By Alex Bekele
I read Senator Chris Coons’ Foreign Affairs article of December 6, 2021 titled, “Peace is Still Possible in Ethiopia” with immense frustration and disappointment. From the get go, Senator Coons gives us a dire warning that Ethiopia will face a Balkan-Style fracturing if the warring sides continue on their current path, and laments Prime Minister Abiy’s choice of war as a means of resolving this conflict. He is wrong on both counts. Despite a concerted effort of foreign actors to fund and arm this ethnic group or that for their own selfish interests, Ethiopians are still united enough to ensure the security, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of their nation. A prediction of a Balkan-Style fracturing of the Ethiopian state is a consequence of not knowing the Ethiopian people well. Besides, to characterize Abiy as leader who chose war, even when his enemies are at the doorstep of his capital, instead of negotiation, is to willingly misrepresent the progress of this war, and of course, neither are his enemies at the doorsteps of his capital—they are over 250 KM away, still running to save their lives–nor was war a choice for him. His patience and effort to resolve the conflicting interests peacefully for three years before the start of the conflict was repeatedly thwarted by the terrorist group. Ethiopian mothers from all parts of Ethiopia sent their representatives and begged, country elders tried, the nation’s faith leaders did all they could to mediate, and TPLF rejected all of them. Abiy did not choose to go to war; he was dragged into it.
What is even more gut-wrenching is Senator Coons acknowledgement of TPLF starting the war by attacking the Northern Division of the ENDF, and his urging Abiy to take the higher road of negotiation, and his disappointment by his decision to fight back. Alas! Which country’s leader will negotiate with traitors who in an unexpected conspiracy attacked and destroyed one of his five army divisions, killing at least 6000 soldiers? Even if he wants to negotiate, what kind of people will allow him to do so with traitors who slaughtered 6000 of their beautiful sons and daughters, the best the country had? Isn’t this mistaking Abiy and the Ethiopian people for zombies? Had it not been Ethiopia, had it not been an African country, would the senator have dared to suggest inaction against such a terrorist strike? I am sure the Senator had expressed his condolences and his solidarity to the people of France when a few terrorists bombed a concert hall, a stadium, and a restaurant in Paris, and killed less than 150 people and wounded as many on a night of November 2015, as he should. I fail to grasp his logic of Ethiopians negotiating with their terrorists who massacred six thousands and wounded many more, and quickly moved to MaiKadra and carried out a genocide that claimed one thousand more lives. What more should Ethiopia have suffered to win the West’s sympathy against its terrorist attack?
Then, Senator Coons tells us how President Biden made this conflict his number one priority and made him and Ambassador Feltman work with regional partners and European allies to push the warring parties into negotiation. But nowhere do we see the push to make the TPLF come to the table. No European country or the United States itself is on the record condemning the TPLF for the November 4 terrorist attack on the Northern Division, nor for the MaiKadra genocide of November 9 and 10. Nor do we see any outrage in any corners of the World by TPLF use of child soldiers and other war crimes. In fact, the West aided and abetted them by using humanitarian assistance as a cover. The 800 WFP heavy duty trucks that are used for TPLF war purposes and the satellite communication capability the West provided them did nothing other than fuel the conflict. Every time TPLF got more aggressive and invaded more territory the call for dialogue died down; every time it suffered defeat and was on its back feet, the call for dialogue got shriller. Even during the unilateral ceasefire, the best window to push for dialogue was squandered by the loud silence of the international community. So pushing both sides to negotiation is political theatrics. The push was one sided, and it was on the Ethiopian people and Government.
The sad part is where Senator Coons lists the US efforts to bring about the peaceful resolution of the conflict, and how PM Abiy promised him to pursue peaceful means and failed him. Nowhere does he tell us what pressure he put on the terrorists and how they responded to that. As a rule I hate using clichés, but allow me to break my own rule once: It takes two to tango. Peace will not come, for Abiy wanted it, unless he is willing to give in to TPLF hegemony in toto. Then he goes on listing the US actions, such as the targeted sanctions on those who fuels the conflict and revoking the preferential trade access Ethiopia had, and ending arms sale and security assistance to Ethiopia. All are examples of arm twisting in a strategy of what I called Blackmail Diplomacy in my previous article. Sanctioning Ethiopian and Eritrean officials is futile for they have not accumulated wealth overseas. It will work against the terrorist group, for its huge wealth it plundered from the Ethiopian State Treasury that is financing its genocidal war now, is in the West, in one form or another. But, the West is not yet willing to go after their heroes, the TPLF.
