The carnage Ethiopia suffered at Badime for questionable "gain", the gruesome picture of the thousands who were slaughtered at Tsorona and other fronts is already well known for all but those whose head is still buried in the sand.
When they talk about "sacrifices", therefore, it is the sons of the peasants and the poor who have historically been used as cannon fodder that they are so eager to sacrifice.
The TPLF simply told the people of Tigrai, "If your children haven't come back, just forget about them. It means that they have died." I am afraid that many a loved one in this sad country of ours will soon be told exactly the same thing.
Ethiopia: The Tragedy of a Country That Cannot Afford Peace
By Prof. Habtamu Bihonilign
August 21, 1999
In a recent telephone conversation with a trusted friend whose informed opinion I highly value the issue of the on-going efforts at securing peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea came up. My friend, out of character from his usually subdued, reflective, and academic responses let his disappointment all hung out. He encapsulated his reaction, borne of growing disappointment and disillusionment, by simply saying, "The TPLF? Peace?...and I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn!" That statement has grabbed me by the collar and forced me to take a serious look at what has transpired since June 13, 1998, a date, to use F. D. Roosevelt's famous line, which will live in infamy.
We have all been grappling with what went wrong and where ever since this calamitous situation has been visited upon our peoples. With each new and important piece of information that I come across, my views have undergone gradual but definite metamorphosis. This is especially true with regard to the most recent development that seemed to have finally given this seemingly hopeless situation a glimmer of hope. I keep asking myself, "Will peace be finally achieved now?" Before its demise is announced officially, let me break it to you. I am afraid peace has eluded us once again. Once the early frenzied war hysteria the TPLF regime let loose in Ethiopia fifteen months ago subsided, and the inevitable reality of war threw cold water in the face of a seemingly sleep walking nation, peace has now become the most priceless commodity Ethiopians wish more than anything else. The war with Eritrea has compounded the already difficult life they have led in my own lifetime.
Alas, Ethiopians have come to realize that the very survival of Ethiopia as a unified country hinges on peace. Oddly enough, for the minority regime that has ruled Ethiopia with iron-fist, deception and terror, 'peace' has come to represent the most dreaded sort of thing it has ever faced in the past eight years. It knows not what to do with it. There should be no surprise here for the rulers and the ruled have never really marched in lockstep. All the charade about the TPLF regime's acceptance of the OAU Framework Agreement and the subsequent Modalities for the Implementation of the Agreement aside, one point is clear. And that is, every step those who claim to represent Ethiopia have taken since the beginning of the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea can only lead any thinking human being to one, and only one conclusion. Peace is not in their interest. They have nothing to gain by it, and everything to loose.
Today more than ever, the regime finds itself in the least tenable situation - a catch-22 syndrome, if you will. I say this because, having weighed everything that has gone on to date, I could find no credible reason why the TPLF would opt for peace. In the natural order of things where the instinctive thing to do is circling the wagon, I realize that many of my conclusions about the present state of affairs in Ethiopia might not be so popular. It is bound to rub many a soul the wrong way. Encouraged by the official media, misplaced patriotism and nationalism is what is in vogue. But, it is high time that somebody stands up and shouts, "the king has no clothes on." Why do I believe Meles & company doesn't have any stake in peace? The following are some of my reasons.
The TPLF has already told Ethiopians too many lies: it can't face the light of day now.
Fifteen months after the outbreak of the conflict we now know that the war has very little to do with disputes associated with any border. Badme was only a stalking-horse, a ruse. The fundamental problem between the TPLF and Eritrea is the former's as yet fully unrealized ambition of carving out Greater Tigrai at the expense of Eritrea and the people of the rest of Ethiopia. The Woyane regime did "achieve" the first phase of its long-held dream of Greater Tigrai at the time it recklessly Balkanized Ethiopia into a patchwork of Ethnic cantons, radically changing the administrative configuration of the nation. In the process, this minority regime was able to carve choice lands adjoining Tigrai, i.e., from Wollo, and Gonder and included them within Tigrai proper. Furthermore, using that old and worn-out method of divide et empera, a method that all minority regimes attempting to rule over a nation much larger than themselves have historically utilized, the TPLF has fragmented the country much as the apartheid regime in South Africa did.
