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Reversing History: Eritrea’s form of colonialism progressing in Tigray (Ethiopia) in the 21st Century

By Desta, Asayehgn, Sarlo Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Development
Tigrai Online Feb. 13, 2021


Since its defeat of Italian colonialists at the Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896, Ethiopia has remained the steward of future hope, arousing passion against colonial aggression. The Battle of Adwa still resonates as a symbol of the possibility of future emancipation from foreign domination or hegemony.   

Instead of envisioning the Battle of Adwa as an emblematic representation, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy, in the 21st Century, has unashamedly invited a foreign country, Eritrea, to invade his subjects living in Tigray because the regional leaders of Tigray, have applied for self-determination and self-rule as shrined in the 1994 Ethiopian constitution.  

Instead of putting the interest of the 2.7 million electorate who have democratically elected their regional leaders in Tigray, Abiy blames, the Tigray Election Board, saying they crossed the red line by implementing the part of Ethiopia’s 1994 Constitution that allowed the Tigrayans to elect their leaders. Abiy, using “law enforcement operations,” has launched an overt genocidal war against the people of Tigray.

More concretely, being an apostle of external foreign governments, Abiy has teamed up with the most hideous human rights violator, Eritrea’s President Isaias Afework, extremist Amhara militias, the genocidal Fano youth squad, United Arabia Emirates’ (UAE) drones, and Somalia fighters, and embarked on a full blown preemptive strike to overthrow Tigray’s elected government from power.  The war on Tigray has not only precipitated humanitarian, environmental, and ecological damages, but also has made part of Tigray a colony of Isaias’ Eritrean forces.      

To put it in historical perspective, Abiy’s desire to penalize Tigray and the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) did not start all of a sudden.  Actually, it commenced when Abiy knew that the Tigrayan members of the Federal Politburo were in opposition to his candidacy for the chairmanship of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) because they endorsed another candidate. Gradually, when Abiy became Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, as vengeance, he started undertaking economic sabotages to crack down on the administrative region of Tigray, and started retiring a number of the TPLF leaders from federal positions.  


 Abiy also, secretly established a tri-partite strategic alliance with “subnational” forces (Amhara extremists and the young Fano perpetrators) and  Eritrea’s President, Isaias to: 1) dismember Tigray’s domain and help the Amharas cross their boundaries and incorporate Tigray’s districts of Welkatie, Humara, Tsegade, and Raya;  2) wipe out the Tigray People’s Liberation Front from power;  3) sandwich the administrative region of Tigray; 4) destroy Tigray’s developmental structures, including higher educational and health institutions; 5) exterminate many of Tigray’s historical sites and ravage UNESCO-declared world heritages sites in Tigray, 6) starve the people of Tigray by burning their farm areas; and 7) block the people of Tigray from accessing food products, water, electricity, internet, bank services, etc.  

To serve his own agenda, Abiy exclusively enticed the Amhara extremists by subscribing to the Amharas’ illusionary idea that the TPLF is “enemy number one” to the Amhara people (Ghebrehiwet 29, January 2021)  ̶  they falsely think that the TPLF-led EPRDF used ethnic chauvinism or a “divide-and-rule strategy” (Abiy, Feb 6, 2021) to scaffold and disfranchise the Amharas from power.   

After Abiy became the Prime Minister of Ethiopia’s Federal System, he never cared to restrain the Amharas when they blocked the interstate highways that led to the Tigray region. To the delight of the extremist Amharas militias and the Fano youth genocidal group, Abiy falsely promised to them that, unlike the EPRDF’s ethnic federalism, his political party, the Prosperity Party, will establish a united centralized form of government (See Abiy, Feb 6, 2021).  

The specters that Abiy was trying to create might seem to be very traumatizing. Nonetheless, the way Abiy described Isaias as”…a great leader who genuinely seeks and works for peace in the neighborhood” (Ghebrehiwet 29, January 2021) will haunt and destroy his legacy.

As the ancient proverb goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, Abiy chose to describe Isaias as his reliable confidante because when Abiy worked as a double-agent for both Isaias and the Ethiopian Government, he knew that Isaias had an endured deep enmity against the TPLF that led Ethiopia’s armed forces to create havoc and finally decimate Eritrea’s military force in the 1998-2000.


In other words, Abiy knew that Isaias had been craving to dismantle Ethiopia to pieces (De Wall, 15 November 2020). That being Isaias’s attitude, Abiy decided to give carte blanche to Eritrea’s President Isaias and his party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), so that Isaias could use the war against Tigray as a vehicle necessary to pay retribution for the defeat of the Eritrean forces and show to his supporters that he is a very decisive leader.

That is why Isaias’ armed forces have been involved in looting, raping underage girls and women, burning farmlands, and devastating industries and developmental infrastructures. In addition, violating international law, Isaias’ force have been not only attacking but also forcefully transporting some refugees back to Eritrea. As narrated by Ghebrehiwet (29, January 2021), the remaining Eritrean refugees in Tigray are undergoing all kinds of traumas, such as: “…starvation, disease, torture, killings, separation, exhaustion, and terror.”  

