There is a growing social media fever exchanging real time information about the ongoing protests in Oromia and Amhara regions. The ones that are relevant to this article are the hate video footage of Helen Gebreselassie that went viral and General Tsadkan’s response on his recent interview with Awramba on measures by the security forces to suppress the protests. The slander of the two largest Ethiopian communities by a young Ethiopian girl has shocked millions. Everybody is scratching heads to figure where all that extreme brazen conduct from is, demonizing about seventy million Ethiopians. When EPRDF controlled Addis Ababa on May 20, 1991, the girl was probably a child, and with no attempt to correct the source of such arrogance, the new generation could be victim to the lies and psychological pressure.
How many of us do we know why Eritrean independence was on May 29, 1991, only nine days after EPRDF controlled Addis Ababa on May 20. The rulers in Addis may not encourage discussion about the ‘twenty-twenty nine’ nexus. Doing so would dissipate the false narrative, fabricated solely to justify the entitlement serving as a driving force to the extreme systemic corruption, the society is unable to carry further. The offensive remarks on Social Media reminded me of the need to go back and reread on politics of the nineties. A Country Study on Ethiopia by Thomas P. Ofcansky et al published for the library of Congress in 1991 has a section titled ‘The Demise of the Military Government’. The document starts with the following:
“In retrospect, perhaps the two crucial factors in the fall of the Mengistu regime were the abortive coup of May 1989 and the loss of Soviet Military and political support. In the aftermath of quelling the coup, disaffection spread throughout the army. Thereafter, whole military units defected, taking their arms and equipment with them as they joined insurgent groups. At the same time, Soviet military deliveries dwindled and then ceased, a source of supply that Mengistu was never able to replace, leaving government forces still further weakened and demoralized. It was these developments that led Mengistu to attempt economic reforms in 1989 and 1990, and to initiate peace talks with the EPLF and EPRDF under Italian and United States auspices.”
According to the above observation and our recollection of that horrific period, the primary reasons for the disintegration of the then Ethiopian army were the fall of the Soviet Union and the resentment of the military itself, following the cruel and imbecile reaction of Mengistu’s dictatorial regime, killing and incarcerating its own prominent Generals. Unlike the ethnically motivated misrepresentation by the corrupt ring, the disintegration of the prior army was not due to lack of bravery on the part of its soldiers. Narrow ethno centrists have difficulty admitting this fact. In one of Ato Abay Tsehaye’s speeches at the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) meeting, he was seen even shamelessly explaining the irrelevance of EPRDF, stating, TPLF was capable of defeating Derg without the help of EPDM.
Deliberate or otherwise, this, ‘we are untouchable’ rhetoric, or that ‘we paid the most sacrifice’, is used to justify entitlement to the lion’s share in political and economic power. The very same delusion lead the late Prime Minister Meles deliver his insolent, nasty, and divisive ‘we are gold’ speech. Our anger to Meles’s arrogance is beautifully explained through the wisdom of Friedrich Nietzsche who once said, “arrogance on the part of the meritorious is even more offensive to us than the arrogance of those without merit: for merit itself is offensive.”
Absent rectification, Meles’s conceit was reinforced further through a systemic and institutionalized corruption, the epitome of which is the blatant monopoly of the economy by EFFORT enterprises. What we see is a deliberate counterfeit in history, as a ground to legitimize entitlement mentality, fueling the bold and shameful greed of the party and its supporters to amass power and wealth disproportionately. This crave to cling to the asymmetric advantage to success has become a basis for a belief that the existing system, which is based on hegemony of TPLF, be defended at any cost, even if that means the killing of peaceful protesters including children, by American trained sniper shooters. Social media is flooded with graphic videos and pictures of the non-judicial killings of peaceful protesters in Bale, Gondar, Bahir Dar and more.
When General Tsadkan said, the security forces should continue doing what they have been doing, he repeated the reminiscence of the usual snobbish attitude and complete insensitivity for the anger of other communities on killings of their brothers and sisters. He failed to show the will or the courage to say no to the killing of peaceful protesters, and kids who were merely observing crowds of people. Such determination could have even helped avoid the unnecessary deaths to uniformed officers. He reaffirmed how far he would go to defend the system, being an accomplice to the crime in the recent carnages in Oromia and Amhara regions. The complacency of General Tsadkan and others in the present army, to say no to the recent killings show their failure to reach the level of the former Ethiopian Generals, like Generals Abera Abebe, General Fanta Belay and General Demissie Bulto who lead the coup back in 1989.
