Wake up World: An Open Letter
The humanitarian crisis in Tigray – when will the international community stop commentating and take action?
Dear International Community,
Today Chatham House, London is hosting Ethiopian government representatives, a shameful decision that it will surely regret.
I wonder how much longer it will take you to realise that appeasing a tyrannical regime will not bring peace to Ethiopia. If you replaced the name “Abiy Ahmed” with “Adolf Hitler” it would make the folly of your current position obvious. Abiy – and dictator Isaias Afwerki and Amhara expansionists – hate Tigrayans in the way that the Nazis hated the Jews.
Many of you, including Chatham House, are choosing a policy of appeasement of a regime that has, with its allies, almost totally destroyed Tigray and continues to slaughter its people in Tigray and across Ethiopia, by any means possible. And it is now re-arming and threatening more of the same in future.
A well-documented vicious military campaign, which has targeted civilians from the very first day and included the use of banned weapons, has been deployed for exactly nine months but much of the world has barely reacted. BBC domestic radio and TV has ignored the conflict, covering it briefly only a few times since it began in November last year. Why?
It is not fanciful to compare the current government in Tigray to that of Nazi Germany.
As Gebrekirstos Gebreselassie has written for Ethiopia Insight: “In recent decades, Tigrayans were likened to the Jews of Germany and calls for “Ethiopians” to take lessons from “Nazi Germany’s heroic extermination techniques” have been made. Of special relevance here were Eskinder Nega’s now-defunct newspaper, Asqual, and ESAT, a 10-year-old Amhara diaspora satellite television channel, partly funded by Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki.
Asqual, in a column called “ወግድ ይሁዳ (“exterminate the Jew”) which ran for more than a year, urged Ethiopians to do what Nazi Germany did to their troublesome minority, the Jews.1
ESAT is operated by Amhara supremacists, who were overthrown in 1991 and many of whom had spent the last 30 years abroad resenting every day that they were not in power in Ethiopia. They are now determined to reclaim the position of dominance to which they feel entitled. Their mentor is Emperor Menelik, the expansionist king who reigned over a hundred years ago.
Over the years, while operating from the USA, this TV station regularly and openly called for the annihilation of all Tigrayans – “there are only 5 million of them, we can easily wipe them out” – station head Neamin Zeleke said. (Does the US not have laws against incitement to violence and murder?)
ESAT staff and other Amhara supremacists now openly incite violence against Tigrayans and other ethnic groups, but this time on home territory, which is much more dangerous. Ethiopia has laws against hate speech, but they are unlikely to be applied under the current regime.
Prime Minister Abiy personally welcomed ESAT TV to Ethiopia, recognising in its staff a visceral hatred for Tigrayans that matches his own and that of Isaias Afwerki, the paranoid dictator who has ruled Eritrea with utter ruthlessness since its independence in 1993 and who helped fund the nascent ESAT. This tripartite alliance has proven catastrophic for all concerned. Not just Tigrayans, though they have suffered most, but other ethnic groups, but also young Ethiopian soldiers who were sent into a futile and unnecessary war and have died in their tens of thousands. More are being recruited and trained right now.
As reported by the UK Guardian newspaper back in May, the G7 went out of their way to appease the Ethiopian regime at a meeting that month. The G7 seems still to think that there is no alternative to an Abiy Ahmed-led government, taken in perhaps by Mr. Ahmed’s apparent charm, not fully recognising how adept he is at subterfuge.
The Nobel Peace Prize committee members were similarly duped. The war on Tigray has trashed their reputation along with that of the Ethiopian PM. The Prize now seems to convey to recipients that it is a license to kill.
Yet PM Abiy has influential allies around the world. In the UK, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) published an article by an apologist for the Abiy regime, which did little more than repeat Ethiopian government propaganda.
Today (5th Aug), Chatham House is hosting Ethiopian government representatives, a shameful decision that it will surely regret. The establishment is not ready to let go of its man just yet. Is this perhaps because the Prosperity Party won a deeply flawed election, run after years of anti-Tigrayan propaganda from PM Abiy, surely a travesty of democracy?
Their apparent view that there is no alternative to the current regime is deeply misguided. You the international community should have more faith in the Ethiopian people who are perfectly capable of choosing a leader and a system of governance that satisfies their needs. But with many political leaders in prison and some regions excluded, there was little likelihood of a fair outcome to the recent election.
The EU did not send election observer missions, once again taking principled action, as it has done right from the start of this war, warning the Ethiopian government on 2nd November that an attack on Tigray would be catastrophic. The US has, under Joe Biden, also taken principled action. Other international bodies, and the G7 in particular, should follow their lead.
Goitom Gebreluel, Managing Director of Hatèta Policy Research writes, “Ethnic federalism in Ethiopia enjoys wide support.. Halting the ongoing descent into anarchy requires, first of all, concerted efforts to compel leaders to respect their constitutions. In both Ethiopia and Somalia, Abiy and Abdullahi must be pressured to enter into a political dialogue with their contenders to reset their democratic reform processes.
