Faced with imminent defeat, on 2 November the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) finally agreed to stop their vicious attack on Ethiopia. They had little choice in the end, the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) had taken TPLF strongholds in Tigray, and encircled the regional capital Mekelle.
The great tragedy is that fighting could have ended months ago, saving thousands of lives, had the TPLF grasped the hand of peace repeatedly extended by the government since the conflict started. Instead of responding to an open invitation to talk “anywhere anytime”, the TPLF set impossible conditions for engagement; used ceasefire time to rearm and recruit fighters – forcing men and children to leave their families (‘join up or we will kill your family’ type recruitment), take up arms and risk their lives for the ambitions of a few greedy men.
Engagement and inclusion have been central to the approach of the Abiy Ahmed government since they took office in April 2018. And, to the outrage of many, this included reaching out to the former regime officials. But the TPLF leaders (and their US backers), have never wanted peace or national unity for Ethiopia, and certainly did not want Abiy to succeed. From the moment they were ousted, it seems the TPLF have been plotting and scheming, gauging the level of US support – which was, it appears a good deal weaker under President Trump – and waiting, discussing when to emerge from the shadows and act.
That moment came on 3/4 November 2020 (coincidentally the very day Biden became president), when the TPLF launched a cowardly coordinated attack on the ENDF Northern Command in Mekelle, and bases in Adigrat, Agula, Dansha and Sero in Tigray. This heinous act of treason, resulted in the deaths of unsuspecting ENDF soldiers and the theft of military equipment. PM Abiy Ahmed said that extrajudicial killings had occurred during the attacks. He statedthat the “TPLF identified and separated hundreds of unarmed Ethiopian soldiers of non Tigrayan origin, tied their hands and feet together, massacred them in cold blood, and left their bodies lying in open air.”
It was this despicable act that triggered the war, something that is routinely overlooked by western governments, media and commentators alike; an act of terror by anyone’s definition (imagine a similar attack taking place in a Western nation – outrage there would be), for which – and of course the TPLF knew this – the Ethiopian government had no choice but to respond with force. So they, the TPLF leadership had the war they had been longing for, and had been preparing for. The propaganda campaign started, favors were called in, sympathizers mobilized, money spent. Their aim was to either overthrow the government, or if that failed, and they made this plain, cause chaos in the country, fragment it totally and make it virtually ungovernable.
But despite US support in their vile plans they failed resolutely, for now at least. Sadly, we must add this restraining condition, because as long as the TPLF exists as an organization, the threat of violence and disorder will hover over the country. And one of the most troubling details contained within the peace agreement signed in Pretoria is that the government shall (Article 7 paragraph 3b), “Facilitate the lifting of the terrorist designation of the TPLF by the House of Peoples’ Representatives.”
Looking for justice
There is a list of key points within the African Union led agreement, including: “The Parties commit to and declare an immediate and Permanent Cessation of Hostilities, and undertake to disengage forces or armed groups under their control” (article 3 paragraph 1); The recognition and “Respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and unity of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE)” (article 2 paragraph 1), i.e., that Ethiopia is one integrated nation; Parties sign up to “Agree and recognize that the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has only one defence force” (Article 6 paragraph 1); and that the TPLF will disarm. TPLF combatants will then be integrated into the ENDF.
Within Article 10, ‘Transitional Matters’, it is made clear that elections in Tigray will be held, however no time frame is given, and until then an “inclusive Interim Regional Administration will be settled through political dialogue between the Parties [TPLF and Government].” The TPLF is not banned from taking part in this transitional body, or from standing in any future elections; so the organization, with existing personnel, is not only allowed to persist, but it seems will continue as a political group. Where, then, is the accountability, the justice?
Compromise within such talks is inevitable, but given the fact that the TPLF had committed an act of treason and widespread atrocities throughout the war, the level of Government concessions appears over generous; this was clearly the result of US pressure, threats amounting to intimidation. Despite such external meddling the TPLF has been forced to disarm, to recognize the (democratically elected) Ethiopian government and told to stop undermining the country “including [via] unconstitutional correspondence and relations with foreign powers” (article 7 paragraph 2). But TPLF bosses were responsible for the conflict (and 28 years of terrorizing the populace when they were in power), and widespread atrocities, and they should, at some point, face justice.
The agreement does contain the objective to “Provide a framework to ensure accountability for matters arising out of the conflict” (article 1 paragraph 7). And to this end, Article 10 (paragraph 3) states that the government “shall implement a comprehensive national transitional justice policy aimed at accountability, ascertaining the truth, redress for victims, reconciliation, and healing, consistent with the Constitution of FDRE and the African Union Transitional Justice Policy Framework …….developed with inputs from all stakeholders, and civil society groups through public consultations and formal national policy-making processes.” Sounds positive, but such investigations tend to take an age, result in broad general findings, and all too often allow the individuals responsible (the leaders) to get off scot-free.
