Rise Up Tigray, an British diaspora group, is showing the 2017 film, Beza, in London on March 26. Set in the time of the desperate struggle of the Tigray against the Russian backed Derg Regime it tells the story of a women TPLF fighter’s courage and sacrifice for her people. The inclusion of women as fighters and leaders in the long struggles of the Tigray people has played a major role in their resilience and survival. The study of the Tigray revolution against the Derg Regime found in in John Young’s book, Peasant Revolution in Ethiopia the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, documented this cultural strength.
Many Tigray diaspora are advocating showing this film in other locations as a part of telling the world about who the Tigray are and understanding their struggle for freedom and autonomy through the past two centuries of Amharic monarchal rule and then the Amharic expansionist movement.
Today is Lekatit 11 on the Ethiopian calendar, a celebration of the Tigrayans for the revolt against the murderous Derg Regime, which began with seven Addis Ababa University students agreeing to form an armed struggle leading to a small initial action in Western Tigray. Today I am reflecting upon an admitted fondness for the people of Tigray and that they are unique even for Ethiopia. In some ways they remind me of my late grandmother who came from a remote mountain village in colonial Mexico.
Over the seven years I lived in Mekelle I studied the history of Tigray and had the chance to meet many of her leaders as well as hundreds of citizens as a part of my position at Mekelle University as a physician, teacher, advisor, and researcher. As a part of leading research units throughout Tigray for neural tube defects I encountered many local citizens who told me stories about the region and their lives. Unfortunately I also lived in Tigray during the first months of war including the beginning of the Mekelle occupation. The leadership would always ask the hospital “What are you doing for the people of the countryside?” referring to the poor farmers which make up almost 90% of the Tigray population.
During the war I saw Tigray mothers take blankets and food to enemy Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers in the hospital. I heard them say to those soldiers who they knew had committers of terrible inhumane acts in their ranks “I do not know has happened to my son, but I pray your mother will see you again”. I also saw Mekelle citizens unarmed successfully protest at the risk of being killed to prevent the ransacking of Ayder Hospital. During the occupation people would share food, water, clothes, and blankets with not only neighbors but stragglers and refugees coming into the city.
As a researcher and advisor in neurosurgery I have had the chance to visit South Korea, China, Columbia, Mexico, Canada, France, Germany, Turkey, and United Arab Emirates in the past experiencing their cultures and people. Yet still the Tigray in a time of terrible suffering and deprivation continue to believe in their leadership and their right to preserve their ethnic identity of which they are immensely proud. They abound with unmatched hardiness and determination which has always sustained them in the past.
The term Woyane often applied to the Tigray movement actually began in 1943 when a revolt against the monarchy sprung up where the British Air Force carried out strikes against the Tigray. Although opponents of the leadership of the TPLF use the term as a perjorative for the Tigray it is an expression of pride.
Although initially inspired by Leninist ideals the philosophy of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front evolved over the 17 year struggle to victory over the Derg to one based on longstanding Tigray tribal traditions that power comes from the people to the leaders as described in John Young’s classic study, The Peasant Revolution in Ethiopia.
Later the leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front developed the concept of the “developmental state” based somewhat on South Korea’s emergence after the Korean war and a form of ethnic federalism in Ethiopia which respected historical ethnic groups autonomy over a central Ethiopian identity. The Tigray and others in other ethnic groups have always seen themselves as a nation within an empire.
Having lived and worked at Mekelle University since 2015 and in Ethiopia since 2012 I am some reflections on the New York Times article today which stated the war began before the Northern Command action by the Tigray Defense Force and what may lay ahead.
In the year prior to November 2020 the relations between Mekelle University and the Federal Ministries of Science and Higher Education as well as Health were deteriorating. Instead of the usual budget increases of about 13% there were discussions that Mekelle University had always gotten “too much” and that it was going to be downscaled even though what the University received was an appropriate amount for the population it served the same as the others. University Department heads and administers were suddenly no longer invited to be part of major discussions at the Federal level.
