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ኣጆኩም…ኣሎና – Eritrea (Still) Stands Strong

Yesterday evening, Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) took control of Mekelle, the capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray region. A tweet last night from Ethiopia’s PM, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, declared the following: “I am pleased to share that we have completed and ceased the military operations in the #Tigray region. Our focus now will be on rebuilding the region and providing humanitarian assistance while Federal Police apprehend the TPLF clique.” The PM’s tweet also shared a message with further information.

Hours later, at a little before 10:15pm, six rockets, in relatively quick succession, landed on the outskirts of Asmara. The number of casualties, injuries, and total damage is not yet known, but believed to be extremely minimal or none. I must also stress that Eritrea was/is hardly in a situation of frenzy, chaos, or mayhem. Far from it. Everything remains calm, quiet, and relaxed – a typical late November Sunday morning in Eritrea.

Several points:

-it’s interesting how the taking of Mekelle by federal forces greatly contrasts the assured analyses and confident predictions of regional experts before the ENDF’s recent campaign. Recall how we were repeatedly told of the TPLF’s massive numbers, strength, and capabilities, and warned that Tigray would be a “graveyard” for “invaders”. However, things in Ethiopia and the region have, so far, panned out differently. For many of us from the region, it is just another example in the long history of “less than stellar” reporting and analysis of our region. The so-called leading experts and top authorities on our region do not need a track record of wise assessments or solid analyses. Some need not even have ever set foot in the locations or met the groups of people for which they claim expertise. All they need are the circular, almost incestuous, recommendations and approval of fellow credential holders.

This is not to say that things are all over. A lot remains to be done to ensure safety and security, as well as to rebuild, heal wounds, and move forward. Things can get (and likely will) be complicated and messy.

-an article by Reuters comments: The leader of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), whose forces have been fighting Ethiopian troops, said the group was not giving up. “Their brutality can only add (to) our resolve to fight these invaders to the last,” TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters in a text message. Asked by Reuters if that meant his forces would continue fighting, he replied: “Certainly. This is about defending our right to self determination.

However, as I commented before, the idea that the TPLF will now be able to engage in a long-term guerrilla campaign needs revision and closer consideration. First, their hasty retreat is hardly along the lines of a “strategic withdrawal”. Second, conditions are far, far different from the 1970/80s. Back then, the TPLF had a supply line, rear support base, and a large, experienced partner for backing (EPLF). Today it is surrounded and closed off on all sides, with few genuine or capable supporters. While it enjoys support of some in Tigray, it is far from the levels it boasts. Many across Tigray are actually against it. Moreover , with long hardship and suffering, how many will continue to support it?

-In 1990, under the Dergue regime of Colonel Mengistu, the Ethiopian air force engaged in a bombing campaign targeting Eritrean civilians, and resulting in the killing and maiming of thousands of non-combatants, including many women and children. The actions were “intended to destroy food relief to prevent it being eaten by people sympathetic to the EPLF, to destroy the port installations, and to terrorize and kill civilian non-combatants as a reprisal for the EPLF’s military successes.” The TPLF’s recent attacks on civilian areas in Eritrea are similar in many ways, particularly in terms of guiding sentiment, although they are far less powerful, strong, or capable.

-Finally, beware of historical revisionism about the TPLF, which has been on display in recent weeks and may continue or increase moving forward. As I stated earlier this month: “we also all should be in total awe of the amazing imagery and portrayals being presented – true masterpieces – that the TPLF is somehow an innocent victim here, that it is a ‘force for good’, that it is genuinely committed to peace and dialogue, and that it is being ‘attacked’ because it chose to defend democracy and protect rights. This is dishonest or deluded. Nothing could be further from the truth. The indelible facts are that the TPLF ignited the latest developments. It is the TPLF that has been preparing for war, stockpiling weapons, and training militias for years (using funds that were actually to be for Tigray’s people and development). And it is the TPLF that has been the obstacle to peace and the central cause of so much of the tension, violence, and instability that have unfolded over the past several months and years. The misguided images and portrayals are also a sharp, bitter insult to the many, many people across the vast expanse of the Horn of Africa who have been the unfortunate recipients of the TPLF’s so-called deep and genuine commitment to democracy, peace, and dialogue.


ኣጆኩም…ኣሎና – Eritrea Stands Strong

Yesterday evening, at about 8:25pm, a couple of rockets were fired into Eritrea. They came in a trajectory from the south. It is widely believed they were launched by the TPLF. The rockets landed outside Asmara, but the explosions could be heard in the city. It is likely that they landed in a mountainous rural area not far from the capital. The number of casualties, injuries, and total damage is not yet known (but believed to be extremely minimal or none). I must stress: Eritrea was/is hardly in a situation of frenzy, chaos, or mayhem. Far from it. Things were quickly back to absolute calm and quiet – and they remain that way.

