My appeal to all Tigreans is to show the characteristic patience
and take appropriate measures to protect Tigray and its people wherever they are
Pandemic of anti-Tigrean intolerance in Ethiopia and in the Diaspora
By Kalayu Yohannes
Tigrai Online, July 6, 2018
Amhara regional state officials including the Ethiopian Deputy prime minister Demeke Mekonen rejected the federal constitutional order.
It has become a “normal” abnormality in Ethiopian political and social life to treat Tigray and Tigreans as public enemy number one for the last whole century. Whether they serve honey or poison it does not make any difference. There are specially coined words and phrases, in the Amharic language, to belittle, to ridicule, to curse, and to threaten Tigreans in all walks of life, from the beggar to the general and scholar. Every political novice tests its newly acquired “talents” by scolding Tigreans. Ridiculing Tigreans by mimicry has for many years now become a popular subject for comedians to earn their living. Neighborhood coffee ceremonies never feel good without anti-Tigrean gossip.
Tigreans protected Ethiopia from Egypt and Italy single handedly; but this is blurring and disappearing from the pages of Ethiopian history books and folk tales. The media, art and the movie industry are dominated by those who are busy searching for ways and means to obscure Tigrean contributions to the continuity of Ethiopia. Tigreans died and maimed in thousands, including their heroic king to save the people of Gondar from Mahdist massacre. The decedents of those martyrs were chased out of Gondar in broad day light instead of building a monument for their forefathers. They built a statue for King Tewodros whose name they hated to mention until the EPRDF’s “Zemecha Tewodros” in 1991. Ironically, the most intimate friends of the Gonderes became those who refused to rescue them from the Dervish invasion.
Many proudly claim that Ethiopia has 3000 years of history, but are disgusted by the realization that most of these years elapsed in Tigray. The TPLF-led EPRDF brought Ethiopia to a widely envied and emulated level of economic progress and national security; but many, including the new PM preferred to belittle this grand achievement. His speech in the Meskel Square was quite revealing. He said “Ethiopia will return to its former glory, the “hyenas” (EPRDF) had led it into doom”. Dr. Abiy is obliged to answer the following question: When was the “former glory of Ethiopia”? Does he mean the Derg rule, when the Country sunk deeply into economic and social quagmire? Or the Monarchy, when his fellow Oromos were subject to barbaric serfdom for over a century? If the Derg era was the golden age of Ethiopia why did he join the EPRDF forces to fight it? There must be a storm of contradiction in his head. It is ok to be ungrateful to the struggle that catapulted the PM to this level and realized his mother’s prophecy; but it is not ok to deny the truth for the sake of pleasing the mass of emotion-blinded followers.
It is undeniable that TPLF had grudges with the Amhara elite (never with the ordinary people); so do most Tigreans. There was a sufficient reason for that. Tigreans have seen atrocities committed on them with impunity, degraded and left to starve during famines. It was the Amhara elite that did its best to weaken the people and their leaders by dividing them into two, taking away fertile lands in the south and southwest with the intention of impoverishing them. However, despite all this unprovoked brutalities, the noble people of Tigray never denied that they are Ethiopians. The so called “Tigray republic” may have been written by some embittered leaders. As human beings that reaction to the long enduring brutality by governments from Central Ethiopia is understandable. Won’t you be tempted to leave your home if your father becomes very cruel to you? Actually that idea was abandoned as soon as it was born; but it is still in service many years after its death, to support arguments to incriminate the TPLF as having a “hidden agenda of dismantling Ethiopia”. By any standards the TPLF is better than the OLFs, the PM’s favorite guests. TPLF has never uttered that the people it leads are not Ethiopians. They never said that they were forced to be Ethiopians. They never said that they “can” be Ethiopians through negotiations. I assure the PM that if everybody else drops Ethiopia Tigreans will be the ones to pick it up. Isn’t it their mother and their child at the same time? The OLF leadership which is flocking to Addis Ababa and cordially received at the airport and in the palace by high ranking Ethiopian officials has always been unequivocal about taking Ethiopian identity on conditions. While hailing the name of Ethiopia in public it is perplexing to distance Tigreans who never put their Ethiopian identity on the table for negotiation. Time will show very soon if the OLF that has come to Addis Ababa is be “Added” is really to be added. In arithmetic “Adding” means the original numbers added disappear and a new number is created. If that new number means a unitary Ethiopia we shall see if this is acceptable to Oromos, Afars, Sidamas, etc.