Several times Federal police showed up in Mekelle unannounced in violation of the Ethiopian constitution leading to tense moments on the streets in Mekelle and at the airport. Security was removed from leading Tigray military officers and Tigray People Liberation Front party leaders leading to the assassination of two generals in Addis Ababa. We all had the feeling that things were going to get violent eventually even if we prayed they would not.
Following the occupation of Mekelle, the Ethiopian Federal government never lived up to its promise to restore or rebuild society when the TDF looked all but defeated. The University was in effect deconstructed and unbudgeted for education and Ayder Hospital was abandoned by the Federal government as if it did not exist. The Tigray were less than human, they did not deserve healthcare, education, protection, or even food said the self-righteous religious cleric0-fascists directing the mob supporters of the Prosperity Party.
I still have flashblacks about the many hundreds of civilian patients we saw at Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital especially as the Eritrean and Ethiopian forces where coming south from Adigrat through Wucro. Mutilated babies and mothers. Grotesque injuries to women. Many civilians shot in the back trying to flee combat areas. There was an intentional genocide to not just control Tigray but to wipe them out. I am convinced that eventually outside reviews will show the scope of this horror we have seen is just the tip of the iceberg of the mass murder committed. Apart from the Armenian genocide suffered in the early part of the 20th century genocide has never been successfully hidden for a long period of time. The truth will come out.
Ethiopia’s financial resources are quite diminished now. Some estimate their reserves are less than $150 million as it is reportedly spent $ 150 million in just the past two months for drones and weapons. As a result in every region of Ethiopia there is no money for education, health care, or infrastructure. The supplying “dogs of war” have eaten their fill and not left much left to plunder. Some might even argue that Ethiopia was a demonstration run for Turkey to convince other countries to buy it’s drone weapons which Ethiopia nicely paid for. Now in return for not giving more weapons they will use their new sphere of influence to get new deals from the West. That was a part of the plan no doubt along. They got paid to get in and they will get paid to get out. Like a confidence game criminal they will move on to the next victim when they have exhausted Ethiopia’s treasures. Whatever wealth Ethiopia had has been transferred to the puppet masters who controlled Abiy Ahmed.
Ethiopia was always the pawn in a larger power game between Arab states wanting to expand their sphere of influence, Russia, China, Europe and the USA. This is not about colonialism or African independence. I do not see how being $80 billion in debt to a foreign country for weapons is a step in the direction of self sufficiency.
The only winners in this disaster were the weapons dealers and loan providers. Ethiopian development is probably been knocked backwards 10 to 30 years at least even if the war stops now. So much hate has been generated between Tigray, Amhara, Oromo, and other peoples the idea of Ethiopia going forward as a united people seems more remote then ever.
The African Union is quietly abandoning Addis Ababa. Addis Ababa premier investment group Cepheus Capital which promised great investment rewards in a land of milk and honey cannot continue the false promises of high growth and stability. Ethiopia may default on its junk rated bonds in the next quarter. Ethiopia will come out of this most likely more divided or in a state of chronic war. With a primitive quality of living comparable to the times the prosecutors of the war like to fantasize about. Unfortunately the old saying TIA, this is Africa, which former President Obama warned us about is still true. The never ending cycle of self-destruction continues.
After a week of strategic withdrawal when many Ethiopian supporters were predicting imminent defeat today we see again a dramatic advance of the Tigray Defense Forces. In fact before the news about the new rout of Amhara and Ethiopian National Defense Forces was announced many Amhara websites were falsely claiming complete victory in hours. It seems their wrong perceptions clouded the reality of the moment.
The study of what decides the fortunes of war for winner and loser goes back to ancient Greece and China as well. Living in the 3rd century BC in ancient Greece, Democritus was loved by Aristotle and hated by Plato. He believed that man relied too much on what he perceived by senses alone which could be affected by emotion and should instead always determine what is truth by applying reason. While others said “fortune favors the bold” Democritus said bold helps the start but does not decide the end of war.
