Ethiopia: Tigray, the Lava Lake of the Horn of Africa

Amanuel Biedemariam 

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), is leading the Tigray region to danger of civil strife, economic hardship and isolation. Prior to 1991, the province of Tigray was one of the poorest, most isolated hungry provinces of Ethiopia. After 27 years in power, the TPLF have positioned Tigray to become much worse than what it was prior to 1991.

Today, Tigray is like a volcanic crater filled with lava lake ready to explode, unleash it’s fiery-fury in every direction. It is isolated mountain without connection to the world trapped without direction and leadership. How did it get here?

Before it assumed power in 1991, the TPLF did one-good thing, partnered with Eritrea. That partnership propelled it to power. But as soon as it came to power, the TPLF turned on Eritrea and started a 20-year journey of conflict that led to death of countless youth displacement, hardships and economic losses.  

Certain it can bring Eritrea to her knees, the TPLF gambled on a zero-sum game and unleashed an all-out war to undo Eritrean independence in quest to become the hegemon of the region.

The TPLF exploited the war-on-terror campaign, long-standing US Ethiopia relations and colluded with Washington and unleashed a 20 year-long campaign and failed. TPLF’s actions lead to severed ties between Eritrea and Ethiopia. As result, traditional cross border exchanges, trade relations and social connection got disconnected.

TPLF’s hubris and short-sighted actions affected Ethiopia and the entire Horn of Africa (HOA) negatively. The atrocities in Somalia, Genocides in Ogaden, repression and killing in Oromo are examples of a regime out of control detached with its environs. The TPLF became occupying force of Ethiopia.

The best example of this is Gambela. Those who have not seen the documentary “Dead Monkeys Fear No Hyena,” must see to understand the depth of the penetrating impact the Tigrean led minority TPLF regime’s crimes against humanity openly.

In the name of development and growth, a national park the size of small country was given to Al Amoudi’s company Saudi Star. Which in turn destroyed the forest and turned it into farm-land that produced rice for export. In the process, the indigenous Anuak people were forced out of their homes and became refugees in South Sudan. Majority are displaced inside Ethiopia forced to live in makeshift camps outside their traditional comfort. With their traditional hunting grounds taken, they have no place to hunt and gather. And left with no choice they became workers on the rice fields of Saudi Star.

In Gambela city, the new settlers mostly Tigreans control the security, establishments, communication, transportation and all means of governance. The documentary shows with clarity, what an occupying force looks and acts like. It is a window to the exploitation and its impact on the environment and lives of the indigenous people.

These atrocities are not unique to Gambela. In June 2008, Human Rights Watch chronicled what it called, “War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in the Ogaden area of Ethiopia’s Somali Region,” and released a disturbing report that detailed shocking atrocities the Tigrean minority regime committed in the area. Quote,

“Ethiopian troops have forcibly displaced entire rural communities, ordering villagers to leave their homes within a few days or witness their houses being burnt down and their possessions destroyed-and risk death. Over the past year, Human Rights Watch has documented the execution of more than 150 individuals, many of them in demonstration killings. Hundreds-and possibly thousands-of individuals have been arrested and held in military barracks, sometimes multiple times, where they have been tortured, raped, and assaulted. Confiscation of livestock (the main asset among the largely pastoralist population), restrictions on access to water, food, and other essential commodities, and obstruction of commercial traffic and humanitarian assistance have been used as weapons.”

In Oromia, even if the trigger was the expansion plan of Addis Ababa, years of oppressive measures, exploitation of resources, mass killing, imprisonment and marginalization is what led to the revolts that pushed the TPLF to the brink. The people of Benishangul Gumuz and Omo have suffered similar fate like that of Gambela. According to Genocide Watch Malkamuu Jaatee January 2016 report,

“The direct human rights violation practices of the regime in Oromia and Southern (Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella and Omo) regions of Ethiopia demonstrate atrocities of the land grabbers. For example, human rights violations in the lower Omo valley are characterized by arbitrary arrests and detentions, beatings and mistreatment, governing through fear and intimidation, and violations of economic, social and cultural rights. The government and its police force are cracking down, jailing and torturing indigenous people and raping women in the Omo region.”The Amhara region has been at war with the minority TPLF regime in Gondar, with the flash point Welkait Tegede for a long time. On a report, “Mistaken Identity of the Amhara People and the Quest for Resistance Against TPLF,”, Abinet Hunegnaw wrote,

“Now the most concealed and systematic terror and genocide condoned and sanctioned by a domestic born regime against the Amhara is in full swing since 1991 unabated. The past 25 years transformed Ethiopia in a tumultuous and complicated way into a living hell for each and every Amhara. The TPLF junta of Ethiopia has identified the Amhara as the number one enemy of the Tigryan people that must be dealt with harshly until it gets into the status of a dissipated, broken and weak, minority that won’t recover to pose any challenge to a future independent greater Tigryan state. This very genocidal hatred against the Amhara is officially stated by the TPLF manifesto of 1978. Since that moment on, the Woyane Tigryan ethno centric junta opened an all-out war against the history, culture, tradition, language, political and economic wellbeing and the very existence of the Amhara people.”

