An inch behind, always. When is Aregawi to learn his lessons?

Godofai Tgiorgis
March 21 2010

Aregawi is making headlines again, this time, as a witness to food aid diverted by the TPLF for military use during the 1984 famine. There is also Mr. Gebremedhin Araya who stand behind him in this accusations. I can understand where Mr. Gebremedhin’s is coming from. He has been head of the budget department, though forced to leave because he was victimized so much, and can have some authentic clam. What I don’t understand is however Aregawi’s. Whether the facts exist or not is not the issue I am concerned in. It is rather the purpose. And the purpose seems directed not to find the truth but to achieve personal gain. And this gain is nothing more than self promotion to portray oneself as truly Ethiopian, as an authentic child of the Tigray people. But the sad thing is that whenever he tries to build that resume he always falls an inch behind.

In his time Aregawi has done a remarkable contribution that has made both the struggle and victory possible. Aregawi deserves more respect and more honor than he is receiving now by the current TPLF leaders or their supporters. Regardless of the negativities he is attributed to, he is still a hero, a pioneer who opened the new page to a new chapter in the history of ours. Aregawi stands tall even in front of those who forced him to exile or call him angry quitter. Discrediting Aregawi for his belief and mistakes is something but trying to discredit his contribution is impossible. Although it is a common practice in the camp of TPLF to defame anyone who left the organization, his is a blue print difficult to spin.

Where is Aregaw’s problem then? Where is he falling behind? And why? I am not going to length to explain all Aregawi’s problems. I will focus only on what forced me to write, that is, his recent statement about the food aid he claimed is siphoned off. One can simply ask him so what is your problem? Is it because you are concerned about the ethics of the use of the money or because you are concerned about the people and the hardship they faced then under the leadership of the TPLF? If the concern is ethical, one would ask whether that was the only time TPLF leadership diverted money for a different purpose or whether there was also a similar practice during Aregawi’s time. If there was, I believe there should be, why not go public for it also? If not, why focus only on the food aid of 1984-85 and why at this time?

I am not for diverting money that is meant for the public. I am not sprinkling holy water to the leadership of the TPLF to exonerate them from the blame. I am not here to defend their record on this and other right related issues for I am one of their accusers. My belief is that there is more to blame the leadership than the diversion of the food aid that has now become headline. A more serious one. I know Aregawi has attempted to point some of the problems I consider are legitimate. But the only problem with his is that all his accusation backfires on him because he still stands accused as their perpetrators. The morality of the accusations seems to implicate to him ‘ you too are to blame’.

In order to understand what I am trying to imply one has to travel back to the time when he was with and when he left the organization. The TPLF is not new to violate human right. It all started with Aregawi or his leadership. The very heinous crime of the TPLF were committed none other than during his leadership. Siphoning money collected in the name of people for personal purpose too started in his time. All the remaining leadership did after his austere was follow his steps and add extension to cover other areas that he had no chance to encounter. Therefore for all the ills of the part, the present leadership is not solely to blame.

Take killings for example. TPLF carried brutal and systematic killings to purge dissidents of different caliber. It does not end with chapters. That practice was there and is still here. But if we compare the before and after Aregawi ,the earlier one was too brutal and graphic, the later too systematic. That is the only difference. Otherwise the tradition is there as far as the brutality is concerned. Aregawi knows if not commanded those measures but he does not show no remorse on his own nor strong desire to expose his ex-colleagues. All he attempts is instead to blindfold us, to forget what we know, and praise him like a saint. He does not want to come clean himself yet he wants us to blame the others for the dirt all, including him, shares. The conflict within him is therefore still there with no cure and will remain so unless and until he swallows the bitter pill which he is allergic to.

Aregawi’s austere was no doubt a bad move by the remaining leadership but a fair one compared to the fighters who were chased wherever they go to be killed when he was at the helm of the leadership. At least he was accompanied to Sudan. But he is not to blame if he is disappointed by what he has to face after his exit because it is he who pioneered that kind of inhumane treatment. But that does not imply that injustice he pioneered in the past justify the injustice he is experiencing in the present. He should be treated better but the TPLF leadership did not do that. The question then becomes how does he challenge the regime’s evil act? Should he fight it the public in mind or executing his revenge? This is where the root problem of Aregawi comes to light and here is where he lags an inch behind because he mixes the apple and orange together.

TPLF has never been an individual. It is collective. All the policies that drive from that leadership too bear the same identity. They are viewed more an organizational than of individual will. The individual may have a bigger hand in what is done but from political perspective, it is still associated with the organization he is a member. TPLF represents the people of Tigray by default. Not by choice. One has therefore to be able to see the differences between the two. Many politicians in Diaspora and in Ethiopia, however, fail to see this and Aregawi is no different from them. He mistakes the one for the other and therefore commits summary blunder not once but always and he almost has made it a career.

His stand during the war with Eritrea is another good example. I believe the war Ethiopia had with Eritrea is the making of the two organizations .And by default the making of Aregawi too. This was the war that should not have taken place in the first place. No matter how we resented at each other, we are still brothers. But when the aggression is coming direct from Eritrea, one has to stand by the EPRDF to defend the aggression. Yes I have and as much as I had then doubts whether the EPRDF is true to its name. However, differences aside one has to stand by its side in defense. This was and is more of an Ethiopia than EPRDF. But Aregawi was again an inch behind here as well. He preferred to stand against with some pretexts.

