Editors note: On 3 March 2022, the Firoz Lalji Institute for Africa organized an event titled “Finding a pathway to peace and dialogue in Ethiopia“. Mulugeta participated in it by sending a recorded video from Mekelle. He talked about the war preparation, Tigray’s defense, the defeat and the comeback, and the future of Tigray. We present the transcription of his speech below.
Ladies and gentlemen,
My name is Mulugeta Gebrehiwot Berhe and greetings from Mekelle, Tigray. I am grateful to the organizers of the Tigray event, for organizing it and also inviting me to the panel. Indeed, the Tigray case deserves such attention among other things. The concept note for the panel gave me a wide latitude in choosing my talking points and I opted to talk on some points on the narrative of the war in Tigray and the lessons the Tigrayans should take from it. I thank the organizers again for giving me the chance and the audience for listening to my talk in advance. I will begin my talk with trying to answer why and how we arrived here as Tigrayans.
The war in Tigray has tested the very existence of its people. We Tigrayans have faced a campaign of extermination through massacre, expansion, rape and starvation. Many have perished, many more are suffering and we all are traumatized. As a people, our existence is still at stake. Some parts of Tigray are still under the occupation of foreign forces and their Ethiopian allies. Any land and air transportation to Tigray and out of Tigray is closed. Tigray is completely cut off from the national electric grid system, and there is no internet connection in Tigray. Shortage of food and medicine is killing thousands every week as the Ethiopian Government and its Eritrean ally have successfully blocked any passage of humanitarian aid. The whole world is watching the genocide in Tigray with little effort to stop it.
It was visible for us Tigrayans the development of a hostile attitude against us following the ascent of Abiy Ahmed to power. Abiy’s massive and coordinated media campaign against Tigrayans in a year’s time already begun to bear fruits by evicting tens of thousands of Tigrayans from all corners of Ethiopia, ransacking their properties. The road connecting Tigray to the center of the country via the Amhara region was blocked for over a year leading to the beginning of the war. Abiy Ahmed’s rapprochement with Eritrea was already clear that it had hostile anti-Tigrayan motivations. Hostilities from Asmara to Tigray continued while senior security officers of both countries frequented back and forth travels to both capitals along with frequent joint visits to Bahir Dar and Gondar for undisclosed purposes. The ruling elite of Tigray knew that some sort of military confrontation was coming but they never thought that it would be on the scale they faced.
By the time they learned about the full preparation and plan of the intended military attack, it was too late for them to prepare for it. It was obvious that a long and devastating war was coming and the rulers of Tigray were only reacting to developments rather than engaging for a longer preparation. For example, three weeks into the offensive, the ENDF decided to dissect the Northern Command into two commands for effective coordination of the attack with the Eritreans. It also decided to replace the leadership of the northern command with officers familiar with the plan for the war. The regional government had to stop them , citing the violations of the procedures of the army for such bigger decisions, after learning of the details of the plan for the attack. A week to the start of the war, Tigray learned that most of the army of the Southern Command began mobilizing to the directions of south Tigray via the Amhara region and most of the force of the Eastern Command began mobilizing to the eastern side of Tigray via the Afar region. In a similar tone, the Eritrean Defense Forces called on its reserves and their units and massively mobilized its army divisions to the borders of Eritrea to Tigray, waiting for the attack to begin.
Tigray decided for a pre-emptive operation on the Northern Command a day before the beginning of the concerted military campaign. The action on the Northern Command was a mixture of political and military actions. Several officers knowing the plot against Tigray and considering the acts of the Federal Government as treason on national interests automatically changed sides without fighting and convinced several army units to simply cooperate with the Government of Tigray. Some who were part of the covert planning resisted to surrender and decided to fight, thus calling for a limited military action.
