Viewpoint

For years I opposed the TPLF, but I also oppose this war on Tigray

The federal government appears to be indifferent to the mass suffering of Tigrayan people, writes a leading member of Arena Tigray opposition party.

As a result of the war in Tigray, the region is in chaos and suffering a severe humanitarian crisis. Tigrayans are living in fear and suffering en masse.

Although the government has claimed that the conflict ended on 28 November with the capture of Mekele, it is still going on. For instance, there are reports of fighting in mid-January from the UN in Western, North-Western, Central, East, and South-East Tigray zones.

The federal government called the war a “law enforcement operation,” and said that its three objectives are disarming the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the regional ruling party dubbed a “junta”, replace it with an interim administration (the deputy leader of my party, Arena Tigray for Democracy and Sovereignty, Abraha Desta was appointed the social affairs cabinet member), and bring wanted TPLF leaders to justice.

However, information coming out of the region indicates that atrocities with no connection with those objectives have been commonplace: The killing of civilians, looting of properties, destruction of towns, rape, and violent evictions by Amhara groups and Eritrean forces are among the horrors.

The destruction began in the early stages of the war.

Following the entrance of the Ethiopian National Defense Force and Amhara regional forces, there were many such reports. For instance, in Humera, after the city was captured early in the war, banks, hospitals, and private homes were looted, mostly by Amhara forces.

Residents in the capital, Mekelle, have also spoken about widespread looting and vandalism in the city—although some of that was reportedly committed by people released from prison amid the chaotic removal of Tigray’s government.

Most worrying, however, are the killings of civilians and other grave human rights violations.

According to the witness accounts of Tigrayan refugees in Sudan, members of Fano, the Amhara vigilante youth group, and other Amhara militia played a leading role in this. Among others, there are reports of Amhara militia and Fano members engaging in widespread torture, beating, and killing.

In Rawian, Western Tigray, I received a report in early December from a trusted contact of a girl being taken away from a farm and raped by nine Fano. I have also received a similar report around the same time that 40 civilians were killed in Southern Tigray.

Furthermore, I learned, through that same phone conversation, that a total of 49 civilians have been killed in Ago, Adimesno, and Tsehafti in southern Tigray in December. There were reports suggesting many innocent civilians have been killed around Bisober.

Other innocent civilians were also killed in a gruesome manner.

Some were slain inside their home, such as a man named Berhe Abraha killed in the house of his in-laws in Adiwade. His father-in-law, who was screaming and crying, was also killed in the compound. A priest by the name of Bayra Micheal was murdered inside St. Arsema church in Adikeyh.

Making matters more complicated, for Fano and Amhara groups engaged in the battle, the war is an opening to achieve their irredentist agenda of reclaiming what they consider to be Amhara land. On top of that, a sense of revenge is also driving the Amhara groups.

In regions of Southern Tigray such as Alamata and Korem, Amhara police officers and government officials have been reportedly threatening Tigrayans to not speak Tigrinya, various non-Arena sources told me. They are also pushing Tigrayans in the area to claim they are Amhara and to speak Amharic at all times. Those who speak Tigrinya are denied access to public services, including to the police.

The federal government must make it clear that the land reclamation agenda doesn’t have anything to do with the war. The war’s aim is removing TPLF from power, and attempts to engage in a practice that jeopardizes the territorial integrity of Tigray and the safety of innocent Tigrayans are unacceptable. Questions related to regional boundaries must be dealt only through constitutional avenues, as the Prime Minister promised in his ‘victory’ address.

Making the situation worse, the federal government has blocked virtually all independent means of communication. As a result, it has near-total control over the narrative. We don’t have much information about what is happening on the ground—and we have good reasons to be skeptical about some of the reports we are getting from government sources.

With international human rights groups and humanitarian actors not being able to gain full access to the war-affected areas, there is a serious lack of transparency, and the authorities cannot be trusted.

In fact, it seems like the federal government is lying about some facts on the ground. A case in point is the massacre in Maikadra.

