By Merir Haque
In an Op-ed piece titled “Pertinent Issues on the War in Tigray” published in theelefant.info General Tsadkan Gebretensae wrote about his version of events in the Tigray war and his vision of the future. The following is a heartfelt response from two ordinary Ethiopian women.
General Tsadkan starts his Op-ed by stating that TPLF has no intention to come back to federal power. That is a blatant lie. Let me explain, if TPLF’s intention was to save the people of Tigray as stated by him, the first thing that comes to any sane person’s mind is – to liberate the people from the so called genocidal government. Contrary to what is clearly indicated in its name, TPLF never claimed secession or independence to this day. TPLF could have invoked the region’s right to secede under the constitution. The constitution which the group itself drafted and adopted for the country, while it was in power. Since the war, TPLF has never ever mentioned even the possibility. The question is, why not?
General Tsadkan starts his description of the war by saying “after the first round of fighting” why not start with the beginning. Why not tell us who started the war. Who attacked the Northern Command of the Ethiopian Army and who fired missiles into Eritrea?
The answer is of course TPLF. In fact TPLF has been preparing for this war from 2018 to 2020 or even before. At one point, after the peace accord with Eritrea, the Ethiopian government wanted to pull back its army from Tigray. TPLF orchestrated a popular protest, where women and children laid on the road, to prevent the Army driving off with its vehicles/equipment. At the time, everyone thought that the people still wanted the protection of the Army, against a possible threat from Eritrea. Little did the Ethiopian people know that this is part of the plot of TPLF to destroy the Northern Command (which comprised the major part of the Ethiopian Army at the time) and to take their artillery and equipment (which was also the major part of the country’s military capability).
Besides at the time, 80% of the commanding officers of the Ethiopian Army were TPLF. These commanding officers are the ones who ordered the slaughter of their subordinates, by their Tigrayan comrades, on the infamous night of November 3, 2020. This is the start of the war. And no amount of cover up by anyone will change that fact.
It is common knowledge that many leaders of the TPLF were killed during the first few months of fighting; and the rest were hiding in caves including General Tsadkan. It is in June that they crawled out of their caves. Why didn’t they use the military equipment they buried underground before they were forced to the caves? This is a mystery we probably will learn of in the future. To be fair, we also don’t know why exactly the GoE decided to pull its army out of Tigray in June. The fact that this happened after the Eritrean Army pulled back, makes it probably a military decision not a political one. Nevertheless, if TPLF was the victim of aggression as it wants us to believe, it would have taken a genuine reciprocal move. General Tsadkan wants readers to think that the eight point proposal for talks was such a move. TPLF’s preconditions for ceasefire released in June included “withdrawal of the ENDF and Amhara militias” and “humanitarian access” among other things.
Humanitarian access – The Ethiopian government was never against humanitarian access. What it wants to avoid is the arming of the TPLF by its Western and Egyptian allies. Therefore, the border with Sudan was closed for that purpose. The humanitarian aid that comes through any other route has to pass several checkpoints, to make sure weapons are not smuggled to TPLF. The demand for humanitarian access is therefore a code name for a corridor into the Western border to Sudan. That is not a genuine request which takes us to peace. It is rather a demand for more weapons and therefore more war.
Withdrawal of ENDF and Amhara Militias from Tigray land – First of all, a regional government cannot ask the Federal Government to withdraw its forces from the region. But that is beside the point. The point is, the land TPLF wants for the Amhara Militia to go out of, is Amhara ancestral land. Any map which is made prior to 1991 can attest to that. Secondly, TPLF is asking for a corridor to Sudan by asking the removal of Amhara Militia which is securing the land adjacent or bordering Sudan. The answer from Ethiopia to this request – similar to the other one – is emphatic NO. We learnt our lessons from the 1980s where the US and its allies supplied weapons to the TPLF. This is a case of – fool me once …, fool me twice ….
This guy wants people to believe that there is a horrific famine in Tigray, and that the images cannot reach television screens in the West. Why is that? TPLF has its own television. It shows women preparing food for the army. It shows people contributing money to the war effort. Why not the starving children. Why use photographs of children in Yemen in their social media posts? Starving children were the bargaining chips of TPLF long before this war. In the 1980s it used starving children to defraud humanitarian organizations in order to buy arms. This is a documented fact. Former TPLF members are on record explaining how the fraud was perpetrated.
