War is Peace
“A political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable,” George Orwell.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, described war accurately in his acceptance speech. He said, “War is the epitome of hell.” With the instability he has caused in Ethiopia and in the Horn of Africa, it is clear that his speech was only for media consumption.
Assassinations, Violence, and Chaos
Since the start of his premiership in April 2018, local and international news have covered the widespread killings, instability, and potential fragmentation of the Ethiopian state. To cover the ugly reality that has been coming to light, Abiy hosted fancy dinners at the palace and spent an untraceable amount of money building recreational parks. To see beyond this thinly-veiled facade and to avoid conspiracy theories, I believe there needs to be an independent and thorough investigation as to who is directly responsible for certain action and inaction. But we can all be sure about one thing, all these atrocities and disinformation about atrocities, seem calculated.
In June 2018, Abiy threw himself a celebratory rally of sorts in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Millions of Ethiopians attended, as did high officials of Ethiopia’s ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Shortly after the day’s events began, a bomb went off, leaving multiple people wounded by the stampede. Abiy fired the chief of federal police and invited the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to identify who was behind the bombing. We are still waiting for the report from the FBI.
The death of the controversial Nile dam project’s lead engineer Simegnew Bekelle (ethnic Agew) in July 2018 shocked the nation. Simegnew is known to have represented the country’s ambitions and unity. The Ethiopian federal police were quick to conclude that this iconic individual took his own life. Many with connections to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) were arrested on corruption charges, including those in METEC, a state owned arms and machinery industry complex working on the GERD. Later in 2019, Ethiopia announced a reduction in the number of turbines decreasing the capacity of the dam.
In a similar crackdown, Tigrayan former intelligence officers were arrested without charges. The lucky ones were freed after a few months in prison. At this point, it was clear that Abiy was establishing a new order, but unclear if it was for the justice and security of the country or to consolidate power.
Under the pretext of justice and law enforcement, Abiy took his first shot at the Somali region in August 2018, countless people were killed, lives disrupted, citizens traumatized when Abiy arrested the regional leader Abdi Iley.
Then, the chaos moved to the Amhara region in June 2019, where Abiy’s administration eliminated prominent Amhara political leaders who opposed Abiy’s political ideologies in a dramatic shootout. On the same day, Ethiopian Chief of General Staff Seare Mekonen and General Gizae Aberra, both ethnic Tigrayans, were murdered.
The Oromos were also not immune to the new chaos. With the return of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) to the political arena following Abiy’s invitation, an anti-Abiy Oromo Liberation Army emerged from the OLF. As a result, Abiy cut off Wollega in Western Oromia region from telecommunication and launched several airstrikes. Additionally, the irresponsible and unwarranted attempt to apprehend or kill a major Oromo political activist, Jawar Mohammed, resulted in multiple protests, civilian deaths, and destruction.
The oppression and assassinations did not stop with key politicians who opposed Abiy. National idols, activists, and celebrities who stood for the rights of their people were also not safe.
In June 2020, the unexplained murder of a prominent Oromo activist and singer Hachalu Hundessa led to countless more deaths and conflict across Oromia. Following Hachalu’s death, Abiy’s administration went after other prominent Oromo and Ethiopian leaders who did not agree with his ideologies. The Abiy administration charged Jawar with terrorism and he has been under arrest since June 2020. Countless protests have taken place in Oromia opposing Jawar’s arrest to which the Ethiopian government has responded with violence and communication blackouts. Abiy also arrested Eskinder Nega of Balderas party and many others who did not align with his leadership.
Further, many Ethiopian ethnic groups – Gedio, Gurage, Benshangul Gumuz, Kaffa, Qemant, Agew – were displaced because of internal violence that took place across the country. Many university students were killed because of their ethnicity, Tigrayan university students being the main target across the country. None of these nameless, faceless individuals received justice, just lives taken in the name of “reform” or “a bright future.” Abiy’s administration typically found ways to attribute the violence to Tigrigna and Oromifa speakers.
To this day, news of violence and death continues to come out of most parts of the country; mostly with no ownership or responsibility, just pure propaganda for more war. Those with access to social media share their opinions about the origins of the violence in the country, mostly targeting those they see as enemies of their own ethnic group.
Abiy’s failure to protect civilians either demonstrates that he is unfit to lead a complicated country like Ethiopia or he is deliberately capitalizing on chaos to gain support as he pursues his authoritarian ambitions.
