COVID-19 in Ethiopia: Too Dangerous for National Elections, but Effective for Fracturing an Autonomous Regional State
By Professor Desta, Asayehgn
Tigrai Online Nov. 21, 2020
Over the years, a combination of ethnic fighting and demand for autonomy and self-rule has been brewing in the Benishangul-Gumuz, Oromia, Somali, and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People Regional (SNNPR) states of Ethiopia. Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged and plunged regional states into a downward spiral that has contributed to the postponement of the national elections in Ethiopia. Given that everyone is affected by the devastation wrought by the virus, why did Prime Minister Abiy’s (hereafter referred to as Abiy) government initiate a full-blown war against the regional state of Tigray—the most stable and peaceful regional state in Ethiopia?
Three points of view have been advanced as possible explanations for the war between Abiy’s government and the Tigray regional state. The first perspective strongly argues that the current war between the federal government and Tigray amounts to nothing, but was purposely designed and wisely executed by Abiy to give a lesson to the “Tigraian junta.”
In simple terms, proponents argue that the leaders of Tigray had to be punished for holding regional legislation elections on September 2020, because they were held in defiance of the recently approved addendum to the Ethiopian Constitution by the Federal House of Peoples Representatives, which states that elections in Ethiopia need to be postponed for a year or more until the World Health Organization unambiguously declares that the global threat from the coronavirus pandemic is over.
Concerning the launching of offensive military operations against Tigray, the proponents endorsed Abiy’s position. They stressed that Abiy appropriately designed and targeted the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to set free the Northern Federal Army squad that was attacked by the TPLF ‘junta.’
Contrary to this, the second perspective strongly renounces Abiy’s supporters. It argues that the current war between Abiy’s governemnt and the Tigarus amounts to a human rights violation. Furthermore, they stressed that the war was a preemptive strike. It was deliberately ignited by Abiy to forcefully dismantle the regional state of Tigray. They also call the war genocidal, because it was started with the intention to destroy the Tigrian ethnic group (UN, 1948).
To negate the proponent’s argument that the TPLF violated the Ethiopian Constitution for conducting a regional election, the adherents of the second perspective cited Article 39, 3 and Article 52, 2 of the Ethiopian constitution for their defense. Article 39, 3 states that “Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has the right to a full measure of self-government.” In addition, Article 52, 2 of the Ethiopian Constitution unambiguously states that every state in the Ethiopian territory can have the right to “establish a State administration that best advances self-government…”
Opponents to Abiy’s aggression toward Tigray have appreciated that the election process that was conducted in Tigray was democratic and commended the work done by the Tigray Election Commission Committee, who professionally executed the election process.
However, the opponents have been quick to point out that Abiy lacks respect and empathy for Tigarus. To justify their position, they vividly demonstrate how Abiy’s government failed to intervene and protect the regional state of Tigray when the various rebel forces blocked it from having access to all interstate highways and thus commercial exchanges with the other regions in Ethiopia. Also, the opponents have gone one step further to demonstrate how Abiy’s government has been acting irresponsibly to trim the federal budgetary funds that should have been appropriated to the Tigray Region. In addition, the opponents have vividly demonstrated how the Abiy government destroyed and failed to help the Tigraian people when they were single-handedly battling the huge, voracious swarms of desert locusts that caused havoc and contributed to heavy destruction of Tigray’s crop and pastureland.
Finally, the opponents claim that Abiy’s actions on Tigray were inhuman because he has: 1) imposed a six-month state emergency on the regional state, 2) instructed his troops to round up and confiscate Tagaru property, and 3) ordered the various government and non-government institutions to lay off all Tagaru on their payrolls. Finally, the opponents feel that arresting, laying off, and mercilessly throwing employees of the federal armed and security forces amounts to profiling and ethnic cleansing, and has resulted in the forcing of more than 30,000, Tagarus out of the country to settle in refugee camps in the Sudan.
After depicting the dominant internal causal and consequential factors of the war that has erupted in the Tigray region, adding a third perspective of the role played by Eritrea’s President Isaias Afework
is necessary in order to facilitate dynamism into the analysis of the war that has erupted in Northern Ethiopia.
After the brave Eritreans fought for about thirty years and liberated Eritrea from Ethiopia, it is heartbreaking to see that although Eritrea is endowed with natural resources, enlightened human capital and strategic ports, currently, Eritreans are in abject poverty and enduring misery. Eritrea can also be regarded as a “failed state” because, as fully documented by the United Nations Inquiry Commission, the country’s president, Isaias, is “…operating a totalitarian government with no accountability and no rule of law.” (Washington Post, June 2015).
Had Isaias been a rational human being, there is no doubt that he could have enticed the hardworking and innovative Eritrean people to foster economic development for their country. Unfortunately, Isaias is a sick man. He is undergoing a very serious traumatic experience stemming from the Ethio-Eritrean conflict of 1998. Thus, instead of focus on his country and getting the advice of Eritrean intellectuals, Isaias is fighting an entrenched animosity that he has developed against what he labels as his arch-enemy, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
As a catharsis for the deep traumatic experience that he endured during the 1998 Ethio-Eritrean conflict, Isaias has developed the desire to remove the TPLF from power in Tigray and dismember Ethiopia into pieces. A case in point is that to destabilize the then-EPRDF Government in Ethiopia, before 2018, Isaias turned Eritrea’s landscape into a training ground. For example, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), the Patriotic Ginbot 7 Movement, and the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (known in Tigrigna as “Demhit”) had military bases in Eritrea.
Forgetting that the Eritrean People Liberation Front (EPLF) and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) were brothers-in-arms while fighting the most brutal Ethiopian military junta, being obsessed with the unbearable pain suffered during the 1998 Ethio-Eritrean conflict, Isaias is now collaborating with Abiy (who was then his underground agent) in order to oust the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Not only is Isaias aiding in the direct but he is also getting Abiy drones from the United Arabs Emiratis (UAE), stationed in the Port of Assab.
Isaias should have known that Abiy is a go-getter, is deceptive, and has an innate ability to mislead people. For example, while working for the Information Network Security Agency (INSA) — the cyber-security agency established to protect the national interests of Ethiopia —Abiy was not ashamed to work as a double-agent and convey critical information to the various enemies hunted by the EPRDF.
Even more recently, Abiy’s has gone to the extent of betraying his close friend Lemma Megarsa. He has been restless in his quest to destroy various Oromo movements and is harboring a goal to abolish Ethiopia’s multinational federalism by appointing his henchmen to govern the so-called autonomous regional states.
It is inevitable that the disguised relationship between Abiy and Isaias that is perpetuating violence and destruction in both countries is unlikely to remain for much longer. Actually, based on the dissatisfaction and violence that are being revealed both in Ethiopia and Eritrea, the days of either Abiy or Isaias staying in power are numbered. In the meantime, before the two men collectively continue to wipe out the two utterly failed states, the progressive Ethiopian and Eritrea forces have a moral responsibility to unite and consolidate the strategies necessary to swiftly act and save the wretched Ethiopian and Eritrean masses.
Ethiopian Constitution, (November 1995). “CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF ETHIOPIA.”
United Nations (1948). “obligation not to commit genocide (Article 1 as interpreted by the ICJ (https://www.icj-cij.org’files/case-related/91/091-20070226-JUD-01-00-EN,pdf#page=74).
Washington Post (June 12, 2015). “The Brutal Dictatorship the World Keeps Ignoring.”