Yonas Biru, PhD
Tigrayan students who have been out of school for several years are said to have passed 69.9% of the students who took the test. The national average is 3.2%. Do the new results reflect the national and Tigrayan passing rates before the war? The answer is a resounding no. There is some claim that Tigrayan students were given a three-month long remedial class to prepare them for the test. Even if it is true, the results stand out as fake considering the national average.
The Story Behind the 69.9% Test Results
The fact that two supremely good news were delivered to Tigray within a week (the School Test the Wolkait referendum) is not a coincidence. The PM is in desperate need of fighters in his futile effort to win the war against Fanno. Tigray supposedly has 200,000 war-hardened melisia forces if we believe the TPLF. It appears at least the boy king believes the story.
Two factors stand in his way. First is the mothers and fathers of Tigray who have sacrificed hundreds of thousands of their children for a meaningless war that the TPLF ignited. Tigray got nothing out of the war other than unimaginable human and resource destruction. The question is: Would the mothers and fathers of Tigray deliver their sons and daughters to fight for the same PM whom they have been accusing of committing genocide against them?
The second obstacle is the question of Abiy’s trustworthiness. The transaction requires TPLF to deliver hundred thousand Tigrayan sons and daughters in exchange for a promissory note that it will receive Wolkait in two years. Abiy understands Wolkait will give TPLF access to smuggle weapons from Sudan and Egypt. It is utter madness for TPLF to believe the PM whose betrayal track record is longer than his lying track record will honor the promissory note.
And The Wolkait Issue
The following represents a slightly revised version of a draft I prepared for AEPAC that was published under the title “The Amhara-Oromo-Tigray Conflict Nexus in Ethiopia: Challenges, Opportunities and a Way Forward.”
There is nothing the PM will not do to stay in power. In this venture, his friends become his enemies and his enemies turn into his friends at the snap of the fingers. The only thing constant is that he has neither loyalty to a cause nor integrity in his person. Some say his loyalty is to Greater Oromia. Others say he is riding the Greater Oromia wave only if it serves a higher agenda of keeping him in office. If not, they say, he will drop it at the snap of the fingers.
Nothing is off limit in his conflict brewing venture in pursuit of perfecting a zero-sum personal political gain. During the war between the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), he was unequivocal that Wolkait belongs to Amhara. On national TV he stated:
“The people of Armacho, Wolkait and Tegenie have maintained in the past and continue to maintain to date their Begemder [Amhara] identity despite 30 years of violence perpetrated against them. They never stopped to uphold their Begemder identity while they were being killed and exiled.”
This was not a onetime statement. In another televised speech he stated:
“You all know the Wolkait freedom committee has been fighting for years [during the TPLF era]. Who amongst you does not know leaders of the Wolkait Freedom Committee were arrested in Sululta (outside of Addis Ababa) when they were traveling to file an appeal to the Parliament? Wasn’t the reason why we established the boarder commission to address this and other similar problems? The Junta [TPLF] is against the boarder commission because it knows what it has done.”
The Fanno uprising led him to change his stance in a New York second. His minister of defense suggested Wolkait and Raya (W&R) were illegally annexed by the Amhara. He declared the federal government will take over the administration of the two areas, return Tigrayans who have been forcefully displaced after the war, and conduct a referendum to give the people opportunity to determine where they belong. The Minister suggested this is what was agreed during the Pretoria agreement between the Ethiopian government and TPLF.
This is disturbing on many levels. First, the involvement of the minister of defense militarizes the conflict when in fact the conflict is rooted in a legal dispute of land ownership rights. Second, the PM is using the Minister, who is Tigrayan, to send a signal of support to the TPLF position. Third, the Minister’s statements were politically driven and stand in stark conflict with the PM’S earlier public statements.
“The Pretoria summit has no authority over the issue of Wolkait. I do not understand why the issue of Wolkait is dragged into the Pretoria summit. We need to realize there is border conflict in Northern Shew between Oromia and Amhara. Are we going to take this to South Africa for resolution? Don’t we have the means and experience to address our problem by ourselves? Haven’t we established a border commission to sort out such conflicts.”
The Minister’s statement also clashes with a public statement Getachew Reda above referred statement, suggesting the Abiy Administration is working on returning Tigray Raya and Tselemt to Tigray. Regarding Wolkait, he said the presence of Eritrea is complicating the matter and Tigray is ready to help the government if requested. This shows the so-called referendum is a farce. This is clear in Getachew’s speech where he made no reference to any referendum.
