Armed “negotiation” a threat to peace & Democracy in Ethiopia

Since displacing over million Amhara & Afar people, and after TPLF committed its latest atrocity massacring 125 Amhara villagers in Chenna town, the United Nations this week announced that TPLF diverting aid trucks is the “primary impediment” to humanitarian aid delivery. In response, Joe Biden’s US State Department just threatened sanctions, not on TPLF, but on Ethiopia. The reason for this disastrous US foreign policy is supposedly to push for political negotiations.

While we have extensively covered the massive misinformation campaign waged by TPLF’s global network of lobbyists and supporters to shape Western policy and conceal rebel atrocities, the long-term domestic political ramifications of Tigrayan insurrection remains underreported, and by some actors, even downplayed.

The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) founded in 1975, is a fascist, separatist and ethnic suprematist organization that brutally ruled Ethiopia between 1991-2018. It was designated a terrorist organization in the 1980s. Many Ethiopians gave it a chance in the 1990s, knowing how brutal the previous Derg regime was, but TPLF proved itself to be one of the most destructive and divisive dictatorships in history. Despite decades of endless atrocities, looting of billions, ethnic cleansing and suffering under TPLF rule, the Tigrayan dictatorship was removed peacefully, thru nonviolent protests, and strategic collaboration among reformist government officials that operated undercover to weaken the TPLF junta.

Long before Mr Joe Biden became a US President, the Ethiopian reformists led by new Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed removed the “terrorist” label from Ogaden rebels (ONLF), Oromo rebels (OLF) and the Ginbot 7 insurrectionists for the sake of reconciliation. Abiy set a new precedent to negotiate the inclusion of former rebels into the national political process and dialogue, as long as the militants disarmed. Since then, several members & former leaders of OLF have joined Abiy’s Oromo party, meanwhile the Ginbot 7 opposition has won parliament seats under a new umbrella organization named “Ezema.” Several award-winning government critics and renowned opposition figures were also given prominent roles inside the current Ethiopian government, institutions and committees since 2018: including Birtukan Mideksa, Daniel Bekele, Lencho Bati, Mohammed Ademo and Yonatan Regassa. Therefore, national reconciliation and reforms are not new or foreign concepts in Ethiopia, particularly under Abiy. Let alone domestically, Ethiopia had recently repaired relations with Mogadishu, and more importantly with the people of Somalia (which the TPLF had previously abused to advance Western interests); in addition to Ethiopia securing peace with Eritrea.  Not long ago, nearly all well-intentioned global observers who studied the Horn of Africa used to complain that the dangerous Eritrea vs Ethiopia cold wars and proxy games in Somalia, Djibouti etc are the primary drivers of chaos in the region. Today, these destructive proxy war realities do not exist anymore. Such success was achieved not because of Western pressure and not because of targeted US sanctions on TPLF leaders, which never occurred. To the contrary. In fact, the US State Department enjoyed it all and took advantage of these divisions to implement selfish US interests in the horn of Africa using TPLF.

Post-TPLF rule, progress for peace was made both regionally and domestically. Under Abiy’s Medemer philosophy, it doesn’t matter who you are or even if you advocate for secession to breakup Ethiopia, everybody has been allowed (with some imperfections) to peacefully participate in the political process. The key word here is “peacefully.” One can not gain the benefits of peace and dialogue while at war or armed against the state, or while rejecting the whole legitimacy of the federal government. This is why, even ignoring all the atrocities committed by TPLF, any negotiation with TPLF that is not disarmed & with Tigray that is not under Federal authority, will not only be unacceptable but it also sets a dangerous precedent in Ethiopian politics. This will imply a major step backward in the recent democratization efforts in our country. It will signal to dissidents nationwide that waging a violent and successful insurrection is what puts you ahead of the line and at the top of the negotiating table with a bigger chair. This sends the wrong signals, not only to opposition groups, but also to sub-national state parties and armed regional governments (who all have grievances of one form or another.) It will trigger the beginning of a lawless Ethiopia at the regional state level and will eventually lead to state collapse and civil wars nationwide.

This is why many regional states quickly supported Abiy’s response against TPLF rebellion, including here in the Ethiopian south. For regional officials and for most Ethiopians at the regional level, legitimizing and rewarding TPLF insurrection not only sets a dangerous precedent against democratization, but it also reeks as yet another manifestation of Tigrayan supremacy in Ethiopian polity.

It is also important to note that the peaceful change in 2018 retained its nonviolent nature due to extensive patience Abiy’s government displayed while TPLF indirectly began to provoke violence. Despite Abiy not challenging TPLF authority in Tigray in 2018 and 2019, the Tigrayan elites began to agitate the people and mobilize for war. As TPLF realized all its one-ethnic economic and political monopoly was collapsing in front of its eyes, its belligerent actions nationwide escalated and forced Abiy to send elders to Tigray for dialogue and negotiation. As everyone knows, TPLF rejected all those calls for peace. Therefore, if negotiation is really the solution, TPLF would have accepted it while the group controlled Tigray back in 2019. This shows that whatever TPLF wants can not be achieved through negotiation but thru the force of war and that is exactly what it triggered. Now that things are not going according to its plan, TPLF might pretend to support negotiation today, but such tactic is likely used to “buy time” to remobilize, rearm its forces and possibly remain relevant long enough to secure direct foreign support/intervention on its behalf.