By July 2020, all regional governments, except Tigray’s, were replaced by individuals who were deemed to be loyal to Abiy and his administration. Abiy called it weeding out, others called it consolidation of power. Every display of his ignorance, plagiarism and fascism was met with an even louder cheer from his followers. His lies are portrayed as facts.
Sadly, justice is denied to all of the innocent victims who lost their lives. Ethiopia is left with one man in charge that turns everything upside down, reversing decades worth of development and any potential for political progress.
Calculated Attacks on Tigray
Tigray’s elected government, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), was solely blamed for the crimes of the former political front that had ruled Ethiopia for three decades, the EPRDF, of which Abiy Ahmed was a senior member. Local media played their part in dehumanizing Tigrigna speakers, absolving the non-Tigrayan leadership of the EPRDF from any responsibility. The EPRDF’s 27 years of internationally recognized leadership and stability quickly became portrayed as 27 years of pain, suffering and war. I am not defending the TPLF’s role in EPRDF nor denying pain caused by the government; but unless one is being deliberately obtuse, key personnel who are now leading the country with Abiy held some of the highest positions of power within the EPRDF.
As an ordinary Tigrayan, I used to joke about how the dissolution of the EPRDF would be a great reality show about divorce between power houses who do not want to share the blame for a failed marriage. Sadly, this is no longer a joke I can tell when talking about Ethiopian politics. This also is not the drama I had imagined. The stakeholders are not merciful. This is now more like a horror story, a hunt for the ideologue TPLF and long awaited collective punishment of Tigrayans.
The war on Tigray started on November 4, 2020, when the world was distracted by the U.S. elections. A full-on war was quickly labeled as a “law enforcement operation.” Abiy’s lies and fascism skyrocketed. News reports that Eritrean troops were in Ethiopia and murdering civilians in Tigray were denied by the Abiy administration and the Eritrean government. The involvement of Eritrea and its forces complicates the conflict even more, due to unresolved border issues between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Abiy went as far as producing conspiracies for the public, claiming that “Tigrayans are the ones wearing Eritrean uniforms”. The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres took Abiy’s words as facts, without concrete actions that guaranteed the safety of citizens and refugees stuck in the conflict zone. Meanwhile, the Eritrean troops were butchering not only Tigrayans, but also Eritrean refugees.
Abiy’s “law enforcement operation” deployed every force, including its air force. As the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) advanced inside Tigray, ENDF officers threatened to shell Mekelle, the capital of Tigray. The ENDF saw Tigrayans as combatants, killing civilians on the way to completing their so-called law enforcement operation. After the federal troops invaded Mekelle, Abiy told the Ethiopian parliament that, “no civilians were hurt in the process;” again, another lie. He stated that the majority of Tigrayans that took refuge in Sudan were combatants, a lie. Abiy assured Ethiopians and the international community the war would be over in a matter of weeks and all would be forgotten.
Nothing Abiy claimed about the war could be further than the truth. There is a method to Abiy’s war on Tigray: deny every accusation until they give you no choice; if cornered, admit the facts and fabricate politically acceptable reasons for your actions.
Such a pattern carried on for months, months of famine, pain and suffering for the people of Tigray. The mass arrests and forced disappearance of Tigrayans in other parts of Ethiopia and the plight of the diaspora continued. Yet, this human suffering at unimaginable levels was met with inaction from the international community.
Meanwhile, Abiy continued the indiscriminate shelling and airstrikes on Tigrayan cities and villages. In June 2021, yet another airstrike hit Togoga, a marketplace, on market day. The Ethiopian government denied the airstrikes at first but later confirmed them, denying the targeting of civilians. For the ENDF that is deliberately blocking aid from the people, tomatoes were considered weapons. Tigrayans are all seen as combatants, irrespective of age. Targets whether they carry spinach or a machine gun.
As the genocidal war continued, so did Abiy’s fallacies. He made a mockery of the international community by stating that he declared a ceasefire on humanitarian grounds but blocked humanitarian access to Tigray and later expelled UN officials. To this day, Abiy is launching airstrikes in cities with no military presence. The government first denied and later admitted to the airstrikes.
