03 – 09 – 2022
By Alemseged Abbay
Black Africa’s oldest polity, Ethiopia, is still going through the arduous process of state-building. Although the concept of statehood in the region, in one shape or another, can be traced thousands of years back, Ethiopia took its current physiognomy since the last quarter of the 19th century. And that was the result of both internal and external dynamics.
By defeating Egypt (1875, 1876), Mahdist Sudan (1885, 1889), and Italy (1887, playing a vital role in 1896), Tigrayans led by their revered general, Ras Alula, Africa’s finest soldier of the time, ensured Ethiopia’s survival as a sovereign state in a continent devoured by colonial vultures. The Tigrayan emperor of the country, Yohannes IV, also maintained peace and stability in the country by introducing federalism—the concept, if not the term. The Tigrayans did not impose their culture or language upon the diverse Ethiopian polity. Nor did they care about keeping absolute power in their grip. Instead, Menelik’s Shoa and Teklehaymanot’s Gojjam enjoyed their autonomous status. Thankless, the Amhara king of Shoa, Menelik, committed treasonous acts of conspiring with the Italians to undermine Ethiopia’s sovereignty. Ultimately, supported by Italy’s armaments and finances, he came to power in 1889 and rewarded his Italian allies with half of Tigray, including the 1000 kilometers-long Red Sea coast, so that they could create their first colony of “Eritrea”.
Jettisoning Yohannes’s federalism, the Amhara installed a unitarian state, to force the various ethnic groups to vanish in their melting pot. They made their tongue, Amharic, the national and official language, their army the national army, and filled the nascent bureaucracy with their elites. Mirroring their own ethnic image, Ethiopia had to be Amhara and Amhara had to be Ethiopia.
Unfortunately for the Amhara, the centripetal forces of assimilation and centralization were relentlessly resisted by the centrifugal forces of the Eritreans (who had returned to Ethiopia in 1952), the Tigrayans, the Oromo, and the Somalis. At the conclusion of the civil war, it was the Eritreans and Tigrayans who triumphed in 1991. The former went their separate way of creating an independent state and the latter took over state power in Addis Ababa.
In power (1991-2018), the Tigrayans replaced the unitarian state with federalism— this time both the concept and the term. The federal route was designed not to reflect the disposition of a particular ethnic group but to mirror Ethiopia’s ethnic diversity. Encoded in the 1995 constitution, amharanization was arrested and ethnic groups enjoyed their political, cultural, and economic autonomy, to the chagrin of the unitarians.
Dumping the command economic doctrine of the professedly Marxist-Leninist Derg regime (1974-1991), the Tigrayans pursued the laissez-faire economic model, with the state having only a very limited role. It paid off and Ethiopia made a miraculous transformation from a posterchild of famine and poverty to become the fastest- or one of the fastest-growing economies in the world for a decade and a half. It was convincingly en route to becoming a middle-income country by 2025. Child mortality precipitately fell and life expectancy drastically improved. The country had only two universities when the Tigrayans assumed power in 1991 and it had around forty when they left power in 2018. Ethiopia was not only peaceful and stable, but it was also sending peace-keeping forces abroad. It enjoyed a visibly high diplomatic standing in the word.
However, the Tigrayan path of taking Ethiopia to becoming an African giant had its discontents in the Amhara who were upset for losing the hegemony that had been guaranteed to them by the unitarian state. The opportunity to intervene and disrupt Ethiopia’s course of transformation came when there was a crack in the political system in 2012-2018. In 2018, with a nudge from the Trump Administration and the US Pentecostal establishment represented by the US Ambassador in Addis Ababa, Michael Raynor, and supported by others such as the US Senator from Oklahoma, James Inkofe, the Pentecostal Abiy Ahmed, hitherto an unknown quantity, representing the ultra-chauvinist of the Amhara political spectrum, was catapulted to power. Expressing an unwavering support for his fellow Pentecostal, the Oklahoma senator openly cherished having had to pray with Abiy in Addis Ababa.