In this extremely tragic incident, both innocent ethnic Tigrayans and Amhara were killed. However, the prime minister and his government told the world that it was ethnic Amhara who were killed. Although both the government and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission presented Tigray forces as the sole perpetrators, we have credible reports indicating Amhara forces attacked innocent Tigrayans during the incident.

International organizations should be allowed to go to Maikadra and various areas of Tigray and investigate the situation on the ground. We need a thorough investigation of human rights violations, fatalities, and the overall situation. Independent media organizations must also be given access.

Another issue that requires thorough probing is the involvement of Eritrean troops. Although the Ethiopian government refused to admit it, it is now beyond clear that Eritrean forces are heavily involved in the war.

The reports we are getting indicate that they are engaged in widespread looting, destruction, and the killing of civilians. In Adigrat and Edage Hamus, for instance, it was reported that Eritrean soldiers killed many civilians and committed summary executions.

Eritrea’s involvement is worrying, and we need details on the extent to which it is happening.

Furthermore, it is crucial that humanitarian organizations get full access to Tigray. There is a serious shortage of basic services and supplies such as food, water, medicine, and sanitation, as my party colleague Abraha and other interim officials have detailed. According to UNICEF, over two million children in Tigray do not have access to humanitarian assistance.

Worryingly, we are now getting reports of people in, among others, Shire, Axum, Adwa, Tembien, Hawzien, and Zalambesa dying of hunger. In the city of Adigrat, water shortage has forced people to drink from rivers. Fearing attacks, some are living in caves.

The federal government seems indifferent towards the plight of the Tigrayan people. Rightly concerned, the European Union decided to suspend 88 million Euros budget support until the government provides full access.

Furthermore, internet, telecommunication, water, and electricity should be restored fully. These are as essential as the other basic needs, and many Tigrayans are currently living without them. As a result of the conflict and bank closures, economic activity is dead in the region with many workers are not receiving salary. This is adding to the suffering, and it is crucial that access to financial services is fully restored.

Mass displacement is another worrying issue that ought to be addressed immediately.

According to an official of the Tigray interim administration, over 2 million people have been displaced as a result of the war. Despite the government’s claim, of those who fled to neighboring Sudan, children and women make up the majority.

It is also important that Tigrayans who wish to seek safety and international protection outside of the country in Sudan are allowed to do so. There have been reports indicating that the Ethiopian army is blocking refugees. Such attempts must stop immediately.

Like many other ethnic Tigrayans and fellow Ethiopians, I am extremely saddened by what is happening in Tigray. The fact that the vicious cycle of war is continuing is tragic. It will leave deep scars that will not heal for years to come.

The dark history of Mussolini’s chemical attacks on Tembien during World War II is something that our grandparents and parents used to talk about. The dread lingered for decades. Sadly, the same will be the case with this war.

Tigray has had enough conflict, and this one must come to a stop. This is the one thing that all Tigrayans want to see.

The federal government might have the illusion that it can bring the war to an end by continuing the fight until total victory is gained across the region. However, things are not this simple. The war is not supported by Tigrayans and political parties in Tigray. For instance, many members of my party, Arena Tigray, who boycotted the TPLF’s hastily organized and unsatisfactory regional election, are wholly against the war, although we have not been able to hold a formal meeting due to the chaos.

With no support for the intervention from the general public and political parties who are against TPLF, it is unlikely that defeating TPLF will result in peace. Furthermore, the increasing humanitarian crisis, the human rights violations, the killing of civilians, the Amhara occupation, and the involvement of Eritrean forces are making peace far from reach.

As far as I can tell, the only way the region can get back to some normalcy is through some form of negotiation. In particular, the federal government negotiating with Tigrayan militias and political parties in Tigray can open the path to peace. It is also important that the general public in Tigray is consulted and participates in the decision-making processes.

For now, however, all of us must do our best to make sure people in Tigray get all the humanitarian help they desperately need. To this end, we must push the government to be transparent and give unrestricted access to all aid organizations.

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This is the author’s viewpoint. However, Ethiopia Insight will correct clear factual errors.

Main photo: Ethiopian refugees going across the Tekeze river into Sudan; UNHCR.