Several points:

– Yesterday evening’s attack came only hours after the TPLF announced a “change of strategy”. In any event, the TPLF’s attacks can and should only be condemned in the strongest and most withering terms. There are no military targets within the general vicinity of where the attacks occurred, while there are civilians located not far from the area. Of course, Asmara, the capital and a major civilian population centre, is also relatively nearby.

– I’ve said before, “Although condemnations are important, they must be closely followed by direct, substantive actions to mean anything. Eritrea, Ethiopia, and the people of the region need clear and strong assurances that the international community will take effective measures to ensure that there is accountability, justice, and no further attacks.” For too long, decades in fact, the TPLF has not only been able to get away with dangerous, reckless, and criminal actions, it has been favored and rewarded by the international community. That needs to end.

– One of the goals of the TPLF is to internationalise the conflict. They want to draw in the international community, which Abiy has been able to keep out of the internal situation. International actors, it is hoped, will increase pressure on Abiy to end the conflict and come to some sort of settlement.

– Negotiations are a goal of the TPLF because they hope to regain some of the power and influence they lost after falling from power. Additionally, negotiations offer them credibility and legitimacy, while they can also help them to avoid accountability and punishment for their past or recent crimes and violations. However, the TPLF has hardly shown itself to be a genuine or willing partner for peace and cooperation (I’ve previously commented here, here, and here).

– The TPLF also believes that by drawing out the situation and turning it long or more messy, the people and the broader region will lose patience and turn against the conflict. Recall that Abiy has had a lot of support for his campaign against the TPLF, across much of the region and, most importantly, in Ethiopia.

– Another aim of the recent acts by the TPLF is to sow fear, terror, and confusion among Eritreans. The hope is that these acts can lead to some sort of cracks, dissension, and chaos among the people, government, or military. However, as I have stated before, this is a complete misunderstanding of the Eritrean people and a misreading of the situation. History also shows, and the TPLF should well know, that Eritreans rally together during times of challenge, struggle, and hardship.

– The fact is that TPLF is actually very weak and desperate, and the attacks demonstrate that they are hardly in a position of strength or have major capacity. Their predicament speaks for itself.

– The idea that the TPLF can engage in a long-term guerrilla campaign needs revision and further consideration. Conditions are far, far different from the 1970/80s. Back then, the TPLF had a supply line, rear support base, and a large, experienced partner for backing (EPLF). Today it is surrounded and closed off on all sides, with few genuine or capable supporters. While it enjoys support of some in Tigray, it is far from the levels it boasts. Many across Tigray are actually against it. Moreover, with long hardship and suffering, how many will continue to support it?


Confounding the Experts…

Just a few comments on recent events related to Eritrea and Ethiopia.

First, something a bit puzzling: it has been over one week since the TPLF launched missiles at civilian areas in Asmara. What’s puzzling is that to date, many individuals and international organizations are yet to condemn the attack. Why? Even the US (the TPLF’s longtime ally and closest friend) and others have condemned the attack against Eritrea. Remarkably, the failure to condemn the attack comes despite the TPLF, both before and after the attack, claiming responsibility. What’s also remarkable is that so many of those individuals and organizations that have failed to condemn the attack are constantly professing their deep “love and concern” for Eritrean people. Finally, it is hard to overlook the fact that for years, many of those individuals and international organizations failing to condemn the TPLF’s recent attack on civilian areas in Asmara, despite the group’s claims of responsibility, regularly condemned Eritrea for various actions without evidence.

Second, it was extremely interesting coming across the following comments by a regional analyst: “Eritrea’s long game is to become the Horn’s mightiest military and diplomatic power. Asmara might actually achieve that.

They caught my attention because for one that isn’t Eritrea’s long game. And two, what makes these comments particularly interesting is that they are at total odds with – completely opposite to – what we have all been told for years to expect by the commentariat. Recall, that for several decades now, expert analyses and mainstream coverage have often referred to Eritrea as reclusive and isolated, labeling it the North Korea of Africa or the hermit-kingdom, while describing it as a failed state that was collapsing and definitely “about to blow”. Experts even predicted timelines for collapse and drew up transitional plans. However, as it did when it originally won its independence in 1991, Eritrea seems to have confounded so-called expert opinion.

Last, if you haven’t had the chance yet, I recommend you read the article, “Analyze This: Agenda Setting or Intellectual Laziness“. The author, Teodrose Fikremariam, raises many interesting points and asks several important questions about media coverage and the journalistic approach to Africa and our region. As I was reading his article I was reminded of something that I wrote recently about a similar issue in relation to Eritrea: “Eurosplaining“.

