A totally avoidable, unprecedented, manmade disaster and tragedy is unfolding in the Tigray region of Ethiopia so much so that, apart from the atrocities and human suffering being inflicted on the whole population of Tigray, (or perhaps as a direct result of that), the continuing existence of Ethiopia itself as a nation is now coming into question. It is important to understand how such an unthinkable situation even a few months back came to happen. As the title indicates, the main actors are the Ethiopian PM Abiy and the long‐time Eritrean dictator Isaias.
A 20 year grudge
Consumed by his rage at the humility he suffered when he decisively lost the war with the then TPLF‐led EPRDF government of Ethiopia back in the late 1990s, Isaias played into the hands of the shrewd Ethiopian leader at the time, Meles, who applied a strategy of isolating Isaias in the world stage thus rendering him impotent. Isaias fell into the trap and developed a siege mentality that kept him in a perpetual state of no‐war, no peace resulting in the harrowing flow of tens of thousands of hopeless Eritrean refugees into the hands of unscrupulous traffickers (led by some of Isaias’ high ranking military officials it is said) and the running into the ground of the economy of the previously promising nascent country. Predictably (if not rationally), Isaias blamed the condition of Eritrea and his abject failure on Meles and his organization, the ‘Woyane’ (the Tigrigna name and a common reference for the TPLF). He spent every waking moment of his life in the last twenty years in plotting to get “even” by destroying the Woyane, basically by ruining Tigray and its people (a recently released secret recording of a senior Isaias official laying out in black and white the strategy on how that can be accomplished crystalizes this fact)1 . In the process, Isaias cultivated and supported organizations that he believed will destabilize Ethiopia (or ‘Woyane’, for him) including terrorist groups in Somalia thus earning constant reprimands and sanctions by the UN. It was with this in the background that the TPLF’s grasp of power in the Federal government gradually waned due to persistent opposition in the other regions but especially in the Oromiya region and Abiy came into power. Isaias was overjoyed that the Woyane were no longer in power as evidenced by his statement “Game over, Woyane” soon after. Still, it is unlikely that he knew how pliable a leader he will be faced with in Abiy but most certainly did not expect that he will, to his incredulous surprise I am sure, end up the puppeteer in a master‐puppet relationship.
Ethiopia’s “7th King”
It is difficult to take seriously someone who repeatedly states he knew he would be the next “negus” (king) because his mother always used to tell him that he would one day be the “7th king of Ethiopia”. However, that is what happened to Ethiopia – it has fallen into having a shaman leader who believes in such mumbo jumbo. As has been the practice of many EPRDF officials, he acquired a fake PhD to appear educated but bombed out in his first ever interview with the BBC when he plagiarized other people’s statements by robotically parroting responses to completely unrelated but otherwise straightforward questions. That he is of shallow intellect was clear to people soon after he gave that interview but he had the support of the powers that be who perhaps could see that he could be easily controlled or otherwise manipulated. He says he is a ‘Pastor’ and engages in cringe‐worthy sermons while also fancying himself as a “philosopher king”2 with his (not even half‐baked, mish‐mash) “vision” of “medemer”. It is this “vision” that led to his epiphany of peace with Eritrea – not a bad idea in itself but given his lack of experience in geo‐politics and his shaman mentality along with his light‐weight credentials in all other aspects of leadership including correctly sizing up the person on the other side of the table, was destined to end disastrously. This childishly naïve “vision” in turn led to his current, historically unprecedented, dubious distinction of being a leader who solicited the help of a foreign nation in unleashing a disastrous war on his own people. As per his plans of revenge and true to his insidious character, Isaias used the opportunity to inflict the most heinous crimes against the people of Tigray and its resources including destroying industry, schools and hospitals, all infrastructure, whole cities, its religious artifacts including centuries old monasteries such as Debre Damo and Nejashi mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, indiscriminate summary executions of anyone such as at the Church of Mariam Tsion in Axum – all amounting to planned genocide. By inviting Isaias in, all these are now indisputably at the feet of Abiy.
Playing Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Abiy
It may come as a surprise to some that the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Abiy had a significant role in the instigation of the current tragedy in Tigray—but it did. The fact that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee awarded the prize to Abiy alone and not to (according to Isaias and his supporters) his ‘partner in the peace process’ created an immense feeling of being wronged. Comparisons were being made to the peace prize awarded in 1994 to Perez and Rabin but also to Yasser Arafat considered the leader of an organization labeled, (at the time), as a terrorist. Bitter anger blinded Isaias at the unfairness of it all (all the years of sanctions against him, etc.) and ever the Machiavellian, he hatched a ‘two birds with one stone’ scheme. He planned to ensnare whom he now knew to be an incredibly gullible and impressionable “Dr.” Abiy by playing on his insecurities, informing him his ‘rule’ won’t be secure unless he significantly weakened or got rid of the Woyane (TPLF) and that he will assist/support him to the fullest extent. If Abiy fell to the lure, his second objective of ruining and destroying Tigray as well as weakening the Ethiopian military and state as a whole would be easily achieved through the resulting civil war. Incredibly, Abiy fell for this ploy. Some say that Abiy entered into a Faustian bargain with Isaias but that would require some level of sophistication and understanding of the consequences involved which, clearly, he was not up to and had no inkling of as demonstrated by his ‘deer in the headlight’ response to the ongoing worldwide reaction.
