Are we snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory?
Belay Seyoum, Ph. D
October 09, 2021
With the establishment of a new government, some people are suggesting the need for reconciliation or negotiation with the TPLF. There was even a suggestion by a prominent Ethiopian public official for ending the war so that the country can get back to business. Let us not forget that this war was started by the TPLF with the aim of taking over power. It was essentially an attempted coup that is still being resisted by the Ethiopian people along with the army. This has caused enormous suffering to thousands of innocent men, women and children and the wanton destruction of property. It will take billions of dollars over several years to repair this damage. A generation of young people will live with the psychological trauma as a consequence of this conflict. After all this, there are calls for negotiations or reconciliation!!
Negotiations with the TPLF will neither deliver the peace nor the long-term stability the country needs to purse economic development. As Jon Abbink correctly noted in his opinion piece (Zehabesha, October 8, 2021), national dialogue with TPLF sounds nice but a fake one. He says: “Among the TPLF, we don’t see any positive traits right now. Because of their choice for death and destruction, their expiry date is long overdue”. I agree with this opinion. Anyone who knows the nature of this organization and its leaders would not suggest a naïve and potentially dangerous suggestion for dialogue and negotiations. When we look at the origins of this conflict, we all know that there was no serious disagreement between the TPLF and the Federal government. TPLF simply did not like the idea of losing power and wanted to regain it by military means. There is really nothing to negotiate at this time. There is no issue relating to devolution or state rights. They started this war in violation of the country’s laws and constitution. The Federal government has a right and responsibility to enforce law and order in all parts of the country. The fact that planes and tanks were used does not change the reality that this is strictly a law enforcement operation. When Abdi Ele created death and destruction in Somalia, the Federal government went into the state, arrested him /his associates and brought stability to the state. Why is the Tigray case any different? Is it because they have more fighters and weapons as well as well paid lobbyists in the USA and EU? Selective enforcement of the law and constitution will undermine any attempt at creating a society subject to the rule of law. A state that does not exercise a monopoly on the use of force is a failed state since no serious country will allow a bunch of insurgents running with guns and terrorizing people. No civilized country would succumb to such blackmail and extortion.
The Federal government is not without its own failings. It withdrew the army and interim administration from Tigray allowing TPLF to recruit and mobilize more people into the war effort. A complete absence from Tigray has also undermined our efforts to reach the Tigray people and hold the country together. It has also made it difficult to use the media to advance the cause of peace and solidarity with the Tigray people. In failing to do this, the Federal government has failed to isolate TPLF leadership from the good people of Tigray. I have no doubt that TPLF has gained more support from the Tigray people since this conflict began because of our own failings. The idea of completely abandoning the state to TPLF and their squad of goons is not an option. We have also allowed TPLF to continue to dominate the news in Tigray. Why is it that we have been unable to arrest the civilian and military leaders who have been responsible for all these deaths and destruction? They hold press statements in Mekelle every few weeks.
There are also some opinions expressed in the media about cordoning off the state and leave Tigray alone. You cannot bring about lasting peace in the state and country by isolating and abandoning the Tigray state. First, by doing this, we consolidate the leadership position of the TPLF in Tigray, facilitate their forced recruitment of more young people into the war front creating more instability in Tigray and neighboring states. We abandon thousands of people who oppose TPLF including the mothers and fathers who are opposing such forced recruitment and abuse. It is a naïve and dangerous suggestion that attempts to conflate the TPLF with the Tigray people. As we leave TPLF to dominate the political and social lives of the people (by abandoning the state), they will not only continue to create more destruction in neighboring states but also prepare for political independence. We should not forget that Tigray is a state within Ethiopia and we have a responsibility to secure peace and stability in the state. The idea of punishing every Tigrayan for the sins of TPLF will create more sympathizers for the TPLF. At some point, it will create so much hate and bitterness that it will make it difficult to stop their quest for break up from the union. This quest will no longer be limited to the TPLF.
A responsible position that will guarantee unity and long-term stability would be:
a) Entering Tigray (as we did in Somalia) and disarming all forces in the state (using house to house searches if necessary). The Federal government should have the monopoly on the use of force in the state and country.
b) Apprehension and prosecution of TPLF civilian and military leadership that are fugitives from justice.
c) Sufficient military presence in Tigray and an interim administration that will stabilize the state. It may require an interim military administration till things get back to normal.
d) Resumption of some political activity that will lead to democratic elections at a future date.
Negotiations will not work with the TPLF. Ethnic civil wars (unlike ideological ones) are difficult to resolve with negotiated settlements (they fail two thirds of the time) and that durable solutions can only come with clear military victory. Clear victory leads to achievement of operational objectives (decisive victory over TPLF in the conflict) and will end the war with TPLF surrender and pave the way for stabilization of the state (provision of services, control of media, rehabilitation in the form of repairs of hospitals, infrastructure). Anything that falls short of this will neither lead to lasting peace nor long-term stability. The country’s unity is at stake.