The decision to release Sibhat Nega et al., known for the horrendous crimes they have committed against Ethiopians from 1991 until their capture in 2021, has shocked many Ethiopians within and outside the country. The social media was ablaze with condemnations and even violent language directed at the PM and those perceived to be his supporters. A serious concern here is that these reactions to the decision to release Sebhat Nega et al. may have awakened passions that could lead to more dangerous consequences than the decision itself.
In the 1970s and 80s, the Ethiopian educated class—those who have secondary and post-secondary education and who were the ideologists, and the organizers of political movements and parties—engaged in verbal violence against those with whom they disagreed, with the catastrophic outcomes we all know. Ethiopia’s future was sacrificed on the altar of ideological purity.
Will the Ethiopian educated class sacrifice in 2022 the unity and integrity of Ethiopia on the altar of “justice purity” or Piso’s Justice: “Let justice be done though the heavens fall” (fīat jūstitia ruat cælum), because Sibhat Nega et al. are released? The verbal violence that we thought we have left behind us in the ideological graveyards of the 1970s and 80s seem to be rising from the dead in the aftermath of the release of Sibhat Nega et al., this time in the name of justice. Are we really willing to destroy the difficult unity of purpose that Ethiopians have built since the TPLF attack on Ethiopia on November 4, 2020, because Sibhat et al. are not brought to justice? Could there be something more important than punishing Sibhat Nega et al.?
Justice and politics do not always see eye to eye. It is not the first time in world history that war criminals have been released to protect more fundamental national interests. Our reactions to the release of Sebaht Nega et al. should be measured by the possible dangers to Ethiopia these reactions could generate if they are formulated in a divisive and violent language.
Justice and the unity of Ethiopians
It is the new-found unity of Ethiopians—both within and outside Ethiopia—that has been the shield defending Ethiopia against the richly-funded TPLF lobbying campaign that has turned American and European politicians, Western journalists and NGOs, and even certain UN officials against Ethiopia. This new-found unity has also made possible the delivery of aid to the Afar and Amhara areas devastated by the TPLF. Similarly, this new-found unity has stymied the enemies of Ethiopia from overtly interfering on the side of the TPLF. It is this unity that allows us to be optimistic about the successful completion of the GERD and the political and economic future of Ethiopia.
If we let this unity dissolve, because we believe justice has not been done by the release of Sebhat Nega et al., we will be sacrificing Ethiopia on the altar of abstract justice: “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.” For Ethiopians, justice is fulfilled only and only with the political elimination of the TPLF. If the release of Sibhat Nega et al. facilitates reaching this goal, then be it. Indeed, if the price to pay for the political elimination of the TPLF is to give safe passage to its leaders out of the country, why not do it? At this moment of our history, the quest for “justice purity” (Piso’s Justice) will divide us and subvert the unity of Ethiopians. We need this unity to carry through the important and difficult tasks ahead of us.
The tasks ahead require unity
The TPLF is like the many-headed mythological figure: The Hydra. Cut a head, and it grows another. Sibhant Nega et al. are just one head of the TPLF-Hydra. The justice Ethiopia needs is the political elimination of the TPLF. Our unity is a powerful instrument that we could wield to put pressure on the Ethiopian government to concentrate on the achievement of this justice, for its achievement is a necessary condition for the defense of Ethiopian unity, sovereignty, and democracy, and for the liberation of Tigreans from being the cannon fodder of TPLF’s pointless war.
Moreover, our unity is a testimony to the devastation the TPLF has perpetrated in Afar, Amhara, Tigray, its crimes against humanity, and its project of dismantling Ethiopia. Our testimony will force itself into the consciousness of those who are the victims of the lies of the TPLF. The development of such awareness could create dissensions within the TPLF, and between the TPLF and Tigreans. It could force the Tigrean educated class, at least some of them, to abandon the lies of the TPLF and opt for truth; it could wean away Western politicians, journalists, and opinion-makers from their misguided support for the anti-democratic and violent TPLF.
In addition, the current situation is very fluid. Events or acts detrimental to the goal of the political elimination of the TPLF could emerge unexpectedly. Our unity could provide the backbone and the inspiration the government needs to overcome such unexpected harmful events.
If ever the Ethiopian government enters into negotiations with the TPLF, the unity of Ethiopians is absolutely necessary to prevent political concessions, and to ensure the political, civil and human rights of Afars, Amharas, and Tigreans are respected. United, we could push through the idea that a necessary condition for the respect of these rights is the political dissolution of the TPLF. Our unity is also a powerful deterrent to those who would like to revive the TPLF or imitate it, and to outside powers who would like to weaken Ethiopia.
In our unity we discover the truth of the Ethiopian aphorism, “ሰው ለሰው መድሃኒቱ” / säw läsäw mädhanitu. That is, our unity creates conditions that relate us to each other as a people with shared conditions and aspirations. Our unity will empower us to be the authors and actors of shared solutions to our country’s problems. Thus we could generate the necessary political, social, and cultural grounds for transiting from ethnic politics to citizen-based politics without undue turmoil. We could thus bury for good the ethnic politics with which the TPLF has poisoned the lives of Ethiopians.
I do not mean that we should not criticize the decisions and policies of the government. By all means, we should. But the goal of our criticism should not be to accuse it of betrayal. Rather, it is to nudge and persuade it to consistently pursue the goal we all share: the political elimination of the TPLF. In short, we should criticize the government without resorting to language that disunites Ethiopians and weakens Ethiopia.
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