Since the war began, genocidal intent has become clearer. The Finnish Foreign Minister and European Union (EU) Special Envoy to Ethiopia Mr. Pekka Haavisto confirmed that Ethiopian officials openly admitted to him that their goal is to exterminate Tigrayans for 100 years. Abiy, his advisors and regional presidents have made dangerous statements vowing that Tigrayans were the enemy and that they need to be erased from history and memory.
The United Nations has expressed concerns about a potential genocide, but has not acted to protect those who are on the verge of extermination. Some United Nations Ethiopia officials made an absolute joke of the human suffering in Tigray by denying the extent of the atrocities and displayed their impartiality, calling Tigrayans vicious. The minority groups inside Tigray, the Kunama and Irob, are ignored in the face of an existential threat like no other. The atrocities and ethnic cleansing in Western Tigray by Amhara regional special forces is traumatizing and unforgivable.
For the record, the government of Tigray shared its willingness for peaceful negotiations, but Abiy rejected this offer. The Amhara regional president affirmed his dedication to war by posting he would rather commit suicide than have Western Tigray, currently occupied and annexed by Amhara, returned to Tigray. Tigrayans have no other choice but to fight a more powerful enemy that is trying to subjugate and eliminate them. The only aggressor in this conflict is Abiy and his allies.
Tigrayans’ View of the War
As the egregious war crimes continue, so too does the circus that is the Ethiopian government. It describes its blunders in the most ironic of ways–with the Ministry of Peace advocating and allocating resources for war, which is textbook Orwellian. In today’s Ethiopia, led by a Nobel Peace Prize Winner Prime Minister, war is peace. Tigrayans now understand the meanings behind the terms the Ethiopian government uses to communicate. Here are a few definitions of key terms as per the government:
“Sovereignty” – The right to exterminate one’s own citizens in peace, even going as far as involving another country if need be.
“Law enforcement operation” – a genocidal war on a region that is home to over 7 million citizens by using every resource available in the Horn of Africa (as evidenced by troops being recruited from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia) and also blocking aid.
“Humanitarian ceasefire” – declared as a result of advances by the TDF and heavy losses in battle, leading to a withdrawal of troops and continued genocide by blocking access to aid, communication services, and transportation.
“Territorial integrity” – a pretext for genocide, to attack people who fight against state terrorism, even though the Ethiopian constitution allows regions to secede from the federation.
“Concern, condemn…” – It looks like you are dealing with a difficult situation, we will talk to the Prime Minister to keep it under the radar, and please no influx of refugees into our countries.
“Rebels” – forces currently fighting against subjugation and extermination. Forces defending the elected government of Tigray.
These are but a few painful definitions that Tigrayans deal with on a daily basis. It spikes my anxiety to know the people of Tigray are fighting against the fascist government of Ethiopia, a power supported by Canada, Eritrea, Somalia, the UAE, Turkey, Israel, China and Iran; each one of these powers with their own agenda.
It is all by design. Abiy’s “prosperity” party can only preserve itself through chaos. The chaos that has followed his inauguration can only be explained as being strategic. The fueling of a polarization so great that it successfully broke the social fabric of the country. Distracted by consistent chaos, the privatization of corporations like Ethiotelecom and the reduction of turbines for the GERD, METEC, slipped through the cracks and was drowned out in the public’s memory. And if the TPLF an ideologue gets eradicated in the process, then Abiy will be crowned king in front of the world.
The Ethiopian empire is complicated, it has layers and layers of trauma, revision of history, dehumanization of certain groups at certain times. What a journey it has been for Tigrayans, a reality check on the rules of the game. Winner takes all, it seems.
It is reminiscent of David and Goliath. The Tigrayans, a minority in Ethiopia, are fighting for their right to administer themselves, for their right to own their history, to own their civilization, and most significantly, they are fighting for their right to live and exist. The world is operating on technicalities, reading between the lines, and human suffering is considered collateral damage to a more divine goal of nation building. “Ethiopia is built on the blood of our ancestors” does not sound as glorious now when you understand this blood was the blood of your ancestors being slaughtered to bend the knee.
One year on, David is still fighting back.
Eternal peace to our brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers taken from us in this horrible war.
Dedicated to the women of Tigray.
A magician who turns pain into bravery
She who turns anger into empathy
A mother of nature,
A woman of truth,
A mother to freedom fighters
Ado Tigrawyeti, A warrior
Betty – Omna Tigray External Contributor, November 2021