Tuesday, May 21, 2024
HomeOpinionEthiopia’s Dilemma: What to Do with the Military Victory?

Ethiopia’s Dilemma: What to Do with the Military Victory?

Messay Kebede (Photo : screenshot from ESAT video)

Messay Kebede
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy
University of Dayton

Without doubt, the counter-attacks of the Ethiopian armed forces can be characterized as a success: they achieved the goal of ousting TPLF’s invading troops from Amhara and Afar regions in a relatively short time and inflicted on them heavy human and material losses. Yet, this important victory landed Ethiopia in a real catch-22 situation, which is whether or not to pursue the insurgents into their own territory of Tigray. That the dilemma is real is shown by the fact that the government’s arguments for its decision not to enter into Tigray can be countered by equally valid arguments. Let us review them.  

Government’s Arguments

The Prime Minister himself laid down the reasoning of the government in a written communiqué. While acknowledging that the decision is likely to disappoint many people who are angry at the crimes and destructions committed by the TPLF and understandably seek justice, strategic considerations targeting the long-terms interests of the country explain the government’s position. The option of continuing the offensive into Tigray seriously put the acquired victory in jeopardy, with the consequence that it will ultimately turn it into a sure defeat. 

To begin with, such a decision will reward the TPLF with the reasons it needs to prolong its control over Tigray. In light of the 40 years of relentless ethnonationalist indoctrination, the venture into Tigray will be perceived as an invasion, and this will give TPLF leaders the cause that enables them to reemerge as the defender of Tigray despite the severe setbacks they suffered. For many Tigreans, the choice will be between invaders with all the possible ill intentions and compatriots still defending the interests of Tigray, however reckless they may have been. In this case, the easiest guess is that Tigreans will prefer to be ruled by their own kin rather than by “strangers.” The continuation of the TPLF’s rule means, in turn, the prolongation of the state of war. 

The decision to go into Tigray will no doubt achieve a quick victory, but it will not avert the recourse to guerrilla attacks. The purpose of these attacks is not to score a decisive victory; rather, it is to bleed slowly the army to death while also deepening the rift with the civilian population through attacks resulting in civilian causalities. In the long run, these attacks end up by causing heavy human and material losses and an irreparable animosity between the population and the federal government. In other words, the decision of the government is based on lessons learned from the immediate past. When this war began a year ago, Ethiopian armed forces achieved a quick victory and immediately engaged in the work of bringing back a normal life to Tigray. We know what the outcome was: viewed as invaders, the Ethiopian forces came under attacks from armed groups as well as from the civilian population, just as they became the objects of fabricated slanderous accusations of all sorts of crimes, including genocide. As the saying goes, “mistakes are meant for learning, not repeating.” 

Another compelling reason for not moving into Tigray is that the TPLF is not alone in this fight. As is now unquestionably obvious, it has the full backing of powerful Western allies, including among high officials in the United Nations. These allies do not hesitate to provide military, diplomatic, financial, and media supports to assist the TPLF’s goal of regaining the hegemony that it lost in Ethiopia. Add to this the hostility of Egypt and Sudan over the construction of the Nile dam, and you have unfolding before your very eyes a scenario similar to “David versus Goliath.” The inability of the TPLF to capture Addis Ababa and its subsequent military defeats in Afar and Amhara regions have left these powerful allies with no other choice than to strategize for direct intervention in the conflict. 

Given the status of Ethiopia as a sovereign nation, these allies must find a compelling reason that justifies intervention. Where else could such a justification be found but in the UN resolution conferring on member states “the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”? Clearly, the decision to advance on Tigray provides the opportunity to accuse the Ethiopian defense forces of crimes against humanity and genocide, be it through fabricated stories or through killings resulting from deliberate provocations by civilian groups.  