Like Menelik II, Abiy had no problem committing treasonous acts. He was conspiring with Eritrea, UAE, and Somalia to destroy Tigray. A political novice, he was flip flopping, unsure of his comfort zone. Immediately after assuming power in April 2018, for instance, he went to Mekelle, the Tigrayan capital, to give a speech in the Tigray Stadium, gratefully appreciating the sacrifices made by the Tigrayans for democracy and justice (1975-1991) and paid tribute to “our” martyrs:
Dear Combatants, family of martyrs… happy to deliver this speech in the beautiful and ancient northern star city of Mekelle… Tigray is home to heroes who died for freedom and equality such as Suhul, Mussie, Walta, Habtom, Qelebet, Hayelom, Berhanemesqel, Qeshi Gebru, Amora, Tilahun Gizaw, especially comrade Meles Zenawi. In general, Tigray is home to thousands of combatants . .. who struggled for democracy and brought Ethiopia to where it is now … I urge the youth of Tigray to treasure this vital history and heritage of your forefathers… Eternal glory to our martyrs.
Only two months after praising the Tigrayan “combatants who struggled for democracy and brought Ethiopia to where it is now”, he told the Amhara diasporic community in the US what they wanted to hear: demonizing Tigrayans as “strangers” and their tenure of power (1991-2018) as an “era of darkness” and Tigrayan heroes as “day-time hyenas”. Tigrayans were at a loss regarding Abiy’s waffling. A Tigrayan farmer in 2019 gave a retort about the whole Tigrayan-bashing campaign to Corey-Boulet of AFP: ”We won them freedom. We brought them electricity. We built them roads. If they say they were in darkness for 27 years, their minds are not working.”
In apparent reference to his wishy-washy character and chameleon-like personality, the Tigrayan youth nicknamed Abiy a “meshrefet.” [መሸረፈት][*] Expressing their feelings in a song, for instance, a youthful troupe of five boys and five girls in the background, and the lead singer Emanuel Tesfay, all barely in their teens, appear sincerely concerned about their future. In the song “I am a revolutionary, the child of a revolutionary” [ኣነ ወያናይ፣ ወዲ ወያናይ], the five girls waving a “meshrefet” each, in apparent reference to the character and personality of Abiy, admonish him as a “fool and ignorant, despite claiming to hold an MA or a PhD”.
Notwithstanding how the Tigrayans see him, Abiy enjoys the support of his co-Pentecostal allies such as Senator James Inkofe who wastefully described him on the US Senate floor as “the highest educated Prime Minister we think in the entire history of the entire continent of Africa and … I tell my brother Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed [that] America is with you.” Worse still, the 2019 Noble Peace Prize was awarded to him for supposedly making a peace deal with Eritrea. Perhaps to its deep embarrassment, the Noble Peace Prize Committee did little to know about the contents of the so-called peace deal. As the 1939 Soviet-Nazi Pact contained the plan to partition Poland, the Ethio-Eritrean secret deal was about devouring Tigray. Awarding a genocidaire the prize will no doubt tarnish the otherwise marvelous prestige of the Noble Peace Prize.
A well-planned full-scale genocide against Tigrayans started on November 4, 2020, when the joint forces of Eritrea, Somalia, UAE, and Ethiopia targeted livestock, farmlands, women, and young girls, as well as men of all ages. The scorched-earth policy was so effective that Abiy unabashedly bragged for having scaled down Mekelle of some 700,000 people, which he had once admired as “the beautiful and ancient northern star”, to the level of his birth village of Bashasha, with a population of only 2,500.
In power, the Amhara are trying to turn the clock back to Menelik’s type of unitarian state. By virtue of controlling the state-power, not only do they have complete monopoly of the country’s resources, but also powerful foreign allies. In the process, sub-Sahara Africa’s oldest state is sliding to balkanization a la Yugoslavia. Unlike Yugoslavia, however, the world has opted to give the genocide a blind eye.
Enjoying a passive support from the West, an aggressive diplomatic support from India, China, and Russia in the UN Security Council, and a generous military supply from the UAR, China, Iran, and Turkey, the Ethiopian and Eritrean genocidaires have been liberally exterminating the 7-8 million Tigrayans since November 4, 2020. In addition to the slaughter and blanket bombing, hunger has been manufactured and weaponized. In a complete siege, the people have no access to food, medicine, banking, internet, and telephone services, among others. If no aid comes in, half of the population is expected to perish in a month or two. As in the 1994 Rwanda, the world actively shuns the term “genocide” to describe the Tigrayan mass murder although it is one of the least ambiguous of all genocides in history.