Thinking about this takes me back to my many conversations with Debretsion Gebremichael, the President of the Tigray State, on many subjects relating to university and medical matters on shared airplane flights. He was mostly an attentive listener who would ask questions in a way that indicated he was seeking to understand cause and effect for every topic.
Of course I never had a chance to discuss war with him but this recurrent use of koreta by the Tigray to draw their enemy into a snare of ambush on the false pretense of an easy victory against a retreating army seems to be a recurring story. Interestingly this technique also goes back to ancient Rome and the victory of Hannibal at Carthage.
Debretsion Gebremichael presents quite a contrast from the boastful, somewhat empty intellectual, and rash acting Abiy Ahmed who continually seems to have problems with his perception of reality.
The intentional escalation of hate of the Tigray demonstrated by Abiy Ahmed and his supporters beginning well before the onset of the Ethiopia Tigray conflict closely mirrors how the Nazi movement in Germany labeled and then persecuted the European Jews. The Nazi movement lead by Adolf Hitler began its rise to power in part by naming European Jews as the cause of Germany’s economic woes in the post World War I period. Although initially seen as radicals the failure of German democratic movement to effect jobs and economic growth in the face of a punishing treaty that called for punitive payments eventually found the Nazi’s gaining popular support. Abiy Ahmed intimated by naming his new political party, Prosperity Party, like the Nazis could bring economic success by attacking a minority just as Hitler had done.
The Nazi’s capitalized on this idea that they had majority support in the same way as Abiy Ahmed supporters currently proclaim to begin a gradually escalating policies toward the Jews and other non-Aryans who became the strawmen for all of Germany’s woes. First they were labeled as different then the majority and seen to have evil motives to the general population. Public badges of Jews were then legislated into place to point them out. Then in 1941 and increasing rapidly through 1942 the concept was put in place to detain all Jews and place them in concentration camps leading to millions becoming slave labor and executed. This progression from labeling to genocide seen again in the Ethiopia Tigray conflict to be coming true.
Although he once praised the Tigray People Liberation Front as an ideal regional government to his Parliament after agreeing to a cooperation pact with Isaias Afwerki the praise turned to condemnation. At first the scenario painted was that the Tigray population was a victim of a despotic TPLF leadership. During the initial takeover of most of Tigray, Abiy Ahmed placed many TPLF Tigrayan critics in key interim administration positions. However these appointees began to complain almost immediately about the conduct and policies of the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces. This included destruction of factories, high rates of violations against women, and blocking of farmers planting a harvest.
The resurgence of the Tigray Defense Force following the occupation of Mekelle leading to the Ethiopian Defense Forces forced withdrawal and defeat marks an important change in the Ethiopian rhetoric towards the Tigray. Now Abiy Ahmed was saying that the strong support of the Tigray fighters by all Tigray justified actions against Tigray civilians. This was the beginning of a spiraling decline from the recognition of Tigrayans as Ethiopian citizens with rights to conversely all be enemy combatants so evil that even the elderly, small children, and mothers must be urgently confined as necessary for “national security”.
At this moment nobody knows the exact number of detainees but estimates now exceed 70,000 throughout Ethiopia. No clear definition of what constitutes a dangerous person requiring detainment has been given. Under terrorism law and the emergency state there are no clear cut rights to legal representation or due process. Many are being held in warehouses without provisions for bathrooms, feeding, or medical care. Family members have no rights to know where their loved ones or in what condition they are in. We know by way of a statement of a member of the Federal prosecutors office that some extrajudicial killings have already occurred. FANO leaders and others in the Prosperity Party have already posted on the internet that these Tigray and other detainees should be executed automatically to force the Tigray Defense Force and their alliance to surrender.
Why has Eritrea not left Ethiopia? No one believes the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs notice this week stating this lie. Multiple sources report that Isaias Afwerki is controlling Ethiopian intelligence services as well placing commanders with Amhara militia and the Ethiopian National Defense Force. Why has Afwerki not left the basically defeated Ethiopian state?