Anyone who knows anything about the TPLF regime's dogma since its creation knows that the "uniting" of all Tigrinya speaking people into the Greater Tigrai orbit to be ruled by them has been the centerpiece of their bizarre and eclectic "ethno-marxist" ideology. At the very heart of the conflict was, therefore, the furtherance of this design of the TPLF. In May 1999 the Woyane regime thought that it had pacified the rest of Ethiopia enough that it could proceed with the second phase of its "Greater Tigrai" program. It is for the implementation of this scheme that the TPLF regime picked a fight with Eritrea seriously miscalculating both its own ability, rather lack thereof, and Eritrea's resolve. To the regime's ideologues, Eritrea was there just waiting for the picking. No sooner than it embarked on the anti-Eritrean campaign, the regime began to whip-up traditional Ethiopian patriotism, patriotism it had previously associated with what it called "Amhara-chauvenists." It is almost comical to see when this very same people, who were fond of deriding the Ethiopian flag as nothing more than a "piece of rag", now shamelessly shrouding themselves with it. How is one to explain the regime's newfound patriotism and claims of "Ethiopia's 3000 year of proud history" when we all know that it made a sport of ridiculing the very notion until the eve of the conflict. What Ethiopian will forget their deafening howling of the "great Amhara myth," and their claim that Ethiopia had a history of only 100 years?
The truth is bound to finish off the Woyane regime A key element of the OAU Framework Agreement is that an investigation would be conducted into the events prior to May 6, 1998 to establish culpability for instigating the conflict. If peace comes, The TPLF would then have to explain its series of calculated and provocative acts prior to the above events. The claims of Eritrea that Woyane operatives "murdered in cold blood unarmed Eritrean border patrols approaching them to discuss tension in the area" on the above date may after all have validity. This was supposedly the event that triggered the conflict. The TPLF would have to explain its military occupation at Adi Murug a year earlier which was supposedly officially undertaken in "a hot pursuit" of some Ethiopian Afari armed opposition group. The TPLF has to explain why and on what basis it unilaterally redrew a new map of Tigrai in 1997, making serious alterations to the preexistent map. The key question is who started the war?
The only answer the whole world can attest to is that it was the Ethiopian rubber stamp "parliament" that hastily declared war while the Eritrean cabinet soon after countered by putting forth what in all fairness could be termed as specific, fair and detailed proposals to end the conflict. The regime followed this declaration with similarly bizarre actions and did it in a dizzying pace. But because the TPLF regime was bent on war in pursuit of the above-mentioned scheme, it put one hurdle after another to make sure that peace did not stand in the way of their scheme. The most ridiculous demand was that Eritrea withdrew unconditionally and unilaterally from territories the TPLF regime steadfastly refused to specify.
Once war started, the bombing of Mekele by the Eritrean Air Force in which innocent children were killed has effectively been used by TPLF to arouse public indignation. To this day, the people of Ethiopia are being bombarded by a propaganda line that claims Eritrea's action to have been deliberate and unprovoked. As sad an event as the death of the children was, the cumulative evidence now seems to clearly indicate, that the TPLF sent fighter planes, and bombed Asmara first; that the action of the Eritreans was purely retaliatory; and the killing of the children accidental. The TPLF regime, of course, conveniently avoids any mention of Eritrea's prompt apology for the unfortunate incident.
If peace were to be signed, the TPLF would have to explain to the people of Ethiopia its extravagant and false claims of military victory. Following the battle for Badime in February 1999, the regime's inept mouthpiece, w/o Selome Tadesse, in her characteristic mix of lies and braggadocio had unabashedly told the Ethiopian people and the entire world that "two thirds of the Eritrean fighting capacity had been vanquished. She shamelessly told the world that all that remained was a mopping up operation." Some "mopping up!" Of course, we now know that all the hullabaloo and the celebration was a trifle premature.
