Sep 21, 2021
Aklog Birara (Dr)
“The media is the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent.”
Malcom X, African American Civic Leader
“There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice.”
Montesquieu. French Political Philosopher
The setting in a nutshell (አያ ጅቦ ጅቦ ሳታማኻኝ ብላኝ)
Western media (BBC, CNN, the New York Times etc.), Western human rights organizations (Amnesty international, Human Rights Watch and others), UN specialized agencies (UNICEF, WFP, WHO etc.) as well as the Governments of the United States and members of the European Union have literally operated in concert “to make the innocent guilty and the guilty innocent,” ever since the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that the West brought to power committed treason and genocide on November 4, 2020. Their depictions of the causes and the devastating effects of the war in Ethiopia continues unabetted to this day. For example, I was aghast to hear the Chief of Human Rights Watch in East Africa recently singling out the Government of Ethiopia for the humanitarian disaster in Tigray caused by the TPLF. She deliberately left out the real culprits, namely the TPLF and its allies. She commended the Biden Administration for its planned punitive measures against Ethiopian, Eritrean and Amhara entities and officials.
Eight months after President Joe Biden took office that incidentally converged with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s treasonous act on Ethiopia’s Northern Command on November 4, relations between the United States of America and Ethiopia have gone from bad to worse. President Biden sent a congratulatory message to the Ethiopian people welcoming Ethiopia’s New Year 2014. On September 17, the President devalued the message when he issued an Executive Order to punish culprits for the atrocities in Tigray. He empowered Congresswoman Karen Bass, an African America and one of the most influential members in Congress, who met with Ethiopian officials and conveyed his message.
Some argue that the Biden Administration has not yet imposed sanctions on Ethiopia. I say to them “Where there is smoke; there is fire.” ያልጠረጠረ ተመነጠረ! Those of us who believe in Ethiopia’s just cause cannot afford to be callous.
Is not the statement by Human Rights Watch and or the Executive Order by President Joe Biden unjust and blatantly biased? Do these not reflect the existence of a concert of Western actors that are determined to go after those who are determined to defend Ethiopia’s sovereign rights and the honor and dignity of the Ethiopian people?
Whether coincidental or not the TPLF instigated treason that occurred just one day after President Biden was elected. The TPLF strategic document now made public in its entirety by Ethiopian activists reveals a deliberate and well-planned attack to dismantle the Ethiopian Government and State. The TPLF did not initiate its assault on the Ethiopian state and Government in isolation. It had internal and external partners and proactive supporters. In my assessment, these external actors are part of the problem. I no longer trust what they say. I watch what they do.
Who is the target?
The BBC, CNN, the New York Times, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch as well as UN specialized agencies were lethal in their unverified depictions of “war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, executions on innocent civilians, rapes” and other atrocities in Tigray. These relentless and deliberate depictions targeted the following three entities:
- The Ethiopian National Defense Forces led by Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed
- The Eritrean Military led by President Isaias Afewerki, an Ethiopian ally
- The Amhara Special Forces, Fano and militia defending the Amhara region
The concert of actors identified earlier never gave credence to counter arguments and authentic evidence from the Ethiopian side. Montesquieu is right when he said, “There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice” The tyranny of ideas and the application of punitive measures go hand in hand with the leverage the donor community can apply to impose its will on the beggar nation, in this case Ethiopia. As the saying goes, “Beggars cannot be choosers.” The mistaken assumption in setting US policy in this case is that it underestimates the resolve and resiliency of the Ethiopian people. When faced with external adversaries, ordinary Ethiopians are like a “sleeping lion.” When challenged, disturbed, and provoked by a clueless wild animal; they rise and fight back to the bitter end. Most Ethiopians are doing exactly that.
A second fallacy that is grounded in the conventional wisdom of Ethiopia’s self-serving political and social elites, the country’s timid and fragmented intellectuals as well as the West is this. When I was in elementary school in Ethiopia, the mistaken and repetitive word uttered incessantly was that Ethiopia’s myriad of problems will be over once Emperor Haile Selassie is deposed or is replaced. The Emperor was deposed but the country’s problems remained intact.
When I was in college abroad, the same mantra occurred. The stubborn conventional wisdom associated all of Ethiopia’s institutional and structural problems with Mengistu Haile Mariam, an individual. He proved to be an Ethiopian nationalist who warned his countrymen and women that the TPLF was a treasonous cancer poised to destroy Ethiopia. Mengistu’s other weaknesses, including his brutality against his political opponents notwithstanding, his assessment of the marriage between internal and external forces against Ethiopia is unassailable. Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe. Ethiopia’s institutional and structural problems mushroomed this time led by ethnic nationalists with the TPLF at the top.