Going back to 1991 it has been well documented that Afwerki wanted to unite Eritrea and Ethiopia into a confederation. This would give him access to the Ethiopian economy, a more stable currency, hosting the African Union, and legitimacy on the world scene. Being the second worst nation in terms of human rights violations and lack of any election since he came to power would be placed aside by a new confederation with the naïve Abiy Ahmed.
Although political integration under the larger Ethiopian state had been discussed since 1952 the rise to power of Afwerki made it more of an realizable idea. His stalemate with the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front in the 1990s over the Eritrea Tigray border and subsequent hostility that remained rendered this idea mute until the Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister of Ethiopia causing the TPLF to recede from national power.
Here was the perfect situation. The master schemer manipulated the young inexperienced Abiy Ahmed into a secret pact ostensibly as far as the world was concerned creating peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea but in reality a war plan to dominate Tigray once and for all. This would pave the way for Isaias Afwerki to become the de facto leader of the new Ethiopia Eritrean state.
Even though the military confrontation with Tigray has failed there is still hope that international heavy weights and the United Nations concerned with severe famine, refugees potentially streaming to Europe, and a failed Ethiopian state leading to chaos in the Horn of Africa will push hard for some immediate ceasefire. With this ceasefire a promise of food and medical aid will be allowed into Tigray but Tigray will have to withdraw into its borders. Both Esaias and Abiy Ahmed are counting on the international call to be strong to end any further fighting thus preventing capture of Addis Ababa or Asmara.
No doubt this pause will give Isaias time to strengthen his armed forces and those of Ethiopia as well with a plan to reinvade Tigray. Of course the leaders of the Tigray National State realize this is exactly what will happen. They know Ethiopia will only let a trickle of aid come in while complaining all the while that everyone bringing aid is really plotting to help the Tigray. Many more months will go by until Ethiopia and Eritrea can once again attack in force. This is why the Tigray Defense Force and the Oromo Liberation Army must continue to march on.
Why is the international diplomatic community treating Ethiopia like the spoiled child ? Their fatal flaw is not coming to terms with the truth that Abiy Ahmed is not and never will be the leader they imagined. History always has told us that playing into the fantasies and manipulation of such a person never ends well. As an example of how dangerous dallying with such a leader one only has to look at the failed view British Prime Minister, Nivel Chamberlain, had of Adolf Hitler which served only to bolster Nazi Germany’s ultimate attempt at European domination.
Since the onset of the Ethiopian Tigray conflict the Ethiopian leadership including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been incessantly petulant towards the Western democracies whose trade and aid programs have played a significant role in building a successful economy. These same countries who were often critical of the previous Tigray Peoples Liberation Front and who clearly harbor great reservations about a return to power of this group continue to go out of their way to forestall an invasion of Addis Ababa by the Tigray Oromo alliance basically demanding Abiy Ahmed not be forcefully removed.
Undoubtedly many in the international community including some American diplomats cannot accept that they were so wrong about Abiy Ahmed, that somewhere inside him there are redeemable qualities that can still be coaxed out to yield a real unified Ethiopian democracy with a strong central government. Abiy Ahmed made mistakes they belief but it was not his fault they hold with fervor in midst of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Members of the United Nations and Western democracies ask the world to forget and put no importance to the following actions of Abiy Ahmed and his followers. They should think hard if they really wish to continue to:
Ignore the fact that he is voluntarily starving a population of over 7 million people as a part of a targeted law enforcement operation. Every minute the elderly, mothers, the sick, and young children are dying of starvation.
Ignore the fact that he has destroyed and cut off all supplies to more than 80% of medical facilities in Tigray such that the crude death rate from treatable conditions has likely increased five fold.
Ignore the fact that thousands of women have been violated and thousands of male children and babies killed by specific orders to Eritrean and Ethiopian forces.
Ignore the fact 80,000 law abiding Tigrayan citizens have lost their businesses and bank accounts without any due process.
Ignore the fact that now more 50,000 Tigrayans are imprisoned without right of trial.