Similar events have been taking place in Afar region where armed rebellion against the regime raged for years. According to reports railroads from Djibouti to Addis Ababa was disconnected by people in the region demonstrating against the regime. African Intelligence magazine reported,

“Confrontations like this are a frequent occurrence in this region, where Afars oppose being expelled from their ancestral land, being displaced and the shortage of water points for their livestock along the River Awash. So far, all their complaints to the federal authorities have been to no avail.”On April of 2014, The Afar People’s Party released a statement condemning,

“displacement of thousands of Afar pastoralists continues due to land grabbing for   Woyane affiliated investors in vicinities Afdera, Dallol, Teru and along the Awash Valley The pastoralists have been evicted to desert areas without access to water and other facilities.”Does Tigray Have a Regional Partner or Friends?
The TPLF divided Ethiopia ethnically and used the military as tool of occupation. TPLF’s military became mercenaries for hire to western led initiatives. The TPLF made billions from Western interests in Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan to mention some.

The TPLF is expansionist, opportunist entity that lacks morality, humanity, humility, a sense of nationalism and dignity. Many have said TPLF is smart organization. They say TPLF has transferred Ethiopia, look at the high-rise buildings, the economy is growing 11% and so on. However, TPLF is the dumbest group of people in the history of Ethiopia and the region.

The only reason they came to power was because of Eritrea’s support. And the first thing they did was they picked a fight against Eritrea and the Oromo. As result, they lost Eritrea as a partner and the people of Oromia have waged a struggle since.

The TPLF failed to establish partnership with all of Ethiopia’s ethnic regions. It failed to establish friendship with countries in the region with exception to Sudan because it is the only lifeline Tigray has, and Djibouti Ethiopia’s main access to sea. The TPLF is loathed by Somalia, Eritrea and South Sudan.

In simple terms, Tigray is at odds on the East with Afar, on the south Welkait, and in the north Eritrea in fundamental ways. In Welkait dispute over land, in Afar dispute over land, and with Eritrea dispute over land. Everywhere in Ethiopia the TPLF is not welcome. Gambela, Oromia, Benishangul, Omo, Ogaden and everywhere else. And it is all about land-grab and the resources.

To provide perspective, we can compare the Derg led by Col. Mengistu Hailemariam and the TPLF EPRDF regime on how they handled land, and its implication to Ethiopia on a very simple level.

The Derg told Ethiopians, the land is yours and you can farm it. Land to the tiller. As result the farmers, the villagers supported Derg, chanted revolutionary slogans and supported his war efforts with nationalist fervor.

TPLF on the other hand, took away their land (known internationally as Land-Grab) and leased it to Agro-industrialist multinational corporations and turned the aborigines into migrant farm-workers in their country and own ancestral land. TPLF’s incessant appetite for land has placed it at odds with all the countries in the region and ethnic nationalities in Ethiopia.

How Did TPLF Serve Tigray?
Tigray is a mystery to the outside observer. Only the people of Tigray know how well or badly Tigray is doing. There are reports of development, new highways, universities, airports and industries. The people of Tigray, at least looking from the outside in-the-Diaspora, live dual identities. In one hand strong sense of Tigray nationalism and when approaching the national issue, they look for Tigray bent. Their websites such as Aigaforum and Tigraionline have shown this for years.  

For over 24 years, there has been silence by the people of Tigray. Little or no opposition to what the TPLF does or failed to do was aired publicly. Since the Oromo-protests begun however, there have been numerous public outcries by Tigreans at least in the diaspora.

They complained TPLF has turned Tigray into a military garrison where soldiers from all parts of Ethiopia are coming and having children with Tegaru. They complain of hardship, marginalization and thought protection from the government because they claimed establishments owned by Tigreans were targeted by demonstrators everywhere in Ethiopia and left their business and were forced to return to Tigray. Obviously, there is a precedent TPLF-set when it ethnic cleansed 80,000 Eritreans from Ethiopia. As the sayings goes; what is good for the goose is good for the gander. What goes around comes around.

The reality is, no matter how well Tigray is doing, without peace and partnership it will fail. This understanding was missing from the leaders of Tigray.

The TPLF’s grand-plan is to dominate the region and Ethiopia by controlling the Red Sea. TPLF is shortsighted and arrogantly believed it will defeat Eritrea. Their entire focus became on how to defeat Eritrea. They have targeted Eritrea militarily, socially, politically, diplomatically, economically and waged major public relations campaigns designed to vilify Eritrea, for years.

