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Breakdown of peace and order in Ethiopia, the Tigray Factor, and the Confusing Ethiopian-Eritrean Relations


Ghelawdewos Araia, PhD                                                                 IDEA Editorial January 9, 2019


In the last eight months, i.e. beginning end of April 2018 to present, the whole of Ethiopia is disturbed by ethnic clashes and confrontations that, in large measure, are mysterious and difficult to explicate and define. The victims of disturbances, now close to two million internally displaced, thousands dead, and hundreds upon hundreds that fled to neighboring countries like Kenya and Sudan, have tried to make sense out of the unfortunate phenomenon that they have encountered by saying, “we have lived with our neighbors for millennia, but we never have had such calamity of clashes; we were unable to figure out the agents of chaos who come and disappear after they ignite the quarrel among the people and burn down our properties; we never had such kind of social insecurity caused by criminality, and despite our desperate appeal to the Government for help and rescue, we were left on our own and as a result we have become refugees in our own country.”


We at the Institute of Development and Education for Africa (IDEA) share the despair and helplessness of the Ethiopian people vis-à-vis the breakdown of peace and order in Ethiopia. We have done our best in the past by producing several editorials while the cynical Western media and the so-called human rights watches kept silent and don’t even bother to report the Ethiopian peoples’ current ordeal. But we still don’t quite fathom why the Ethiopian Government was unable to restore peace and order as well as rule of law in the country. At this juncture, the Government is well equipped in terms of the capacity of its federal police and defense forces, because it is abundantly clear that Ethiopia is one of the most militarily strongest in Africa, not to mention its well-trained and organized federal police that are also reinforced by the respective regional states’ police forces. So, it looks that it is not lack of capacity but lack of commitment on the part of the Government.


The Ethiopian Government must seriously consider and recognize that lack of peace and order could ultimately result in total instability, that, in turn, could engender the fall of the Government, and this scenario could further precipitate turbulent and unmanageable chaos. Therefore, our advice to Dr. Abiye in particular and the Government in general is, to undertake immediate and instant measures by deploying its military and its police forces, especially in the areas that are mostly affected by ethnic clashes and disorder. It should also immediately take measures to open the closed highways in all Ethiopia and apprehend the forces that are engaged in the closure of main roads.


One interesting but quite enigmatic phenomenon is the Tigray factor, a unique equation in the midst of major turbulence. This northern-most Ethiopian Regional State is the cradle of Ethiopian civilization, without which other regional states could not find meaning of their existence, and by this we mean ‘authenticity’ and not mere existential quantification. For this rationale alone, Tigray remains a true exemplar for other Ethiopian regional states’ authenticity. On top of Tigray being hub of ancient Ethiopian civilization, it was also the defense frontier for Ethiopia; all Ethiopian enemies first met Ethiopian counter-offensive led by Tigrayans: The Ottoman Turk Egyptian forces in 1875 and 1876; the Italian forces of 1885 and 1887; the Mahdi-led Derbush (Dervish) Sudanese forces in 1889 in which the Emperor Yohannes was altruistically sacrificed; the Battle of Adwa of 1896 led by Emperor Menelik that managed to mobilize all Ethiopian forces, was a culmination of earlier Tigrayan confrontations with the invading Italian forces in the early 1890s, that is, soon after the Italians officially declared and established their first and new colony of Eritrea in 1890. The second coming of the Italian occupying forces also conducted military operations in Tigray (Maichew, Tembien etc.) in 1935/36. And in our present era, it is the Tigrayan forces who got rid of the most despicable and brutal regime of the Derg that virtually destroyed thousands upon thousands of Ethiopian youth by Red Terror and also annihilated innocent civilians by series of bombardment of villages in Tigray and Eritrea.


In all of the major wars mentioned above, the people of Tigray have made huge sacrifices unparalleled in history and they deserve respect and tribute from their Ethiopian brethren, not enmity and a foolish strategy to isolate and encircle them. However, it should be known that the majority of Ethiopian citizens (not including the disgruntled elites and misguided youth) in various regional states like Afar, Somali, Debub, Oromia, Gmabela, Benishangul-Gumuz, and Harar are in sympathy and solidarity with Tigray, although like many Ethiopians, Tigrayans have been subjected to ethnic clash attacks in these states as well. In point of fact, close to forty thousand Tigrayans, frightened by the present insecurity and chaos have gone back to Tigray, leaving their properties and investments behind.


