The Art of Dominance—No one benefits from more war in Ethiopia
Dr. Aklog Birara
Part 20 of 30
“Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others. Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love, and having no love, he gives himself up to passions and coarse pleasures to occupy and amuse himself, and in his vices reaches complete bestiality, and it all comes from lying continually to others and himself. A man who lies to himself is often the first to take offense. it sometimes feels very good to take offense, doesn’t it? And surely, he knows that no one has offended him, and that he himself has invented the offense and told lies just for the beauty of it, that he has exaggerated for the sake of effect, that he has picked up on a word and made a mountain out of a pea–he knows all of that, and still, he is the first to take offense.”
Russian Novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
The works of this Russian novelist are among my favorites. His thoughts and world views remain meaningful and immortal. For almost half century, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and its variations have perfected the art of lying, fake news, misinformation, demonization of political opponents within and outside Ethiopia and war. Not yet erased from the hearts and minds of TPLF diehards and their foreign champions, these attributes are consequential. Hardliner TPLF diehards and their Western champions like Martin Plaut of the BBC, Alex de Waal of Tufts University, William Davison of the International Crisis Group who expelled from Ethiopia for spreading misinformation in favor of TPLF, continue to misinform the international community. Recently, a group of Tigreans in Seattle and Washington DC closed streets and rejected the Peace Agreement. They chastised the TPLF for abandoning insurgency. Would Peace opponents fight TPLF too?
On November 2, 2022, two years after TPLF committed treason followed by a people’s war that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 800,000 Ethiopians (a crime) and the destruction of immense social and economic infrastructure estimated at billions of dollars, a Peace Agreement was signed in Pretoria, South Africa.
On November 7,2022, Senior Military leaders of the Government of Ethiopia and TPLF/TDF led respectively by Field Marshall Berhanu Jula of Ethiopia and General Tadesse Worede of the TPLF/TDF met in Nairobi, Kenya, discussed the modalities and schedules of the disarmament process provided under Article 6 (a-g). This meeting was chaired by former President of Nigeria, Obasanjo, with former President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta as well as representatives from AU, IGAD, UN and USA in attendance.
I hope and pray that disarmament will occur. I say this because everyone has suffered from this war, especially Afar, Amhara and Tigray. The questions I would like to pose to those who care are: Why is Peaceful settlement of a tragic war not desirable? Who benefits from war and insurgency? Is it not time for mutual understanding, for helping one another and for empathy?
If Post-Apartheid South African Black people and White can heal and live with one another; why is it so difficult for Ethiopian Black people to stop hating one another, killing one another and demonizing one another?
My contention in this commentary is that Ethiopians will benefit hugely from the systematic and comprehensive implementation of the Peace Agreement. Implementation phase of the Peace Agreement is important. It shows commitment and strengthens ownership. It signals to the Ethiopian people, especially those harmed by the war; and to the international community that there is no going back.
Why is this a priority?
Under Article 6 (a-g): Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) of the Peace Agreement, the Parties:
6 (a) “Agree and recognize that the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) has only one defense force.”
In my commentary welcoming the Peace Agreement on November 4, 2022, I penned this is a huge and critical development for Ethiopia and all the Ethiopian people. You cannot have peace without “silencing guns.”
In Tigray and the adjoining regions of Afar and Amhara, fighting had stopped for a while.
I have argued repeatedly over the past two decades that allowing regions to establish their own defense forces portends trouble. I suggest that the priority of disarming demobilizing and reintegrating TPLF and TDF combatants notwithstanding, Ethiopia has a window of opportunity to collapse all regional ethnic Special Forces that serve as defense forces into Ethiopia’s National Defense. On county and one defense must be the guiding principle that define Ethiopia’s defense.
6 (e) “Agree to undertake the disarmament of the heavy armaments of the TPLF combatants as a matter of priority based on a detailed schedule to be agreed upon between the Senior commanders of the Parties. The disarmament activities in the schedule should be completed within ten days from the conclusion of the meeting of the Senior commanders.
The ten-day period could be extended based on recommendation of Senor Commanders, to be endorsed by the Parties.”
I underscore the fact that mutual trust features prominently in disarmament. It is true that the history of the TPLF does not offer confidence that the leadership and its hard-core supporters would disclose the types of heavy and light weapons and their precise locations. TPLF combatants have, over decades, amassed and hidden weapons throughout Tigray and other locations where the terrain allows the hiding of weaponry in places that are hard to find. Only TPLF/TDF commanders, their combatants and local communities would know the truth.