The decision not to cross into Tigray does not mean the cessation of all military confrontations. According to the announcement, it is the right and solemn duty of the government to take whatever measure is necessary each time it deems that there is threat to national sovereignty and unity. But then, this provision does no more than confirm that the government is opting for what looks pretty much like a siege warfare. The option has many advantages: it wants to force TPLF forces to surrender by cutting off the supply of weapons from outside, just as it avoids the exposure of government troops to guerrilla attacks and direct contacts with the civilian population. Although siege warfare is time-consuming, it lowers the human and material costs by averting direct confrontation in open battle or house to house search for insurgents. It also forces the civilian population to ask whether continued resistance is worthwhile, whether it has any chance of success. 

Reasons to Go into Tigray

Those who oppose the government’s decision ask us to consider whether the policy of isolating Tigray can really eliminate the fighting capability of the TPLF forces and break down the resistance of many civilian Tigreans. For them, far from being an emotional stand, pursuing the insurgents into their own territory is the logical continuation of their ousting from Amhara and Afar regions. Without moving into Tigray and occupying some major centers of activity, TPLF’s defeat will never be consummated. Worse yet, it will give the distinct impression that the federal government is afraid to confront the insurgents directly, preferring instead to isolate Tigray, mostly for the purpose of cowardly aerial bombardments. 

In refusing to finalize the war, is not the government putting in limbo its recent victories? The only way to guarantee the victory of the Ethiopian forces is to eliminate the TPLF, and this cannot be achieved without taking the war into Tigray. Without direct occupation, the TPLF will regroup and regain strength for further attacks. The government cannot prevent these attacks by means of targeted occasional incursions and air strikes.  Anything other than outright elimination leaves the TPLF in control of Tigray, which control means the indefinite continuation of the war. Granting the TPLF the opportunity to retain the control of Tigray is a sure way of ensuring its full resurgence. 

The consistent move after the recent victories is not to back down, but “to strike while the iron is hot.” What happened in the not distant past should serve here as a lesson. When Mengistu Haile Mariam withdrew from Tigray, he was under the belief that the TPLF will remain confined in that region so that he could focus on battling the Eritrean insurgents. We know what followed: The TPLF moved into Amhara territory and marched on Addis Ababa. We can even go further into the past: when Menelik refused to move into Eritrea to dislodge the Italian army, the consequence was that Eritrea served as launching pad for the 1935 Italian invasion of Ethiopia. 

This is not to suggest that the situation of today’s Ethiopia is comparable to the two past events. Even a superficial analysis can easily pinpoint the outstanding differences that separate the past events from the current situation. Still, the parallel calls attention to the fact that the nature of the enemy matters when one wants to assess the possible efficacy of the policy of encirclement. In the case of Tigray, mere encirclement has little chance of yielding the expected surrender of the insurgents. Knowing the ideology of superiority and the hegemonic political goal of the TPLF, one can say for sure that it will never stop attacking Ethiopia by using whatever means and methods it has at its disposal. Both the ideology and the political goal invite war; we can even say that the TPLF needs to wage war in order to survive. So that, the condition for Ethiopia to have peace and concentrate on its development is the destruction of TPLF’s fighting power as well as ideology. And this destruction cannot even begin until the leaders are eliminated or forced to face a court of law. 

Last but not least, not moving into Tigray has the deleterious effect of granting a de facto independence to Tigray, which will then be in the same situation as neighboring Somaliland. Isolating Tigray, cutting off its social, economic, and political ties with the main land, is it not to act as though Tigray were no longer part of Ethiopia? If, as we all claim, Tigray is an integral part of Ethiopia, then there is no other way to ascertain it than to reinstate the authority of the federal government. 

General Outcome

Clearly, each argument from both camps can be easily countered, but the general impression of an intricate dilemma cannot be dismissed. Thus, it can be shown that the arguments in favor of moving into Tigray underestimate the military, economic, and psychological impacts of a prolong guerrilla warfare on Ethiopia. It also overlooks the difficulty of finding the leaders unless the people of Tigray cooperate, which is far from being given, but also almost impossible to obtain in a prolonged guerrilla war. There is more: with guerrilla war in full motion, the accusation of serious crimes and genocide will give TPLF’s Western allies the needed justification to intervene directly. One lesson we can learn from Menelik is that he refused to pursue the Italian military into Eritrea because he did not want to antagonize European powers by challenging the established colonial status quo. 

