Crisis Group’s Unfettered Bias Against Tigrai
By Liul Kahhisay
Tigrai Online June 17, 2020
In its ill-informed briefing titled “Bridging the Divide in Ethiopia’s North” (Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°156, Nairobi/Addis Ababa/Brussels, 12 June 2020), the International Crisis Group has laid bare its woeful ignorance of the Ethiopian political and historical context and has unwittingly lent a hand to widening the divide in Ethiopia’s north. In fact, the briefing might as well have come from the sworn enemies of the people of Tigrai masquerading as independent analysts.
The International Crisis Group’s briefing starts, among other things, by referring to Tigrai as “politically isolated” as if Tigrai was a pariah state unwilling to abide by the rule of law, instead of mentioning the federal government’s hell-bent role in isolating Tigrai. The fact of the matter is that the federal roads that connect Tigrai with the rest of Ethiopia have been closed for more than two years; the genocidal campaigns against Tigraians on all forms of mass media owned by the government as well as private media is still ongoing in one form or another; justice has not been served with respect to the killings of Tigraians including the high-profile killings of General Seare Mekonnen and Major General Gizae Aberra; tens of thousands of Tigraians that were displaced from the Amhara region because they were Tigraians have not been allowed to return or given compensation; the federal government still intimidates Tigraian business people, Tigraian public servants, and domestic and foreign investors who would like to invest in Tigrai, and threatens to cut power and telecommunications lines to Tigrai as well as air transport, budgetary funds, and other socioeconomic links.
The Amhara security forces genocidal campaigns against the Qimant minority people, who reside in Amhara, and who suffered deaths in the hundreds and displacement in the thousands, was mentioned but only in as far as the perpetrators were absolved of their crime by immediately mentioning the allegations that the TPLF, the ruling party in Tigrai, was behind the Qimant’s demand for zonal self-administration. Regardless of the veracity of the allegation against TPLF, the implication is that, it is acceptable to kill a people as long as their desire for self-administration at the zonal level was inspired by people from outside of Amhara. While the report repeatedly names the TPLF and unquestioningly lays all alleged wrongdoings at its feet, it doesn’t name the party that rules the Amhara region under who’s watch so many genocides have happened (some say under its direct involvement), late alone to lay any responsibility at its feet for all the bloodshed against and displacement of the Qimant and Tigraians who lived in the region for generations.
Shamelessly, the briefing reports Abiy’s warmongering on Tigrai in such generous words that took the blame away from him and squarely placed it in Tigrai’s feet. The report states, “The possibility of conflict increased in May with the TPLF’s claim that it may hold its own regional elections, which earned a warning from Abiy...” More shockingly, Crisis Group edited out Abiy’s hateful words that “mothers will cry, children will die, and houses will burn” and instead reported only the following more humane sounding statement: “Therefore, the government will be forced to take any measures to assure the safety of the people and the country.” It is to be remembered that Abiy Ahmed had said a year ago in his town hall meeting in Axum that elections were not mandatory and there were “countries that didn’t hold elections for 20, 30 years,” which showed his intention to indefinitely stay in power, but was not included in the briefing. Similarly, his repeated telling of his mother’s prophecy that he would “become the seventh king of Ethiopia,” the fulfillment of which would require not holding elections, lest he lost, was not included in the briefing.
The glaring errors of the report are indicative of the poor analysis on which the briefing was based and the damage it is destined to make against the Ethiopian fabric. For example, the briefing states that “Amhara and Tigray regions experienced major upheaval when protests swept the country from 2015 onward…” However, as far as Tigrai is concerned, nothing could be farther from the truth since there was absolutely no upheaval of any kind in Tigrai – a fact that can be corroborated by any means. The Crisis Group’s briefing further states, “In 2018, Amhara and Oromo ruling coalition members outmanoeuvred Tigrayans to hand the prime minister’s post to the new leader of Oromia’s regional party, Abiy Ahmed,” which is also false. TPLF had already stated that it wouldn’t nominate its leader Dr. Debretsion Gebremichael for the premiership because a decision was made by the TPLF central committee that others should take the opportunity.
Crisis Group’s statement that “the country gears up for elections, now slated for 2021” clearly indicvates that the elections are going to occur in 2021. Unless they have received this confirmation secretly from the now parvenu dictator Abiy Ahmed, neither the Government nor the Election board has provided this information publicly. What the House of Federation has decided was for elections to be held within 9 months of removing the Covid-19 health risk. For all we know, the election can be held five or ten years from now depending on when the risks will be alleviated. Clearly, Crisis Group is trivializing the government’s illegal decision to postpone the elections.
