Aklog Birara (Dr)
I visited my ancestral homeland, Ethiopia-— a country whose essence is deeply implanted in my soul-— after forty-five years. The Socialist Military dictatorship under which I served Ethiopia; and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) that succeeded it and that I opposed from the start made it untenable for me to travel in and out of Ethiopia without risk. The EPRDF regime dominated by the TPLF at the time went even further and refused to renew and return my Ethiopian passport immediately after I retired from the World Bank. The record shows that the TPLF embassy from which I stayed away renewed my passport in minutes while I was at the Bank.
Had the TPLF remained in power, it would have been impossible for me to travel to Ethiopia and return safely. There is nothing personal. It is because I opposed the TPLF even when I was working for the World Bank for 30 years. I knew then as I know now that ethnic federalism will undo Ethiopia. The core question I kept asking at the time was this. “Who are you funding?” This is by no means to deny the decade long growth achieved by the TPLF-led EPRDF.
At a personal level, it goes without saying that I owe the Ethiopian people, especially Ethiopian youth who dislodged the TPLF from power, and the Federal Government of Ethiopia led by Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed who opened Ethiopia for enabling me to witness, albeit briefly, and to appreciate in person the enormous untapped opportunities as well as the multiplicity of challenges Ethiopia and its 120 million people face.
I am as convinced as ever before that Ethiopia will transform its economy if it deals boldly and courageously with the pull and push of tribalism, extremism, secessionism, regionalism and “my turn to eatism” and the dangerous tension between the Ethiopian national center on the one hand and regionalism led by ethnic elites on the other.
I witnessed firsthand a clear trend that worries me. “Land to the tiller” that my generation championed as a democratic and human right has now morphed into an insidious movement of “land, water and other natural resources grab.” It is obvious that foreign interests are involved heavily in this game. Most notable are Egypt and Sudan.
The current ethnic polarization and contention for dominance over Ethiopia’s future propagated most prominently by the TPLF and OLF/Shane takes me back to an enduring thesis by Dr. Marina Ottaway. In her outstanding analytical paper published July 2019, “Ethiopia: can the future hold?” Dr. Ottaway opined “Continuing ethnic strife could halt economic growth and further impoverish the country. The future of Ethiopia hinges on how the conflict between the requirements of a modernizing economy and the political dynamics dominated by ethnic conflicts evolves.”
The Country Director for Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, and Sudan explained to me the economic and financial costs of this pull and push. As you know, the World Bank Group plays key role in Ethiopia’s growth and development. I asked the Country Director how Ethiopia is doing. He told me that the country’s promising developmental trajectory was derailed by the war. However, he noted that “the energy and commitment level is high.” I was especially pleased to hear that Ethiopia will meet domestic demand for wheat in a “couple of years.” I urged the Director to replicate irrigated farming throughout Ethiopia. Youth must be involved in modern farming.
I welcome the World Bank’s continued commitment to Ethiopia. For example, it allocated $300 million for reconstruction and recovery of war ravaged Afar, Amhara and Tigray; and most recently granted Ethiopia $200 million for capacity building, workforce (skills) development. Given the level of energy among youth that I observed, capacity building (institutions and human capital infrastructure) will contribute immensely to the transformation process. However, you cannot do it if Ethiopia builds on the one hand; and the cohort of bad actors—the TPLF/OLF/Shane and their foreign backers destroys on the other.
The bottom line is this. Given peace and stability, there is no doubt that the World Bank Director’s projection and prediction about Ethiopia’s prospects will prove to be true.
Over the coming weeks and months, I intend to focus on broad themes; highlight and share my learnings with the international community.
My immediate concern is to draw attention to the inevitable looming second war that the TPLF has begun to unleash. The goal is to reannex Wolkait and to create a strategic corridor with direct access to Sudan. To do this, the TPLF is convinced that it must dislodge Eritrea’s defense, Amhara militia and Fano and Afar militia. It makes no distinction among these three.
The TPLF is not doing this alone. Let me explain the reason I say this. You need to ask the question what foreign sources are availing new weapons and coordination that enables the TPLF to launch renewed attacks on Afar, Amhara and Eritrea? Who is emboldening it? What is its goal?
There is ample evidence to show that Egypt, Sudan, the EU, and the USA are encouraging and supporting either overtly or covertly the TPLF to oust the Eritrean and Ethiopian government leaderships.
Further, there is no doubt in my assessment that the concert of bad actors wishes to “Balkanize” Ethiopia. They are also convinced wrongly that Ethiopia’s center will not hold the country together.
So, I urge Ethiopians within and outside the country to set aside non-strategic differences; consider the magnitude of the problem Ethiopia is facing; and defend Ethiopia’s sovereign and legitimate rights in our capacity as Ethiopians. And not as members of tribes!