So, flawed (as all such processes are) but tremendously positive, the agreement is an important step in the transition to peace and away, not only from the TPLF initiated war, but from ethnic fragmentation and unrest more broadly. To this end the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), which has been carrying our atrocities in Amhara for some time, must also be disarmed and broken up.
It is also significant that the Ethiopian government turned to the African Union, which has as its principle vision the creation of: “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens”. Ethiopia was a founding voice of The African Union (AU), the AU headquarters are located in Addis Ababa, and as African nations increasingly turn to one another and the momentum for Pan-Africanism grows, the AU will become more important.
War is chaotic, and no doubt atrocities were committed and mistakes made on both sides, but the Government should be commended for their patient resolute approach: For resisting foreign intervention and repeatedly and powerfully exposing it; for consistently calling for and working for peace, and in the end, reaching an agreement.
This is an important moment for the country, a time for healing, reflection and collective action. There is much to be done, a massive program of reconstruction is urgently needed; if this is delayed, for whatever reason, there is a risk that people affected by the fighting, will begin to feel angry, allowing for criticism of the government to surface, and social splinters to appear and be exploited. Homes, schools, health facilities etc, all need to be reconstructed, repaired and refurbished. This creates a wonderful opportunity to mobilize one of Ethiopia’s greatest assets, its young people; a youthful army of workers could be assembled from within affected neighborhoods, creating work and generating a sense of purpose and community responsibility.
In addition to the essential work of rebuilding, this time also presents the opportunity for debate and creative discussion around a variety of issues: Development. The western model of development is unjust, environmentally destructive and in many ways, broken. Let development be re-defined based not on economic markers, but on social harmony, collective happiness and group integration; how to develop in a just and inclusive way that creates opportunities for everyone and does not create/increase inequality could be explored. Democracy; the nature of democracy in a country made up of many ethnic groups; the importance of civil society/independent institutions, and the observation/monitoring of human rights; how to maximize participation and involve people from all backgrounds and regions in the governance of their area and the overall direction of the country.
In addition, and importantly, the Federal Constitution needs to be looked at. There has been a great deal of criticism of the existing Constitution, written in 1994 by the former TPLF dominated regime, with many people believing that lasting peace and stability is impossible until the treatise has been reformed, and the pervasive, and highly divisive ideology of ethnic federalism, which shapes its direction, is removed. In a nation the size of Ethiopia, with dozens of ethnic groups, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with federal governance, but when power is disproportionately held, injustices rooted in ethnicity (jobs, university places, housing etc) either perpetrated or perceived to have occurred, and ethnic differences are emphasized over national unity, there is a danger of social divisions, anger and conflict. The system of ‘ethnic federalism’ was utilized by the EPRDF as a mechanism of control; competition over land/resources/government support was encouraged, divisions exploited, ethnic identities strengthened.
The notion of ethnic conflict was, and remains a common construct of the war widely presented by western voices allied to the TPLF. The image presented – false and unfounded – is of a repressed and threatened ethnic group (Tigrayans) under attack by a genocidal government, protected by a courageous rebel force – the TPLF. Utter nonsense; the government was fighting the TPLF, not the people of Tigray. And the TPLF, as has been said many times, is an insurgent force, a terrorist group that started the war and was intent on overthrowing the democratically elected government and stealing power. This false narrative forms an intrinsic part of the dis/misinformation campaign carefully designed by the TPLF, no doubt with foreign input, taken up and delivered by media, the US and her puppets, certain voices within the United Nations (Dr Tedros at the WHO e.g.) and various international bodies – e.g. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International.
The aim was to undermine the Ethiopian government, engender international support and provide justification for TPLF violence and US sanctions/criticisms. Confusion about actual events and belief in the fantasy was created, but as more and more details of what actually happened emerges, this will be shattered. From the outset however, the effect of such propaganda on Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia at home and abroad has been to unify and galvanize them. Powerfully united against what are widely regarded as common enemies: the TPLF, America, and western media; a renewed sense of nationhood has been fostered, and hands of love and friendship extended to people from all groups, including of course Tigrayans.
In light of the way certain powers (US, UK, Ireland, EU), not only responded to the terror attack on the State, but facilitated it, relations with foreign governments will no doubt be re-examined. Ethiopia was betrayed by these nations and many people feel deeply hurt, bemused and angry at the actions taken and the lies perpetrated. Ethiopia is the Mother of Africa and the betrayal has been felt across the region and the continent. The undermining of a democratically elected government and the meddling in a nation’s affairs reveal once again that these dried-up colonialists, arrogant and devious, continue to believe that they can control, exploit and manipulate Sub-Sharan African nations.
Ethiopia has stood strong against such interference and emerged more united than ever. A peaceful, integrated Ethiopia is key to the health, stability and prosperity, not only of the country itself, but of the Horn of Africa region. All must work now to support those most affected by the conflict, ensure the agreement reached in Pretoria is fully honored, and a lasting and robust peace is created throughout the country.