The Rapprochement with Eritrea Aimed at Attacking Tigrai
The Crisis Group’s blind trust of Abiy’s rhetoric and its mistrust of anything Tigraian is further clearly manifested in the following statement from the briefing: “The frosty relationship between the TPLF and Abiy has also put on ice the prime minister’s high-profile 2018 peace deal with Eritrea, which shares a long border with Tigray, whose elites are hostile to President Isaias Afwerki.” It is almost impossible to think of a more biased stance against Tigrai. Firstly, Isaias Afwerki is not Adolf Hitler only because he doesn’t have the resources that Hitler had, but in everything else is just as evil. Therefore, Crisis Group’s statement is tantamount to, say, accusing Czechoslovakian elites of being hostile to Adolf Hitler before he invaded their country. Not only has Isaias Afwerki killed Eritreans dream of freedom and isolated the country from the rest of the world, but he also has caused unthinkable suffering to the people of Eritrea. Isaias has caused the world’s largest mass exodos in peacetime of the century (in proportion to the country’s population), in addition to killing or indefinitely imprisoning anyone who dared to oppose him. Eritrea has no free press, no political or social organization other than the ruling party, no university (it closed the only university it inherited from Ethiopia), no elections, and most importantly no constitution! The county doesn’t even publish its budget and therefore there is no accountability of any kind. President Isaias Afwerki has been ruling Eritrea in his one-man-show capacity since Eritrea’s de facto independence in 1991 and there are no plans to hold elections or to open the political space. In short, Isaias Afwerki is Eritrea and Eritrea is Isaias Afwerki. Isaias had fought with each of Eritrea’s neighbors, except with Saudi Arabia, since he came to power – that is a total of 4 out of 5 countries! He keeps a large standing army by forceful conscription, draining the country’s already meager resources, abusing its citizens, especially female conscripts, many of whom serve as sex slaves for the army generals, in addition to the inhuman conditions under which conscripts are treated as verified by deserters. Tigrai already shelters hundreds of thousands of Eritrean refugees, which was a generous policy that was in place since the premiership of Meles Zenawi, but has now been scrapped by Abiy Ahmed under the direct instruction of Isaias Afwerki.
Secondly, and most importantly, Isaias Afwerki is a sworn enemy of the people Tigrai and their government, whom he has repeatedly threatened to attack. The Crisis Group’s briefing as if casually states that Issaias Afeworki “has publicly sided with Abiy, blamed Ethiopia’s internal conflicts on the Tigray party and pointedly criticised ethnic federalism, the system the TPLF was key to instituting.” The Ethiopian federalism is a federalism of nations that all Ethiopian nations dearly value and is not to be belittled as a federalism of ethnicity. Regardless, on which planet is a foreign leader allowed to publicly attack the constituency of another country while being a guest of that country? Doesn’t this give Crisis Group a sign of a grave concern when leaders of two of Africa’s most powerful military powers, i.e. Ethiopia and Eritrea, conspire to attack a tiny regional state called Tigrai? Abiy never admonished President Isaias Afwerki for his threat last year to destroy the Tigrai regional government, which had it happened between any two other countries would have caused a great diplomatic rift or military confrontation.
However, Crisis Group has conveniently omitted this matter, because it doesn’t fit their narrative that Abiy is a peace maker and Isaias Afwerki is now suddenly an angel of peace and cooperation. The truth is that both Abiy and Issaias need each other only because they consider Tigrai their common enemy and the western media is falling for their deceptive narratives. Why else would anyone want to be a close friend and confidant of Isaias Afwerki, the leader of the most murderous regime in Africa? Abiy emulates Isaias Afwerki not just in his hatred towards the hardworking people of Tigrai, but also in his lust for power, canceling elections, and killing innocent citizens directly taken from Isaias Afwerki’s play book as evidenced in the recent Amnesty International report for human rights in Ethiopia.
There Are No Disputed Territories
The Crisis Group’s bias against Tigrai is further shown in referring to Tigraian lands as “disputed territory.” There is no territory that has been legally challenged so how can Crisis Group decide what is disputed territory when there are no contestants? The Ethiopian constitution has done away with boundaries that amputated individual nations (or ethnic groups as some might call them) and that shifted by the whims of despots like Emperor Haile Selassie. Today, the boundaries in Ethiopia are as natural as they can come, save for minor irregularities, because they follow linguistic and nation boundaries. In accordance with the Ethiopian constitution, if there is a people who wants to form their own administration, they can do so by bringing a request to the regional assembly, or if they want to leave the region, as Sidama in the Southern Region did recently, the matter would be referred to the House of Federation. No such request has come from any constituency in Tigrai to date, and in particular as far as any land claims Amhara may have.