In fact seen independently and out of that time it is not pretext. Pressing EPRDF to release the political prisoners it held incommunicado as a condition to give support is a smart move. If there was a democracy those prisoners should not have been locked to begin with and fighting for their release is more than justified. If EPRDF has mercy too it should have released the prisoners as a good will to unite its people. But when the country is in total danger, and when you see EPRDF cares less for one that unites the people, the caring should let the issue aside for a while to take care the big picture. This is a fight that can wait till the country is no longer in danger. In politics timing also matters. Some of us definitely lack that quality because we devote ourselves to execute personal revenge more than fighting the danger the country is in. Some of us are more than willing to let the country down to score with the enemy even. And Aregawi is very much the role model here.

The accusation behind the 1984 famine aid is not different. Aregawi knows well the problems that the people of Tigray faced at that time. There was famine but there was also Dergue more than the famine. Two enemies were there at the same time with the same weight. The famine however was not only imposed by nature but also by the military regime. The Dergue was therefore more than one enemy. For the famine to go not only did the TPLF need money but also it has to let the Dergue go. Fighting the Dergue by all means, therefore, was not only fighting a system but also the famine. Directing the drought stricken families to Sudan to save the lives of the people from the Dergue’s jaws and shortening Dergue's years to end the almost chronic poverty the people of Tigray faced now and then were tasks that the TPLF must have done and it did.

In fact of all and in all the history of the TPLF if there is any remarkable deed that stands out, it is the role it played during the famine of 1984. The history of TPLF shines more here than anywhere else whether we like it or not. The challenges were far greater than one can imagine. 150-200 people a day dying in a single camp . If it was not for TPLF, people would have not be able to come to Sudan, if it was not for TPLF those who came to Sudan would not have made it home. How did TPLF make such remarkable achievement and at what price is something I will leave to the historian. But I do not want to close this chapter without again saying TPLF did more here than its positive contribution anywhere else summed up. I do not think Aregawi will deny this either.

What is Aregawi’s problem is then the money. The money donated in the name of people. The money people did not receive. The money diverted to purchase weapons instead. Add to that, the weapons that are deployed to fight the military regime. Let us agree with Aregawi that TPLF did purchase weapons that it fought the Dergue with. Provided he agrees that Dergue is the prime source of brutality and drought, where is the crime? If the end justifies the means then this one is not. TPLF would have been more criminal if it misused those funds and let the Dergue win the battle. The consequences of defeat are a nightmare to imagine even at this present time. If indeed TPLF purchased the weapons and if indeed it used these weapons to fight the military regime, then the money is not spent in vain.

The people of Tigray carved out the TPLF out not only with their money but also with their life. They have contributed money. More than that, they have given their life to the cause of the struggle. Money, therefore, is insignificant cost wise by comparison. But this money we are talking about is donated in their name from the good wishers. Misusing it is thus a crime. But this crime is committed in order to purchase weapons to bring about the Dergue’s demise. Dergue is dead and the people who suffered not only from hunger but also from Dergue’s brutalities emerged victor. Have the people benefited from their victory? Probably not and if not to a great extent but the victory is something that should have been there. The aftereffect washes away the sin.

I am not appreciative of the diverting. But I am more than willing to throw my support on this particular issue because it was a necessary evil. If that money was there and is used to buy weapons and that weapon is used to vanquish the regime, then it was money spent on purpose. The weapons claimed to be purchased from the food aid are no doubt serving the country even now. What did not and does not serve the country is money lost in the air, money spent on personal matters. What is spent on the country stays in the country. The money wasted by and for the corrupt officials of TPLF/EPRDF is where we need to stand up against. This and other atrocities they commit should be where Aregawi should focus and fight it to the end.

We have to stand up to injustice and dictators. We have to pay whatever it takes to face the challenges. But let us not personalize the issue or quarrel we have with the leaders and make it look like it is the people's. I believe Aregawi himself is the pioneer teacher on this. We can still have time and place to do the personals but we should not and need not lose sight of the country by mixing apples and oranges. Recent history of Ethiopia, and Tigray for that matter, is full of this and it did not fare the country or the leaders who fell victim to this. Blaming others on what is true and right is right but even to do that timing matters. Even if it is timely, blaming others while one is a party to a crime is not wise. All it reminds us is the people who demanded the stoning of Mary Magdalene.

Back to the money, the food aid money. The one Aregawi claimed 90-95% stolen. One the daily mail recently estimated t less by 70% than Aregawi’s, 5-20% stolen money. I would like to say the following in summary. Whatever money spent on something that is useful to the country should not be treated the same as money siphoned by corrupt officials. Allocating money from one project is not crime. It is a matter of setting priorities. Errors can be made doing that but as far as the money is spent on projects of national interest, we should not have a problem. The problem we need to fight and have problem with should be the money stolen from the people and spent on individuals as it is common now in Addis. The 1984 aid money, if true, need to be seen from this perspective also. The claim again, if true, only validates that TPLF had acted wise, in fact, for the first time. And Aregawi need to acknowledge this.