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Tigray and Tigrayans the Past and the Future!

By Ermias Hailu
Tigrai Online Jan. 17, 2020

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The Persian religious leader Mani (who died in 274 AD) regarded the Axumite Empire as one of the four great powers of his time, alongside Persia (Iran), Rome and China. King Ezana’s stone inscription from around 300 AD, still standing in Axum as of today, also confirms Mani’s claim about the Axumite empire. In the inscription, Ezana stated that “he was the king of Axumites, and Himyarite’s (Yemen & part of Saudi Arabia), and of Raeidan and Ethiopians, and Sabaites (South Arabia) and of Silee, and of Tiamo and Bogaities (Beja) and Kasu (Kush)”. Though there are no concrete historical evidences regarding the origins of the Axumite civilization, one can reasonably assume that it was part of the Nile Valley indigenous black civilizations of South of Egypt. The Empire of Axum at its height extended across most of the present-day Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti, Sudan, Yemen, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Axumite empire was destroyed by the internal revolt led by Yodit in the 10th century, following to its long decline starting the 7th century due to the expansion of the Persian Empire to its territories and control of trade routes and the rise of Islam.

Edward Gibbon in his 18th-century book titled “The decline and fall of the Roman empire” stated, “encompassed on all sides by their enemies, the Ethiopians slept near a thousand years, forgetful of the world, by whom they were forgotten”. Though the medieval to 20th century Ethiopian kingdoms such as Lasta, Showa, Gondar and Tigray were direct descendants of the Axumite empire, none of them was able to awaken the empire from its deep sleep and position it to its former glory.

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When the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi came with the motto of “ትልቅ ነበርን ትልቅ እንሆናለን” the “ትልቅ ነበርን” undoubtedly refers to the Axumite Empire. I strongly believe, PM Meles’s grand vision and strong conviction of Renaissance of Ethiopia and Africa was inspired and shaped by the former glory and success of the Axumite empire as well us what he experienced during the armed struggle on the capability of the Tigrayns to fight and win their enemies against all odds whether man made or natural disasters. I think PM Meles had discovered during the armed struggle that the Axumite empire’s indomitability and spirit of wisdom, bravery, justice, determination, technological, social, economic and political advancement are still alive in each Tigrayan DNA, whether educated or uneducated or poor or rich. PM Meles on one of his famous speech stated about the Tigrayan people “እንኳዕ ካባኻትኩም ተፈጠርና፣ እንኳዕ ኣማዓዲና እናራኣና እንቐንአልኩም ኣይኮና።”.  The bravery inherited from the Axumites was at work when PM Meles, launched the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), in Guba Benishangul Gums, on April 02. 2011, even though he may knew very well it will cost him his life.

 The following are few of the unique contribution of the Axumites and their direct descendants the Tigrayans (that includes the Tigrayans in Eritrea) which are named as Tigray-Tigrinya that played unique role in technology, trade, religion and philosophy that have shaped the horn of Africa and impacted the world.

  • The Obelisks in Axum are unique (different to Egyptian Obelisks) in design with futuristic high-rise building architecture
  • Alphabets, literature and culture that is being used throughout Ethiopia and Eretria
  • The 1st nation on earth to engrave the Christian cross on its coin
  • The keepers of the only and the original Arch of Covenant which was/will be the center of worship for the Jews people
  • Among the top three countries in the world that made Christianity as their state religion at the beginning of the 4th century.
  • The first country in the world to host Muslims (1st Hijra) which established the foundation for the peaceful co-existence of Muslims and Christians in Ethiopia
  • The innovators of the unique Christian worship of God (Yaredawi Zema)
  • The world-famous Christian reformer Aba Estifanous of the 15th century, who started his reformistic work about 100 years ahead of the German reformer Martin Luther. Aba Estifanos was savagely and cruelly killed by Emperor Zara Yaqoob in Debre-Berhan Shewa.
  • The world-famous philosopher Zera Yacob of the 17 century, who was denounced by Emperor Susenyos (1607-1632) in Gondar
  • The defeat of the Colonizers (Italy which is the descendant of the Roman Empire) both in Dogali and Adwa. It is obvious that Adwa’s victory was a shared victory of all Ethiopians. The victory of Adwa resonated throughout the world and inspired the subsequent decolonization of the world.
  • Meles Zenawi and his team designed and implemented the developmental state model, to the context of Ethiopia, which illuminated a light of hope at the end of the tunnel and brought millions of people out of poverty and positioned Ethiopia among the top fast-growing economies in the world. Such model is expected to be followed by other African countries in the years to come.
  • Ethiopian Airlines was given a rebirth about 20 years ago under TPLF/EPRDF leadership which transformed the airline from highly vulnerable niche airline to global airline which has become number one in Africa.

