Yonas Biru, PhD
I have written many articles on Amhara, Oromo and Tigrayan tribal elites. My relentless criticism of them as intellectually stunted and morally malnourished national curses has made me a target of their hoots of disdain. But candor obliges me to keep on writing. This article is triggered by Daniel Berhane’s book titled “War on Tigray: Genocidal Axis in the Horn of Africa.” Daniel embodies and personifies the tribalized intellectual culture that is destroying the nation.
Daniel presents his bio as follows: “My role varied from community organizer to political party member, from election observer to prominent activist, from social media influencer to pioneer in the Ethiopian blogosphere, and from active contributor to various media outlets to the founder of a leading online magazine.”
In his book, he tries to take the moral high ground as he attempts (in futility) to present TPLF and Tigray as victims of Amhara and the Federal government. His narrative starkly conflicts with his social media hand and footprints both before and after the war started.
The first issue I found comical is his accusation of the Ethiopian government’s decision to involve Eritrea in Ethiopia’s internal war. This is comical for two reasons. First, he conveniently forgets the fact that in 1991 TPLF took over Addis Ababa with the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). The EPLF forces were in Ethiopia supporting the TPLF, long after Eritrea declared its independence in May 1993.
In fact, up until 1996, the informal agreement between the EPLF and TPLF was that Eritrea would be allowed to export Ethiopia’s coffee to raise foreign exchange as a form of payment for its forces protecting the TPLF. In 1995, Eritrea was one of the major African coffee exporter countries. In the meantime, Ethiopia was pleading with the IMF for foreign exchange. In 1995, one of the conditions the IMF imposed on Ethiopia was to address why its coffee export has drastically dropped.
That is not all. As TPLF and the Abiy administration were preparing for war, TPLF officials were appealing to Eritrea to join the war in defense of Tigray. Daniel was one of the “prominent activists” pleading with Eritreans to stand with Tigray. Here is what he posted on his Facebook and his Twitter handle.
“To my Eritrean brothers and sisters. I might not be the right person to say this to you. But I got this to say. There is a war on Tigray. Make no mistake, it is war
on all of us. Whoever wants to kill Tigrayans would have you as his next target. We’d better stand together.”
Eritrea was approached both by the TPLF and the Ethiopian government. President Isayas chose to side with the latter. Today, Daniel wants to condemn the involvement of Eritrea as a matter of principle. His position is akin to the proverbial retired old sex worker who condemned prostitution on moral grounds.
The other issue I found comical is his attempt to accuse the Ethiopian government, Eritrea, and Amhara as the perpetrators of the war. TPLF leaders are on the record acknowledging they launched a “preemptive strike” against the federal government, on November 3, 2020.
The relevant question is why did the TPLF start the war? It has less to do with preempting Ethiopia’s looming war on Tigray. According to Nagy Gabor, US Assistant Secretary of State under President Trump, the motive for the war was “to overthrow the prime minister and return to the type of privilege that they had enjoyed within the Ethiopian state for the last 27 years.”
This was confirmed by none other than Daniel Berhane. On November 3 within the hour after the TPLF launched the war, Daniel posted the following on his Facebook:
For 27 years, TPLF enjoyed a discretionary power to decide what part of the Constitution to honor and what part of it to violate with impunity. The TPLF wanted the same privilege after it lost the levers of power. That was the root cause of the war. Once again, Daniel’s prewar social media posts attest to this. Let us take some examples focusing on, Articles 62, 71, 74 and 104 of the Constitution.
Article 74, Section 1 dictates: “The Prime Minister shall be the head of government, chairman of the Council of Ministers and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.” As promulgated in Article 71, part of the PM’s responsibilities is nominating high military ranks and submitting their names to the President of the Republic for confirmation. Following the proper procedure, the Prime Minister appointed a brigadier general to lead the ENDF stationed in Tigray.
On October 24, 2020, two weeks before the TPLF fired the first bullet, Daniel posted the following message on his Facebook:
“Statement from Tigray government: The illegitimate and dictatorial junta has no legal mandate and authority to command or reorganize the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF). Such decisions are neither acceptable nor valid. Therefore, any decision pertinent to Tigray and concerning the operation, restructuring, leadership change of ENDF and relocation of weapons is not acceptable and will not be enforced. The ENDF forces should reject these unconstitutional changes. Abiy Ahmed and Isayas Afeworki will be responsible for any problem that arises from these irresponsible decisions.”
