Context for the Current Situation in Ethiopia-The Evolution of Criminality
Following a wave of popular protests that swept across the country for almost two years, the reformist government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in April 2018. In his inaugural parliamentary address, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed promised to implement deep political and economic reforms in order to overcome the multi-faceted and complex socio-political and economic problems of the country. Within less than eight months after coming to power, he introduced profound changes that brought hopes to many in Ethiopians and beyond.
Amongst others, the government of Ethiopia released political prisoners and journalists and invited exiled political parties and armed groups to take part in peaceful political contestations. It repealed unjust laws and brought in several ground-breaking economic reforms. It restored peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia, for which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was rightly recognized with the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.
The beginning of TPLF’s complaint
In as much as it was undertaking transformative reforms in political and economic arenas, the government of Ethiopia was also engaged in ensuring the rule of law, while advocating peace, reconciliation and healing to many of our ailments as a nation. In terms of ensuring the rule of law, the government of Ethiopia undertook several drastic measures. Some of these included arresting individuals suspected of involvement in serious crimes.
As a symbol of its commitment to peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia, the government established a new Ministry of Peace and set up a new Peace and Reconciliation Commission. In contrast to the prevalent political culture in Ethiopia, peace, love, unity and reconciliation became new terms in our recent political discourses. TPLF’s lexicon, on the other hand, is replete with ideologically laden labels such as “rent seekers”, “narrow nationalists”, “chauvinists”, “parasitic elements”. Ethiopians from all walks of life welcomed this peaceful and non-violent transition with great enthusiasm, except for those that wanted to maintain the status quo at any cost.
When the new reformist government came to power in April 2018, it did not take any retributive measures against TPLF as a vengeful punishment—and as some wrongly claim. The government brought to justice individuals who were involved in grave human rights violations and massive corruption scandals, some of them being members of the TPLF.
It is worth remembering that key ministerial positions were held by TPLF members until TPLF finally refused to join the then newly established Prosperity Party. Even after the merger of the four-member parties of Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, several ethnic Tigrayans were discharging their responsibilities in the federal government in many key positions. In short, the federal government did not have an intention to marginalize the TPLF. Angered by the unexpected loss of the disproportionate influence and undue privilege they enjoyed, powerful figures within the TPLF led the clique into self-isolation and a senseless blame game.
TPLF brushed aside opportunity for change
Under TPLF, millions of Ethiopian men and women had suffered widespread political repressions, economic as well as social marginalization for two decades. These repressions eventually led to unending protests across the country and brought to power the incumbent. Despite the body of evidence showing the wrong doings of TPLF, however, the government did not want to repeat the same old mistake: destroying everything that came before and start anew. As some political commentators close to the TPLF have once remarked, TPLF was given a “golden parachute” by the new administration—not out of fear but in pursuit of the spirit of reconciliation rooted in the desire to direct the nation along the path of democratic progress and economic prosperity.
But these new conciliatory political shifts are anathema to TPLF as it wanted to maintain the status quo at any cost. It seemed it did not have the heart and mind to understand it. Even today, three years after the reform began to take root, it seems adamant and kept its heart and mind closed to any notion of change and progress.
No sooner than the new administration began to take undertake reforms, TPLF began to accuse the federal government of targeting Tigrayans- a claim that suffered lack of concrete evidence and deep and correct context. TPLF hurled accusations at the federal government of displacing Tigrayans and harassing them because of their identity. But this was not true. Tigrayans, like fellow Ethiopian, are living in peace with other Ethiopians in many different parts of the country. Likewise, like many Ethiopians, they were victims of pervert political plots set by TPLF itself in many parts of the country.
The establishment of Prosperity Party and the fury of TPLF
When the establishment of Prosperity Party was announced in December 2019 after EPRDF was dissolved, it did not come out of the blue. The establishment of a nationally unified party was an idea long entertained within EPDRF party even when the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was in power. Top officials of TPLF have, on several occasions, been expressing their wish to have a nationally unified party. The establishment of this party was just a realization of this long-overdue dream of EPRDF member parties. But this dream came to reality only after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power. TPLF however resisted the idea, as though it was a proposal that was being discussed for the first time.