Fast forward to the era led by the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and dominated by the TPLF from 1991-2018, the same phenomenon persisted. Conventional wisdom repeated the same cultural ethos that the passing of Meles Zenawi will end the era of newly minted “ethnic princes” that fragmented Ethiopia into antagonistic ethnic and linguistic enclaves. Meles passed but the system remained unaffected and unchallenged. It had in fact produced new beneficiaries of the system. It is this menace that never accepts the will of the Ethiopian people that the West is supporting today.
I find it troubling that President Biden who is accused by his predecessor as having stolen the election is unable to accept the verdict of tens of millions of Ethiopians who voted freely and independently last June.
The ensuing reform process in Ethiopia that the West had welcomed initially more than three years ago, brought into power the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. He inherited a state and Government that was literally bankrupt and conflict prone. Who bankrupted it? It is the TPLF and its cohort. Sadly, the honeymoon did not last long. Ethiopia entered a new and dangerous phase caused by the TPLF and not by Abiy. The TPLF was deposed from power through popular resistance. Is this not how democracy is supposed to work?
What did the TPLF do?
It is worth repeating that the TPLF committed treason and genocide in Mai Kadra. When the Federal Government of Ethiopia declared a “unilateral ceasefire” in June, the TPLF refused to reciprocate. Instead, the TPLF expanded its insurgency to the Afar and Amhara regions.
Below is a sample that attests to the barbaric nature of the TPLF that the Biden Team ignores:
- Destroyed more than 3,000 health facilities in the Amhara region alone.
- Burned down or caused irreparable damage to thousands of elementary and secondary schools as well as colleges. The intent is to ensure that Amhara children and youth (the next generation) remains permanently disabled, disempowered, and impoverished.
- Burnt Churches and Mosques and plundered precious religious treasures; and desecrated iconic places of worship including Lalibela.
- Committed a dozen Mai Kadra like atrocities in the Afar and Amhara regions.
- Captured hundreds of relief vehicles, including those owned by UN specialized agencies and blamed it on the innocent, namely the Ethiopian National Defense, the Eritrean military, and the Amhara Special Forces.
- Destroyed numerous physical infrastructures financed by the Ethiopian poor, etc., etc.
Appalled by TPLF’s mercilessness and cruelty, the USAID Administrator in Ethiopia accused the TPLF leadership of confiscating and utilizing food supplies and other essentials intended for Tigrean and other victims. More galling, the TPLF destroyed what it cannot haul back to Tigray.
- Deployed child soldiers and used them as human shields.
- Raped Amhara spouses in front of their husbands. This abominable act is intended to inflict permanent psychological pain to the Amhara population.
- Worsened the humanitarian crisis in Tigray; and opened a Pandora’s box of imminent famine that may be far worse than other human made famines in Ethiopian history.
This takes me to the irony and the folly in the Biden Africa policy that I challenge in this commentary. The scheme that removing Abiy from power would resolve Ethiopia’s intractable institutional and structural problems is a fallacy. It will not. On the contrary, his forcible removal from office against the wishes of most of the Ethiopian people will in fact aggravate the situation even further. The additional unintended consequence I project is that such a misguided policy by the Biden Africa Team will push Ethiopia far away from the United States of America. I also estimate that those Ethiopians at home and abroad who do not always agree with Abiy’s leadership will move to his camp in droves.
What do I suggest?
In the light of the above, I urge the Biden Africa Team not to associate a single person regardless of his or her role in Ethiopian society with Ethiopia’s problems. I have shown why this conventional wisdom is patently false, misleading, and dangerous as a policy and decision-making tool.
Ethiopia’s fate can only be determined by the Ethiopian people, and not by any external power regardless of its military and financial means. To do otherwise is tantamount to ignorance and a lack of understanding of the Ethiopian mindset. Ethiopia’s poverty and income level are not mirror images of the national resolve of the Ethiopian people. Therefore the “sleeping lion” analogy is appropriate. Ethiopia has gone through similar hurdles before.
I do not underestimate the myriad of problems Ethiopia is facing currently and is likely to face in the future. Ethiopia is an investment capital deficit country. Estimated at $30 billion, Ethiopia’s foreign debt level is unsustainable. Instead of imposing punitive measures, it is advisable for the Biden Administration to anchor its Ethiopia policy on the following:
- Refrain from advancing its program of regime change. Ethiopians resent such gross interference in their domestic affairs. The Biden Administration’s unparallel pronouncement of putting the TPLF at par with the Government of Ethiopia is a black mark in US-Ethiopian relations. I do not believe that President Biden wants to be remembered by generations of Ethiopians as the man who squandered a golden opportunity to do the right thing concerning Ethiopia!
