Nearly six million people in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region are held hostage as bargaining chips by TPLF warlords in control of the region. Enough is enough!
BY MIRAF EYASSU & THOMAS ASSEFA | ABREN
The third round of war instigated by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), an insurgent group in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region, has been contained from spreading.
Contrary to the preoccupation by certain observers who portray the rebels as victimized, underdog Spartans destined for a swift victory, the TPLF were in fact better armed than the government of Ethiopia (GoE) at the start of this conflict on November 4th, 2020.
The group, which once ruled Ethiopia high-handedly for 27 years had used its control of the country’s resources to amass armaments within its own ethnic enclave. By using the former standoff with Ethiopia’s northern neighbor as a pretext, TPLF had essentially turned Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region into a garrisoned ethnic enclave, one it calculated, could allow it to one day wage war against Ethiopia, in case it was ousted from power.
Certainly, news about Ethiopia’s northern conflict has been hard to verify due to broad disinformation as well as communication outages in conflict zones. However, it is evident that fresh plans by TPLF generals to rapidly seize strategic areas in northern Amhara fell apart due to stiff resistance by joint forces of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) as well as local Amhara fighters.
To divert attention from battlefield frustrations, TPLF has typically accused Eritrea, and its support for Ethiopia. More of the same is happening now.
By reigniting this third round of conflict, Tigray’s rebel warlords have exacerbated the flow of humanitarian aid to the regions. To mask this apparent wrongdoing, the rebels’ adept propaganda campaigners incessantly accuse the GoE of a “siege” on Tigray.
This sort of play on hot button words is not new to the TPLF. As recently as six months ago, baseless allegations of “Genocide” were relentlessly applied by the group to intimidate and silence critics. A Canadian professor, Ann Fitzgerald, was a victim of such bullying by the group’s cyber warriors.
Given these continued deceptions, taking the rebels as serious interlocutors in any negotiated settlement has become bleak for the Ethiopian government. Likewise, global power brokers, such as the U.S. seem to be re-assessing their position vis-à-vis TPLF’s renegade leaders. Many in Ethiopia had hoped the Americans would change course and engage more positively with the government. This is perhaps the best way to end the conflict, reigning in TPLF’s belligerent warlords and providing amnesty and a reintegration for lower ranking members of the group.
Recently, in a speech made at the UN general assembly, President Biden mentioned the need for an African Union-led peace initiative regarding the conflict, a position long held by Ethiopia, but one the rebels disparaged, with their spokesman accusing the AU assigned chief mediator, Olusegun Obasanjo as being too close to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Peddling of outrageous lies is TPLF's stock-in-trade. This trait is also shared by its hired lobbysts (De Waal et al) who romantize its war of choice when it is advancing & portray humanitarian calamities at other times as it is the case these days.
— Yemane G. Meskel (@hawelti) September 29, 2022
Contrary to democratic political bargaining, TPLF does not know how to cut its losses and find amicable ways to secure its interests. During the last ceasefire when glimmers of hope for peace appeared ever so slightly, it assumed it could score surprising military gains and spent months amassing and training more fighters. It purposely puts forth unproductive preconditions to stymie peace efforts, knowingly and went the distance to disparage the AU and chief mediator Olusegun Obasanjo as too friendly with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The recent shift in tone by the U.S. is noticeable. Whether it will be sustained is yet to be seen. Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa, Mike Hammer did not mince his words in a recent press briefing when he spoke of “strategic partnership” with Ethiopia.
These words, which did not go well with the rebel leaders in Tigray, attest to the growing realization by the U.S that placing undue pressure on Ethiopia had been wrong. Annette Webber, who is the EU’s Envoy to the Horn of Africa shared similar opinions in an official communication to all the EU member states, presented as a mission report. TPLF is using similar demeaning tactics that were applied to the AU’s Obasanjo are being applied to U.S officials correcting coarse on Ethiopia. In his recent article post Alex de Waal tirades U.S diplomats for failing to continue indulging the TPLF as they had recently done.
Yet, having stalled and exhausted many opportunities towards peace, TPLF’s continued disdain for an armistice is emboldened by some policy makers in Western capitals who continue to readily ignore some of its most egregious crimes against humanity. These include the heinous act of deploying child conscripts into battle, often drugged to make them fearless and the use of civilians as human shields.
Recently, in the city of Mekelle, the group had plastered the letters UN on rooftops of several buildings suspected of storing armaments. It is now universally the group readily loots humanitarian supplies and uses food aid as bait to conscript more fighter per household in Tigray. The food-for-work scheme employed in Tigray in the early 2000s has now become food-for-fighters.
These most serious allegations against the TPLF were not mentioned in the recent Report of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia. Instead, the commission leaned heavily towards accusing Ethiopian forces of crimes against humanity. The report, which was researched remotely by interviewing faceless and nameless victims, has been highly criticized by the Permanent Mission of Ethiopia to the UN office in Geneva. In addition to the above-mentioned irregularities, one of the report’s chief creators also compromised her position.
A recent search through her Twitter timeline revealed just how much Kaari Betty Murungi had been in cahoots with proponents of TPLF. Murungi had determined that crimes against humanity were committed long before September 2022, when, supposedly, the investigation was concluded. More on this can be found here.