The war was launched on a day likely chosen by Isaias as the more astute planner – a day when world attention would be elsewhere, i.e., the American election. Initially, Abiy, buoyed by the success of the UAE drones in degrading the TPLF’s heavy weaponry and logistics structure, was broadcasting himself on TV wearing military fatigues prancing in a “Situations Room”, issuing ultimatums here and there just as in the CNN dispatches he saw of American operations. True to his inexperience and shallow knowledge of battlefield dynamics, he declared the “law enforcement operation” (belying the fact that it was a total war on the Tigray people being conducted by the whole apparatus of the armed forces of the country – the Army including numerous mechanized divisions, the Airforce with bombers, transport planes to Asmara and the Amhara Region militia) would take just 15 days. Outnumbered and outgunned, the TPLF forces retreated to the mountains leaving the towns and cities to the mercy of the Ethiopian army and its Eritrean allies as well as the Amhara militia. Reports have it that the carnage was unprecedented with tens of thousands of civilians killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. Due to the scorched earth policy of especially the Eritrean army and the Amhara militia including destroying/burning ready‐to‐harvest crops, millions more are facing harrowing hardship including famine. It has been documented that the Eritrean army in particular is responsible for wide‐spread looting, rape and executions. Abiy (and Isaias) are actively working to prolong the situation4 including through misinformation being spewed by ambassadors in western countries (an ignoble example being the ambassador of Ethiopia in Belgium/EU) while the international community and notably the EU (and recently the US as well) are working hard to find a solution to reach the millions in Tigray before the dire situation fully turns into an unmitigable catastrophe.
A Way Out?
In an interview broadcast a few months before the start of the war, Abiy was informed of the worry of many in Tigray that the Ethiopian government may launch a war in cooperation with Eritrea (Isaias). His response was unequivocal, and I quote a translation: “For somebody to think that an Ethiopian leader would invite a foreign country to wage war against his own people is unthinkable. It has never been done before and, I believe, it won’t be done any time in the future”. Well, here we are just a few months down the road – not only did divisions of Eritrean troops invade Tigray and unleashed unparalleled carnage on its people at the behest of the Ethiopian leader, but according to reports, are still occupying and have refused to withdraw citing the weakness of the Ethiopian army. On his part, Abiy now seems to have stopped his feeble efforts to deny the existence of Eritrean forces in Tigray apparently after a lot of Ethiopian officials were forced to acknowledge their presence including the military commander of the northern command who also admitted their existence and his “unhappiness” about that fact. It is also being reported that there have been some clashes between the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces mostly due to the looting of the Ethiopian army’s heavy weaponry including tanks by the Eritrean troops and their transport to Eritrea. This creates an opportunity, a way out if you will, for Abiy. If, indeed, he was naïve enough for him to invite in Isaias believing he would just be assisting him in his “law enforcement operation” in Tigray, he has now seen what Isaias’ true nature is and what his objectives all along were. Isaias has tricked him, a Nobel laureate, into falling to his gutter level and opened him up, on par, to being labelled a war criminal. He has made him the shepherd who called the wolf and unleased it on his own flock—a ‘leader’ even he himself described as impossible to imagine. Since this is a betrayal of trust of unconscionable magnitude, he should immediately take steps to hold Isaias accountable for everything he did. The first step is to force Isaias’ troops out of Tigray by whatever means including force. The next step would be to ask for forgiveness from the people of Tigray who, by all accounts, now no longer think of themselves as Ethiopians. He could then maybe have something to stand on when he subsequently addresses the people of Ethiopia—a country he has put in the very real danger of disintegrating and likely will be remembered for forever as the instigator of such a fate unless he does something, fast.
1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eiVxiQXZTeA&feature=youtu.be 2) An interesting discourse on the subject can be read at:
3) https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/tigray‐opposition‐parties‐assert‐50000‐plus‐civilian‐ deaths/2021/02/02/cf39f904‐6560‐11eb‐bab8‐707f8769d785_story.html
4) A case in point: “In all my years as an aid worker, I have rarely seen a humanitarian response so impeded and unable to deliver in response for so long, to so many with such pressing needs.” Jan Egeland, at the time, UN chief of humanitarian affairs