Full transcript of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s 30 November address to parliament.
Though the questions you have raised are directly related to the current situation, I find it necessary to go a bit deeper into the challenges of the reform during the last two and half years; to explain it, comparing it with the current status of the reform. Most of your questions are related to the position of the government and its execution capacity; a capacity to save the country from disintegration and its citizens from death.
This demand for survival is also very important, for the challenges which will encounter in the future. So, even though not in full detail, I will try to show you the basics and the general picture of the process and what it [the reform] looks like, from the very beginning.
Firstly, when we look into the beating, repression, agony, and the people’s thirst for equal development and democracy in the last 27 years, I don’t want to take time and explain everything—for it is an issue which the honorable members of parliament know very well. And the Ethiopian people themselves also know the life they endured—though there is a problem of forgetfulness in some cases: they are able to remember it and I won’t take my time here to go into great detail.
But nonetheless it is necessary to show what it looked like, and the process one or two months into the reform. If you remember, about two and half years ago, one or two months before the reform started there were a lot of conflicts; displacements; mass graves where many people were buried in one place; so much disappointment and dismay in the country.
All this made the country a place of sorrow, and its people mournful. The displacements we faced shortly after the change numbered in the millions and above; many were buried in mass graves. It is similar to the current trending we are witnessing. This indicates both were done by the same people who graduated from the same college. This is the background which needs to be remembered. There was a lot of sorrow and anguish in those days.
And the tactic was to panic people and incarcerate them in large numbers. There was an attempt to suppress the situation by detaining people en masse. For instance, when Irreechaa was celebrated – an institution which was found to keep the security of Ethiopia – they produced a lot of OLF flags, which were given to some select people who, after joining the Irreechaa goers [carrying the OLF flag], were used as an excuse to kill or detain any one they wanted, by accusing them of waving the flag of a terrorist. In other places it detained or harassed a lot of people, accusing them of carrying the old flag. It suppressed, displaced people and unleashed terror. But this was an effort which was not able to stop the people’s yearning for change and from seeking to change the way they are governed.
Hence, some time before the change happened, there were discussions and negotiations to carry out a coup. When Prime Minister Hailemariam heard about that coup discussion, he said: “I am here to serve and there is no need to conduct a coup; I am ready to leave office any time, if you say ‘Hailemariam is not important’ anymore’”. And therefore he had plainly discussed the matter with those people who were discussing the issue [coup]. The rest of us were asking how it could be called a government coup rather than a coup against individuals; we asked how on earth a government could conduct a coup against itself? This is because, in Ethiopia, what has been understood as a government is simply the defense force and the security apparatus. Therefore, how can a government undertake a coup against itself in the country it governs? So, it is just a coup against a person, and such a coup doesn’t require thinking, planning or much discussion.
“They started to do active surveillance”
There were other ideas which were raised, that might have been possible to implement easily. But there were some individuals who were not supportive of the idea. So the coup attempt was cancelled and the prime minister, Hailemariam, resigned. Then they started to think about a person who could hold his place, in order to ensure the place holder would become a tool who serves their interests and wishes, after Hailemariam resigned.
Then they started to do active surveillance on potential individuals whom they thought could become a placeholder. The security agents started to follow our steps and movements clearly. For example, as I left my house, a car parked at my doorstep and waited for me. Then it followed me to my office. Everywhere I went there was a clear follow up on me, and other comrades too.
We raised this issue at the meeting at the time saying, “They shouldn’t worry too much and waste their time and fuel on us, while there are so many issues concerning the country”. However, it didn’t stop there; there was more tightening of security. For instance, in Oromia offices—the offices of the president and the OPDO office where I used to work—all the buildings surrounding them were mounted by snipers. It was clearly visible and the message was clear: “We can kill you any time, lest you stop what you are doing.” The message was clear. There were cars, patrols on our doorstep and every building in our surroundings were tightened with security.
At that time a few of us discussed and produced a video clip, assuming that we might be killed or detained (for an assassination could happen any time) – so that the people should keep up the struggle. A detail of our video message urged and encouraged the Ethiopian people to continue their struggle in case we might be killed or detained. We gave that video to other people to immediately release it to the public in the event that we be killed or detained. We also prepared some information in a written form as well. Because it was clear that a danger could befall [us] any time.
When we raised this issue and discussed it [the surveillance] with the EPRDF officials, they took further steps and issued an arrest warrant against us. It happened when we were left with five or ten days to our election and an arrest warrant was issued against us. All this was to stop individuals who were not wanted by these people [TPLF] and to assign somebody who resembled a government but would not be a government actually. That was their interest.
However, we were following a well-coordinated strategy in our struggle and other people who were leading the struggle from behind the scenes were also closely following the situation and hence most of the attempts were unsuccessful. The prime minister and the deputy prime minister had firm interest for the change to come, and they wanted the struggle to continue and keep its momentum. Not only this, there were also middlemen who went between here and there. We would send information which they wanted to hear through those individuals and obtained information from them, about what they [TPLF] were doing and hence preparing ourselves in the meantime.
Then we entered the election to choose a leader of the EPRDF. It was a long week of meetings full of stress never seen in the history of EPRDF. The meeting went on for weeks, to brainwash, reshape individuals through gimgema (self-confession). The meeting was held and dismissed several times and we spent many days without reaching any tangible conclusion. And the day the election was held we were debating on the criteria of the election the whole day and went on until midnight.
“They faced their first and unexpected defeat”
It was really stressful, as you know already, and it was no less than the current war. It was well organized, and the junta element did a wide range of activities through its indirect attacks. For instance, the junta’s external wing from abroad declared around 10:30 pm that the election was concluded in their favor (victory). Then they started to celebrate in every bar. Before this happened, they had been saying that someone who is going to be elected is a person of their preference and vowed if something different happens, then it would be on their dead body. They were clearly vowing in every liquor shop. It was not a secret. After they did all this they faced their first and unexpected defeat in the political arena. The then EPRDF council members who sought this change had played a leading role for this to happen.
All that hassle of the EPRDF Council in April, which faced such difficulty just to elect one leader, evaporated in our meeting of the EPRDF held in Hawassa four months later. It took less than ten minutes for all members of the EPRDF council who were eligible to vote to cast their ballot and elect a leader with a full 100 percent vote, except the vote of one person. All this had changed within four months. The remaining one vote was mine. Three of us were nominated and I cast my ballot for my friends, ignoring myself. Except for this the rest voted 100 percent for one person. What this means is that the commotion and the hassle which happened three months earlier was unnecessary and was an agenda without any basis. Had what they said before been true it would have been difficult to vote in such a way three months later, choosing a leader with 100 percent vote and then free to reshuffle the party. I need this honorable house to understand this as one part of the background.
The second part was what happened after the change had come and the reform team came to power. The reform team had been facing pressure under continuous surveillance and exposed to a threat of assassination and detention. Ethiopians are also a people who were repressed and segregated as a people. It was a time when there was a large spirit of alienating and hating one another and therefore trying a regime change in the accustomed way in such an atmosphere could have caused a huge calamity in the history of Ethiopia. If we had tried that way, we would destroy each other.
The force [TPLF] which we don’t want was a force which fully armed itself while the others were the one who were disadvantaged, not well organized and were not armed. This would cause a huge human calamity. There is no doubt about this. Therefore, we wanted to change the narrative to avoid this from happening, for the hassling and confrontation with the force which was highly armed while we only harbor extreme hate towards it would lead us to a serious disaster.
Then we changed the narrative and said: let us say to these people [TPLF] that we won’t do damage to you because you did it to us, and hence, we won’t eliminate you. One can erase the damage sustained either through forgiveness or through the prevalence of justice rather than through revenge. We will forget the damage and embrace and go forward with forgiveness, medemer, fraternity and love. We said that let us forget the past and let it go.
If we mention the past damage there was one who amputated his leg, his nail uprooted, lost his father and there were also those who ended up in the ocean while fleeing the country due to their grievance with the government. If all those victims in all areas take revenge it would cause the destruction of one another and therefore we said it is better if we suppress the grievance and work on reconciliation, peace and love to prevail for our destructive political culture hasn’t helped us. Starting from zero every time a regime change happened made Ethiopia lag behind.
“The next job is building a nation state”
Therefore, we explained this to our people and to this group several times: that we have to let it go. After we have said this, the next job is building a nation state which is by all, for all, and from all. When we say ‘by all; it means a nation where every person contributes his bit. When we say ‘for all’ it means there should be no situation which makes one a beneficiary and the other not, which regards one as an owner and the other a stranger, one as a neighbor and the other important—but rather it should be a state of affairs in which all take part equally. When we say ‘for all’ it means a situation where all are served equally. When we raised such a query—to build such a nation state—we were told that this is a sermon and you are a preacher and it is impossible to rule a country by preaching. To a rule country is by telling people something directly and to make them fight each other, from behind, like we are doing. Otherwise it is impossible to rule a country by speaking about love and medemer.
And then follows the claim that the government is weak. Of course, the government is weak. Government is not an individual’s personal capacity and experience; it is rather the strength of the institutions. So, blaming the government as weak after you already built a weak institution does not hold water. Any government who has no institution is weak, whether individuals are able or not. The effort to change things accordingly didn’t receive much acceptance.
In relation to this the honorable house, politicians, media personalities all raised such questions: as why measures were not taken quickly; why it has been delayed; why we paid a price for not taking measures on time, and was it not possible to take measures earlier? This issue is emanating from lack of understanding of the difference between having interest and taking action. It is possible to wish, plan and seek it, but it also needs capacity to execute that, which is institutional capacity.
Ethiopia’s main political problem, be it the ruling party, political parties and other political forces, is lack of the capacity to do deep analysis of the power balance before we take action. What makes a government or a party emerge as a winner in any of its activities is doing enough analysis of the balance of power based on knowledge which is supported by real data inputs. It requires knowing what the forces within look like and what the external forces look like and analyzing what could happen if conflict arises between these forces and what success and failure would follow also. It badly needs such analysis.
For there is no doing such analysis of power balance at this moment: a person just raises up and says he can be a government within three months. To become a government, it requires clearly understanding your enemy, understanding yourself, identifying the execution capacity of the enemy, identifying one’s own capacity—and it requires knowing how you are able to weaken or win the enemy. Just gathering together and saying ‘we are a party and we will win and become a government within six months’ is a mere wish. This is why many parties have been created in Ethiopia in the last 40 years but they haven’t been able to win. Unless the analysis of power balance is done seriously then victory becomes only what we wish for, but not what we achieve.
In addition to this it requires situational analysis such as: what is the existing situation, what does the entity which is called the government looks like, what does the opposition look like, what are the neighboring countries looking like? And situational analysis is done in order to know what situation might happen if we do operation in such conditions. A person who well understands all these things does not raise such questions as why the measure is delayed.
“I was not able to talk over the phone”
And if you ask: I personally, let alone my country (the responsibility you gave me), was even in a position where I was not able to defend myself and my family. For example, the day you appointed me to become prime minister and serve the country per the constitution, the security head told me that I was not able to enter the place along with my former three security guards. I was a person who didn’t have the capacity to decide on his security guards, whom you requested to protect the country. I was told that it is impossible to enter into the palace with my former security guards and instead I was told that I will have other security guards assigned by them and my former security guards were prevented from entering the pace with me. This happened the day I was appointed as prime minister.
The keys of the office where I work were in the hands of these security persons. It was them who opened the door and let me out and let me get in and locked the door on me from behind. I didn’t know if there were surveillance cameras and videos in the office. I was not able to install counter surveillance in my office as it is accustomed in other countries, clean my office and do my job, because they entered the office every morning before me, they did what they did there and came and told me to go to my office any time they prefer. I was not able to talk over the phone or call Mr. Demeke and discuss with him, and my office was out of my control. Not just my security: my office was also in these people’s hands. In addition to my office the master key of my house was also in the hands of these forces. They were the one who let me in and locked the door from behind and they were the ones who unlocked the door and let me out in the morning.