Critical pieces of evidence have since brought to light of the carnage Ethiopia suffered at Badime. The TPLF would have to explain why they were unable to retrieve any of the land they claim Eritrea to have invaded if they had achieved such a military feat. It is obvious to any half-witted observer that Meles & co. are no closer today to achieving whatever it was they set out to accomplish than on the day they declared war and sacrificed so many people and Ethiopia's meager resources. The only way the regime can prolong its hold on power is by making sure that the truth would never come out. And the achievement of peace will surely expose these leaders, if further exposure is needed, to their true color.
The Regime had promised the Ethiopian People more than it could deliver.
If the war supposedly started as a result of a border conflict, what the local media focused upon from the very outset has been something entirely different. In the first several months after the conflict broke out, the most familiar refrain on Radio Woyane in Mekele was this: "Eritrea has 3.5 million people and two ports. Ethiopia, on the other hand, has 60 million people and no port. Why, then, can't Ethiopia take one?" The implication of this rhetorical question is quite clear. It shows beyond a shadow of doubt, the very minimum objective was never the return of that village of Badime, but rather the "return" of Assab. This point was clearly underscored when Dr. Alemu Tekeda, the Deputy Foreign Minister announced to a cheering crowd in Washington D.C., "You will soon hear good news. Ethiopia will have its own port." Well now, how is the TPLF regime going to explain its debacle in that attempt too? When the TPLF discovered that its quest for Assab was easier said than done, in a typical Woyane fashion of getting mired in an incoherent policy, it shifted its tack and told the Ethiopian people that for peace to be achieved the sha'bia regime in Asmara would have to be toppled. It planned to install a "play-dough" puppet regime. Laughably, the TPLF has shown no promise here either.
Ethiopia has benefited nothing from all the precipitous actions Meles & co. has undertaken.
The week the government announced the purported invasion of Ethiopia by Eritrea with great uproar, I, as many Ethiopians, was befuddled by all that the announcement entailed. Strangely, instead of trying to diffuse the situation, the regime followed up its announcement by a shrill diplomacy of ultimatum, and a barrage of actions I thought were quite out of sync, to say the least. What were the TPLF leaders thinking when they so abruptly announced that Ethiopia would henceforth boycott the use of the ports of Massawa and Assab? What did Massawa and Assab have to do with Badime? Did these people really think that they could bring Eritrea down to its knees by such a boycott? In fact what the TPLF regime did by this strange action was scrapping at one fell swoop Ethiopia's well-established doctrine of "outlet-to-the sea" which it had carefully crafted since immediately following World War II. The doctrine, it goes without saying, had served Ethiopia well until the day the present rulers of Ethiopia trashed it with little foresight and understanding of its implications. What were the essential points of the doctrine? In a memorandum presented by the Imperial Ethiopian Government to the Council of Foreign Ministers in 1945, Ethiopia had declared the great importance Massawa and Assab held to her as follows, "Today , the port of Massawa is of the greatest importance for the economic life of Ethiopia. It is through it alone that the four great and densely populated provinces of Tigre, Gonder, Wollo and Gojam can be supplied with their needs for imported goods, and it is the only port through which their exports of hides, coffee and other agricultural products can find an outlet to the sea. In fact, the prosperity and very economic life of the whole northern half of Ethiopia depend entirely upon free access to the sea for its produce through Massawa and Assab." The vicissitudes of politics might have changed, but the reality of geography has not.
What is more, Ethiopia stated the above clear and unambiguous doctrine to the powers to be while at the same time it had access to the port of Djibouti. Ethiopia did this fully realizing that Djibouti did in fact play a key role, albeit secondary. The new claim that "Djibouti is Ethiopia's natural outlet to the sea" is, therefore, only half-true and half a case of sour-grape. The same people, who today tell Ethiopians that Massawa and Assab are inferior ports anyway, and too expensive to boot, with the same flippancy that has become their trademark, have a great deal of explaining to do. They are the very same characters who had been trying to convince us that Ethiopia had lost nothing by Eritrea's independence since Eritrea had made the unimpeded use of Assab and Massawa by Ethiopia its top priority. They were in the habit of lauding the various so-called mutually beneficial agreements, the memoranda of understandings, etc. that were being signed between the two countries. I am aghast when looking at the glowing remarks these same leaders were making not too long before the outbreak of hostilities about the great quality and superior services Ethiopia enjoyed at Assab and Massawa.