A Bird’s Eye View of the Amhara Grievances
The Amhara contention that the TPLF annexed Wolkait by force has been corroborated by many Tigrayan politicians. Ras Mengesha Seyoum, a Tigrayan and former governor of Tigray (1960-1974), told the Voice of America: “When I was the governor of Tigray, [what is now known as Western Tigray] was under present-day Amhara region. The same was true when I was a child growing up.”
The Governor’s statement was affirmed by Dr. Aregawi Berhe, the founding chairperson of TPLF, who publicly stated: “Wolkait was annexed from current day Amhara during the TPLF gorilla days. The land was critical to get an outlet into Sudan to smuggle weapons and transport food for TPLF fighters. It was unjust for the Amhara.”
There are many TPLF founding members reaffirming this, including Abraham Yayeh who in 1982 confirmed W&R were taken from Gonder – aka Begemder – and Wello (parts of present-day Amhara). He further stated the people in both lands were Amharic speaking.
Historical documents during Tigrayan Emperror Yohannes’ reign (July 1871 – March 1889), also indicate the boundaries between Gonder and Tigray is the Tekezé River, lending credence to the Amhara position.
The fact that the TPLF annexed the two regions long before the 1995 constitution was enacted is incontrovertible. Similarly, the fact that the Constitution has no bearing in the demarcation of borders between Tigray and Amhara is undeniable. Amhara forces further allege the TPLF:
•Engineered and forced demographic changes in the contested lands to have a Tigrayan majority. Though both people of Amhara and Tigray lived in W&R, since 1991, schools stopped teaching in Amharic.
•Settled its former fighters in tens of thousands and forcefully displace people of Amhara heritage out of the annexed regions.
•Perpetrated mass killings of Amhara forces. These allegation are covered by the international media and international human rights agencies Amhara’s demand is for government administrative and legal recognition as the legitimate owner of W&R.
A Bird’s Eye View of the Tigray Stance on Wolkait and Raya
Tigryan forces allege W&R are historical parts of Tigray before Emperor Haile Selassie transferred them to Begemder (aka Gonder) by a royal decree. This argument is refuted with maps showing Wolkait in Gonder during Emperor Menelik, decades before Emperor Haile Selassie was born. In response, the Tigrayan forces use old maps from the 18th and 19th centuries as evidence where Wolkait is shown in Tigray.
This is refuted with older maps going as far back as 15th century listing the names of regions within Tigray without mentioning Wolkait-Tsegede or Raya (Source: Catalogue Raisonné de Manuscrits Éthiopiens Appartenant à Antoine d’Abbadie). There are also multiple maps between 15th, and 17th centuries showing the Tekezé River separating Tigray and Gonder, giving credence to the Amhara narrative (Source: Crawford O.G.S. (1958), Ethiopian Itineraries, Circa 1400-1524, Cambridge; and Paez, P. (2011). Pedro Páez’s History of Ethiopia, 1622 (Vol. 23). Ashgate Publishing, Ltd)
There are many more maps produced at different times. For example, during the Italian occupation both contested lands were incorporated within Eritrea. If old maps are accepted as evidence, Eritrea can become a party to the conflict with some degree of legitimacy. Its legitimacy draws from internationally recognized national boundaries that separate and define African nations based largely on lines drawn by colonialist powers.
Another evidence Tigryans use is a meta-analysis of historical map of the last 300 years to show Wolkait was part of Tigray. The meta-analysis was conducted by Professor Jan Nyssen – a known quantity in the circle of pro-TPLF experts at par with Alex de Waal and Martin Plaut. The good professor analyzed some 52 maps in which Wolkait’s geographic location is shown with clearly delineated boundaries.
Of the 52 maps produced between 1683-1990, in 19 of them Wolkait is mapped neither in Amhara nor Tigray. In 19 cases, Wolkait is mapped in Tigray region (1707-1941) and in 13 cases it is mapped in Amhara (1891-1990).
The problem in this study is that the Meta-Analysis of Historical map ignored maps from 15 to 17th century showing Wolkait in Amhara. Most importantly, maps from 300 years ago have little value in determining geographic proper in 1980 (when Tigray annexed Wolkait from Amhara by force) or 2020 (when Amhara reclaimed the land by force). Centuries ago, California and Texas were part of Mexico. Portugal and Spain did not exist.
