By Dereje T. Asefa and Dawit K. Zigta
Tigrayans have been exposed to repeated genocidal wars in the last 130 years. Emperor Menelik II, Haile-Selassie and the Derg regimes had committed atrocity crimes, used starvation and rape as weapons of war, and massacred thousands of Tigrayans mainly to punish the people of Tigray for demanding their right to self-determination.
Abiy Ahmed Ali has employed the same strategy with intensified manpower and technologies, inflicting unimaginable suffering on the people of Tigray. All this again for the determination of the people of Tigray to exercise their legitimate constitutional right of self-determination and organize an election in September 2020, as he viewed the move as an obstacle to fulfilling his childhood dream to be called the “7th king of Ethiopia”.
The first hope of an inclusive political platform in Tigray
Tigrayans assumed that the September 2020 election, with TPLF as the front-runner, would be as inclusive as possible. New Tigrayan nationalist political parties were created months before the election and participated in the election with some hope for a symbolically inclusive government to be established. To the disappointment of many, TPLF emerged as a party that was not ready for inclusivity when the election results were disclosed.
“Law enforcement”; an operation of Warlords
As the election was designated illegitimate by the regime of Abiy Ahmed Ali, illegal measures have been executed on all Tigrayans in the name of punishing TPLF. The regional budget has been cut off, travel restrictions were imposed, the blockades of major roads leading to Tigray were left unnoticed, essential services to be provided by the federal government were interrupted and much more until the day the genocidal war officially declared on 4th of November 2020, in the name of “law enforcement operation”. Abiy who has been planning the war jointly with Isaias of Eritrea, vengeance and himself as an avenger, managed to mobilize armies of two countries, militias of neighbouring regions, as well as unmanned fighter jets to wage war on Tigray and commit horrific atrocity crimes that shocked the whole world.
This betrayal over the people of Tigray has forced Tigrayans all over the world, irrespective of their age, gender, status, religion, and political ideology, to come together to fight for survival and exposed the atrocity crimes committed. Those in Tigray picked up arms to defend their people from heartless mercenaries as much as possible. Those in the diaspora have been engaged in public diplomacy and advocacy efforts demanding corrective action from the international community against Ethiopia for the violations of international human rights laws and international humanitarian laws.
All as Tigrayan and for Tigray
Tigrayans have been like swarms of bees, determined to secure the “continuity of the people of Tigray” by averting the “existential threat” imposed by the genocidal forces. Tigray Defence/Diaspora forces (TDFs) emerged and became global agendas as anti-genocidal mass mobilizations with unbelievable military victories and diplomatic attention. TDFs embraced veterans, youth, men, women, professors, engineers, farmers, priests, sheikhs, generals, members of civic organizations, and politicians of all parties in Tigray. All as Tigrayans and for Tigray. Tigray came out victorious through an operation named after the most victorious and Iconic General Alula, Mekelle was recaptured. The compositions of TDFs have been mirror pictures of different segments of the Tigrayan society in general, and the accommodability has helped for some of the internationally recognized successes.
The Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) signed in Pretoria has multiplied all the success stories almost by zero. The internal differences among political actors in Tigray as to how Tigray shall be governed after recapturing Mekelle and most importantly, following the return from Debre-Sina might have played a role in the eventual outcome of the CoHA. The new generation and the alternative parties have been demanding the creation of an all-inclusive political platform where ideas can be raised and discussed for the best of Tigray. The older generation, mainly the TPLF leadership, have persistently resisted the idea of inclusivity and stubbornly stated that no entity other than the ruling party shall participate in whatever peace negotiation process to be organized. Protests from Tigray and the diaspora were ignored and as specified in the CoHA, TPLF unilaterally and disappointingly signed the so-called peace deal in the name of the people of Tigray.
For what it is worth, CoHA has silenced the guns, but rape, murder, looting, destruction of vital infrastructure and forceful displacement of civilians are still going on by the invading forces that are in control of most of the constitutional territory of Tigray as confirmed by UN-OHCHR commissioner Volter Turk. The lives of the millions killed and displaced don’t look like enough for the genocidal forces, as they are committing atrocity crimes five months after CoHA has been signed. The unfettered flow of humanitarian aid and resumptions of basic services are not secured in most parts of Tigray. The use of starvation as a weapon is continuing. Independent Media and the UN independent investigators are denied entry to Tigray aimed at obstruction of justice.
CoHA and inclusivity
Bearing all the unjust pain, Tigrayans hoped to embrace a better future through the window of the opportunity for self-administration via the establishment of an inclusive interim regional administration (IRA) and eventual election as stipulated in Art. 10 of the Pretoria agreement. When the inclusive IRA that will replace the delegitimized Government of Tigray (Art. 7) is going to establish remains unknown. However, the responsibility to initiate the political dialogue for the establishment of IRA in Tigray is given to both TPLF and the regime in Addis. The precondition of retracting TPLF by the house of people’s representatives of Ethiopia from the list of terrorist organizations as specified in Art.-10(1) of CoHA has not happened so far. The regime in Addis doesn’t seem interested in reapproving TPLF as a political organization, thereby establishing the IRA. On the other hand, TPLF leadership seems interested in establishing the IRA and is unilaterally executing different activities of the establishment process.