It was when I was in such condition that you started raising such questions: the government didn’t take measures and didn’t protect the country. Let alone ensuring your security, I was not even in a position to ensure my own and my children’s security. It was not only this: I wanted to visit the palace compound because I wanted to check for any possible escape route through which I could run and escape, since I am a soldier. I already knew that my house and my office were not in my control. And when I requested to visit the compound to get familiar with it, they told me this was not accustomed. It was not accustomed for the prime minister to visit the compound. The movement is only from house to office and vice versa: ‘We let you in on Friday and you will stay in the house until Monday morning until we come and let you come out.’
Staying in the house means just staying in the house and to be on the veranda was even not allowed. I resisted and told them that I am not such a prime minister and I face difficulty unless I properly see my surroundings. I insisted they let me visit the compound, which is out of the compound out of my house. The compound has no recognized sub city and kebele but it has a good number of villages within it. There was a plastic makeshift house in every corner of the fence. There were also shanty and mud houses in the compound. There were adults, children and women in the compound. It was not known if this compound is a village or a palace, it was not clear. If you go through the whole circle of the compound you find it full of people. The issue about the role of those people and what they are doing was not clear. There was a toilet, shanty house and plastic makeshift house everywhere which was built along the fence and it looked like street life. And people live in them. Then I clearly understood that it was not only the office but I was not even able to run through the compound and escape because I was heavily surrounded by people.
Even if I tried to move one step out of the compound there is a house called an ammunition house on this side where hundreds of people live. There is parliament on this side where there were security guards. There is a palace garage on this side where many people live and as you go down a bit further there is the office of the security where there were special soldiers which were organized outside of the law and proclamation. They were soldiers who were armed with special weapons. Therefore, if I escape from the house or the office, it would be impossible to escape through the compound and if I managed to escape from the compound the surrounding was as I told you. In short, I came to understand that I was a prime minister who lives in a modernized prison house.
“I was not like a Prime Minister”
To liberate myself from this prison house and discharge the responsibility which I was given, especially to achieve the reforms which this honorable house expects, the first thing I had to do was to discuss with my family. My family was in exile before that. After we observed the existing situation, we said that this house is a prison house and it is impossible to become a prime minister by sitting here and only appearing on the television. We agreed that it requires activity and it has its own risk and then reached a consensus with the family to go back to where they came from. Then I send them back to where they came from.
It was under this assumption—that there could be a possibility of being killed, detained or made to disappear—and some jobs were done under such conditions, during the initial of the month. I was not like a prime minister but a person who was able to appear on television. It was to this type of government led by this type of prime minister that questions were raised about bringing change. Then the discussion we had with friends, especially with the deputy prime minister, was one in which we discussed that the people need this, and this is the condition we are in and it looks like this. We could write and think up ideas but if we took what we had written and invited the executive committee or cabinet to discuss it, as a force to support our ideas, it was instead a force which hindered it. Then we raised such questions: in what way can we work and realize the change which people are expecting? Then we agreed that we have to follow a sandwich approach by ignoring the Executive Committee for a while.
We discussed that we have to sort out ideas at the top and let our people understand from the grassroots level, so that we can sandwich the middle management by using this approach and save the reform from being derailed, by making the people understand the existing condition. And we also agreed on the means of listening to the grievances of the people. We then agreed to reach out to our people, listen to them and sell our ideas to them as well. We said: let the people be our guardians and the vanguard of the reform, and keep it from being derailed, and let us also go out boldly and share our ideas with the people.
After saying this we decided to make our first trip to the Somali region. The reason why we decided to go to the Somali region was that the current danger you witness now was first prepared in the Somali region. There were more than 30,000 well-equipped and organized special forces. And the first dream to disintegrate Ethiopia started there. In addition to this there were huge displacements months before the reform started, in which there were also killings. So, we decided to go to the Somali region on our first trip to heal the situation there. Then the security head told me I cannot go there. He told me I cannot go to the Somali region and when I asked him why he told me: “Al-Shabaab will kill you”. I was told that Al-Shabaab is going to kill me and therefore I cannot go to the Somali region.
First, I know and have experience in how information can be fabricated. Second, the job of the security office is to provide information to the relevant body to make decisions based on the information and [the security office] have responsibility to make decisions. But this officer started from a decision, he started by saying, “you cannot go”. [He] decided already and the justification of “Al-Shabaab is going to kill you” came later on – when I asked why. And my answer was two-fold. First, I asked him to give me information which is reasonable to make a decision. And second: you did the main thing. The main thing is knowing there is a force which wants to kill. So, I told him he did a good job already by knowing the information that can protect me from being killed so I can do my job. Had you not been aware of it I could have faced danger, but you did- so that you can do your job and protect me, I told him.
Telling him this I went to the Somali region. As you remember, we had a good time in the Somali region. We have discussed it with the people and returned back. My second trip after I came from the Somali region was to Mekelle. The people of Tigray are also a people who have been affected as have all people of Ethiopia. But we have to approach the people and discuss with them, for there might be some confusion. So, we went to the Tigray region thinking that it would be good if we approach the people and discuss the situation with them in their language. Of course, when I planned to go to Tigray region, I was not told that there was some force which prepared to kill me. After I went there and discussed with [the people], it [the discussion] caused a major shock to this junta force. Something which was unexpected happened, as in Somali.
“I was told that you cannot go to Ambo”
The Tigray people also highly welcomed the discussion and the youth were also seeking for change and they became supporters. Then, they came to realize the idea of the sandwich approach after the Mekelle trip. When they realized that, they discussed saying that we have to stop this and if it continues like this, they [reform team] will alienate us from the people, a dangerous thing will happen and it will slip out of our control.
My next trip was to Ambo. When it comes to Ambo the thing became serious and I was told that you cannot go to Ambo, because Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) will kill you. A month, or even less than a month, before I became the prime minister I went to Ambo and it is a place where I have discussed with people that we will surely win; we are struggling to win and this is what we need to do. So, it was within a month that they told me I cannot no go, for there is a force which will kill me. Then I came to realize that it is not OLF or Al-Shabaab who is going to kill me rather it is a force within who is going to kill me. Then we went to Ambo by deploying another additional layer of security. As you remember it, we had a good time in Ambo.
When we returned from Ambo and planned our next trip to Bahir Dar and Gondar, I was told again that ‘the Qimant and the Wolkait committees have a plan to kill you and we have already got the plan’. If you remember there were problems with Qimant at that time. So, they told me that they [Qimant and Wolkait committees] have a plan to kill me and hence I cannot go there. Then we told the Amhara officials in the region to do their job and we went there. After we arrived, we made some fatal mistakes. That was, we discussed with the committees called the Qimant and the Wolkait committee. We have discussed with them. It was by then that the relation between us and the security agency became more tense than what had been expected. Then, not talking with and telephoning each other began. They came with a firm stand saying that a person who discussed with the Qimant and Wolkait committees cannot discuss with us anymore.
Then after we have held discussions in the north, east, west and central parts of the country, and in the areas of Addis Ababa, we came to understand the feeling of the people. Then we agreed that we have to make fast decisions and show something of which people expect from the reform. As you remember there was breaking news every day about the release of prisoners, happenings and decisions. When those decisions were made, we faced challenges in two or three areas. The first one was, the political prisoners who were released at the time were rearrested again with allegation that they have carried the old flag in a meeting which they have held in Addis Ababa. It was not even a week before they were released from prison. Then they were detained again within a short time. Then we protested that it was not right to detain them and requested them to release them. We have told them that we cannot detain people accusing them of carrying a flag and we cannot bring the change we are aiming for in such a way. And the issue has caused a serious debate. We debated and finally they were released.
Next, when a demand for the release of Mr. Andargachew Tsige came, then a serious clash and conflict was created. They came with a firm decision saying that Andargachew Tsige was a person who plotted to destroy the country, so and so on and he is a person who received a death sentence for the crime he had committed and he should not be released. Until that time, no one knew who was the prime minister. The prime minister gave the order and the security officials said, it is impossible. They raised issues related to the constitution and a proclamation. Then we made the attorney general do his assignment to prevent a loophole from being created in this regard in terms of the law. Then after we did that, Andargachew Tsige was allowed to be released.
“We should remove them”
After this minor disputes became more serious and we entered into a serious altercation which was a kind of ‘either you or us”. When we entered into such an altercation, we realized that we cannot continue like this. The security officials were a powerful government on their own merit and they have their own soldiers, media and a lot of business they run. Then we have made a decision that it would be impossible to continue working with them and we should remove them. Then we made a decision and started to research, i.e. whether we have to take such measures only against the defense force or the security agency.
We researched what danger it would cause if we took measures on both. There were some African countries who removed the chief of staff and the security leader at the same time and exposed themselves to a huge disaster. It is a problem which history reveals and to avoid such issues after we have prepared the possible research and discussed it, we reached the final decision that we have to remove the government within the government and the institution should become only an institution.
Here, what I don’t want to go into without clearly mentioning is, the then chief of staff, General Samora, was the one who opposed the coup from being made but after the change happened, he also rendered huge support and showed a positive gesture of cooperation. This was clear and it was a truth which was impossible to deny. However, even though he was cooperative, our interest to reform those institutions was difficult. Then we thanked him and gave him an award for his service and made him go into retirement in honor. So, we removed the chief of staff and the security head at the same time, while also assuming that it’s better to do the same to others in the process. The two didn’t respond to the action equally. General Samora was much better in showing interest to cooperate when compared relatively [with the security head].
The measure was badly needed. After we have taken this measure the existing tension started to manifest itself clearly. Then the security head [Getachew Assefa] took many of the latest materials, weapons and other instruments with him and went to Mekelle, just the day after his removal. What I want this honorable house to understand is that we didn’t even know what he took and went away. We didn’t know how much he took, because the agency which was called the security agency was rather a family Plc and not an institution. All was quiet and silent. It was not known what was in and what was out, who bought it or begged for it. There was no information. Since the day I was told Al-Shabaab would kill me until the security head was removed, I didn’t read a single confidential letter sent to me from the agency, rather I would throw it into a miller machine, because I know what type of information was sent to me. The institution was an institution which was not able to make a report mentioning what the security head went away with. It [the institution] knew nothing.
As you all remember an assassination attempt was made on 3 July 2018 in a well-coordinated manner. When the assassination attempt was made in the presence of police, defense force and the security agency itself, it was an attempt to fulfil their goal. And it was after that attempt that we started to search the institutions and found that there were weapons and grenades which were taken from the security agency. There was no information until that time. Even the type and the number of the materials was not clearly known. We knew that there were assassin weapons bought from Israel and can work both during the day and the night and they were silent weapons supported by lasers. This issue was followed by at least a three-month hot debate with the government of the Tigray region state to make them send back this individual who looted those weapons and went away with them to Tigray.
As I have told you earlier, he has his own soldiers, his own media which is called Abay media which was his private media founded by him using government resources. He also has his own soldiers in the palace in important areas. If I want to go abroad and come back, the airline and the airport was not secure, because it was guarded by these forces. A person cannot be able to think and defend others while he has no his own freedom.
“The security institutions almost did not exist”
This honorable house needs to understand this and should not take it lightly. I raise all these issues to help the next leaders to take lessons from it, for the institution should be built accordingly and also to make it public to the Ethiopian people, for they have the right to know what has been done. So, based on this we said that this thing is not good and we need to do security service reform. Then we tried to do reforms which included INSA, NISS, defense institutions, police and financial intelligence institutions.
When we tried to do that the institutions which are called the security institutions almost did not exist. They were an organization of individuals and families. They were an organization run by those who have no knowledge, experience and skill and people who were gathered there on the bases of family line and friendship. So, it requires to destroy it literally and rebuild again. But because it has its own problems to do the same thing with the defense force we wanted to look into it using knowledge and data, in order to know what it looks like. When we got deep into it, the information we found showed that it could be impossible to change it now, but it would even be difficult to change it in the coming five or ten years.
