Today, the joint investigation report by the Ethiopian Human Rights Council and the UNHR
on human rights violations committed in Tigray concluded that there is no evidence that genocide has taken place so far. While this is a bit of a setback for the TPLF, which has wanted the world to believe—since the 1990s, even as the TPLF was dominating power in Addis—that a genocide has been perpetrated against the people of Tigray, unfortunately the group still appears to be determined to make genocide a reality. This is confusing for people who don’t understand why the TPLF is obsessed with genocide, why its internet cadres began using #TigrayGenocide in April 2020, months before the war began. So many weapons have been deployed in this war, and among them: confusion and obfuscation.
In the past several months and more so in the past few weeks, we have been getting
testimony after testimony from allied Amhara forces fighting the TPLF that Tigrayan residents of cities in Wollo have been collaborating with the TPLF by a) attacking ENDF and allied forces from behind; b) forcing ENDF and allied forces to withdraw from towns and cities afraid of committing large scale massacres by firing back at the civilians (Tigrayans) firing at them; c) helping the TPLF locate and execute young Amharas believed to be a threat; and d) in at least one horrifying account by an IDP who managed to escape occupied territories, handing TPLF soldiers a list of women to rape. Another shocking development in the past several months has been the widespread use of child soldiers by the TPLF, which, according to experts who have studied the practice, is an “alarm bell” calling attention to possible plans to commit mass atrocities. The use of child soldiers by the TPLF and its attendant implications, along with the widespread deployment of civilian sleeper agents in Amhara cities the TPLF has taken over, serves to create an overall perception of every Tigrayan as a potential enemy, sowing fear and mistrust.
Many Ethiopians are looking at this and wondering: why are Tigrayan elites on the internet
either celebrating the TPLF’s advance via these toxic methods or silent about all this? How can they not see how dangerous this is for everyone, especially for Tigrayans who live outside Tigray? How can they not see that there is no “winning” after stoking all this lasting animosity? Do Tigrayan elites not understand that there can be no justice for Tigray—whether Tigray secedes or not—unless there is justice for her neighbors, for Tigray does not exist in a vacuum? The questions are being asked but nobody is answering them. Our academic class has largely failed to offer viable analyses of the ideas driving this war, as they failed over the past fifty years in regards to coming up with a fitting paradigm for understanding Ethiopia’s unique situation.
Here is my humble attempt to explain what I think is happening with the TPLF’s obsession
with—and with its active attempt to inspire—genocide:
The most successful psychopaths in any field understand that, in order to win anything, one
must risk everything, including the very thing one is supposedly fighting for. In the case of the
TPLF (and associated Tigrayan political elites), whose motto appears to be “give me supremacy or give me death,” that “everything” they are risking is the lives of ordinary Tigrayans in whose names they are fighting. We have seen over the past several months the extent to which the TPLF is willing to go to sacrifice ordinary Tigrayans in order to get what it wants: wave after wave after wave of young poorly armed and inexperienced Tigrayans were unleashed upon ENDF and Amhara and Afar forces in order to force the latter to waste ammunition and energy before the more experienced soldiers are sent.
So, for a political group who sends tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of
young Tigrayans towards open fire, violence against hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans is nothing if it means the TPLF will in the end win the “prize” it has been obsessed with for decades: genocide. You see, merely attaining power in Addis Ababa is not enough for the TPLF, whose core driving ideology is Tigrayan supremacy. Power is temporary; anybody can take it away from you, and the 2018 uprisings demonstrated that. Genocide is forever. Nobody can take away from you the story of genocide committed against your people.
The TPLF looked at countries like Israel and Rwanda and realized what a potent instrument
genocide is for establishing perpetual minority rule. We have some indications suggesting that the TPLF views Israel as a model. When the war between Ethiopia and the TPLF began in November 2020, Sekoutoure Getachew, a TPLF official, went on TV to tell us that the TPLF’s decision to launch a preemptive attack on the Northern Command was inspired by how the young state of Israel, feeling threatened by her neighbors, launched preemptive attacks against them in the “six-day war” of 1967. Another indication is the manner in which the TPLF, during its 27 years in power, invested heavily in creating a wealthy and strongly networked Tigrayan diaspora which has been used to lobby and influence western governments and organizations much in the same way as the Jewish diaspora aids the state of Israel. The TPLF has figured out that truth does not matter in politics, especially in international politics. If you have the wealth and the personnel to peddle your preferred narrative, if you have the military power to subdue the people you want to subdue, if you are willing to make concessions to external forces (US, Egypt, etc), you can do unspeakable things to others (much like the state of Israel does to Palestinians) and still manage to portray yourself as the victim.
This calculation is so far working for the TPLF, but nothing would seal the deal like the actual
commission of genocide—or something that looks like it—against Tigrayans. As we have seen over the past twelve months, western governments and organizations have shown their willingness to adopt TPLF’s narratives without scrutiny and can easily reward the TPLF with its much pursued prize, genocide, even if actual genocide doesn’t take place.
