By Amanuel Biedemariam
On January 15, 2014, ESAT reported that the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRDF) conducted organizational evaluation and quoted Bereket Simon, former Ethiopia’s Information Minister and new advisor to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalgen, on how he characterized the differences amongst the EPRDF leaders during their deliberations. He said,
“Before we replaced Revolutionary Democracy with Developmental Democracy, the Front has been divided into three groups. One group of the leadership had argued that our problem was internal and that we need to first check that, while the other group held that our problem was Shabia/Eritrea and that we need to fight them first, but the third position which said that after fighting Shabia/Eritrea, we should then look at our internal problems had become the winning idea.”
According to the statement, the EPRDF is no longer a Revolutionary Democracy. It is now Developmental Democracy (whatever that means). In order to come up to that determination however, the group was divided to three camps but the final outcome was a decision to fight “Shaebia/Eritrea” as a primary focus and address their issues later.
The irony, one prerequisite to development or any progress for any nation is peace. When a nation ensures relative peace then there is a foundation for progress. The decision by the EPRDF to “Fight Shaebia/Eritrea” as a prerequisite to their developmental democracy is simply absurd, laughable and dangerous at the same time.
After a 15 year period that started with a border war and morphed into the current so called No-War No- Peace strategy; the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF/EPRDF) decided to continue on the same path albeit with a dressed-up name. The question is, at what cost? Who paid for it initially? Who is responsible for the last 15 years? The TPLF evaluation did not entertain peace with Eritrea; does that mean they have no intention to make peace with Eritrea ever? Furthermore, on what grounds does Ethiopia’s current regime, the TPLF/EPRDF is trying to continue the path of hostility? What is the ultimate goal? How will Eritrea deal with the intransigent TPLF? And ultimately, what constituency of Ethiopia will support this intransigence?
Moreover, how did Ethiopia do without peace with Eritrea? Could it have done better? How have the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea fared? Is the past 15 years a model by which two neighboring countries should conduct their affairs for the future? Who pays for all these? Who paid for the past?
The key question, why did Bereket Simon come-out now and made these absurd statements? Moreover, why now, when many particularly the US, for the first time in over 15 years is talking peace did Bereket Simon roll-out this war agenda? The questions are endless.
The answer to all these questions are found on a statement one astute Eritrean political figure made a while back. When asked to respond about outrageous repeated statements by the TPLF against Eritrea, he answered, “When a dog barks uncontrollably disturbing peace, the best option is to talk to the owners of the dog.”
There are three key reasons why Bereket Simon decided to come out and declared the continuation of the hostilities.
1) The current chatter that the US is on the verge reestablishing ties with Eritrea is a concern and they are crying for some attention. They want to make sure that the US does not abandon them. Ambassador David Shinn’s comment that we will not have relations with Eritrea at the expense of our important ally Ethiopia is designed to do just that; allay concerns. That however, is not working because the reaction to Ambassador Shinn has been very harsh.
2) Improved Eritrea US relations are a serious concern for the pocket books of the minority regime. Ethiopia has provided boots for the West that funds its military. In turn the TPLF controls its army with the billions in funding received from the West specifically the US by using it as incentive. Those who are loyal are rewarded by assignments on peacekeeping missions for lucrative pay. That means there is a security dimension to it as well because the funds pacify multi ethnic military that could turn on them.
3) Peace is the greatest threat to the very existence of the TPLF/EPRDF. Therefore, they must perpetuate these conflicts particularly with Eritrea. The TPLF is using the border issue to control the people of Ethiopia by misleading them as if the border is a negotiating ploy hence continues the declared No-Peace No-War agenda indefinitely.
Time the enemy
The TPLF/EPRDF has run out of time. There has been tremendous regional and global changes that lead to change of attitude and approach in dealing with the countries of the region. Their strategy to subdue Eritrea failed. To the contrary all economic signals indicate that Eritrea is forging ahead independently. The US waited for over a decade and half to bring regime change in Eritrea using Ethiopia and failed.
China’s influence in the region is forcing changes on US Africa policy. The changes on Western global Geo-Strategic shift away from Middle East to Asia plays a factor. Military and other budget cuts in the US will certainly affect changes. In addition, the death of Meles Zenawi and, the power transition that ensued has created a precarious power- sharing leadership arrangement that generated a great deal of uncertainty.
Moreover, countries in the region are working for their interests diligently. Recent activities by countries in the region particularly Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea are something to pay attention to for many reasons.
The US holds the key to Eritrea Ethiopia future relations simply because Ethiopia as a client state and dependent on US for political, diplomatic, economic, food and military support/aid is amenable to US demands. Thus, when and if the US decides it is on the best interest of the US for the TPLF to create peace with Eritrea then there will be no choice left but to acquiesce to US demands. That is the reality.
The question however remains, after paying dear lives of over 20,000 Eritrean souls, thousands more wounded; after having millions displaced; after decades of hostility that impacted families negatively in many ways; in short, after Eritrea paid the price with dear blood why on earth will the people of Eritrea throw a lifeline to the TPLF? Will they?
That simply means the neck of the TPLF is on the table. The US is at a critical point where they have to make a choice whether to save Ethiopia or the TPLF. When an organization with no constituency and according to Bereket Simon not clear about the future-direction of the nation decide to place their fate on hostilities with a neighboring country Eritrea; the US has a lot to worry about. When the perception remains Bereket Simon is the key figure rendering Prime Minister Hailmariam Desalegne as a figurehead, the US has a lot to worry about. Is TPLF/EPRDF Ethiopia? These are some sticky points. Ambassador David Shinn tried to address these conundrum but no takers. He said,
“Although the United States might decide to try again to improve relations with Eritrea, it will not do so at the expense of its ties with Ethiopia.”
The statement above said Ethiopia, not TPLF/EPRDF. The US is cognizant of these complexities. The US at this stage is desperate to save Ethiopia because the current states of affairs are unsustainable.
Ambassador Hank Cohen’s approach is therefore commendable as he is trying to thread a thin line to save a nation from embedded ethnic-political-system that can spell disaster with long term consequences for the region and US long term interests.
Eritrea therefore holds the key.