In terms of political ideology and internal party functioning, EPRDF toed a rigid and undemocratic line for more than 27 years. The ideology of revolutionary democracy championed by TPLF became a mother of all political problems, as many political scholars in Ethiopia rightly argued. The ideology encouraged the culture of making an enemy out of one another for 27 years. TPLF’s doctrinal system mobilized supporters and recruits in a dichotomous way by establishing ‘an opposing reference group’ and demonizing this other group. The unfortunate effect is that the binary party outlook tended to constantly divide the country into irreconcilable groups.
The internal functioning of the party was also undemocratic and exclusionary. Not all ethnic groups in the country were regarded equal within EPRDF. Among nine, only four regions were represented in the decision-making process of the party. Others were marginalized and humiliated for a long time based on the claim that certain ethnic groups have not attained the socio-economic maturity and consciousness to shoulder a political program that is as sophisticated as revolutionary democracy. Furthermore, each of the four regions was not proportionally represented, tipping the power balance always towards the TPLF. The establishment of Prosperity Party ended this undemocratic culture within EPRDF. But it did not end the complex and multi-layered political tensions in the country. It increased the fury of TPLF and exposed its true colours even more.
Disinformation campaigns of TPLF
The first absurd accusation of TPLF against the government was thrown shortly after Prosperity Party was established in 2019. TPLF labelled the government as “anti-federalist” “unitary” desirous of bringing back the centralism of past authoritarian regimes. But this was all but an empty accusation. And it was a clear beginning of disinformation campaigns that have continued till today. Through its organized social media campaign, TPLF continued to falsely accuse the federal government of being a “dictator”, “neo-neftegna”, etc.
TPLF also made political allies of a few political parties and individuals that sought to trade integrity for transient political gains. Some of them contributed towards the escalations in the aftermath of the despicable assassination of the popular Oromo Musician Hachalu Hundessa. TPLF and these new friends found a common cause in distorting the image of the government and collaborated in destabilizing the nation. Thus, they have joined resources, including hundreds of social media pages to spread disinformation and to sow confusion.
Involvement in actual crimes on the ground
The government has been gathering evidence from its intelligence and other credible sources that TPLF has heavily been involved in planning and implementing violence and conflicts seen over the last two and half years in Ethiopia. Hidden hands of the TPLF were there in the killings of civilians in many different parts of the country including Guji and Wollega areas of Oromia Regional State. TPLF military officials trained the outlawed OLF-Shane group with the aim to wreak havoc on the region.
Had it not been for the support of TPLF, this outlawed armed group would not have killed more than 1500 people in Wollega and Guji zones alone over the last two years.
The displacement of millions of Ethiopians from Somali Region in 2018 and 2019 did not take place without the blessing of TPLF. The Gedeo-Guji conflict, the death of civilians in Benishagul Gumuz Region had TPLF conflict entrepreneurs behind them. The recent unrest and death of civilians in Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region have not taken place without the knowledge of TPLF.
At the beginning of its tenure, the government of Ethiopia never foresaw that TPLF would gamble in a shameful manner with the lives of thousands of Ethiopians for the sake of power- whose fair share it could have secured through fair and democratic engagement. Yet once again, TPLF have shown the world that if it does not maintain its grip on power entirely, it is ready to disturb the country at the cost of millions of innocent lives.
TPLF went unconstitutional
In its adamant refusal to adhere to values of unity, respect and togetherness we have as a country, TPLF began to openly transgress the supreme law of the country. When COVID-19 broke out in 2019 and became a universal health threat, the National Election Board of Ethiopia announced it is not in a position to hold a free and fair election within the remaining period due to the then unpredictable nature of COVID-pandemic. The board decided to postpone the election for an indefinite period. This created a constitutional gap that required interpretation by the House of Federation. The House of Federation, at the end of this process gave a constitutional interpretation and decision that mandated the postponement of the election. TPLF dismissed this democratic process as an “orchestrated drama” by the federal government to “unconstitutionally” extend its term.
Disrespecting the decision of the House of Federation to postpone the election until 2021, when the threat of COVID19 could become more manageable, TPLF defied the authority of the federal government by establishing a regional election commission – a clear violation of the Ethiopian constitution. It was clear from the beginning that a regional election commissioner hand-picked by TPLF itself cannot guarantee free and fair elections in Tigray. But TPLF would not refrain from flagrant violation of the constitution.