Let’s say for argument’s sake that there is a hidden starvation and children are dying of hunger. It is possible that this is happening while TPLF is able to feed hundreds of thousands of fighters. Let’s accept the fact that for TPLF the starvation and death of children is not as important as winning the war against the Ethiopian government. But at least it could have announced a temporary humanitarian ceasefire for a limited time. Instead, what it did is, steal more than1000 UN trucks that transported food aid to Tigray. If that is not an impediment to humanitarian access, we don’t know what is.
The guy wrote that the “Central Command” took the decision to pursue the war by joining forces from Somali, Afar, Agaw liberation fronts. First and foremost, these fronts do not exist. There is only an on-again and off-again marriage made in hell between OLA and TPLF. Apart from that, the others are phantoms. Secondly, let’s be crazy and assume that there are strong liberation fronts from different parts of the country, which are ready to fight the Government of Ethiopia then the question we should ask ourselves is why is TPLF concerned with them? Isn’t the sole purpose of TPLF to free the people of Tigray from the “genocidal” regime?
Then again, the General himself negates his first assertion that TPLF only wants to free Tigray people. He wrote that the reason TPLF is fighting is to protect the principles of the Federal Constitution of Ethiopia. Think about this for a minute. Why does a minority group fight on behalf of more than one hundred million people to protect their constitution? When did the rest of the country give power of attorney to TPLF? Why are Tigrayans dying to protect a constitution which supposedly is beneficial to everybody in the country? Is that out of the kindness of their hearts? Above all, the Ethiopian government had never ever said it would change the constitution. Therefore, how did they know what its intentions were? Even if they know what it is intending to do, shouldn’t they have waited until the GoE expressly said so. Even then, shouldn’t there be a dialogue about it before war?
The General assumes that an ethnic federalism makes the central government stronger. That may be his personal and his party’s conviction; but what if the majority of the nation want a different kind of government? I am not saying the majority doesn’t want ethnic federalism. What the majority wants is not known yet, as nobody did a referendum. So, who gave them the right to decide for the rest of the country? The time for the TPLF and its cronies to decide the fate of 100 million people, is past. The sooner TPLF understands that, the better. In fact, that proved to be a very very very expensive lesson, already.
The General wrote “The Tigray Central Command pursued the war in order to compel the government to negotiate on equal terms”. There is a lot to unpack here. The word pursued instead of “started” is interesting, but we won’t go back to arguing about the origins of the war. TPLF wants to negotiate on equal terms? Why do they think they are equal to a democratically elected government? The fact that they ruled us brutally in the past does not make them magically equal to the duly elected GoE. They seem to forget that the day they have withdrawn from the federal power, they have become just another organization like a political party, or an Iddir. They might argue they are representing the people in Tigray. Let’s consent that they are elected by the people of Tigray, in a free and fair election. Even if that is true, that means that they are representing a fraction of the general population. What makes the people of Tigray special? They have comparable population size with the Somali Region. According to the ethnic based political system TPLF instituted in this country, they should have a 3 to 4 % representation in any parliament or among cabinet ministers. Nothing more nothing less.
The General referred to the 1991 installation of TPLF, (on the collective neck of Ethiopians, I might add) nostalgically, and admitted that – that cannot be repeated. He is right. That cannot happen. Please note though, the qualification he added at the end “without clear international support”. That is a-slip-of-the-tongue admission right there or is it a Freudian slip? The fact is he inadvertently revealed that they were installed with “international” support in 1991. We Ethiopians knew it all along. But it is good to see TPLF’s admission, in print. It also shows that it is the hope of “international” support which partly emboldened TPLF to start the war, and to expand it to other regions – as it did in June 2021. As is evidenced by decades of history and current affairs, “international” (moral, material and logistical) support did indeed carried TPLF into the doorsteps of Addis, if not into the palace it coveted.
General Tsadkan laments the fact that the political discussions (with the made up coalition) did not proceed at the pace of the “military advance” into Addis. Which is not surprising as the phantom coalition only lives in TPLF’s collective mind. He then reminds people who worried about Addis to remember the “genocide Tigrayan people are living under”. But there has never been a war inside Tigray since June 2021. The war was fought in Amhara and Afar, instead. What about you, General? Any word of understanding on the pain and suffering of the populations of these two regions?