In particular, over the years, many Eritreans, including this author, have been on the receiving end of patronizing attempts, sometimes subtle and at other times more egregious, by some non-Eritreans and others not from the region to interpret our experiences, describe our reality, and explain things to us that we already know, solely based on the assumption that they somehow or inherently must know more.

Of course, debate is often good and disagreements are possible. Many different people can and should contribute to the general dialogue and conversation. It is also certainly true that more information and opinions can be positive and very useful. An important part of learning, after all, is about sharing and exchange, and we all can grow or improve. However, there are several problems and particularly grating aspects about the Eurosplaining (and “-splaining” in general).

For one, most of the explanations are deeply misinformed, greatly misguided, or otherwise simply wrong. Second, the various instances of Eurosplaining are for the most part on topics that those of us being explained to have direct lived experience or expertise, or are generally already well-acquainted with. Furthermore, although not always rude and deliberate, Eurosplaining is often unsolicited and delivered in a condescending manner and tone. It sees many of us constantly: being interrupted, cut off, and shut down; spoken above, over, or at; and disqualified, dismissed, or willfully ignored.

Look closely and it should not take too long to see that Eurosplaining actually has its roots in the problematic mentality, which may be traced back centuries and that helped to legitimize colonialism, imperialism, and slavery, that Africans are inherently less intelligent and less capable. Thus, suggesting that we are basically ignorant, incompetent, and incapable of sharing or contributing important information or knowledge, the Eurosplainers often pat us on the head while presumptuously telling us, “Be quiet, I simply know much better because of who I am.”

Finally, some humble suggestions. For those on the receiving end of the Eurosplaining: Do not be discouraged or daunted. Instead, continue to share your voice and perspectives. For those doing the Eurosplaining: Pause. Think about the dynamics the power differentials that may be at hand. Consider whether your explanations are needed, really about being helpful, or even desired. Ask more questions and allow others to share their views or express themselves.


TPLF: A Precipitous Fall

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is facing a “final and conclusive” offensive against it by Ethiopian federal forces. On Tuesday, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, declared that, “The three-day ultimatum given to Tigray special forces and the militia to surrender to the national defence…ended today. Following the expiration of this deadline, the final critical act of law enforcement will be done in the coming days.” The dire situation that the TPLF now finds itself in reflects just how precipitous its fall from power has been.

Ethiopia is divided into ethnically-based states within a federal system. That system had long been ruled by a coalition of four parties, which was known as the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The EPRDF was largely dominated by the Tigrayan minority (led by the TPLF), who make up approximately only 6% of the country’s total population of 110 million.

Despite its years of corrupt, authoritarian rule, as well as its illegal military invasions and foreign occupations of neighbouring states, the TPLF was reserved a special place in the hearts of the international community. In particular, it was a “darling” of the West, especially the US and UK, regarded as a staunch ally against terrorism and a critical piece in promoting regional stability. Billions in assistance flowed to the regime, constituting more than a third of the country’s annual budget and making it one of the world’s largest recipients of foreign aid.

However, in 2015, large protests about land seizures and evictions, unemployment, torture and human rights abuses, widespread corruption, and economic and political marginalization quickly spread across Ethiopia and threatened to bring down the TPLF-led government. Thousands were killed or arrested, there was large-scale displacement, and the country was put under an extended nationwide state of emergency.

Additionally, although Ethiopia had been heralded as one of the top performing African economies, regularly posting impressive economic growth figures (albeit clouded by widespread skepticism about the validity of reported figures), it was also plagued by high levels of poverty and inequality, heavy foreign debt, rising inflation, a rapidly growing trade deficit, and a critical shortage of foreign currency, all of which put the economy in a perilous state.

It was against this backdrop of turmoil, mounting discontent, and widespread unrest, with the TPLF-led regime beginning to crumble, that Hailemariam Desalegn, who succeeded Meles Zenawi, resigned as prime minister in February 2018. Dr. Abiy Ahmed, then a relative unknown, was soon appointed as the new prime minister. With the pressing need for fundamental changes and dramatic reforms abundantly clear – even Desalegn acknowledged as much in his resignation letter – Abiy got down to work quickly. He loosened the state’s tight grip and control on the economy, privatizing key state-owned enterprises, pledged multi-party elections, publicly denounced the government’s use of torture and apologized for the killing of protestors, released thousands of prisoners and opposition leaders, and promoted reconciliation with exiled dissidents and critics.

The PM’s wide-ranging reforms also extended to dramatically shift the country’s longstanding policy toward Eritrea, with Abiy announcing that Ethiopia would finally unconditionally accept and fully implement the UN-backed Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission ruling of 2002 (which was part of the international binding agreement that ended their 1998-2000 war, but had been rejected by the TPLF).