The Amhara irredentist claim is primarily warmongering and secondarily imperialist or expansionist, and fundamentally fails to take into consideration (a) the fact that the lands they are claiming are lands that were severed from Tigrai and gifted to the then Begemedir/Gonder and Wollo provinces by previous governments, Haile Selassie in particular, in order to weaken Tigrai and as punishment for its first attempt at a revolution after WWII, and (b) that all regions, including Amhara, were formed following linguistic areas swallowing most of Gonder, Gojam, Wello and Showa; otherwise, Tigrai also would have a historical claim to large areas within Gonder and Wollo, who have overtime become Amharanized. The peoples representatives, who reviewed, debated, revised, and adopted the Ethiopian constitution in 1995 did not have any issues with the regional boundaries (save for delineation and other minor issues). The Amhara revisionists claims are not only foreign to the constitution but are fundamentally in opposition to the principle of the constitution. The boundaries commission is illegal because it aims to bypass the constitutionally established process, masquerading as an independent institution even though its sole aim is to grab land from Tigrai and is wholly orchestrated by Amhara extremists and their ideological sympathizers (read followers of forced Unitarianism) in order to weaken Tigrai and eventually do away with federalism. Needless to say, no power on earth can take away the people’s rights – neither Amhara nor the federal government nor any other.
Accusing the Victim – the Amhara Politicians’ Favorite Game
The document barely mentions the fact that Amhara criminals like Brigadier General Asaminew Tsige, Brigadier General Tefera Mamo, and Colonel Demeke Zewdu were in federal prison for high crimes, later were illegally pardoned, and then scooped up by the Amhara Region to lead its security forces. It is well known that these criminals either gained notoriety and thus public support in Amhara by stocking ethnic bias against Tigraians, which the Amhara consider as their only rivals. As it is obvious in the document, it was the Amhara leadership who appointed Asaminew Tsige (the criminal who, in a previous life, was sentenced to life in prison for an attempted coup) to oversee the Amhara special forces. Amhara chose this man for the only reason that he openly hated Tigrai and called for genocide. The fact that he killed the Amhara president in an attempted regional coup (a second coup attempt by him, if you can believe it) was only because he found the president to be not as hateful or extremist as he was. That was why he thought that he had to be eliminated. For Crisis Group to write that the Amhara blame Tigrai for orchestrating the assassination of the Amhara president is willful bias against Tigrai, written to make it look like that each side blame each other therefore there is a balanced reporting. Demeke Zewdu is the other criminal who is considered a hero in Amhara. He was pardoned by the federal government even though he cold-bloodily shot and killed 8 police officers for attempting to arrest him. Regardless of whether or not he had committed any crime that mandated his arrest, which country would pardon a man who killed so many people. Not only was this man pardoned, but he has been hailed as a hero by the Amhara Region only because he has unfettered hatred towards Tigrai and its people. He has been appointed as the leader of a commission that tries to get lands snatched from Tigrai. The people who live on those lands neither know this man nor would they want to leave their nation, Tigrai.
Shocking as it is, Crisis Group further states “Tigray elites extol their regional security forces’ prowess as well as their loyalists’ clout in the federal army, sowing further suspicion and acrimony among Amhara politicians.” When are the Amhara ever to be held responsible for their crimes? This is an unwarranted bias against and a deliberate attack on the people and leaders of Tigrai. First of all, it was Asaminew Tsige, who was pardoned and later appointed to high office by the Amhara who planed and coordinated the simultaneous assassinations of the country’s military chief of staff, General Seare Mekonnen (who hailed from Tigrai but was not even named in the report despite his high-level profile) and the regional president Ambachew Makonnen (who, although an Amhara, was said to be moderate and therefore appeared to be sympathetic to Tigrai). Secondly, and most tellingly, not only have the killers of the General Seare not been brought to justice more than a year into the crime, but also he was replaced by an Amhara general. How is it morally and legally acceptable to kill the country’s military chief of staff by an assassin coordinated by an Amhara head of special police (who was appointed specifically because he hated Tigraians) and then appoint an Amhara general in his place? A responsible thing to do was to appoint another Tigraian general even if it is to heal the deep wound created in Tigrai because of such a shocking loss. To add insult to pain, Crisis Group is beating the same drum of accusing the victim that the extremist Amhara elites are beating.
Prosperity Party – An Illegal Party Illegally Extending Its Own Tenure
The fact that the Prosperity Party was formed by illegal merger of the constituent parts is not a secret since it can be verified by reviewing the constitution of each party, which required the general assembly to decide on matters as important as mergers. The merger between the three parties happened without consulting the general assembly. Moreover, the government should have been desolved and a new election held as soon as the merger happened since they immediately became a new party with new policies. A responsible report would have considered these facts instead of making it look like as if TPLF and ‘Tigraian elite’ didn’t like the merger for trivial or selfish reasons.