What is the motive behind this second TPLF war?
Simply put; it is geopolitical. At the heart of the internationalization of the Tigray issue that most Ethiopians, including millions of Tigrean-Ethiopians who live outside controlled and North Korea like Tigray, consider to be a domestic matter is a slew of regional and global interests that feel that they have a stake in dictating the terms of war and peace for Ethiopia and Ethiopians. Tribalism makes Ethiopian society porous and vulnerable.
The geographical nexus or the basis for the convergence of foreign national interests and the interest of the TPLF is this insurgent’s strategic objective for irreversible and complete re-annexation and incorporation of Wolkait, Tegede, Telemt into the planned new state of Greater Tigray.
The TPLF entices external powers by promising them goodies that Ethiopia will not grant them. Egypt intends to benefit because it will have more leverage on the future of the Blue Nile and on its desire to be part of the operation and management of the Grand Ethiopian
Renaissance Dam (the GERD). Its strategic goal is to prevent Ethiopia from harnessing the Blue Nile. Sudan intends to benefit because it claims large tracts of Ethiopian lands, some of which it annexed when Ethiopia was preoccupied with the war that the TPLF provoked in November 2020.
The US plans to benefit because the TPLF will succumb to US strategic and national security interests. Further, although they do not say it publicly, the USA and the rest of the West are most likely to be pleased that the TPLF is determined to dislodge the Eritrean regime that the USA wants out. The Eritrean Government is too unruly; too independent; and too self-reliant for their taste.
Together, the West sees a window of opportunity through the TPLF to dominate the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea. I underscore the fact that to this day, the US, and the EU never condemned the TPLF for crimes of war and crimes against humanity. They never challenged the TPLF’s proclivity to cause havoc and to destabilize the entire Horn of Africa. Behind these are also contending global forces fighting for spheres of influence: China, Russia, the GCC, Turkey.
From its inception, the TPLF conceived, designed, and planned that annexation of this land mass or corridor that stretches to the Sudanese and Eritrean borders is quintessential for the viability of a new Tigrean nation state.
For Ethiopia, abandoning or surrendering this land mass poses an existential threat. This is the reason Ethiopians who care deeply about their country must not see the Wolkait issue as a regional or Amhara concern. It is a vital and strategic component for the future of Ethiopia. If Wolkait goes, so does the rest of Ethiopia. This is what Egypt and Sudan want to see happen. This is the reason why I believe Egypt and Sudan are part of the problem.
In my assessment, the Government of Ethiopia must designate Wolkait as a red line and inform the international community as well as the African Union accordingly.
Ethiopian political and social elites have a short memory. They forget that at no time had the TPLF embraced Ethiopia as a country and Ethiopiawinet as Tigrean identity. I also remind us that the TPLF retained its national liberation nomenclature even when it ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist and pillaged it to the hilt for almost 30 years. For sure, it recruited non-Tigrean beneficiaries that gave it legitimacy. These beneficiaries are among its ardent supporters today.
What did the rest of us do? Nothing. We did not question why Meles Zenawi, and his cohort refused to abandon the “liberation” designation while amassing wealth –skyscrapers, vials, hotels, and other tangible assets– in Addis Ababa? The point I should like to flag is this. The TPLF had all along plan B, C, or D? in the event things went in an unexpected direction.
We need to inform the international community about the Wolkait tragedy boldly and repeatedly. Because it is detrimental to Ethiopia’s very survival.
The designation of Wolkait as “Western Tigray” and the legitimacy of this designation granted by the USA and the EU is a political declaration. It is not based on history and or facts. The parallel I would like to draw is equally the chilling and consequential TPLF designation of the “Amhara as mortal enemies of Tigreans.” Amhara are not mortal enemies of Tigreans. The TPLF is. If you utter a phenomenon repeatedly, it gains traction as fact. The EU and the USA accepted “Western Tigray” as fact because it is in their strategic interest. When foreign powers are on your side, your fantastic claim gains legitimacy. When you deploy tens of billions of dollars that you stole from the public purse and hire lobbyists to do your bidding, you raise your chances for success dramatically.
This designation is proving dangerous for Ethiopia. In effect, the TPLF, the EU, the USA, Egypt and Sudan are arguing that Amhara forces, Ethiopia’s Defense and Eritrea are the culprits because they provoked war in “Western Tigray.” According to this fictitious theory, Amhara victims of TPLF war and mayhem become the victimizers. Never mind that it is Ethiopia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty that is at stake.
Let me highlight the facts:
- The natural and historical boundary of Tigray is the Tekezie River.