Abiy has by no means been perfect since assuming leadership and his government has made many mistakes. A lot of his reforms have stalled, security forces have often been heavy-handed, and the government has often fallen back into its troubling old habits. However, the TPLF remained intransigent and obdurate. It has sought to stymie any efforts at peace, democratization, reform, and change. Feeling increasingly marginalized, as well as deeply bitter and resentful about its loss of power and control over looted state resources, the TPLF retreated to its base in Tigray. All the while, it worked to promote conflict, tension, and chaos, hoping that the instability and insecurity would hurt Abiy, prevent reforms, and allow the group to regain some of its former dominance. Over the past two years, the group has also been preparing for war, stockpiling weapons, and training militias (using funds that were actually to be for Tigray’s people and development).

After tensions between the TPLF and Abiy’s government had been simmering for some time, things finally boiled over earlier this month. On 4 November, PM Abiy ordered federal troops to launch an offensive against the TPLF. Described as a “law enforcement” measure, the offensive came after the TPLF attacked a large national military base in Tigray. Although many have pointed the finger at Abiy as instigating the latest conflict, senior TPLF officials have confessed that it was the group that first launched the attack on the national military base.

Since then, Ethiopia’s federal forces, along with the support of several regional forces, have been encircling Mekelle, capital of the Tigray region and headquarters of the TPLF. Although exact figures are difficult to verify, it is believed that hundreds have died in the ongoing conflict, while approximately 30,000 people have been forced to flee their homes for neighbouring Sudan. There have also been troubling reports of massacres and war crimes.

Probably in desperation, last Saturday evening the TPLF fired several missiles into neighbouring Eritrea. The hope was that by doing so, Eritrea would be drawn into the conflict, thus internationalising the situation and forcing outside intervention to bring it to an end. Eritrea, however, has exercised considerable restraint and not responded, while there has been a growing list of countries that have condemned the TPLF’s attack. Moreover, many of the TPLF’s longtime strongest allies now appear to be abandoning it (including the US).

For nearly three decades the TPLF was “top dog” in Ethiopia and the West’s “local cop on the beat” in the Horn of Africa. It was showered with praise, given billions of dollars, and provided with unlimited support, despite its many horrors. This week, however, those days seem but a distant memory. The TPLF is now increasingly encircled, heavily embattled, and largely alone.


TPLF: More condemnations and facing a final offensive

A brief update on several important developments in Ethiopia.

One is that a number of countries have condemned the TPLF’s actions from this past weekend.

This includes the US. Earlier today, Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, released a statement which included the following: “The United States strongly condemns the attack carried out by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on the airport in Asmara, Eritrea, on November 14. We are deeply concerned by this blatant attempt by the TPLF to cause regional instability by expanding its conflict with Ethiopian authorities to neighboring countries. We also continue to denounce the TPLF’s November 13 missile attacks on Bahir Dar and Gondar airports in Ethiopia.

We strongly urge the TPLF and the Ethiopian authorities to take immediate steps to de-escalate the conflict, restore peace, and protect civilians. We appreciate Eritrea’s restraint, which has helped prevent further spreading of the conflict.”

This follows Sunday’s message from Tibor Nagy, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, who tweeted the following: “The United States strongly condemns the TPLF’s unjustifiable attacks against Eritrea on November 14 and its efforts to internationalize the conflict in Tigray. We continue to urge immediate action to protect civilians, deescalate tensions, and restore peace.”

As well, DW Amharic reports that the German Foreign Ministry of the Federal Republic of Germany) condemns the “TPLF for firing rockets at…the capital city of the state of Eritrea, Asmara.”

In addition, the Government of Spain, which released the following official statement: “The Government of Spain condemns the missile attack launched against Eritrea, allegedly by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and calls for an escalation of the crisis to be avoided and a peaceful solution to be sought which respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ethiopia and its constitutional institutions.”

And on Monday, Saudi Arabia strongly condemned the rocket attacks that targeted the capital of Eritrea, Asmara.

While strong denunciations are important, they are only first steps. More still needs to be done. They must be closely followed by direct, substantive actions to mean anything.

Second, Djibouti’s communique on the recent events is very interesting. In it, Djibouti describes the ongoing situation in Ethiopia as an “internal conflict”, while also declaring that:

“Djibouti fully supports the Unity and the Territorial Integrity of the Federal and Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.”

“The Djibouti government also recognises Prime Minister Abiy’s government as the sole guarantor of that unity and territorial integrity of Ethiopia.”