Workers Party of Ethiopia (WPE) or the Derg was a communist dictatorship, most hated by all Ethiopians. It was labelled as the world’s most brutal regime. Derg killed a generation of Ethiopians. Its victims however, were not only TPLF members and supporters. That regime failed to deliver in all aspects of government. It was unable to come up with political solution to the continuing military resistance by EPLF, EPRP, TPLF, OLF, EDU, ONLF and others. The extensive civil war, the forced resettlement programs and collectivization of farmers destroyed the economy. The government was bankrupt and it was unable to save millions of rural Ethiopia who were victims of the horrendous famines. The professional army was decapitated because of forced conscription, and its incompatible military and political leaderships.
Tigray was one of the war torn regions in Ethiopia like Harar, Eritrea or Gondar. Thousands of TPLF fighters have died or suffered various forms of injuries in the struggle. But, the casualty was not limited there, it extended to all communities of Ethiopia. It was a civil war among Ethiopians, and we respect all who showed courage and determination to advance their causes. None of the then rebel groups, though, have the moral ground or the audacity to tell us that they deserve more respect than others, because they fought for democracy and others didn’t. Ethiopia has not seen democracy, as of yet in September 2016.Streets of Amhara and Oromia regions are going through another wave of ‘Developmental Terror’, under a televised order of Prime Minister Hailemariam, authorizing non judicial killings.
The conundrum at hand is testing the validity of the claim by the young Helen or General Tsadkan, that TPLF paid the most sacrifice in overthrowing Mengistu’s regime and hence is entitled to the biggest piece of the pie. Who paid the utmost sacrifice or the critical role in ousting Derg? General Tariku whose death caused formation of Kefagne dissidents or Isaias Afeworki? General Samora or General Demissie Bulto? General Merid or General Tsadkan? General Hayelom or Tamirat Layne? EPLF or TPLF? These are questions that need be answered, only if we conclude, the prior Ethiopian Army disintegrated for lack of bravery.
The truth is, that Army did not lack valor but lost its confidence in Mengistu Hailemariam and the communist party. As the excerpt from the country report above indicated, the failure was primarily attributed to the change in the international political climate, fall of USSR, and the internal failure of the Derg to cope up with the maturity of its top ranking officers and the public at large. Unless, personalities like General Tsadkan understand the limited role of TPLF in toppling Mengistu, it would be impossible for them to think outside the box, and join millions who are still struggling for true Democracy in our country.
Mengistu’s military apparatus was fueled by the Arms supply of the USSR and Intelligence support of East Germany. Eritrean Liberation Front or EPLF, the greatest foe of the Derg was built on unlimited financial and political support from the Arab League which included Sudan, Egypt Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Syria and others. Even survival of the other Ethiopian rebel groups like EPRP, EDU, TPLF or OLF, was, to a greater extent, dependent on their ability or lack thereof to befriend EPLF, and tap in to its financial and political resources, the middle east and the west. The most important factor for TPLF’s success was its quid pro quo recognition of Eritrea as a colony of Ethiopia, in effect supporting secession of Eritrea as the only solution, making Ethiopia the most populated land locked Nation of the planet.
If TPLF’s position on the Eritrean question were a result of its sheer commitment to democratic rights of neighboring Eritreans, the same group that ruled Ethiopia over the past twenty five years would have showered its own citizens, Ethiopians, with democracy. For TPLF, securing recommendation and backing of EPLF was the most significant reason not only for obtaining financial and political support but also insuring its own survival as an organization. The policy, enemy of my enemy is my friend, was adhered by the Western block, led by the US. It did everything it could to neutralize the influence of the Soviets in Ethiopia, and this materialized by, what was once known at the time as proxy war ,additional financial and political assistance going to EPLF and its ally the TPLF. Sluggish growth of EPRP and EDU in the armed struggle was greatly linked to their defiance to appeal to the appetite of EPLF, the benefactor.
Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, popularly known as Star Wars, played a strategic role in changing the minds of Mikhail Gorbachev to his Perestroika (restructuring) and Glasnost (openness). The already extraordinarily overburdened military budget of the Soviet Union could not cope with the American Star wars and its restructuring demanded ending the Soviet empire. The fall of the USSR was definitely a death sentence to the dictatorial regime of Colonel Mengistu. His support from the communist block simply vanished whereas EPLF &TPLF continued amassing aid from the Arab League, the West and China.
