Tigray and the likely politics of re-traumatization at the cost of post-traumatic growth

By Hulluf Weldesilassie Kahsay

Cyclical wars, perennial bad governance, the cruelty of rulers, and lack of justice, coupled with governance-by-fear throughout history, have made Tigray a land and people whose fate is negotiated through fights for their existence. It is also true that different Tigrayan generations have rarely enjoyed meaningful peace.

Fast-forward to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) era, when the party came to power. Calm and stability, though characterized by serious democratic suffocation, was the way of life in Ethiopia. At least one could work, move freely in the country, and live anywhere peacefully as long as they refrained from opposing the EPRDF/TPLF. Thus, some relatively peaceful times without active fighting, displacement, and profiling were enjoyed during the EPRDF/TPLF rule. People from every part of the country heavily invested in socio-economic progress without fear based on identity.

The EPRDF-TPLF period saw massive progress in terms of development, accompanied by very little progress in the arena of political freedoms. Millions of Ethiopians were lifted out of poverty through the expansion of universities, hospitals, health services, road networks, and businesses. Many Tigrayans tend to believe that the TPLF’s positive contribution to the development of the economy has been more in the rest of Ethiopia than in Tigray. The rest of Ethiopia enjoyed relatively more freedom and democratic space than the Tigray region.

Now is the time for Tigrayans to realize that Tigray is a shared enterprise by all in Tigray. When it comes to the present, we cannot, therefore, afford to put the future of post-war Tigray in the hands of the TPLF alone.

In light of this, the monopolistic and seemingly rigged process of setting up an interim transitional arrangement, as exhibited by the TPLF-dominated committee these past few weeks, tells more than meets the eye. The entire Tigrayan elite needs to be vigilant and defend Tigray from any party’s excessive and unwarranted monopoly at any given time.

An afterthought on issues participation of the Irobs and Kunamas

In my previous opinion article, I wrote about the importance of meaningfully including the Irobs, Kunamas and other key stakeholders in Tigray. However, a follow-up on the same issue is still necessary. Given our history of political culture in Tigray, the unique condition of the Irobs and Kunamas might likely be treated with public relations-based ‘inclusion,’ as opposed to a meaningful needs-based approach.

If their condition is not treated with critical care, the writers of history will forget these two minority groups, and the planners of rehabilitation and reconstruction might overlook them too. If nothing is done, Tigray politics is likely to ignore them first and subsequently fade into oblivion.

For instance, merely appointing TPLF or other political party sympathizers to some political and government positions, while glossing over the needs of these people, is not enough to save these communities from extinction.

My core argument, therefore, is that the Irobs and Kunamas are on the verge of total disappearance as lingo-cultural groups. Hence, their reality calls for a special institutionalized, dedicated, legally established, and commissioned initiative.

Forming a commission for preservation of Irobs and Kunamas

It is essential for Tigray’s interim administration and subsequent government to take a proactive approach to address the existential risks faced by the Irobs and Kunamas communities. In order to preserve and empower these communities, a dedicated commission should be established, drawing on relevant lessons and insights from other regions in Ethiopia. For instance, some areas in Ethiopia have established commissions aimed at addressing the unique needs of nomadic and pastoralist communities. Similarly, a commission could provide research-based inputs to preserve and empower these communities.

Prototypical arrangements must be developed in collaboration with partners to address the peculiar needs of these communities. Academic and other institutions in Tigray should also give attention to the preservation and empowerment of these communities, who are invaluable to Tigray’s cultural heritage.

Therefore, it is imperative that Tigray’s transitional and post-transitional efforts consider the two communities’ inherent reality. An awareness of the precarious situation the Irobs and Kunamas are in, where their languages and identities are rapidly disappearing, is a crucial first step that can lead to multiple innovative strategies. It’s worth noting that these communities have also accumulated intergenerational trauma, which requires an institutionalized response. This is why I am revisiting and re-emphasizing this issue.

Post-traumatic growth of Tigray

For nearly the past five years, maliciously coordinated anti-Tigrayan propaganda storylines have been aired on many Ethiopian and diaspora media outlets, spreading widespread profiling and unfounded hatred around the world. The build-up of hate propaganda intensified after the war broke out in November 2020. Additionally, the deprivations and siege imposed on Tigray led to the loss of many lives.

Of course, such experiences and the consequent unpalatable stories consumed by the Tigrayan public have likely led to individual and collective trauma. Nevertheless, there is still some light at the end of the tunnel. A glorious, progressive post-war Tigray can be realized through supportive political goodwill for inclusion that can nurture contagious communal harmony.

However, this harmony seems to be jeopardized by divisive politics. So far, the process of forming transitional arrangements in Tigray looks neither inclusive nor transparent, raising eyebrows. It indeed dashes the glaring hope that Tigrayans have had for a new and inclusive future.

The situation is made worse by TPLF cadres attempting to radicalize community members against those with even slightly divergent political views. At the moment, there seems to be a growing fault line in the otherwise widely known, formidable Tigrayan constituency. As a result, unfortunately, the Tigray region may slip into re-traumatization by bad politics, instead of ushering in new favourable conditions conducive to individual and societal post-traumatic growth in the region.

The painfully exclusive and selfish process can be encapsulated as bad politics that will likely re-traumatize Tigray. The divisions, systematic cycle of abuse by inept networks that sustained bad governance, a culture of impunity, personality cults, and mystifying of mediocre leaders will continue, thus hurting socio-political conditions in Tigray.

Divisions, political animosity, and total economic collapse will inevitably make the region succumb to collective hopelessness. This may find unique expression, particularly among young people, professionals, and some political parties. For example, massive migration, human trafficking of the youth, frustrations, apathy, or even violence may make the region perpetually ungovernable.

To add salt to the injury, there will be illegal arms in the wrong hands, and crimes that are already bothering the community will prove a nightmare for ordinary people. This kind of bad politics will continue to destroy Tigray, just like the war itself.

The cost of bad politics is a long-term one

As a result of unresponsive and utterly self-centered politics that have proved to be a bottleneck to change, intergenerational trauma will continue to take a toll should exclusion and divisions continue. One of Tigray’s most valuable resources has always been its united, cohesive community, which has made it an indomitable political block. This should be redirected to advance Tigray’s healing from the trauma of war and not wasted by divisive politics.

I am hopeful that there will be space for negotiations and intra-Tigray dialogue to resolve critical issues negatively affecting Tigray’s cohesion. At the moment, the most important issue for Tigray is the region’s stability, solidarity, inclusivity, and regeneration.

Let there be dialogues among the region’s political parties so that the political elite are perceived to be listening to each other and reading from the same book of shared security, and vision for the Tigray that all have wholeheartedly struggled to defend.

Let’s embrace the politics of “DO NO HARM”. Bad politics disproportionately harm the most vulnerable people in society.


Mr. Hulluf Weldesilassie Kahsay is a former Deputy Secretary General of the Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia (IRCE). He can be contacted at: [email protected]