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The Truth the World Should Know about the Tigray Conflict in Ethiopia


“We do not know a truth without knowing its cause” –Aristotle 

Conflict in Tigray _ Ethiopia

By Menbere Workie (Prof. ) 

What was the main cause of the conflict? 

As the only independent and uncolonized country in Africa, Ethiopia symbolizes the continent’s  independence. And despite the country’s rich diversity in culture, language and ethnicity,  Ethiopians have co-existed peacefully and harmoniously for centuries—that is until the Tigrayan  People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) took power in 1991 and introduced the ill-conceived and  dishonest ethnic-based federal system. One thing that remains constant across Ethiopia’s history  is the unquestionable unity of Ethiopians every time their country came under attack. This time  is not different, and Ethiopians from all walks of life are responding in one voice against foreign  intervention in their domestic affairs. Instead, they advocate the slogan of “African solutions to  African problems.”  

The current conflict—as recognized by former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and top TPLF  leaders—started when the TPLF brutally and cowardly attacked the Northern Command of the  Ethiopian Army stationed in Tigray on November 3, 2020. The TPLF sought to paralyze their own  country’s defense force in an attempt to overthrow Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s democratically  elected government. These actions constituted the worst possible betrayal; it was the highest form of treason someone could commit against their own country. In response, the Ethiopian  government decided to retaliate and bring the perpetrators to justice. What government on  Earth wouldn’t do the same? 

The background of the conflict 

The TPLF controlled Ethiopia for over 27 years (1991-2018); during its reign, the party transformed the country in various directions. There was relatively high economic growth driven  by foreign aid. But Ethiopians suffered because the government divided the country by ethnic  lines, turning Ethiopia into the only ethnic-based federal republic in the entire African continent.  While an ethnic system may seem fair and progressive at first glance—especially to outsiders— 

the model was a well-designed and apartheid-like tool that bore an eerily resemblance to the  old-fashioned “divide and rule” tactics that colonialists employed throughout Africa. The policy  caused ethnic conflicts, ethnic-based displacement, and ethnic-based killings at a scale never  seen before in Ethiopia’s long history. Yes, there was relatively high economic growth, however,  as Edward Abbey rightly put it “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell”. 

Most of these conflicts were fueled and sponsored by the TPLF; this served as rational survival  strategy for the party, given its ethnic group (the Tigrayans) account for only around 5% of the Ethiopian population. Thus, while the country decentralized according to ethnic lines on paper,  it was actually centralized around the master—the TPLF. It is fair to add that TPLF created its own  “yes-men” of second-class puppets in every region who provided the TPLF the necessary  international legitimacy. 

With control of the military, intelligence, and commerce, the TPLF controlled all of Ethiopia’s  resources and networks. In a way, the TPLF acted as “legal” mafia-like gangster group while in  power. It is operating same way today: forcing under-aged children to join the battlefield (as  reported by the New York Times), forcing the elderly to join its army, committing war crimes by  using human waves as human shields, conducting ethnic cleansing in Mai Kadra against the  Amhara ethnic community (as recognized by Amnesty International and the Ethiopian Human  Right Commission) and in Gali Koma in Afar, looting property, and raping women, among other  grave humanitarian crimes. 

In contrast to what the rest of the world would expect—but not shocking whatsoever to  Ethiopians—the TPLF has also been cruel to the very people it pretends to represent. The people  of Tigray belong to one of the key pillars of the Ethiopian state building, and they have lived with  the rest of the Ethiopian people in peace and harmony for centuries. Apart from the TPLF and its  narrow circle, the vast majority of the Tigrayan people never questioned their Ethiopian identity.  As part of its long-term strategy to hang onto power, the TPLF tried its best to isolate the people  of Tigray from the rest of the country, created a false narrative about the vulnerability of  Tigrayans, and portraited itself as their only savior. In reality, a significant portion of the Tigrayan  people lived during the TPLF regime under a food safety-net, while the TPLF smuggled billions to  foreign banks, so as to send their children to the most expensive Western universities and bribe government officials, lobbying groups, and media organizations. According to estimates by the  Global Financial Integrity Report, in 2000-2009 alone (while the TPLF was in power), Ethiopia lost  $11.7 bn in the form of illicit financial flows, Forbes (2017) estimated capital flight from Ethiopia  at $30 bn and in 2017, the European Commission “blacklisted Ethiopia for being very risky in  money laundering and terrorism financing, urging banks situated in Europe to apply enhanced  due diligence on financial flows from the country.” 