The main weakness of the arguments in favor of not crossing into Tigray is the assumption that isolation and targeted attacks can seriously undermine the threat of the TPLF to Ethiopia’s stability and internal unity. The assumption overlooks the nature of the TPLF, the fact that the TPLF is the problem child of Ethiopia: containment will not dissuade it from engaging in repeated attacks into Amhara and Afar territories, nor will it prevent it from instigating and financing clashes in various parts of the country. The bare truth is that peace cannot descend on Ethiopia unless TPLF’s ideology and military structure are eliminated for good. 

Even graver than the failure to significantly diminish the fighting capability of the TPLF is that the success of containment depends on whether or not it can create a rift between TPLF and the Tigrean population. The assumption here is that Tigreans will in time engage in a cost-benefit analysis leading them to the realization that they have sacrificed much but only to be left with losses. The war was not only useless, but it was a complete catastrophe in terms of human life, not to mention the loss of annexed territories. From this analysis to holding the leadership accountable the path is wide open, all the more so as they do not see any possible improvement in the horizon. 

Will this projected divorce between the Tigrean people and the TPLF occur? Only time will tell. But if it does occur, it opens the path for the Ethiopian armed forces to move into Tigray where they will be welcomed as liberators. Under this condition, law enforcement will become possible again: the leaders can be captured and brought to justice. It will also silence the international cabal supporting the TPLF by taking away all excuses for intervention. More importantly, such a condition will bring the war to its natural conclusion, namely, to a negotiated settlement with genuine representatives of the Tigrean people.


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  1. Humble Commentary
    In my opinion the FOUNDATION of the fundamental problem is in the Fifth Paragraph — no more, no less and will always be so.. FULL STOP.

    Thank You, Professor Messay Kebede for your dedicated enlightenment. Too sad that we Africans are still guided by the sophisticated maneuvering of Western Powers. I will never forget a story that I heard or read somewhere that a White Man came to Africa with religious outfit to the admiration, awe and respect by the humble, honest, Black Africans, surrounding him. The White Man didn’t take him long to reveal his identity and an African bystander became a priest …… something like that. A short story but a GEM. Sadly, the HUMBLE BLACK RACE wound up in what WE ARE TODAY. IT HEARTS TO ADMIT and BE HONEST. BUT FACT IS A FACT. It HEARTS DEAPLY. A CLASSICAL TRAGEDY. . AH…………………….One is tempted to question the validity of the justice way, way, way UP IN HEAVEN — or IS IT AROUND US, iIN ALL DIRECTIONS ?!?!?!?!?

  2. Professor Messay, it is ok to analyze the pros and cons and examine the options in detail. However, it must be underlined in red ink and written in bold letters that PM Abiy cannot play both pastor and premier of Ethiopia simultaneously from the pulpit. There were plenty of reason why Ethiopians voted him into office with an overwhelming mandate to keep them safe, secure and save the motherland. Abiy does not have the luxury to play fire with the TPLF thugs. The safety and security of 100 million falls squarely on his shoulders. It is now crystal clear that TPLF thugs do not even understand the rudimentary and even starting principles of federalism. It was shocking to hear Tsdakan admit in one interview that TPLF in 1991 established ethnic federalism because according to the “esteemed general”, “that was our understanding of federalism at that time”.

    PM Abiy has no room to deviate or gloss over his constitutional duty of upholding the laws of the land, hence ensuring “the law enforcement” operation will continue on full scale. Lest we forget, treason is a crime punishable by death in most nations. Tsdakan, Getachew, Debretsion and any other participant, financier, and organizer of the insurrection against the state and attack against innocent civilians in Amhara and Afar regions must immediately surrender to the Ethiopian federal authorities. Perpetrators of crimes against humanity must be charged and sentenced in the open before the Ethiopian public.These individuals should also be banned from being eligible to hold any public office in Ethiopia for good. The TPLFs dishonest claim over the nonexistent Western Corridor has been aptly and succinctly exposed by none other than one of the original founders of TPLF, Dr. Aregawi Berhe as an illegal annexation of land stolen by TPLF. The Marxist Leninist fanatics stole the land from Gonder/Begemeder to attain their pipe dream of establishing Great Tigray ( a delusion and illusion stolen from the fascist Mussolini). The attacks on innocent civilians in Afar and Amhara constitute crimes against humanity. Restitution must be paid by TPLF. Furthermore TPLF must and will disarm, demobilize and surrender to the Ethiopian federal authorities.

