Jobless Tigrian Army Generals
By Berhane Kahsay
Jan. 13 2012
The Ethiopian Ministry of Defence is to early retire 300 long serving high ranking military officials including 13 Generals very soon. The official line for this drastic measure is to establish an army that reflects the ethnic composition of the country. Most of the retiring Generals are expected to be Tigrians with many years of exemplary and distinguished military service behind them. They learned their trade fighting the Derg that had the largest army in black Africa equipped with the latest military hardware money could buy.
Thanks to these gallant commanders, tacticians and strategists, the brutal regime that ruled Ethiopia for 17 horrendous years came to an end. Not only did they manage to defeat the Derg’s army, but they also succeeded in stabilising the country that was tottering on the verge of disintegration in the immediate aftermath of the Junta’s departure. The Liberia and Somalia scenarios that were widely predicted by the Diaspora supporters of the Derg completely failed to materilise. In no time the Ethiopian Defence Force (EDF) was formed and the experienced and battle hardened TPLF members were placed at its helm. The previous regimes defeated rank and file members and its ‘elite’ Generals were excluded from the new set up as their leadership and fighting skills were found to be hopelessly inadequate.
If further proof was required as to the capabilities of the TPLF fighters turned Generals under the new EDF structure, it came in the Ethio- Eritrea border war of May 1998. The leadership of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) made the fateful decision of ordering its troops to invade Ethiopian territory. As we all know the EPLF fought for 30 years for the independence of Eritrea and in the process claimed the lives of hundreds and thousands of Ethiopian military personnels. The crème de la crème of the Derg’s Generals went to Eritrea to lead the war but never came back. Successive military campaigns that were waged by the Derg failed to defeat the EPLF, and in each campaign, hundreds and thousands of men armed with tanks and modern armaments were deployed. After all these relentless efforts and sacrifices, the EPLF not only managed to liberate Eritrea, but came nearly close to destroying Ethiopia. The EPLF highly intoxicated with its success foolishly believed that it could deal with the EDF in a similar manner. This was proved to be a very costly and fatal error. In a space of two years, the EPLF’s army that caused Ethiopia endless problems for three decades were not only dislodged from Ethiopian territory, but the EDF entered 25 kilometres inside Eritrea and used this as its buffer zone until it was handed over to the UN peace keeping forces under the Algiers comprehensive peace agreement. The so called EPLF’s ‘military invincibility’ that took over 30 years to cultivate was put to rest for good. The EPLF is presently so weak, it would not last for long if Eritrea was to re-start war with Ethiopia; the EPLF leadership is simply reduced to sending surrogate organisations that are on the payroll of Eritrea.
The retiring Generals have also excelled in their international duties in Liberia, Brundi, Darfour, South Sudan Republic and Somalia. Under their leadership, they have made the EDF the strongest army in the Horn of Africa. Invitations to assist in areas inflicted by conflicts are coming thick and fast from various governments and the international community. The Generals have excellent track records and are admired for their ability to adapt into a new environment in foreign areas of strife and accomplish their mission with ease. The former Ethiopian Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Tsedekan and his army colleagues have used their wealth of experience to set up a regular army for the new African nation of The South Sudan Republic.
Now, the Ministry of Defence is succumbing to pressure and is initiating ‘restructuring’ to make the high echelons of the EDF redundant. It is pretty clear that the beneficiaries of this action will definitely be the Amharas and perhaps slightly the Oromos. Reforming the army to reflect the ethnic composition of the country is simply a pretext to cover the real intention of forcing out Generals of Tigrian origin who saved Ethiopia from the brink of collapse. For obvious reasons, the Ministry of Defence will be hard pressed to find Generals of high calibre from Afar, Bensangul-Gumz, Somali, Harari, Gambela or SNNP. This untimely root and branch shake up is totally unwarranted and sends wrong signals to our enemies in the ‘neighbourhood’.
If restructuring is really needed, it should be the Ethiopian bureaucracy that is heavily dominated by the Amharas. They make up over 75% of the work force in every federal government institutions. Where ever possible they make sure important government developmental policies are sabotaged with impunity and invariably delay their implementations. Corruption within the bureaucracy is endemic and is having a detrimental impact on the progress of the country. The socio-economic changes that are taking place in Ethiopia today would have gone at a much greater pace if it had not been for the backward looking, self serving, highly politicised and entrenched bureaucracy. Immediate remedial measures to correct the composition of the work force are long overdue. Forcing seasoned Generals, who made history, to take early retirement and replace them with novices of very low calibre must be good news for our foes in the vicinity.