In my assessment, Ethiopia’s continuity is sacrosanct. Commitment to Ethiopia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty is a shared value. If Ethiopia goes down the road of Balkanization like Yugoslavia, no single ethnic or faith group in Ethiopia will be spared.
by Aklog Birara (Dr)
Tracing, recognizing, and mitigating and dealing with the root causes of the devastating impacts emanating from divisive, treasonous behavioral patterns and sneaky actions of the TPLF and the Oromo Liberation Army commonly known as OLF/Shane are vital for collective security, peace, stability and prosperity not only in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa but for the entire world. Treason and terrorism in any part of the world are both far worse than the current Pandemic for which there is cure.
Ethiopia’s Parliament has, at last, designated the TPLF and the Oromo Liberation Army or OLF Shane terrorists. Equally, the international community, UN specialized agencies, think-tanks and others have a moral and ethical responsibility to accept this designation and assist the Government of Ethiopia in restoring personal security for all its citizens. Nations must no longer provide a haven for terrorists, extremists, jihadists, corrupt persons, and thieves.
Ethiopia is a development lynch pin for all of Africa.
Ethiopia has enormous potential to become an all-inclusive, democratic, and prosperous country. For this to happen, the country’s quarreling and fractured internal stakeholders and external well-wishers must help Ethiopian society to overhaul the ethnic superstructure (the Constitution and administrative structure) that pits one ethnic elite against another. Ethiopia is one of only four countries in the world that is governed by an ethnicity and language-based Constitution. Pakistan paid a huge price for this practice. Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan and formed a new state. Resource rich South Sudan is in perpetual internal conflict. Nepal is conflict prone and poor. Ethiopia lost its access to the sea and is paying a huge price.
Whether driven by internal or external factors, the costs of doing the same thing repeatedly with the expectation of a different outcome from the past are erroneous and huge. At the same time, Ethiopians and the international community cannot afford to “throw the baby with the bath towel.” Some core values and core institutions must continue. In my assessment, Ethiopia’s continuity is sacrosanct. Commitment to Ethiopia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty is a shared value. If Ethiopia goes down the road of Balkanization like Yugoslavia, no single ethnic or faith group in Ethiopia will be spared. This is exactly what Egypt wants us to do.
Why we need to focus on the big picture.
Of special significance currently in history is Ethiopia’s pledge to harness all its water resources for the benefit of its 116 million people, 60 percent of whom suffer from lack of access to electricity, millions from the inadequacy of drinking water, tens of millions of Ethiopian youths from the scarcity of jobs. You cannot tackle any of these socioeconomic hurdles if you do not deal with the root causes. You cannot harness water resources if there is no internal unity of purpose and or national resolve.
The completion pf the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is not just a matter of national pride. It is a matter of national survival. This hydroelectric dam is financed entirely by the Ethiopian people, including poor farmers, shoe shiners and others who feel genuinely that they do not deserve to live in the age of darkness forever. This honorable project that will not reduce the volumes of waters to the Nile is marred by misinformation and false narratives from Egypt. I am not especially concerned by this falsehood that is intended to perpetuate a colonial legacy created by the British. What concerns me most is the lack of internal unity within Ethiopia, the susceptibility of Ethiopian society for private gains and proxy wars.
The Ethiopian people and the international community have witnessed a cycle of deafening and deadly violence that cost human lives and wipe out investments. In the recent war triggered by the TPLF in Tigray, physical and social infrastructure that will cost more than a billion dollars in resonation has been incurred. Ethiopia cannot afford either the loss of innocent lives or the destruction of investments. Equally, Ethiopia’s instability has far reaching implications for the Horn. Eastern Africa and Northern Africa as well as for the Middle East.
My hypothesis in this commentary is straightforward. The international community, especially Western democracies and UN Specialized agencies are failing Ethiopia. This is because, their perspectives on the current humanitarian crisis in Tigray, their assessments of the genesis of ethnic-cleansing, genocide, displacement etc. are jaded and short-sighted. The current crisis did not just erupt today. Silent ethnic-cleansing, targeted murders, episodes of genocide, massive displacement of innocent civilians from their homes and properties have been going on in Ethiopia for more than 40 years. These were unappreciated and or underreported or both.
It is true that Ethiopia’s international status today has ebbed considerably. It is not because of its diverse population. Ethiopia is home to three main faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. It is because of the ethnic elite led polarization aggravated and intensified by proxy wars primarily led by Egypt.
Each conflict that Ethiopia is facing leads to one important geopolitical matter: Egypt’s fierce determination to scuttle the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (the GERD).