The guy further laments “the political developments both international and domestic did not catch up” with TPLF military advance. That, he wants us to believe, is why they pulled all the way back to the borders of Tigray. What did they expect the domestic political developments to be? Did they expect the OLA to amass a lot of popular support and then that would topple the GoE? Or a more sinister expectation could be, that the Ethiopian people would take revenge on the millions of Tigrayans, living in the cities all over the country, which then would result in a horrific bloodshed. That would have given a real excuse for the ”international” community, instead of a fake one. If that was what you hoped for, thank God it didn’t materialize.
The lamentation continues that the international community tried to resolve the conflict using UNSC resolutions, but China and Russia blocked them for their selfish reasons. Let’s not go into the neocolonialist agenda of the US and EU, let’s just thank God for China and Russia. But in all these, does the General think that we have a very short memory or no memory at all? Does anyone forget how the TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda said in several interviews that TPLF does not want to “negotiate with the Abiy”. Does the General think that we can forget the interview he himself gave on camera in which he said, “peace negotiation – what peace negotiation? – with whom? – who is there to negotiate with?” Therefore, what kind of peaceful resolution was he expecting from the UNSC, really?
He wrote “Western nations’ actions did not go beyond rhetoric … but these were empty gestures”. I am sure the General expected a Syria or Libya type bombardment by the US planes or US boots on the ground. Luckily for us, the US and EU (as much as they want TPLF at the helm of power in Addis) they do not want to repeat the same mistakes they did elsewhere. That does not mean they haven’t tried, all they can like condemnations, sanctions and psychological warfare. I am sure they would expect a little bit of gratitude, for all their efforts and for putting their credibility on the line for you, General. But alas that was a marriage of convenience, so it is bound to end with mutual accusations. History will reveal the underhand dealings that went on, in Western and international high places. Hope the documents will be unclassified in our lifetimes.
General Tsadkan wrote that those who support the Government of Abiy are wrong. The government is weak. It is using foreign supplied weapons and twitter instead of diplomacy and the African peacekeeping built by TPLF had collapsed. My answer to all these is why do you care? It is not your responsibility. It is the responsibility of the elected government. If you think they are not doing a good job, in five years’ time compete and try to win. Don’t forget that you are fighting this war to save the people in Tigray from “genocide”, what has the weak administration skills of the government got to do with that goal? About Ethiopia buying weapons from abroad, as far as I know that is the practice always. You bought weapons from abroad when you were in power. The very weapons you stole from the Ethiopian people, the weapons you use to kill their sons and daughters, were bought from other countries, with taxes collected from the poor farmers. GoE is fighting a war with a domestic insurrectionist group, armed with tanks and rockets. What did you expect it to do? Spank you?
I have to say something about twitter diplomacy. I believe the GoE is weak in diplomacy. But that proved to be good for you, General. In fact, the Ethiopian Government has nothing to do with the successful twitter campaigns. TPLF, on the other hand, has made good use of it, especially at the beginning of the war, to sway the sentiments of Westerners. Ethiopians lagged behind, but we caught on. It was the onslaught of blatant lies against our country and lies about things we know were not true, which pushed Ethiopians living inside the country and abroad to join the twitter war. Some of us needed to learn how to use twitter in order to take part in the struggle. If you, General, think that the Ethiopian government has anything to do with that, you are giving it undeserved credit.
Tsadkan wrote that PM Abiy and President Farmaajo are following the dictatorial footsteps of PIA of Eritrea. This is the pot calling the kettle black. There cannot be a more dictatorial government than the TPLF led rule in Ethiopia. On the other hand, what is wrong if these poor countries cooperate economically and logistically, for their mutual benefit? Why would the General think that would lead to “a weak and fragmented state”. As far as I know, cooperation does not lead to fragmentation; in fact, the opposite is true. Cooperating with PIA is not equal to being dominated by him. Do you think we can forget the pleas and the appeals the TPLF leadership made to PIA in 2018 and 2019? Why did you beg and appeal for his friendship if he is so dictatorial and a bad influence?
The General cautions against the oversized ambition of PIA (which according to the General PIA can achieve with the collaboration of Abiy, Amhara and their backers i.e., Turkey and UAE). But he did not state what the ambition is. What could it be? He probably refrained from telling us in order to spare our sensibilities. He also told us the only thing preventing this from happening, is the “Tigray resistance”. So here he is; once again with a different reason for the war, which is to resist the ambitions of PIA. I thought the war was to free Tigrayans from the “genocidal” regime.