President Joe Biden’s zeal for human dignity and human worth is an admirable quality that I too share. His admonition of the debilitating impacts of state thieves and corruption on society that he highlighted during his address of the UN General Assembly on September 21, 2021, is shared by hundreds of millions of poor people across the globe. In the case of Ethiopia, US aid monies and monies from the donor community were literally squandered and more than $30 billion siphoned off by the TPLF. In turn, this has diminished the productive capacity of the poorest of the poor, including Tigrean Ethiopians.
Accordingly, the Biden Administration does not want to be remembered as the one that supported state thieves and diminished human dignity in Ethiopia. This is the reason why I urge President Biden to walk his talk.
- Refrain from weaponizing humanitarian aid in support of US policy. There is very little evidence to support that the Ethiopian people will trade their freedom, sovereign rights, territorial integrity, honor, and dignity for humanitarian aid.
- The Biden Ethiopia foreign policy team will serve America’s long term strategic interests in Ethiopia and the rest of the Horn of Africa if it facilitates debt relief measures for Ethiopia, instead of applying financial punitive measures against Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s massive youth that is fighting the TPLF and OLF/Shane will remember both. Siding with them at a time of greatest need will advance America’s interests in all of Africa. Doing the exact opposite will strengthen America’s adversaries including China, Iran, Russia, and others.
- I agree with those including American civic, academic, media, policy and decisionmakers that Ethiopia’s path forward is not the prolongation of war, but rather the pursuit of constructive dialogue for national peace, reconciliation, and national consensus among all Ethiopian stakeholders. However, the Biden Ethiopia policy team has not yet showed the moral and ethical courage to demand that the TPLF core leadership and its allies declare and commit to peace instead of the pursuit of insurrection. Failure to single out the TPLF for the war and destruction is tantamount to emboldening it.
- In his Executive order of September 17, 2021, President Joe Biden whom I supported during the Presidential Election last year “authorized broad sanctions against those involved in perpetrating the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia as reports of atrocities continue to emerge from the Tigray region.”
I understand that the punitive measures are dire warnings rather than as a done deal. CNN reported that “The administration did not immediately impose sanctions under the new order; but it is prepared to take aggressive action” unless the parties, including the Ethiopian government, the Eritrean government, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and the Amhara Regional Government “take meaningful steps to enter into talks for a negotiated ceasefire and allow for unhindered humanitarian access.”
Forgotten in President Biden’s directive is the fact that the Government of Ethiopia had declared a “unilateral ceasefire” without reciprocity from the TPLF. Why did the President fail or ignore to demand that the TPLF abandon its aggressive and brutal people’s war program and agree to negotiate for peace?
Is it not hypocritical to declare that the United States is committed to Ethiopia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty on the one hand; and to place the TPLF that vows to dismantle Ethiopia and crush the Amhara population at par with the Government of Ethiopia and the Amhara regional government?
The core question I shall pose to the Biden Administration is this. Is it prudent, fair, or just to put the Governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea at par with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that committed treason and genocide, expanded its insurgency to the Afar and Amhara regions; and that declared its alliances with Ethiopia’s arch enemies as well as with the OLF/Shane and Al-Shabab? Is there any parallel that the Biden Administration can cite to defend such an indefensible foreign policy? Can the Biden Ethiopia Team afford to make a policy blunder in Africa’s second most populous country in the aftermath of the Afghanistan fiasco?
By all accounts, the Biden Administration’s Ethiopia policy is flawed. The American people deserve to know that their Federal Government leaders are undermining America’s long-term relations with Ethiopia, a country that has been a steadfast friend of the USA for more than 100 years.
The generous American people must also know that their monies that are intended to support victims of war and other ailments are being weaponized by both the TPLF and by the Biden Administration. This weaponization of aid to achieve strategic objectives is a disservice to the American people. Weaponization corrodes and erodes America’s core values of justice, humanity, and fair play. It also curtails the advancement of democracy and a competitive market economy in Ethiopia.
Finally, the American public ought to know that the pursuit of regime change by the Biden Administration perpetuates the universal international perception that the United States Government is narrow minded and arrogant in its treatment of poor and capital starved nations regardless of location. It goes without saying that only the Ethiopian people possess the right to change their leaders if they so choose. Ethiopia is not “a Banana Republic.”
US Administration policy failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and other countries teach me that repeating the same misguided policies in the Horn and the rest of Africa is counterproductive.
In an increasingly multipolar world that is changing the balance of power, Montesquieu’s eternal guide “There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice” is appropriate to here. The Biden Ethiopia Team is doing exactly this under the pretext of defending the rule of law and advancing the cause of justice.
Ordinary Ethiopians ask righty “Whose rule of law, whose justice and for whom?”
September 21, 2021
Watch the following video to understand the depth of agony in the Amhara region