TPLF waged cultural wars and attempted to dilute Eritrean cultures as Habesha. The TPLF created a movement called Agazian movement focusing on Tigray and Eritrea. They called it Tigray Tigrigni. They aimed to weaken Eritrean nationalism using many tactics. They targeted Eritrean youth, music and ways of life. To undermine Eritrea as nation, they are coming up with all kinds of names like Tegaru Eritreans and have been making claims that Eritrea is Tigray openly. 

The campaign against Eritrea drained Tigray and placed it on a dangerous path. For their grand-plan to work Eritrea must be defeated. But that is not the case. To the contrary Eritrea weathered the storm. Tigray on the other hand is at odds with itself and Ethiopia over Badme and everything else. The trajectory is not looking good.

What Next for Tigrai?
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front misled Tigray for years. The TPLF created identity crisis in Tigray. Article 39 of the Ethiopian constitution is a reminder that the reason for the article in the first place was Tigray Manifesto of 1978 that ensured the secession of Tigray if need be. Hence, the people of Tigray have always had this in their mind when they see the future of Tigray. Celebrate Tigray   

With this in mind disparate advantage was accorded to Tigray region.  According to Jawar Mohamed,

“Ever since the TPLF came to power, there has been a greater attempt to economically develop the Tigray region before the rest of the country. It is a common belief that the economic, bureaucratic, security and religious institutions of the central government hierarchy have been monopolized by Tigrean elites.” 

They thought to develop Tigray at the expense of everyone else in the region. As the earlier comparison between Mengistu Hailemariam and TPLF exposed; Derg embraced the peasant, the masses, the proletariat. To the contrary, TPLF, an organization that is supposed to be Marxist ended up working against the masses by taking resources away from the people. 

But the gravest mistake they made was when they picked a fight against Eritrea. One thing they forgot, overlooked and underestimated is the resolve of the people of Eritrea, the brilliance of Eritrean government and her leadership. They forgot how EPLF’s long memory and far sighted approach worked. They believed their temporary partnership with the West will suffice and see them through. They thought if they brought Eritrea to her knees, control the Red Sea, they can control Ethiopia and the region indefinitely. They dreamt big.

In the process what was lost was the reality, respect for the rule of law, give and take. They believed they are above it-all, and if they cannot get their way they acted like spoiled child threw tantrums, threats and attempted to intimidate. They forgot how to communicate with respect. Their communication became a PR ploy of one-upmanship. They flexed their muscle and threatened regime change, war etc. all the time. 

This created identity crisis inside Tigray at appears. When it served them, nationally-made decisions were praised but, when they felt the decision did not go their way they rejected it.

The most glaring example of this is the latest decision by the new appointed Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The announcement that Ethiopia will abide by the Algiers Final and Binding Agreement was met by heavy protests inside Tigray. In reaction to the protest, spokesperson of the Tigray region Mr. Redai Halefom, in an interview with the Voice of America (VOA) rejected PM Abiy’s declaration completely. He said we have to have dialogue with Eritrea first. 

Hence, the people of Tigray must come to grips with the reality of the situation. The TPLF has lost all its marbles one by one over the years. Its upper hand no longer exists in Washington. The people of Ethiopia fear TPLF no more.

TPLF’s economic prowess was due to the businesses it owned and international investments in various parts of Ethiopia. China announced it will scale back investments because they see what is going on in Oromia, and other places. The people have assumed ownership of their lands and resources. That denies TPLF economic advantage it enjoyed for long. The TPLF has bankrupted Ethiopia. There is no money.

There is myth that TPLF is still in control of the intelligence apparatus and military. It takes money to run intelligence, but most importantly, intelligence to what end. The people have taken over. They have assumed power.

The TPLF, Malelit, is an organization without principle full of personalities that are corrupt deceitful, embezzlers, profiteers that exploited Ethiopia and the region. Lying, cheating, deception, killing, torture is engrained deep into the culture of Weyane. The people of Tigray must come to grips with this reality quickly.

Concluding Remarks
The wars, the No-War-No-Peace campaign TPLF waged against Eritrea ended up hurting Tigray more than Eritrea. Eritrea has prevailed. Furthermore, the people of Ethiopia fear TPLF no more. Therefore, if the people of Tigray want to live in peace with the people of Eritrea, the region and Ethiopia; they must come to grips with the reality detailed in this piece. 

It will take miracle to extricate Tigray from this conundrum and place it on the right direction. But first, the people of Tigray must recognize their future hinges on one move and that is, in order to move forward they must abandon the TPLF. They must side with the people, denounce the TPLF and pray that that is enough.

This author has in numerous occasions penned the danger the people of Tigray can face if they remain on this path.

 June 11, 2018


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