I have a very personal interest in the election that is about to take place in Tigray. Not only is it my birthplace, but I come from Irob, a small ethnic minority community in Tigray that has been marginalized for a long time. At one point, Irob played a critical role in both the political affairs of Tigray and Ethiopia as a whole. After the death of Degiyat Subagadis, the role of the Irob people has been diminished to the lowest possible level. There was some hope of regaining political leverage during the Ethiopian youth movements, but that dream was shattered when we lost some of our brightest and most committed young people to the military junta.
Tigrawiyans in general and Irobs in particular have long forgotten our exemplary democratic tradition of gathering under a tree to conduct a civilized dialogue and elect our own leaders. The Irob Ona system even went as far as arbitration, and the delivery of death sentences by way of “Kumti Daa” (the Old Testament way of delivering justice to those who committed “Ashowayto”– treason). I now see Irob candidates in most, if not all the competing parties, and am hopeful that we will once again be able to fairly elect our leaders.
The Tigray regional government is embarking on elections under very difficult circumstances; COVID-19 has spread though it seems now to be somewhat under control because the government and people took necessary precautions. Locusts have made several visits to an already fragile environment. The federal government has threatened Tigray regional government that they will take severe and drastic measures if an election is held. The Eritrean leader, Mr. Isayas, has also voiced his opinion that there is no need for election in Tigray, or anywhere else in Ethiopia
One must ask why the Tigray government would even want to conduct an election now. There are many reasons. First of all, their mandate is valid only until the end of September, which is also true for the federal government, but I suspect that the federal government will simply use the current instability as an excuse to hold on to power. But as eager as the federal government is to postpone election, the Tigray regional government is equally eager to conduct theirs. The two have the same weapon at hand, but it seems that the federal government sees it as a weapon pointed at themselves whereas the Tigray government sees it as an offensive weapon. Secondly, accepting the federal ultimatum and cancelling the election is unthinkable: the public outcry would be overwhelming and long-lasting. Finally, Tigray regional leaders have calculated that it is far easier and less expensive to conduct an election than it is to conduct a war with Eritrea which is now joining forces with the Ethiopian government in threatening Tigray. The Tigray regional government might also be calculating that it is only time before other regions and communities ask serious questions and make decisions similar to those of the Tigray state; to go at it on their own or force the federal government to conduct election, and yes Dr. Abiy is sensing the danger as well.
Democracy is a reflection of both individual and group interest. As an Irob and member of the larger Tigrawiyan population, I have a clear interest in seeing a democratic resolution of many of my community’s unmet needs. The Irob community wants those they elect to protect their national identity and reverse the unjust border decision made by foreigners who have never set foot in our land. Not undertaking this effort would be akin as to forcing a woman to marry her rapist, which is neither humane nor legally binding.
We also want accountability and an honest answer to what was the fate of the 92 innocent Irob farmers abducted by Eritrea 21 years ago. Finally, we need to see elected leaders enforcing anti-trafficking laws to stop those who smuggle youth across the border to die in the desert or on the sea as they hopelessly search for a better life.
I believe a renaissance is at hand for both the Tigray state and my own small Irob community where we can begin to rediscover what we lost thousands of years ago. I trust that the future is looking brighter now that we have an alternative to sacrificing our youth to battles in the mountains, rivers and forests and instead of hearing war songs on a daily basis, we can hear young people singing the music of peace and love.
Power that is brought by bullets must be kept by the power of bullets but powers that are achieved by ballots are kept by ballots; cheaper, softer and less destructive. It is time that our people get and keep the power through ballots.