Compounding the disarmament hurdle is the potential emergence into the political scene of TPLF splinter groups including ultra-nationalists in the Tigrean Diaspora opposed to the Peace Agreement. Protestors in Seattle and Washington DC rejected the agreement that their own party signed and averted more deaths and destruction. They even called for continued insurgency.
Experts say the protestors are beneficiaries of the corrupt and exclusionary government TPLF imposed on the Ethiopian people that gave the Tigrean minority elite unfair economic, financial and political advantage for almost 30 years. Whatever the motive behind, refuseniks within and protestors without make disarmament work harder but not impossible if ordinary Tigrean -Ethiopians—the majority– are also involved in the peacemaking and disarmament processes. I urge them to say yes to peace and no to more insurgency.
6 (f) “Agree to finalize the overall disarmament of TPLF combatants, including light weapons within 30 days from the signing of this Agreement.”
Game change on the diplomatic front
I have shown in this series the devastating roles of cyberwarfare, hybrid and proxy wars and punitive measures against Ethiopia and Eritrea. I have also argued that ordinary Ethiopians do not have trust in the international system.
Despite these, the attention given by the international community to the follow-up conversation in Nairobi, Kenya is a good barometer of the seriousness of the Peace Agreement.
I must admit and you will agree with me, that the United States has played a critical role in making the Peace Agreement possible. My sense is that TPLF and TDF leaders must have been forewarned that the US will not recognize an independent Tigrean state and government. I simply ask the simple question “Why did the TPLF/TDF leadership acquiesce to a Peace Agreement that leads to complete disarmament and to the demise of TPLF as a military and political force?” Would the US push refuseniks to also agree to peace?
On Monday November 7, 2022, Ned Price, Spokesperson for the US Department of State opened his remarks with Ethiopia. “First, last week’s African Union announcement of the signing of a cessation of hostilities between the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, represents, as we have said, a significant step towards peace. We again commend the parties for reaching an agreement and applaud the African Union and the governments of Kenya and South Africa for helping to drive this process. The parties are in Nairobi, in keeping with the provision that the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and the Tigrayan Defense Force would meet within five days to work out the implementation. Also, as provided by the agreement, a hotline has been established between the two senior-most commanders.”
Al though I do not yet know the outcome of the meeting in Nairobi, the Parties have established direct communication to sort out problems as they arise. Direct interpersonal conversation among Ethiopian adversaries will go a long way in building mutual trust and confidence. It also strengthens ownership. But they must agree on disarmament first.
Price said, “These concrete implementation steps reflect a commitment by both parties to “silence the guns.” But more work remains. We understand the agenda for the Nairobi talks will also include the urgent need to expedite humanitarian assistance and restoration of services for Tigray and adjoining affected regions of Afar and Amhara, in accordance with the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. The talks are being presided over by the AU High Level Panel of former presidents Obasanjo and Kenyatta, the AU Commission, and with the participation of Kenyan and South African generals. The observers include the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD, and the U.S., represented by our special envoy, Mike Hammer. Our special envoy is remaining in the region to support implementation of the Pretoria agreement. We stand ready to continue to support the parties along with the international partners on implementation of the agreement.”
I have often wondered whether foreign powers can be trusted concerning the welfare of Africans in general, especially Ethiopia and Eritrea. For this reason, it is prudent to ask, “What deals enticed the TPLF to sign an agreement that forces it to disarm and potentially dissolve?”
Despite my misgivings, the signal I take from gradual shift in Biden Administration Ethiopia foreign policy is that the Government of the United States appears to be committed to the DDR process coordinated by the AU. Continued physical presence and constructive engagement of US Special Envoy Mike Hammer might contribute to achieving two objectives: a) restoration of mutual respect and trust between Ethiopia and the United States and b) implementation of the disarmament agenda.
This positive shift in US policy can be bolstered even further if the Biden Administration:
- Restores Ethiopia’s participation in AGOA
- Gives positive signals to multilaterals like the World Bank and IMF to restore and provide more funding to Ethiopia
- Calls TPLF by its proper name and designation, namely, terrorist, rebel group and the like consistently; and,
- Empowers the FBI and local police to monitor and hold accountable those who call for ethic division, more insurgency and terrorism in Ethiopia.
All told, the first implementation phase of the Peace Agreement is on the right track. However arduous the task may be, disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration will facilitate other phases of the agreement that are as important. For example, restoration of essential services unfettered access to humanitarian aid, domestic trade and social and capital mobility across ethnic boundaries will have a chance of success. Preliminary reports from Tigray indicate that prices of essentials such as foods and medicines have begun to fall. I believe prices will decline significantly over the coming months as the Tigray and adjoining regions begin to trade across boundaries.
