Civil rights activists in Welkait give hope for peace and democracy in Ethiopia
African Union-mediated negotiations between the Ethiopian government and TPLF should be pursued urgently and aggressively to prevent further humanitarian disasters, ease ethno-political tensions, and de-escalate and end the conflict. Ethiopia, the largest and most populated country in the Horn of Africa region, is an ethicized federal nation-state. The Oromo and Amhara are the largest ethnic groups among ,, people.
The Tigray constitute about seven per cent of the population. TPLF, which had dominated politics for at least 17 years before, resented the reforms, refused to join EPP, and begun pursuing separatist policies.
Humanitarian agencies have reported the deaths of hundreds of civilians, and displacement of thousands others.
A military operation has been underway in the Oromia region for several months. Military installations other than the Northern Command are located in Tigray State. It also highlights the presence of militant groups associated with the Tigray the once powerful and dominant minority group and Oromo the once marginalized majority group; Abiy has Oromo-Amhara heritage , and demonstrates fairness. Securitizing the Tigray conflict is a risky but necessary national security strategy.
TPLF will likely launch retaliatory attacks to show its supporters and sympathizers that this listing does not intimidate it. More civilians will be displaced, killed, or injured in the process. However, previous efforts to end the conflict militarily or non-violently have not had any tangible impact.
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Yodahe Zemichael September 21, 8 minutes read A member of Tigray police is pictured at a checkpoint in the outskirts of Mekele on the day of Tigray's regional elections, on September 9, At its core, both are a fight between two dominant powers, one of union and another of secession. On the one side, there is Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who came to power through elections, at the political level in and through nationwide votes in Both his political party the Prosperity Party and its philosophy of Medemer Synergy stress unity through diversity.
Many in this government believe this uniquely diverse nation of more than 80 ethnicities can only remain united by avoiding the pitfalls of the previous administration, where ethnic identity was made to be the sole force for political mobilization. Of late, especially since the outbreak of the armed conflict in November , this group has publicly asserted its secessionist ambitions.
The TPLF and its elite repeatedly divulge they want to see a post-conflict independent Tigray that can no longer be threatened by the existence of a united Ethiopia.
Photo: public domain In the American Civil War, states did not just up and decide to go to a bloody war. The build-up to the war took years as the elites needed to mobilize and indoctrinate the masses for popular support. To those who follow Ethiopian affairs closely, the three years after the transfer of power are very much part of the story of the current war.
In the security sector, a public report revealed that out of 49 ranking military generals in the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, 34 around 70 percent were TPLF appointed ethnic Tigrayans. This figure is down from 93 percent in under PM Meles Zenawi.
TPLF ethnic loyalists held the same majority in other critical defense departments, in the middle and lower echelons of the defense forces. In the economic sphere, the budget allotted to the Tigray region was more than 70 percent higher per capita than that of the largest region in the country, Oromia. Nonetheless, the poor people of Tigray never saw the benefits of this grand budget, rather it goes to businesses owned by the TPLF oligarchs.
Moreover, major businesses from mining to construction were dominated by TPLF allied ethnic businesses. This three-decades-old status-quo, however, did not remain intact with the reformist new government in place. Abiy diverged from his predecessors by confronting this hegemony head-on, bringing in reforms in the security, political, and economic spheres.
Meanwhile, the new Prime Minister Abiy made many overtures including a visit to the regional capital to appease the touchy TPLF establishment who felt a loss of power. At the same time, Abiy was making inroads with neighboring Eritrea, which the Tigrayan leaders regarded suspiciously. Thousands of Ethiopians have fled to neighboring Sudan to escape the conflict in Tigray. Photo: AFP Nonetheless, during this time of relative peace, grassroots movements in Tigray were busy sowing seeds of discord with the blessing of the leadership.
But the facts on the ground contradicted it; regions that were not granted autonomy under EPRDF, such as Sidama, managed to hold their first referendum. Regions relegated to the peripheries of power such as Gambella, Benishangul, and Somali were given more political leverage in joining the leading coalition. Despite this, pervasive anti-Abiy propaganda continued in TPLF circles and more importantly to the Tigray general public exposed to their media.
They built an explicit white-supremacist, pro-slavery, and antidemocratic nation-state, dedicated to the principle that all men are not created equal. Lee the command of the federal forces in Lee immediately declined and tendered his resignation from the army when the state of Virginia seceded, arguing that he could not fight against his own people.
In , a foretelling moment of what is to come had passed relatively unnoticed. As a consequence of the Ethio-Eritrean peace deal, the federal government restructured the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and the Central Army Command ordered some divisions of the Northern Command to withdraw from Eritrean border areas.
This command included heavily mechanized divisions with anti-air and medium-range surface-to-surface missiles to leave Tigray. Ostensibly at the protest of local youth and public, the then Tigray regional government interfered in the ability of the federal government to command its armed forces.
It is now apparent that it was part of a calculated move to keep those weapons nearby, as the missiles that were launched on the cities of Bahirdar and Gondar as well as neighboring capital Asmara came from these beleaguered divisions. Then followed the national election saga of , when globally hundreds of elections were postponed due to fear of COVID and the Ethiopian National Election Board also decided to postpone. The Tigray regional government protested this and adamantly declared it will hold elections with or without the rest of the country.
Standing guard during the Tigray regional elections, which the national government declared illegal. In a similar manner, most ethnic Tigrayan members of the military outright defected from the Federal army on the days leading up to November 3, And finally on the fateful night of November 3, when the rest of the world was transfixed on contentious US elections, the TPLF launched a multi-pronged offensive on military bases across Tigray and strategic border towns of the Amhara region.