I do not remember a time in Ethiopia’s modern history in which Egypt has not done everything within its power to undermine Ethiopia’s development. All irrigation and power dam projects conceived by Ethiopia have been starved of financing by multilateral lending institutions including the World Bank and the African Development Bank because of Egypt.
During the height of his modernization drive, Emperor Haile Selassie told the world community that Ethiopia’s wishes to share “its waters with its neighbors (Egypt and Sudan) willingly and generously” never received the reciprocity it deserved.
The degradation of our humanity in Ethiopia is a shared problem and demands a shared approach.
Regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation, ordinary Ethiopian citizens desire to live under a system of governance that offers their children jobs and not bullets; meets their immediate material and spiritual needs and not empty promises; and offers them personal safety and security; and not targeted killings or rapes of their daughters, sisters, aunts, or mothers.
Whether it is genocide or ethnic cleansing or rape or targeted killing or revenge or other, the dehumanization of any group in Ethiopian society is a shared and shameful tragedy for every one of us regardless of political orientation or faith or ethnic affiliation.
In addition to the human tragedy that we witness almost daily, the dehumanization of Ethiopians anywhere in the country erodes public confidence in the country’s leadership and in its institutions.
Ethiopia’ fragility is pronounced. Ordinary citizens are unable to cope with price inflation and artificial shortages of essentials. Thirty to forty percent of Ethiopia’s youth are either unemployed or underemployed.
Despite massive infusion of foreign capital over the past three decades, Ethiopia is still one of the poorest and least developed nations on the planet. The Pandemic has exacerbated the problem.
Ethiopia’s priority is sustainable and equitable development.
This leads me to the matter at hand: the Aksum massacre. Let me accept at face value that it occurred. However unjust and cruel, the Aksum case is a massacre among numerous massacres in Ethiopia. The international community would recall that Amnesty International and OHCHR had expressed outrage concerning the wholesale massacre of more than 1,200 innocent Amhara, including day laborers in Mai Kadra, on November 9, 2020.
These murders were perpetrated by a TPLF youth vigilante called Samri, a group that was armed and guided by the local TPLF anointed administration. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission that conducted a thorough investigation reported that Samri went “door to door killing those they identified as from the minority Amhara and Wolkait ethnic groups…. victims were beaten to death with sticks, stabbed with knives, machetes, and hatchets, and strangled with ropes… Many others were severely injured, and property looted.” Many of the perpetrators of this crime of genocide fled to the Sudan where they are still hiding. Sudan became a haven for terrorists.
At one point, the TPLF and its agents outside Ethiopia implanted, mimicked, and disseminated the massacre in Mai Kadra and used “dead bodies” to represent the “massacre in Aksum.” This pathetic misrepresentation and despicable misuse of a real tragedy failed to capture the world’s imagination. Following this failure, TPLF adherents and champions of misinformation used satellite images of Boko Haram “dead bodies” in Nigeria; imported them intentionally; and tried to reinforce to the entire world that the “Aksum massacre” was indeed horrific.
Please focus on the totality of the degradation of human life in Ethiopia.
Whether massacres and rapes and other crimes against humanity took place in Mai Kadra or Aksum or Northern Shoa or Oromia or Beni-Shangul Gumuz or Addis Ababa or whether past or present, Ethiopians and the international community must appreciate the degradation of our humanity in Ethiopia.
Are there two standards of justice?
Ethnic genocide and or rape: any genocide or rape is horrific and abominable. It goes without saying that perpetrators of such crimes must be held accountable. It saddens me that champions of the TPLF cause apply two standards of justice: one for the Mai Kadra wholesale massacre that is vetted and authenticated; and another one for the Aksum Massacre that still lacks independent vetting and authentication. Both deserve scrutiny and accountability.
Given the history of dishonesty and lies by the TPLF and its die-hard supporters within and outside Ethiopia—the intent being to charm the world community for sympathy and empathy—why does the international community still fail to recognize that it is being misled big time again and again?
The bottom line is this. The fact remains that the lives of Amhara Ethiopians slaughtered by the TPLF cannot be less worthy of international scrutiny compared to Tigrean-Ethiopians murdered in Aksum. To declare moral authority in adjudicating conflict in Ethiopia or anywhere on this planet, the international community must be guided by this fundamental principle of human worth. The life of every Ethiopian must count.
Wikipedia recorded the following without substantiating, vetting, and authenticating data and information.
- “The Aksum massacre (Maryam Ts’iyon massacre) was a massacre of about 720–800 civilians that took place in Aksum during the Tigray War. The main part of the massacre occurred on the afternoon and evening of 28 November, continuing 29 November, with smaller numbers of extrajudicial killings taking place earlier, starting from 19 November and during the weeks following the 28–29 November weekend. The massacre was attributed to the Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) by Amnesty International, Associated Press, and Adigrat University lecturer Getu Mak.