TPLF is running the show for establishing the IRA unilaterally, with an expectation that the regime in Addis will accept the IRA arrangement that the party is going to propose. Getachew K. Reda, leader of the TPLFs peace agreement team, has disclosed in the reporter Ethiopia that the unilateral initiative of establishing the IRA will not be realized without the involvement of the alternative parties of Tigray and the approval of the regime in Addis. Major Tigrayan stockholders are ready to participate in the IRA, but they don’t see the willingness and sincerity of TPLF to involve them. TPLFs insincerity is creating divisions in Tigray’s political elite and disturbing Tigrayans in general, who have been hoping for inclusivity.
Whether TPLF like it or not, the issue of inclusivity mentioned in CoHA needs to be addressed. Representatives of alternative political parties, civic society organizations (CSO), youth, women, religious leaders, scholars, and ethnic minorities within Tigray must be engaged in the IRA to be established. Realizing this, TPLF is scared of losing its dominance and attempts to control the process of involving other stakeholders in Tigray’s future political platform. It has created a nine-member IRA establishing committee, which according to the party, is an inclusive one, and shall establish an “inclusive” IRA in the eye of TPLF.
However, the committee has encountered fierce resistance from other Tigrayan stakeholders, as all members of the committee are handpicked loyal servants of the party itself who might be instrumental for securing the continuity of TPLFs hegemonic power. Alternative parties have opposed the committee and are demanding a transparent process with equal representation both in the IRA establishment process and the IRA. Scholars have expressed the importance of a transparent, all-inclusive IRA establishing committee and are recommending an inclusive National unity government or a technocrat government” with a clear mandate. CSOs are demanding inclusivity, both in the process of the establishment and the IRA itself.
Astonishingly, the TPLF leadership continues to defy its own people and is failing to live up to the expectations of the majority of Tigrayans in addressing the issue of inclusivity. The party is striving to maintain the hegemonic power it has relished for more than three decades. The party is also inconsistent in “what it’s telling the Tigrayan diaspora,” “How it approaches the diaspora associations”, “what the party is practically doing in Tigray”, and “what the party is telling the regime in Addis”. This chameleonic nature of the party is confusing and frustrating to the people of Tigray.
Requires just a Goodwill
We mean that the establishment of an all-inclusive IRA is a golden opportunity for TPLF leadership, where it can show political maturity and lay the foundation for a real democratic system in Tigray. By doing so, the leadership can be remembered generation after generation, not only in Tigray, but also in Ethiopia and beyond. This requires just goodwill! A goodwill to change, a goodwill to accommodate, a goodwill to try new ideas, a goodwill to trust and engage the new generation, a goodwill to prioritize the people of Tigray, and a goodwill to secure a better future for Tigray’s future generation. It is not good for TPLF leadership to be despised and remembered as short-sighted power-mongers who do not care about their people but just for their personal gains. Why not choose to be remembered as the Mahatma Gandhi of India or the George Washington of America?
The existential threat imposed on the people of Tigray is imminent and can only be averted by the involvement of all capable Tigrayans in an inclusive platform.
TPLF leadership has demonstrated that party or personal interests are secondary to the interests of the Tigray people during the war’s first phase. The leadership went to the mountains of Tambien and fought equally side by side with other Tigrayans. The mothers of Tigray have provided them with food, and heroes and heroines of Tigray have shielded them from the wolves of Abiy Ahmed and Isaias Afewerki. Tigrayans from all segments of society has sacrificed a lot for one another, with a “one for all and all for one” mentality to avert the existential threat over the people of Tigray. Alas, the existential threat imposed on the people of Tigray is still imminent and can only be averted through the involvement of all capable Tigrayans in an inclusive platform.
Inclusivity in Equal terms: a necessity for Tigray
Understandably, TPLF might fear losing its dominance if other stakeholders enter the political landscape of Tigray. However, the fear should not overshadow the merits of inclusivity as a good start towards the modernization of Tigray’s political platform with democratic values. The leadership has experienced the merits of inclusivity under the umbrella of the anti-genocidal forces-TDFs during the armed struggle.
Tigrayans have realized that the people of Tigray cannot afford the repetition of the failed non-inclusive strategy of TPLF and are demanding the mistakes in the aftermath of the September 2020 election and the recapture of Mekelle in June 2021 be rectified. This will only be addressed by an all-inclusive IRA, where all Tigrayan stakeholders shall participate on equal terms and discuss strategies for restoring the vital interests of Tigray, but not entities, which the TPLF leadership should accept and submit to.
This article by Dereje and Dawit first appeared on Martin Plaut’s blog.