Following collapse of the Soviets, let alone Derg that was engulfed with wars in all fronts, number of stable governments crumbled, Poland (90),Hungary (89), Czechoslovakia (89),Bulgaria (89),Romania (90), Yugoslavia (90),and Albania (90).The domino effect of Perestroika was so powerful in Africa as well ,and so were changes in Algeria, Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Djibouti, Guinea Bissau, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Sao Tome, Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania, Tunisia, Zambia and Ethiopia. All happening within a range of three to five years.
Colonel Mengistu’s Army was fed up with fighting its own brothers and sisters in various fronts in Eritrea, Tigray, Gondar, Wollega and Ogaden. The May 1989 foiled Military coup that ended with brutal execution and incarceration of the Army’s prominent officers like General Demissie Bulto, General Merid Negussie and others had significantly altered the balance of power towards the rebels because: One, the coup created a resentment and defection of that army in tens of thousands at a time. Second, the defecting soldiers left the army along with their military kits, sucking the army dry of its resources that were already in short supply, due to the change in foreign policy of the Soviets. We all have heard EPRDF’s claim that it was built on the arms, taken from the Derg itself. Third, it created sudden gap in the army leadership which had to be filled with unexperienced military leadership of junior officers, like Legesse Asfaw.
The combined effect of the sacrifice paid by the former Generals and their followers, as a result of the coup, have greatly contributed to the advancement of the rebels to Addis Ababa and Asmara. The erroneous demonization of so called POW’s like Aba Dula Gemeda emanates from this misunderstanding of the army’s reason for its defection, and its great contribution to the rebels by becoming addition force in their growth. While General Tsadkan admits the defection of tens of thousands, he did not recognize the role of the prior Generals, whose heroic sacrifice played very critical role in shaping the sequence of events that lead to May 1991. Also, we do not forget the execution of General Tariku Ayene in Asmara, by Mengistu, for absence in battle due to medical reasons, the resulting Kefagne dissidents and the news from Sahel in Eritrea, titled the left hand chopped the right hand.
The significant majority of the longest and the bloodiest wars were fought in Eritrea, initially with ELF and later with its successor, EPLF. Almost all energy and resource of the army were tied up in containing the Eritrean secessionists. The propaganda was all about bringing shame to Ethiopia’s foreign enemies that were considered not only as financiers of the secessionist movement, but also instigators of the very idea, to sabotage Ethiopia’s access to the red sea, and subsequently undermine our right over Nile. Apart from the Red Star Operation of 1982, TPLF started to be visible after the major defeat of Derg in Afabet in 1988.The major incidents that followed were relocation of the Army from Axum to Keren (88), the Houzein massacre, the TPLF victory in Shire (89),defeat of Legesse in Tigray and inteviews of Abrham Yayeh on ETV.
While Mengistu’s primary goal was to consolidate his resources to defend Asmara, Assab and Massawa, he had to deal with other fronts. A wing of EPRP that was driven out of Tigray was fighting Derg in Western parts of Gojam and Gondar. TPLF had full control of Tigray. It formed alliance with EPDM, another wing of EPRP based in North Wollo. The coalition, EPRDF intensified its offensive in coordination with EPLF, in all of the remaining northern Ethiopia. When the Derg had its heart and soul to the conflict in Eritrea, with no or little clue about the formation of a multiethnic front EPRDF, EPLF/EPRDF was unstoppable and advanced to Gondar, Gojam, Wollega and Showa. It was a brutal war that costed lives of thousands. There are untold stories of bravery by all who took part in that bloody civil war. All have walked on landmines!
According to general estimates, about two third of the government Army was in Eritrea. It was cut off from Addis Ababa. General Gebrekidan, the one month president after Mengistu Hailemariam, instructed the army in Eritrea to surrender without a fight. The coalition of EPLF, TPLF, ANDM and OLF ousted Mengistu on May 21, 1991.However, the greatest fraud there is the fabricated narrative that only EPRDF overthrew Mengistu. What was the magnitude of events in Eritrea? It was a lie fabricated as a precursor to the entitlement mentality, and the unbearable corruption Ethiopians are facing today. It was one victory by all. Why create two, one on May 21 for EPRDF and another on May 29 for EPLF?