Many Ethiopians opposed the unbalanced, unfair distribution of power and wealth under the  long-lasting dictatorship of the TPLF. The unwavering struggle of the Oromo youth, aka “Kero,”  Amhara youth, aka “Fano,” and other youth made it clear that TPLF could not hold onto power  any longer. In response, the TPLF tortured and imprisoned thousands; many young people fled  the country and hundreds disappeared. All the while, the West ignored the TPLF’s worsening  human rights record. The TPLF’s brutality only aggravated the conflict and raised the  determination of the people to fight for liberation, eventually causing the TPLF to lose its power.  The TPLF’s removal signified a key milestone in Ethiopian modern history and relieved many  Ethiopians, both at home and in the diaspora. With the resignation of the then prime minister,  Mr. Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was elected by the House of  Representatives to run the country until the next election year in 2020; however, the election was postponed by the Ethiopian parliament due to COVID-19. The TPLF, in clear provocation, violated this parliamentary decree and conducted its own regional election without the approval  of the National Electoral Board. The party declared itself as the winner of the regional election  and then started massively recruiting its regional army in the hundreds of thousands, seemingly  to prepare for war against the federal government. Abiy’s government tried its best to cool down  the temperature and avoid potential conflict. Elders and religious leaders also tried mediating to  resolve tensions through peaceful means, but the TPLF rejected their offers. And then the TPLF  sparked a military conflict by attacking the Northern Military Command, which had been  stationed in Tigray for over 20 years to protect Tigrayans. The TPLF followed this attack by  launching missiles to Eritrea and the region of Amhara—all to create the impression of a region wide conflict so as to draw the world’s attention. 

Ethiopiansfrom all backgrounds, faiths, and ethnicities were stunned by the TPLF’s acts and stood  behind the federal government and federal army. The federal army and regional special forces  launched counterattacks and captured the capital of the Tigray region in about three weeks.  Regrettably, thousands of innocent people in Tigray were displaced and suffered from the  conflict, and Ethiopians in other regions share the burden of their brothers and sisters in Tigray.  The TPLF tried to paint the conflict as if it were between the people of Tigray and the rest of  Ethiopia, which is an outright fabrication. In fact, the Ethiopian government, with the support of  the rest of the Ethiopian people, allocated over 100 billion Ethiopian Birr to support the people  of Tigray and minimize the conflict’s burden. This support accounted for over 70% of all the aid  that flows to Tigray. 

In early July 2021, the federal government declared a unilateral ceasefire and pulled out the  federal army from Tigray to give peace a chance. Many disapproved of the federal government’s  decision to leave Tigray; Others supported the decision on the grounds that war should be  avoided whenever feasible, as it takes away human lives, displaces people, and destroys property  and infrastructure. But no Western government recognized the goodwill of the Ethiopian  government, and some countries even considered the ceasefire to indicate a TPLF military victory  and started counting down the days Addis Ababa would fall. The TPLF—to the dismay of millions  of Ethiopians—did not reflect on its previous miscalculated attack and show remorse for its  barbaric actions. Rather, it regrouped and launched massive attacks against the Afar and the  Amhara regions, killing thousands, looting property, raping women, and displacing over two  million people. To mount global pressure on the Ethiopian government, the TPLF sabotaged the  logistical work of humanitarian groups, keeping aid from reaching the people who need it most.  For example, the group diverted hundreds of UN tracks into the war front to transport  combatants. Sadly, no government—let alone the UN itself—has expressed any condemnation  for the TPLF’s actions.

What is at the stake in this war? 

Most Ethiopians, and an increasing number of Africans, believe this war is not about the TPLF  returning to power; rather, it is multifaceted and involves regional and global players. A majority  of Ethiopians consider the TPLF as a Trojan-horse strategy to destroy Ethiopia from within. The  global interests range from hindering the construction of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which symbolizes a strong war front against remnants of colonial treaties—to exerting  control over the strategic corridor of the Red Sea. To achieve these outcomes, interested parties  need a puppet to manipulate, and there is no better candidate to perform such a task in Ethiopian  political arena than the TPLF. Ethiopia’s destruction would shred Africa’s symbol of independence  and signify the beginning of a new era, one that could see the final scramble for Africa. Ethiopia  fought an African war against colonialism in the past and is doing the same thing now, so Africans must stand united and show their determination to support Ethiopia before it’stoo little too late. We all should remember, “he gives twice who gives quickly.” 

The diplomatic and psychological war against Ethiopia 

Ethiopians have always been considered pro-Americans and pro-Western in spirit and a long term ally to the United States. To the shock of millions of Ethiopians, the US government has  blindly sided with the TPLF. Former US president Trump’s remarks on the GERD—that Egypt  should bomb down the dam—was the first red flag for Ethiopians, causing them to question  whether the US was a true ally. Frustrated by Mr. Trump’s remarks, the Ethiopian diaspora voted largely for President Biden. Most Ethiopians believed he was a decent person with balanced  views on global affairs. Unfortunately, Mr. Biden’s narrow circle of advisors contains many people  with close, personal ties to the TPLF, and these people are working tirelessly to misguide the  president. 