Let’s paint a scenario where by some magic (impossible by human power) the people of Tigray and their leaders are wiped out from the face of the earth. Would this insure the unity of Ethiopia? Would it ensure economic prosperity for Ethiopia? Would the future be as simple as: “the rest of Ethiopia (without Tigreans) lived united happily ever after”? Pushed too hard from every direction and coerced to feel as outsiders/invaders wouldn’t the TPLF and Tigreans be tempted to be on their own, for the sake of honor, however hard that action may be to take?
In a deafening noise Tigreans are blamed not only for teaching anti-Ethiopian narrow nationalism, but also accused of teaching Ethiopian how to steal. Everyone overloaded with emotions curses Tigreans for introducing narrow nationalism, corruption, and torture as if all these and others never happened in Ethiopia before, and as if it is done by TPLF as a party policy. There is a systematic and persistent campaign to brainwash the current generation of youth to bleat the Orwellian motto: “Tigreans are bad, the rest are good”. That would imply, Derg’s mass and unprovoked killing is a welfare act, TPLF’s limited and provoked killing is brutality; Derg’s corruption is acceptable, TPLF’s is abhorrent; Derg’s torture of thousands of EPRP, Tigrean, and Eritrean prisoners was deserved; while TPLF’s alleged torture of suspected terrorists is a gross human right violation. Honesty should be the best policy: giving the angel or the devil his due. The noblest thing to do is to condemn corruption, harmful nationalism, killings, and torture in all generations, in all governments without sparing any of them.
Tigreans, the creators of this Nation, are the last to want to divide it. Did the Tigrean leaders coach the Amhara elite to launch a massive Nazi-like movement in contradiction to its former uncompromising Ethiopian identity? Nobody approves corruption and nepotism. They are curses of all nations. If there have been corrupt Tigrean officials there is no doubt that they should be punished. If there are Tigrean security who torture prisoners they should appear in a court of law with tangible evidence. TPLF has experienced hundreds of its gallant members being tortured and killed in prison during the Derg. No TPLF member tortured in prison has ever said the Amahara and the Oromo tortured me. They just mention names (Wukaw, Moral, and all kinds of terrifying nick names) without mentioning their ethnic origin. What individuals did during the Monarchy and the Deg remains to be individual; but what individuals do during the TPLF-EPRDF is intentionally made to be the responsibility of all Tigreans!
When the turncoat Gedu Andargachew takes the microphone to curse Tigrean leaders and bless Demeke (the biggest turncoat in the history of Ethiopia), one gets lost about the criteria. Both have been at the heart of all what the EPRDF-coalition was doing, good or bad. If what the EPRDF has been doing is all wrong, then the ANDM and OPDO cannot be spared. Switching alliances away from the TPLF to opposition groups, who now got the messy upper hand, and joining the anti-Tigrean chorus, is sheer betrayal. These renegade politicians are too naïve to realize that the opposition and foreign interest are using them as disposable weapons to weaken the TPLF and by extension Tigreans (potent enemies of imperialist domination). Although politics is about craft, but there is also a great deal of decency and integrity that must not be compromised for the sake of political survival. The grace and integrity displayed by Ethiopia’s only General, during the National Place ceremony to remove him, was historic. He could have incited and led a mutiny which could have wrecked this Country forever. The PM seems to have felt tragically heroic when he drove battle hardened leaders like Samora, Getachew, Sibaht, Abay, etc. in the same way as Mengistu felt when he disabled Haileselassies generals, rases and other dignitaries who were leaders of the war of liberation from Italian occupation leaving the Country militarily vulnerable.