The Spiritual Destiny of the Axumite Empire

The spiritual destiny of the Axumite Empire is described in the bible in Isiah Chapter 18. Without going to the controversial and vague details, Isiah Chapter 18 talks about ‘’a people feared far and wide, an aggressive nation of strange speech whose land is divided by rivers”. This chapter illustrates the rise (Article 1 to 3), the fall and decay (Article 4 to 6) & and again the rise (Article 7) of the Axumite empire. At the end of Article 7 it is written that gifts will be brought to the Mount Zion (i.e. Jerusalem) to the Lord almighty. I am very sure that one of the gifts will be the Ark of Covenant from Axum with other material gifts (gold, precious stones etc.). Other gifts could be mighty men of God that will rise and win multitude of souls from the whole world to the kingdom of God from the core descendants of the Axumite empire from the Tigray-Tigrigna people as well as the rest of Ethiopia. As Israel was reborn in 1948 after about 2000 years absence, the Axumite Empire shall be born in the next 20 to 30 years (about 100 years after the rebirth of Israel)

Who are the descendants of the Axumite Empire? 

To answer this question in a simplified way, I referred to Ezana’s stone inscription mentioned above and all the people mentioned in that inscription can claim to be its descendants. What it means is that all existing nations and nationalities of Ethiopia and all citizens of Horn Africa, Sudan, Yemen, Southern Saudi Arabia, and Southern Egypt are stakeholders to the Axumite empire. With regard to which people of Ethiopia were the core part of the Axumite empire there is a competition between Tigrayan elites and Amhara elites. In my view considering the historical intra- North to South and vice versa migration and mixing of people between the North and Southern of Ethiopia both Tigrayans and Amaharas could equally claim to be the core of the Axumite empire.  Misunderstanding and conflict arises whenever one party tries to discount the other and tries to claim 100% inheritance and give zero % to the other.

Efforts to revive the Axumite Empire

I believe that all post Axumite empire Christian Kings of Ethiopia got their inspiration from the Axumite empire. Even Ahmad ibn Ibrahim (Gran Ahmed) also envisioned and worked to build Bahir Dar centered Horn of Africa Islamic Empire.

 When Emperor Tewodros wrote a letter to Queen Victoria about his readiness to free Jerusalem, that was the spirit of the Axumite empire at work in him.

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Emperor Yohannes tried to revive the Axumite empire centered at its original location and gave assignment to King Menelik of Shewa and King Tekle Haymanot of Gojjam to expand South, East and West to widen the terriotries of the empire. Emperor Menelik effectively and efficiently expanded to the south of Ethiopia but gave the present-day Eritrea to Italy. Emperor Haile Selassie reclaimed Eretria but the Military Government Derg lost it with the blessing of TPLF/EPRDF. PM Meles envisioned and worked hard to revive the Axumite empire centered out of its original location in Addis Ababa but that could not be sustained. President Isaias dreamed to revive the Axumite empire centered at the Italy built city of Asmara but failed (He started the 1998 war with that vision). President Isaias recently declared that he has ceded his ambition to Dr. Abiy Ahmed to play the leadership role.  Dr. Abiy Ahmed has claimed recently that he will build a strong Ethiopia founded on the biggest ethnic group of Ethiopia, the Oromos. Nigeria with about 200 million population (with more than 70 million Hausa and 44m Yoruba) and with huge natural resources could not lead the renaissance of Africa due to deeply rooted corruption culture that has been destructive.  I agree with Dr. Abiy that Oromos shall continue to have the determinantal leadership role in the further development of Ethiopia which will take us to the rebirth of the Axumite Empire.  However, for that to happen, Dr. Abiy has a long way to go to unite Oromos and to root out the chronic corruption culture inherited from EPRDF. He also needs to make peace particularly with the people of Tigray as his throne is largely built on the sacrifice of young Tigrayans. His love affair with President Isaias may give him some tactical advantage but at the end of the day he must face the fact that Tigray, seemingly weak and poor, was and will be the heavy stone on the rulers of Ethiopia (Zechariah 12:3) until the Axumite Empire is re-established at its historical site.