In action and in words, the genocidal intent of the assault on Tigray is clearly manifested. In addition to the scorched-earth policy of destroying farms and killing livestock and denying people the chance to farm, preventing any food aid and medicine from reaching the region, as well as indiscriminate drone bombardment, genocidal epithets are liberally disseminated. The leaders publicly refer to their Tigrayan victims as “cancer” and “weeds” who must be not only physically annihilated but also erased from the memory of current and future generations. And yet, the international community religiously refuses to call it “genocide”.
In March 2021, US Secretary of State Tony Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that ethnic cleansing was committed in western Tigray, in apparent reference to the 1.4 million people who have been unaccounted for. He did not call it genocide. EU envoy and Finnish Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto, revealed in June 2021 that the Ethiopian leadership had told him in February that the objective of the war was “to wipe out the Tigrayans” and “to destroy the Tigrayans”. Rather than sounding the alarm right away, he kept this frighteningly vital information to himself for four months. It would be redundant to remind him that all it took for the Hutus to kill 800,000 Tutsis was a mere 100 days. Why Pekka Haavisto’s moral scruples were hidden for four months is indiscernible. Further shunning “genocide”, he dubbed the government mission “ethnic cleansing”. If “destroying” and “wiping out” a people is not genocide, what is genocide for the EU envoy?
As the Ethiopian genocidaires are supplied with high-tech weapons including drones from the UAE, Iran, China, and Turkey, the Tigrayan victims receive empty words from the West of “we are concerned”, “we are deeply concerned”, “we are profoundly concerned” with their plight which is “totally unacceptable”. Tigray is alone despite the claim of the EU Commissioner, Josep Borell, in June 2021, that “To the people of Tigray we say: you are not alone. To Ethiopia and Eritrea: you will be held accountable.” Whereas British Prime Minister Boris Jonson’s words following the Russian invasion of Ukraine that “… I say to the Ukrainians in this moment of agony, we are with you … we are on your side” were accompanied with a heavy stick, Tigrayans are alone in their seventeen months-long agony. Hundreds of thousands of them are left to die a lonely and agonizing death from lack of medicine and humanitarian food aid, what the UN Humanitarian Chief, Martin Griffiths, called a “stain on our conscience”. The situation was best summarized by a Tigrayan general who said that “They [the genocidaires] get weapons, we [the victims] get words.” Emboldened by the cold-hearted indifference of the world, instead of being held accountable, the Ethiopian and Eritrean genocidaires, backed by the afore-mentioned external supporters, have been preparing themselves for another wave of full-scale genocide.
In the 1990s, the international community calmy watched hundreds of thousands of Tutsis perish while swiftly moving to save the Bosnians and Kosovars in the former Yugoslavia, bringing the genocidaires to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Hague. Similarly, after having been unresponsive to the Tigrayan genocide for the last seventeen months, the West is rushing to defend the Ukrainians from the Russian assault and mulling to bring the Russian leadership to the ICC in Hague. In unison, the West—from neutral Finland and Switzerland to NATO-member Canada, from tiny Belgium to giant USA—has firmly stood by Ukraine, offering it a synchronized support, although Ukraine has no strategic value whatsoever to any of the Western countries. Simply put, blood is thicker than water. It is one thing to see the African soil rinsed with black blood, but a whole different matter to see the European soil soaked with white blood. That is the pathetic reality of our time!
Nonchalantly, humanity watches the Tigrayan atrocities headed to their sad, but logical, conclusion. As the so-called international community, which came to defend Ukraine in a matter of hours after the opening of Russia’s invasion, is immersed in cold-hearted silence for seventeen months, the Tigray genocide has come and will pass. Silence in this case can be nothing but complicity. Afterall, Tigrayans, like the Tutsis, are not Slavs; Tigray, like Rwanda, is neither Bosnia nor Kosovo nor Ukraine; Africa is not Europe; and blacks are not whites. At best, sacrificing Tigray is a mere “stain on our conscience.” Justice (a fairness concept) and morality (a lofty ideal) are preached by all and practiced by none. As simple as that. Shame!