Recall that Djibouti has been a longtime ally of the TPLF, closely aligning itself with the TPLF’s moves and policies over the years. However, the recent communique appears to be a departure from the past and goes against the TPLF’s positions (such as attempts at internationalisation of the conflict and the supposed illegitimacy of Abiy’s government).

Third, it is interesting to how many media outlets have been referring to the TPLF. Consider, for instance:

The Financial Times – Ethiopian PM accuses Tigrayan rebels of ‘massacring’ civilians

The Wall Street Journal – Ethiopian Rebels Fire Rockets Into Eritrea, Threatening Wider Conflict

Vatican News – Surrender: Ethiopian Prime Minister urges Tigray rebel forces

Anadolu Agency – Eritrea silent over attack by Ethiopia’s Tigray rebels

The common theme here is rebels, which represents a significant contrast from the glowing portrayals and descriptions that the TPLF had become accustomed to over the years.

Shortly after the events in Ethiopia first broke out nearly two weeks ago, I composed a brief piece observing that while the TPLF had long sought to sweep others from power, denounce them as terrorists, and keep them in isolation, the group had found itself out of power, being denounced as a terrorist group by the same parliament it had once lorded over, and seemingly isolated with few allies or friends. Recent events have hardly improved the TPLF’s situation: significant members of the international community have condemned its actions, some of its longest, closest allies are seemingly abandoning it, and parts of the mainstream media are perceptively changing their description and label.

And, quite ominously, Prime Minister Abiy has just announced that Ethiopia’s federal troops will launch a “final” offensive against the TPLF.


US Condemns TPLF’s Attacks: Good Start, But More Required

Since the serious events in Ethiopia first broke out nearly two weeks ago, I have strongly questioned whether the TPLF leadership could be regarded as a genuine partner for peace in Ethiopia and the broader region (see here and here). Following this past Saturday night’s actions by the group (an unprovoked attack on Eritrea, which is not a party to the current conflict in Ethiopia), we have even more evidence which sheds further light on the correct answer to that question. Additionally, I have commented that the international community is not wholly innocent in the recent events unfolding in the region. In particular, the international community, led by the US, propped up and abetted the TPLF during its decades of kleptocratic, authoritarian rule over Ethiopia and funded the group’s purchase of billions of dollars of weapons. 

However, despite this unfortunate history, the international community can make some amends and regain a bit of credibility by helping to end the current crisis and averting further violence or bloodshed. Specifically, instead of the standard procession of tepid and hollow statements that will ultimately only serve to harden the TPLF hard-line leadership’s resolve and strengthen its belief that violence will be rewarded, the international community should utilize its collective voice to strongly condemn the TPLF’s violence and aggression, and unequivocally demand that it lay down its arms.

Accordingly, it was highly positive and encouraging to see Tibor Nagy, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, tweet the following last night: “The United States strongly condemns the TPLF’s unjustifiable attacks against Eritrea on November 14 and its efforts to internationalize the conflict in Tigray. We continue to urge immediate action to protect civilians, deescalate tensions, and restore peace.”

The Assistant Secretary of State’s condemnatory tweet is a significant and positive contrast to the years of deafening silence (if not tacit approval) by the US and international community toward the violence, crimes, and aggression of the TPLF. It is also well worth noting how Nagy criticizes the TPLF’s attempts to internationalize the conflict.

Recall that throughout the ongoing events (and even before), the TPLF and its supporters have been disseminating unsubstantiated claims that Eritrea is heavily involved in the conflict. The group’s actions on Saturday were also portrayed and defended as a response to Eritrea’s engagement in the fighting in Tigray. However, the tweet from Nagy, a high-level official of a country that has long and unswervingly supported the TPLF, pokes massive holes in those claims. (Earlier, of course, the US put out a statement reflecting the US administration’s belief that the TPLF has instigated the latest crisis).

As I noted in my post yesterday, the latest act by the TPLF, a serious and dangerous escalation, is rooted in several factors. One is that the leadership has likely become increasingly frustrated and desperate at the way things have been unfolding in Tigray (so far unfavorable for it). In addition, the TPLF is seeking to lure or provoke Eritrea into the conflict in Ethiopia, as they believe that this will somehow help them (e.g., belief that internationalizing the situation will lead to global community stepping in to stop Abiy’s actions against the TPLF). Finally, they also hope to spread fear, panic, and confusion in Eritrea, as they believe that this will lead to possible cracks, uprising, or dissension among the government, EDF, or its people. (This reflects a total and complete lack of awareness and understanding of the country and its people’s resolve.)