On October 25 Daniel posted a follow up, declaring Tigray has taken over “the most heavily armed wing of the military.” Here is the screenshot of his post.
On its face value, such acts violated the constitutional order. We still need to ask the question: Why did TPLF see it fit to unilaterally and discretionarily decide that the PM is illegitimate and assume the authority to take over the “most heavily armed wing of the military?
There is no legitimate explanation. People like Daniel link it to the 2020 elections in Tigray and the postponement of the national election to 2021. The year 2020 was a referendum year to determine the fate of the current constitution. Parliamentary elections were to be
held in August 2020 that would give the people an opportunity to choose between those who wish to maintain the existing ethnic federalism and those who call a constitutional overhaul.
In March 2020, the Ethiopian National Election Board (ENEB) suspended the election due to the COVID-19 pandemic and announced that it will schedule a new timeline once the pandemic has subsided. Postponing elections because of COVID was not unique for Ethiopia. According to International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), from February 21, 2020 until March 2021, at least 78 countries and territories across the globe have postponed their elections. In Europe 33.3 percent of national and sub-national elections were postponed. The corresponding figures for Africa and Asia are 23.2% and 21.8%.
Article 104 of the Constitution gives the Electoral Board a wide latitude: “The National Electoral Board which shall conduct free and fair elections with impartiality and free from any interference in both the federal and state electoral districts shall be established.” The Board was established by the TPLF.
The Federal government and all regional governments accepted the Election Board’s decision, except for Tigray. The TPLF argued the Election Board did not have a constitutional authority to postpone the election.
This is where Article 62 comes into play. Section 1 of the Article dictates: “The power of interpretation of the Constitution shall be vested in the Council of the Federation.”
Accordingly, the case was presented before the Council of Federation. The Council found the postponement of the election by the Election Board was legitimate and declared the 2020 Tigray election null and void.
The TPLF escalated its confrontation with the government, demanding budgetary support from the very government it declared illegitimate. Once again, its demand for budget support stood in violation of sections 7 and 8 of Article 62 of the Constitution.
Section 7 promulgates “The Council shall decide on the sharing of revenues that are common to the Federal and State governments and determine the grounds for allocating federal funds to the respective states.” Section 8 empowers the Council to “order the Federal Government to intervene where any state, by violating the provision of this Constitution, endangers the constitutional order.”
The fact that the Council has declared the newly elected Tigray government illegal prohibits the PM from providing budgetary support to it. Once again, on October 24, 2022, Daniel posted on his Facebook the following:
“Statement from Tigray gov’t (2): The budgetary and other supports that the Tigrayan people are legally entitled to are not gifts from the pockets of the dictatorial junta rather revenues collected from the people of Tigray as taxes and custom duties. Thus, the share of Tigray shall be released without any precondition. Any reduction or suspension of budget is a violation of the constitutional right of the people of Tigray. The illegal and dictatorial junta in Addis will be responsible for any consequences thereof.”
The Tigrayan and Daniel’s position was that it will not consider the Council’s decision as legitimate. The TPLF unilaterally declared not only the Prime Minister but also the whole constitutional order illegitimate, while still using the Constitution where it serves its purpose such as receiving budgetary support from the federal government.
The arrogance of TPLF and its prominent activists is nowhere clearer than in Daniel’s September 5, 2020, post shown below. At the time the Parliament was meeting regularly to find a peaceful solution to the Tigray crisis. Daniel’s post refers to one such meeting.
Daniel is not alone in displaying a sense of arrogance and Tigrayan invincibility. Here are more examples.
Stalin Gebreselassie: “አማራ ውጊያ አያስፈለገዉም፡ በፊሽካ ነው የሚወጣው። ፊሽካ ተነፍቶ ነው የትግሬን መሬት ለቀህ ውጣ የምነለው::” [We do no need to fight with Amhara. All we need to do is blow a whistle and instructed to evacuate from Tigray lands.]
