Over a month ago well-known journalist, political activist, and founder of Balderas political party, Eskinder Nega, wrote a controversial article, from prison, on the ongoing war on Tigray that has been characterized by atrocities that fit the definition of genocide. As a Tigrayan directly affected by the conflict, I decided to write my reflection using this article as a prism for understanding carefully disguised but implicit support of this war that wishes to present itself as neutrality.
In this article titled “If there must be war in Ethiopia…” Eskinder primarily discusses the lack of empathy currently seen in Ethiopia, the deep divide, and the war. Eskinder’s main message was summarized well with the last sentence:
The first thing we note is that Eskinder frames the war on Tigray as an “internal matter”. This is a key mischaracterization that reveals that far from being a disinterested and fair observer the author is committed to a perception of the war according to the dishonest propaganda promoted by the Ethiopian regime. It has long been established that including by the Ethiopian government that Eritrean troops had extensively taken part in the war, while reliable sources continue to reveal the extent to which Somalia troops and technical support from the United Arab Emirates in the form of drone warfare have featured in this conflict. Moreover, drone sales from China, Turkey, Iran, and Israel were reported. The persistent violations of humanitarian and human rights laws by the Ethiopian and allied forces have also necessitated the ongoing diplomatic intervention of the international community.
A second revealing element in this article is the false equivalence that it draws between the industrial-scale destruction and ongoing atrocities that have been inflicted on Tigray and the unfortunate expansion/eruptions of conflict elsewhere. What is particularly notable in this regard is that for almost all of the last year Tigray has been put under a complete telecommunications blackout, along with an economic siege and a humanitarian blockade revealing systematic and state-sponsored targeting of the civilian community. This, even as bodies continue to wash up in Sudan carried by the Tekeze river from Western Tigray and blood-soaked topsoil, satellite imagery, and smuggled out videos showed acts of complete impunity in which perpetrators spoke of the human flesh of their victims in an almost cannibalistic tone.
Another assertion made by Eskinder in the article is that the rallies, petitions, and other forms of advocacy have been one-sided. If, however, the primary aim is indeed to promote peace and peacefulness, calls to end the war can not be perceived as one-sided. Similarly, calling for military actors to abide by international conventions and humanitarian law or demanding independent investigations cannot be characterized as a partisan issue. Indeed if these calls from what Eskinder may see as pro-Tigray advocacy efforts had been heard, the current escalation of the war that has spread and affected more people would likely have not happened.
Beyond these details within the article, the overall message of the article is my main reason for writing this reflection.
Eskinder wrote this article from a prison cell away from the firing guns and the bombs dropping from the sky. As difficult as it is to imagine, those that were massacred, raped, and disabled can only wish to have been in a prison cell away from the Ethiopian Defense Force, Eritrean Defense Force, and Amhara special forces. History documents countless wars and one thing that is common to all is the fact that war brings destruction and the most vulnerable are the ones severely affected. Even if one is not directly affected by the war, there are indirect negative consequences of war on the larger population. Ethiopia’s economy is being crippled as I write this because of the war. There has not been any transparency on the cost of the war and its economic impact this far, but what we know is that, away from war, in the capital city Addis Ababa, families are unable to keep up with the high cost of living that keeps getting worse due to the war.
In conclusion, there is no holy war. War brings destruction and death. In a day and age when we have abundant tools that can solve any differences. The country now more than ever needs calls for peace and dialogue.