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If peace and stability is a genuine interest in Ethiopia, preventing a continued insurgency by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) quickly – rather than encouraging it, as was the case last year is something International Community (IC) actor including the African Union, EU, U.S, UK, and UN ought to now be focused on.
On the contrary, this latest video by a TPLF central committee member and now Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom, echoing a phrase used by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is exactly the sort of thing that needs to be avoided, as it emboldens the TPLF to continue their lethal insurgency.
Some will doubtless counter saying TPLF is entitled to continue to defend the Tigray people.
But the truth is TPLF has never protected its people in this war, it has been using them as hostages, soldiers, and civilian human shields, whilst aggravating the aid situation for propaganda purposes. The diversion of IC funded humanitarian aid by TPLF towards war efforts has been a consistent feature of this war, one which has now been publicly acknowledged by the IC, yet which appears to not be fully understood given its serious implications.
In this war the UN’s principles of humanitarian independence and impartiality have been used as a cover to facilitate the continuation of the war. Evidence shows aid shipments to TPLF controlled territory have been commandeered and used as TPLF decides – outside of their purported humanitarian purposes.
A weight of evidence suggests that aid shipments to Tigray are taken control of by TPLF, and sold to produce funds for war, that fortified foods intended to be used for malnourished children has been used by soldiers. More and more we are learning TPLF has been using aid as payment to recruit soldiers from reluctant families in Tigray. Some of these new recruits have been child solders as evidenced by confessions and testimonials given by the war captured.
During this entire saga, we have come to expect ad nauseum information operations by TPLF media and cyber teams – repeatedly calling the war a “genocidal siege” and a blockade, all with intent of triggering the UN’s Responsibility to Protect clause, a move which would foster bolder action against Ethiopia, be it sanctions or other measures. This would also include demanding more IC access to Tigray, and repeating the previous pattern of prolonging the conflict whereby Western humanitarian and diplomatic appeasement continues to embolden the insurgency.
Right now, it seems unlikely that TPLF leaders will be able to get to South Africa to attend talks scheduled for Monday, October 24, 2022 – unless they are already there as they would likely have to transit ENDF controlled airports. But if previously organized secret negotiations are an indication, there could possibly be a way to make this work. Evidently, U.S. diplomats had orchestrated secret talks between the two sides in Seychelles and in Djibouti between June and August 2022. Perhaps Djibouti could be used as stop over for TPLF negotiators headed to South Africa. If this were to happen will the GoE allow their return is a big question on everyone’s mind.
Therefore – raising the insurgency issue in South Africa Monday may not be an option.
So, the war is not “spiraling out of control” as Tedros and Guterres say – what is happening is that it has reached a critical juncture at which it can either peacefully end, or transform, mutate and continue to plague the people of Ethiopia. The West led IC, who are embroiled in it from the beginning have a responsibility to help end it genuinely
So, what is to be done then?
“If you break it, you’ve bought it” is a phrase used in the second Gulf War. And in this case one might think that this rubric applies now to the Government of Ethiopia (GoE), and this is certainly true per the real politics of the situation. However, the GoE cannot readily address the issue of ending this war alone if it once again becomes a guerilla insurgency with foreign backing – which cannot be ruled out at the moment. They will need the support of the IC in dislodging/pacifying the TPLF.
In recent months many have argued, including me, that for peace to return to Ethiopia – arguably for the first since the removal of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974 – TPLF’s top brass leadership needs to be exiled. And Tigray and its 6 million inhabitants need to be carefully rehabilitated and re-integrated into the new, finally truly democratic ancient state of Ethiopia.
A recent Op-Ed from Bisrat L Kabata, very clearly argues the case as to why the TPLF’s exit is a necessary condition to enable a peaceful resolution of this conflict, for Ethiopia. I fully subscribe to the argument but will not go through the “why” here. Instead, I will begin to look at “how” this might be achieved – with the starting point being how to avoid a return to insurgency warfare inside a Tigray under interim federal control.