The Ark of Covenant – A blessing and curse for the Axumite Empire and its descendants

Regarding how the ark of Covenant was brought to Axum the following are the main two theories:

  • According to the Kebra Nagast the Ark of Covenant was stolen from the temple by Menelik I, with divine assistance. I do not understand the need for divine assistance to steal someone’s property!
  • Graham Hancock in his 1992 book titled “The Sign and the Seal”, illustrated that the Ark of Covenant may had come via Egypt to Tana lake by the Bete Israels’ but later it was taken by force by the Axumites probably during war among the two. He also tried to prove that the Ark of covenant was in the Jews Temple in Jerusalem for some hundred years later than claimed by the Kebra Negast that it was taken to Axum. 

Without going to the argument which of the above theories is correct, one common fact is that the Ark of Covenant was stolen or forcibly taken from the Jews by the Axumites. According to the bible in 1st Samuel 4: 1-10 the Ark of Covenant was captured at one time by the Philistines after defeating the Israelites’ army. 1st Samuel 5 and 6 describe how God sent devastating punishment to Philistines for capturing the Ark of Covenant and how they were forced to return it, with gifts, to its rightful owners, the Israelites. The writer of this article has strong conviction that the fall of the Axumite Empire and the suffering and persecution of its descendants until today is attributed to a punishment by God for stealing and hiding the Ark of Covenant. The immediate solution to come out of the curse is repentance and being ready to give it back with gifts (Isaiah 18:7) to the Jews when they are ready with building the third temple, which will happen in the near future. There is also no biblical foundation for hiding the Arc of Covenant from the public view (Bible Matthew 5:14-15) and the Tigray Orthodox Church must display it to be visited by the whole world as a testimony that the word of God is true.

Who is responsible for the Rebirth of the Axumite Empire (I re-named it as “Axumites Federal States”)?

The Tigryans in Ethiopia and Eritrea (Tigray-Tigrinya) must and should be the major drivers of the rebirth of the Axumite Empire. These people are the two sides of one coin, which were divided through the conspiracy of colonialists and rival Ethiopian politicians. There is strong mistrust, unforgiveness and victim mind set among these people, however, the time is coming for these seemingly two but one people to come together guided by a visionary leadership that will be born out of the current crises.

The Amhara’s and other Ethiopians are expected to support the rebirth process in due time as their future destiny is tied with it.

Tigray-Tigrinya and the Agazian movement

The Agazian movement established by Eritrean Tigryans, such as Tesfastion G/Selassie, is the unpolished diamond and pragmatic initiative that is bringing the Tigryans in Ethiopia and Eritrea to unity. However, the Agazian movement must be accommodative and tolerant and accept all Tigryans and related ethnicities irrespective of language and religion (Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists etc.) in the same way to our Axumite ancestors. It has to also focus on preparing Tigray and Eretria for the Rebirth of the Axumite Empire. I recommend that the Agazian movement conducts one gathering per year in Axum and organize itself to lead the unification of Tigryans for the rebirth process. I personally feel that I must give part of the rest of my life for this cause and I look forward to being part of this movement as it gates shaped as coherent and accommodative organization with clear Axumite Empire rebirth vision.

Tigray- Amhara Alliance

Despite the current infighting and rivalry between the Tigrayan and Amhara politicians, elites and activists, the people of Tigray and Amhara have a strong bond and strategic alliance that no one can damage. These two people are the pioneers of Ethiopia, they have shared history, culture and values. The resent misunderstanding among these people is based on an ill-intended intensive, divisive and hate propaganda by those Egypt and Eritrea funded politicians and media out lets who are sold out to work against their country. The border issue is not unique to Tigray and Amhara as the same problem exists among all other regional governments. The border issue was intentionally hijacked, propagated and exploited to instigate emotionally charged hate and persecution against Tigryans and two weaken the EPRDF which was effectively implemented. As the existing misunderstanding is going to be resolved through time, it is my strong believe that these two people will work hand in hand for the rebirth of the Axumite Federated States. I call upon all concerned stakeholders to contribute their part to heal the wound and normalize relationships.

Tigray-Oromia Alliance

The Oromos and Tigryans have shared threats and opportunities and both would like to have autonomous administration and a decentralized and federated Ethiopia. The alliance between Oromos and Tigryans is strategic and a major stabilizing factor for the whole Ethiopia. As the Oromos shoulder the leadership responsibility to build a prosperous Ethiopia, support from Tigrayan’s is very crucial for their success.

