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Extending our Hand to the Tigrean Diaspora

Undated Photo shows ethnic Tigray members of the Ethiopian community in the United States protesting. (Photo : from Seattle Times)

Maimire Mennasemay

I believe it is worthwhile to try to persuade those who disagree with us and bring them to our side than to try to persuade those who already share our views. It is in this spirit that I suggest in this text that we extend our Ethiopian hand to Diaspora Tigreans who reject the Pretoria Agreement. 

According to reports coming out of Tigray, people of all walks of life have welcomed the Pretoria Agreement with relief. Nevertheless, many in the Tigrean Diaspora are opposed to the Agreement. We should not hurry to condemn their pro-war reactions. Rather, we should try to understand the source of their pro-war stand in order to facilitate extending our hand to them.

As commentators have pointed out, Diaspora Tigreans who are actively involved in the recent pro-war protests are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. They thus belong to the generations born after the TPLF’s anti-Ethiopian 1975 Manifesto. Since then, the TPLF has been feeding Tigreans anti-Ethiopian ideas, sentiments and erroneous facts, and seducing them with the mirage of an independent Greater Tigray. As the Däqiqä Estifanos, the 15th century precursors of Ethiopian critical theory put it, “the ruler tries to make his subjects resemble him.” Indeed, the TPLF seems to have succeeded to mold many members of the post-1975 generations of Tigreans in its own image. Hence, their continued attachment to TPLF’s false representation of what is happening in Tigray and their rejection of the Pretoria Agreement. However, the beliefs that the Diaspora Tigreans have imbibed from the TPLF and still hold are disconnected from the disastrous conditions in Tigray and are therefore recklessly hubristic. 

It is not surprising that Diaspora Tigreans who in the majority belong to the TPLF-molded generations reject the Pretoria Agreement. They feel radically betrayed. Being disconnected from the reality on the ground in Tigray, they are at a loss to understand TPLF’s abandonment of its rosy promises and projects of Greater Tigray. We should then understand the profound anguish that has seized our Tigrean brothers and sisters in the Diaspora when confronted with the jarring implications of the Agreement. Thus, we need to extend our hand to them as Ethiopians helping other Ethiopians to overcome a commonly shared condition of illusions and suffering. 

 I say a commonly shared condition of illusions and suffering, because all Ethiopians have suffered from the falsehoods that the TPLF has instilled in many of us: that we are primarily ethnic beings, driven by ethnic interests. The harm done by the ethnic othering that the TPLF has infused into Ethiopian society manifests itself in Ethiopia as ethnic cleansing. The TPLF-generated ethnic othering is one of the sources of the Tigrean Diaspora’s opposition to peace. In extending our hand to our Diaspora Tigrean brothers and sisters, we are inviting them to join us to overcome the TPLF’s ethnic othering and falsehoods that stand in the way of mutual understanding and peace. 

What does extending our Ethiopian hand to Diaspora Tigreans mean? Given the collapse of the false promises and the fantasy projects that the TPLF has been peddling for decades, it is quite normal that those who grew up under its influence, imbibing its deceitful promises, strike out at Ethiopians, whom they wrongly consider responsible for the failure of TPLF’s political fantasies. Out of respect for the Ethiopianess of Diaspora Tigreans, even if they deny it, we should not reply in kind to their discontents. Rather, we should respond with camaraderie and reasoned arguments to their unfounded claims and their untenable rejection of the Pretoria Agreement. We need to convince them that the Agreement will deliver Ethiopians back home from meaningless death and destruction, and that it is a necessary step for creating the conditions we need for building an Ethiopia based on and bonded by trust in which Tigreans, like all Ethiopians, could thrive. 

Second, in our effort to extend our hand to Diaspora Tigreans, we should impress upon them and upon ourselves that “words matter.” The war has inflicted massive pain on Ethiopians. There is no need to amplify this pain by abusing words indecently. The most abused word in this war is “genocide.” Words do things: they have the power to dehumanize or ennoble; they could become weapons that could change the reality they are describing. Abusing the word “genocide” could create insurmountable animosities and divisions based on exaggerated or irrelevant facts.

