By Dr Gebremichael G Zeratsion
We are only weeks away from the anniversary of the genocidal war on Tigray launched by the Ethiopian regime in alliance with Amhara regional forces, the Eritrean regime of Isaias Afewerki, and supported by countries like Somalia and the United Arab Emirates. Many outside observers assume the root cause of the war is a power struggle between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). This, however, is a very superficial assessment that fails to take into account the disparate interests of all parties to the conflict. Members of the genocidal alliance that have deployed against Tigray each have distinct reasons to want to exterminate Tigray as a political and economic entity. They also share a common fear of democracy and the rights of people to self-determination which they perceive to be contrary to their political ambitions.
First let’s briefly see the distinct reasons driving each of the allied forces in their war on Tigray.
For Abiy Ahmed, it is mainly about power. Driven by his wishes to be a king, according to what he claims was a prophecy foretold by his mother – he is determined to do whatever it takes to attain absolute power. . In pursuit of this dream, he saw the TPLF and the people of Tigray to be his primary obstacles. Hence, he decided to annihilate Tigray so that it no longer has any political or military significance. This is corroborated by his own words from his speech addressing journalists shortly after his forces withdrew from Tigray following their defeat. In that speech, he said that he had degraded Mekelle, the capital city of Tigray, to the level of Bashasha, the small village where he was born.
For the Amhara elite, it is mainly about hatred for Tigray emanating from long-standing historical and identity issues. Most, if not all, of the cultural, religious essence and origins of historical Ethiopia originates in Tigray. The Axumite civilization, the Geez alphabet, the Ark of the Covenant, and the first mosque in Africa (Al-Nejashi) are all from Tigray and in Tigray. Both Christianity and Islam entered Ethiopia through Tigray. All these things are intrinsic to the political and historical narrative which is widely claimed by the Amhara elite and which they wish to present as being Amhara. Unfortunately for them, you can never feel confident enough about owning what you have borrowed so long as the true owner (Tigray) exists. So, for their fantasy to be realized, the Amhara elites see exterminating the Tigrayan identity through subjugation and assimilation as their only option.
For Isaias Afewerki, it is revenge for a bruised ego. Isaias was badly defeated by Ethiopia, in the 1998-2000 border war, under the leadership of the then governing coalition the Ethiopian People’s Liberation Front (EPRDF) in which the TPLF was the most influential party. Ever since that time, he has been biding his time and seeking to reverse his humiliating defeat.
When Abiy came to power, he saw his chance for revenge and sent his troops to Tigray not only to irreversibly defeat the TPLF but also to make sure that Tigray is decimated to such an extent that the region was rendered irrelevant economically and politically for the foreseeable future.
Isaias Afewerki’s War on Democracy
Most keen observers note that one of the most significant milestones on the path to war on Tigray was the election for the Tigrayan regional government held on 09/09/2020. It is to be remembered that Abiy Ahmed threatened Tigray at this time, saying that mothers would cry and infrastructures would be destroyed if Tigray proceeds with the election. It is also a recent memory that Abiy told the public in Axum that election is not a necessity for a nation, giving examples of nations surviving without elections for decades. His prime example was Eritrea. We also know that the Ethiopian government postponed elections using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse.
This trend of postponing elections was followed by Farmaajo in Somalia, who had been all too eager to support the war on Tigray including by sending in troops. It is of course well known that Isaias Afewerki has never allowed an election in Eritrea giving it the dubious distinction of being a country in which elections have never been held. These allied forces wanted to suppress democratic practices like elections from the Horn and consolidate monarchical or dictatorial forms of government. From within this framework, Tigray was perceived as a threat for following a different path and choosing to continue with the process of building democracy. They saw Tigray as an entity teaching the region/horn of Africa a bad lesson (some forms of democratic values) and couldn’t tolerate any democratic practices in Tigray, however, limited they may be. The logic behind this mindset is Tigray practices some basic principles of democracy like elections under its own accord is bad precedence threatening plans to establish autocratic rule across the region. Tigray was seen as a major obstacle to these efforts and hence condemned to be eliminated at all costs.
The plan to seed autocratic and friendly governments in the Horn of Africa is one that has long been held by the Eritrean dictator Isaias Afewerki. His dream to shape the Horn of Africa in Eritrea’s image; Eritreanizing the Horn is one which had persisted throughout the political life of the dictator. He was, however, denied the chance to fully realize it mainly because of the military, economic and diplomatic might of Ethiopia in the region under the EPRDF. The 1998-2000 Ethio-Eritrea war was part of Isaias’s plan to influence the EPRDF/TPLF to follow his form of political structure. When the first elections post the defeat of the communist Derge and the coming to power of the EPRDF coalition were held in 1995, Isaias was furious and blamed the TPLF for having succumbed to western influences. He then changed the course of bilateral relations of the two countries when he tried to change the TPLF’s path by force and intimidation which finally led to the “border war”.
Fortunately for Isaias, he has now found an ally in Addis Ababa who not only succumbs to his influence but also has the same dictatorial aspirations. Isaias saw this as a golden opportunity to erase not only the TPLF but all of its legacies as illustrated in his secret document titled “Political laundry of Ethiopia from Woyane legacies”. Political laundry was seen as a necessary first step by Isaias before seeding his grand plan of Eritreanizing the Horn of Africa.
Understanding this aspect of the conflict will help in solving this conflict which has created the worst humanitarian crisis the world has seen in decades. Sadly, this perspective of the conflict is not well understood by the international community. A takeaway message from this analysis of the conflict is that, as long as Isaias Afewerki is in power, the chances of this conflict being resolved with negotiations are slim to none and as long as Isaias Afewerki stays in power, the Horn of Africa will never have sustainable peace.
About the Author
Dr Gebremichael G Zeratsion is a resident physician in NY, USA.