TPLF and the Prosperity Party

The TPLF which was born from the womb of the Tigrayan people and The EPRDF which was born out of TPLF have prepared the first ground for the establishment of the Axumite Empire. The Prosperity Party (PP) which has been boron from the womb of EPRDF is expected to further build on the success of EPRDF and is expected to give birth to the Axumite Empire. I have no regret for. Dr. Abiy in dismantling EPRDF, as EPRDF has drifted from the vision and mission of those thousands of young TPLF/EPRDF martyrs and became beyond repair. The fact is EPRDF over-time developed its own maggots (opportunistic corrupted members) and they consumed it while it was alive and killed it. The challenge for Dr. Abiy is to transform PP to” zero corruption tolerant” party which is possible through time but requires recruiting committed change agents through careful screening and extreme vetting process.

 I understand that the current relationship between both parties is damaged due to the ever-widening mistrust developed between TPLF and Dr. Abiy, mainly due to failure in leading and managing the change process and interference by foreign actors. In anticipation of  this, I outlined my advice to both parties in my article published under  https://www.zehabesha.com/tplf-eprdf-the-past-and-the-future/ about a year and half ago. To my disappointment so far, the result has been disappointing! I still strongly advise these two parties to work out “Coexistence Agreement” that outlines the red-line that both parties should not cross against each other. Whether the next election is conducted on time or delayed, I expect Dr. Abiy to stay as leader of Ethiopia and he is always going to need the support of the TPLF. Any illusion from TPLF that Dr. Abiy will go soon or in similar way any illusion from Dr. Abiy’s side that TPLF will be rejected by the Tigray people and it is possible to create, like the post emperor Yohaness, weak Tigray is not going to happen. However, if both parties continue two work against each other and if there will be an intention by Dr. Abiy to change the existing constitution without the consent of TPLF,  it is possible that TPLF  will declare an independent Tigray which could be recognized by Eritrea and join Eritrea as an independent federal state which will ultimately result with the rebirth of the Axumite Empire. Tigray as the soul, spirit and heart of Ethiopia or as PM Dr. Abiy rightly said it “Tigray as the engine of Ethiopia” is the binding glue to sustain the integrity of Ethiopia and must be given the due respect, autonomy, and recognition.  Spiritually speaking PP is the grand child of TPLF and there should not be any reason for TPLF to go after the life of PP and PP must also give due respect for its grand father.

Shifting the center of gravity of geopolitics and economy from central Ethiopia to Tigray

Elites of Tigray are currently proposing various strategies to keep or further enhance Tigray’s autonomy and build a prosperous Tigray

  • An independent Tigray modelled after Israel (Mehari Yohannes, Mekelle University Lecturer)
  • A defacto State (Dr.  Mehari Taddele, I prominent Scholar)
  • Confederation with Ethiopia (Professor Medhane Tadesse Lecturer)
  • Democratized Strong Tigray as Part of Ethiopia (Nebiyu Suhul Michael   Mekelle University Lecturer)
  • Autonomous Tigray as part of Ethiopia/ If not possible Independent Tigray (Dr. General Teklebirhan)

In my view all the above options are possible, but we need to identify the most feasible and strategically rewarding path.

Without giving details on the critical assessment of each path, I recommend the following:

  • Tigray maintains its autonomy as Federal state of Ethiopia and retain its right for cessation whenever it wants. Tigray will act as a defacto state while staying part of Ethiopia.  I understand the concept of “Defacto State” as a state of mind where the Tigrayan government and its citizens act, both in day to day activity and in strategic terms, to build a self-sufficient Tigray. Tigray will ultimately become the political, economic and a technology center of Ethiopia. within the next 20 to 30 years.  Low abiding Tigray State stays armed and united to defend itself and have a MOSSAD like intelligence unit that safeguards Tigrayns and their interests both in Tigray and elsewhere.
  •  If the above is not possible establishment of Independent Tigray legally as per the existing constitution and get recognition by United Nations through the sponsorship of Eritrea. Create a Federation with Eritrea which will ultimately evolve as the Axumite Federal States by integrating additional willing states in the Horn of Africa.