When the map argument fails to sway the public, Tigrayans shift the argument to language and claim W&R were incorporated into Tigray because the people are Tigragna speaking. This has been refuted by many including founding members of TPLF. As noted above with a link to a video clip, Abraham Yayeh is on the record, stating the people of Wolkait and Raya were Amharic speaking when the two regions were annexed by TPLF.
The attempt to justify demarcation of regions by language is futile in many ways. If language was the determining factor, more than a third of Benishangul would have been incorporated into the Amhara region. Addis Ababa where Oromos account for only 19 and Amhara represents 47% could not have been incorporated into the Oromo region.
Tigrayan forces allege, since the recent war, Amhara forces have forcefully displaced hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans and brought in Amharas to change the demography of the two regions. The allegation is widely covered by the international media and international human rights organizations. The problem here is Tigrayans are conveniently playing oblivious to the fact that the forceful displacement of people was started and sustained by them until 2018.
Tigray’s demand vacillates between three positions. At times they demand the government reinstate the two lands into Tigray, recognizing the prewar status quo as part of the constitutional order. At other times they demand a referendum after the people of Tigray who were forcefully displaced are returned. Some in the Tigray camp put the number of displaced over a million. Yet at other times they express to use force to reclaim the two regions.
Getachew Reda’s recent speeches in Colorado came with a mixed message, partly nuanced (walking a tight line between war and peace) and partly vacillating between peace seeking and war mongering. For example, at some point, he talked about the unimaginable sacrifice young Tigrayans have paid and the fact that “the people of Tigray do not have a shoulder to tolerate another war.” On the other hand, he talked about “the capability or heroism of [Tigray’s] over 200,000 soldiers” and offers to help that his federal government to fight Amhara and Eritrea.
His speech seems to be crafted to throw enough red meat to Tigrayan warmongers and in the meantime wave olive leaves to calm the peace seeking public in Tigray and the diaspora.
Problem With the Government’s Current Position
Though both Amhara and Tigray forces are displaying intransigent positions, there is hope for reasoned dialogue and peaceful resolution. Under the right political circumstances, extremist positions on both sides can be counter-balanced by peace seeking forces.
The most dangerous problem is the Oromo-PP led by PM Abiy that has vested interest in escalating the problem to use Tigray forces in his effort to weaken the Amhara as he has used the Amhara to weaken Tigray. The government’s recent policy reflects this on many levels.
First, a key question that Ethiopians and the IC ought to pose to the PM is: If the border commission that he created was mandated to resolve border conflicts, why is the Amhara-Tigray conflict handled with exception?
Further, there are many places in the Oromo region that the Amhara are the largest group and Oromos are minority. When the Prime Minister acknowledges prevailing problems between Amhara and Oromo, he always refers to conflict areas where Oromo lay claim. He does not mention or recognize areas where Amharas lay claim such as Sheger City or Adama. Will the PM address the issues of Sheger City, Adama other similar areas through referendum?
Second, the PM, who is radio silent about the forced displacement of nearly a million Amhara from the Oromo tribal land, lacks legitimacy to demand the reinstatement of forcefully displaced Tigrayans into the contested areas. Similarly, he has taken a deliberate position to ignore the Amhara demand to govern themselves where they are the largest group outside of the Amhara region. Therefore, he lacks legitimacy to demand the Amhara honor and respect Tigrayans right to decide if W&R belong to Amhara or Tigray.
It warrants emphasis that my argument is in no way to oppose the return of forcefully displaced Tigrayans to their homes regardless of which region is the legitimate owner of the two contested areas. Our focus is the systemic difference in the way Amhara is treated by the PM. Amhara is expected to respect, honor, and protect the rights of other tribes while its rights are systematically and ubiquitously violated.
There is also the question of the population of Wolkait. According to an official 2017 population projection, the total population of Wolkait was 434,879. Extrapolating the 2017 figure to 2021 yields a total population of 483,198. In the meantime, TPLF claims, nearly 1.2 million Tigrayans were forcefully displaced from Wolkait. This is to inflate the Tigrayan population for the planned referendum.
The Wolkait issue is perhaps the thorniest issue in the nation’s politics. No government with an iota of political prudence and sensibility would inflame and galvanize a population of 40 million at a time of war. Only stupidity or desperation can explain this. May God relieve the Boy-King from his misery and Ethiopia from him.