Background: Lieutenant General Tsadqan Gebretnsae is a TPLF veteran who served as a chief-of-staff of the Ethiopia National Defense Forces between 1991 and 2000. After retirement, General Tsadqan served as a UN advisor in South Sudan and was a successful investor. General Tsadqan is currently serving as a member of the central command of the Tigray Defense Forces. General Tsadqan sat down with journalist Damora Yahya of Dimtsi Weyane (DW) for an interview that was broadcasted on May 29, 2021 on DW’s Facebook account. The following is a summary of the interview.
When asked if the war on Tigray could have been avoided and to share his own engagements in Addis Ababa leading up to the start of the war, General Tsadqan started by posing a rhetorical question on whether the war was necessary, to which his answer was NO. He continued, however, to say there was no chance the war could have been avoided for at least the following two reasons.
First, Amhara elites have been on a desperate mission to save their Menelikian unitary system which they felt has been in danger for a long time. Amhara elites believed the people of Tigray’s strong belief in federalism and self-determination was standing in the way, therefore, they were waiting for an opportunity to act against that.
Second, Isaias Afewerki carried a resentment because the war he started over two decades ago did not end to his liking. Moreover, his plan to meddle inside Ethiopia’s affairs and his overzealous desire to gain unfair trade benefits as well as through black market activities didn’t succeed.
Amhara elites and Isaias Afewerki saw an opportunistic time when Abiy Ahmed came to power and used him as an agent to accomplish their respective wishes.
To help accomplish his plan, Isaias Afewerki used Eritrea’s strategic location as leverage to draw Arab countries to provide technical and material support.
Isaias appealed to Arab countries’ interest by promising them to facilitate their interest in the west-side of the Red Sea needed and that the way to do that was by creating partnership with Ethiopia which can serve as an agent to protect Arab countries’ interest in the strategic Red Sea corridor.
Meanwhile, there was an intiative by like-minded individuals in Addis Ababa, which Tsadqan was part of, to find peaceful resolution to the national challenges including the tension with Tigray through constitutional order and political dialogue.
The initiative was accepted in Tigray but there was resistance against it at the federal government level led by Abiy Ahmed. Tsadqan said that this was apparently clear during his meeting with Abiy Ahmed three times.
Tsadqan recalls during his last meeting with Abiy, Abiy confronted Tsadqan whether or not the claims he repeats in media interviews are for political consumption or Tsadqan really believes in them. The claims are: 1) The people of Tigray are homogenous, hence not susceptible for division. 2) The people of Tigray are politically enlightened and can be readily mobilized when necessary. 3) The people of Tigray have a tradition of defending themselves militarily. General Tsadqan made unequivocally clear to Abiy that those are values and facts he strongly believes in.
At that point, Abiy threatened that Tsadqan’s beliefs are wrong since any people can be defeated through force and money. Tsadqan told Abiy that it is wrong to base policy on such a notion. That was their last conversation after which Tsadkan said he moved to Mekelle.
In short, Tsadqan believes the war was waged against the very identity and beliefs of the people of Tigray. Tsadqan says the only way to avoid the war was for Tigrayans to change their identity which he believes is unthinkable.
As a second question, General Tsadqan was asked what the current status of the war is and how it is progressing.
Tsadqan made it clear that the notion that the war started as a result of the incident involving Northern Command was simply false for the reasons stated above and other clear indicators. For example, right before the start of the war, the Ethiopian federal government created a new command center known as North West Command which was in line with the Amhara regional state’s claim of Welkait and Humera as their territory. Those areas are part of the Tigray regional state administration under the current constitution.
Second, the federal government attempted to replace several generals that were part of the North Command leadership. The Tigray regional government opposed that move.
Third, General Tsadqan further stated the intense preparations leading up to the start of the war was a clear telling that the federal government intended to carry out the war on Tigray.
According to Tsadqan, the war started between two imbalanced forces as Tigray forces were greatly outnumbered with the combination of Ethiopian and Eritrean forces. Eritrean forces had already started entering Tigray through western front (Badme) and began shelling through the Humera front during the start of the war. Overall, about 12 divisions from Ethiopia and over 30 divisions from Eritrea were involved.
