By Shiferaw Abebe
In a recent interview to Addis Zemen, posted on Zehabesha.com the former TPLF General, Tsadkan Gebretensae harped on Ethiopia’s inability to influence geopolitical developments in the Red Sea region and how this weakness is putting the country’s long term security in danger. He primarily fingered at Eritrea for his worry and blamed it for, among other things, leasing the Assab port to Arab countries (United Arab Emirates/Saudi Arabia) for a military base, and for supporting Ethiopian armed opposition forces.
The retired TPLF General stated more than once that he was not privy of what the regime is thinking or doing to address his anxieties, but he left no doubts that his trust and faith still rests with the regime for solving any strategic challenges the country faces. He therefore advised the regime to do two things to (re)assert Ethiopia’s geopolitical interests in the Red Sea region:
First, he advised to do whatever is necessary to get the Esaya’s regime removed from power, by military force if need be. He believes removing the current Eritrean government will somehow change the geopolitical dynamics in the Red Sea region in Ethiopia’s favor because, among other things, he thinks Eritreans by and large will welcome TPLF’s hegemony in the region once Esayas is gone.
Second, he argued Ethiopia must flex its muscle to get the attention of the forces that are gaining a foothold or establishing their dominance in the Red Sea region. He mentioned the two Sudans, Egypt, Arab countries from across the Sea, Western powers such as the US and France, and even China as positioning themselves in the region without paying any notice to Ethiopia’s interests. He didn’t elaborate on what specific actions Ethiopia must take to get their attention or what these forces may have to do to address Ethiopia’s national security concerns.
The concern about Ethiopia’s long term geopolitical and security interests may appear reasonable, even supportable, if one didn’t know who is talking. The fact that this concern is expressed so belatedly by someone who cut his teeth as a TPLF fighter eventually taking the highest military post of Chief of Staff should given any anti-TPLF Ethiopian a pose before offering a wholesale endorsement of his views, let alone his recommendations.
Tsadkan is the wrong person to air this concern now because, for all we know, there is no evidence that he cares about Ethiopia’s national security more than he cares about the continuity of TPLF’s rule. If he were genuinely concerned about Ethiopia, he would have seen the real and present danger for Ethiopia’s security – TPLF itself – the menace that is pulling the country to its demise faster than any real or imagined external foe may have a chance to do any harm to it. Any national security concern of tomorrow is meaningless when the very existence of the nation itself is in question today.
In case Tsadkan suffers from selective amnesia, Ethiopia lost its sea outlet back in 1991 because he and his comrades fought hard to make it the largest landlocked country in the world. TPLF had a second chance to correct that historic sin during the 1998-2000 Ethio-Eritrea war, but it blew it wilfully against the advice of notable Ethiopians like Dr. Yocob Hailemariam and others who made a compelling case under international law to pursue a peaceful and legal avenue for Ethiopia’s access to a sea outlet.
No one within TPLF – not the retired General who now has the temerity to lecture Ethiopians about national security threats from the comfort of his lavish retirement, not even those who were eventually kicked out of TPLF – raised a whisper when Meles ordered not to include any negotiation on a sea outlet in the Alger’s negotiations. They said nothing or challenged that mindless decision in public. They kept and handled Ethiopia’s affair as if it were their family or party affair.
TPLF and Tsadkan will go to the grave with this burden hanging on their neck. Ethiopians would have to be too foolish to shed a drop of blood for another war that TPLF or its former Generals want for their own security. TPLF and the General can march to the Red Sea and sink in it for all the people of Ethiopia care.
Tsadkan’s advising to going to war with Eritrea is nuts on the face of it and quite likely driven by a sinister objective. We must not forget for a moment that, TPLF is, above all things, a master of division, diversion, and deception. The General is a graduate of that school. Nothing he says can be taken at face value.
TPLF has a simple and, to this point, very effective strategy to stay in power – keep Amharas down by among other things pitting them against the Oromos, and keep Eritreans out by making them an eternal enemy to Ethiopians. In the last few years, this strategy has started crumpling on both fronts as the Oromos and the Amharas at long last started to look at each other’s pain and appreciate their common destiny, and as Eritreans and Ethiopians started mending their tattered relationship outside TPLF’s orbit. These developments have no doubt scared the devil out of TPLF.
Relationship between Ethiopians and Eritreans is improving as Ethiopians broadly and Eritreans in general are softening their feelings toward each other; friendly interaction are slowly taking place at individual and community levels especially in the Diaspora; with social events featuring Eritrean and Ethiopian singers sharing a platform to entertain their mixed audiences. The goodwill the Eritrean government extended to Ethiopian unity forces to have a base inside Eritrea, and ESAT’s on the ground documentary of Eritreans attitude toward Ethiopia and Ethiopians have contributed to the regeneration of this relationship. Much new information has also come to light including learning from Gebru Asrat’s book, Democracy and Sovereignty in Ethiopia, that contrary to popular belief, EPLF or Shabia was actually against TPLF’s ethnic divide and rule politics from the very beginning.
With this backdrop, Tsadkan’s advice to go to war with Eritrea is nothing more than a veiled attempt in the name of national security to sever the slowly recovering relationship between Eritreans and Ethiopians. A sinister plot designed to exploit still lingering doubts among Ethiopians about a mutually beneficial relationship between the two countries. Ethiopians must not give another TPLF ploy a working space in their thoughts.
Under no pretext concocted or imagined by TPLF must Ethiopians go to war against Eritreans. Not again. This is the 21st century and wasting any life and resources to fight a 20th century war would be utterly foolish. The chapter of war or animosity with Eritrea or any other neighboring country for that matter must remain closed.
The solution to alleviate any national security threat must include a strategy that brings Ethiopia and Eritrea closer, not tear them further apart. Eritreans understand Ethiopia’s stake in having a reliable sea outlet; it is too obvious to fail to notice. But the strategy must be to work out a mutually agreeable and mutually rewarding arrangement peacefully, a task that cannot be entrusted to TPLF.
Ethiopians cannot also be a party to any diplomatic effort to make Eritrea a target of international sanctions and isolation, as Tsadkan is promoting. Any effort by the TPLF regime to play such a role on Ethiopia’s behalf must be opposed by Ethiopians. There is absolutely nothing Ethiopians will profit from a diminished Eritrea. Ethiopians’ number one headache is TPLF. They need to fix this problem first before thinking about addressing any other concern.
Finally, the times of Tsadkan’s media appearances are too coincidental to ignore. The last time he penned a TPLF-apologetic piece was when Ethiopia was engulfed by a popular uprising in the Oromo and Amhara regions, a time when TPLF appeared visibly shaken. At that time, Tsadkan urged Ethiopians to calm down and seek a solution to the crisis within the TPLF political framework. Today, he refers to those uprisings derogatorily as “huket and bitbit” or “disorder and disturbances”.
This time, he is back on the air waves likely because he is concerned with the resistance in Gondar and the armed struggle that is gaining a footing there. Predictably, he calls these fighters “Shabia mercenaries”, the same garbage he copied from TPLF’s propaganda book. Eternally loyal to TPLF, Tsadkan simply cannot see or reconcile with the possibility of an Ethiopia that is not ruled by TPLF. The reason why Ethiopians must ignore his advice!
The writer can be reached at [email protected]
By Shiferaw Abebe