For example, among the generals who are called full four-star Generals in the ministry of defense, 60 percent of them were from Tigray region while the remaining 40 percent were from the rest of the country all together. These are full star generals. As we go down one step and look at what are called Major Generals and Lt. Generals, the number of the Major Generals was lower and 50 percent of the Lt. Generals were from Tigray. As we went down one step and looked into the major generals, 45 percent of them were from the Tigray region. 40 percent of brigadier generals were from the same area. 58 percent of colonels were from one area. 66 percent of Lt. colonels were from one area. 53 percent of majors were from one area.
What does this mean? Even if tried to change the general, there is another general, colonel and major next to him. It takes a minimum of ten years for one major to become a general. So, this means that I will not be able to create an army which maintains its balance even within the coming ten years. In general, the average of up to 55 percent of the army officials from top to the major levels were from the Tigray region. It may be acceptable when it comes to the general, for it requires a pass-through long-time experience for an individual to become Major, Lt. Colonel and a Colonel, the last 20 and some years were enough in military careers.
There is no justification to produce a major or a colonel within 20 years if the other thing is considered as the result of struggle or experience. But what was done was to make the trend perpetual on purpose, and to make the potential leaders to hail from one area only. This doesn’t help Tigray and it doesn’t help Ethiopia as well. It is mandatory to promote a Tigrayan in the National Defense Force per their number in the population, and he should protect his country; there is no question about this. If Tigray or Oromia, Amhara or Benishangul holds the highest promotion, more than it deserves, it will cause the same problem we witness now. It is not useful.
Those who I have mentioned now are those who wear the insignia or are in uniform, and it did not include those working in the office. When we try to look into those who work in the office, in the head quarter of the defense force, those positions which are known as main division or deputy division of army, who head and give orders and instruction from here [headquarter] – 80 percent of them were from the Tigray region. The previous one is 55 percent on average and it was good, relatively. Even though there was an Oromo or Amhara who wore the insignia they were not in the main positions. 80 percent of the staff who ran the administrative work were only from Tigray region.
“All the four positions were occupied by [persons] from Tigray”
What this means is that it [the staff] which knows what armaments needs to be bought, knows those who receive training, knows each and everything was controlled by [people] from one area. As we go down one step from the defense force there are army commands below the defense. When we see all the commands Ethiopia has, 100 percent of the commander and deputy commanders of the command leaders were from Tigray region. In the eastern and western areas there were some Oromo or Amhara who were included in the positions of logistic and human resource, but in the northern command leader, deputy, logistic and administration all the four positions were occupied by [persons] from Tigray. I will explain later why this was done in the Northern Command.
As we go down one step from the command and try to look into army divisions which are classified into two, mechanized and infantry, 100 percent of the leaders of the mechanized division were from Tigray while 80 percent of the leaders of the foot soldiers were from the same region as well. Therefore, the remaining percentage you have seen were just symbols, because they cannot lead command or army divisions. They are just there to fill the number. As we go down one step, 85 percent of the mechanized brigade were from the Tigray region and the infantry brigade were from the Tigray region.
Now look, there is no other person from brigade to defense [ministry]. We have tried to see if there is some change in the training institutions; but perhaps 85 percent of the defense training institutions were headed by the sons of Tigray. Therefore, it would cause a problem if they recruited new ones and let them join. The Tigray people and the people of Ethiopia as well should know this imbalance and it should not be repeated. All should take the share of what he deserves. Of course, professionalism is expected, for it is not a house of parliament which needs to include representation from each ethnicity. But it is better to train the best one from any ethnicity and create a defense force which resembles all Ethiopian. This is what is stipulated in the constitution and it is not what we do from our own will.
We just ignored those in government offices and tried to look into how the army had been built; its policies, strategies, rules and training modules. When we looked into it, the red book, the document on which the army was built, is boldly contrary to the FDRE constitution—100 percent. The books say, ‘you [army] are the vanguard of the party and defend revolutionary democracy when it is threatened’. Therefore, what had been called ‘elections’ and other dramas were all lies. The document says, ‘if there is no revolutionary democracy there is no Ethiopia you own’.
The foundation of Ethiopia is the ideology of the party, an Ethiopia which it calls its own and the other. The fate of Ethiopia is it [army] own and the other Ethiopia which he doesn’t want is decided as far as that ideology and that party exist. Therefore, is it not meaningless if the quota of other ethnicities is higher or lower in the army for it is built on the basis of such ideology? So we had a clear idea that the way this institution was built and its loyalty to the party would bode danger for Ethiopia’s future to continue as a country.
But having the idea and executing the idea are two different things. For instance, when the Wolayta were massacred in Sidama the commander who was there at the time was the one who severed the communication line of the Northern Command [on 3 November] and let the army be massacred. We have the information but we don’t have the evidence. Wolaiat blamed Sidama saying the Sidamas killed Wolaita. But there he Sidama and Wolayta never killed each other; they were the ones who lived together. It is the force which I have mentioned before, who has the money and the mission and lets people kill each other and then intervene as a peacemaker.
“Conflict became a trend in Ethiopia”
After we made an effort to remove the person [security head], then the conflict became a trend in Ethiopia. When we look into the problems that have existed in the security agency—how the defense institution was built and its ramifications—in the last two and half years there were 113 major conflicts (without including the current one) which claimed people’s lives, destroyed property and caught the government’s attention. This means that there was a situation of war every week. The job of the government was to mourn and bury the deceased and even sometimes another death happened before the government had recovered from the first one and was made not to get time to be able to do a job which enabled change. Terror has been created everywhere in an organized way by using the forces within.
When all this happened, when 113 conflicts happened, there was conflict and killing of one another in all regions, but such a thing did not happen in Tigray. They were also never ashamed to say ‘we are the only peaceful region’. They even don’t feel a bit of shame. Even some foreigners also say ‘peace is only available there [in Tigray]’. Yes there is peace there, because there is nobody who disturbs peace there, for it’s been them who disturb the peace here. They always itch our wounds and others wounds and make people fight each other. The activity was not being done easily. There was finance, training, deployment and there is media also.
The media was on standby and when something happened it echoed immediately saying, ‘Oromo killed Amhara, this and that happened in Benishangul’. They [media] are quick to disseminate the information. They do this in two ways: using their media and social media. The other beguiled ones follow that way and fight each other more and cause much problem. It did a lot of things to stop the conflicts from cooling down quickly and even worked to divert the conflict into ethnic and religious conflict. If you ask if they are successful: people have died but they are not successful. Properties were destroyed, innocent people who toil and sweated to sustain their life were killed—if that is considered a success.
When someone flees to Kenya from here, he took that decision based on his own choice—if he believes that the food is good and the country is good and the people are welcoming. He moves to Kenya with these things in mind. Accordingly, one can go to Kenya, Uganda, America and other countries of his choice based on his own criteria.
When one Gojjame wants go and live in Ambo, he has not just gone to Ambo from Gojjam but he has gone there with this belief that they, the people of Ambo, are my people; they will give food when I get hungry, they will give me water when I thirst and they will care for me when I get ill. People don’t go somewhere if they don’t think the people there are not his friend. But they did a lot of work to make people who live together, who have had a family together and prevail through hardships together separate and see each other with animosity.
To support this with some data, 37 conflicts happened in Oromia in the last two and half years—in Shashamane, Guliso, Bale (which was related with religion), in Hararghe, Guji, Wollega, Chinaksen and other places. There were Amharas, Oromos and other ethnic groups who were affected in these 37 conflicts but there were a lot of Oromos whose houses were destroyed, who lost fathers, mothers and wives. This force says it cares about the Oromo while it makes Oromia a center of conflict, causes disagreement between the Oromo and other ethnic groups, and causes disagreements between Muslims and Christians. If you look into the data of the 37 conflicts you will see a lot of Oromo mothers left without a husband and children. Oromo were made to fight with their neighbors who live with them, trusting them, which is contrary to Oromo’s culture and value. This a disaster: it is a loss for Oromo, it is a loss for Amhara and it is a loss for Ethiopia as well. The only one who benefited from it was this force.
“There was no single problem that happened in Tigray”
There were 23 conflicts in the Amhara region: in Qimant, Ataye, Oromia special zone and again in Mota because of religion. By the way: almost all regions were made to fight with each other and sometimes even with neighboring countries. A lot of people died in Amhara too. For instance, if we take Qimant: as you all know, in the Qimant in the area of Gondar there is much experience of having families with many ethnicities and living with a lot of them in harmony. It is an area of the city where a lot of Eritreans, Tigrayans, Oromos, Qimant and many ethnicities have families together and live together in harmony.
Every family is intertwined in a way which means it could be very difficult to identify them as Qimant or Amhara. The wives of a significant number of officials in the Amhara region are from Qimant. Their children are born from the Qimant mother and the Amhara father. They are one family who have one language, culture, region and a way of life in common. They don’t know this conflict, but this conflict was being sponsored to disturb peace in the Amhara region and a lot of activity was done to make people kill each other on the basis of their ethnicity. Several innocent citizens were affected by this.
There were 15 conflicts in Benishangul: in Metekel, in the area of Asosa in which both Oromo and Amhara were displaced, in Dangur. Everything is as you have heard it: you hear the news that such a farmer was killed while he is in his farmland. Hearing such kind of news has become common in Ethiopia in the last two years.
There were 14 conflicts in Addis Ababa; what amazed me the most of those conflicts is that which was related with the assassination of artist Hachalu. There were 10 prominent individuals listed in the category of Hachalu’s assassination which includes officials in Prosperity Party, officials from the opposition parties and other prominent individuals. The plan was to kill prominent individuals and intensify terror. The plan was to kill some from Oromia region first, then killing leaders from the Amhara region and to portray the conflict as the conflict between Oromo and Amhara. A lot of work was done in this regard. We have lost Hachalu and a lot of activities were done to foil others. What surprised me about Hachalu is that it is the same people who chastised us through gimgema when Hachalu appeared on Oromia TV [in 2017], who now broadcasted it on their television saying that ‘Hachalu, an Oromo freedom fighter, has been killed’. You know what happened after that.
There were several conflicts in Gambella: not only in Gambella—there was also conflict in the refugee camps in the region. In the south you know about Gedeo, in Guraferda, Konso, Mizan Tepi and other areas. Above all, what is surprising about the Gedeo is that Guji and Gedeo are people who can be taken as one family by any standard. They made them fight each other and caused displacement on both sides. A lot of people were affected in the south. Other ethnicities who went there to live, assuming the people as their own people and as their relatives, were also affected, in Jigjiga and Afar, which was related to that Isa clan. There were three conflicts in Afar, three in Dire Dawa, two in Harar and two in Sidama.
When all these happened there was no single problem that happened in Tigray. The Kunamas in Shiraro and the Tigrayans never clashed with each other. But Wolayta and Sidama clashed with each other in Hawassa. The Irob people didn’t clash with the Tigrayans. Of course, they should not clash with each other. But in other areas, not only within the region, conflicts were caused among different regions. For example, the Amhara region borders with Benishangul and it clashed with it; it borders with Oromia and clashed with it; it borders with Afar and it clashed with it, and the Amhara region also borders with Tigray but it didn’t clash with Tigray. Afar borders with Oromia and it clashed with it; it borders with the Somali and it clashed with it, it borders with the Amhara region and it clashed with it and it also borders with the Tigray region but it didn’t clash with it.
“How can a human being make an agreement with Satan?”
Let me discuss what we have seen in Afar. It is helpful for your information. There was a conflict that happened between Afar and Somali region and we summoned the leaders of the two regions and sat for gimgema here. While we were in gimgema, the honorable Mr. Awal, president of the Afar region, raised one thing which surprised us, saying that the Afar and the Somalis fight each other from early on and it is not something new. And he was asked: ‘but do you think that the current conflict is the conflict between Afar and the Somali?’ And he told me it needs to be investigated. I asked him: ‘how?’ Then he said women are being killed in this conflict, but the Afar and the Somali never kill women in their history of conflict.