In the illegal election held in September 2020 in Tigray Region, TPLF announced a hundred percent control of the seats of the Regional Council. But the House of Federation dismissed it as “null and void”. The House further urged the government to take legal measures against the regional government for violating the constitution. It authorized the federal government to take measures such as redirecting budgetary support to towns and local administrative units in Tigray.
TPLF, however, strongly opposed the move of the federal government. “This is tantamount to declaring a war,” several of its officials told the media. But this was not the first time they were talking about declaring a war. Earlier, TPLF officials were boastfully telling their foreign sympathizers that they would go for a war if “a blockage” is placed on their way to maintaining hegemony.
TPLF then said the region will not comply with laws, directives, and regulations, among others, to be enacted by the federal government after its current term in office came to an end on October 05/2020. It also openly called for the establishment of a transitional government replacing the constitutionally established government.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed expressed his deepest desire several times that the government did not want to hear a single gun-shot in Tigray. The people of Tigray do not deserve this, “We want to send to Tigray faces masks, not a bullet,” he said in an interview. This sentence has captured the whole conviction of the Ethiopian government until everything had to change on Wednesday, 4th November 2020.
TPLF crossed the red line
The government of Ethiopia has been persistently patient with TPLF’s illegal and reckless actions for several years now. Its patience came to an end last Tuesday when the special forces of Tigray, along with some members of OLF-Shene shamefully attacked the Northern Command of the National Defence Force and the Federal Police Force. In doing so, TPLF publicly declared that it had crossed the red line. Attacks on the national defense force amounts to destroying the last refuge of the Ethiopian people and sovereignty of the country. The government cannot tolerate this outrageous act without disregarding the constitution and its mandate to protect it.
The government of Ethiopia has been patient with TPLF because it had a firm conviction that we should leave behind the history of war and usher into the era of peace, development and prosperity. But now this is no longer possible to uphold. Attacking the defense force and the federal police force is not an action the government can tolerate.
It is not only the act by itself that is outrageous, but also the manner in which the attack was waged. Members of the National Defence Force had been part of the life of our citizens in Tigray for more than 20 years. They have been building schools, constructing roads, helping Tigrayan farmers plough their farmlands and harvest their crops. They recently helped the people of Tigray in the fight against heavy desert locust invasion and COVID-19 pandemic in the region and other regions. Many men and women in the army married locally and have settled there for a long time. They were not outsider. Nor did the people of Tigray consider the army a stranger.
The early hours of Wednesday November 4, 2020 marked a very tragic day in the history of our country. The Tigray special force members surrounded and massacred their own brothers and sisters in several places in Tigray. This incident was painfully gruesome and inhumane. “I’ve never heard of such a cruelty on one’s own people. This might be the first time this is happening in history,” said the Chief of the National Defence Force, General Birhanu Jula during one of his recent press-briefing sessions.
The government of Ethiopia wants to make it clear to all, that such a cruelty cannot be addressed or redressed by sitting at a table for a negotiation. Negotiation makes sense only when there is good faith and desire for peace. The federal government is determined to enforce the rule of law to the region. While TPLF is behaving like a criminal enterprise, negotiation is wrong in principle and is unlikely to result in peace. The Godfathers of corruption and terror within TPLF have to be held to account and the rule of law and the constitutional order have to be upheld before any talks could be considered.
Like yesterday, the government of Ethiopia has a great concern for our people in Tigray. As the government has made it clear time and again, during the current law enforcement operation, we will take maximum care to reduce civilians’ casualties and collateral damage. Our modern airplanes and drones will hit targets with precision. This will greatly contribute towards protecting our civilian citizens in Tigray.
The Ethiopian Defense Force will also make maximum effort to make sure that civilians are not targeted.
Some of our international partners, friends and people of good will have expressed a concern that this might turn into an all-out war. Once again, we want to make clear to you that this operation will end within a short time, and we shall soon return back to our normal daily life. Within this view, the government echoes its position once again that, “There should not be any mistake made in treating the Federal Government as equals with a criminal group.” This operation is all about ensuring respect for the rule of law and maintaining the constitutional order of the country. We will, beyond any doubt, have a lasting peace in Ethiopia when the criminal force of TPLF is brought to justice. The government of Ethiopia will no longer allow impunity to prevail on our soil.
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
OFFICE OF THE PRIME MINISTER