by Beferdu Mergassa
February 10, 2021
Today I came across an article entitled ‘Former US Envoys alarmed by violence and hate speech in Ethiopia’ where 4 formers US Ambassadors wrote a letter to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed voicing their concern about the conflict in the Tigray region. This one of the numerous articles I read over the past two months regarding the current crisis in Ethiopia. I have been thinking of sharing my thoughts beyond my immediate circle, but time was a challenge. However, for a reason I could not quite explain, reading this article about US envoys sending a letter to the PM of Ethiopia got me motivated to take an hour and jot down my take. While I did not read the actual letter, the way it was summarized in the article, the letter can be viewed as nothing more than a good intention to remind the country to resolve the crisis and get to stability. However, assessing the current situation in the country, the letter seems to be ineffective at providing a way forward for the country to resolve its crisis.
To begin with, the conflict in Tigray was instigated by a handful of criminal gangs (called TPLF) who went to the extreme to quench their thrust for political power at the expense of loss of life and destruction in the region. This group had a choice to discuss and resolve their political differences peacefully with the central Government of PM Abiy Ahmed but instead they resorted to violence and attacked the country’s military base in the North. I do hope and expect that the ambassadors have already followed up to establish the full story behind this conflict and made their assessment on the scenarios of acting and not acting by the government. In any case, after dismantling and defeating the armed gang of TPLF and bringing some of its key leaders to justice, the Ethiopian Government is now fully engaged in rehabilitating the region by restoring peace, re-building the destroyed infrastructure. This is a tall order for a government that is in transition from 28 years of autocratic rule to democracy (just in case not known, preparing for national election that is scheduled in few months). By any measure, the government of PM Ahmed is doing incredibly well, given the multiple challenges it has faced internally and externally over the past 2- 3 years. Internally, ethnic tensions in many parts of the country have led to mass killings and displacement of innocent people. The statement by the envoys conveys the same sentiment which reads “We are concerned about the worsening ethnic tensions throughout the country, reflected in the proliferation of hate speech and rising ethnic and religious violence. “This is very true. The root cause for these tensions however go back to the same source – the ethnic-based autocratic rule that prevailed in the country for the past three decades and was consequently removed by popular movement three years ago. The conflict in Tigray is the ultimate grand finale of this corrupted autocratic rule. Externally, the Ethiopian Government is under huge pressure, negotiating with Egypt and Sudan on the use of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. To add insult to injury, Sudan has forcefully occupied part of Ethiopia along the Sudan-Ethiopia border. In addition, the country’s economy is in poor shape with COVID-19 further worsening the crisis.
On the other hand, the majority of Ethiopians are for most part supporting the Government actions. The naked truth is that the majority of people in Ethiopia are happy with the removal of the TPLF leaders in Tigray region. I am not trying to echo a government propaganda or just express a biased point of view from a certain group or ethnic group. One could go back to early November at the beginning of the conflict to witness the reactions of the majority of people in towns and villages across the entire country. People rallied behind the Government and the army’s actions. It is worth noting that the population of Ethiopia is around 110 Million, so we are talking about a huge number, a huge majority. The conflict in Tigray tragically left thousands dead and tens of thousands fleeing to Sudan and a massive destruction in the region. The people of Tigray are hurting big time. This is very sad. The TPLF leaders who started this conflict by betraying the very people who put them in power are solely responsible for this mayhem. No one.
While this is happening in the country, the international media has been very much engaged in reporting one-sided view, by quoting sources based on hear-say rather than fact-based accounts. Some of the reports are grossly misleading. They imply there is still significant level of fighting going on in the region and that negotiation is needed. What negotiation and with who? Most of the accused leaders are either in jail, facing justice or dead and the remnants are hiding in the caves. They no longer represent the people in Tigray region, in fact greed and self-interest drove them into oblivion.
The international media must report responsibly by gathering data and information from both sides. More importantly, the media should make an effort to find out the pulse of the Ethiopian people – the silent majority. It is so easy to accuse the government for all the ills related to this conflict. The lack of phone and internet connections has been caused by the intentional action of the TPLF leaders as they started attacking the Federal Army in Tigray. This was reported with compelling video evidence – fact . Why would the reporters ignore this? What about the herculean effort the Government has been doing to restore power, internet/phone connections, mobilizing food delivery etc? Gauging the expectations of some of these reporters, one wonders if they assumed Ethiopia to be one of the developed advanced nations that can address infrastructure destruction within weeks. Someone who lives either in the west coast or in the North East of United States would know that restoring power interruption caused by storms, could take days, leave alone in a poor country like Ethiopia. This is where fair and balanced reporting needs to come in. Some of the reports are just biased and unfair and seem to care about coloring their commentaries with sensational points like the very person who won the Nobel Peace Prize went to war. Abiy Ahmed did not choose to go to war, he was forced into – in the same way President Barack Obama did when he sent troops to Afghanistan right after his Nobel Peace Prize. Did this action make him any less of a leader for his country – for sure not. For those who followed the Ethiopian politics in the past three years, Abiy Ahmed deserves another Nobel Peace Prize (if there was to be one) for the patience, will power and compromising position he assumed with TPLF in order to bring peace to Tigray and the entire country. I must confess I don’t know Abiy Ahmed nor any of the government officials. However, I have been intensely listening whenever he spoke. I found him visionary, consistently patriotic and intellectually honest. The upcoming election will be the acid test if the silent majority supports him or rejects him.
So, if the international community is genuinely concerned about Ethiopia and its 110 Million people and wants to help address the refugees and humanitarian crisis and the overall stability of the entire region, here are some ideas.
- Support the Ethiopian Government on its effort to rehabilitate the Tigray region. The people need food, health care and a return to their normal life. This is a mammoth scale of a-Marshal plan-proportion. European and US governments should come forward with help instead of threats of withholding allocated economic aid.
- Work with the Ethiopian government to resettle the refugees in Sudan who are willing to come back to their country by returning them to their homes.
- Try to understand the reality in the country. Don’t formulate point of view based on an interview done by a freelance reporter at a refugee camp in Sudan. Take a broader view of the landscape, and recognize the country is in transition trying to move to a better governance. If you care support the country to complete its transition, if not at least report fairly.
- Help lift unwanted pressure on the Ethiopian government related to the negotiation with Sudan and/or Egypt.
The writer has no connection to the Ethiopian Government. Resides abroad.