are hoping to get votes from all of their ethnic constituencies and jointly reach a majority for parliament. This is also the case in the new progress party where membership has ethnic quotas. The party if elected will always remain an Oromo and Amhara majority in decision making. The Oromara coalition for a perpetual majority can remain in place into eternity unless by divine intervention the demography of Ethiopia changes drastically. The 60 percent may get even more votes from the remaining 40 percent because there is no way that the rest can coalesce into a single block. Even if they coalesce 40 percent will always render them as minority vote of no consequence. What Merara Gudina was saying was unfair. Ethiopia is not the concern of only Oromos and Amharas. This is tantamount to saying the rest are irrelevant and may be even disruptive. There is no justifiable reason under the sun for Oromo and Amhara alone to discuss on Ethiopia’s future. This is sheer arrogance based on numerical might. Scholars are expected to be more reasonable than politicians; but this is hopelessly not the case.
All the political roads are leading to the isolation of Tigray and weakening it. Journalists, particularly those of ESAT feel the freedom to violate all the ethical standards of journalism and have become a more poisonous version of the central government’s communication office. No one is there to check the group of ESAT “panelists” who say the same thing in different Amharic synonyms. Every nonsense the central government does on Tigray is a heroic act for them and expect the people of Tigray to consider it as if it is their fault. I am waiting for the time when ESAT opportunists will behave like their ethically superior journalist counterparts in the USA. They are polluting the journalistic atmosphere in the USA by at one time violating the impartiality of journalism and shouting at Meles Zenawi, at another time, justifying the actions of the central government which is putting a noose around the neck of Tigray (a regional state treated like a foreign state). This has been repeated several times, by every government in Addis Ababa, for the entire century. Poor Ethiopia-loving Tigray is still hoping in the unmistakable absence of hope that Ethiopia will turn a loving face towards it.
The Chinese delegation was accused of harboring evil intentions related to its trip to Tigray. It was accused of supporting and even collaborating with corruption of the TPLF. This is a serious allegation against a world power which has good intentions to help developing countries to catch up in the cruel global economic order. While praising China for the launching of the satellite (a smoke screen) it is being cursed for supporting the TPLF/Tigray. The Chinese are acting rationally in terms of the criteria for investment. Tigray is peaceful enough for FDI. They cannot risk investing in other parts of Ethiopia which is committing suicide when it comes to investment suitability. ESAT “journalists” tried to justify the unjustifiable and highly provocative action of preventing the flight of the Chinese delegation to Tigray by relating it to who has the prerogative to engage in diplomatic relations with other countries. There seems to be serious amnesia or impunity about this issue. The Amhara regional state government invited the leader of Eritrea to visit the region violating all diplomatic protocol of relations with foreign countries. Considering the Ethiopian-Eritrean border as “artificial border” and Esayas Afeworki as a brother and a friend does not make the relations with Eritrea as a domestic inter-Kilil relationship. In fact, Eritrean president (not a delegation of junior officials like the Chinese) visited the regional state. The aim of visit/ invitation was less about investment but more about something more sinister against fellow Ethiopians (Tigray). Now when Tigray invited a foreign delegation just for investment it is accused of violating the Federal arrangement where external relations are the responsibility and duty of the central government alone. Tigray is accused of “lawlessness” in diplomacy! Oh God! I came face to face with the incarnated adage: “might is right”.
Tigray has almost irreversibly lost hope in Ethiopia. For the first time in its history Tigray is sailing into uncharted waters, at least psychologically away from Ethiopia. It is time for the passengers and the captain to avoid panic, forge steel unity, and exercise maximum causation. Innovativeness to handle such a novel experience is mandatory. This time, no Tigraian can afford to be carefree with regard to the state of affairs in the land of our ancestors. What is happening is not a business as usual scenario. It is the dawn of a totally new era. No one knows which way Tigray is going to go in the final analysis; but everyone must be prepared for any eventualities and inconvenient surprises. With God’s grace, and the characteristic patience and bravery of the people, Tigray will reach a safe port at the end of the day. Its unsympathetic tormentors will be shamed. It has always been like that! It will also happen now! Prof. Mesfin Woldemariam said “God will not abandon Ethiopia”. We all share that; but I also expect him to share this: “God will not abandon Tigray” too, and will deliver it unharmed from the belly of the shark like prophet Yonas.