Ethiopia is being treated in the stages of world society as a ‘rockstar’ who has just fallen from grace for whatever reason. Multilateral organizations such as the EU and the UN and Western countries including the USA, France, Germany, Ireland, and the UK have repeatedly issued “deep concerns” and communiques about the current state of affairs in Ethiopia. The language used to convey their views are clearly domineering (e.g. the Ethiopian government MUST unconditionally declare ceasefire and MUST enter into unconditional dialogue with the TPLF) and belittling (their messages leave the impression that the Ethiopian government does not know what to do in the face of uncertainty). Guessing the possibility of worsening conditions, such countries and organizations are almost forcing their own citizens and employees to immediately leave Ethiopia.
Highly regarded broadcast media such as Al Jazeera, the BBC, and CNN have given regular coverage for the issue, albeit in a biased and sensational fashion. The Ethiopian coverage by these news organizations is a living testimony of the deprofessionalization of journalism. Moreover, social media organizations including Facebook and YouTube seem to frantically overact now, suspending the accounts of their customers who appear to disseminate stories about the crisis in Ethiopia.
All these countries, multilateral organizations and media seem to aim at hitting a target, that Ethiopia is falling apart before our eyes and quickly. For a person who does not have some knowledge about Ethiopia before, this orchestration by these entities may create the illusion that Ethiopia’s doomsday is on the horizon.
The final goal of all these drama by the West is to mount immense psychological pressure on the government of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people at large to unconditionally come to the negotiation table with the TPLF. An immediate ceasefire followed by an unconditional dialogue and negotiation are portrayed as the only viable strategies to emerge from this situation. Although these seem good intentions at face value, the ways they are communicated are undiplomatic and inconsiderate, and their underlying assumptions are flawed and biased towards the TPLF.
Considering what is currently happening to Ethiopia, it is saddening to realize that multilateralism and Western democracy generally embody and exhibit governance through biased propaganda, coercion, imposition, and domination. The very grounds upon which the legitimacy and credibility of international organizations and Western countries were found seem to shake to their core. In this 21st Century, hard form of governance through confrontations and flexing of muscles is found totally irrelevant and ineffective, no matter how weak a particular country is compared to the powerful. Scientization and rationalization of foreign policy and international relations are the only effective strategies for further enhancing the legitimacy, credibility, and impact of international organizations and western democracies. Anything other this is tantamount to the cold war mentality of the 20th Century.
The focus of this piece is on the propositions being made by Western countries and multilaterals linked to national dialogue and reconciliation in Ethiopia. The goal is to add clarity and contribute toward creating a shared basis of understanding among the various stakeholders about the purposes and strategies of solving the crisis via dialogues. I fully understand that the issues under consideration are complex and contentious and might not easily render to hard solutions. Only goodwill, moral integrity, and commitment from all the concerned parties are needed to come up with a political breakthrough to end the crisis for good.
National Dialogue and Reconciliation
The aforementioned Western countries and the UN and its specialized agencies operating in Ethiopia are rightly suggesting the need to have national dialogue and then reconciliation in Ethiopia. Surely, no one can question or challenge the integrity and saliency of this idea to contribute toward sustainable peace and stability in this proud nation, Ethiopia. As the saying goes, the devil lies in the details. The assumptions underpinning this noble idea, the strategies that can be used for implementation, and the entities who are to take part in the process and lead the deliberations are points of contention to at least most Ethiopians residing both at home and in the Diaspora.
The West are unequivocally underscoring the significance of having unconditional ceasefire and unconditional dialogue. Meaning, the democratically elected Ethiopian government and the outlawed TPLF are considered equally legitimate entities for engaging in dialogues. This proposition has several flaws and hence cannot be considered a just way of approaching the case. Considering the two as equally legit entities is unjustifiable for several reasons.
One, TPLF has already wasted golden opportunities to spare itself and its entire entourage from the wrath of the Ethiopian people. Ethiopian politicians including the incumbent PM Abiy, notable individuals, religious leaders, a group of Ethiopian women representing all the mothers of Ethiopians, the Ethiopian military, and even fellow Africans have offered to TPLF, on different occasions, olive branches. The intention of all these efforts was clear, to encourage the TPLF to abandon its defeating thoughts and atrocities so that a ‘safe passage’ is opened for them to leave and live in peace enjoying the fortunes they usurped from the Ethiopian people. Unfortunately, the TPLF considered this as a sign of weakness and then they continued trumping their war rhetoric. Hence, TPLF as an organization does not deserve another chance for a safe exit.
Two, because of its insistence on and indulgence in aggression, the Ethiopian parliament categorized TPLF as a terrorist organization. Any effort to slip the TPLF through the negotiation table is tantamount to breaching or compromising Ethiopia’s unity, integrity, and stability. It is unfortunate that some countries including France are officially expressing their intention to see TPLF delisted from the list of terrorist organizations. This is a textbook definition of political interference or meddling in the internal affairs of Ethiopia. What would happen if someone dared to ask France, Britain, USA, Germany, and others to delist from their terrorist list those individuals who bombed their beautiful cities years ago? And would they sit with them for dialogue? The answer is a definite NO. This answer should hold valid for Ethiopia, too. TPLF was and is a terrorist organization and should be forever recognized so in Ethiopian history.