The other astonishing phenomenon in the midst of the Ethiopian pandemonium is that Tigray remained the only regional state that has managed to secure peace, tranquility, and serenity. The original intention of the Diaspora Ethiopian opposition to unite all Ethiopians against Tigray has failed ignominiously, and the framers of this ill-motivated plan of genocide against Tigrayans are now in Ethiopia; thanks to Dr. Abiye’s open-door policy, the so-called opposition that are fiercely opposed to Tigrayans, without ever making distinction between the TPLF and the people of Tigray, are now waiting, like the Serengeti hyenas, to seize the moment and capture state power; they could fail or succeed in controlling the state apparatuses by conducting pretentious cooperation with Dr. Abiye although their calculated but opportunistic long haul plan is to use the Prime Minister as fulcrum and eventually sidetrack him or overthrow him. The majority of these ex-Diaspora opposition are bottom feeders who place selfish interest above principle, and If they succeed, they might temporarily establish their own liberal government guided by the neo-liberal economic policy but they will not be able to govern the people, and if they can’t govern they might resort to Fascist-type governance akin to a totalitarian state.


Adding fuel to the fire or insult to injury, on top of the breakdown of peace and order, Ethiopian politics is now further exacerbated by the newly reestablished but confusing Ethiopian-Eritrean relations. There is no doubt that the opening of the Ethiopian-Eritrean border after two decades was an historic event, especially in terms of ending the ‘no war, no peace’ stalemate between the two nations. Moreover, the opening of the border at Zalambessa did not only signal peace to the peoples on either side of the border, but it also provided overwhelming hope and joy to both Ethiopians and Eritreans. Soon after the opening of the Zalambessa and Rama border entry points, trade exchanges of goods and services resumed and continued for at least four months until it was shut down again; following the closure of the Zalambessa and Rama entry points, the Humera-Omhajer border on the western front was officially opened a couple of days ago.


The opening of the Humera-Omhajer border, apparently stirred controversy and confusion among the Ethiopian and Eritrean people; the people of Tigray especially inquired ‘why Gedu, the president of the Amhara Regional State, participated in the border opening ceremony, when in fact he was not supposed to be there.’ The border is between Ethiopia and Eritrea and more specifically between Tigray and Eritrea, and given the present geographical demarcation of Ethiopia and subsequent formation of the Kilils (regional states), all Eritrean borders are contiguous with Tigray and the Afar Regional States. What was then Gedu doing in the border opening ceremony unless there is a stake or potential interest of the Amhara state; this is quite puzzling and confusing indeed, but it looks some answer to the puzzle is being furnished by the Eritrean Embassy in Japan; in a frivolous attempt to denigrate the Tigrayan administration of western Tigray, the Eritrean ambassador said, “The border opening was between Eritrea and the Amhara state.” The ambassador’s careless and irresponsible expression reflects diplomatic ineptitude, but wait, there could be some message of a hidden agenda in his bizarre statement. After all, the confusing Ethiopian-Eritrean relation is probably oriented and/or conceived from its inception toward forming a new demarcation of Ethiopian territory and a new confederation arrangement between Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia.


However to the confusing Ethiopain-Eritrean relations, Dr. Debretsion Gebremichael, Presdient of Tigray regional state, seems to have a different take. In a live press release on January 8, 2019, the shrewd politician, who is probably destined to uplift the spirit of Tigrayans during crisis, told the journalists in no uncertain terms that the border of the Humera-Omhajer front was no compensation to the closed Zalambessa border. He further underscored that the newly opened border was meant to be opened ahead of time, at least a month before the current schedule of opening ceremony but it was delayed for some reason. Additionally, he told the journalists that he raised the issue of Zalambessa in a conversation with President Isaias of Eritrea and that they have reached an understanding or consensus, which was but vaguely put on the part of Debretsion. However, the head of the Tigray regional state also contradicted what he already articulated in the press release; on the one hand he said he “did not know about the closing of the Zalambessa border”, and on the other he tried to reason by emphasizing that the need of some regulation like customs, passports, and visas in order to reopen the border. Furthermore, the Deputy President of Tigray seems to be comfortable and confident with respect to the Ethiopian-Eritrean relations while at the same time he repeatedly underscored the significance of Tigrayan unity, organization, patience, and alertness during the crisis.


We at IDEA appreciate peaceful resolution to conflicts and in order for the Ethiopian people to coexist peacefully, as they have done it for millennia, and in order to achieve a more honest, constructive, and peaceful relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia, more viable and wise political parameters must be installed. The precondition for the wise political measures are the patience virtue as opposed emotion-ridden actions; farsightedness as opposed to narrow and transient policy spectrums; and most importantly, the employment of dialogue to resolve the overall crises amongst the Ethiopian people and the respective regional states, as well as relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea. That will be the day!


Good Luck for Ethiopia and Ethiopians as well as Eritreans


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