This is a brief take from Getting Ethiopia Dead Wrong by Veteran Horn of Africa Correspondent, Rasmus Sonderriis
Notwithstanding criticism over his handling of the Covid pandemic, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has recently built an image in the West as a donor darling. His initial hiccup of appointing Robert Mugabe as a WHO Goodwill Ambassador is long forgotten, as is how he picked a fight with Taiwan to ingratiate himself with Beijing. Since the war began in Ethiopia in November 2020, he has blended in among liberal democrats and accrued a shining halo, as he professes that “peace is the only solution”, flashes Greta Thunberg’s book, and spends MLK Day “reflecting on the interconnections between love, trust, peace and justice”. He is showered with accolades, from an honorary degree in Scotland to a $50,000 prize in the US. Dr. Tedros is not a medical doctor, but holds a PhD in Community Health, so The New York Times calls him “the world’s doctor”, portraying him as a stoic victim who towers above the dysfunctional politics of his country of origin.
But there he is seen as a chief instigator of the war, whose own children go to Western universities, while he sends the young in Tigray to kill and die for him and his clique. His job description of caring for global health is considered a mere smokescreen for his real vocation as a local warlord. Even his most innocent-sounding platitudes are read as coded messages to egg on the bloodshed.
These contrasting views of the same man illustrate the theme of this paper, which is the even wider gap in the understanding of the war. The fact that Ethiopians have known Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus much longer and better than Westerners also foreshadows a broader point.
Dr. Tedros hails from the inner circle of Ethiopia’s dictatorial old guard, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, TPLF. From 1991 to 2018, this highly disciplined party, with Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist roots, ran the country’s military, dominated its governance and held sway in its economy, despite Tigrayans making up only about 6% of the population. Many an Africa reporter has jumped to the conclusion that those 27 years of authoritarian rule by Tigrayan elites drove Ethiopians into genocidal rage against the entire Tigrayan people.
Identity politics is a big deal in Ethiopia, as it is in many countries. A picture-perfect of interethnic and inter-religious harmony presents itself in the day-to-day of neighborliness, business, friendship, even in marriage and kinship. But chauvinism is a powerful political tool. Anti-Tigrayan revanchism is one of many extremist minority currents, but it was far from the driving force, let alone the root cause, of this war.
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