We clash with each other but we don’t kill women, he said. He added that this is a new norm. The second thing is, the Afar and the Somali fight each other only during the day and they don’t fight during the night, he said. But there is a fight during the night in this current conflict, he said. The third is that the Somali and Afar fight each other clearly while talking to each other, not fighting by veiling their faces or hiding themselves, but the current fighters are doing that, he said. The current ones have veiled their face, he added.
Then we ordered the defense force, Federal Police, the Afar special force, and the Somali special forces to live in the area and to send our special force – the republican guard – to the area of conflict, giving order to shoot anyone they find there be it defense force, federal police or the special forces and when they were at the place the was not any fighting at all or any sound. We cannot deploy the defense force everywhere and the conflicts which happen in the areas where there is no defense force leaves a major scar behind.
The most saddening thing in all this is what we have encountered with Sudan. The people of Sudan are a people who did a lot for this country. They are also people who are doing important things in the current situation. But some people went there and told them that ‘we are what is called the defense force, we don’t fight you and this is the right time when you get back your territory’. It is the one among us who initiated [Sudan] to invade the territory. However, the government of Sudan replied saying that it will work to regain its territories by law not by war and it already told us this information. They had not got enough from what they were doing here, in causing fighting amongst each other, and so they also took it again there [to Sudan]. They also did the same thing in Somalia, saying ‘this government doesn’t support Mogadishu’ and did a lot of things in South Sudan as well. It is not something which stayed only inside the country.
You also remember when the armed commandos came to the palace [in September 2018], around 200 armed forces came. And didn’t have any information until they came and invaded the palace. Since they were not satisfied by causing conflict among the people, clandestine assassination attempts and pitting one region against the other, then they came here [to the palace]. That one was also foiled.
Money laundering and smuggling of weapons were also undertaken widely. All the intimidations, all the inter-communal and religious killing were not the end – they entered into the Prosperity party as well. As conflict and death had become so common, those very people who had struggled and brought this change by risking death started to say that we cannot tame these guys – so we have to make an agreement with them and continue working with each other. Unless we heed what they are telling us, this thing [change] will not be successful. How can a human being make an agreement with Satan? You cannot agree with [Satan] even if you make an agreement with it, unless you determine and work against it. The forces within [Prosperity Party] were also severely paralyzed. The opposition started to think a lot of things, the public also lost its hope blaming the government, as you know.
“They put the people in a siege mentality”
Then they start telling people that the previous [government] is good, it is better to go back to the previous one and a strong government is needed, which is a repressive regime (in its language). They start campaigns saying those things clearly. They made the people of Tigray disagree with their friends by instilling fear into their mind saying that ‘you are encircled, the Amhara, Eritrea and federal are going to fight you.’ And they put the people in a siege mentality. They made people think that they are going to be invaded. They made all the people of Ethiopia feel stuck in an unpredictable situation. They have made a situation where there is no guarantee of people’s movement, for families to stay in peace and a country overwhelmed in fear. They made sure the government was occupied by these agendas which were created each week, and they did a lot to ensure the change would not move forward.
When this happened, it was mandatory to do security service reform and defense reform, because unless we did this the conflicts everywhere would continue unabated. We didn’t come with a soldier, rather we came with what we had. That is why we faced problems and then assumed that reform was necessary. We start dividing it into two and three: higher officials, middle officials and lower officials. The higher official from General to Major as I have told you earlier, we have reduced the existing 55 percent average to 26 percent. 26 percent of higher officials [in the army] were from Tigray before this war started. We have a firm believe that the Tigrayans should get their share they deserve in the defense force. We have no question about that, except to say there should be a balance. We didn’t have a stand that there should be any promotion of Tigrayans in the defense force.
After we cut that to 26 percent, we also downgraded the 100 percent positions in all commands to 25 percent. What the southern nations and nationalities, in particular, need to understand is that until the reform started the ceiling of the position in the military for the south of Major General. All 50 nations and nationalities in the south all together were able to occupy the position of Lt. general after the reform. We divided the positions between South, Oromo, Amhara, and Tigray, giving each 25 percent and making it equal except some who take additional positions on merit (for this is necessary and there are individuals who have the capacity for that). And they have shown us their capacity now.
The mechanized army division is a division which requires skill. It was 100 percent Tigrayan before and we reduced the number to 50 percent now. We were not able to go above 50 percent in this regard for it is not something to do it easily. We reduced the 80 percent in the infantry to 40 percent, the 85 percent in the mechanized division to 44 percent and we reduced the staff and training department up to 25 percent and completed the higher positions. We have tried to assign the command leaders thus: one from Oromo, one from Amhara, one from the south and one from Tigray.
There is no single individual among all the people whom we have demoted or made to retire before his retirement age. Abebaw Tadesse and Bacha Debele were told to leave before their retirement, when they became Lt. General and nearing a full general position. But we didn’t repeat that mistake. But I believe that we should not repeat yesterday’s mistake and we should reduce from the army only those people who reach the age of retirement.
When it comes to the middle officials there is a problem here also in the areas of Majors and Lt. Colonels, as I have said earlier. The problem is that a general is a political nomination. One colonel can be nominated as a general within six month or one year. But a major cannot become a Lt. Colonel within a year unless he accomplishes something extraordinary. It has its own time and it is a career. It is not possible to nominate or demote for nor reason. If we reduce for no reason, as Ethiopia’s defense was dismantled in the past, we would be repeating the same things today if we did that. We must dismantle while building.
“We prepared a confidential reform”
The second problem we encountered was that those who we made to retire left the building behind and went there [Tigray] and started to build another defense force, dividing it into divisions and brigades. So, if we also let the middle ranks go it was inevitable that they would go there and do the same thing. And if let the middle one go, the number of defense forces overall would decrease (for the number of those in the middle ranks is very high). We left that untouched because if we did it the defense force could be weakened, while they would become strong.
The third layer is the lowest. The training which was given to lower officials by the government in the last two years had not been given to the defense force in the last 10 or 20 years. The defense force knows this very well. The training was given to change the strategy and to make it an Ethiopiawinet army which only rely on the constitution and the people of Ethiopia, and not to become the army of the Prosperity Party. It would be very dangerous if it became the army of the Prosperity Party. We gave the army some training and tried our best to prepare the lower forces. They raised the issue of salary and uniforms because they were wearing torn clothes. This effort was not something which could be completed within two years but requires more time. Because of that we were not able to move forward to the extent we want.
The other problem was that any of our discussions or meetings would reach the junta within an hour and the junta would discuss it, and because we have divided power it is not like the old days where one group discusses during the night and approves it in the morning. Therefore, we prepared a confidential reform which enabled us to maintain the sovereignty and unity of Ethiopia.
The first was creating the republican guard. In the current context the republican guard has completed its mission and it is not necessary after this and it can become part of the army. We have discussed that we have to prepare a special force which can do surgical operations and hence we have tried to prepare special forces who are trained in different countries and have unique skills so that they can be a force who can at least deter in case we face problems.
The second was the air force. The Air Force was almost dead and it needed to be revived. It requires technology for many reasons and needs to prepare. In particular, we did a lot of work to equip ourselves with drones, but we didn’t allow them [TPLF] to know where they [drones] are, their time and their number. This reform was confidential. They have seen the special force show at the military parade but they didn’t know its number and what capability it has. They knew reform was in the air force to some extent but they don’t know it fully. If you remember, we let the airport be visited just a few days before the war started. Even some you commented personally on Facebook why the Air Force was made open for visit. We did that intentionally just to show them [TPLF] that the Air Force is still the one which they knew from before and there is nothing new–because we don’t want the enemy to know what we had prepared for. So, when they saw the Air Force, they felt happy, hoping that there were no preparations and started to provoke [us].
There were many rumors concerning the drones but you can officially go and visit it. It is a force which has been worked on for years, and developed. But concerning the drones—I didn’t hide them from the junta force. I told them clearly before a few months saying that we are not fighting a militia fight but we fight modernized fighting and I pleaded with them not to think of war telling them we have equipped ourselves with such weapons. I didn’t hide it from them. But they didn’t believe me because it was not seen through their network. For if it is not seen through the access they have, they don’t accept it.
“The defense force didn’t kill one person”
Now this group has fled from Mekelle and is regrouping around Hagere Selam. What I want them to hear me is that, yesterday night around 10, 11 or 12 pm we were looking at the skirmishes between Abi Adi and Hagere Selam, sitting in our situation room. The see lives the movement of the enemy. We didn’t attack them during the night. This is because they are with their wives and children with them. They are also with our soldiers who they controlled. There was also a major scramble among the civilians in the area. So, we saw them yesterday and didn’t want to attack them. They hear it and they know it. But this will not continue.
The second question which was raised concerning the civilian, what amazed me most among the capability of our Air Force and the NDF in general is that, especially, what I need this honorable house to understand is that when one MiG moves to the enemy’s territory it is given a target and a time. After it went there the captain shoulders all the responsibility. The captain attacks and returns back. But the drone is not like this. The drone stays in the situation and when it identifies the target and the target is hit, after this the command leaders at all levels sign each target and approve it to go. The honorable house can see it if it wants.
There is a signature per the number of the missile or the ammunition we have fired. We take responsibility for every target. It is not a blind act of the militia. We have hit our target 99 percent and there has been no collateral damage; 99 percent. We don’t fire when we find something suspicious; for instance we didn’t fire during the night because we considered that children might die. Because they are our [children]. The enemy didn’t assume very well the capacity that was created in the special force and Air Force. They consider the drone as if it only used to fire. However, we were using drone 99 percent to observe their movements. We see them both during the day and the night.
Concerning the civilian damage, we have made extreme caution which has never been done in any party of the world. During the fight in Humera, Adi Goshu, Dansha, Shiraro, Ade Agerai, Aduwala, Adi Nebri, Agadaro, Shire, Selkleka, Aksum, Adwa, Adigrat, Edaga Hamus, Zalambassa, and Mekelle the defense force didn’t kill one person [civilian] in one of the towns and cities. No country’s army is able to show a capability better than this. We have a brave and disciplined army. There has been no campaign which launched against us saying that you are going to destroy Mekelle and do that or do this. Mekelle is ours and it is a city built by our own resources. Who would destroy it then? No single person sustained injury in our operation in Makelele. We did a special surgical operation.
There are some who ask why only the Air Force and special force, why you didn’t use mechanized force? This is because people don’t have a problem asking but implementing. The reason why we were not able to use the mechanized force is that it requires money. You know how much one tank costs. It is difficult to implement using all that resource in our current situation. But the missiles which this junta looted from the defense force and is now using, the national defense force has double or triple that number and you can go and visit it today if you want. We have double and triple capacity. But they don’t know this, because it is as I have told you earlier that it was built along with the special force.
But we didn’t fire a single rocket to the Tigray region. We have double the number. But a rocket is something which runs several kilometers without being observed and lands on the ground and it is unknown whom it could damage. Our pilots went to the place and if they found civilians they returned back along with their bomb, because they can decide. We clearly identify the target with the drone and we don’t do it [hit civilians]. But using rockets is dangerous. Even though we have a large number, we didn’t use it; for it is our country. We are not the junta. We act with responsibility.
“A soldier is a brave-hearted person”
The problem concerning the mechanized divisions is money. The second problem, and I want all Ethiopians and this honorable house to understand this, is that most of us fight on Facebook. In the last one and half years we have made a huge effort to recruit a large number into the army to enlarge the number of the defense force. Let alone the rest of the region it was even very difficult to find 1,000 people from the Oromia and Amhara – the largest regions. People don’t want to join the army, but they commented saying, “why didn’t take measures?”. Such comments are only for Facebook, not for the practical thing. There was no interest in joining the army. If any healthy person became a soldier, it would help him become a full person. In many countries those reaching the age of 18 provide national service for six months or one year and then go back to work. But there is no such thing in our country. How on earth does it become difficult to get even 5,000 recruits in a country of more than 100 million people? Ethiopians should think about this; it is dangerous.