Ultimately, however, we must take care to not get too far ahead of ourselves. While the Assistant Secretary of State’s condemnation is certainly an encouraging and much-needed development, it is still only a first step. A lot more needs to be done. Although condemnations are important, they must be closely followed by direct, substantive actions to mean anything. Eritrea, Ethiopia, and the people of the region need clear and strong assurances that the international community will take effective measures to ensure that there is accountability, justice, and no further attacks. 


ዓቕሊ ጽበት — Update from Asmara

Last night, right before 8pm, 3 explosions were heard in Asmara. The TPLF fired rockets/missiles at Asmara, our capital. They landed on the outskirts of Asmara (not far from my close friends and relatives, and minutes away from my residence). There were no casualties, no injuries, and no major damage (i.e., no homes or buildings were hit). Authorities have been conducting investigations and collecting remnants and debris/etc.

Reports that the Ministry of Information, Asmara International Airport, or other major buildings/etc. having been hit are completely false. Also completely false are the reports and images purporting to show that Asmara is on fire or in chaos and mayhem. Everything in Asmara is absolutely normal: quiet and calm (as always). People are going about their day as usual (i.e., Church, jogging and biking, visiting relatives, preparing food for the day, washing, calling friends, etc.).

Of course, last night local citizens were at first understandably surprised and concerned when they heard the sounds. But things quickly returned back to normal. Any challenges apparent at the time with telephone line connections was not due to damage from an attack. The issue was simply because so many people were calling each other, thus flooding the lines.

This act by the TPLF is a serious and dangerous escalation. It is rooted in several factors. One is that it has likely become increasingly frustrated and desperate at the way things have been unfolding in Tigray (so far unfavorable for it). In addition, the TPLF may be trying to lure or provoke Eritrea into the conflict, as they believe that this will somehow help them (e.g., belief that internationalizing the situation will lead to global community stepping in to stop Abiy’s actions against the TPLF). They also hope to spread fear, panic, and confusion in Eritrea, as they believe that this will lead to possible cracks, uprising, or dissension among the government, EDF, or its people. (However, this reflects a total and complete lack of awareness and understanding of the country and its people’s resolve.)

The claim that the latest act by the TPLF was taken to “hit back” at Eritrea for the latter’s alleged engagement in fighting in Tigray is misguided and holds little water: thus far, throughout the events in neighboring Ethiopia, Eritrea has not sent its troops across the border or into Tigray. For one, it sees the issue as an internal Ethiopian matter. Second, doing so would likely complicate matters and raise problems. And, it has not even been necessary; Ethiopia’s federal forces appear to be doing a well enough job in Tigray and Eritrea also has not been under any major threat.

However, this latest act by the TPLF must be recognized for what it is: an act of war on Eritrea, which, again, has thus far not been a party to the conflict in Tigray. For global officials and the international community: enough of the tepid statements that ultimately only serve to stiffen the TPLF hard-line leadership’s resolve and strengthen its belief that violence and will be rewarded. The international community must condemn, in the strongest terms possible, the latest act by the TPLF. World officials must also vow to make certain that there will be justice, accountability, and no impunity for the TPLF.

Eritrea has thus far demonstrated extreme restraint and patience in the face of countless provocations and relentless aggression by the TPLF. Without strong and immediate action by the world community, Eritrea may not do so for much longer – and it could not be blamed.


A Genuine Partner for Peace? (follow-up)

Less than a week ago, I composed a brief post considering the issue of whether the TPLF leadership was a genuine partner for peace within Ethiopia and across the wider region. Several extremely disturbing developments in the past few days have helped to shed some critical light on the answer to that question. Specifically, on the night of 9 November, possibly hundreds of innocent civilians were stabbed or hacked to death in Mai-Kadra, which is a small town in the South West Zone of Ethiopia’s Tigray Region. According to witnesses and survivors, TPLF Special Forces and militias carried out the attacks. In addition, other TPLF atrocities have been reported, such as executions of bounded prisoners.

Again, to basically repeat the question that I (along with many others) raised after the TPLF’s initial attack on the Northern Command last week set off the latest series of events: can the federal government really be expected to negotiate and talk with the TPLF leadership after the latter’s massacre of possibly hundreds of civilians on 9 November?

Only a moment of thoughtful reflection ought to demonstrate that such a course of action will not only reward, privilege, and legitimize the TPLF, despite its atrocities against innocent civilians, it will also significantly reduce the credibility and strength of the federal government, while opening it up to further attacks and violence. Is this the type of precedent that ought to be set? Are civilians and groups across Ethiopia to be encouraged into believing that violence and terror are somehow valid and acceptable? Of course, Ethiopians can look back upon their own history for a vivid example of the bitter fruits of appeasement, impunity, and acceding to violence. In the 1930s, Fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, which included the use of mustard gas, violating the Geneva Convention, was only possible through Western accommodation and placating of fascism. (And the world has the horrors of World War II as a demonstration of how appeasement of Mussolini and Hitler played out.)