General Tsadkan at one point in this article appears to be worried about the foreign loan and aid Ethiopia is getting. He said “Abiy has made Ethiopia into a beggar”. Why is General Tsadkan particularly anxious about the debt burden of Ethiopia while he allows his troops to murder innocent women and children, to gang rape, loot and destroy properties and infrastructure in Amhara and Afar? The General’s concern is laughable. Many TPLF leaders on many occasions expressed their contempt of Ethiopia as a nation. Some of them went as far as saying they will go to hell and back to see Ethiopia destroyed. I had heard TPLF referred to as an abusive husband vowing to kill his wife if she dares to divorce him. The usual “if I cannot rule over you, abuse you, and loot you, nobody can live in peace with you” kind of thing.
The General implies he is worried about the stability of the country. General you are the main source of insecurity in the country. Stop your war, disarm and stop financing terrorism in the rest of the country, for just one year. And then just wait and see if we the Ethiopian people are not the most stable country on the face of the earth. Peace is our natural inclination as you probably already know.
The General seems to accept the genuine concern of the US on continuity of Ethiopia. If he understood this to mean that the US is in favor of the continuity of Ethiopia, it is indeed a difficult idea to sell for anyone who has seen what transpired in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. The bottom line is the US will protect its interest in the most expedient way, be it through continuation, weakening or complete disintegration of the Ethiopian state. What is not crystal clear from the article however, is what the General’s position is on the matter.
General Tsadkan’s assertion that the US is opposed to TPLF’s advance to the capital does not hold water. I am no war general, but let’s be clear, had it not been for the psychological warfare lodged by mainstream media outlets, the Western Embassies and the UN that predicted a doomsday scenario, TPLF advance would not have been possible. The fact remains that the halt and eventual retreat of the fighters, was a result of total rejection by the Ethiopian people of any attempt for TPLF’s return to power. As to the hilarious claim that the actions of the US and its allies were meant to appease and flatter the Prime Minister, I would just say that they did their best to spoil his good name, to corner and humiliate him. But their efforts had the opposite effect, regrettably for them!
The guy paints a picture of TPLF as a loner with no international allies, and military support . There is clearly a need for a reality check here. The General confuses Tigray region perhaps with the Republic of Tigray that only exists deep in his psyche. Otherwise, how is it possible for a regional government to expect international allies and military supplies?
The General denies that his people received humanitarian aid. Nothing can be far from the truth unless he is implying that the hundreds of tons of food aid that is sent to the region every day is diverted to the war effort. Can the General name one single thing TPLF did to increase the people’s access to food, except invade other regions for looting?
In carefully curated words Tsadkan admits TPLF’s defeat and instead attributes that to the swarm of drones and Eritrean fighters. He intentionally omitted the most important reason for the setback. which is the resistance lodged by Afar and Amhara forces who were angered by the unprovoked attack, senseless destruction and the appalling acts of violence committed against them. Drones did play a role in this, but the counter offensive launched by Ethiopian defense forces and the regional forces led to the retreat.
Tsadkan’s statement that his forces are undefeated, sounds like a shamefaced admission of defeat from a proud war strategist. The retreat, according to him, is necessary for consolidation of force for future engagement; thereby making it clear to the reader that the sole purpose of the call for peace is nothing more than an opportunity to prepare for the next phase of the war. In his illusive writing, the General exposes that TPLF is not ready to retire and is probably looking into expanding the conflict to other parts of the country and even perhaps turn it into regional war.
….If this does not happen, the war will continue not only in Tigray but in other places in Ethiopia as well. There will be more loss of lives; economic destruction and whatever political and social fabric that might have persisted up to now will be destroyed which means saving the Ethiopian multinational federal state as we know it becomes very difficult.
For those who know enough about TPL’s history in the region, this war cry should not come as a surprise. It is well known that TPLF thrived on waging a series of wars in the region in close cooperation with its regional and international actors. To mention but a few, TPLF fought 17 years against the Ethiopian government, 20 years of war against Eritrea, fought for 20 years of war in Somalia. Through these wars, TPLF has amassed billions of dollars, became part of international networks for political lobbyists and racketeers.
Having threatened Ethiopians of more war to come, the guy delves into proposing a peace plan that is centered on saving the TPLF. His plan starts by dismissing the national peace dialogue that is proposed by the Government of Ethiopia and denying Ethiopian people and political actors in the country any role in the process. Instead, he claims that it is ‘the political forces supported and sponsored by the international community’ who have the ultimate say on the fate of Ethiopians. He is of course referring to those rag tag diaspora casual workers hastily assembled in Washington D.C, few weeks ago to pose as the new faces of the ‘confederal forces.’ I cannot help but express my frustration, in the lack of any imagination by TPLF to try something different than a failed strategy from three decades ago.