Ignore the fact that he broke treaties signed by Ethiopia regarding the functioning with the United Nations and African Union as well as the United States.
Ignore the fact that he falsely accuses Western democracies of using established nonaligned charities as tools for regime change.
Ignore the fact that at one moment Ethiopian leaderships asks for hands off to deal with “criminals” whom they claim to have defeated and the next demands salvation from an enemy who can only win Ethiopia false claims because they are being helped by Western powers who like the TPLF.
Ignore the fact the the Eritrean peace pact was really a war pact with one of the most egregious tyrants in history making him a partner in genocide.
Ignoring the truth of who Abiy Ahmed and his genocidal followers are will surely just bring more suffering and death.
The announcement of the cooperation of nine antigovernmental citizen’s armed groups from Ethiopia including the Tigray, Oromo, Gambella, South Omo, Benigshagul and others in a Washington DC meeting is very telling about the United States intentions as regards Ethiopia. The current situation all parties including the Tigray People Liberation Front is different then that in 1991 when the TPLF defeated the Derg regime.
We know the United States is strongly considering that the Tigray have suffered a genocide under Ethiopian and Eritrean military assault. This hosting of allied opposition groups in Washington D.C. clearly indicates that the United States is not seeing the Ethiopian situation as portrayed by the Ethiopian Federal government of solely the illegitimate rebel Tigray against the lawful national authority. The resolution will not be a return to status quo for Abiy Ahmed.
However, the claims by Abiy Ahmed supporters that the TPLF is seeking a new state dominated by one ethnic group are not supported by this movement called the United Front of Ethiopian Federalists and Confederalists Forces. They are jointly acting under the conviction that Abiy Ahmed violated the current Ethiopian constitution Article 39 in denying appropriate regional state autonomy.
They are seeking if possible a negotiated peace as purposed by the United Nations and the United States which invokes the current Ethiopian constitution but so far Abiy Ahmed has only responded with rhetoric of “bury all Tigrayans” and no peace talks. It seems this united movement is the only chance to restore peace without further bloodshed. In that the Tigray and their allies agree with USA.
A North African Bishop some 1,600 years ago would write about how and when Christians have the right under their faith to battle in war. He later lived in Rome while it was under constant threat of attack by pagan tribes in the 5th century AD. Saint Augustine of Hippo has been widely recognized by Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians as one of the main influences in Christian thinking . He wrote about the ideal society in The City of God where he created the term jus ad bellum meaning just war.
The Sixth Commandment given by Moses had said “do not kill”. Apart from complete pacifism there seemed to many Christians no other alternative response to violence or the threat of violence to a population. Augustine stated that the wrongdoing of the aggravating party was the initiator of war not the responder to the threat. The reason to respond to this violence or threat of violence was to achieve peace.
In fighting a just war the use of force should only be that necessary to reach the peace and also that it is directed to the combatants. Augustine’s criteria were latter clarified by Saint Thomas Aquinas to include the war needed to waged by a legitimate authority, have a just cause, have the right intentions, have a reasonable chance of success, and be proportional to the force applied by the enemy.
The Tigray have agreed to peace talks to end the conflict but the Ethiopian government has refused saying that they are doing a law enforcement action. Law enforcement actions under international law cannot be directed to endanger innocent civilians. The parties must agree to seek peace when one offers it realistically. The Ethiopian offer of a temporary truce to allow planting while the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces stopped farmers from planting was a false pretense as noted by the Abiy Ahmed appointed interim administration during Tigray occupation.
Let us examine this criteria with respect to the Ethiopian Tigray Conflict
Application of Use of Force to Combatants not Noncombatants
A. In the “fog of war” injury to civilians must be avoided as much as possible. Intentional starvation, withdrawal of health care, livelihood (banking, communication, education) of civilians and children at the approval and command of Ethiopian and Eritrean authorities grossly violates this mandate.