  3. The conflict and failure of the federal forces to secure TIgray show that the TPLF though it has lost some of its core leaders, has a widespread support in the population and strong power base. Besides, the diplomatic and media support the TPLF has garnered in the west are boosting incentives to continue the insurgency and belligerency. TIgray is not homogeneous and there are other minority communities in the region who are the victims of the irresponsible warrior politics of the TPLF. The TPLF does not represent them and they are marginalized and oppressed. The other decisive matter is the fact that the Tigrayans are indoctrinated by the fascistic propaganda of the TPLF and appear to have embraced its narrative of `superiority`. In view of these considerations, not to enter Tigray is the better option.

    • QUOTE: TIgray is not homogeneous and there are other minority communities in the region who are the victims of the irresponsible warrior politics of the TPLF. UNQUOTE

      THERE ARE “minority communities” WHO ARE THICK & TIRED of BEING TAKEN FOR GRANTED.

    • The TPLF top or leadership is also referred to as the `Adwa, Shire and Axum` elite. The TPLF rule in Tigray has a hierarchical form and the adwans are treated as the first class `tegaru`followed by those from Shire and Axum. There is this story of a TPLF media employee from Southern Tigray who was forced to adopt the Adwan dialect to work as a journalist. The Tigray schools are required to use the Adwan dialect in their teaching and indoctrination curricula. The top fascists and leaders of the TPLF such as the late Meles Zenawi and hail from Adwa.

      • Mr Dushanbe, you must know that a literary language that emerges in a language area with many dialects and variaties of the language will inavitable follow more closely one of those variaties (the same is with Amharic). There is a kind of “standard” language used in mass media, and someone whose language deviates greatly from that standard will not appear there or will have to correct his/her language, in any country. It has nothing to do with social realities, first/second class, hierarchy etc.

  4. A fantastic assessment, really. One thing I wished Messay could have introduced in his enlisting of reasons for halting the military advance short of Tigray was the state of the country’s economy: already in shambles, the war, as well as TPLF’s wanton destructions in Afar and Amhara, has rocked it to the bottom. In this regard, a respite could be in order.

  5. Inhumane, barbaric article. Do you have children, grandchildren, wife, family. How in the world can you gamble with the life of innocent Tigrayan people to get your crazy ambition. How are you still teaching people at the university? Genocide supporter doesn’t have the moral to teach other people.

  6. The article looks a duality in favor of crossing or not crossing Tigray. The article undervalued the condition for peace dialogue. Deter from crossing into Tigray is cogitated as a reward for TPLF. The article stated that TPLF is not alone in this fight but with full backing of powerful Western allies. The reality shows Tigray , a single region is fighting against allied forces including Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, UAE, Iran, Turkey and Russia along with their full support by supplying drones and technicians. In the article, siege warfare is believed to be a time-consuming but cost-effective strategy. This is crystal clear that Ethiopia’s siege on Tigray is starvation as a weapon of war. It is a war crime! In the general outcome section, the article stated the following “The bare truth is that peace cannot descend on Ethiopia unless TPLF’s ideology and military structure are eliminated for good.” This is an intent to eliminate the people of Tigray because of ethnic lines. It is unequivocal message supporting the ongoing genocide in Tigray. In my view, the article reflects the author’s opinion, all about propaganda and biased in favor of invaders and murderers. More importantly, it underestimates peace and negotiations while that motivates further violence and genocide on the people of Tigray.