Despite being outnumbered, Tigray Defense Forces put up a devastating fight against the enemy from defensive positions where the enemy lost many of its members. Then, the use of combat drones radically changed the war where they targeted tanks, heavy weapons and logistics components of the Tigray side. It’s to be recalled, before the involvement of the drones, Tigray Defense Forces were equipped with heavy weapons that were stored in the North Command. As such, the first month was a challenging time for Tigray Defense Forces and one can say the enemy forces almost won.
Under the leadership of well-respected and experienced veteran military commanders assisted by local cadres and with an overwhelming support of the Tigrayan youth who are angered by the brutal treatment of the people of Tigray in the hands of the of Eritrean and Ethiopian forces, Tigray Defense Forces have quickly reorganized since then. Currently, Tigray Defense Forces are in a position not only to defend themselves but also ready to take offensive missions. General Tsadqan stated, once some minor adjustments that are underway are finalized, it won’t be long until Tigray Defense Forces drive away or bury the invading forces.
As a third question, General Tsadqan was asked how the war would end.
Tsadqan was quick to state the war will end with the victory of the people of Tigray without any doubt. The reason being, this is a just war for Tigrayans as they are forced to defend their identity and their existence.
Tsadqan warned the invaders have two choices. Either they leave immediately, or they wait their death in Tigray while serving dictators Abiy Ahmed and Isaias Afewerki. According to Tsadqan, Ethiopian army is at its weakest point and it can’t stand a chance to fight on its own. As such, its members are often incorporated and led under Eritrean commanders.
Tsadqan took a moment to especially address Eritrean forces where he recalled the historical background acknowledging Tigray has always maintained a clear stand and support on Eritrea’s independence among other things. As such, Eritreans subjugating Tigrayans to unimaginable atrocities on behalf of Amhara elites is something uncalled for and inexcusable (ጋዶ as he put it).Tsadqan once again reminded Eritrean forces that they have choices. They can go back to their country; they can join Eritrean opposition forces; or they can choose togo abroad, which the government of Tigray can help facilitate. However, if they choose to stay in Tigray, they are awaiting their death.
When asked about his views on the so-called interim government of Tigray, Tsadqan described the people involved simply as chameleons. When they realized Isaias’ plan had backfired against them, they changed their colors, but not their identity with the intention to mislead the people by acknowledging a few of the many already exposed atrocities but without offering real solutions.
Their true identity remains to be servants of Isaias Afewerki and Amhara elites. General Tsadqan went on to challenge the interim government members that, if they are sincere, at minimum they should recognize the elected government of Tigray and demand for its reinstatement, Tigray has a known geographical territory guaranteed under the current constitution and they should demand the territories under invading forces to be restored, they should demand the invading Eritrean forces to leave Tigray. Obviously, it is not part of their identity to make such demands. The fact that they think they can mislead the people of Tigray by changing their color shows they don’t understand the people of Tigray.
In his concluding remark, General Tsadqan Gebretnsae thanked the people of Tigray for their patience despite previous lack of good governance and for their steadfast support despite all the challenges. Tsadqan stressed although all external supports are necessary, the people of Tigray must realize they control their own destiny, called on Tigrayan youth to join the Tigray Defense Forces, advised those in enemy occupied areas to stay safe and attack the enemy whenever possible given the fact that it’s the enemy that came to invade their homeland. Tsadqan called on Diaspora Tigrayans to continue their support for Tigray Defense Forces until Tigray is fully liberated. Tsadqan appreciated Eritreans who are supporting the fight of the people of Tigray to defend their identity through music, in social media, by being a voice through their media. Tsadqan assured those Eritreans that Tigray supports their struggle against the dictatorial government of Isaias Afewerki.
The summary was written by Kiros Araya
“ትግራይ ሰብ ኣለዋ” (Tigray has people) is one of the mottos for Tigray’s struggle against the genocidal war by Eritrean and Ethiopian forces.
General Tsadqan Gebretnsae epitomizes those words. Tsadqan has accomplished more than most people in life as a successful military commander, investor, statesman and more.
And yet, he chose to abandon his comfort and join the struggle because the very cause and people he spent most of his adult life fighting for were on the verge of extinction.
Tigray will prevail because Tigray has people like General Tsadqan Gebretnsae!