Logic 101 tells us that two contradictory statements cannot be both true at the same time. Now, the TPLF would have to explain which "fact" is the "truth" and which is a lie. If peace is achieved, then the Woyane leaders would have to either persist in the boycott, much to the detriment of Tigrai and "the entire northern half of Ethiopia," or they would have to go back to Eritrea in the penitent's ashes and sack clothes. They would nevertheless have to explain to the people of Ethiopia why they undertook such a dangerous and self-defeating gamble in the first place.
What I find even more perplexing about the TPLF regime's lack of farsightedness was its raising of the ante by discontinuing all flights to and from Eritrea by the Ethiopian Airlines, Eritrea's major flyer at the time. When one considers that the Addis Ababa-Asmara route was EAL's most profitable line, one would have to wonder about the motive of such an irrational action. Was this supposed to be the TPLF's ace in the hole, the silver bullet, if you will? Again, the ever-elusive goal of the regime was to bring pressure to bear on Eritrea - bring it to its knees in the shortest time possible. Now, fifteen months later, what has the result of EAL's boycott been?
Except for a few days of inconvenience for Eritrea, all the profitable services of the Ethiopian Airlines have been taken over by an ever-expanding list of competitors such as Lufthansa, Egypt Air, Saudi Air, and Yemen Air. What is more, the action goaded Eritrea to seek internal and external investors into launching its own small airline, Red Sea Air, with a growing fleet. According to some reliable sources within the Ethiopian Airlines, Ethiopia is said to have lost business amounting to the tune of $600million a year. If and when peace is achieved, and it will sooner or later, and by hook or by crook, the TPLF government would have to explain this too. Doesn't it then make sense for them to just avoid peace altogether?
The expulsion of ethnic Eritreans and the issue of compensation
If one were to turn the pages of Ethiopian history to honestly look at all the injustices we have perpetrated on the people of Eritrea we can perhaps understand our own frailty and past failings. We will discover that we are, as any other, people with many skeletons in our closet. I have often considered Eritreans magnanimous for not going back to past injustices they had suffered and make a career out of nursing old wounds. Let me mention only a couple here. Our own Ethiopian historian Ato Tecletsadik Mekuria in his book entitled 'Atse Menelik'na yeityopya andenet' tells us of our gruesome past, a past we can't possibly be proud of. Following the battle of Adowa, Ethiopia had many Italian and Eritrean POWs in her hands. While the European POWs were treated so well, the cruel and inhumane "punishment" meted out against the Eritrean POWs is something that defies all common decency. Egged on by the likes of Ras Mengesha, Alula, Abune Matewos, et al, Menelik had the right hand and left foot of all 1,200 Eritreans hacked off. Those who survived this indescribable horror crawled back to Eritrea. This happened only two days after the battle was over and in the heat of passions - perhaps a lesson the TPLF should have learned for a not-so- well-thought out, spur-of-a-moment actions. Ethiopians know very little about the countless atrocities committed in Eritrea by the Derg in the more recent memory.
Again, it is a credit to Eritreans that they have not rushed to put up memorial 'hawlt" at every site of mass murder and mass grave in Eritrea. Contrast this to what the TPLF seems to be in the habit of doing to remind whomever they considered their enemy (which is much of Ethiopians) of one thing, "Look what you had done to us. Therefore, don't complain about anything we are doing to you now!"
I have never heard Eritreans harping about the horrible role Tigrayans played in the cities and towns of Eritrea in the 1970s and 1980s. Tigrayan residents in Eritrea ran all the kebeles as Eritreans showed no inclination or interest in serving the Derg. It was these Tigrayans who served as dutiful hatchet men in the regime's security apparatus there. Consequently, countless Eritreans were imprisoned, tortured and killed by the Tigrayans who lived in the midst of Eritreans. The Tigrayans knew the language and culture so well, and they so eagerly used their familiarity with the Eritrean society to commit so much atrocity. The TPLF regime has made a conscious decision to use the regrettable incident at Mekele for its own political end and to promote hatred and revenge.