Although it is quite clear that Ethiopia’s political future will require considerable and extensive dialogue and negotiation among its many people and diverse array of groups, the TPLF’s ongoing actions (it was described by one analyst as now behaving as if it were Boko Haram or the Lord’s Republican Army) are making it extremely difficult to believe that it can, or even genuinely wants to, be a part of that necessary political process. Of course, the longer historical backdrop (which I’ve covered elsewhere) also offers further useful indications that the TPLF leadership will not act in good faith. Quite simply, over the past several years, it has appeared anything but interested in peace, compromise, dialogue, and unity.

Finally, the international community, which is not wholly innocent in all of this, having propped up the TPLF during its decades of kleptocratic, authoritarian rule and funded the group’s purchase of billions of dollars of weapons, also has an important role to play. In particular, instead of tepid statements that ultimately only serve to stiffen the TPLF hard-line leadership’s resolve and strengthen its belief that violence and atrocities will be rewarded, the international community should utilize its collective voice to strongly and unequivocally demand that the group cease attacks on civilians, lay down its arms, and end the violent crisis. Then the people and the country can decide how to move forward.


ጸገምካ ባዕልካ ፍትሓዬ: Suspending Reality

Shortly after the events in neighboring Ethiopia broke out last week, I wrote a brief piece suggesting that we all remain cautious of disinformation, misinformation, and sloppy or poor journalism.  In the days following that post, numerous examples of what I had cautioned people to be wary of quickly arose, leading me to put together another short piece explaining how truth and reality were becoming casualties. Well, with even more outlandish and uncorroborated claims being disseminated in the past few days, here we are again. (And you know things have become particularly bad when even the BBC – hardly a paragon of truth and accuracy for things related to the Horn – is complaining about disinformation.)

To begin, contrary to the recent claims being made by the commentariat, Eritrea is not engaged in fighting – in neighboring Ethiopia, in Badme, or elsewhere along its borders or within its own territories. Its forces are, and have been throughout the recent events, in defensive positions, alert and observant. As much as some would like the claims to be true and believed, thus helping the TPLF out of a predicament largely of its own making, there is a useful Tigrigna phrase: “ጸገምካ ባዕልካ ፍትሓዬ – xegem’ka balaka fithayo“.

However, it is highly interesting, but at the same time troubling, that on several occasions during the past week, the same “credible” sources making these latest claims confidently told us that Eritrea was engaged in heavy and fierce fighting, each time without even minimal evidence and each time being completely wrong. One may reasonably ask the following questions: Is it dishonesty or ignorance and delusion? Moreover, why and how do the sources that repeatedly provide and spread information that is wrong and false continue to be described as “credible”? Finally, why don’t we ever see any genuine attempts at clarifications and corrections?

Of course, the fact that these claims continue to be repeated, without corrections and despite their being totally contradicted by reality, is extremely disappointing, although not at all very surprising based upon the long history of “less than stellar” reporting and analysis of our region. As I have commented before, the so-called leading experts and top authorities on our region do not need a track record of wise assessments or solid analyses. Some need not even have ever set foot in the locations or met the groups of people for which they claim expertise. All they need are the circular, almost incestuous, recommendations and approval of fellow credential holders.

Importantly, some questions and considerations I raised days ago still remain relevant. In particular, even if Eritrea was fighting (which it isn’t at present), could it accurately and appropriately be described as “intervening or interfering” to attend to large-scale activities that are unfolding on territories that the international community has declared as Eritrean? Could the country be legitimately blamed or criticized?   

Finally, it is interesting that we are seeing so many commentators imploring the West to “do something” or to intervene. However, the notion that the West has been failing to intervene in this region or ongoing events is not only mistaken, it is a complete and total inversion of the truth. For instance, do pause for a moment to consider just how the TPLF, ruling one of the world’s poorest nations, was able to purchase vast amounts of military hardware and arms worth billions of dollars. The indelible fact is that the West has actually been massively involved and played an important role in many of the events and developments that have led us to this point.

Based on the belief that the TPLF-led Ethiopian government was vital to protecting Western geostrategic interests and foreign policy aims, the West (led by the US) provided it with unlimited military, economic, and diplomatic cover. This was despite the fact that the TPLF’s nearly 30-years long reign over Ethiopia was marked by massive levels of corruption, harsh and violent crackdowns on civil society organizations, journalists, and all forms of dissent or opposition, the illegal invasion and military occupation of several neighboring countries, the exclusion and marginalization of several of Ethiopia’s major ethnolinguistic and religious groups from political and economic life, the denial of humanitarian and food aid from “disloyal” segments of the country, authoritarianism and stolen elections, and counterinsurgencies involving war crimes and crimes against humanity (including executions, rape, torture, arbitrary arrests, and various other abuses).