The hashtag “Tigray genocide” burst on social media on November the 4th, 2020, less than a day after the TPLF forces attacked the Ethiopian Defence Forces: that is, before even the Ethiopian Defence Forces responded to the unprovoked attack of the TPLF!!! Since that day, “Tigray genocide” has become the mantra of Diaspora Tigreans and of the “White TPLF”—the coterie of Western journalists, analysts, and academics who are more TPLF than the TPLF. The “White TPLF” exemplify Placide Tempels’ paternalistic if not racist conviction that Westerners “understand Africans better than they understand themselves.” Hence, the bizarre campaign of the “White TPLF” against the Pretoria Agreement that the TPLF, the Ethiopian government, and the OAU have accepted, and their brazen fanning of the claim of “genocide” through false narratives targeting the Ethiopian Defence Forces and the Ethiopian government.

But let us ask a question: Was there really a Tigray genocide? According to the “United nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Act,” for genocide to exist, there must be “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”; and involves  “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” The facts on the ground in Tigray, as reported during the war, do not meet the UN definition of genocide. To say, as some do, that there is a “risk of genocide” does not mean there is genocide. For example, there was a risk of a nuclear conflict during the Cold War, but it never took place.

Thousands of men and women have died during the war in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar; many women were dispossessed of their honour, and thousands of people were exposed to inhuman conditions. These acts must be condemned, and the perpetrators of these acts must be brought to justice. But we are dealing here with the outrageous consequences of war, not with genocide, which is different if understood historically and legally. To use the word genocide rhetorically, as some Diaspora Tigreans do, distorts the reality on the ground and generates hatred without cause.

When even highly educated Diaspora Tigreans (GSTS), whom one would expect to use words thoughtfully,  use the expression “Tigray genocide” with abandon, we see how false beliefs trump facts, distort reality, and exile reason. This sad situation shows the urgency of extending our hand to Diaspora Tigreans so that we and they could pull together the emergency brakes of this runaway “Tigray genocide” toxic rhetoric before an unbridgeable division separates us from each other. Ethiopians need reconciliation urgently, but it cannot be based on falsehood. 

Extending our Ethiopian hand to the Tigrean Diaspora does not mean denying the existence of substantive differences between us and them. Indeed, there are also differences of views amongst the supporters of the Pretoria Agreement, and probably amongst Diaspora Tigreans opposed to the Agreement. Acknowledging all these differences is healthy and important, for it liberates us from the suffocating embrace of “group think” that the TPLF instituted in the name of ethnic identity. 

In rejecting “group think” and in recognizing differences of views, we take the necessary step for submitting our differences to rational discussions and to peaceful solutions. If as Ethiopia’s intellectual traditions intimate and as one philosopher put it, “Thinking establishes the independence which makes men into human beings,” turning our back on war and engaging in rational dialogue will bring out that which is in us more than us: our dignity as Ethiopians.  

Finally, the immediate obstacle we have to overcome in order to extend our hand to Diaspora Tigreans is the ethnicism with which the TPLF has infected Ethiopian society. We and Diaspora Tigreans have to recognize that the voice of exclusive ethnic identity can never become the voice of conscience. For decades, the TPLF enabled ethnicism to hijack our values and norms, our inner and outer spaces, our discourses and practices, and our rational faculty. 

It is precisely this ethnicization of Ethiopian society that led to the war that devastated Tigray. If Diaspora Tigreans are sincere in their claim to defend  the welfare of Tigreans, then they must recognize that Tigreans have suffered massively from the ethnicism that the TPLF institutionalized in 1991 and constitutionalized in 1995. The war is a proof of this. It is therefore in the interest of Diaspora Tigreans to join hands with us and sound the death knell of ethnicism so that we could together construct Ethiopia as a nation whose unity is based neither on subjugation nor on exclusion. 