It will add a useful perspective to recall another similar incident that took place in 1990, admittedly incomparably greater in its extent. After the EPLF captured Massawa in a stunning military victory, the Ethiopian air force unleashed a senseless blanket bombardment of that beautiful city into what one observer compared to the complete destruction of the city of Dresden in the final days of WWII by the allied air. The world media showed with horror as hundreds of children, old men and women were buried under the rubble in Massawa. Strangely enough, what I find quite amazing about the wanton destruction of Massawa is not that Ethiopia committed this unspeakable act simply out of spite, but the noble reaction of Eritreans.
Today, when they speak of Massawa's ruin, Eritreans do not focus on what was "done to them," but how they have miraculously rebuilt and transformed the city to its glorious past, the pearl of the Red Sea, and much more. Only those who have seen the city recently will appreciate this statement. Compare this with the reaction of the TPLF to the sad incidents at Howzien and Mekele. They used it to promote hatred and a sense of a need for vengeance. None of what Eritreans have historically suffered in the hands of successive Ethiopian regimes, however, would come close to their present and on-going massive arrest, confiscation of property, and mass-expulsion out of this country they have often called their home for generations. This unprecedented and diabolical act augurs bad omen for Ethiopia.
For months after the beginning of this practice, many of us were willing to sit back and regurgitate the official propaganda line of the Ethiopian government. "Well," goes the innocent-sounding apology, "Isn't Eritrea doing exactly the same thing? Eritrea, it was reported, did "expel" 30,000 Ethiopians out of Assab. It sounded so true at the time. The truth was, however, much less complex than that. The majority of the population of Assab was Ethiopian. The port was Eritrean only in name, since the port essentially served Ethiopia's needs. The large numbers of workers at the port, as were the shopkeepers and traders, were Ethiopians. In fact, four of the schools at Assab used Ethiopian curriculum and were staffed by some eighty Ethiopian teachers.
The minute Ethiopia boycotted the port, therefore, the initial victim was not Eritrea, but the tens of thousands of Ethiopians who had lived and worked in Assab. Since they were deprived of their means of livelihood by Ethiopia's unexpected action, many became destitute and chose to go back to Ethiopia. These, the TPLF regime orchestrated as "expellees", and we, blinded by our own prejudices and hatred, lapped up whatever the TPLF propaganda machine threw our way. Now, fifteen months have passed. We know the facts, indisputable and unadulterated facts. Let us for a moment put aside the propaganda line of Meles & co. and examine what is independently confirmed. The most recent Amnesty International report on the situation is the most damning piece of evidence. It clearly states that there is no reciprocal action on the part of Eritrea, and that there is no official campaign of harassment or expulsion by the Eritrean government. This conclusion was clearly corroborated by many other independent sources, such as, the Klein Report, the reports of the representatives of the UNDP, and the European Union. The statements by US State Department and that of Mary Robinson of the UN Council on Human Rights were not made out of the blue and without investigation of the facts either.
Perhaps the most up to date and the most scientific study of this human tragedy is the one compiled by none other than the eminent Prof. A. Legesse. In his report - "The Uprooted" - we can readily see how low we have been brought as a people. This unprecedented action by those who rule Ethiopia against innocent citizens to me raises Hemingway's singular alarm bell - "For whom the bell tolls..." Or, in the words of Atse Haile Selassie spoken at the League of Nations 65 years ago, "Today it is us, tomorrow it will be you." Yes, it is Eritreans today, but who will be next in line? By what we have done to Eritreans, the dreaded ethnic genie of the Balkans is already out of the bottle in Ethiopia. No one could possibly put it back in. Everywhere you go in Ethiopia, "Get out of our kilil" has already become an oft-heard clarion call.