Kidane Amene, Chair of Baytona Political Party: “ጦርነት አንፈልግም። ጦርነት ከተጀመረ ግን፣ ጠሚ አብይ እንደ ኮሎኔል መንጊስቱ አምለጠው የመጥፋት እድል አይኖራቸውም። ወይ ይማረካሉ፣ ወይ ይገደላሉ.” [We do not need a war, but if war breaks, the Prime Minister will not be able to escape. He will be captured or killed.] Interview with Aboy Sebhat Nega (the Gdfather of TPLF): “ትግራይ የ ኢትዮጵያ የስልጣኔ ምንጭ ናት። ሰለዚህ በኢትዮጵያ ሃገር አቀፍ የፖለቲካ ውሳኔ ላይ በህዝባችን ልክ 6% ድምጽ ነው የሚሰጣችሁ ቢሉን አንቀበለም። እንገነጠላለን.” [Tigray is the source of Ethiopia’s civilization. Therefore, when it comes to national political decision Tigray’s voting rights should not be limited to 6% based on its share of the Ethiopian population. We will not accept that.]
Such is the TPLF sense of arrogance and impunity that led to war. Losing the war that they arrogantly ignited did not lead them to reflect on their mistakes and make necessary changes to find a path forward. Instead, they chose to pour fuel on the fire they ignited. Here is what Alula Solomon, Director of Union of Tigrayans in North America (UTNA) and Founder and Manager of Tigray Media House (TMH), shared on a video message the following:
“ከኢትዮጵያውያን ጋር የተጋባችሁ የተዋለዳችሁ ተፋቱ፦ ከቤት አባሩት ውይም አባሯት” [Those of you who are married to Ethiopians divorce them. Kick her or him out.] These are the people who are now presenting themselves as victims.
This is not to say there are not genuine Tigrayan intellectuals. Nor does is to say the Ethiopian government, Amhara and Eritrea have not contributed to the war. One thing is clear. The PM was justified to launch the law-and-order campaign. He had no choice, and he was obliged by law to defend the constitutional order. Where he is responsible is in the mismanagement of the war.
I have written several articles, arguing the PM’s decision to enter Mekele in November 2020 and to subsequently declare the TPLF as a terrorist organization was responsible to escalating the law-and-order campaign into a civil war. The atrocities committed by all actors during the civil war was both predictable and avoidable. This takes us to the second part of this article – establishing accountability and charting a path forward.
Establishing Accountability and Charting a Path Forward
The past is past. What is now important is coming to terms with our failings as intellectuals, take accountability, seek forgiveness from the people whose life we have destroyed, and build a consensus on how to move forward.
Sadly, we have proven incapable to accept responsibility. Daniel’s book epitomizes this failure, manifesting intellectual decadence writ large.
Let us at least here what others say about us. Some of it may be exaggerated, partial in some sense, and may be even faulty. But in sum international community’s assessments sum up the wretched state of our nation.
A US report formally accused the ENDF, as well as Eritrean and Amhara forces of committing crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and persecution. The report further stated: “Members of the Amhara forces committed crime against humanity of deportation or forcible transfer and committed ethnic cleansing through their treatment of Tigrayans in western Tigray.” The report added: “Many of these actions were not random or a mere byproduct of war – they were calculated and deliberate.”
Similar allegations are echoed by international human rights organizations such as the Amnesty International (AI). Many of the alleged crimes are sadistic, including using “starvation as a weapon of war.” Others have added systemic “rape as a weapon of war.”
The Ethiopian government was not alone in starvation crime. TPLF was accused of exposing Tigrayans to starvation. In 2022, its interference with international humanitarian efforts was denounced as “disgraceful” (UN), and “deeply cruel” (USAID).
In 2023, TPLF officials were accused of stealing food aid that was intended to people at the verge of starvation. According to the Reuters, “General Fiseha Kidanu, the head of peace and security in Tigray’s interim regional administration, told Tigray TV on Wednesday that the investigation he leads had confirmed the theft of more than 7,000 tones [7 million kg] of wheat and 215,000 liters of food oil.” This is not the first time that the TPLF is accused of stealing from starving Tigrayans.
Alex de Waal was one of the international experts who accused TPLF of being “responsible for starvation crimes…” Similarly, in 2010, Plaut published a shocking article in the BBC, revealing that TPLF leaders sold sacks of grains mixed with sacks of sand to international NGOs who were buying cereals for food aid. “Some $100 million went through the hands of the TPLF and affiliated groups,” Plaut wrote.