Let it be known that when Tsdkan calls for the ‘international community’ for mediation, that excludes Africans whose role he relegates to providing logistics. Presumably, what he referred to as ‘international community’ are to play the central role through supporting and financing the process. Clearly, by the “international community” the General is referring to countries like Ireland, UK, Norway and US, and institutions such as International Crisis Group and the famous Alex De Waal from Tuft University- all familiar cheerleaders. The bad news for TPLF is that the peace dialogue that Ethiopians look up to is hardly about TPLF and its cronies nor is it about ‘the international community’. In fact, many Ethiopians do not want to see the TPLF around the negotiating table.
In his plan, General Tsadkan sees Ethiopia and its leaders as unwanted distractions in the peace process. The whole truce should be about averting the looming crisis over Tigray. No amount of mayhem his forces created in Afar and Amhara, nor the massive displacement caused or the looming starvation in these regions will stop him from his fixation with ‘saving Tigray’ peace plan.
After having undermined the role African countries can play in the peace effort, Tsadkan backtracks and appeals to African countries to stand in solidarity with Tigray that is striving to become self-reliant ( not independent) to help defend itself from its enemies. He skillfully throws words like ‘genocide’ to create alarm and sense of urgency. He goes further and decries about the past glory of Tigray and its civilization and appeals to African brothers why Tigray deserves to be at a center stage of African politics. In contrast, his paints a gloomy picture for Ethiopia and predicts an eventual disintegration. If Tsadkan believed what he wrote, it would be insane for a leader of an aspiring ‘nation to be’ to sit in a peace negotiation with a country that is about to vanish. Why does he want peace talk for? Is it possible that the so-called internationally sponsored peace talk that the General is yearning for is actually a covert operation to dismember the Ethiopian nation? If the history of TPLF is anything to go by, this cannot be dismissed as wild imagination.
Tsadkan, refers to Ethiopia as ‘a nation of nations’ as if it is uniquely an Ethiopian problem. The truth is it is an African reality and reflects the fact that borders in Africa are molded after colonial interests than any other consideration. However, in the way he framed the issue, he inevitably is sending a dangerous message to Africans who have witnessed with utter dismay the brutal political experimentation that led to weakening to a proud and ancient nation. The onus is now on TPLF and Tsadkan to show to our African brothers how his brutal political experimentation for three decades could possibly promise a different result.
Towards the end of the article, Tsadkan nostalgically recounts the achievements of TPLF during its 27 years of reign and its contribution to regional development and peace. No need to provide arguments to debunk most of these claims, but it is always good to ask at what cost?
In his last couple of paragraphs, after presenting a nightmare scenario of state collapse and chaos supposedly looming, the guy calls for urgent action in the form of foreign intervention to save Tigray and the region. By doing so, he is sending a shock wave to its western allies that he hopes will prompt them to take immediate action. As a hard core TPLF, he also did not miss the opportunity to indulge in self-promotion presenting himself as a mature political and military strategist with superior intellect. To attest to this posture, he goes on to analyze the geopolitical issues in the Horn region in some depth and offers insights on opportunities for a viable formula of collaboration for the common good. The whole point of this, other than the self-indulgence, is to skillfully project TPLF as the only capable regional player that is worthy of partnership.
In his call for deployment of a peacekeeping force in Ethiopia, Tsadkan suddenly finds the African brothers as most suitable for the task. This could be overlooked as a matter of fact statement only if one discounts Tsadkan’s extensive engagement in peacekeeping missions in Africa and his insight on the intricacies and inner workings of such missions. One should wonder what lies behind this conviction. In the end Tsadkan unveils what lies underneath the plan for the deployment of peacekeeping forces which is to serve as a midwife for the delivery of what he calls an autonomous nation of Tigray with formidable influence and power within Ethiopia and the Horn region.
Finally, having failed miserably with his war strategy against Ethiopia, Tsadkan presented a peace strategy with the exclusive purpose of bringing TPLF back to the center stage in the Ethiopian polity or alternatively deliver an autonomous Tigrayan state. Peace or war, for Tsadkan and TPLF, is all about a zero sum game.
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