Just think of the benefits that accrue to ordinary people affected by the war.
The Peace Dividend
Normalization in the movements of goods, services and people will prove to be peace dividends for ordinary citizens as well as for Ethiopia as one country.
The policy areas in the Agreement that force me to pose and reflect are a) Accountability in a court of law; and b) The fate of contested lands.
Article 10 (3) of the Agreement on Transitional Measures declares the following:
“The Government of Ethiopia shall implement a comprehensive national justice policy aimed at accountability, ascertaining the truth, redress for victims, reconciliation, and healing, consistent with the Constitution of FDRE and the African Union Transitional Justice Policy Framework. The transitional justice policy shall be developed with inputs from all stakeholders, and civil society groups through public consultations and formal Policy-making processes.”
Under Article 28 of the FDRE Constitution: Crimes against Humanity, the following provisions come in handy concerning accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and related violations associated with the war.
- “Criminal liability of persons who commit crimes against humanity, so defined by international agreements ratified by Ethiopia and by other laws of Ethiopia, such as genocide, summary executions, forcible disappearances or torture shall not be barred by statute of limitation. Such offences may not be commuted by amnesty or pardon of the legislature or any other state organ.
- In the case of persons convicted of any crime stated in sub-Article I of this Article and sentenced with the death penalty, the Head of State may, without prejudice to the provisions hereinabove, commute the punishment to life imprisonment.”
My interest in assessing the relevance of The African Union Transitional Justice Policy Framework to the multiple contentious issues of war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, genocide, rapes, economic crimes, and the like in Ethiopia is because it contains compelling principles on sustainable peace without ignoring the importance of accountability.
AU Transitional Justice Framework
- Links Transitional Justice to Accountability
I believe Ethiopia and most AU Member States are party to several international, UN and regional instruments against impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide, the protection of all human rights and the responsibility of states and governments to address accountability of perpetrators in a court of law.
The purpose is not to take revenge. It is to identify specific persons who committed crimes, support the allegations with concrete and substantive evidence and hold them accountable in a court of law. The additional benefit of holding perpetrators of these crimes accountable is to ensure they do not recur.
- Identifies specific Transitional Justice Goals
Transitional justice aims to address past atrocities and human rights abuses with the primary goal of pursuing sustainable peace, justice, and reconciliation. Key elements in the Framework include truth seeking, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence.
I wish to draw your attention to the critical nexus between justice on the one hand and reconciliation on the other. It is here that broad participation by those harmed and or affected becomes imperative. For example, ordinary Afar, Amhara and Tigreans directly devastated and traumatized by the war and their families are essential stakeholders. So are civil society organizations that represent them. Our role is to push this happens.
- Balances Competing Transitional Justice Goals
Ethiopian society is diverse with competing and at times conflicting interests and goals. Meeting expectations requires an appreciation for, and a deep understanding of vexed persons and communities affected by the war. What served South Africa or Sierra Leone, or Liberia or Rwanda may not be applicable to the Ethiopian situation.
The most important thing to keep in mind is the imperative of unfettered commitment and the value-added of peace, reconciliation, and justice with accountability. Those who care must avoid political pressure. Ordinary citizens and civil society representatives will know when bias occurs.
The end game is the pursuit of peace and reconciliation in which citizens feel heard, empowered, feel safe and secure wherever they live in Ethiopia. This will happen to the extent that perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide are held accountable regardless of their political status.
- Sequence Transitional Justice with Care
They say, “Rome was not built in a day.” I sense unrealistic expectation among Ethiopians, especially those in the Diaspora. Transitional Justice is a journey and not a sprint. It is important to join the journey by being patient, by critiquing less and by providing constructive ideas to the ultimate stakeholders, the Ethiopian people in general and the people of Afar, Amhara and Tigray directly affected by the war who need urgent humanitarian assistance and healing. We have the duty and responsibility to advance peace, reconciliation, healing, and the provision of material support.
At the Nairobi DDR conference, two priorities were identified and agreed by the Senior Commanders:
- “Silencing the guns; and
- “Unfettered humanitarian aid to the Afar, Amhara and Tigrean population.”
In the press briefing highlighted by former President of Nigeria, Obasanjo and former President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta on Saturday November 12, both leaders underscored the importance of achieving the above goals quickly and efficiently. These steps are presumed to pave the way for the rest.