If peace returns, Eritrea will, as surely as day follows night, demand that Eritreans whose property was confiscated be compensated. President Afeworki's recent remarks on his most recent tour of the US makes this clear. The documentation for such redress, I am quite sure, is well underway. Eritrea has already intimated that it will bring the matter before the International Court of Justice. Ethiopia, with over 5 million of its citizens on the verge of massive starvation, is in no position to pay back hundreds of millions of dollars. You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip. What is more, too many people have benefited from the misfortune of Eritreans who were expelled. Much of the property is distributed among TPLF's own cadres. Do you think these people would be willing to relinquish their newfound wealth? I don't think so. That's why the TPLF, from the top echelon down to the bottom, would rather see the war continue than face the indignity of giving up what they have taken by force and treachery.
Ethiopia has lost too many lives, and absolutely nothing to show for it.
If you don't agree with anything I have said so far, this is, I hope, where we can't possibly have any disagreement: Ethiopia has lost too many of her sons in this war waged only to further the narrow interests of those who rule Ethiopia. Forget foreign journalists, but why do you think that the Ethiopian press itself is effectively barred from covering the war? Why aren't even members of the-rubber-stamp parliament allowed from setting foot in Tigrai? If no other site, why did the Ethiopian government at least not show Badime? Worse yet, why are the men in the Ethiopian armed forces in the trenches of Tigrai held in absolute incommunicado? The answer is clear as day. The TPLF leaders do not want the truth to come out. And should peace come these same leaders would be forced to do much explaining to the widowed wives, the orphaned children, and the grieving mothers and fathers.
The utter incompetence of those who rule over Ethiopia today is clearly seen by their anachronistic military thinking and strategy, the foolishness of which has astounded the world. The carnage Ethiopia suffered at Badime for questionable "gain", the gruesome picture of the thousands who were slaughtered at Tsorona and other fronts is already well known for all but those whose head is still buried in the sand. It would be instructive here to reckon back to the days of the Tigrai people's struggle and how these same people conducted themselves in 1991. As the loved ones of those who joined the struggle anticipated the fate of their young children who left home to fight, the TPLF dashed their hope by giving them no news. The TPLF simply told the people of Tigrai, "If your children haven't come back, just forget about them. It means that they have died." I am afraid that many a loved one in this sad country of ours will soon be told exactly the same thing. The TPLF regime which finds it self between the Scylla of the sure wrath of the Ethiopian people when peace is restored and all the truth comes out, and the Charybdis of continuing this stupid war, all the indications they have given us so far lead to only one conclusion. As destructive as the war may be, they see no future for themselves in a peaceful Ethiopia. They will, therefore, continue on their self-destructive path.
It takes only guns to rule. But it takes statesmanship to lead a country of any size and description. It takes an extraordinary statesmanship to particularly lead a country as vast, complex, diverse, and backward as that of our own. And, unfortunately for Ethiopia, a dearth of statesmen is her historic woe. Ethiopia endured seventeen years of war and destruction with the Dergue's foolhardy motto of: "There ain't no horse that can't be rode; there ain't no man that can't be throwed." For the present leaders, as for the Dergue, the poor of Ethiopia who are conscripted into the army by force have been treated as something akin to a disposable item. I cringe when I hear people like Gebru Asrat make incredible statements that, "This war will continue for generations." It is déjà vu all over again when a leader sees the future only in such a distorted prism, and proclaims to a nation, "Regardless of the sacrifices the war must continue!" One should be cognizant that these same leaders who make such morbid remarks have their children sent abroad to a life of luxury and opportunity. When they talk about "sacrifices", therefore, it is the sons of the peasants and the poor who have historically been used as cannon fodder that they are so eager to sacrifice. Peace? TPLF? I, for one, am not holding my breath. But where do we go from here? It is, I believe, the historic duty of every patriotic Ethiopian to stand united to save Ethiopia from itself and the path of inevitable destruction, and even fragmentation under the present rulers. For Ethiopia, Eritrea is not, nor has it ever been the problem; the TPLF is. We have let the TPLF pull wool over our eyes for too long. We should see them for who they are - enemy numero uno. Ethiopians cannot simply entrust the future of the country to people who have shown little regard for it; people who have given us enough reason to believe that they don't have concerns beyond their own narrow ethnic preoccupations. We need to side step the TPLF and look for true, genuine, and alternative peace. Let us start with facing the truth, because only the truth will set us free.