Cynics may consider that trying to dialogue with the pro-war Tigrean diaspora is a naïve enterprise. May be so. I believe that every Ethiopian who burns his / her bridges with Ethiopia is a painful loss for Ethiopia. Extending an Ethiopian hand to Diaspora Tigreans who reject the Pretoria Agreement is, then, a moral imperative for all Ethiopians who support peace and unity. We could surely agree that falsehoods, hating and  killing each other cannot create the conditions necessary for these.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. The ones who have been pushing this narrative that paints the people in Tigray region to be victims of pogroms are individuals and ver vocal about it. They know their trade extremely well because they had/have benefited from it. They did not sit idle since 1991. They had managed to position their diehard followers well placed in numerous foreign institutions in the West including major media outlets. I give them A+ for that achievement for the wrong reason. With the 30 billion plus in US dollars they pilfered from their own poor citizens they have enough dough to throw around. Still these are individuals and the overwhelming majority are just gullible followers poisoned by toxic diatribe thrown at them by the conniving few. They did not sit idle just enjoying their loot. But on the other side what was the other side, the opposition doing, you may ask? Fighting each other like cats and dogs. They demonized each other as Oromuummas, Neftegna, Neo-Gobenas and other pejoratives they dreamt up on any given day. They still do that by bashing each other with demeaning stereotypes. The conniving few sitting on the looted fortune will not rest. The next thing they may do after peace is maintained in their region could be to tell every Tigre to leave the region and march into Sudan. Then they will tell the world stories of ‘systemic genocide’. You watch!!!

  2. One should not be so naive because the TPLF thugs in the Diaspora understand only force and that is why they are urging the people in Tigray to continue the war. Their hired propaganda hit men in the west such as De Waal, Plat and Tronvoll are calling for the rejection of the deal and continuation of the war.

  3. The “agreement’ is crafted vaguely to please, it appears, Tigre extremists who are very angry about the demise of TPLF. The master document is the one signed in Pretoria, and this one shall not/should not contradict the conditions stated in that master agreement.

    The master agreement states contested boundaries would be settled according to the laws of the country, without fixing the date when that would be done. The master agreement also stated the government of Ethiopia to be the sole authority to government the nation now and in the immediate future, which would also manage demarcation of boundaries as per the laws of the country. Thus the clause in this document stating the non-Ethiopian defense forces should leave ‘Tigrian territory’ concurrent with hand over of ‘heavy war equipment equipment’ by Tigrian combatants is not valid. Which boundaries are the reference pints?

    Tigrian extremists should refrain from any attempts to derail the agreements, but rather should encourage their colleagues everywhere to cooperate with the central and regional governments to bring lasting peace and development to their region. Violence and political miscalculation/mischief over nearly five decades had brought nothing but poverty and misery to Tigrai. Ethiopia had also suffered severe collateral damages from the debacle.

    Until such a time as lasting peace comes to Tigrai, the Ethiopian Defense Forces and allied defenders should remain where they are now, and should at all times be alert to any provocation by TPLF and allies. They should be in full control of all airports, including the one in Mekelle, and should not enter the city itself at this time leaving the policing to local kebeles temporarily. The Mekelle airport is far from the city itself and fairly easy to defend against any incursions by TPLF combatants. Public services in the city should be restored concurrent with TPLF’s acceptance and implementation of the terms of the Master Agreement and this one. TPLF would want to use the agreement signed in Nairobi dealing with restoration of services and delivery of aid as carrot to retain membership by claiming it was able to restore those services without disbanding its combatants and giving up war machinery.

    Neither the Ethiopian government nor Eritrea had admitted presence of Eritrean forces in Tigrai, and so the Nairobi Agreement should not be interpreted to have included Eritrea. Eritrea has claimed territories which were awarded to it by the Hague Boundary Commission that the TPLF leadership headed by the then Melles Zenawi and Seyoum had accepted. And so, TPLF can not claim Eritrea should remove its forces from those territories which rightly belong to Eritrea in the first place. .

  4. With the agreement between the leaders of the TPLF and federal government still intact and peace holding it is time to mend issues between our Eritrean brothers and sisters and the citizens in Tigray. With the TPLF forces disarmed the threat Eritrean feel and faced will be no more. Peace in Ethiopia has a dividend paid in peace in Eritrea. My confident is very that the matured people of Eritrea will play part that in maintaining peace and stability across the Mereb River. The people of both countries have the wisdom and learnt bitter lessons from their past to resolve any open issues amicably and equitably. THERE WILL BE PEACE AND NOTHING TO THE CONTRARY!!!! Insha’Allah!!!!!

  5. Make that: My confident is very high that the matured people of Eritrea will play part that in maintaining peace and stability across the Mereb River.

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