A soldier is a brave-hearted person who says I would rather die than disowning my country even if he is denied water and food for five or seven days. How come some hate this? A soldier is a person who sacrifices his life for free even if his salary is less than a day laborer and he has no capacity to have his own house and family. Ethiopians have less preparation for this and they should know this and redress it. There is nothing which can be built freely. If you are willing and participate, you will defend the country like now, when an enemy comes in the future. It is only this way that we can defend the country.
The other one is the diaspora; you know the diaspora love their country and when something happens, they are irritated and demonstrate. However, the diaspora has been highly supporting this junta force financially. We have been repeatedly pleading with them not to change their money illegally, just to get a difference of one or two birr. This force was receiving more forex than the government. The diaspora is providing this force with the bullet or destructive weapon which it uses to kill his brother. The diaspora should be conscious. I know there is some surplus when the exchange is made illegally. But that surplus can suck or spill your brother’s blood. It is better to use the legal means, as the illegal way empowers the criminals and affects the civilians. There the diaspora should redress accordingly, even in the future as well. Even though much reform has been made in the security service reform, unless we do reform in other sectors, we cannot bring the peace and prosperity we aspire for Ethiopia.
First, political reform. Leaving aside the military, there is a poisonous thought that Ethiopia will disintegrate if the EPRDF is dissolved. It is very dangerous to think and act that the survival of Ethiopia, a country which was founded thousands of years ago is dependent on the existence of the EPRDF, a party which was founded yesterday. The thinking of the party [EPRDF] was that the country [Ethiopia] will not exist unless we exist.
There are people who say the TPLF left the party when we started the party reform, and when the Prosperity Party was created, which is wrong. When we were about to go to the council in Hawassa before the Prosperity Party was created, the TPLF Central Committee had discussed not going to Hawassa and not taking part in the council meeting. It has been long since they resigned covertly. We have information about it. However, they came to the meeting saying that ‘let’s be there and disturb them before we leave [the party, EPRDF]’. We were receiving information and we knew their thoughts. They [central committee] voted to take part in the meeting in Hawassa with the intention to cause disturbance [in the party] before they leave it.
After they came to the Hawassa the meeting was turned into debate and pestering. For example, one of the agenda was accepting the Algiers Agreement, to let Eritrea take the land which was decided to be given to her and to finalise the issue peacefully. This decision was made with a general vote by all members of the EPRDF Council members in the presence of the old guys who are now said to have left [the party].
The security head was one of the people who was explaining the issue to get a decision, saying, ‘we had had enough of it’. As you know this issue was also presented to the parliament. But this force prevented the decision being implemented for the last two and half years.
There are three groups. The first group is those who simply hurl insults while starting our meeting, sacrilege, and make the meeting an arena of pestering. These groups are those who are assigned [purposefully].
The second group is the one who opposes but pretends to be a supporter [of us].
The third acts as an arbitrator; they are the ones who call for calm on both sides. This is what is well planned, well discussed and implemented by assigning people. This force who took part in the meeting and approved the agenda along with us by raising his hand during the day then issued a press release in the evening opposing us after it left the meeting. It supports us while it is with us and opposes us later through press releases. Those who hurl insults never appear in the media.
“The creation of the Prosperity Party was a big success”
This was a tactic which resembles the phrase, ‘an old wine in a new bottle’. Such practice has been there before also. They divided [into groups] and played such games. But we knew it already and it didn’t affect us that much. But efforts had been made to make the stage not as the stage for work, rather to become the stage of debate and pestering. It was accustomed to opposing the party’s decision, leaking information, hiding criminals. When we say Ethiopia should be an institution from all, for all and by all, extensive resistance and opposition against inclusive politics was done – eg which opposed the sitting of the Afar, Somali etc. with us and having their equal say.
The creation of the Prosperity Party was such a major creation which saved Ethiopia’s politics from the ruling party. The creation of the Prosperity Party cut off their gambling in the political arena. The creation of the Prosperity Party was a big success. Of course, they have tried saying,’ Prosperity Party is a unitary, this and that’. But the Prosperity Party is not unitary. Prosperity Party is a party which creates a genuine federal system. Prosperity Party is a force which seeks all nations and nationalities’ languages, and where each culture is equally respected and lives in peace calling Ethiopia their ‘mama’. It never seeks where one becomes superior and the other inferior and never wants the development of one language and the demise of the other. It [Prosperity Party] hasn’t struggled for this to happen. This is why it is making the effort to build an institution where all nations and nationalities take part in equally.
These people were posing difficulties to us saying, ‘Why is a terrorist allowed to return to the country, why is a terrorist media allowed to operate in the country?’ But now they have formed a federalist forum with those who they labeled a terrorist before. They don’t feel any shame. The debate and resistance was very high when we discussed allowing them to return home. But later on, they became friends and tried to form a forum together saying ‘federalist forces.
The TPLF took those steps after the party reform by following the experience of the Kuomintang. As the Chinese Communist Party was moving forward, liberating China, the Kuomintang retreated with two million people including the civil servants and officials and created a country called Taiwan because it had an economy, human capital and power. But Kuomintang had one advantage: Taiwan had a port. Now, they [TPLF] went away like the Kuomintang even taking the member of the parliament with them. Then I told them saying, ‘please, the idea of secession is not good for you, your benefitted is only guaranteed in Ethiopia, don’t think about it for the experience of others only end up in loss and it will not work for you as well’. And they responded saying, ‘we also don’t think about that’. But they were politically working to implement the old and expired thought of the Kuomintang.
If we see from the economic point of view the economy has become inactive, there is macroeconomic imbalance, unemployment, our big and small projects were halted due to mismanagement. We have mismanaged projects. There was a problem paying the salary, loan debt and forex crunch. Unless we undertook this reform, the defense force would disperse if it is not paid a salary. The economy also needs reform like that of politics. A lot of reforms have been done in the economic sector.
But the last most challenging thing was changing the birr notes. As we had been doing a lot of things, before the birr was changed, the economic sector reform had come to appear successful and the world had also come to believe that the economic change being undertaken in Ethiopia was promising. In our projects, both the big and small one, we have shown that it is not only laying the corner stones but it is possible to complete them and also not only possible to plan but to execute the plan as well. Although I don’t want to go deep into it like the defense force, all the public development enterprises and all the bank sectors in Ethiopia were all controlled like the defense force, just for extraction. It was not for the purpose of work but to extract resources. The format which has been in defense and security were also in the economic sector in the same way. It is in Telecom, EELPA [Ethiopian Electric Power], sugar corporation and everywhere. I don’t want to go deep into it. But the economic reform was very critical.
“We improved the laws which violated human rights”
The third area where critical reform is needed is the laws, legal reform. Concerning the law, there are repressive laws, laws which narrow the political space in Ethiopia and many others laws which many people oppose. We divided these into two and three and undertook the reform. The first part was to improve the repressive laws and the laws which narrowed the political space. For example, if you take the NGO proclamation, the law makes it a challenge to organize and we did the reform on the proclamation to make it a bit relaxed. There are NGOs who have the inclination of doing other things than their primary job and will follow such things and redress it. But this [the NGO’s proclamation] was one of the repressive proclamations. It suppressed both the developer and the destroyers together.
The second was the election board’s reform proclamation. The election board was stifled by the proclamation so that it would not become an institution which stands on its own and works as an independent, democratic institution to undertake its jobs with trust and do what it wants per the constitution by organizing itself. So, the job you have seen was done to make a strong institution.
The third was election law, which encompasses bylaws, the political party registration proclamation, and which shows who can register and in what discipline we run our activities. It is what solves the previous changes that have existed between political parties and provides rule of conduct.
Another was the human right commission proclamation. As you all know the human right commissions were being headed by our cadres. After we reorganized the institution on the solid foundation after the reform, it has become an institution which can present reports without being afraid of the government and present reports to the without any challenge. Though it needs to become stronger, an effort has been made to create an institution which is liberal and free from pressure comparatively.
Then there is the anti-terrorism law. There were several people and groups which had been suffering in the name of terrorism. We have improved it now. But the worst thing of all is the prison administration proclamation. Uprooting nails, putting prisoners in a dungeon, beating, detaining in unknowing prison centers etc. After people were arrested and brought to justice, we improved the laws which violated human rights and redressed the processes which oppose this. We provided it with a proclamation and budget where prisoners would not be starved and not be punished for watching television, reading books.
Another is the media proclamation. As you have raised it earlier, there more than 270 media and bloggers were blocked before the change (reform). Conventional media were jammed. If jamming was not successful people were prevented from placing satellite dishes on the roof of their house, you knew it. When that was avoided and the media was allowed to relax, there are those who abused that and it needs to redress that through time and experience. But a lot of jobs have been done to improve such repressive laws. Most of the work was done during the weekend after the cabinets rested from their regular job from Monday through Friday where the cabinet gathered and made improvements on those laws. The meeting on Saturday came after the change and there were no cabinet meetings on Saturday before that. It came from the idea that there is a lot overdue, so let us work by taking extra time.
“We decided on the Eritrea issue together”
Besides these repressive laws there were others like the investment proclamation, trade law, capital market proclamation. All this can ease the economy and improve Ethiopia’s level in the list of countries which are conducive for business and it helps to attract several investors.
Then there is that big volume of different laws which stayed for more than 60 year—these were improved. These are the laws which were serving during the emperor and came to halt after that. If we take the criminal code, for instance, it is a document which stayed for 60 years. It is a big volume; it was what had been serving during the emperor era and it halted after that. But now, it is improved in a way that befits the present world. The trade law, criminal code, and big volumes which have not been changed for many years were revised now.
After legal reform, political reform which related with political parties, economy and law enforcement institutions in general, the other fifth critical area was diplomacy. There were two problems in diplomacy. The first one is Ethiopia is a landlocked country; [Ethiopia] has no port. The second one is Ethiopia is in a region surrounded by many who have been working for centuries and some of them are still active. We have this thought that unless we have good relations with our neighbors, we will face a problem and now we have witnessed it practically. Had we not made peace with Eritrea it would have been very difficult to assume what could happen now. The Eritrean people have shown us in practice—rather than the Eritrean government—that the peace we have made was not just a peace between two individuals or countries.
When we went to Somalia, they told us, ‘we don’t trust you, for it is you who divided us into regions and made us fight each other; it is your government who did this one us, we hate you so much’. They told us this honestly.
When we went to South Sudan, they told us : ‘the reason we are fighting now is because of you, it is the result of what you have done. You appointed a person called Seyoum Mesfin to IGAD and he divided us and let us fight each other and we are not able to make peace, and Ethiopia is a country which has been despised by all of its neighbors.’
The honorable house should know this. The division and fuelling of conflict internally have also been implanted outside of the country. They had arbor a deep hate towards us for there was the practice of sowing division among them bases of political and clan lines. In order to heal this, it needs to strengthen our relations with the neighboring countries, we have to keep the balance and need to give priority to our citizens. And we started the job accordingly.
One example in this regard was the issue of Eritrea. We decided on the Eritrea issue together [with the TPLF]. The Prosperity Party didn’t decide that, it was the EPRDF who decided it. It was the junta who decided it saying, ‘We have to accept the Algiers agreement’. There are the minutes of that decision and I had also presented the idea to the parliament. There was no stone left unturned to prevent the peace from happening and hindered the agreements we have made from being implemented. And after some time the rapprochement had been given the title of a peace deal between two individuals.
“The sum total of the rest of the command is not equal to the Northern Command”
The junta has dishonored our defense force and sent it to Eritrea being naked. But the people of Eritrea gave them a cloth to wear. The people of Eritrea gave it water, food and armed it as well. Ethiopians should know this and honor it. The people of Eritrea are not only our brothers, they have also shown us practically that they are friends who are by our side on a tough day. The people who we have found in prison and different places after we finished the operation, their body has withered within ten days. But those who retreated to Eritrea recovered within two or three days, got tough and they came back, fought and won the war. It is our own who starved and thirsted us. Those who retreated to Eritrea naked came back and fought with Eritrean clothes. That is why they said, ‘Eritrea is fighting us’.
