In Memoriam: Seyoum Mesfin, Ethiopian Peacemaker and Patriot
Tigrai Online Jan. 16, 2021
This was published on the World Peace Foundation
Seyoum Mesfin, who was killed in Tigray this week at the age of 71, was Ethiopia’s longest-serving foreign minister. His untimely death robs Ethiopia of a man who exemplified the country’s tradition of enlightened and progressive patriotism. Under other circumstances we would expect a national day of mourning and a state funeral, including national and international recognition of Seyoum’s exceptional contribution to the norms, principles and practices of peace in Africa.
As a radical student activist, Seyoum was one of the founders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in 1975. Like many of his generation, he was an avid debater of different revolutionary ideas, and was one of the first to articulate the agenda of self-determination for the diverse nations, nationalities and peoples within the Ethiopian empire. He was appointed as head of foreign relations for the TPLF and became well-known internationally as the face of the Tigrayan struggle. I first met him in 1988, travelling within the TPLF-held areas of the country, and recall well the vigorous discussions we had about the challenges of the revolution and what should be their agenda when they took power. One of the things that most struck me about Seyoum was his lack of any personal bitterness towards the members of the military regime that was, at that time, waging unlimited war against the people of Tigray. The leaders of the Dergue, he assured me, would face justice.
Three years later, when he was in the Foreign Minister’s office in Addis Ababa as a leader of the transitional EPRDF government, he reminded me of this promise, and sent me to visit the Dergue leaders. They were all detained in a university dormitory, with just two guards on the gate—to deter angry citizens from breaking in and attacking them. General Legesse Asfaw, who had ordered the most murderous aerial assault of the war when fighter jets bombed the market town of Hausien and killed about 1800 civilians, was kept in a special room for his own protection. The TPLF could easily have executed him. But for Seyoum and his comrades, ‘revolutionary justice’ meant a transformation in the practice of killing your defeated enemies.