No More in Our Backyard! The People of Tigrai Forgive but Don’t Forget

By a Group of Concerned Intellectuals from Tigrai
May 19 2010

Electability is one of the major factors political candidates examine before throwing their hat in the ring. The electability factor could mean weighing in on a geographic location; the demographics of voters; the political leanings and the voting history of an electoral district as well as the popularity of the potential candidate in a given constituency. With that in mind, famous politicians, commonly known as ‘star candidates’, are typically ‘parachuted’ to an electoral district that is projected to be a safe win.

For instance, the Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP) leader, Ato Lidetu Ayalew, decided to give up his current seat in Addis Ababa for another in the Amhara Region. Ato Lidetu can give all political spin he wants when it comes to the logic behind his decision, but it’s a public knowledge that the EDP leader’s choice was entirely based on the electability factor. Indeed, fairly or unfairly, Ato Lidetu’s image has been tarnished since the last election, mostly in our country’s capital, thus for his calculated decision, which critics accuse is a political retreat to a safer seat in his area of birth.

As well, one of the Medrek Party’s ‘star candidates’, Dr. Negasso Gidada, is abandoning his seat in the Oromia Region, which he carried as an independent candidate in 2005. Dr. Negasso is obviously doing the reverse, leaving an electoral district in his place of birth for another in the country’s capital, but for quite the same reason. It’s plausible that Dr. Negasso is convinced that joining the Medrek Party has significantly reduced his electability in his old constituency, thus his decision to search for a greener political pasture.

This leads us to ask, what were the electability strategies of Mr. Gebru Asrat and his Arena Party comrades when they formed a Tigrai Region based party? A related and an equally important question, what was Mr. Siye Abraha thinking when he made the decision to run for a political office in Tigrai? In fact, it was widely reported that, as another Medrek ‘star candidate’, Siye was offered an electoral district in Addis Ababa, but refused to take it making his determination to run in Tigrai abundantly clear.

Truth be told, it’s not that Gebru and Siye are unaware of their un-electability in Tigrai. During Gebru’s reign as Regional President, Tigrai became a victim of ‘arrested development.’ While enemies of the region and opponents of Ethiopia’s federal system relentlessly accused Tigrai of getting a special treatment, the irony was that the region was the most abandoned and underdeveloped.

Nepotism, cronyism and political favoritism became rampant. Intimidation of critics, political vindication and vilification, unlawful harassment and arbitrary arrests of opponents became a great concern to the point that the people of Tigrai began to ask the legitimate question, i.e. Is this what our sons and daughters had fought and died for?

Inevitably, the public outcry for action necessitated and led to a political reform. However, instead of embracing change, and embarking upon a course of action, advocates of the status quo strongly resisted; fought the reform with all their might and only retreated to their trenches under defeat. Meanwhile, as a group who had become a new political class; totally detached from the reality on the ground and who came to view the people of Tigrai as their loyal subjects, the elites were under the illusion that the people were on their side.

As a result, they made the mother of all political blunders when they put their hopes high that the masses will rise in their defense. And, by the time they realized that the opposite was the case, it was just too late. As for the people of Tigrai, they were relieved that the politically bankrupt and ethically insolvent anti-reform elites were off their back for good.

Subsequently, thanks to the political, economic and social reforms that have been undertaken by the federal as well as the regional governments, Tigrai, similar to its sister regions in the federation, has surely become a partaker of the new development endeavours carried out by the developmental state. Roads, hospitals, clinics, schools, a hydroelectric power plant, to name a few, have been built. Private business has flourished and investors have turned their eye on Tigrai as a region with great potential for investment. The people of Tigrai finally began to enjoy the fruits of democracy their brave sons and daughters and brothers and sisters have fought for.

Now back to the big question, with such a shameful political record and a reprehensive individual and group history, what motivated the Arena gang and Siye of Medrek to run for office in Tigrai? They obviously are not that naïve to truly believe that victory will be theirs. Truth is, it doesn’t take a political analyst to make an informed assumption that they simply are – excuse the term – political party poopers whose only goal is to create a crisis by crying foul and playing the victim card, which they already began doing from the very start.

Siye’s infamous prediction that he and Gebru are going to win come hell or high water and that, in fact, if they don’t, it would only mean that the election results must have been tampered with is more of a self-created crisis warning strategy than his trademark arrogance. Indeed, this is part and parcel of his well thought-out yet wicked hidden agenda.

This, of course, will not come as news to Ethiopians in general and the people of Tigrai in particular, but Siye’s own and his family’s name has become synonymous with political corruption and greed of unparalleled proportions. A family that was hardly known for its business background, inheritance, a lottery jackpot winnings or any other legitimate wealth, became a mover and shaker in nearly all major business aspects of the country. In fact, Siye and his family could make a great political science or public administration case study under the title, “Ethiopia’s short-lived political oligarchy”.