The Role of the TPLF/Tigrayan government on the Rebirth of the Axumite Empire

  • Aggressively develop Tigray with the objective of shifting the center gravity of geopolitical, economic and technological development from center of Ethiopia to Tigray within the next 20 to 30 years.
    • Build a new pan Africa City, which will be the best green city in Africa, near to Axum that will be the capital city of Ethiopia and Africa. This city will be a metropolitan city in which all relgious are tolerated and accommodated to build their own worship and prayer place.
    • Continue to build Mekelle to be the best” black African built” city in Africa
    • Liberalize land ownership and allow land private owners (farmers or urban dwellers) to sell their land-based market value. The government shall be limited to sales tax collection and organizing and supporting the youth to invest on market based commercial farming and leading tourism development, mining and industrialization. The existing land policy has resulted in one corrupted monopoly land supplier (the government) that has been leasing land at an artificially high lease rate while providing very low compensation to the real owners of the land, the farmers. It has also encouraged farmers to stay, in their comfort zone, as life-time subsistence farmers with limited economic growth potential and vulnerable to famine
    •  Aggressively invest on mechanized and irrigated commercial farming, mining, tourism and industrialization and   promote migration of farmers and their families to cities and build mega cities throughout Tigray in each district. Target for 80 % all Tigray citizens to live in cities by the year 2050 and totally abolish subsistence farming.
    • Build corruption free effective and efficient “developmental state economic model”.
    • Encourage Tigryan investors to move/build their head offices to/in Tigray while building a business network through out Ethiopia and the region.
  • Build a democratic culture in Tigray.
    • Support the establishment of council of elders and all political parts (like the recent established forum of political parties) that develops code of conduct on how political parties operate in Tigray. Those political parties that violate the agreed code of conduct (divisive, hate based politics, sponsored by outsiders etc.))  must be banned. 
    • Conduct free and fair elections periodically.
    • Free media, individual rights, corruption free and efficient justice system
  • Quick wins on economic development- rapidly develop the mining and tourism sector to be a source of quick capital that could be invested on the industrialization of Tigray
    • Tourism potential
      • In coordination to the Tigrayan Orthodox church, display the original Ark of Covenant in a highly secured glass housing in the Mariam Tsion Church or in a different site, and promote it to the whole world to be visited. Assuming 5% of the about 9 million annual visitors of Vatican and Jerusalem will make pilgrimage to Axum annually to see the Ark and each tourist to stay in Axum and its environs three days and spend USD 100 per day, a revenue in a hard currency of USD 135,000,000 million per year could be generated in Tigray.
      • In coordination to the Tigray Muslims authorities, promote Negash as part of Mecca pilgrimage package as “Habesha Land 1st Hijhra tour”. Based on a historical data about 12 million Muslims visit Mecca every year. Assuming 5% of them will come to Tigray annually to visit Negash and each visitor will stay in Mekelle for two days and spend USD 50 per day, a revenue in hard currency of USD 120, 000000 in hard currency every year could be generated for Tigray. This requires starting a direct flight between Mekelle and Jedda which could be done in coordination to Ethiopian Airlines and Saudi Airlines.
      • Tigray is an “Open Museum” could generate hundreds of million dollars per year from the tourism sector if proper attention is given by all stakeholders (government, religious institutions, tour operators and Ethiopian Airlines). The Tigray state also could create a tour operator that drives the tourism sector.
    • Mining potential
      • Subject to feasibility study, organize thousands of unemployed youth by equipping (through leasing or long-term financing) with portable gold extraction mechanized tools, loaders, pumps and excavators and know how to extract minerals in an environmentally friendly and healthy manner such as gold, precious stones etc. Mesfin Engineering could be used to design and build portable mining equipment
  • Establish relationships with the various Agazian movements and provide support with the objective of bringing the Tigray-Tigrigna people to one shared vision on the rebirth of the Axumite Empire.

The Role of Spiritual Institutions

  • The Tigray Orthodox church
    • It is recommended that the Tigray Orthodox Church implements transformational changes based on the teachings off Aba Estifanos and become the model of change both for the Ethiopian Orthodox and Eritrea Orthodox Churches.
    • It is also recommended that the Ark of Covenant is displayed in a secured place. That is biblically the right thing to do and It also will make Tigray a center of global attention and a tourist hub.
  • The Tigray Muslim Authorities’
    • It is recommended that the Tigray Muslim authorities play the leadership role to promote Negash by involving Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia Muslim Authorities. It is possible to convince Ethiopian Airlines and Saudi Airlines to start direct regular flights between Mekelle and Jedda. Ethiopian Airlines could also make Mekelle its hub for Haji operations where all Haji travelers from Ethiopia/ Africa/world going to Mecca make one day or two days stay in Mekelle to visit Negash before or after travelling to Mecca.

God bless the people of Tigray-Tigrigna People and the Agazian Movement!

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