The rally in Bahir Dar has revealed that history is repeating itself after a century. The reign of Yohannes IV and all the sacrifices Tigreans paid against foreign invaders have almost been removed from the timeline of Ethiopian history and it is often taught to the young generation that Tewodros was directly followed by Menilik. An entire episode of foreign invasions and heroic defenses of Ethiopia by Tigreans has been miniaturized and even considered as a bad episode to be forgotten. In Bahir Dar stadium one placard displayed the photos of Colonel Menigistu, in formal military uniforms, and Dr. Abiy side by side. It was flashed on TV briefly, but it said it all! What this could only mean is Mengistu’s rule is replaced by Dr.Abiy’s rule. What was there between the two? Something “terrible”! These photos could never mean Mengistu and Dr. Abiy are friends. They were bitter enemies to death! These photos are simply intended to remove another bright Tigrean episode from the Ethiopian history.
There are serious double standards particularly on the Amhara side. They protect the Constitution for bringing former adversaries (Wello, Gondar, Shoa, and Gojjam) as one unit called Amhara; but they want to destroy the Constitution in order to get Welkait and Alamata back. The criterion used for creating the Amhara region and the ceding of Welkait and Alamata to Tigray is one and the same. They are condemning the constitution for being consistent. If the Constitution was changed back to the previous there would never be an Amhara State. It would disintegrate into seven administrative regions. The joint claim for “Amhara land” would lose meaning. Regardless of what happens Wolkait and Alamata and the people inside them are Tigreans. They will go nowhere else. They will be protected at all costs.
There is a dangerous consensus on Tigreans in Ethiopia now. When conflict erupts in Benishangul it became an invisible hand of “Tigrean saboteurs”; when Tigreans are beaten and their property burned in Oromia special zone it is still the same “Tigrean saboteurs” who are responsible; when the Sudanese attack to grab land using the opportunity of a weakened defense “Tigrean saboteurs” are behind them. Every Tom, Dick and Harry in the streets is enjoying putting the blame on Tigreans for all evils under the Ethiopian sun. This is something akin to the Reichstag fire and the loss of 50 million people in WWII. Many seem to be happy to trigger a civil war that they can never control. When push comes to shove Tigreans will not bow quietly for beheading.
The million dollar questions are: why are so many people so malicious to Tigreans for all these years? Why are good and bad things done by Tigreans considered to be one and the same: Bad!? Are the Tigreans the only “minority rulers” in the history of Ethiopia? Is majority rule more rational, responsible, and democratic than minority rule? Which has led Rwanda to the current peace and prosperity? Majority rule of the Hutus or minority rule of the Tutsis? Has there been Tigrean minority rule in the first place? Haven’t hundreds of people from other Regions become rich using the opportunities opened to them? Why should these non-Tigrean beneficiaries be living in glass houses and be the first to throw stones at TPLF blaming it for corruption and nepotism? Why has it become so easy and not considered illegal to give Tigreans all kinds of bad names? Why should a PM be appealing to the “conscience” of the people of Amhara and Oromia to be “kind” to Tigreans, as if they are undocumented immigrants to be tolerated? Unless it is by design to make Tigreans feel alien but tolerated, the PM should abide by the law of the land and defend the Ethiopian nationality and citizenship rights of Tigreans through appropriate legal and political actions. It is futile and myopic to retain political power by compromising laws for the sake of pleasing supporters.
The history of the two decades of arduous struggle against the Derg is being reversed by giving heroic welcome to arch Derg cadres Tekle Yeshaw and Kasa Kebede through the front door and a disgracing exist of the leaders of the struggle through the backdoor? ANDM leader Teferra Derebew received these “guests” totally oblivious to the martyrs monument in Bahir Dar that was built to commemorate the atrocities done by these “guests” and their friends! If this continues, and Mengistu Hailemariam is going to come back “home” as another Dr. Abiy’s hero then all monuments for the anti-Derg martyrs in Bahir Dar and Addis Ababa must be demolished. What are they supposed to help us remember: Betrayal?