Since entering office, the Biden administration has not stopped working to isolate Ethiopia  diplomatically and has used its financial might as a weapon. As part of the US’s diplomatic  pressure campaign, the US Embassy in Addis Ababa has regularly published alerts on “possible  terrorist attacks” in Addis Ababa, creating a false narrative on how close the TPLF is to the capital  when the group has never been more than a few hundred kilometers away. Sudan’s removal  from the list of states sponsoring terrorism by the United States, which Ethiopians welcome in  good faith to their Sudanese brothers and sisters, but its immediate occupation of the Ethiopian  territory cannot be taken as mere coincidence. Moreover, the UN Security Council —often  initiated directly or indirectly by the United States and its allies—met about 12 times on the  Ethiopian situation. Secretary Blinken’s recent visit of the three African countries whose  presidents attended the inaugural ceremony of Prime Minister Abiy does not seem to be a  random choice; instead, it appears to be an integral part of the US’s diplomatic campaign to  isolate Ethiopia. All these have been well coordinated and synchronized with mainstream  media—such as CNN, BBC, and Aljazeera—to confuse the world, destroy the Ethiopian government’s image, and provide moral legitimacy to the TPLF. Or is it because they all lack  context of the Ethiopian reality? As Frank Snepp said nicely, “Disinformation is most effective in a  very narrow context.”  

The leaders of the TPLF have declared on several occasions that “if necessary, they will go to hell  to destroy Ethiopia.” As much as this is heartbreaking to learn for Ethiopians, one would have  the temptation to wish them a happy trip to the destination of their choice. Yet the  aforementioned media outlets have been continuously broadcasting an organized propaganda campaign about the genocide in Tigray committed by Ethiopian government forces although the  war has been going on deep inside the Amhara and Afar regions for the last three months or so.  The joint independent investigation of the UN and the Ethiopian Human Right Commissions did  not confirm the genocide claims in Tigray. There is an outcry in the West and an urgent call for a  ceasefire every time government forces gain an upper hand but silence when the tide turns to  the TPLF’s favor. 

As for its economic attacks, the US has cut bilateral aid to Ethiopia, disapproved funds from the  World Bank, and removed Ethiopia from African Growth and Opportunity Act. And imposing  sanctions on our closest ally, Eritrea, for responding to the TPLF’s missile strike against the  country’s capital clearly indicates the US’s bias towards the TPLF. 

Ultimately, these actions have left millions of Ethiopians—including the ones who voted for Mr.  Biden—feeling betrayed. It also has many wondering what secret promise has been made  between the TPLF and Western nations? Is the West an ally to the people of Ethiopia or to a  particular group? Many do not doubt the Norwegian Nobel Institute did not award Prime  Minister Abiy the peace prize in 2019 to encourage him to act passively if an insurrection were  to occur. Why can President Obama—who led the world’s most powerful country and is also a  Nobel Laureate for Peace—receive praise from the media for fighting off terrorists, while the  Prime Minister of a poor African country is scorned for simply trying to keep his country unified?  

What should be the way forward? 

It should be clear to outsiders that Ethiopians will never allow any TPLF imposition in Ethiopia  and will fight to keep its current government. We are in 2021, not 1991, and Ethiopians are much  more perceptive to the TPLF’s old tricks and endless lies. Afterall, it would be unthinkable in a  democratic society for one party to run a country for 27 long years. The TPLF cannot even  categorize itself as “old wine in a new bottle” because it has nothing new to offer the country.  Indeed, it is the “old wine in an old bottle” that has expired a long time ago. The earlier the  group drops their arms and negotiates with the federal government to live in peace, harmony, and equality with the rest of the Ethiopian people, the better for all. War should not and cannot  be the first choice. “A war is only just if it is fought for a reason that is justified, and that carries  sufficient moral weight”.

Western powers should acknowledge the democratically elected government of Ethiopia and  side with the people of Ethiopia. These powers should negotiate with the Ethiopian government  to identify areas of common interest and cooperation, such as terrorism, illegal migration, and  trade. The outdated and depreciated colonial tactic of imposing a hand-picked government on a  country like Ethiopia—where the more than 115 million people residing there would  undoubtedly prefer independence to foreign aid and death to slavery—is unlikely to work.  Regardless of how it is painted or presented, the externally imposed concept of a so-called  “regime change” should be categorically denied by every nation in the African continent. The  West can try to justify its actions under “democracy” and “human rights,” but the people of every  African country is too educated to fall for such tricks. As someone has stated, “The Forest has  changed but the Monkeys are still the same.” This said, African governments should democratize  their political system and respect human rights as these are conducive to long-term growth and  prosperity. 

Clearly, the ongoing war in Ethiopia is exogenously imposed to weaken the country. If it were a  conventional internal power struggle, it would have been resolved with negotiation, not bloodshed. Ethiopians, therefore, call upon their African brothers and sisters to stand with  Ethiopia during this critical juncture of history. As Emperor Haile Selassie stated to the League of  Nations when the world turned its back on Ethiopia during its fight against fascism, “It is us today.  It will be you tomorrow.” Today, Ethiopia is not alone as it was in the 1930s. We now have the  African Union. If Ethiopia falls now, it is only a question of time for other African countries to  follow suit. Our Eritrean brothers and sisters have left their fingerprints in our common resistance  against neo-colonialism. This is history in the making again, and Ethiopia will bounce back stronger—as it did numerous times in its long years of history. This is the verdict of history. Ralph  Waldo Emerson said it best, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising  every time we fall.”
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1 COMMENT

  1. Proud Itesot in Uganda whose ethnicity tracces from Abisinia Ethiopia. We stand with Mr. Abiy long live United Ethiopia long Live the Great wall of Africa.

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