Finally, as part of their colonization process, the Eritrean forces in Tigray are hoisting the Eritrean flag, and, giving Eritrean identification cards, and the residents of some districts occupied by the Eritrean forces are subjected to pay taxes to the Eritrean Government.  

As mentioned above, UAE drones (deployed with several Wing Loong II unmanned combat aerial vehicles acquired from China) stationed in the Port of Assab’s airport (Eritrea) to support the military operations in Yemen and Libya are currently being used against Tigray. This has resulted in horrendous damage to tanks, howitzers (long-range weapons), fuel tanks, ammunition, and hunt vehicles, as well as targeting of TPLF’s leaders (Mulugeta Gebrehiwet and Alex de Waal, 27 January 2021).

Similar to in Yemen and Libya, the UAE drones are ravaging Tigray. Until a full- fledged case is filed with the International Commission in the Hague, does it not seem obvious for the United Nations Security Council, the International Commission on Human Rights, the European Union, and the United States, etc., to openly condemn the United Arab Emirates’ government for its inhuman act?  

Despite denial by the Somali Government, it’s no secret that Eritrea has been training Somali troops. As reported by Sperber (20 January 2012) and Somali parents, the Eritrean-trained Somali soldiers have been moved from military training camps in Eritrea to accompany the Eritrean troops that are ravaging  Tigray. Given the genocidal acts by Somali’s on Tigray, the United Nations needs to uphold its obligations under international law to take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of Tigrayans from being severely abused by the foreign Somali  perpetrators.  

More recently, Sudan has been fighting Ethiopia claiming that Abiy has promised that the disputed land bordering between the Sudan and Ethiopia will be given back to the Sudan. Based on credible leaked information, a number of Amhara political parties feel that Abiy’s promise to the Sudan is not genuinely, ahistorical, and Abiy should have brought it up for decision by the Ethiopian House of People’s Representatives.


Concerned about Abiy’s indecisiveness to resolving the ongoing fighting in the BeniShangul-Gumuz region, some Amhara Parties are seriously considering disassociating themselves from Abiy’s Prosperity Party.  

More importantly, many Ethiopians are disgusted, because they rightly feel that Abiy has made Ethiopia subservient and dependent on Eritrea and other foreign powers to protect his selfish interest. As a vivid example, they mention how Abiy did not care much about Ethiopia’s sovereignty when the Eritrean refugees in Tigray were antagonistically attacked by Isaias’ forces.   

The involvement and atrocities committed by the Eritrean and other external forces in Ethiopia’s domestic affairs have been beyond reason and are very traumatizing. Given that Abiy neither has the stamina to ask Isaias to leave Tigray nor would the brutal-natured Isaias have the humility to follow United States’ advice, it is high time that the international community interject their power to kick out Isaias’ forces from Tigray and bestow a humanitarian resolution to the horrible genocide that has occurred against Tigaraus.  

On top of the economic crisis with high unemployment, double-digit inflation, and government debt that Ethiopia is facing, a prolonged fight between the highly disciplined Tigrayan armed forces and Abiy’s team is inevitably dwindling.  

Ethiopia’s administrative regions are becoming disgusted with Abiy’s government and the Prosperity Party is running out of steam. Given this, the current war between Abiy’s governmental forces and the Tigray fighters is likely to spread to other administrative regions, because most of the regions are fully armed with the special massive militia forces that they have accumulated over the years (Tilahun (21 January 2021). The choice left for Ethiopia is: the administrative regions could form a perpetual confederacy of intergovernmental sovereign states with an explicit right of secession, or like Yugoslavia, Ethiopia may have to split into internationally recognized sovereign states. 


Ahmed, A. (Feb 6, 2021). “Toward a Peaceful Order in the Horn of Africa.” Project Syndicate. https:// www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/ethiopia-removal-of-tigray-tplf-will-benefit-region-by-abiy-ahmed-2021-02.

Gebrehiwet, Y. (29 January 2021).  “the war in Tigray:Abiy, Isaias, and the Amhara elite.” The African Report. https://www.theafricanreport.com/62232/the-war-in-tigray-abiy-isaias-and-the-amhara-elite/.

 Gebrehiwet, M and de Waal, Alex (27 January 2021). “Transcript: Call between Mulugeta Gebrehiwet and Alex de Waal.” World Peace Foundation.

De, Waal, A. (15 November 2020). “Tigray crisis viewpoint: Why Ethiopia is spiraling Out of control.” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-54932333.  

Sperber, A. (20 Jan 2021). “Somali troops may have been drawn into Ethiopia’s civil war.” Africa. https://mg.co.za/africa/2021-01-20-somali-troops-may-have-been-drawn-into-ethiopias-civil-war.   

Tilahun, N. (21 January 2021). “Eritrea involvement in Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict ‘is a tragic but explainable option’.  The africareport. https://www.theafricareport.com/60435/eritreas-involvement-in-ethiopias-tigray-conflict-is-a tragic-but explainable-option/