The action on the Northern Command over and above weakening the capacity of the regime, particularly its mechanized capacity, helped delay the speed and immediate impact of the planned military attack. Furthermore, it enabled Tigray to have access to arms which had a serious impact on the amount of casualties it inflicted on the forces of aggression. Despite this, however, the Tigrayans were overwhelmed by the joint campaign of the coalition forces that were mobilized at their full capacity. The whole army of the ENDF was mobilized to the war. The Amahara regional state mobilized special police forces that were over 20,000-strong to the war, along with an assortment of special forces and militias from the other regions of Ethiopia. Thirty-eight of the forty-five divisions of the Eritrean Defense Forces were mobilized to the war in the first weeks and later forced to the war. Most devastating was the deployment of the armed unmanned aerial vehicles or drones of the United Arab Emirates alongside the Ethiopian Air Force targeting command control and firepower of the TDF with reasonably effective results. This development forced the TDF to focus on protecting its core force and work towards the full preparation for the full war.
The people of Tigray, who observed the intent of the military campaign as manifested in its indiscriminate attacks on civilian lives and properties, began positively responding to the calls of their government form of mobilization. They knew that the threat was an existential one. The forces of aggression took their produce and their animals and burned and killed whatever they could. The joint forces ransacked whatever public and private social and economic infrastructure and dismantled their food security system; they raped their mothers, wives and daughters, often in front of them and accompanied by humiliating insults. In response to these actions, the whole people of Tigray turned every corner of Tigray into a point of resistance. TDF, in a very short period of time built an army, rebooted its armed struggle military strategy tactics and defeated its enemies and liberated most of Tigray in one of the most astounding feats of arms in history. In a matter of eight months, the ENDF lost most of its divisions and armament to the TDF and left the capital of Tigray, Mekelle, in a hasty retreat. The TDF followed and crushed most of the remaining forces in the Amhara and Afar areas proximate to the Tigray region. The ENDF lost the war in June, 2021. Rather than recognize the iron logic of the battlefield and seek to negotiate, Abiy chose to just fight on. With or without any external support, we are sure that this atrocious war will be left behind like all other similar wars. But the war thus far has left the Tigrayans with the huge lessons:
- Their survival will only come out of their struggle and resistance and will absolutely owe nothing to the international community as it all collectively and individually failed to stop the genocidal war in Tigray.
- Until all of them including including the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security council, begin to reckon with their moral failures over Tigray, they will have little leverage over what the Tigrayans people decide to do. There is a chance for these international organizations to begin reckoning with themselves by forcing the government to immediately open access for humanitarian operations and the resumption of essential services. These are not issues for negotiation as they are simply crimes against humanity. The international community can also do enough to the removal of Eritreans forces from Tigray and the return of the borders of Tigray as they existed prior to the outbreak of the war.
Tigray will want to negotiate for a comprehensive ceasefire and a final political settlement. Its experience has now shown it that it should have a referendum under which its final status as an independent state or as a member of the Ethiopian federation is to be determined. Up until the modalities and institutions for such an internationally recognized referendum is in place, it will look into a transitional government arrangement, whereby it is allowed to retain its security forces up until the political fate of Tigray is determined by a referendum; whereby all forms of crimes are investigated by an independent body and justice is served to the victims and the perpetrators are tried in an internationally accepted standard; whereby Tigray is allowed access to international assistance in a direct way.
But the situation also poses some long-term lessons for Tigray, following the developments it led to the war. Whether as an independent state or as an integral part of Ethiopia, Tigray from now on wants to see a democracy with the following qualities:
- it wants to build independent state institutions and wants to end the current fusion of the ruling party with the state that has denied the autonomy of the state.
- It wants a political opening whereby freedom of expression and organization is fully practiced in the necessary institutions for such a practice are in place.
- It wants its governance system to depart from a culture of wartime leadership that did cost it a lot thus far.
On the international front, the Tigrayans should prepare to work for genuine multilateralism, which is the weapon of the weak. In the advent of a multi-polar world, the Tigrayans should be considering a new non-allied movement fighting for genuine multilateralism along with other nations. This brings me to the end of my talk.
The war in Tigray should end soon or the world is going to witness massive atrocities in an ever witnessed levels as a result of the bloody war and the man-made famine. The Tigrayans at this particular time, while prioritizing all their efforts, should also begin thinking of taking lessons and preparing for the future. If they fail this, they will face the end of the war unprepared and may fail to bring a lasting solution to their problems.
I thank you for your attention again.