So the West should get involved and do something? It already has. And that’s a lot of why and how we got here.  


The First Casualty: Truth

Several days ago, I suggested that we all remain cautious of the considerable amount of disinformation, misinformation, misguided comments, and sloppy or poor journalism swirling around as things rapidly unfold in Ethiopia. Again, spreading rumors or false information, sharing fake news, and making grandiose or major claims without evidence is not only highly irresponsible in this case (or any other, for that matter), it is extremely dangerous and can have truly fatal consequences. Restraint and patience should be exercised, now more than ever, as this is a situation that is already tense and does not need further inflaming.

In the days following my post, a large number of examples of what I cautioned people to be wary of have arisen.

Among the particularly “amusing” ones was the following: “The other rebel group in the EPRDF coalition was the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) led by Isaias Afwerki. In 1993 it broke away and established an independent Eritrea. Five years later it waged most idiotic war over worthless border property at Badme”.

There a lot of errors there to unpack, but focusing just on the EPRDF claim, although a relatively small and minor “error”, it does reflect the inadequacies and shortcomings of many of the comments and analyses being spread at the moment. If so-called experts are lackadaisical with such details, what does it imply and suggest about their understanding of the larger, vastly more complex issues unfolding? (Amazingly, when offered a correction, the expert author of the above quote chose to double-down, which reveals quite a lot.)

Additionally, it is mind-boggling how some are “reporting”, without credible evidence, that a country they have long (and recently) described as weak, empty, in terminal crisis and total disarray, and the epitome of a “failed state”, is actually masterminding everything unfolding across the Horn as it slowly and craftily implements its secret plans for a grand regional empire. How is it possible, one may legitimately ask, that a country we are regularly told cannot even adequately govern its small  population and is completely unable of administrating or controlling its various external regions or borders, is busy dictating things and redrawing lines across the Horn of Africa?

Increasingly, there is also a steady stream of contradictory, back-and-forth reports and “informed” updates, sternly warning Eritrea “not to intervene or interfere”, but at the same time stating that it is actually engaged in heavy and fierce fighting along on its border. The simple fact is that Eritrea’s current fighting engagements are restricted to COVID-19 and desert locusts. It is not rushing troops across its borders or engaged in the present fighting, in Badme or elsewhere. The historical record also clearly shows how for several decades it has persistently called for the international community to perform its moral and legal duties, even when it has been on the receiving end of unprovoked attacks.

An interesting question however is, even if it was fighting (which it isn’t at present), could it accurately and appropriately be described as “intervening or interfering” to attend to large-scale activities that are unfolding on territories that the international community has declared as Eritrean? Could the country be legitimately blamed or criticized? (Note that in the eyes of so-called experts its failure to do so would actually make it a weak, failed state.)

Of course, as I noted several days ago, it is also highly interesting that so many of those now claiming that Eritrea is intervening and stationing forces in neighboring lands, were actually totally silent (or actually supportive) as large swathes of its territories remained under an illegal foreign military occupation and as it suffered numerous provocations and withstood unrelenting aggression. Where were the calls for non-intervention or removal of military and security forces stationed on foreign lands then? Since intervention is so terrible, shouldn’t it always be condemned and rejected?

We also all should be in total awe of the amazing imagery and portrayals being presented – true masterpieces – that the TPLF is somehow an innocent victim here, that it is a “force for good”, that it is genuinely committed to peace and dialogue, and that it is being “attacked” because it chose to defend democracy and protect rights. This is dishonest or deluded. Nothing could be further from the truth. The indelible facts are that the TPLF ignited the latest developments. It is the TPLF that has been preparing for war, stockpiling weapons, and training militias for years (using funds that were actually to be for Tigray’s people and development). And it is the TPLF that has been the obstacle to peace and the central cause of so much of the tension, violence, and instability that have unfolded over the past several months and years. The misguided images and portrayals are also a sharp, bitter insult to the many, many people across the vast expanse of the Horn of Africa who have been the unfortunate recipients of the TPLF’s so-called deep and genuine commitment to democracy, peace, and dialogue.

Finally, it is very unfortunate and disappointing, although not at all surprising based on historical precedent, that the statements and claims from some in the region, no matter their alignment with reality, are not merely to be assumed false but are totally dismissed, rejected, and ignored. It seems that only assertions from officials from the noble, democratic, and peace-loving TPLF (and its supporters), with its proud, well-earned reputation for honesty, transparency, truth, and integrity, are to be considered as objective truth and disseminated uncritically.


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