Tigray Legitimate Authority
Although the Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed claimed falsely the election of the TPLF to rule the Tigray State was illegal it is clear as documented by many international researchers that the vast majority of Tigray voters by a margin of over 90% voted for TPLF. The opposition party, Tigray Independence Party, joined with the TPLF in supporting the war action. The Arena Party who was placed as interim administration would once there within a few months admit that the Abiy Ahmed government’s intentions was to starve the population and prevent agricultural food production by stopping farmers planting. Abiy Ahmed never allowed Tigray to vote in any Ethiopian election.
Tigray Just Cause Proponents of the actions of the Ethiopian Federal Government claim there was an unprovoked attack on the Ethiopian Army North Command in November 2020. However many analysts have noted that Ethiopia began preparing for war months before November 2020 including building up forces on the Amhara and Afar borders. Pre-paying Esaias Afwerki, ruler of Eritrea, over $500 million USD beforehand and promising another $500 million upon starting the war. Arranging medical facilities in the Amhara region for a planned war. Reducing the necessary operating budgets to sustain Tigray government functions for months. Declaring the TPLF terrorists who could not hold office while just a few months before claiming in a speech to Parliament that they were exemplary leaders. The Tigray State government has claimed that Article 39 which allows for self determination of a regional state and that territorial disputes should be handled by civil litigation where violated. This has been recognized also by many members of the African Union and United Nations.
The intentions of the Tigray State have been to remove the threat of loss of life, abuse, starvation, communication, property, and making a living imposed by the Ethiopian state on anyone who is a Tigray by ethnicity.
Proportional Use of Force
While the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces have widely attacked noncombatants by the deprivation of food, communication, transportation, fuel, electricity, personal security, livelihood, in a severe and constant manner clearly under order from commanders and government leaders this has not been the case for the Tigray forces. They have openly invited any and all investigations by unbiased bodies of any accusation. They have set up civilian administrations by local authorities in compliance with international rules of war.
Reasonable Chance of Success
In spite of the complete siege by Ethiopia denying food, medicine, fuel, health care, communication causing civilian death increasing daily the Tigray forces have reclaimed most of Tigray but not Western Tigray and temporarily occupied parts of Amhara to provide a buffer from invasion. They have asked for peace talks in lieu of demanding a complete military victory to which the Ethiopian government refuses.
The supporters of Abiy Ahmed endorsed his inhumanity and cruelty in the election booth and are now paying the price of fostering division and tyranny.
In September 2020 in the midst of growing distrust of the Ethiopian Federal government and against the will of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed the Tigray Regional State held an election for its parliament.
Officials at the time noted that more than 90% of the eligible voters came out to vote for the 152 seats open in the 190 member regional parliament. All but 38 seats went to the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front. The closest contender to the TPLF was the Tigray Independence Party who wanted secession from Ethiopia.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed would declare this election illegal and the TPLF terrorists. Then Ethiopia in the midst of holding a war with Tigray as well as fighting insurgency in the Oromo region held an election in July 2021. This election did not include Tigray and two other regions. Many opposition groups in Oromia and other places boycotted the election saying the Prime Minister was controlling who could run. Abiy Ahmed supporters claimed an overwhelming victory that showed the country wanted to buy in to Abiy Ahmed’s false promise of medemer and unification. They endorsed his inhumanity and cruelty.
Meanwhile tens of thousands of women were raped, hundreds of thousands of civilians mutilated and killed, and millions more subjected to starvation, lack of health care, banking, and communication in Tigray.
Today the Tigray Defense Force, the Oromo Liberation Army, Agaw Liberation Army, and others are defeating Abiy Ahmed and Esaias Afwerki forces in Amhara and Oromia. I feel sorry for every civilian that is suffering as it is all unnecessary. But there is an important lesson here. Elections have consequences. Strong support for evil does not make it good. The suffering of the Amhara people now in the war has been brought on to a great extent by their own actions. Instead of sympathy for suffering of their fellow “Ethiopians” they and their leaders make fun of the injustice, mutilation, and death sanctified by them. Elections do have consequences!.