There are quite significant number of ethnically motivated individuals who try to paint May 20 1991 as a sole victory of TPLF over others. Meles’s another gaffe, we have pulled their tooth and let them rant with their tongue was a reflection of this narrow perception of reality. Based on this erratic comprehension of the civil war’s dynamics, members and sympathizers are seen expressing arrogance and disrespect to other major communities of the country, who did not make any less contribution than the TPLF. The egotism, ‘we have done it in the past and we will do it again’, is manifested in various ways. Strange enough, it is not even uncommon to find some imbecile individuals characterizing the 1991 victory, as a victory over Amharas, where in fact the Amharas, like all other communities, were victims of the military dictatorship of Colonel Mengistu, and had made significant contribution in the struggle against that regime.
The question is not about whether or not TPLF fought bravely. Its foot soldiers were Ethiopians and had made considerable sacrifice. The question is rather about recognizing the significant role of all Ethiopians in the struggle against that brutal regime. Following the political and economic bankruptcy of Derg, there are some who believe that it was imminent for the regime to collapse even without military resistance. Regardless, the true picture of the military struggle against Derg cannot be exhaustive or could not have succeeded without the contribution of EPLF, TPLF, EPDM.EPRP, OLF, IFLO (Islamic Front), BLM (Benshangul), WSLF, (Western Somalia), ONLF (Ogaden) and ALF (Afar). It is hard to find an Ethiopian whose family member was not imprisoned, tortured, exiled or killed. Above all, the victory on May 20 1991 was possible primarily because of the change in foreign policy of Gorbachev and the army’s lack of interest to continue fighting its brothers and sisters, using forced conscription of soldiers. This was voiced loud and clear through the failed coup of 1989.
For those of us who understand these complex dynamics, watching TPLF leeches profiteering from the bloody civil war, with their shameful greed and corruption, under a false pretense of entitlement to the biggest piece of the pie, not only is a disgrace to all Ethiopians but stains the blood of martyrs from all corners of Ethiopia. True, TPLF fighters have shed their blood in that difficult, daunting and long civil war, and Tigray was once one of the war torn provinces of Ethiopia. Speaking of TPLF per se, though, its relative strength was primarily hinged on its quid pro quo recognition of Eritrea as colony of Ethiopia, and its ability to coordinate its military ventures with EPLF. As a result, Ethiopia is now landlocked and this is another significant price paid by all Ethiopians.
Coming back to the present civil unrest, the cruelty behind the Agazi sniper shooters, pulling that last trigger taking the lives of children watching the peaceful protests in Oromia or Amhara regions, the uneducated opinion of Helen, or the irresponsible response of General Tsadkan, approving the methods of security forces in suppressing the protests are all rooted in the entitlement mentality, driving the unbearable nepotism and corruption among the TPLF elite. Digging deeper, we see that the cyst of the leech is the skewed appointment of Generals and Intelligence Chiefs. The centerpiece of wedding out corruption should begin with ensuring ethnic diversity of top ranking officers both in the military and all other security apparatus. Any anti-corruption endeavor without first changing this imbalance is bound to fail.
All Ethiopians, including any soul left within the TPLF, must be united for a fundamental change. The disproportionate sphere of influence TPLF has over the top echelon of the Army, Police, and Intelligence must end. The outcome of this action will be freeing the people of Tigray from the wrong blame, for greed of the Oligarch and its leeches who are sucking the blood of all Ethiopians, leading the country towards a very dangerous path, probably to another round of civil war which of course, will be fought under completely different regional and international conditions. The Oligarch has enabled Helen and thousands defraud UN at a great magnitude, enabling the cronies’ abuse a resettlement program designed for victims of Eritrean crisis.
With change in the political platform, the leeches would lose the motive to perpetuate ethnic tension, for sustaining the entitlement and corruption, they found so far to be a profitable venture. With change, the leadership that authorized the recent killings can be brought to justice and there can be an independent institution, to arbiter the problems in Wolkait or, Oromia. It is time to stand together as Ethiopians and raise our voice for the best solution, Freedom and Democracy for all. Let us say no to the massacre of peaceful protesters and inmates in Oromia and Amhara regions .My heartily condolences are to all victims.
Hoping for all Ethiopians a New Year filled with God’s Comfort and Blessings!