Negotiating with a rebellion that refuses to disarm has even more adverse repercussions politically. When addressing the TPLF insurrection, it is vital to recognize the opinions and views of millions of Ethiopians outside both the TPLF and Abiy’s ruling party circles. In the last five years alone, ethnic-based and other movements in the Sidama and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Regions have made various demands and advocated change peacefully. The same phenomenon has existed through out the country, with regional ruling party officials having freedom to flex their independence from their own ruling party executives in Addis Ababa. There are groups nationwide who opposed the central government as much as TPLF does politically. Most of them did it peacefully and violence was de-escalated. However, in other cases: whether it is in Jigjiga, Hawassa or Soddo, whenever some regional ruling party officials openly mutinied or broke the rule of law, the federal government quickly stepped in, to restored peace and repair the hierarchical power arrangement of the government. So if Tigray becomes the only special exception to this rule, it will create a new paradigm with bad precedent. Then we the Ethiopian people are essentially still under the TPLF one-ethnic minority rule that we opposed for nearly three decades. 

During his recent speeches in the United States, even Dr Merera Gudina, a staunch opponent of Prime Minister Abiy warned what the success of the TPLF insurrection will precisely mean to Ethiopian politics. “If 5 Million Tigray are rewarded more leverage than 50 million Oromos again, then we Oromos must fight for our independence,” he reportedly said during one of his meetings. 

It seems almost all Ethiopians and all independent global observers acknowledge that there can not be equivalence between the federal government and the TPLF rebels. There can not be a government negotiation to give power to an armed TPLF rebellion, nor with a Tigray that is not under federal authority. Despite this reality, there are still those who insult 100 million Ethiopians by saying that Tigrayans are more special or Tigrayans have built a powerful military and thus deserve special treatment. There are even some “analysts” and “experts” with colonial mindset, who suggest Tigrayan exceptionalism of some mythical “Tigrayan civilization” that does not exist in history books. Such are destructive propaganda pushed by those who pretend to care about peace and Ethiopian unity, but actually seek to divide us and perpetuate crisis. Even many of our Tigrayan brothers and sisters who we have intermarried or lived with as neighbors do not share such extremist Tigrayan supremacist views coming from abroad.

Politically, there is no way around the disarmament of the TPLF. Even if we forgive TPLF’s original sin of November and pardon all the atrocities TPLF committed, the TPLF must still disarm and go to the back of the line, to gain legal status and prepare for elections, perhaps for 2025. Otherwise, the whole election reform and recent democratic processes will be all for nothing. 

This is the political reality for TPLF in Ethiopia. No amount of Western media narratives can change this domestic reality. If any Western government seeks to promote peace in northern Ethiopia, it must realign its foreign policy to match this reality, otherwise it is not only a violation of Ethiopian sovereignty but it starts to appear like another “mutation of neocolonialism,” as Prime Minister Abiy described in his letter to US President Joe Biden.

But for some, current US foreign policy is even worse and it has become more destructive than just a neocolonialist rhetoric. Despite knowing the above reality and the consensus in Ethiopia, America continues with actions and statements legitimizing TPLF insurrection, which has given fuel to the Tigrayan rebellion. Western selective outrage has cultivated this alternative universe where the Tigrayan insurrectionists are victims that must continue the insurrection to get out of the perceived victimhood, perpetuating a cycle of self-destructive violence threatening to wipe out hundreds of thousands of Tigrayan fighters. Thousands more of our Tigrayan brothers and sisters have been emboldened by the West to join the TPLF insurrection in Tigray that has also transformed into a genocidal slaughter of Amhara and Afar people. This genocidal escalation has lowered the possibility of TPLF having any role in Ethiopian politics, let alone “negotiate” to regain power in Ethiopia. US support has inspired TPLF to continue the fight. Even TPLF leader Getachew Reda openly praised the United States’ partisan and antagonistic stance against Addis Ababa on Friday, after he told Egypt TV that TPLF will break apart Ethiopia like Yugoslavia on Thursday. Instead of condemning its transgressions and demanding TPLF to disarm, America’s latest punitive threats on Ethiopia means TPLF will gain more recruits and thus more Tigrayan-Ethiopians will die in a futile attempt to restore Tigrayan supremacy in the horn of Africa. This is unconscionable and unfortunate, and yet another destructive US role on the global stage. 

For the Ethiopian people, both opposition and ruling party supporters, it is time to unite behind your government. US threatening an economically poor Ethiopia with sanctions, for enforcing the law in Tigray region while being invaded by US-funded militaries of Sudan and Egypt, is an existential threat to our country. It is another historic Adwa moment that will be remembered by our great grand children. US foreign policy has become a direct threat to peace and democracy in Africa. As patriotic Ethiopians before us did, we must win and shape the future of Africa again and ultimately impact the global power arrangement. Peace and democracy in Ethiopia must prevail. 

this article is originally publiahed in awasa guardia website


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