But why does the TPLF need genocide to establish minority rule? Because, as we saw in their
first tenure in power, you can only rule with an iron fist for a limited period of time. Leaders of the TPLF are adherents of Tigrayan supremacy: the idea that Tigrayans, as the “only” heirs of the Axumite empire, are the natural rulers of the Ethiopian state, and cannot be ruled by “barbarians” south of them. The only acceptable power arrangement for the TPLF is one in which Tigrayans are either directly dominating political power or are the perpetual kingmakers pulling all the major strings. Anything outside that, any system that forces Tigrayans to live on equal footing with everyone else, is unacceptable. And this kind of domination by a minority cannot coexist with a democratic system that the majority of Ethiopians clearly prefer. So, the TPLF needs something more potent than pure political/economic/military power to justify bypassing democracy to establish itself as the permanent ruler/kingmaker of Ethiopia. It needs a new and powerful raison d’être to justify its domination not just to Tigrayans and the rest of Ethiopians but, and most importantly, to the rest of the world. If a genocide were to be committed against Tigrayans (or if the U.S. decides to reward the TPLF with the genocide label even in the absence of it), then the TPLF can license itself to impose all manner of drastic measures aimed at “protecting Tigray and
Tigrayans.” This could be anything from redrawing internal borders (and taking debilitating
measures against the peoples whose lands are being robbed—most likely Amharas and Afaris—so that they will never be in a position to assert themselves) to ethnic cleansing and genocide against populations considered to be a threat. And when you oppose it, the TPLF will say “you committed a genocide against Tigrayans” over and over and over, and its western backers will repeat the same chorus. If they have been this loud over a non-existent genocide over the past twelve months, just imagine what it would be like if the U.S. or UN rewards them with that label.
And this is where the Ethiopian government’s major dilemma comes from: if ENDF and
Amhara forces fight to regain their cities and towns, they risk committing large scale massacres. The TPLF networks reported to be operating within these cities wear civilian clothing and fire at the armies from inside civilian establishments, in an apparent attempt to set up pro-Ethiopia forces. Pro-Ethiopia forces are essentially being dared to commit large scale massacres in order to win back their own cities. So far, they are choosing to withdraw from these towns and cities. But that is another problem: not only is the TPLF committing unspeakable violence against civilians and destroying infrastructure in those cities, the takeovers are emboldening it to continue pressing, giving young people back in Tigray false hope that they are winning and—this is very important—the false idea that they are being “welcomed” by locals in those cities. Then more and more and more young Tigrayans are sent to their deaths.
So the Ethiopian government is stuck between a rock and a hard place. One option is
allowing its forces to do whatever it takes to take back territory, thereby offering protection to its citizens in Wollo and elsewhere, but also risking the “genocide” label by western governments who have been eagerly waiting for such an opportunity so that they can blackmail the government into submitting itself to their wishes on GERD and other issues. Option two is avoiding large scale violence and allowing the TPLF to take power in Addis Ababa and do to Ethiopia what it wishes. One of the things it might do to Ethiopia, according to its leaked strategy document, is force a confederation that will no doubt privilege some states, i.e. Tigray, more than others, and that will no doubt be designed to subdue some populations—mainly Amharas and Afaris—who are considered obstacles to Tigray’s aspirations of domination and expansion (in the TPLF’s original manifesto, Afar is claimed as Tigray land).
And there is absolutely no doubt that the TPLF will make big concessions on the GERD in
order to compensate its western and Egyptian backers, if not redraw borders to make Benishangul Gumuz Tigrayan territory. If you think this is wild, read about the history of the state of Israel, the TPLF’s model state. The redrawing of borders that the TPLF undertook in 1991 was also wild at the time; people don’t think of it as outrageous anymore because the fact that they held onto the territory for 30 years has normalized the event in our minds. And that’s all the TPLF needs: another thirty years to normalize all the outrageous things they will do next.
One may argue that this is a false dichotomy, that there is a third or even maybe fourth option: winning these cities back without mass violence much in the same way the ENDF managed to do during its first campaign in Tigray. We all should pray for such a miracle, of course. However, one can also say that in the early days of the war, the TPLF was mostly withdrawing from Tigrayan cities to avoid urban warfare. And even when they engaged in urban warfare, it was not at the same scale and intensity as has been the case over the past four and half months or so. Starting in mid June, the TPLF’s use of civilians as human shields and fighters stopped being just another weapon in its arsenal and became a center of its operations. The near collapse of the ENDF inside Tigray right before its withdrawal was precipitated by the TPLF’s intensified use of “civilians” to trap the ENDF. Many ENDF soldiers chose to surrender rather than fire at those “civilians.” It is still possible to avoid large scale violence in the attempt to retake towns in Wollo, but the risk for it is very high, and is possibly behind the federal government’s reluctance to take decisive actions.
The point is: barring miracles, the Ethiopian government is positioned to lose something
one way or another. All that is left is choosing its preferred poison. Perhaps one thing to consider for the federal government is: the rights of Amharas and Afaris to defend themselves against the existential threats posed against them by the TPLF is much bigger than the national government’s concerns about its place and relationships with the rest of the world. If the federal government decides to risk the disintegration of Ethiopia, like it has done so far either due to incompetence or severe fear of committing large scale violence, that is fine for the federal government. But when you allow that disintegration to happen, please don’t leave the people of Amhara and Afar in a vulnerable position, unable to defend themselves and their lands. If we must return to the State of Nature, at least give these two peoples, who have so far shed more blood than anyone else in defense of their country, a chance to preserve their lives and their lands. Give them the resources they need to defend themselves before it is too late for them even if you feel it is too late for Ethiopia. Anything less is just a continuation of the gross criminal negligence that the federal government has been guilty of so far.