It is obvious that we don’t fight being naked. In this operation, I would like give my deep honor and gratitude on behalf of this honorable house to the People of Eritrea and its government, the people of Sudan and its government ,the people of Djibouti and its government, the people of Somalia and its government, the people of Kenya and its government and the people of South Sudan and its government. There has been no one who didn’t help us. Sudan stands by our side as usual and provided us with huge support. Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya, Sudan [South] all of our neighbors were there for us and we will also keep working together in the future on the basis of mutual respect and we need them.
If you understand the background so far, the complexity of the reform and the challenges we came across, the attack on the Northern Command was not an accident as you have also said it. They [TPLF] hurled insult, but no reply, they did intrigues, undertook economic sabotage and smuggled weapons, but no reply again, they caused killings and fighting everywhere, but no reply, when they held the illegal election, we didn’t fight them we kept silent even though they expected that. They played many political intrigues, but no reply. Finally, we were tired of all this; then they started war.
By the way, we compare the Northern Command and the rest of the commands, the sum total of the rest of the command is not equal to the Northern Command in terms of equipment and everything. Ethiopia’s defense force depot is in Tigray region. There is no single ammunition here. All the missiles and rockets Ethiopia has are in the Tigray region. Those who are playing with missiles are all from the same area.
A lot of effort has been made to bring those rockets. We called [them] and told them, ‘let us move this rocket because we are facing danger in another area and Eritrea is not a threat to us now. The one who discussed this with us reported this to them in the evening and they made children and women to lay on the street and said, ‘it should not leave here’. When asked why they replied: ‘Eritrea will attack us.’ They knew that Eritrea was not going to attack them, but the main issue was not letting the equipment leave, because they have already prepared for this.
If we trampled and killed people and managed to bring it [the weapon], let alone others, even you [memberS of the parliament] would not accept us. How can the defense leave the place by killing the children? But we have kept trying by entreating and begging them. But when we finally came to realize that we cannot move the missile we asked them to give us the key because the missile is operated by the starter and they brought it to the defense and showed it. However, it is by those very people that the missile is being launched everywhere now. By the way, the reason why the equipment, rations, mechanized divisions were stored there for years was part of the plan: to make the region the powerhouse of the country, whether this change has come or not.
“Our soldiers who were killed were naked”
There is no any secret or doubt about this. Ethiopia’s tank, cannon and everything was there. Even Ethiopia’s largest gas depots are there [in Tigray]. Therefore, they prevented any mobility of the army. To buy and replace all those things we don’t have money for, as I told you earlier,. a wide range of work has been done using the special force, air force and rockets. You said: ‘We delayed [didn’t take measure on time],” but we even need more time than this. As I have told you, it is impossible to make an appointment to the defense force overnight. It is not possible to make an appointment to a major like a minister of deputy minister. It is a career.
After they prevented us from moving our equipment, we gave up and made other preparations. We had faced a conflict in another place and we sent the report about the conflict and asked them to allow the movement of some army and equipment so that we can defend ourselves from the danger facing us, but they responded saying, ‘never’. They said, ‘both the arm and the equipment will not move’. While telling others on the other side to attack they prevent us from moving the equipment.
After doing all these things, they attacked the Northern Command on 3 November 2020 around 11:30 pm. The other junta cut the communication line from here while the junta there cut electricity and telecom. The army lives in each place in a group of 40, 50 and 60 being dispersed. They cut the communication, lest the army communicate with each other. Then they surrounded them with a militia. They sent elders and priests to those who resisted surrender. They committed an atrocity which has never been seen in the history of Ethiopia. They controlled most of them [the army], and killed several. Our soldiers who were killed were naked and both their legs and hands remained tied until our soldiers controlled the area and buried their body.
By the way, a dead body has no ethnicity. When alive they can claim ethnicity. Ethnicity means a language, culture. But the dead have no language or culture. As someone dies, he loses his identity and becomes a corpse. Considering a dead body as Amhara, Oromo or Gurage is inhumane. If killing is bad, not burying the body is even worse, especially the army which did a lot of things for you. Arrogance and chauvinism are so bad. It not only causes a fall but also it prevents someone from not thinking about the past. So, they are filled with arrogance and chauvinism and think that they can do whatever they like if they hold a gun. Before doing this, they were clearly saying on their media that if the government of Ethiopia will not implement what we say, we will disturb let alone Ethiopia but the whole of East Africa. This was not a secret they also told this to the diplomats. And they [diplomats] also fear them and say if you touch them the region will fall into chaos.
But what is so saddening is that there is a saying which goes: “an old monkey faces a problem when it tries to jump again like it did perfectly in its youth’’. These people [TPLF] have no knowledge of military science. They have a decayed idea, which is decayed in terms of politics, economy and military.
Let me support it with two historical comparisons. In the American Civil War, the main issue which caused the American Civil War was the conflict between the southern and the northern states. The reason for the conflict was the abolition of slavery. When Abraham Lincoln was elected president, he promised to abolish slavery. The states in the south who were known for otton and sesame cultivation came up with the argument that the system should continue, and they opposed the abolition. Then a General called Jefferson Davis, who trained in an American war academy, declared himself as chief of staff of the southern army and held a campaign of seceding the south from the north defying the rule of Abraham Lincoln.
“Our first job was to prevent Gondar and Woldiya from being controlled”
Abraham Lincoln was patient and beseeched them for years like we do. Then finally one day, General Jefferson Davis entered the mechanized army division which was located in South Carolina and attacked at the fall of the night which is similar to our case. He attacked, confiscated and looted the equipment. Abraham Lincoln was not ready. The other one [Jefferson Davis] was filled with the arrogance that he is a soldier and knows better about military science than him. Then what Abraham Lincoln did first was that he ordered the militias and told them to close all the borders through which the south crossed into other countries. When they [TPLF] attacked the Northern Command like Jefferson Davis we quickly took measures in closing the border.
The second thing which related to the American Civil War—and what I want to tell the Americans taking this opportunity to understand us—is that we now face the same challenge you had faced once. You had also fought such a war, even for three and half years. You fought and united the south with the north. You did that because [the move] was unconstitutional. What we encountered was also the same thing, except the difference in time. We were attacked, but we finished it not in three and half years but in three weeks. So, it is better if you understand it this way.
The second thing which is related to America is when Japan conducted a surprise attack on the America naval force at Pearl Harbor during WWII. Then the American parliament passed a decision to defend itself and they used against Japan not only artillery but also nuclear bombs – and Japan was turned into ashes as you know.
By the way, because of the arrogance of General Jefferson Davis during the American civil war, it took the south more than 20 years to rebuild itself, because there was destruction. After World War II was over, the one who led that war on the side of Japan was called General Makarto. Except for the camps of the American army, Japan had become a place where there was no infrastructure and it was totally devastated. The problem does not end there: here are still innocent lives who don’t know anything about that war born with disease, generation after generation to this day.
It was with such outdated and expired thinking that this greedy junta declared war on the Northern Command. Not only declaring a war, one man from there told us that they did a preemptive attack and controlled the Northern Command. The regional leaders came out and told us that the Northern Command is fighting along with them. The Northern Command is not only in war with Eritrea for 20 years but it also has been protecting the people from additional attacks. If the Northern Command is on their side there is nothing to worry about. There is no need to cry now, because the human force and the equipment is there. They claim on their media that the [the Northern Command] is on their side and on the other side they say they are being attacked.
There are contradictions here. Massacring innocent people; what Amharic word can better explain what happened in Mai Kadra? What word can explain it? If those civilians were armed, perhaps some sort of name can be given to it. Gathering innocent daily laborers who know nothing and survive on per diem and their sweat and slaughtering them in large numbers is nothing but a political bankruptcy and lacks moral sense. It is not humane. It is a bad act. Such things are bad both for our citizens and our armies. Not only this they also detained people from other ethnicities in the Shire refugee camp. What they did to students in university is as you have heard it. They did such things on everyone.
The aim was to attack the Northern Command first and to control Gondar and Woldiya in the morning. After they controlled Gondar and Woldia, they would cause explosions in Addis Ababa, Adama, and Hawassa through their agents and then the country would enter into chaos so that they could do what they wished after that. Some people from here were also preparing themselves with such thinking that they would become a government when the regime is changed. Our first job was to prevent Gondar and Woldiya from being controlled. That was why the State of Emergency was declared in the morning: to bring all armed forces under a central command and the Oromia special forces to be sent to the places vacated by the military (for the military which has been in Oromia was leaving) and to defend against the enemy coming from there [Oromia]. Therefore, the Oromia Special Force was given this mission and took serious measures. Had that not been done the central part of the country could have been engulfed in chaos.
“I went along with three generals to know how many soldiers retreated to Eritrea.”
The Afar and Amhara regions militias and special forces defended in extreme bravery, especially on the border areas, until we moved our defense force to the areas. So, they [the Afar and Amhara militias and special forces] deterred the enemy’s interest to expand its territory.
The Benishangul Gumus special force and the Federal Police forces were given a mission to undertake the activities in the Benishangul areas in cooperation. The federal police also conducted house searches day and night in the houses of those who wanted to cause trouble to us by causing explosions in the city, and did a wide range of activity in this regard. All these deserve the huge honor.
Above all, concerning the defense force, the honorable house, in several countries if people see their defense force in uniform waiting for a taxi, they give them priority. If they go to the airport, they take priority. The reason why the uniform earned respect is because it sacrifices its life [for the country] when the hard time comes. We don’t pay them a salary, you know that, but at least we need to give respect to the uniform, give priority and be citizens who believe that the military is the price that is paid for one’s country and we have to do like that. Unless we do that, Ethiopia’s enemies sprout like mushrooms. We [we] deal with one then another come. If we want this country to continue, we need to honor the defense force. All citizens should do this. We should serve and honor as well. It is when we do this that we are able to overcome the challenges that could face us in the future.
Concerning the war, I would like to go a bit deep into it and explain to this honorable house and the people of Ethiopia. The first job was to prevent them from expanding into Gondar and Gojjam, defending the attack. There was a force which we ordered to retreat to Eritrea but there was no telephone and radio communication. What we did was that we used only the telephones of a few soldiers and made it function in a special way and told them to retreat and sent someone from the Eritrea’s borders and told them to leave and retreat. But we didn’t know how many of them left, because they all did not get the order fully.
First, they [TPLF] refused to accept the commander. What I want this honorable house to know concerning the commander of the northern command is General Diriba Mekonnen who had been serving as the commander of the north command and took part in a meeting with them [TPLF]15 days before the war had started. After the meeting he had lunch with them and then fell ill immediately. He loses his consciousness. He was admitted to the army hospital. Then people who were with him [that day] came up with the information that they [TPLF] might have [poisoned] him. We just told them not to talk about such things and say let’s be checked medically first and we suppress [hide] it [the information].
General Diriba is not in a position to recover, able to work until now. It was when he fell ill that we were going to assign another person and it was not in our interest to assign a new person. But there was a plan to disable him [general Diriba] and refuse to accept the person who was assigned to take his place after that. We assigned another person until he [Diriba]had recovered and they refused to accept the person we had assigned. They also stifled General Adem, deputy commander [of the northern command] and made the army not to communicate and the rest is obvious.
The first job was to deter them from expanding. We did this on Wednesday and there was no nothing that we knew about on Tuesday. There was a problem of getting information throughout the night. On Wednesday they finished it [their plan] and started an attack in the direction of the Amhara region, and then we started to defend by pushing our force there. Then after one or two days we organized ourselves and tried to close the border as I have told you earlier. After we tried to close the border we then started attacking its central power so it could not settle down and lead the activity. I went along with three generals to know how many soldiers retreated to Eritrea. The reason why I went there along with the three generals was to see the army and in what condition they are and reorganize them.