- The land mass called Wolkait, Tegede and Telemt that borders the Sudan in the West,
Eritrea in the north and Tigray in the East has always been part of Gondar/Begemdir, formerly called Begemdir and Semien. (Read Achamyeleh Tamiru’s well reached book “The Wolkait Affair.”
- The primary mother tongue spoken in this land mass is Amharic and not Tigrigna. Given the mixture of people through intermarriages, labor mobility, trade with the Sudanese; it is common to hear residents speak Arabic and Tigrigna.
- Most of the people of Wolkait, Tegede and Telemt identify themselves as Amhara and not as Tigrean. Accordingly, the Wolkait question is at the same time a question of identity and human rights.
- The former Governor of Tigray, Ras Mengesha Seyoum confirmed in wring and orally that Wolkait has never ever been part of Tigray. There are other Tigrean Ethiopians who agree with him.
- The TPLF annexed this land mass during its war of liberation and after for economic reasons. The land is among the most fertile in Ethiopia. You can produce cotton, sesame, maize, and a variety of other agricultural products. During the time of Emperor Haile Selassie, military officers and civil servants gave up their professions and established modern farms in Setit Humera. Thousands of day laborers from Tigray, Eritrea and other regions found employment in Setit Humera and vicinity. Many settled there germanely. (Read Haileleul Getahun’s “Assault on Rural Poverty: the case of Ethiopia”).
- The TPLF took power in 1991. Soon after, it restructured the country’s regions into ethnic and language based semi-autonomous governments. The EPRDF government that the TPLF dominated declared that the Amhara territories of Wolkait, Tegede, Telemt Humera and Raya are henceforth part of Tigray and not Amhara. The Tigray border soon expanded beyond the Tekezie River and stretched all the way to Sudan. This forcible annexation and incorporation of massive lands into Greater Tigray constitutes a gross violation of human rights and international norms. By doing this sinister act, the TPLF abused its governmental responsibility to Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people.
- Tragically for the Indigenous population and for Ethiopia, the Socialist Military Dictatorship dismantled modern private farming. It created a conducive environment for lawlessness, displacement and for the unfettered movement and penetration by the EPLF and TPLF of this land mass. The TPLF created a corridor for easy access to arms, coordination and other support from Sudan and Egypt. The TPLF established direct relationship between the regional state of Tigray and Sudan outside the Ethiopian federal system. In effect, Tigray became a de facto state long before the war.
- Once the TPLF annexed Wolkait, Tegede and Telemt in 1984, it began a massive process of demographic change: slaughtered indigenous Amhara; evicted tens of thousands and forced them to flee to Sudan and to other lands; replaced them with tens of thousands of Tigreans including ex-combatants; forced Amhara girls and women to marry Tigreans; forcibly impregnated Amhara girls; banned Amharic and imposed Tigrigna as the sole and only language for elementary and secondary level education. This has the hallmark of ethnic cleansing and genocide. This is the basis for the new demarcation of 1991 and the designation of this land mass as “Western Tigray.”
- The TPLF convened meetings at which it hammered the new narrative that the region has always been part of Tigray and that anyone who dissented would face severe consequences. Gondar University conducted massive research and identified mass graves where the TPLF slaughtered and buried in hard to locate places thousands of indigenous Amhara. If the dead would speak, we would know the level of brutality and human cruelty that defines the TPLF as an entity. Surviving children and others who escaped this brutality offer eyewitness accounts of the tragedy.
- Among those identified, targeted, and killed by the TPLF were knowledgeable persons, community leaders, teachers, historians, social activists, and opponents of the TPLF. The TPLF was deliberate in targeting and eliminating promising young boys. They are now part of the mass grave story that is unfolding.
- The TPLF forced and impregnated Amhara females whose husbands it murdered. Adding insult to injury the TPLF compelled each offspring to adopt Tigrean identity and speak only Tigrigna.
- The TPLF was deliberate in propagating a false and make-believe narrative using customary institutions such as churches and mosques. In these venues, the TPLF banned the use of Amharic. Instead, it forced even Orthodox priests to use Tigrigna.
- The TPLF banned singing and celebrating or worshipping or observing burial ceremonies in Amharic. The TPLF killed or expelled anyone who refused to abide by the edict to use Tigrigna solely. An Orthodox priest by the name of Father Gebremedhin refused to obey and the TPLF “severed his tongue.”
- The politically engineered designation of Wolkait, Tegede, Telemt as “Western Tigray” is a consequence of more than four decades long of forcible annexation of vast tracts of land accompanied by ethnic uprooting, ethnic cleansing, and genocide of Indigenous Amhara by the TPLF. In effect, the TPLF reverted to systematic and silent killings of tens of thousands thereby triggering massive demographic changes replacing Indigenous Amhara with Tigreans.
