Is Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed the Problem? The TPLF and its internal/external strategic allies
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Part I of III
When I see droves of Ethiopian youth protesting and joining the country’s defense forces to defend Ethiopia’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, and national honor, I feel encouraged that Ethiopia will survive. When I see Ethiopian girls and mothers preparing food for those who are fighting terrorists, I feel elated, emboldened, and hopeful. With the restoration of peace and stability, I might be able to witness the inevitability that Ethiopia will not only survive but thrive.
The Ethiopian people do not need foreigners to teach them who they are; and what they stand for. “ባንተባበር ሊበሉን ነበር (If we were not united, they would have broken us apart”) a protest slogan that the young generation of Ethiopians displayed represents a powerful trend in Ethiopian society. Youth across the board are determined to defend their country. They are sacrificing their lives for an honorable cause. This cause is nothing less than Ethiopia’s survival as a state.
This popular resentment against terrorists is gradually gaining traction in the international community. When united, people matter. They change the course of history. Leaders matter too.
However, I know of no perfect leader. Whatever misgivings you may have about the Prime Minister or anyone else leading Ethiopia today; I urge you to focus on the big prize: Ethiopia. In my assessment, any Ethiopian in public office who defends Ethiopia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty against the determined, treasonous, terrorist, and corrupt group, the Tigray Defense Forces and its internal and external strategic allies including the OLF/Shine is honorable. Leaders who reflect popular sentiment matter.
Deficiencies or flaws in leadership notwithstanding, Ethiopia cannot survive without a central government. Deficits in leadership and national priorities must be weighed against the formidable problems Ethiopia faces at present. The threat Ethiopia faces today is existential. If we agree on this, then we can park the institutional and structural problems for now and focus on the priceless: Ethiopia.
Long term, for Ethiopia to endure and for its 117 million people to thrive, Ethiopia’s leaders at all levels of government, opposition parties and civil society must make a bold decision and overhaul ethnic federalism. This is the source of the problem. The system and the administrative model that is based on ethnic differentiation are prone to proxy wars and to constant conflict. You build infrastructure one day and it is destroyed the next day. The root cause of this cycle of perpetual war and destruction must stop at one point. Differentiation based on ethnic identity that currently pits one ethnic group against another must cease. This is the system that Ethiopian society is dealing with at present.
Some may argue that the current system is deficient because it lacks good implementers. If the system is broken at the core, implementation is not the issue. For example, replacing the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) dominated governance architecture by another similar entity will only lead to another cycle of violence and destruction. It is therefore not the answer.
A democratic federal model (replacement) that is based on the sanctity of life and the rights and responsibilities of an individual will meet at least two objectives: a) each Ethiopian citizen will enjoy personal safety and security as well as the universally accepted right to own private property wherever he or she resides; and b) social, capital mobility and market integration across regions will be enhanced. Those with rights who also own property rarely destroy what they treasure. They are vested.
The question is when is the right time to propose systemic change? You cannot solve all societal problems at once. You must prioritize and choose. For now, the single most important priority is to save Ethiopia.
I urge each one who believes in Ethiopia’s durability as a country to acknowledge the promising and powerful show of unity among Ethiopians on the ground. Most Ethiopians understand that the priority today is to save Ethiopia. At the same time, it is vital to recognize that the system of ethnic-governance and ethnic federalism have unleashed destructive ethnic-nationalist, extremist, secessionist, and jihadist forces against the Ethiopian state. The threat is posed from two forces: one within and the other without. So, it is not the TPLF/TDF alone that is a threat. It is a combination of internal and external forces. They operate in concert.
By design, the TPLF ruled Ethiopia with an iron-fist and extracted massive rent from the society for almost three decades. By design its foreign sponsors, especially Egypt encouraged the formation of separate and distinct regional states, and the evolution of Special Forces in each state.
The regional state that forged ahead as if it was a separate nation, is Tigray. The most highly endowed, trained, and with a menacing group of Special Forces that operated at par with Ethiopia’s National Defense Forces (ENDF) is the TPLF followed by the Oromo Special Forces. The least endowed is the Amhara. The formation of these Special Forces that operated outside Ethiopia’s national defense, intelligence and security infrastructure strengthened regional. ethnically configured and “independent” state formation.
Allowed by the Ethiopian Federal Government to mushroom, this formation diminished the Ethiopian national state. For all practical purposes, the power of the central Ethiopian Federal state existed in name and on paper only. This is the reason why US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his spokesman Ned Price repeatedly call for the withdrawal of Amhara Special Forces from “Western Tigray,” a vast tract of land forcibly annexed and incorporated into Tigray by the TPLF. This false and dangerous assertion amounts to de facto recognition of Tigray as an independent state. You cannot dismiss the fact that they are using the ethnic-federal Constitution to side with the TPLF.
The TPLF/TDF will never change.
In his heated debate with the BBC’s Stephen Sackur Hard Talk, Getachew Reda dismissed entirely the renewed TPLF/TDF insurgency expanding the war by targeting the Afar and Amhara regions. He disavowed responsibility for the massacres of more than 270 innocent civilians, 107 children and more than 40 women in the Afar region. He failed to acknowledge accountability and responsibility for genocide of more than 1,200 innocent civilians in Mai Kadra more than 8 months ago, etc. He accused “Amhara expansionist forces.” He accused the Prime Minister and his Government of genocide. He placed all responsibility squarely and singularly on the Ethiopian Government leadership.