As to the revoking of Ethiopia’s preferential trade access, it is a tragic move that won’t move the needle a bit. More important is the sad breakup of the historic relation between the two countries. As to where Ethiopia will sell its products, there will be alternate markets. The same can be said about ending arms sales and security assistance to Ethiopia. President Carter did that to Ethiopia in the late 70s only to push Ethiopia to seek arms for its national Defense from Russia. Will it have any different outcome in 2021? I doubt it. The other move considered is restrictions on the US support for funding for Ethiopia from international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. It hurts to know that such respected international institutions are at the whims of individual countries like the United States where if it favored you, you get support from the IMF, and if not, you don’t. From the perspective of the people of Ethiopia, however, I think they are much better off without the IMF than with it. The most generous the IMF and the World Bank, the US and the EU had ever been was during the 27 years of TPLF’s rule. All of them failed Ethiopians on their most important and country-changing project of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and they had to build it on their own dime. But, they all gave loans and grants, inherently prone to corruption, in billions. As much money as we received was illicitly transferred to TPLF leaders’ private accounts. Consequently, Ethiopians are still servicing those loans, and TPLF is waging the war against Ethiopia using those accounts. So, losing IMF assistance may not be so calamitous.
To conclude, I see a lack of will to hold the bull by the horn. TPLF treacherously started this war in the most brutal way, by massacring six thousand Ethiopian soldiers in 24 hours, it carried out a ghastly genocide at MaiKadera, rained missiles on Asmara to internationalize the war, rejected and ridiculed the unilateral ceasefire, and expanded the war to Afar and Amhara, and attempted a fantastic march to Addis. TPLF IS THE PROBLEM. Deal with it.
For why not Negotiation, you may read my article on Borkena of July 29, 2021 Titled
“National Conference of Reconciliation: Naiveté, Genuine Search for Solution, or a Political Ruse.”
For US misguided approach to the conflict, you may read my article of November 12, 2021 titled
“US Blackmail Strategy in Ethiopia: Adding Fuel to the Fire.”
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Although the Tigrayan ethnicity generates its power from the belief of superiority and contempt for the non-Tigrayans, its capacity to absorb tremendous losses in human lives is limited. I hear from some Tigrayans who feel angry and frustrated over these losses at the hands of the inferior forces south of Tigray. I think the Tigrayans after these losses will realize that they are not superior and their neighbors in the south can hit back and defeat them too. This conflict will deflate the Tigrayan arrogance we have been witnessing in the past 3 decades.
For a while I shared the same frustration with you and the majority of my country folk regarding the total absurdity of America’s stand on Ethiopia. I even wrote an open letter to the senator you mention in your piece. I was also under the perhaps naive assumption that America will finally listen to reason and even her self-interest. But all this illusion vanished when I began to look at America’s foreign policy towards the so called Third World nations in the recent past. I realized, not only America gives not a farthing whether we are democratic or not, stable or not, developing or not, but that the only thing that counts for her is what chess piece we represent in her overall global game. However I turn things, I fail to understand the current strategy of the game and its ultimate goal. Americans are not playing a three-dimensional board game, like in the past they appear victims of parochial interests and short-sighted local politics that has only led them consistently to disastrous outcomes. I foresee that they will do anything and pay any amount to see us submit to their ultimate will, like all the colonial forces of yesteryear. But we Ethiopians will have the ultimate say if we remain united in our resolve to preserve out ancient land, and defeat once and for all this most destructive and hateful party that is ravaging the country today.
Hold the bull by the horn? Bull we all know bull always does good to people for being very productive by helping them seed, grow and harvest food for the nourishment of their body. ‘Hold the demon by the horn’ would fit the bill better. Bull has never been known to come to your tranquil village and then pillage, rape and kill your children and loved ones.