By Henok Abebe
During the good old days, this time around, it was the sound of a whip, the lowing of cattle, and the whistle of farmers that used to echo across the farmlands of the northern northcentral and northwestern parts of Ethiopia. It was the laughter of shepherds and the
Shadey and Enkutatash songs of girls that used to control the air. But now, it is the harsh sound of arsenals that echoes beyond the horizon, it is the bullets that are plowing the land of Ethiopia. Almost two years have elapsed since the war between the
Ethiopian army and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (hereinafter “TPLF”) started. Twenty-three dreadful months for Ethiopians since that ominous day when the TPLF acted to slaughter the servicemen and women of Ethiopia who have been stationed in the
north to maintain the peace, security, and wellbeing of (primarily) the Tigray people. Since then, thousands lost their lives and bodies, their property turned into ashes and millions are yet displaced from their villages. Infrastructures that have taken years to be
constructed and reach the people are destroyed by direct attacks and dilapidated due to improper utilization for the consumption of the war. Bridges and roads are intentionally demolished, network towers, telecom wires, electric cables are stolen, and banks hospitals, universities, factories, and schools are ransacked, religious institutions and individual properties are militarily targeted.
The first round of the war kicked TPLF out of the cities of the Tigray region but unexpectedly, for most of the Ethiopians and the international community, they regained control of the cities that they have lost in days. The Ethiopian government wrongly assumed that TPLF will stay in the Tigray region once the Ethiopian army withdraw from the region and it decided to remove its military apparatus from Tigray. It did not take long to prove that assumption wrong. TPLF waged war through the neighboring regions and vowed to capture Addis Ababa to oust Abiy Ahmed from power. That caused lots of misery to Amhara and Afar civilians. TPLF’s invasion was marked by horrendous crimes against civilians. Mass killings, rape (even intentionally to infect them with HIV/AIDS), and torture were rampant. Finally, after lots of vicissitudes and mass national mobilizations, the federal government was able to push back the TPLF army. But it was late because TPLF has committed every crime possible against Amhara and Afar people, and it was not decisive because the army of TPLF was not defeated nor pushed back to the corner. This is partly because of the fatigue of the war, the burden it exerted on the economy, and the overall deteriorated situation of the nation. But it was also due to a second wrong assumption that if the Ethiopian military do not enter into the heartland of Tigray, TPLF would lend its hands to peace.
The second assumption too was proved wrong immediately when the leaders of TPLF started vowing to engage in another round of attack. Under the full knowledge of the Ethiopian government and the international community, TPLF conscripted every able body en masse, trained, armed, and organized into various army divisions. It was obvious that TPLF’s army can not sustain for long without active engagement, with no salary and enough food, and the Tigray people will not keep silent forever in such no war no peace type of precarious situation. So, before the civilians start to protest against TPLF and the army begins to desert and disintegrate, TPLF should restart the war. That is what it did; the third round of destructive invasion.
The Irresponsible Abiy Ahmed
Of the many mistakes that Abiy Ahmed has done, leaving Mekele during the first operation and failing to push TPLF to the corner during the second invasion are still costing the Ethiopian army dearly. It does not mean that the Ethiopian army could have stayed in Tigray with no cost or it was capable enough to push TPLF away from the border of the Afar and Amhara regions. But the damage the defense force could have sustained by staying in Tigray and hunting down the main leaders and denying TPLF the opportunity to freely conscript, train, arm, and organize or the price the defense force could have paid by attempting to push TPLF far from the center were way less costly than the damage that Ethiopia had sustained due to TPLF’s repeated invasions. Both mistakes gave the opportunity to TPLF to easily and freely conscript, train, and arm itself to become such a big force to deal with(in a free land, using government and humanitarian resources and soliciting help from abroad). During the Dergue regime, it was not easy for TPLF and EPLF to draft, train, organize and arm themselves because government forces were there in Tigray and Eritrea(at least, they were forced to do it in clandestine operations and it took more than a decade for them to be militarily and humanly capable enough to advance against the Ethiopian army). Apart from this, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has admitted that TPLF has received military aid from third countries through cargo planes. It is perplexing why the Prime Minister admitted that the government knows but did not take any action against planes that landed around Shire(Tigray), not once but repeatedly, to deliver arms. What kind of irresponsibility is this? Who knows what these planes have taken when they return? Maybe historical relics or wanted criminals.
This war is an assured mutual destruction for both parties. No matter how the designation is different, Ethiopia and Ethiopians are on both sides. The war is on Ethiopian land which is degraded and less fertile due to repeated wars and backward farming that lasted for millennia. Ethiopia will lose a lot through this war. It is her citizens who are dying, it is her infrastructures that are damaged, and it is her resources that are utilized for war on both sides. Whether TPLF strikes hard or Ethiopia devastatingly hit TPLF, either way, it bleeds Ethiopia; the war is a double-edged sword unsheathed against Ethiopia. The Tigray people would not benefit from this war except for losing their younger generation and installing enmity with the neighboring people. The problem should and could be resolved peacefully. And, first and foremost, it is the Tigray people who should pressure TPLF to resort to solving the problem amicably. TPLF will not win the war but any of its actions dearly cost the current and future generations of the Tigray people for persons who lived almost their times on earth( like Taddese Worede, Getachew Reda, Debretsion Gebremicheal, etc).
The diasporas who are truly far from the heat wave of the war are fanning the flame for they think they will not lose anything. If there are sensible elites and elders, they should pressure TPLF leaders to stop this nonsense that destroys Ethiopia and result in the deterioration of the lives and livelihood of the Amhara, Afar, and Tigray people. What do the people of Tigray and Amhara, for that matter Ethiopia, will get from this war? Nothing except for the death of their youths and the destruction of the few available infrastructures. Nothing that makes us proud of a war. Tigray elites and people in the diaspora should think outside of the box of TPLF-the suicide bomber (that vows to kill itself, the Tigray youth, and Ethiopia altogether).
There are other non-Ethiopians who are infamous for stirring hatred and inciting violence and instigating war among Ethiopians. The conflict is a business for persons like William Davidson, Martin Plaut, Kjetil Tronvol, and Rashid Abdi who do not have any sort of (emotional) attachment to Ethiopians, Tigray or Amhara, hence they always look for ways to exacerbate the situation, aggravate the harm, and intensify the hatred. But, Ethiopians who have lived together and will do the same for years to come should not fall prey to their sinister motives.
I know hate propels the war from the TPLF side; the hate that TPLF, Tigray diaspora, and elites do have against Amhara people and Abiy Ahmed. Tigray elites and diaspora should break out of the shackles of TPLF, do away with your hatred and let Amhara and Tigray live together in Raya, Wolkite, Amhara, and Tigray regions and across Ethiopia as they did for generations. Let’s not deny our people the chance to live and coexist together for this short span of years (utmost 70 years, we do not stay here for eternity).
As an institution responsible to maintain the peace and security of the country, the Ethiopian National Defense Force is not expected to lay down its arms. But TPLF should. TPLF should demobilize its army, turn in the main criminals and let the Tigray people elect their own civil leaders from the new generation of the Tigray youth and live together with the rest of the Ethiopians. The Tigray region police force, citizens, and special forces could proportionately arm themselves like other regions until the federal government de-militarize all regions and divest of their role to have a big force that can compete with the National Defense Force. And then the Ethiopian government should do what is expected of it. Rebuilding the war-torn regions.
Henok Abebe (LLB, LLM) Human Rights Advocate
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