The bottom line is this. As far as the TPLF/TDF is concerned, there is no prospect for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. Ethiopia must, according to Getachew Reda, first and as a precondition, accept and meet the demands of the terrorist, treasonous and corrupt group that has no qualms deploying and sacrificing Tigrean children; or any reservation plotting with Egypt or Sudan against Ethiopia.
The latest assertion by Getachew Reda deepens the crisis and prolongs the war. The unintended consequence the TPLF/TDF leadership and their supporters is that they ignore the popular sentiment against them that their narrative and insurgency engender. It is time for Tigrean Ethiopians to reject the TPLF/TDF because it makes them sacrificial lambs.
Ethiopia mobilizes for “war.”
Ethiopian youth are mobilized as never before. So is the society. This encouraging trend is. however, ephemeral unless it is steered, led, and managed carefully and strategically by competent, patriotic, strategic leaders at all levels. In a war like setting with no end in sight, Ethiopia must enhance both productivity and the planned distribution & execution of available national assets, essentials, and other scarce inputs.
The mortal internal enemy and its external allies against which Ethiopians are fighting have mastered the art of deceit, lies, make believe storytelling and penetration of significant institutions: the armed forces, national intelligence and security, the media and communications, the public relations and public diplomacy nexus and the financial system. Cleansing these institutions of infiltrators, profiteers and foreign agents is a priority at all levels of government. Command and control might be politically incorrect. But it is essential in winning the war. So is intensification of domestic productivity. So is the importance of systematic and Government led distribution of essentials and public goods.
I contend in this commentary that prolonging the war against the TPLF that operates in tandem with external powers indefinitely is a recipe for disaster. The strategy is to be singularly and deliberately focused; to close ranks and unite for the cause; and to move from defense to offense. Division on the offensive front must not be tolerated or allowed.
Ethiopia’s current leaders must learn from the failures of the Military-Socialist Government whose military command and control, intelligence and security network were irreparably penetrated by Ethiopia’s enemies. I urge stakeholders to speed up and end the war as soon as possible. Prolonging it will prove costly.
First thing first
Crushing the TPLF and its vast infrastructure is the single most important objective now. Most Ethiopians at home are mobilizing their resources in support of this goal. Those of us in the Ethiopian Diaspora must set aside non-strategic differences; must stop being petty; and must meet our obligation to Ethiopia and to the Ethiopian people by contributing materially, spiritually, and intellectually.
I am confident that this critical step of demolishing Ethiopia’s arch enemies first will be followed by systemic changes using different tools. For example, establishing an independent commission to craft a new Constitution; an expert group to reclaim stolen wealth; an expert group to prepare a strategic plan and road map for Ethiopia’s rapid and sustainable development; a competent and representative group to initiate an all-party conference for durable peace, reconciliation, and national consensus, etc. You can and must do these. But you cannot do any if you fail to defend and preserve the prize: Ethiopia.
A transition in the making: is it a repeat of the London model?
The current discourse on the formation of a transitional government is dangerous. Ethiopians who care about their country must learn from the past. In 1991, a Western sponsored transitional government led by Herman Cohen, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs brokered a deal. At the time, pro-Ethiopian political parties and persons were excluded. All the actors represented ethnic-rebel groups led by the TPLF. The umbrella organization formed called itself the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). It served the TPLF. It is the EPRDF that led to the current mess.
Before entering Addis Ababa, the capital, the TPLF “broadcast warned residents of the city of 3 million to stay off the streets and told foreign embassies to shut their doors and fly national flags prominently so that their buildings could be identified.” The rest is history.
At this conference that determined Ethiopia’s future, the USA “mediated the peace talks” and facilitated the formation of an interim Ethiopian Government dominated by the TPLF. The Ethiopian Prime Minister at the time “vehemently objected to the U.S. edict that rebels enter the besieged city” of Addis Ababa to “stabilize the situation. The kingmaker, Herman Cohen announced that “all parties in the Ethiopian conflict had agreed to a cease-fire” and that the TPLF-led leadership “has assured us that they plan for a broadly based provisional government leading to a democratic constitution for Ethiopia.” This never happened. A minority ethnic group ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist and milked its assets.
When rejected by the Ethiopian people the TPLF garrisoned in Mekele; committed treason.; committed heinous crimes including Mai Kadra and most recently in the Afar region; and launched an insurgency that Western democracies, especially the Biden Administration has failed to condemn the TPLF/TDF without any reservation. It is time to do that.
I go back to 1991 and ask the question “Who was missing at the table then and why? Is the current secret consultation with persons preidentified and preselected by the Government of the USA a repeat of the same? Why is the Government of Ethiopia not invited? If it refused, is its reasoning not worthy of consideration? Are there not noteworthy Pro-Ethiopia persons or organizations that can contribute to the debate?”
Behind the scenes this time in 2021, the US Department of State is holding a session (s) with ethnic federalists to form a transitional government for Ethiopia. This process has the potential of sidelining and aborting the current national determination and resolve to deal with terrorists that wish to destroy Ethiopia, to make the country ungovernable and to unseat the current Federal Government.
I shall conclude Part I by stating that the TPLF/TDF has more enemies today than yesterday; and by urging Ethiopians to unite and to focus on the big prize alone for now: Ethiopia.
Part II will discuss the genesis of internal and external hurdles Ethiopia faces today
To be continued
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