    • “The bare truth is that peace cannot descend on Ethiopia unless TPLF’s ideology and military structure are eliminated for good.” “This is an intent to eliminate the people of Tigray because of ethnic lines”. Since when did tplf and the ppls of tigray become one?? all thumbs are fingers but all fingers are not thumbs, tplf might come from tigray, but for sure, tigray didnt come out from tplf.

      • Pleas open your eyes. The TPLF has a masssive support in Tigray, especially now, you like it or not (you do not have to think long to understand the reasons for that). You have to live with this.

    • Fellow Tigraway Kinfe, you are right.
      Any force can not defeat and subjugate Tigray. The donkeys in the south do not learn from history. The Tigraians have defeated the donkeys under Mengistu and are repeating history right now. They are defeating the donkeys under Abiy Ahmed and defending their sovereignty and freedom.

  7. MG, just because you scream and bark day in day out the term “genocide” does not make it any truer than it actually is not. The past 6 months, TPLF terrorist group thugs have invaded Amhara and Afar, committed crimes against humanity, raped defenseless women, looted, destroyed town after town, and killed far too many innocent victims. You do not have any moral standing, you do not have any intellectual honest and even more you do not have any basic decency, humanity and conscience to say a word to others. So trust me, it is the collective Ethiopian society voice that is asking you to look in the mirror and ask who you are and why you are so hateful, vengeful and suffer from a sense of entitlement. Your beloved TPLF perpetrators, the likes of Tsdakan, Getachew, Debretsion and other riff ruff, must and will disarm, demobilize and surrender to the federal authority.

  8. As usual an excellent analysis by Prof Messay. Yes the country’s current dilemma requires an in depth analysis followed by immediate action since delaying an action can be costly in the long run. One important argument from the analysis is that “Tigray is an integral part of Ethiopia, then there is no other way to ascertain it than to reinstate the authority of the federal government. ” . Under the current situation where the TPLF is controlling and suppressing every Tigrayans move added with 40 years (majority population age group) of evil indoctrination, it will be naive to expect that Tigrayans will engage in a cost-benefit analysis and reject TPLF. I don’t see any other way out other than bringing the leaders of TPLF to face justice and let Tigrayans breath sigh of relief and choose their future leaders within the federal government system.

  9. The article demonstrates the limits of the Ethiopian diaspora intellectuals in grasping what is going on in Tigray. Also this author cannot liberate himself from dogmas that was used to start the war. Another problem is that his knowledge of Tigray is superficial. Well, he probably is an American citizen since many years and does not risk anything, in the dilemma “The army go into Tigray – the army does not go into Tigray” his children will not be involved. Irrespective of the attitute to TPLF, is it so difficult to understand that Abiy’s policy is a fiasco? The Ethiopian army was defeated very quickly and drove out of Tigray, despite Eritrean involvement. TDF did not capture Addis Abeba, true, but it was not really defeated. With great labours, the Ethiopian army just made them to retreat to Tigray, but it will unlikely show further great success. Even if – there will be another round of guerilla war. There are other armed movements fighting against the government. The financial and international condition of Ethiopia is deteriorating. “Diverce between TPLF and Tigrayan people” – it is a dream that will hardly come true. Ethiopia and Ethiopians should look other ways for solving the problem, until it is too late.

  10. In Ethiopian history to the present human rights violations have been sever, human rights violation is the culture of Ethiopian government! These guys the so called professors who are from the false Ethiopian-ism must be punished for their planned oppression. No more, Unitary in Ethiopia. Goodbye!

  11. Dead body justified “all thumbs are fingers but all fingers are not thumbs, tplf might come from tigray, but for sure, tigray didnt come out from tplf” which looks nonsensical!!!
    Can you get your mother or father once your family has been destroyed? Leave it to the people of Tigray whether TPLF is tree or forest!!!