- It is stunning to me that the USA and the EU embraced the TPLF dictum of “Western Tigray” and gave it a legitimacy that the designation does not deserve. History will recall this act of “scratch my back and I will scratch yours” as a failure in Western diplomacy in Africa. It is another form of intervention in the affairs of an independent African state by the USA and the EU.
Let me summarize:
- The Indigenous population of Wolkait, Tegede and Telemt deserve justice. TPLF’s latest attempt to retake Wolkait will no doubt fail.
- What concerns me is the reluctance of the Government of Ethiopia to recognize the legitimate rights of the Indigenous population; and its refusal not to avail budgetary support to the subregion. Both prolong agony. This is inexcusable. If Wolkait is strategic and vital for Ethiopia’s future—and both are true- the Government of Ethiopia must treat Wolkait as a core policy matter. This is the right thing to do.
- Further, this ambiguous and ineffective Ethiopian government policy emboldens the TPLF, Sudan, Egypt, the EU, and the USA at an enormous cost to the Indigenous population as well to Ethiopia.
- Let us get it into our heads. The TPLF is not committed to Ethiopia. It is not committed to durable peace. The current frontal attack targeting Eritrea and continued onslaught singling out the Afar and Amhara regions by the TPLF is deliberate. The TPLF’s penultimate objective is to reannex Wolkait, Tegede and Telemt as part of the TPLF secession agenda. This latest scheme does not represent an iota of commitment to peace and stability in the Horn of Africa. This second TPLF initiated war perpetuates the agonies and miserable conditions of Tigrean Ethiopians. They too deserve to be free from suffocating rule by the cancerous TPLF.
- I find it unfortunate that the EU and the USA refuse to acknowledge to this day the notion that Ethiopia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty is essential for peace and stability in the Horn of Africa. I say this because they have never once challenged let alone condemned the TPLF.
- The ideal way out of the current crisis is not more war. Rather, it is a negotiated peaceful settlement under the auspices of the African Union.
- Ethiopia faces massive problems. My advice to the Federal Government of Ethiopia is to convene a strategic retreat involving all regional state presidents, representatives of all opposition parties, civil society, academics, faith groups, youth as well as women, discuss and agree on a clear and compelling road map on the future of Ethiopia. This cannot wait.
- I am convinced that tribalism, ultra-nationalism, and big nation chauvinism all constitute an existential threat for Ethiopia. It is in the common interest of the new generation of Ethiopians to conquer these political elite led barriers to our common humanity and destiny. They diminish all of us. They prevent Ethiopia from transforming its economy for the benefit of all.
- Finally, and in the long-term all Ethiopians deserve a new Constitution that grants every Ethiopian citizen the right to enjoy life with personal safety and security; to enjoy the ability to live and to own property in any part of the country without fear; and the opportunity to improve life and livelihood by focusing singularly on the common agenda of poverty alleviation and wealth generation.
- With peace, stability, and democratic governance, this is achievable. But it requires a radical mindset change and an unfettered commitment to systematic structural and institutional reform.
(Wolkait: Tears of Blood by Dagnachew Teshome)
Report by Photojournalist Jemal Countess, ENA, April 17, 2022
Ann Garrison. April 27, 2022: https://blackagendareport.com/notes-wartorn-ethiopia-part-iii-crimestigrayan-peoples-liberation-front
Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC)/Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Joint Investigation into Alleged Violations of International Human Rights፡ https://www.un.org/sexualviolenceinconflict/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/report/report-of-theethiopian-human-rights-commission-ehrc/OHCHR-EHRC-Tigray-Report.pdf
The Potential of Democratization in Ethiopia: The Wolkait Question as a Litmus Sonja John First Published August 2, 2021, Research Article https://doi.org/10.1177/00219096211007657
Wolkait Mass grave: Researchers say TPLF had killed and …https://borkena.com 2022/04/05 › Wolkait mass-grave…
Apr 5, 2022 — Twelve mass grave are uncovered in Wolkait, Ethiopia but researchers. … tortured and killed to be thrown into the water.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch Report On …https://zehabesha.com › amnesty international-and-hum…
Apr 27, 2022 — … Amhara victims have been discovered in several mass graves in Wolkait. Yet, the joint report does not reference the team’s report, …
Discussion with Dr Aklog Birara, Wolkait Tegede and Kimant …https://www.youtube.com › watch
A BIASED WESTERN NARRATIVE OF ATROCITIES IN ETHIOPIAhttps://nilejournal.net
May 22, 2022 — By Dr. Aklog Birara, a retired World Bank Senior Advisor … Countess’s reporting on the
Wolkait massacre of indigenous Amhara that I had reported
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