Negotiate or Surrender? Since the start of public hostilities in late , emissaries composed of religious and civil leaders, famous individuals have made a visit to Mekelle including the likes of athletics star Haile Gebreselassie. Those efforts have not borne fruit, however, as they have been unequivocally turned down. TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael has indicated he would rather die than surrender but still remains defiant in the face of increasing humanitarian costs.
His militia is now attacking Afar and Wollo, rendering the last remaining humanitarian corridor unusable. Thousands in Tigray and the bordering areas of Amhara and Afar are displaced and at acute risk of malnutrition in an already impoverished corner of Ethiopia.
The TPLF leaders should put their ambitions aside as it should not cost the lives and livelihoods of millions in the region. The same holds true for Abiy Ahmed and his government. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Defense Post. The Defense Post aims to publish a wide range of high-quality opinion and analysis from a diverse array of people — do you want to send us yours?
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According to the constitution, the former should have been dealt with on the state or zonal level, the latter on the federal. In sum, the appointed Committee brought its issue forward in a peaceful and democratic way, based on legitimate claims and the laws of the country. A government response of arbitrary arrests, torture and killings Half a year later, the Tigray region still refused to deal with the question.
Committee member Colonel Demeke Zewdu clashed with and resisted the soldiers who came at night to arrest him without a court order. These arbitrary arrests of Welkait Committee members triggered a chain of protests across the Amhara region. The Welkait question, combined with similar cases in Oromia and other regions, became a national question for democratisation and justice.
Peaceful protesters expressed concerns regarding the unequal distribution of power and economic exploitation by those aligned to the TPLF government. Colonel Demeke Zewdu, credited for spurring democratisation in Ethiopia, insisted on peaceful and democratic processes following the rule of law, despite harassment and life threats. His insistence on lawful procedures was regarded as a starting point for political reform processes under Abiy Ahmed.
In the meeting, they agreed that the Tigray security forces must stop harassing and killing civilians.
Ahmed promised that the Welkait Committee would be able to work in peace and that the Welkait question would be dealt with according to the constitution. In exchange, he demanded the Committee keep the people calm.
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However, while the committee members in Gondar were free, the TPLF terror has gotten worse in the annexed areas. People expressing their Amhara identity such as speaking the language or listening to Amharic songs were beaten, incarcerated, shot or pushed over cliffs to their deaths.
Inthe TPLF-funded informal youth group samri chased many Amhara from their indigenous area in May-Kadrathe town which in November became infamously known for a massacre. SinceTPLF refused to return state power but used its resources and networks to create instability in different parts of the country. Despite its assurance to only target TPLF leaders with arrest warrants to their name, the government and ENDF were unable to convince the international community of their commitment and service to Tigrayan civilians.
Hope for democracy Despite the ongoing conflicts, Ethiopia held its most democratic elections in Junein which the ruling Prosperity Party secured a majority. The people chose peace, democracy, development and unity.
In three of the ten regions elections could not be held due to insecurity and remain scheduled for 6 September Over two million people are displaced internally. More than two million citizens lack food security, with severe climate events, a locust storm, and COVID endangering the harvest for a second year running. Furthermore, the government has restricted aid as a political weapon to reduce support for the TPLF amongst starving Tigrayans.
The Tekeze River Bridge, which lay along a key aid supply line, was intentionally destroyed by the government to prevent TPLF pursuing their retreat. The Tigrayans are a proud people with a distinct cultural identity, possessing a strong political and military powerbase. Another barrier to peace is the intervention of the Amharan and Eritrean forces, whom the Tigrayans consider to be illegitimate occupiers even more so than the Ethiopian Army. Amhara has claimed stakes of Tigrayan territory as its own, and the rumoured atrocities committed by Eritrean and Amharan armed forces have only built further resentment.
Until the seized land is returned and there is accountability for their alleged war crimes, peace is highly unlikely. However, even if Addis Ababa wanted to fulfill these demands, it is unclear how much control it has over its allies.
The TPLF have demanded that they be recognised as the legitimate government in Tigray and be granted autonomy over the region. If Addis Ababa were to cede to this request, the government would effectively be admitting defeat, opening the door for the other ethnically distinct regions of Ethiopia to rebel.
He must unify the nation around a balance of power between central and regional authorities, clarifying the role of ethnicity in the federal system and dissolving resentment and racial tensions. This is no easy feat. After losing Mekelle, he now must negotiate from a position of weakness with a vindictive and ambitious TPLF. If he caves to all TPLF demands, he risks losing legitimacy and authority across the rest of Ethiopia.
Establishing a working compromise from such an adverse position would truly vindicate his Nobel Peace Prize. What are the Feasible Next Steps? With peace a nigh-on impossibility, both parties can still take steps towards reconciliation.
Firstly, the Ethiopian government should permit unrestricted aid access and restore basic services such as internet and electricity. Allowing Tigray to return to a liveable state will encourage stability.
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Furthermore, the government should encourage Eritrean and Amharan forces to withdraw, and it should establish an independent enquiry into the rumoured atrocities. The TPLF can begin by respecting the ceasefire, allowing the people they claim to be liberating to re-establish their livelihoods. Since it is unlikely that the government will respect the call for Tigrayan autonomy, the TPLF should remove this as a term of the short-term ceasefire arrangement.