  12. “ The Ethiopian army was defeated very quickly and drove out of Tigray, despite Eritrean involvement. TDF did not capture Addis Abeba, true, but it was not really defeated. With great labours, the Ethiopian army just made them to retreat to Tigray, but it will unlikely show further great success.” Look at the mentality of TPLF supporters!!! For once, just for once in your life can you be intellectually honest, at least to yourselves??? Twice, I repeat twice, your riff raff, undisciplined, barbaric, unprofessional collection of thugs and vagabonds was routed out and spanked inside out by the ENDF in a matter of two to three weeks. In the second aggression and invasion by the terrorist TPLF aka TDF into Amhara and Afar lands, it took your mercenaries and human wave anarchists nearly 6 months to venture into those territories only to be driven out in two weeks. Your bravado, your empty swagger to cover your deep seated inferiority complexes and psychopathic inadequacies, your constant self awareness and self revulsion at not being able to defeat the talented and capable Eritrean army all speak volumes about you,- the TPLF die hard Marxist -Leninist and ethnofacist member and supporter. Look inward first, you have made enemies north, south, west and east. You have made eternal enemies with Eritreans, the Amhara, the Afar, the Somali, the Oromo. Tigray is a tiny resource deficient region 1/6 th the size of Somali region in Ethiopia. The population from Tigray region is at most 5% of the total Ethiopian population. Every time, you start biting and stinging and the ENDF knocks out your loose teeth, you shout genocide and start rolling down in the streets of the west. Every time, Ethiopians and Eritreans give you opportunities to reflect, recollect and make sense for yourselves using your tiny brain, you jump up and down and vomit filth and empty bravado that you are this, that and more. Ethiopians are tired of, Eritreans are tired of you, the Horn of Africa is tired of you. Wake up and smell the coffee.

    • Dear Ato Eskigebaw, I am really honoured by your extensive commentary. Since your view of the situation is very different, I will not argue with you. I understand though the the fact that “barbarians”, “vagabonds” and “thugs” drove the “gallant” army out of Tigray and showed many thousands of POWs afterwads, is unbearable to you, but this is the truth and this happens from time to time. You cannot fool serious people. You can repeat whatever you want, but the situation will not change also in one year unless there will be a political solution. What makes me sad is your mentality in general. “It is most 5%”, “everyone is tired” of you etc. Bed things come out of such thinking. If Ethiopians cannot accept the situation and cannot leave the people of Tigray to decide over their destiny, they will lose Tigray forever, like they lost Eritrea.

  13. Pursuing the insurgents into their own territory of Tigray is the only option left to stop the war and the unnecessary devastation and lose of innocent lives and resources!!! The government should not wait for approval of Westerners who are not sharing and feeling the sufferings and loss of Amhara, Afar and armed forces lives. The main responsibility is to keep its people safe and sound.
    Tigray TPLF criminal leaders know well that they they have no other option other than to continue the war, murder, rape and steal by sending its indoctrinated ethnocnational hordes as a survival mode because the other option is joining the other apprehended TPLF criminal friends fate in a place of justice.
    Justice and rule of law must be restored. All stolen, lost lives and destroyed property of every individual must be accounted, returned and compensated by selling TPLF owned properties, coffers and so called Tegaru investments ( who treated Adwa Tigrayans as the first class).
    TPLF and Oromo terrorists strategy is ruthlessly stealing and looting Amhara people’s lives and properties to quickly enriching themselves. This must come to end quickly by financially and in prison terms. Just simple announcement without financial compensations will not work and is not right.
    The only way to stop this heinous crime is to financially and criminally hold those groups responsible by seizing their properties and bank accounts and quickly use it to compensate Amhara and Afar victims loss. Also as importantly bring those ruthless OLA and TPLF terrorists to face justice.

  14. Number never work!
    The Gefa below are still naive! Number never work in warfare but purpose, courage and determination. It is the 5% of the Ethiopian population (Tigray) destroyed allied criminal troops from the whole Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia supported by drones and technicians from UAE, Iran and, Russia! This is who the 5%!
    The people of Tigray knows who you are but you never know who they are!
    Followers of Abiy Ahmed are slaves of Isaias will be buried simultaneously! It looks strange to the world the number of troops who are surrendered by the brave TDF!
    Victory never have been optional for Tigray!


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