Secondly, the use of foreign mercenaries in domestic conflicts must be deterred. In particular, verification mechanisms must be established to ensure the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from conflicts across the region. And finally, perpetrators of serious violations of international humanitarian law must be held accountable in order to pave the way for a reconciliation process but also to deter others from engaging in such acts.”2
As Addis Standard reported, “Abiy has shown a desire to demolish the current federal structure and abolish the current constitution of the country. But unity can only be ensured and maintained through the consensus of the regions and nations – not by force and narrowly defined assimilation. This coercive approach led to many civil wars in the past, and it is doomed to failure now, especially since the rationale for the unrest that led to Abiy’s emergence was more about the effective implementation of the federal system and not its dissolution.”
What most Ethiopians want is peace and respect for their culture, the ability to speak their own languages – in other words, unity in diversity, which was the linchpin of the polity until Abiy Ahmed took over. Preaching ‘unity’, Ahmed has nevertheless scapegoated the Tigrayans and deliberately set ethnic groups against each other as never before, with a divide-and-rule policy that has consolidated his takeover with the Prosperity Party, a huge misnomer as Ethiopia’s economy has tanked under his watch with rating agencies downgrading it.
A politician who seeks a mandate may embrace jingoistic patriotism. As Samuel Johnson famously wrote, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” He did not, of course, mean a real and generous love of a country, but that “pretended patriotism so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest.” Abiy Ahmed is a clear case of this false patriotism.
The often-used “All parties stand accused of war crimes in Tigray,” gives the impression that all sides are equally guilty. But the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) do not kill civilians and they treat POWs with dignity. As Rashid Abdi has tweeted, “Tigrayans have been exemplary. So much evil has been done to them in [the] last 8 months yet they have kept their humanity. They are being massacred and starved; their homeland is cut off, under blockade. The world needs to acknowledge this and stop hypocritical bothsides[is]m” (2nd Aug).
Contrast this to the behaviour of Ethiopian and Eritrean forces and the inhumane dismissal, detainment, torture and, in some cases, murder of Tigrayan members of the Ethiopian defence forces who have been withdrawn from various peace missions and forced back to Ethiopia targeted simply for being Tigrayan. Tens of thousands are locked away in camps or worse, some have been handed over to the Eritrean government, no doubt to be tortured and killed.
And can we please stop pretending that there is no satellite evidence? You all know what’s happening on the ground. Trump’s America closely watched as UAE armed drones bombed Tigray, killing thousands in late 2020, and said nothing. But then criticised the TDF for retaliating with targeted airstrikes on the military base in Eritrea that launched the drones. The bombed do have a right to self-defence under international law.
Support ongoing efforts
The EU has a much better idea of how to curb the excesses of fascism – sanctions, withholding of aid, punishment, not reward. The West should rally around the EU’s position and echo its actions.
Pussyfooting around dictators never works. It didn’t work with Hitler and it won’t work with Abiy Ahmed, who says one thing and does another. “Not a single civilian has died” he stated back in November when, already, thousands of Tigrayan civilians had perished and tens of thousands had been forced to flee to Sudan.
If I cannot convince you in any other way and do not change tack as the EU has stated, the resulting huge refugee crisis will massively affect Europe.
What is “Global Britain”?
Britain needs to understand this, if only out of its own self-interest, and it has a historical obligation to help restore peace in Ethiopia. If the UK government wants to be taken seriously about its place in the world post-Brexit it cannot hide away from conflicts, especially those in which it is implicated. Britain’s colonial-era interventions including the deeply unfair treaty on the division of the Nile waters (between Sudan and Egypt, excluding Ethiopia altogether) is at the heart of the current dispute over the Renaissance Dam. Britain was also involved in re-drawing the boundaries relating to Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan, and elsewhere. The UK must not shirk its responsibilities.
The UK and other western countries have invested heavily in the development of Ethiopia in recent decades, they need to start asking for an explanation of why their vast investment has been so recklessly and deliberately destroyed.
The West seems to be in denial – wishing the problems will perhaps all go away – because they cannot see an alternative to Abiy Ahmed. The outcome will be worse if they keep postponing action. They think Ethiopia will totally disintegrate if Abiy falls with no clear alternative, not yet acknowledging that collapse is more likely to happen with him rather than without him.
As Addis Standard said, “Political regimes come and go but communities will ultimately continue to co-exist, as members of the same country or as neighbors.”
Abiy Ahmed, you have stated, “Our history reminds us that Ethiopians have never fallen under any forces and will never fall.” Until now of course, when Ethiopia has fallen under the control of Eritrea. You laud Ethiopian sovereignty but you have handed it over to Eritrean dictator Isaias Afwerki whose troops have been fighting not just in Tigray but in Oromia, on the Sudan border, and elsewhere in Ethiopia, and remain there even now.
You need to recognise that popular sovereignty is as important as the sovereignty of states – people are also sovereign, and you have a duty to care for them. The Amhara militias who are now slaughtering civilian Tigrayans in Humera and throwing their bodies in the river Tekeze are simply acting on your orders to “clear the weed”.
And stop wittering on about the importance of Ethiopia’s sovereignty when you’ve encouraged, not just one, or two but three foreign states to attack Ethiopia. You will go down in history not just as Abiy the Butcher but as Abiy the Traitor.
Wake up world before it is too late before another genocide destroys an entire ethnic group. It will be your Rwanda. Do the decent thing and stop supporting despots, support effective action to halt the slaughter now, bring an end to this shameful episode in Ethiopia’s history, and help rebuild Tigray.
Anonymous, 5 August 2021