By Addissu Admas
The blitzkrieg that overwhelmed Tigray has now collapsed with the same speed with which it began. There was no good reason for starting it, and paradoxically much less good reason to declare a unilateral ceasefire. The whole enterprise appears unfortunately like an amateurish venture as Debretsion has essentially characterized it. As repugnant is for me to agree with him, how else can we perceive it to be? How do you go to war with most of your officers being essentially members of one’s adversary’s party? How did you plan to control the flow of intelligence between the Ethiopian armed forces and the Tigray Defense Force (TDF)? It seemed almost too good to be true that the TPLF folded so quickly: It had too much at stake to simply retreat and disappear.
I don’t know how many soldiers were killed and captured, how many civilians became victims and pawns of horrendous acts. Both sides have been masters at concealing, manipulating and distorting the facts so we still have not even the vaguest idea of the scale and depth of the ravages of the war. Perhaps we will never know unless a third party is allowed free access to investigate. But all in all, this is not the most urgent matter now. What needs to be talked about at this juncture is how to staunch the bleeding. Every pundit is declaring that TPLF’s victory, and it is a victory however we may slice it or resent it, marks the beginning of the end of the Ethiopian Federal Republic. From here on each Killil will be claiming separate and independent statehood just as in the case of the dismemberment of the former Yugoslavia. In which order, it would be hard to say. Perhaps contemporaneously? The consensus appears to be that once Tigray is gone, if indeed the TPLF wants to declare Tigray a new state, the other Killils will inevitably follow suit. Does it need to be so?
TPLF began, as its very name indicates, to “liberate” and establish an independent state of Tigray. It was able to achieve its goal for two years without international recognition prior its decision of wresting the central government of Ethiopia from the inept and incompetent hands of Mengistu H. Mariam and his dictatorial regime. After establishing and pursuing an ethnocracy for over 27 years, it reluctantly and grudgingly relinquished power to its now “mature” coalition partners when it clearly perceived that not doing so would have led to a full blown civil war. It was evident from the start, that although it accepted the decision to relinquish its unfettered power over the whole state machinery, it would have never allowed the central government to have any say in the running of Tigray, even where it had every right to do so. Thus, with this victory, the TPLF has come full circle to where it was stuck before its rapid march to Addis Ababa in 1990-91.
Will it plan to march again to unseat this time the government of PM Abiy and rule again Ethiopia? I very much doubt it. The people of the rest of Ethiopia have developed such aversion for what it stands and for what it has done that there is every reason to believe that they will wage war against it willingly and determinedly. There is little doubt that it will maintain supremacy over Tigray; and that it will seek even total independence from the rest of Ethiopia. But will it be to its advantage? Even with all the massive looting it had conducted during its nearly thirty year reign, with all the infrastructure it had been able to build at the expense of the rest of Ethiopia, Tigray, like any of the current Killils of Ethiopia, has very little chance of establishing an economically viable state, unless its undersoil is replete with untold treasures. Tigray is still better off with Ethiopia if only it can rid itself of a “TPLF” mentality.
If the TPLF decides to conduct a campaign of revenge against Eritrea, and at the same time to “reconquer” the lands it had unlawfully and brazenly expropriated from its contiguous Killils, it will be deciding for a never-ending war against an equally formidable Eritrean defense force and highly motivated militias. Its best option for now, besides savoring its victory, is to try to reconstitute the battered land and define the terms of its relation with the rest of Ethiopia.
On the other end, in order to maintain a bargaining chip with Tigray, PM Abiy needs to seal off Tigray’s borders externally and begin the arduous work of purging the entire Ethiopian armed forces of its TPLF elements and its sympathizers. He must also discourage all irredentist stirrings in member Killils so that Ethiopia does not plunge into a never ending civil war. Without a truly national defense force drawn from every ethnic group in a proportional manner, there will never be a truly national defense force. What Ethiopia has today is a remnant of a defense force that acted as the armed wing of an ethnocratic party. This needs to change finally.
Moreover, since this war cannot be won by force alone, PM Abiy must be open to a negotiated settlement and not prepare for another futile attempt to reconquer Tigray and bankrupt Ethiopia further. As I indicated in an article on this web magazine on November 11, 2020 [“The Imperative of avoiding civil war in Ethiopia”], the only way forward is through peaceful negotiation, because war begets only war.
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