“The other thing was to finish the war within a short time”
When we arrived there the situation was so heartbreaking. The northern command was an army which General Abebaw Tadesse had organized and led for many years; when the army saw him, it [the army] wept. And then General Abebaw said, “take any measure you like on me, I don’t want to return back with you. I want to enter [into Tigray] on foot leading the army”. General Getachew Gudina has been less than three months since he came back from Tigray, it [the northern command] is his command and it was his children who were attacked. He also wept along with the arm and said, “I don’t want to return [with you]”. Their army has such amazing bravery, especially there were some of them who held them captive and went there [Eritrea] along with their equipment. There were those who went there naked. There were those who withered [for lack of food and water]. What they [army]were begging for was to not let them stay there for long but to go and apprehend and bring this junta force to justice. After we saw and identified what they missed and what they needed, we reorganized and made assignments. The enemy had no suspicion from that side, because it thought that it had already destroyed it. We assigned leaders. We were organizing [the army] from that side while we were also weakening the center from here.
Concerning the rockets, as I have told you earlier 100 percent of the rockets Ethiopia has were there [in Tigray]. The people are all from the same region. A lot of effort had been made to move it from there. But when this happened, we have discussed that this rocket is dangerous and it is a threat to us and we have to disable the rocket first so that they would not be able to use it. Then we found two pieces of information as we tried to check it. The first information is the rocket which is found in Mekelle and can go as far as 300 km. The rocket is found in the city while the machine which is used to launch it is found outside of the city. The other which has less capacity than that [the one in Mekelle] is found in Adwa in the MeTEC camp. All the military officials in my presence discussed and debated it. There was a debate whether we should destroy it or not.
What I would like this honorable house to understand is that hitting the missile which is stored in Mekelle, perhaps it could destroy Mekelle. We were not sure what it could cause. There are those who say it would not destroy [the city] and there were others who fear that it could destroy. There as a risk in it. It was said that if the launcher is destroyed the other part could not function anymore. And the launcher was found outside of the city and our citizens would not get hurt if we destroyed it [the launcher]. So decided to hit that one [launcher] and leave the one [rocket] in the city, because it is dangerous if we hit and our people get massacred. The one in Adwa is in MeTEC camp, located in the city and we also feared that it could destroy Adwa if we hit that as well—and so we stopped doing it so as not to take the risk. The enemy tried to move them from place to place and made unsuccessful efforts as you knew it.
The step we followed after we dealt with the rocket that way is that we gave a chance for the forces who were involved without understanding the situation to surrender themselves to the government. It is to avoid urban battle and save our citizens from being hurt and we did this successfully. The other thing was to finish the war within a short time and disable the execution capacity of an enemy. It took the junta force 15 years to enter Mekelle from Shiraro. But we enter [Mekelle] within 15 days. We both entered on foot. The brave defense force entered on its foot starting from the borders of Gondar through Humera, Shire and Adwa; it was not by car (for some you are saying it had been delayed). By the way, the road is even tiresome with cobra [V8 car] let alone by foot. They did it because they are soldiers and if it is you, you would be even tired using the car [v8]. But the army did it on foot while feeling thirsty.
I will clearly explain to you the organization and structure we used to do this, to make clear the confusion created [by TPLF] that this and that has attacked us. The clever General Belay, and the brave hearted General Mesele, led the first defensive war from the border of Gondar and later the offensive to control Humera along with other comrades. The clever General Belay and the brave hearted general Mesele are both sons of Ethiopia. They had no advisor and any unique force. They move on foot up to Humera. The gallant General Abebaw, who was given a mission to organized, arm and lead the Ethiopian army from the Western front, retreated to Tokombia through Humera and towards the captured fort in Shiraro first – and I don’t if you know other places, there are a lot of forts such as Gamahalo, Badime, Bihara – and to control Shiraro.
General Belay and General Mesele, after they captured Humera and controlled Adi Goshu, they were made to cross Tekeze and meet with the forces of General Abebaw in Shiroro. It was the forces of Abebaw who controlled Shiraro while Belay and Mesele controlled Humera. It was these forces who combined and controlled Shire and Aksum.
“The plan was based on knowing each hill and mountain”
In the fighting in Rama and its areas, it was General Bacha who organized it. The first mission of General Bacha was to close the road that leads to Enchicho and Adwa and control our forts there, and to cut off Adwa when the other force approaches Shire. Before he controlled the areas of Zalambessa the mission given to General Bacha was to organize the force found in Tsorona and Rama and wait on standby until told to go and move forward. The puma, General Getachew, was given a mission to reorganize the force which retreated from the Zalambessa front and recapture Zlamabassa and Adigrat with determination and bravery.
The reason why the battle for Adwa and Adigrat was so quick was that there were forces everywhere who took fortification and were waiting on standby as the forces of General Belay and Abebaw arrived in Shire. On the eastern front, especially by coordinating heavy artillery, it was General Alemeshet, a guru of military science who started the job along with the thunder General Solomon and the indefatigable general Hailu. This organization was not permanent, though it was like this that we started first when some places were controlled, but there were some changes which happened later on. There were situations where others moved onto another front when they merged together so quickly.
The plan was based on knowing each hill and mountain and its altitude point and escaping routes. General Abebaw knows that area by name because of the war we fought with Eritrea. He knows the places by list. And General Getachew also knows every place in the areas of Zalambassa during the war and after. Therefore, they have the knowledge of the terrains and plains of the areas then the enemy and even much better than the enemy in some places. So, we use that knowledge to conduct the war by identifying the strategic places, difficult places and mountainous areas.
General Birhanu Jula, who eats victory for breakfast, led two command centers along with so amazing gallant generals who worked day and night in the situation room and was leading the whole process under the command post. One among these is General Yohannes, who loves his country. General Yohannes, who never compromise on his country; General Asrat, the sniffer who follows the footstep of the enemy; campaign coordinator General Tesfaye, who read the map as if on the ground; General Abdurahman who facilitates logistic; General Hachalu, who coordinates the human resource in an amazing way; General Hassen who analyses the capacity of the enemy and others. They were leading the war day and night from two command centers, under one command post.
There are two forces here which I do want to go on without mentioning. The first one is the shaker, General Yilma, head of the Air Force. Along with gallant fighters he did an amazing job to make sure the war was completed per the time limit we have set and planned. The eagle General Shuma and General Birhanu Bekele organized a special force—by the way I didn’t tell you about the bravery of the special force. Ethiopian artists, writers and filmmakers: a bravery which you cannot find anywhere in the world has been made. Use and work on it. I can say it was the bravery of a war with another country. Now it is a war among us. But the special force controlled Mekelle without a single person being killed and words cannot explain the bravery it had shown in Mekelle.
This special force destroyed a fort in Humera and dismantled a brigade by sacrificing only one person from its side. It is very difficult to tell the bravery of these people unless it is possible to do so through a movie. The special force on the eastern front didn’t even fight the enemy face to face, rather it cut across and fired a bullet on the very individuals who were commanding the enemy’s army from behind. There is one gallant soldier who had run out of his bullets in the fight and then fought neck to neck physically with the enemy and snatched the gun from the enemy. That was how it became possible to walk 15 days on the same road which takes [TPLF] them 15 years.
“The people of Mekelle stretched their arms and welcomed us”
Though there are a lot of people who need to be mentioned in this: General Girma Kibebew, the commander of the 7th battalion of the army, preferred to die than surrender his gun to the enemy, and retreated and entered Eritrea along his forces. He entered [Eritrea] with full equipment and burned some of that which he didn’t manage to take with him. When we went to Eritrea, we didn’t expect to see all those tanks and canons. It was an organized and equipped army who retreated. General Mulalem Meshesha, the commander of the fifth battalion, was a brave man who fought in the area of Humera and saved the equipment there from being looted until additional forces arrived there. The commander of the 8th battalion on the side of Badime, General Nasir Abbadiga fought ,and retreated with his full force and battalion. It was him who later on fought and controlled Shiraro. Had Ethiopia not created such amazing people and brave persons, who never hesitate to sacrifice their lives, the situation would have been much worse, without any doubt.
I would like this honorable house to clearly understand the role, bravery and the Tigray’s people love for their country. First there was a Tigrayan who was labeled and shot for resisting when the army was attacked. He told them not to attack the army when they started. Therefore, a lot of people [Tigrayans] tried their best to save their life [army’s life], and there is also a Tigrayan who retreated to Eritrea along with other troops saying, “I don’t want to sit idle and see when my country is attacked”. It is good to see the positive side of it, not only the negative part. There are persons who fought along with the army, resisting the attack and sustained injuries and loss of life. The issue was about Ethiopiawinet and a greedy junta and was not between Ethiopia and Tigray.
Later on, when we reached Shire the public brought about 200 guns and handed them to us [army] saying, “This is yours, they gave us to kill you with it, but we don’t do that”. As we arrived in Aksum, they [public] handed over to us about 40 wounded army personnel who they kept in hiding until we reached there. They also said they released prisoners.
There was a meeting in Mekelle yesterday and the people said: “You have been delayed, but we are happy that you are coming for us now,” and they demanded for the telephone and electricity to be reinstated so that they can go back to their normal lives quickly. They demanded also the quick establishment of the interim government, lest hooligans cause disturbance and looting and the enemy which has dispersed everywhere now cause troubles. Therefore, the people of Mekelle stretched their arms and welcomed us that way.
And the army also loved its country and didn’t cause a single bit of damage. But this force didn’t only fight on the ground. Firstly, as I mentioned earlier, because of the majors, captains and the likes who went there leaving the defense force, our army was left without a leader. It [the force] had prepared itself earlier, controlled weapons, and positioned itself to defend itself. Moreover, in terms of diplomacy, it deployed its people with money to lobby in every country; and there are people who lobbied using the media. The war was opened in all spheres; media and diplomacy. War was opened in all spheres and most of our friends and started telling us to sit for discussion. As this honorable house knows, we badly needed discussion and we dislike war so much: we entreated them; we have beseeched them until they massacred us. Then after that we didn’t allow them to control Gondar and Woldiya, and to do what they like in Addis Ababa.
There was nothing we didn’t do. We tried to talk about the political issues. We said: don’t attack the northern command which has been protecting you for more than 20 years. By the way, no country can do that, it would rather die than sit for negotiation while its defense force is attacked. But they told us to sit for discussion. They told us this because we are poor. The message I have for our friends is: we know diplomacy. Ethiopia is a country which founded the UN and AU. Therefore, no one can tell her about diplomacy and multilateralism. We are a people who are known for peace and negotiation. We are the ones who served as peacekeepers in South Korea and several other African countries. And this will continue.
“With whom can we discuss?”
But what I would like to tell our friends is: if you want to be our friends you need to understand us as well. Even if we are poor, we have a long experience of government for several centuries and we are a country with a government even before some of you were founded as a country. We were founded as a country before you stood as a country. We are not people who are confused between the county and the government. We want you to know this. Let alone today, even when an enemy with better equipment came 100 years ago and tried to colonize us, we refused saying that we prefer to die than be colonized and we remain as the only country which is not colonized. If you forget this it is necessary to remind you.
The third one is pride, prize and honor of the honorable chairman of the house is only the sovereignty of Ethiopia. Never expect an Ethiopian to compromise Ethiopia and be deceived by a gift – that is wrong. Understand that we are peace-lovers, who toil to maintain peace, and understand our condition and let work together with the spirit of cooperation. And there is no Ethiopian who trades his honor for anything – even if in the face of poverty. And do not blame this issue on us. tt is not our mistake. We inherit it through our fathers, through their blood. We could not tolerate such things. Therefore, intimidating us with coins won’t work in Ethiopia. What is good is working with Ethiopia on the basis of mutual respect. Those of you who are afraid, it is totally impossible to defeat Ethiopia in the presence of an Ethiopian. [He] can do whatever he likes after we all are exterminated. But no one can do anything as long as Ethiopians are there, both today and in the future as well. It is not right to think this way. It is necessary to listen to us when we are trying to uphold the rule of law which was forced on us.
This is to our candid friends: here is some hidden agenda inside this. The hidden agenda which I don’t want to name it, but all our neighbors have a group called Demeke’s group and Abiy’s group. They say, “Demeke and Abiy please have a discussion together, Demeke move your armies a little back, Abiy soldiers are all over the area.” Our region is where some go here and there saying that Demeke and Abiy are not able to agree and therefore they have to discuss together in Kigali or in Johannesburg. It is impossible to repeat that in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has one government and that government respects the law, exercises itself according to the law, abides by the law, is held accountable by law if it commits mistakes, honors its citizens and builds a democracy which resembles Ethiopia as much as possible.
