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Back to the debate on responsibility: Eritrean Defense Force vs. "PFDJ Army"

Back to the debate on responsibility: Eritrean Defense Force vs. "PFDJ Army"

Kalayu Abrha 04-25-21

At least five armies- three foreign, the Amhara regional militia, the Ethiopian Defense Force- took part in the invasion, physical and psychological destruction, and genocide in Tigray. The well coordinated and pre-planned action is still ongoing and getting worse with every passing day. This requires the prioritization of action to stop the war crimes. The off-palace President of Tigray has been unequivocal about it: "First and foremost Tigray has to be freed from the scourge". Before Tigray as a State with an elected government could get air into its lungs and start sorting out the culprits, in order to put together an international legal case against them, Eritreans seem to be too hastily worried about who is going to be held responsible for the acts of barbarianism in Tigray by Eritrean troops. A few weeks ago, I had written on the subject, though very lightly, basing myself on some talk show on Asena TV. Before I go on any further on the subject, I would like to express by appreciation for the Eritrean Channel which has become a strong and uncompromising voice for Tigray. Besides hosting Tigray channels, the unwavering political stance of Eritrean Journalist running the channel is a good reason for hope about the future of Tigray and Eritrea.

A friend of mine drew my attention to the interview held with the Eritrean Dr. Daniel R. Mekonnen and I felt obliged to air my opinion about the statements the interviewee made on the problematic of responsibility. Although I can try to understand Dr. Daniel's position as protective of his motherland, which is living in peace as its armed kids wreak havoc over my land without any sign of reservation, I am carrying a huge and unbearable burden on my head thrown with impunity on the peace loving people of Tigray. Dr. Daniel seems to have taken much comfort in his version of assignment of responsibilities. He preferred to think that it is not a government of Eritrea which is plundering Tigray but a bunch of individuals who are bent on using the army to realize their own personal dreams. It follows from this, according to Dr. Daniel, that only those individuals are to be held responsible not Eritrea as a political unit. To objectively counter this point of argument I may have to stop being my real self. Although it is difficult to even temporarily remove from the mind the deep emotions triggered by the brutalities the Army from Eritrea is committing in Tigray, just for the sake of levelling the field for debate, I will avoid posing as an emotional defender, akin to Dr. Daniel, and make my points based on logic.

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There are a number of fallacies in the point of argument that those responsible for the carnage in Tigray are the "key members of PFDJ not Eritrea as a sovereign state". Before I go on to exposing the fallacy in this statement of convenience, I need to put my hypothesis about why the assignment of responsibilities from the Eritrean side is being diminished to the few individuals in the PFDJ leadership. This is the statement in full made by Dr. Daniel rephrased and abridged: "The people of Tigray will live with grudges against Eritrea for many years to come; but those to be penalized are the leaders PFDJ". Look at this statement very carefully. The vibrant economy of Tigray has been reduced to ashes from a spoon to manufacturing complexes; from the traditional oven used by a farming woman to the burning of harvest and slaughter of livestock; and from the mass murder of Tigray's human resource to the devastation if its health and educational infrastructure; and from the destruction of priceless historical and religious treasures to the violations of the dignity of motherhood in Tigray.  It is impossible to attain a status quo ante in less than 20 to 30 years. Whatever can be done to restore even the weakest of normal life requires tens of billions of dollars. Completely disabled Tigray cannot cover any portion of this outlay. I am putting aside the greater harm done by gang rape and the wanton killings of civilians and the huge amount of money needed for social-psychological rehabilitation of the victims and their surviving family members. Money may restore the loss of hardware but never the soft component of the invasion. The international community may be involved in the restoration of Tigray on the basis of its humanitarian responsibilities; but the bulk of the cost of restoration must be covered by the Eritrean State whatever form of government it currently has or will have in the future. This is my hypothesis about the underlying driver of Dr. Daniel's assignment of responsibilities to the PFDJ chieftains alone. This leaves Tigray a victim without justice. Isaias and his entourage my appear in ICC and be sentenced to long years of prison hoping that this is going to happen for real. The jail sentence of Yugoslav butchers- Radovan Karadžić, Slobodan Milošević, and Ratko Mladic- did not heal Bosnia. I would go to the extent of proposing selling Serbia and using the money to restore Bosnia. BUT Bosnia's problem is only a drop in the ocean of Tigray's devastation in the hands of Eritrean troops. Dr. Daniel is horrified by the thought of his homeland paying the full cost of war reparation in Tigray. What postwar relations Eritrea and Tigray will have is to be decided based on how future politics evolves on both sides; but first Eritrea must squeeze its resources to fully compensate the hardware damage it inflicted in Tigray just to begin with. This is the bottom line below which Tigray will never attempt to go. Let me come to the logical framework of my argument which puts the responsibility squarely on Eritrea as a State. I will raise three fundamental but interrelated issues to make my point strongly:

1. Fallacy I: Individuals not states are responsible

Tigray is familiar with such lame lines of argument. "It was Menilik not the government of Ethiopia that devastated Tigray in final years of the 19th Century; It was Haile Selassie the cruel king that used the Royal Air force to kill women and children in the Monday market; It was Mengistu the brutal tyrant who bloodied Hawzien; and now it is Isaias who returned Tigray to the stone age".  Well, this is like: " እንታይሞ'ግበር ደኒንካንባዕ'ምበር". Calling a spade, a spade and make it do the shoveling not the digging should be our guide in handling such extremely sensitive issues. The truth that Dr. Daniel should not evade, in an act of patriotic defense, is that whatever actions PFDJ led by Isaias has been taking, regardless of their merit as favorable or unfavorable to the target, were done on behalf of the Eritrean State. Here is why! Not all governments in the world have full acceptance from their people. There were countless governments in the world that ruled their people with an iron hand: Chile, Spain, Congo, Zimbabwe, Haiti, Burma, Iraq, Argentina, Cuba, etc. These governments have had supporters and oppositions. What their supporters and oppositions think about the bad governments notwithstanding these governments have had a seat reserved for them in the UN General Assembly and the ambassadors they assigned to all world countries are accepted, respected, and attended to. It is no different for Isaias and his PFDJ team who get a red-carpet reception to whichever state they travel for a diplomatic mission. Regardless of what the whole world feels how bad a dictator Isaias is due regard is given to him as the official representative of Eritrea. Getting rid of Isaias as unrepresentative of Eritrea is the responsibility of Eritreans. Eritreans have already seen signs of trouble before when Isaias sent troops to Yemen, Sudan, Djibouti, and trained Alshabab in Somalia. None of them tried to stop him; many loved Isaias as an Eritrean strong man of Africa regardless of the adverse consequences for Eritrea. The world community has no reason at all to meddle. If Eritreans are comfortable with Isaias and PFDJ regardless of the bad things he does to them, why should the world community care to deny Isaias his status as representative of the people of Eritrea? The world cannot be more catholic than the pope and tell Eritreans to remove Isaias because he is bad for them!


2. Fallacy 2: Tigray + TPLF vs. Eritrea State - PFDJ

Isaias and his team, including a million of his fans, believe that TPLF and Tigray are one and the same. The positive sense of this assertion is constructive and true. Why Eritreans prefer to think Tigray and TPLF are the same is for a sinister reason. Whatever punishment TPLF should face from Eritrea should target the people of Tigray as well. Let us assume that the baseless accusation that Eritreans were ill-treated in the hands of TPLF is true. If this is so on whom should Eritreans put out their revenge? The logical answer of course is on TPLF separately. If most Eritreans, hold that TPLF and Tigray are one and the same and the punishment goes to both, why are they not admitting that Isaias and PFDJ are the same with the people of Eritrea and the responsibility for the devastation of Tigray goes to both? The convenient double standards here is unmistakable.

3. Fallacy 3: Isaias-Abiy friendship with full Eritrean backing

The row triggered by Foreign Affairs spokes-person Dina Mufti was just a game of hide and seek. Eritreans are expectedly better versed with how politics is done than Ethiopians are. They have had an initial advantage during the years of colonialism to know about how modern politics is run. It is also expected that they are conscious of even the slightest move in politics directly or indirectly connected with Eritrean affairs. I find it hard to believe that Eritreans were ignorant about the underlying motive of the Isaias-Abiy friendship. They know much better than anyone else that Isaias has always been an Ethiopianist motivated by his personal quest for leadership over Ethiopia and beyond. Isaias never concealed his desire to his associates and the wider public of Eritrea that reunion with Ethiopia has always been a more profitable option for Eritrea. His comrades heard from him, but they had no intention of removing him as a threat to Eritrean independent existence. I don’t think they were oblivious to the fact that anyone in the front seat can have its wishes commanded. Trapped in dilemma about a possible surrender to Ethiopia and the desire of Eritreans to keep “Wedi Afom” in the leadership position, they preferred to shift the burden of their ambivalence to TPLF and Tigray. This is customary in psychological distress where one is advised to shatter as many Chinaware on the wall as can be available to relieve the hysteria which does not have an easy way out. The Chinaware and the wall are analogous to Tigray destroyed for no visible or audible offense.