They noted in the briefing there will be severe sanctions against persons or groups that perpetrated or will perpetrate war crimes, human atrocities, ethnic cleansing, genocide and other crimes against humanity. So, the question of accountability is not sidelined but remains to be seen.
It is realistic to accept the notion that Transitional Justice, including accountability for crimes will take time and perseverance. To heal and create a healthy society, children must be taught that all human lives matter. The Ethiopian educational system must provide the appropriate curriculum at all levels of education and learning, for example, on the values of interdependence, mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, peace, justice, and reconciliation, on the political, economic, and social drivers of ethnic conflicts, on the harms of foreign interventions in support of one group against another and the like. Ethiopian children must grow up learning how a diverse society thrives and enriches life.
- Identify Indigenous Practices and Deploy Them as Constitutive Parts
Like the rest of Africa, Ethiopian society Is endowed with local peacemaking, reconciliation, reparation, legal and semi-legal tools, and mechanisms. It is prudent to identify and incorporate what works best in the Transitional Justice process.
- Learn Peacemaking Best Practices from the Rest of Africa
Studies show positive outcomes of transitional justice initiatives in Kenya, South Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, Central Africa Republic, and Mali.
Article 10 (4) of the Agreement on —Transitional Measures provides the following:
“The Parties commit to resolving issues of contested areas in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Government of Ethiopia.”
My primary interest here is to propose that TPLF violated the human and socioeconomic rights and suppressed the identifies of the indigenous population of Wolkait, Tegede, Telemt, Raya/Kobo before and after it took political power in 1991
Article 48 of the FDRE Constitution on State Border Changes says:
“1. All State border disputes shall be settled by agreement of the concerned States. Where the concerned States fail to reach agreement, the House of the Federation shall decide such disputes based on settlement patterns and the wishes of the peoples concerned.
2. The House of Federation shall, within a period of two years, render a final decision on a dispute submitted to it pursuant to sub-Article 1 of this Article.”
The indigenous population of Wolkait, Tegede, Telemt and Raya had no say when TPLF invaded annexed, expelled, ethnically cleansed, or killed, changed the demographic composition of the population, and incorporated annexed lands into what TPLF designated wrongly as “Western Tigray.” This designation never existed before 1983. At the time, Amhara regional state officials were subservient to TPLF.
The good news is these lands have been liberated from TPLF annexation and occupation. Their humanity and identity have been restored. They are now part of the Amhara region.
Reports indicate that the indigenous population is better off today under Amhara regional state administration than it was under TPLF occupation for almost 30 years. In addition, the Amhara population has welcomed and catered to the humanitarian needs of thousands of Tigrean Ethiopians who fled Tigray or who abandoned the insurgency or who were captured. This civility and respect for the rights of all Ethiopians bolsters my contention that the House of Federation must legitimize the reincorporation of Wolkait, Tegede, Telemt and Raya into the Amhara region where they belong.
I also believe that reinstating or transferring illegally and forcibly annexed lands to the Tigray region a) poses a national security threat for Ethiopia and b) triggers unnecessary revolt against the Federal Government of Ethiopia by the indigenous population that has been harmed by the TPLF as well as by the millions of Ethiopians who support their just cause.
The ideal solution in the long term is to do away entirely with ethnic federalism, privatize land and allow every Ethiopian citizen the right to live, earn a living, own private property including land in any part of Ethiopia. In this connection, Ethiopia can learn from the American Constitution and Federal and State administrative model that operates synergistically.
At the conclusion of the DDR in Nairobi, Kenya in which representatives of IGAD, the AU, UN, the African Development Bank and the USA attended, I heard the same sentiment of goodwill towards the Ethiopian people; and the same level of seriousness for DDR. I heard sincere commitment and agreement by the Parties to achieve the dual objectives of a) “Silencing the guns; and b) availing unfettered humanitarian aid to the people of Afar, Amhara and Tigray.” This inclusivity of victims of war gives me hope.
As expected, one reporter raised the question of Eritrean participation in the war. Obasanjo and Uhuru Kenyatta responded astutely and wisely that the conference was and is about Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people. The rest of us ought to chime-in and dismiss the constant barrage of innuendo and accusation blaming and accusing Eritrea.
Finally, I commend the African Union for facilitating this important next step that concluded in Nairobi, Kenya. It gives real meaning to the Peace Agreement signed in Pretoria, South Africa. Who would have thought, a few years ago, that African wise leaders would take the lead in resolving Africa’s problems when and if they arise.
May the Ethiopian People Enjoy Peace and Human Security!!
Ethiopia Shall Prevail!!
November 12, 2022
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