The prime owners of the Eritrean issue are Tigreans. It is not for their ports, but because they are kins. Tigreans desperately want to have Eritreans back into their embrace. They genuinely hope that the sibling rivalry will end soon. However, one hears many people unashamedly talking about how to get Assab back not Eritrean brothers and sisters back. Haileslessie is alleged to have spoken his heart by saying “we don’t want them, we want the ports”. This is the unwritten but widely shared policy on Eritrea among “Ethiopian devotees”. Why do they want Eritrean ports now? Because Ethiopia is paying a lot of money for the Djibouti port service. During Menilik, Djibouti was the easiest access port for Addis Ababa’s very limited import and export. For Menilik the Eritrean ports were liabilities serving as inlets for an alleged “arms import” by Tigreans to attack him and reclaim his throne. Unlike what Yacob Hailemariam said Menilik signed willingly. It can be said that Menilik must have been more urged to cede Bahrenagash to Italy than the Italians may have been. His Italian friends, who later betrayed him as can be expected by everyone else except the Monarch, effectively weakened Tigray. They did not do it for Menilik but for themselves because Tigrean under Yohannes and Alula were the only big obstacles for Italian colonial ambition in Ethiopia.
The recent courtship between Isayas and Dr. Abiy is great as long as it involves all primary and secondary stakeholders, and is done without compromising the dignity and honor of Ethiopia which is much bigger than Eritrea!! There seems to be something mischievous behind the rapprochement though. Mesfin Woldemariam’s theory of “gena dabo” seems to be the tactic used by Dr. Abiy to weaken the TPLF. Mesfin said “The people of Tigray have no good relations with the rest of Ethiopia and they are at war with Eritrea; they are burning like gena dabo on both sides”. Isayas is an unconventional character as a person and as a leader. He has a Tigrean blood but does not seem to care. Tigreans died in thousands in the Nacfa trenches to save the EPLF from annihilation. One might say the Tigreans did this for their own sake. Yes of course, but Isayas would not have had the chance to be a president and Eritrea would never have become independent. Ungrateful about all this Isayas seems to be helping Dr. Abiy to accomplish what he himself was unable to do for 27 years: eliminate the TPLF! This hypothesis seems to hold with some degree of freedom because a genuine effort to reconcile Ethiopia and Eritrea will never continue without a significant and leading role of the TPLF.
The PM is galloping on horseback alone to a cheering crowd. He does not seem to suspect that the horse could stumble somewhere because the race track he is galloping on is not a charted one. It will be a grave historical mistake to base popularity by fanning or tacitly encouraging a mass campaign of Tigrean hate and harassment. No one using this tactic ever came to a happy end.
My appeal to all Tigreans is to show the characteristic patience and take appropriate measures to protect Tigray and its people wherever they are. Above all iron-solid unity of Tigreans is mandatory to survive and thrive in the face of such adversity. Divisions and re-divisions in the ranks of Tigrean political leadership has been the cause of a century of misery for Tigreans; and this seems to be repeating itself several times in the last 15 years. Your irresponsible squabbles are costing Tigray and Tigreans their very existence. This includes the TPLF leadership as well as the Tigrean opposition at home and in the diaspora. You are dividing while others are uniting against you. You seem to have forgotten the basics of combat: “divide and defeat”. Another indispensable message I would like to convey especially to Tigrean scholars and professionals all over the world is to do your best for the development of Tigray. No one takes poor people seriously. No one could have dared to insult Tigreans let alone brutalize them had their nation state been prosperous. Identify sustainable paths to development that are appropriate for Tigray. You will never be respected wherever you are unless your home nation is economically strong enough.