Quite deliberately, Siye is misleading the uninformed into believing the fact that he was born and raised in the very electoral district makes him the frontrunner. But the fact is, Mengistu Hailemariam, Fesseha Desta and Legesse Asfaw did not come from an outer space either. Like all of us, they were born, raised and educated in the same country and fought against the monarchy rule. However, it’s not by their place of birth, upbringing or past credentials that we judge them, but rather by the political choices that they made and actions they took while in power. And we believe the same rule applies to Siye, Gebru and their – to use the common English term – partners in crime.

Unfortunately, the politicians of yesteryears are making the same mistake twice. How in the world do they think that the people of Tigrai, who rejected them for choosing a destructive path, are going to accept them as they make their political comeback unrepented and unreformed? In fact, the political sequel written, produced and directed by Siye, Gebru and associates is worse than the original, as they now have publicly and deliberately made the choice to join forces with those who were propagating anti Tigrai stance in 2005.

Only Tigraians who lived in Addis Ababa and other parts of our country can relate to the cloud of fear and uncertainty they were subjected to five years ago, while the people of Tigrai will remember the sinking feeling of sadness and letdown they helplessly witnessed from a distance as a chain of dangerous political events unfolded. Nonetheless, by the grace of God, the wisdom of governments at all levels, the active involvement of faith leaders and community elders and, last but most certainly not least, the decency of the Ethiopian people the worst was averted.

There is a slogan holocaust survivors quite understandably use, “we forgive, but not forget!” Well, although thank goodness that the unthinkable horror was avoided, we say the same thing to the instigators of the original hate and their new political agents in our midst that have changed their tactics but not their mission. That said, Tigraians certainly don’t wish their tolerance and patience to be mistaken for political naiveté or weakness.

In our daily walks of lives – respective families, workplaces, professional connections, social circles and places of worship – we hear the same complaint that people can no longer stand the on your face dirty political tricks that are being orchestrated by Siye and Gebru’s Arena. Moreover, Tigraians are concerned that the colour revolutionaries who in 2005 miserably failed in their attempt to overthrow the democratically elected Ethiopian government through unconstitutional and violent means are all set to take their 2010 street show to Tigrai.

Medrek Party leaders, including Engineer Gizachew Shiferaw, Dr. Merera Gudina, Dr. Negasso Gidada and Mr. Siye Abraha have publicly claimed and their messengers in the private press have been echoing the same prediction that Tigrai is their final frontier. They have been telling us in no uncertain terms that Tigrai is going to be the battleground. We wish by that they meant the healthy race to polling stations with the finish line at the ballot box. But their cynical actions tend to speak otherwise.

They have attempted to manipulate an accidental death of their candidate into something political. They continue to make claims of violence when none occurred. What is worse, in an era when the Ethiopian government and Ethiopians from every geographic location and ethnic background are proudly claiming, “our diversity is our pride”, Siye, Gebru and associates are preaching a message of divisiveness where none exists. Not just the national but the international media is being fed the misinformation that Tigrai is a victim of villagism or Awrajawinet, while the truth is that this only exists in the political opportunists’ twisted minds.

To draw a very simple example, the seventeen academics in this group come from every corner of Tigrai – East, West, North, South and Central – and we are speaking in one voice. In fact, in our several discussions, we have grappled with the question as to what went wrong with Siye, Gebru and their comrades. After all, they are not the only ones who have been expelled from the Tigrai People Revolutionary Front’s membership.

In fact, over the years, prominent TPLF leaders have gone their separate ways, but Siye and Gebru standout as former leaders who speak ill about the struggle they fought and their brother and sisters died for, and turn against their own people. Indeed, they are the only Tigraians who feel that Tigrai hasn’t had enough conflict and violence in its soil. Thus, in our view, it’s not political analysis but rather psychoanalysis that can trace their deep-rooted problem and perhaps identify the cure.

In the mean time, there is a brewing public anger over the provoking actions of Siye, Gebru and Arena. The people of Tigrai’s patience is wearing thin, and they are showing it in their random Anti Siye and Anti Arena demonstrations taking place in various cities and towns. In fact, were it not for the politically conscious regional and local governments that are fully committed to the free and democratic process of the current election and asking for calm, there will be more public protest and a call for action to denounce the most hated politicians in the region.

The injustice, however, is that, while this is the fact on the ground, Siye, Gebru, et al. attempt to paint a different, favourable picture of themselves, and they undoubtedly are hell-bent to cry foul dare we say not ‘if’ but when they lose the election in a region where they are despised. This, in fact, is what motivated us to write this particular letter. And the fact that we are writing it in English is indicative that our primary intended audience is not the people of Tigrai, as everything that is written here would not come as news to them, after all.

It’s a well known fact that, more than the country’s faith leaders and community elders, Siye, Gebru and their comrades have the tendency to listen to foreign diplomats. Hence, we strongly believe that, first and foremost, their advisors in respective embassies and international institutions should be aware of the political reality in Tigrai. Never mind a battleground, Tigrai is not a ballot-ground for the simple reason that the contenders happen to be the same old pretenders to the throne the people of Tigrai have lost their respect for and no longer trust. With that knowledge, when the inevitable occurs, the diplomats can tell the political rebels without cause not to make too much of a noise as victory was never theirs in the first place.