Contrary to vindicating the rebels’ image of victimhood, gaping holes in the UN’s report validate Annet Weber’s recent U-turn when she said, “EU is perceived as promoting bias through … exclusive condemnation of one side and the Ethiopian government “may close [EU] access to its key interlocutors” if it did not change its tune. A very real concern given the impending and unfortunate scramble for Africa by global powers.
The other problem is that the insurgents have tried but failed to dictate the rhythm of the peace process. Whenever they sensed a military advantage, they blocked peace efforts by putting forth endless preconditions while obscuring the facts. The times they engaged in diplomacy or peace has been preceded by military losses, as in the past few weeks where the group’s call for peace has increased despite being the instigator, an obvious signal that things are not going as planned by the rebels.
TPLF’s conventional wisdom is that calling for a ceasefire signals military weakness, when the group’s spokesman, Getachew Reda, called Ethiopia’s unilateral ceasefire in June 2021, “a sick joke”. The group’s ardent supporters celebrated as its fighters went on a senseless rampage through parts of Amhara and Afar from July 2021 to October 2021. The United States did nothing to disabuse the rebels of this.
In fact, the environment of the mass hysteria of impending doom was spewed by largely Western mainstream media, seemingly to sow more chaos, which clearly favors the insurgents.
That was a mistake. Ethiopia’ government did not crumble in panic. Even when some western governments shuttered their embassies in what seemed to be organized fear mongering, and of looming war in the capital, not one Ethiopian official abandoned their post. In fact, Prime Minster Abiy joined the troops to repel the rebels, who had chosen all-out war, and overstretched their supply lines. The counter offensive would take less than three weeks to push back TPLF’s army.
Equating #TPLF with the #Ethiopia|n govt is wrong. 4 lasting peace in #Ethiopia & #Horn region:
1. #Ethiopia govt must B supported
2. #TPLF must be condemned & disarmed completely-not appeased
3. IC should provide humanitarian support 2 all affected #Afar, #Amhara, #Tigray etc.
— Amb. Sophia Tesfamariam (@AmbStesfamariam) September 29, 2022
The current third round of offensive war has not gone as planned for the rulers of Tigray. Their irritation reflects better prepared defenses by joint Ethiopian forces, composed of ENDF as well as local forces. This much was demonstrated by rebel General Tadesse during this press briefing in Amharic.
Furthermore, rebel leaders were caught off-guard by the extent of ENDF staged along their northern flank near the border with Eritrea. Some of these troops have already captured the town of Shiraro. For TPLF, a repeat of last year’s easy march down the A2 highway towards Dessie is doubtful. The best they can achieve now is defending their position as best they could and hope to get the International Community to intervene on their behalf by crying foul.
The dismal outlook for the rebels naturally lends them to scapegoating Eritrea, which is clearly allied with Ethiopia, but no credible evidence has been provided for the outlandish claims made by the likes of Alex De Waal, who attests that “Some 50,000 Ethiopian soldiers are now Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki’s cannon fodder, and only the most naïve believes that he would let the survivors go home”.
Indeed, passionate supporters of TPLF cannot fathom genuine cooperation between Ethiopia and Eritrea because they assumed they had accomplished their decades long work of pitting the two countries and peoples against each other.
Everyone is up in arms about Eritrean support for Ethiopia’s actions except the Ethiopians, who claim they have a right to seek help from a neighboring government to quell an insurrection by a terrorist group. After all, it is within the bounds of the UN charter for countries to seek the support of allies during war.
The United States’ invasion of Iraq, alongside its many dozen allies comes to mind. By any measure the resulting level of carnage and length of that war was exponentially worse than northern Ethiopia’s Tigray.
#TPLF cannot go around launching attacks against #Ethiopia & #Eritrea & think there will be no consequences. It can howl as loud as it wants to…but @UN @_AfricanUnion #EU #US cannot allow #terrorism to thrive in the region. #TPLF must be completely disarmed & brought to justice
— Amb. Sophia Tesfamariam (@AmbStesfamariam) September 29, 2022
The timeline of events in northern Ethiopia repeatedly proves TPLF was the first to fire, and the last to sit for peace. The simple logic of this war is the group’s zero-sum attitude, a mindset it honed as a dogged, self-described Marxist-Leninist guerrilla force throughout the 1970s and 80s. However, those idealistic days are now gone, exchanged for opportunism, ethno-fascism and a proclivity for brutality. Such traits make it the favorite proxy for foreign actors who seek to destabilize Ethiopia.
Nearly six million people in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region are held hostage, as bargaining chips by warlords in control of the region. No one talks about the cruel tyranny of the TPLF that existed in Tigray long before this war began. To this day it is the only region in Ethiopia where no credible opposition discourse is tolerated. A good example of TPLF’s brutality is when Ethiopian forces exited the region in June 2021, thousands who were deemed to be collaborators of the GoE were disappeared, with hundreds conscripted and even more executed.
When it comes to food insecurity, regrettably, endemic lack of food has been a common feature in this part of the world throughout the last decade. Long before the coming to power of Ethiopia’s current government, 15% of Tigray’s population depended on some form of international food assistance contributed by the likes of USAID and the World Food Program.
During the same period, less than 50% of the population had access to reliable clean drinking water, including in cities like Axum and Mekelle. Clearly the conflict does not help. Those in favor of ending this war would be wise to stop drawing false equivalency between the warring parties. Continued indulgence of the rebels is exacerbating the human cost. This is a critical moment to hold Tigray’s rebel leaders accountable.
(NB: Tweets included in this text are not part of the original article)