We don’t suffer liken ourselves to others. And we don’t play like the games of other countries, which speak of the forces of this and that. Those people who have such devilish ideas, just forget it, it will not work in Ethiopia. I don’t believe that there is no government in the world who doesn’t understand what this force [TPLF] has been doing in Ethiopia. Leave the other thing, there is no single person who didn’t hear what happened in Mai Kadra. While hearing what happened in Mai Kadra, the disappearance of the deputy commander of the northern command and thousands of others, dead bodies left lying on the ground being naked. While all this happened, they told us to sit down and discuss. With who? With whom can we discuss?
Of course, what I need this honorable house to understand is, the Ethiopian government has been negotiating while fighting the war as well. The accusation that the government refuses to negotiate is a lie. We have been negotiating. There have been negotiations in the last two three weeks while we have been fighting. To make it clear to the governments in the world. It [negotiation] was with Dr. Mulu, the legitimate government of Tigray. The negotiation was with his committees on how to maintain the rule of law in the Tigray region. One was to maintain the rule of law and apprehend the criminals. The second was fought inside the city, lest our people get hurt. The third was to quickly rebuild and re-establish the areas which came under our control. This was what Dr. Mulu and his team negotiated with the government and gave us a mission, and it is based on this negotiation that we have set out our plan. It is wrong to say that there was no negotiation, because we didn’t negotiate with the criminals. We have discussed and negotiated with the legitimate one and have worked together. And this will also continue in the future.
Somalia or Sudan don’t go for war. War is not good. We don’t need war, we need peace. Saying we want peace means expressing what you need – but it is obvious things happened to change, when the other side slapped us in the face. It needs to understand. There is a lot of pressure and other things. It was one type of war in itself alone. After all, we would like to tell them – please, understand us, we need peace and it is necessary to know that we don’t compromise anything which comes against our honor.
“The next job is to find the criminals and bring them to justice”
There are questions raised in terms of bringing the criminals to justice, those who have committed treason, those who committed terrorism, and war criminals. There were many people who led and did a lot of things. It needs to look into this in line with the operation. First, our primary goal was to liberate our people who were suppressed, bury those who killed and regain the tanks which were taken from us. There are thousands of both wounded and others who have returned, though there are still several more. We buried those who died, re-controlled our camps and controlled the government resource. For instance, after we had controlled Mekelle, the defense force requested if it could start searching in Mekelle after it had controlled Mekelle. We replied that it was impossible.
The training and skills of the defense force is to fight and it has no experience of conducting searches in the city and it could actually cause damage. We told them to hold their position, stay there, and then the trained federal police will enter [Mekelle] and undertake its job. The defense force didn’t enter into a single individual’s house. Anything related to crimes and searches is done by the experts, the police. When we came near Mekelle, around Kuwa, Negashi and Wukro, farmers were in their field harvesting their crops, relaxed as if nothing had happened, if you believe it or not. Because they know it is their army. Nothing happened and they knew there was just propaganda.
We gave a 72 hour ultimatum twice. There were people asking why these were given and why they were extended. The reason why it was extended has many purposes. I don’t want to explain all of it, but the first one is that as we were nearing Mekelle, the force which came with such speed and morale thought the junta was in Mekelle and unless we cooled down and worked on its emotions something regrettable could have happened later on. It would be better to cool down and be calm, than to enter the city with the interest to seek for the junta; it is instead better to design a special plan and work in a way to avoid damage.
The second reason is that the junta causes destruction everywhere, as we have witnessed, and it could cause damage around Mekelle. The third is there are a lot of people who don’t want to fight and there are many special forces who surrendered themselves to us. It was necessary to give them a chance for them as well.
There are several other reasons. We knew that we could enter and control [Mekelle] but we extended the ultimatum so we could be calm, think, plan and execute. We have said we will finish it within a short time and we did it within a short time. If it went faster than this it would cause damage, and it would do the same if we extended more than this. So, it is completed according to the schedule. Of course, the defense force presented its plan to finish within two weeks. But it was seen and analyzed by the government and extended to three weeks. Because we don’t want the collateral damage to happen.
Now, the next job is to find the criminals and bring them to justice. The criminals gathered and went to some place. They also say they are going to struggle. Who will they struggle against? It should be against themselves that they struggle. They should struggle against the thought of killing, looting; against their thoughts which suppress the people. This is the reason why the Tigray youth struggle along with these people. The Tigrayans can organize themselves politically and can defeat the Prosperity Party. Not with guns, but by politics, peace and elections. That is why we say it should be not by bullet but ballot. Defeating one another should not be with guns but by ballot box.
“30,000 [displaced people] is just like a breakfast for us.”
But these people who were advocating war for the last 40 years, and exterminating the youth, are still alive and have escaped to Hagere Selam. They don’t die. Saying we have to fight is just saying: ‘protect me’. It means I don’t want to die but you have to die for me. So, who is a person who foolishly sacrifices his life, year after year, and lets them live? Had they been brave they could have died fighting in Mekelle rather than running away leaving the people of Mekelle behind. They tell others to fight while they are on the run. This is something very dangerous. They should take lessons and surrender peacefully. If they don’t want to surrender in peace, the fighting will continue, but it is obvious that the fighting consumes life. We are following them and they cannot go further. It is better to surrender.
They always avoid death. As they left the palace, they said that we don’t care about being in the palace but we can rule from behind while residing in Addis Ababa. When they left Addis Ababa, they said that they could rule from Mekelle. When they left Mekelle they started to say they could rule from Hagere Selam. That is impossible. Therefore, it is better if they pause for a while and think over it, rather than causing destruction to the public.
Our next job is to build Tigray. The people of Tigray are living under severe conditions and their lives are dependent on ration. What this honorable house needs to understand is that the people live on rations and even those rations have been reduced. We must move quickly and free our people from this problem: support, rebuild and make sure those who fled can return.
Concerning the refugees, reports indicate that about 30,000 people have fled so far. As this honorable house knows, millions of people were displaced and they were restored in the process of the reform. 30,000 is just like a breakfast for us. We have experience. We have the experience from Somali, Gedeo; people were displaced everywhere and we restored and rebuilt their lives. We can rebuild within a week. To the UN, government of Sudan and other refugee agencies, our doors are open, we can cooperate with them and restore the refugees’ livelihoods.
They are our citizens as long as they have not committed a crime. But there is one problem, there are no women and children: it is all youth said to be refugees. Time will give an answer to the issue who are these youth? If they are the one who slaughtered people in Mai Kadra and fled from there, evidence will be gathered and they will be held accountable by the law if the evidence proves that they had committed the crime. If they are innocent citizens, they can return tomorrow morning. And there is a committee we have formed for this purpose; we are ready and our door is open if the world also wants to give support for this. We don’t want our citizens to reside abroad. But don’t take 30,000 as such a big deal. Millions of people were displaced and we have the experience of restoring and rebuilding their lives. This is because there are people who fan the flames.
The political discussion in the Tigray region is that we don’t want a single person to rule Tigray and we don’t want that to happen – we just want Arena, Tigray Democratic Party, Prosperity Party and other legal parties . Tigrayans are a respected people and they can rule themselves. What is good is being liberated from repression. We will conduct elections within the shortest time possible and the people will be ruled by their children, selecting any person of his choice.
“Our future job is building, restoring and maintaining peace.”
Regarding the junta: the next operation will continue. What is concluded is that time when it used to act as a government and a state; the operation against the individuals will continue as long as criminals are there. But it is even better to give advice to the junta. All this has happened in the first place for refusing to hand over one or two criminal persons. For those who are a soldier and betrayed us, the army has its own rules and they will be judged accordingly. But in terms of politics, the people we need are not more than 30 or 40 people. They are the key ones. So, these 30 or 40 people should not let the youth die by refusing to surrender. They are not going to be killed but judged by the law.
We have to do a lot of the work to save the region from being destroyed because of these 30 or 40 people. Our future job is building, restoring and maintaining peace. The other thing is to make sure the next election democratic. What this honorable house still needs to know is: democracy is a panacea for Ethiopia.
The election should be credible, democratic and should be held in accordance with the time table set by the electoral board. Therefore, we all have to prepare ourselves to abide by it. The house should become a place where different voices are heard, that is our guarantee. This works for Tigray and Ethiopia as well.
Concerning foreign relations, giving a priority to our neighbors has benefitted us a lot and it will continue in the future through cooperation. Ethiopians should also prepare themselves to rebuild Tigray through cooperation. After we assess the damage deeply, we will do what can be done by the government and our people should also cooperate and rebuild the region. Finally, my message for those internally and externally: for those on the outside: our door is wide open for those who want to work with Ethiopia in the spirit of negotiation and cooperation. However, if there are forces who think they can defeat Ethiopia through intrigues and games, I advise them to sit down and take a lesson from history. It is impossible. It is only possible to work with us through peace, discussion and diplomacy. This is what I have for those external powers.
My message for the internal ones is: concerning the junta I have no personal hate against Kebede or Tessema. And you don’t have to hate any person on your part. Our hate is towards its [junta] thought and action. We need to be careful not to become another junta ourselves after chasing away the other junta.
It is the junta who divided us as Oromo, Amhara, Tigre and made us fight each other on the bases of ethnicity. If we hate someone because of their ethnicity, this means we are also juntas. Therefore, Tigrayans who live in Tigray and outside of Tigray, we must believe and accept they are Ethiopian and care for them if they have no relation with the junta. Unless we do this bad deeds will remain and will continue, except for a change of place [by those who commit the bad deeds]. All Ethiopians should take extreme caution for this not to happen. Everyone must take necessary care for the Tigrayans, be it in the police, defense force, civilians or any other place. Some were made to leave their jobs last time.
“We have to stop the songs of victory”
There are two things that they and this honorable house also needs to understand. The first is: a serious massacre took place there [in Tigray], and so we must defend them here from any angry soldiers who heard about what happened there—to prevent damage against them [Tigrayans] here. We must protect them.
The second thing is there is no doubt there were many who were paid [to commit crimes here]; those who had bombs and explosive materials in their homes and were ready to cause explosions. So, we must not wait for them to explode. We should defend [ourselves] and take lessons from Mai Kadra. Therefore, there were some actions which have been taken based on those two reasons that will be sorted out and redressed.
The other thing is winning the war has its challenge, just as losing has its challenges. We won the war with the highest bravery and capacity. But it is very dangerous if this led us to arrogance and chauvinism. We have to stop the songs of victory. As I believe it is the truth which won, it is the tears and prayers of Ethiopian mothers which won. The rest of us should humble ourselves. Humbleness is to not hate; to not sing about victory and entering into the main battle. The main battle is yet to be dealt with. Countries who don’t escape the poverty trap of repeat war at least one time in 10 years. Unless we escape the poverty trap and move to prosperity, there is no doubt we will fight with junta Y after we deal with junta X. To prevent this from happening, we have to quickly move to prosperity to get rid ourselves of the history of war.
We have to go for development. For this to happen, Ethiopians should repeat towards development the determination and cooperation they have shown now. A country which has not freed itself from the beginning will not have full freedom. Its boss and commanders are many. Let us work hard to free ourselves from the beginning and we can do that. We are able to change this country. We have the capacity and the clarity, if we continue with the work that we have started in industry, agriculture and cities. Development will not come overnight: it is a process. It is only Ethiopians who will realize development, others are only partners. Development will not come immediately, it will come through the effort and activity of our citizens. Therefore, to move towards prosperity we have to avoid another war, conflict, division along ethnic lines and avoiding snatching victory from one another. We have to move on from such news and it is expected for all of us to focus on our development, peace and elections through cooperation. I call upon the people of Ethiopia to do this in cooperation.
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Main photo: Abiy Ahmed addresses parliament on 30 November.
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