In recent months significant diplomatic progress has been made by the GoE in addressing the issue of active foreign support for TPLF. The insurgents themselves hastened this pivot through their actions in delaying peace efforts back in June 2022 and then destroying efforts at peace mediation by invading the Wollo, in Amhara region on August 24, 2022. However, the pivot by the IC during the period since July has been largely passive, i.e. not publicly supporting the TPLF by accusing the GoE of being the cause of the conflict. A hopeful sign that relations could eventually improve.
But as the war seems to have entered its final stages over the past three weeks – a chorus of Western-led IC attacks on Ethiopia resumed, including notably at the European Parliament on October 5th, and soon after at the UNHRC. And this was the reason for the public demonstrations over the weekend on October 23, 2022, across Ethiopia condemning international interference in Ethiopian affairs. No doubt this stung in Western Capitals, who were disappointed that a closed UNSC meeting on Friday failed to issue a statement. I can well understand why Western powers may consider themselves blameless in this war, if only because it is their standard operating procedure.
But if the West honestly want this war to end (as it appears they do) then due to their actions, particularly in 2020-2021, they need to reconsider their current course of action.
Following the fall of Mekelle in June 2021 – during Ethiopia’s first truly democratic election – the IC media, some diplomats and TPLF’s fan-club of academics and journalists applauded the plucky rebel’s victory. But then when just a few weeks later TPLF invaded the Amhara and Afar regions of Ethiopia, under the cover of the Chinese Olympics, during the solemn Olympic Truce period – the IC was silent as TPLF raped murdered and looted their way to the gates of Addis Ababa.
And after the re-deployed ENDF managed to push the TPLF’s army back up the A2 highway towards Mekelle in November, the US Senate introduced a punitive sanctions bill against Ethiopia. There is much more of this recent history, but this will suffice for now. In the end the GoE chose to allow the TPLF forces to retreat into Tigray and a 2nd un-reciprocated humanitarian truce was announced on December 21, 2022.
The forgotten phase of TPLF’s aggression immediately followed. A second invasion of Afar – blocking the aid-corridor to Djibouti – an event in which the TPLF in effect blocked their own aid corridor. Millions were displaced and hundreds of thousands are still living in dire conditions. This is the under-reported, unacknowledged, and constantly misrepresented recent history of the conflict in Ethiopia, the lived experiences of 110 odd million people, most of whom feel gaslighted by the Western lead IC.
We have 3 parties to this conflict.
1. The TPLF -the aggressors who started and continued the war;
2. The GoE – who miraculously managed to repel a repeated onslaught for 2 years;
3. The Western IC -who implicitly supported TPLF’s disinformation and turned a blind eye to their aggression, while tacitly providing diplomatic cover for them.
Step one on the path to peace is for the Western IC to actively integrate this understanding into their views of this war. While this is a tall order, it is also necessary. Absent a self-realization moment in the West about its active involvement in this war, I doubt a swift and durable peace solution can succeed.
Why? Because the TPLF will not agree to exit Tigray until they are certain that they have lost the information & diplomatic war as well as the war on the battlefield. War is in their DNA and to think otherwise is to misunderstand the story of the scorpion and the frog. Therefore, ending the conflict requires Western appeasement of the belligerent group.
Ok so assuming this big “IF” is possible, what then should the IC do to assist in bringing peace to Ethiopia swiftly over the coming week? First, they need to immediately make clear public statements in support of the legitimate Government of Ethiopia, insisting that there be no return to a terrorist insurgency war, and that the TPLF’s forces be disarmed and demobilized to facilitate a path towards peace.
They should also address the people of Tigray directly and explain that they have given the TPLF a choice about a path to secure peace. If TPLF leaders stand-down, disarms, and or leave, they should assist the GoE in the rebuilding & rehabilitation of Tigray. Nonetheless, If the TPLF refuses they will actively assist the GoE in containing and eliminating any insurgency.
Given all that Ethiopia has experienced over the past two years and anticipating that TPLF has no appetite for nor capability of talking peace, this (or similar) is in my view is the only practical path forward towards a swift and durable peace.