When the “reconciliation” between Isaias and Abiy was launched in a fanfare devoid of any diplomatic procedures and/or consultation with relevant domestic administrative apparatus on both sides, Eritreans were uncontrollably jubilant. Although Eritreans know Abiy is an Ethiopianist of the highest order and never compromises the claim of ownership on Eritrean ports they never paid attention to what possible danger to Eritrean independence could emanate from the two Ethiopianist leaders of two officially separate countries. For the rest of the world, seemingly not for Eritreans, Isaias was unequivocal about his words and actions. His interviews are almost invariably about Ethiopia and who he considered as its arch enemy: TPLF. Eritrea was never an important agenda for him. Eritreans have told us the reason why they supported the Isaias and Ably rapprochement. They thought they got a solution for the border impasse for 20 years. In fact TPLF never refused to solve the border problem; it was a demarcation problem that Isaias used to keep Eritreans on their toes and denied them the economic progress they deserved after 30 odd years of liberation war. He intentionally weakened Eritrea to induce the feeling of inadequacy among Eritreans without Ethiopia. However, this was not what he was telling Eritreans. He was attributing the failure of Eritrea to progress as much as Tigray did because “TPLF debilitated Eritrea though sanctions and international isolation”. Eritreans who desperately sought for an explanation why they returned to their precolonial life the TPLF scapegoat was a convenient and easily absorbed excuse for senior and ordinary Eritreans alike. A background of chauvinist slurs on Tegaru have stimulanted the public acceptance of TPLF and Tigray as “culprits”. When Isaias said in public that “the border issue is irrelevant, and Ethiopians and Eritreans are one people”. Blaming the TPLF for the border impasse and drawing swords against it was also irrelevant. All though this Eritreans overwhelmingly supported Isaias as their deliverer.         

3. Fallacy 4: A strong Tigray is a threat to Eritrean independence

None of the preceding fallacies are as absurd as this one here. Eritreans know very well that all political parties and any ordinary Tigrayan recognizes the independence of Eritrea and does nothing to violate it. Tegaru have no bad habit of contradicting their own standpoint even in time of adversity. While Eritreans are busy destroying Tigray with the tacit approval of most Eritreans most of us, including myself, still believe in the protection of Eritrean independence. We don’t confuse principles with our current ordeals. Tigray is a civilized society that is never swayed by emotions. Eritreans don’t need a lame excuse to hate what should never be hated. It is understandable that from the inception Eritrea has never had a leader of its own until Isaias came to the helm. They have an inalienable right to be infatuated with Isaias as long as it does not have an adverse consequence on others. Tigray has become “the Ram of Abraham” for Eritreans’ fatal honeymoon with Ethiopian nationalists. Many Eritreans are so obsessed with Isaias and his actions that they have lost even the most primordial sense of humanity. Those who rallied in the streets of American and European cities, supporting the human rights violation by Eritrean troops in Tigray, were not a minority at all. From the Eritrean opposition talk shows we can read between the lines that the opposition is facing insurmountable difficulties of convincing PFDJ’s massive support base to their side. Fallacy 4 has entered a positive feedback loop pushing Eritreans in the direction of what Yemane Gebreab proposed: Eritreans in a “silence is consent” tacitly approved Isaias’ campaign of extermination in Tigray because they entertained the strange notion that “a strong Tigray is a threat to the very existence of Eritrea”. Once the extermination came to a full swing but Tigray was never to be erased the fear of retaliation from Tigray among Eritreans doubled and tripled. Irrational fear gave birth to cruelty over Tigray; cruelty triggered defiance and stiff resistance; a new cycle of fear that Tigray may invade Eritrea as a revenge induced by TPLF-Tigray’s devastating counter attacks on Eritrean troops; and in a positive feedback loop Eritreans vowed for a complete devastation of Tigray.

Eritreans are well known in Africa and the world over for fighting as long as it takes to earn their freedom. It is a fairy tale for me to hear and read that Eritreans have found it impossible to remove Isaias from his presidency and replace him by a participatory democracy which does not lash out at its neighbors to nurse its own frustrations. Support for Tigray that surges and ebbs with the perceived strength and weakness of Eritrea against Tigray is not acceptable. Supporting the Vietnamese when America is weakened by the Vietcong is unfair; because there is no guarantee that the support for Vietnam will not be reversed when America starts to get the upper hand. The lack of firmness and the loss of direction among Eritreans is going to harm Eritreans themselves than it would Tigray. I don’t think the intermittent Eritrean support for Tigray will ever be of any value. It is the other way round that is valid. Tigray may deliver Eritreans from the dilemma they are stuck in, lest the Sahelian-betrayal is repeated.

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