In 2023, the US government accused all sides including the ENDF, Amhara, Eritrea and TPLF of committing “war crimes.” The Amnesty International reported “The testimonies we heard from survivors describe despicable acts by TPLF fighters that amount to war crimes, and potentially crimes against humanity. They defy morality or any iota of humanity.”
The Amnesty international reported a case involving an Amhara woman who testified: “Three of them raped me while my children were crying. My elder son is 10 and the other is nine years, they were crying when [the TPLF fighters] raped me.” The UN considers widespread rape during war as crime against humanity.
There are equally sadistic crimes committed by TPLF and TDF against Tigrayan children that the international community has willfully ignored. The Chair of the TPLF, Debretsion Gebreselassie is on the record that the TPLF would make the conflict a “people’s war starting with the children.” The Organization for World Peace, has confirmed “the TPLF uses child soldiers for the purpose of human shields against attacks.”
As reported by BBC, Getachew Reda, confirmed that there were underage fighters among TPLF’s military ranks. An investigative report by Professor Ann Gerald-Fitz revealed: “A family would be denied any aid, and family members will be imprisoned if they refuse to offer their children.” An intercepted military communication exposed that the standing order is to shoot those who retreat or run to save their lives. Most of the Tigrayan combatants who died were children – many of them children. Sadly, Tigrayan intellectuals including Tedros Adhanom took pride in using child soldiers. Here is what he posted on June 28, 2021. He has since deleted the picture.
There is also an allegation of rampant rape culture within the TPLF/TDF fighting forces. Recently, a Tigrayan medical professional revealed of the 400 young girls that came pregnant, 270 of them were found to be AIDS positive. That was only in one army unit, namely army unit 44. The young girl fighters were impregnated by their bosses in the army who are infected with AIDs and lack the moral fortitude to protect young girls in their care.
Here is the FB post written in Tigrigna.
The question is: What explains the International Criminal Court’s (ICC’s) decision to issue an arrest warrant against Putin for abducting thousands of Ukrainian children and taking them to Russia, while turning a blind eye to the ENDF, Eritrea, Amhara and TPLF forces who are accused of committing far more heinous crimes?
Are the lives of hundreds of thousands of Tigrayan, Amhara and Afar children valued less than the human rights of thousands of Ukrainian children? Evidently, this is a factor. But this is not all.
In June, the AP News reported “the African Union quietly dropped its own probe into the war’s atrocities, after extensive lobbying by Ethiopia.”
Last week, the Guardian reported the UN is allowing the mandate of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia to expire later this month. The newspaper noted the deadline to renew the investigation was allowed to expire “a day after investigators had stressed the need to continue the work, saying there was ‘an overwhelming risk human rights atrocities would continue in Ethiopia’ without them.”
A European Diplomat explained why Europe dropped the ball, stating: “What is the point of renewing a UN commission that neither the Ethiopian government nor the Tigray authorities want? ».
The most important question is why aren’t Ethiopians (most importantly Tigrayans and Amhara) not protesting?
Sadly, Tigrayans do not do anything without getting a cue from the TPLF. The TPLF does not want the investigation to continue because it knows the crime it has committed, including crime against humanity.
How about Amharas? Amharas are prisoners of “the #NoMore” idiocy. Their fear is that Amhara Special Forces and Fannos will be found guilty as charged. And now they campaign international investigation against the government in the Amhara tribal land. How stupid! How idiotic! How hermitized!
Unless Ethiopians launch an international campaign for an unfettered international investigation, Ethiopians will continue to suffer crime against humanity, war crime and even genocide. Sadly, we are reduced to tribes.
Over the last 50 years, the US has seen different generations. The Hippie Generation was known as the counterculture. Another was the Millennial Generation. This is the “digital native” generation that gave us Google and Facebook. Then came Generation Z – the global generation. They are socially conscious and active in climate change and the alleviation of global poverty.
Over the last decades, the Ethiopian elite clan has become one extended generation: The Tribal Generation. When the world is going global, our Ivy League educated asses are permanently branded “TRIBAL” with a hot iron, as if we are the cattle generation with animal instinct. It is hard to claim we are human with human attributes. Daniel Berhane’s book affirms this rather dramatically.
Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com
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