- The main massacre consisted of indiscriminate shooting by the Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) throughout Aksum. The bodies were brought to churches, including the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion (Maryam Ts’iyon), for burial.
- Due to a tight communication block, news of the massacre was only revealed internationally in early January 2021 after survivors escaped to safe locations.”
This conclusion is now registered in the annals of history as fact.
What are the moral (ethical) principles that govern Ethiopian Forces?
I do not have sufficient data and credible information to suggest that civilians have not been killed in Aksum. My difficulty is in the sweeping designation of the “perpetrators.” I can vouch for the ethics, values, morality, and sense of humanity that guide the behaviors and actions of Ethiopia’s National Defense Forces, including the Afar and Amhara Special Forces involved in the war.
The Ethiopian Federal Defense Forces today are the country’s bulwark in defense of the country’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, and the security of its 116 million people. Each day, members of this force are doing their level best to preserve Ethiopia as a country.
Therefore, I have full confidence that Ethiopia’s Defense Forces and any other armed group affiliated with this force will not massacre innocent civilians or rape girls. It does not mean that there may not be bad apples among them. But it is the institution’s honor and dignity that matter most to me.
It goes without saying that in any war and civil conflict anywhere on this planet, collateral damage, including the killing of innocent civilians is inevitable. The Syrian war caused human catastrophe. So did the war in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Darfur.
Even the most powerful nation on the planet today, namely, the United States of America cannot claim that it is an exception to human tragedy inflicted by humans. I remember watching the siege of the US capital on January 6, 2021 with a sense of disbelief and anguish.
I also remember with terror the napalm bombing of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos when I was a student in college, etc. etc…
Is conflict new in Ethiopia?
- In conclusion, conflicts and deaths of innocent civilians have been standardized in Ethiopian society for a long time. The TPLF inflicted pain and suffering on the Ethiopian people, including Tigrean-Ethiopians for 46 years. The conflict in Tigray initiated by the TPLF cannot be an exception to this current tragic phenomenon. The international community must now help Ethiopia by holding the TPLF and the OLF Army accountable for terrorism.
- It appalls me that the treasonous and treacherous war and the humanitarian crisis that ensued in Tigray are being treated in Western capitals as extraordinary and as an exception. For instance, the treatment of the TPLF at par with the Federal Government of Ethiopia is unprecedented and shocking. It tells me that there is still a colonial mindset that governs foreign policy. It is in the interest of Western democracies to change this approach.
- Forgotten and ignored completely in this biased assessment by the West is also the fact that any war like conflict is often accompanied by collateral damages including killings of innocent civilians, rapes, massive displacement, starvation, and deliberate destruction of social and economic infrastructure. Western democracies can help Ethiopia by promoting national dialogue, peace, and reconciliation among Ethiopians so that this does not become a norm.
- Conflicts that affect the poorest of the poor the most are often worsened when contestants weaponize the humanitarian crisis and convert the crisis into a source of international support. Western democracies must urge extremist and terrorist groups including supporters in their countries to stop propagating hatred and division in Ethiopia.
- History tells us that the TPLF and its adherents have mastered the art of converting any humanitarian crisis in Tigray into a tool for sympathy and empathy. This approach prolongs the agony. Western democracies must refrain from reinforcing this narrative.
- Gullibility aside, I am also disappointed to observe that where there is perceived and real pain and suffering as is the case in Ethiopia, the world market goes live with attentive buyers. These merchants or buyers are ready and willing to buy unverified and false data and information because their national interests are at stake too. Western democracies must refrain from using unverified information.
- Tragically, UN Specialized agencies feature prominent in this scheme of utilizing unsubstantiated reports and sources that lead to the wrong prescriptions. It is time to reassess.
- The Ethiopian Diaspora in Western democracies has enormous and untapped potential to play a more bridging role than it has in the past. It can do this by bridging relations and by reaching out to one another beyond ethnicity and faith; and by focusing on strategic themes, for example, the very survival of Ethiopia itself; and the completion of the GERD. It cannot do this effectively if it remains fractured.
- The Federal Government of Ethiopia must take deliberate and strategic steps and strengthen its relations with the entire Horn of Africa and with key member nations of the African Union. I agree with Ethiopia’s premise on GERD negotiations that the Nile River is an African matter and must be settled within African parameters under the auspices and leadership of the African Union. Strengthening relations will cement Ethiopia’s standing.
- Finally, for Ethiopians within and outside the country, the current foremost priority is to preserve Ethiopia as a country. No single ethnic or faith group or elite will benefit from a Balkanized Ethiopia.
Ethiopia shall prevail!!!
May 8, 2021