When Abiy Ahmed says that Tigrai could face economic sanctions unless it bend’s to his whims, Crisis Group conveniently reports it as Abiy “may have” said it, showing that only information from sources opposing Tigrai is taken as credible and therefore reported as is (“Reports that the prime minister may have told a meeting of Tigrayan businessmen in December 2019 that the region could face economic sanctions…”).
For all we know, Crisis Group may be hired by western interest groups to plant their neoliberal policies in Ethiopia as they have not hidden their bias against Tigrai and the TPLF, staunch enemies of neoliberalism. Crisis Group’s use of statements like “The TPLF is likely to maintain its uncooperative stance” might as well have come directly from Abiy Ahmed and his enablers from the Amhara region who aspire to create a forced unitarian state not unlike those tried by Mengstu Haile Mariam’s fascist Derig regime and Emperor Haile Selassie’s backward feudal system pressed in the neck by the Nefitxenyas.
Just to remind Crisis Group of their unfettered bias against Tigrai, it is should be said that upholding the constitution and holding elections at the required timetable is not only the right thing to do, it is also a fundamental right of the people which cannot be taken away by any force on earth. How about telling Abiy to hold elections in Ethiopia so he can avoid the disintegration of the country? Does Crisis Group still think that Tigrai is still uncooperative? What a willful blindness to the truth! If Tigrai becomes a de facto state as a result of the federal government’s uncooperative stance, the terms of the negotiations with them will be radically different.
In another example of Crisis Groups extreme bias against Tigrai, the briefing states “Meanwhile, adding to Tigrayan fears of encirclement, Amhara protesters have blocked roads leading south from Tigray to Amhara since at least 2018,” making light of the matte and effectively absolving the Amhara and federal governments of conspiracy to chock Tigrai. This is in addition to the closing of the Tigraian-Eritrean boarder, the opening of which was the basis for Abiy Ahmed’s undeserved but Western sponsored award of the Nobel peace prize. The attack on the people of Tigrai is a three-pronged attack and the three governments have tried everything they possibly can to break the Tigraian resolve. It is in effect a declaration of war. It is sad that Crisis Group is adding to the attack on the people of Tigrai rather than relieving it.
Crisis Group – Prosperity Party’s Mouthpiece
The more one reads in the briefing, one finds that Crisis Group doesn’t even try to hide their bias against Tigrai. It’s as if they are Prosperity Party’s mouthpiece (for that matter, shamefully, there is no criticism of the Prosperity Party in the document, despite the displacement of 2 million people, the horrendous human rights abuses and daily extrajudicial killings in Oromia and other parts of the country). For example, the document states, “The TPLF – as the founder and preeminent party in the EPRDF throughout its quarter-century in power – could apologise for its officials’ role in overseeing past repression and pledge to cooperate in both the political transition and the Eritrea peace process.” Let’s consider first things first. The TPLF did apologize for their mistakes in governance and lack of progress in democratic areas. They did this after going through a 35-day internal debate and determined to make a radical change. The other members of the then Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), namely the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), Amhara People’s Democratic Movement (APDM), and the Southern Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement (SEPDM), also decided to hold similar meetings to find out their weaknesses and work to improve on them. In the press briefing they held together, each of them apologized for the problems they caused the Ethiopian peoples especially due to poor governance and the narrowing of the democratic space. Most of the decisions that were made to release prisoners and widen the democratic space were made during these meetings and long before Abiy came into the picture.
The narrative that TPLF must take all the blame and the other parties must take all the credit came when the other parties realized after Abiy Ahmed became the prime minister they couldn’t hide from the public. They now had to blame the TPLF for all abuses that happened in their respective regions even though they were 100% in control of their regions. This has been attested by many members of the opposition, such as Mr. Bekele Gerba, who were previously in jail and later testified that they were abused by their respective local administrators. It is logical that the other parties would blame the TPLF in order to escape from having to pay for their crimes. It is telling that none of the other parties have ever taken any responsibility for any wrongdoing since Abiy came to power.
Even as it concludes, the briefing shows the Crisis Group’s unflinching bias against Tigrai by stating that the “TPLF continues to defy central authority,” apparently being oblivious to the Ethiopian constitution and the requirement to hold elections every five years as well as the fact that it is the regions that formed the federal government and not vice versa. Tellingly, nowhere is such criticism applied either to the Amhara government or to the federal government, who have, in defiance of national and international laws, blockaded Tigrai and are determined to stay in power beyond their constitutional term limits.