Three, because of the TPLF-initiated and sustained war, thousands of innocent lives are lost; thousands of Ethiopians turned handicaps; innocent women and girls are gang raped; millions of Ethiopians are internally displaced; hard-built public property including infrastructure are destroyed; and due to all these, most Ethiopians are psychologically distressed. All these also concern innocent Ethiopians of Tigray origin. The naming and shaming of Ethiopia at the global level is equally hurting.
In the presence of all these incalculable damages, is it fair to consider the TPLF as a credible and fit partner for dialogue? Can we afford to simply ignore all these and happily sit with TPLF in a round table? Could any other country do this if all these devastations were done onto them? And where will be the place of social justice and accountability? It is thus legally and morally absurd to bring TPLF for a dialogue with the Ethiopian government and people.
Four, assume that the Ethiopian government accepts the West’s insistence to sit with TPLF for dialogue and then for national reconciliation. Do you think that Ethiopians in the Amhara and Afar regions, who are suffering the most from the brunt of the war, are going to accept the move? Is it really that easy to embrace this idea particularly for those Ethiopians living and suffering in those regions? I do not think that the government takes this risky trajectory.
Five, if we accept to make dialogue with TPLF, we are setting bad example for the future. Anyone or a group of disgruntled individuals can draw their AK 47’s against the government, hoping that they can also break a deal of some sort. Including TPLF as an organization in national dialogue simply rewards lawlessness and sends a message that the government is weak and maneuverable. This will in the end check on the integrity of the government and that of Ethiopia as an independent nation. Genuine partners of Ethiopia are thus advised not to insist on this trajectory. Afterall and as repeatedly expressed by the government, there is a national ambition and plan to initiate and lead national dialogue. The only viable way for all (foreign) partners is to support such Ethiopian-led efforts. Any move to the contrary would be counterproductive.
The best one could wish might rather be to hold top TPLF leaders responsible and accountable for their deeds. They should face justice but should be promised to have a fair trial by an independent body. The rest of TPLF members including ordinary fighters and cadres should be given amnesty should they immediately lay down their arms and ask for amnesty. I do not think that Ethiopia has the capacity and even willingness to prosecute and persecute all that are affiliated to the TPLF organization.
This requires that Ethiopian Tigrayans must openly dissociate themselves from the structures and tentacles of TPLF. We know that not many Tigrayans are voicing their concern about what is happening both in Tigray and nationally. We know that the ordinary people are under the heavy yoke of the TPLF; they could not have the leverage to challenge this rogue organization openly and consistently. But there has be a limit to fear. Their beloved sons and daughters and even the elderly including the clergy are forced to join the fighting and are helplessly perishing for no obvious cause. Millions of Tigrayans are dependent on handouts from humanitarian organizations. What are you then fearing for? Unless otherwise ordinary Tigrayans are awakened and are stopping TPLF from its madness, it would be hard for the rest of the Ethiopian population to understand them any longer.
Yes, Ethiopia is at the crossroads. As equally trying for Ethiopia as the war against TPLF is the complicated geopolitical, historical, and economic interests of powerful actors. The Ethiopian people and its government are battling these two fronts. Ethiopia’s political gait and capital as a founding member of the League of Nations later the UN and the Organization of African Unity later the AU does not seem to work out to its interest this time around, too. Especially worrisome is the worsening relationships it has with the UN and its specialized agencies operating in Ethiopia. This troubled relationship partly contributes to the worsening of international politics linked to Ethiopia.
That the UN is ‘battling with’ its founding member and trusted ally, Ethiopia, to this level is puzzling. The Ethiopian government repeatedly expressed its concern over the complicity of some UN staff members which led to the expulsion of top officers from Ethiopia. This could be considered a stain on the legitimacy, credibility, and impact of the UN as an all-inclusive and democratic organization, at least seen from the perspectives of most Ethiopians. To ease the troubled relationships and set an example to other actors, the UN has to take the burden of launching an independent investigation to validate or falsify the allegations the Ethiopian government is making about the neutrality of its personnel. Until this is responsibly and fairly done, and until investigation results are made public, most Ethiopians will continue suspecting the integrity, mission, and credibility of this global organization.
Whatever trajectory the West prefers to take, Ethiopia will prevail. Most Ethiopians have just started to check the advances TPLF is making. They are getting more organized and work in unison with the national defense force. For them, it is not all about saving their government from collapse; they simply do not afford to have another TPLF-led governance system or a quazi- or proxy one. The recent mobilization of the masses really scares and corners TPLF. The Ethiopian Diaspora are also supporting this struggle for survival and freedom. Not least important is that over 95% of the Ethiopian population are faithful believers. They thus have a shared basis of understanding about the significance of self-defense, peace, unity, and justice. This understanding is the social glue that intersects all the ethnic groups despite the existence of real differences in other dimensions. Ethiopia will once again emerge from this TPLF-induced and sustained crisis victorious and unshakable.