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About the author

Goitom Tsegay

Goitom is the vice-chairman and a founding member of Arena Tigray for Democracy and Sovereignty.

10 Comments

  • I feel terrible for the suffering of the people of Tigray.

    This whole disaster is the result of reckless gamble by TPLF leandership. How could the leadership of TPLF make this reckcless gamble of back-stabbing the Ethiopian Defence Forces the way they did? What type of echo chamber were these criminals trapped in when they embarked upon this collective suicide. THis is the kind of gamble one makes when in the jungle with nothing to lose anyway. Such gambles are not made when:

    #1 TPLF administers a whole province with millions of people.
    #2 Tigrai with 6% of the population enjoys outsized influence in the army, economy, federal bureaurcracy, and diplomacy.

    Now due to this reckless gamble taken by TPLF leadership all these influences are lost in less than two weeks! To make matters worse the war has devasted the infratructre and governance of Tigrai. What a sad story.

    To rub salt into the wound: The lands west of Tekze Reiver that TPLF forcefully incorporated into Tigray are lost for good. The Raya lands are lost for good as well. TPLF handed land east of Mekele that historically was ruled by Tigrai nobles to Afar. Afar is not going to give this land back either. In short Tigrai is screwed thanks to TPLF junta. A set back of at least 50 years thanks to TPLF reckless gamble.

    Here is a message for TPLF supporters to ponder:

    How is it that TPLF claimed to liberate oppressed minorities in Ethiopia. Yet when TPLF lost federal power not even one minority came to its defence. This should tell you a lot about TPLF. TPLF leadership are a bunch of crooks that used people of Tirgrai for their own wicked agenda of looting and pillaging. The result can now be seen by all.

    TPLF is a discredited and militarily defeated party just like the Workers Party of Ethiopia of Mengistu. Its remaining leadership will either be captured and put on trial or hunted down and eradicated in their hideouts. Sadly the people of Tigrai will be caught in this cross fire. I hope this nightmare ends for people of Tigray soon.

    TPLF supporters: If you truly love the people of Tigrai you should ask the remnants of TPLF leadership and their foot soliders to surrender now and spare people of Tigrai unnecessary suffering.

    Good luck.

  • Since you have not said anything about the crimes of TPLF including ethnic cleansing you are not talking to all Ethiopians, which hold most of the card for peace. As a politician you should be objective. When you are objective you see all the issues which would affect the peace. Including peace for Tigreans.

    If you do not do that then you are not interested in peace. you are gambling with the life of Tigreans like TPLF did.

  • War in Ethiopia has always been wining at any cost and destroying the community the “enemy” comes from. This is specially true in the Northern culture. The Amhara peasant called Fano cares only about burning down homes and farms because it is all about revenge. I can see if conflict of that magnitude were to start in the South the atrocity would be tenfold in its cruelty.

  • The war on Tigray can be described as “Rwanda in Ethiopia” – with the all the venom of tribal animosity and political vengence, death and destruction, and starvation as a weapon of war.

  • Dear Goitom Tsegay,
    What you presented here is an unproven, but indeed very troubling account of the Tigray conflict. The answer to the question – how can the population be helped quickly and unbureaucratically now – seems to be of enormous importance. The proposed negotiations between the federal government and local militias (and somehow the local population too), if possible and even brought to a good end, will nevertheless take for sure a lot of precious time. Foreign NGOs will not show up until granted security. Security still can’t be granted by the federal government as the region is apparently not cleared of remnants of the TPLF and militias are not disarmed. And just to withdraw without defeating the TPLF couldn’t be a reasonable option for the federal government – such step will just prolong the conflict.
    Your Party, Arena Tigray for Democracy and Sovereignty, as you write, did not participate in the controversial elections. But it does consider taking responsibility and lead the local administration? As you stated above, leading members of your party are now in the interim administration. It could be indeed an excellent opportunity to show to the people of Tigray what you are capable of, doing your best to secure the much needed normalisation. You, as Tigrayans, could negotiate with the militias secure passage of food and supply convoys to the population. You could appeal to the locals to return to work, at least, in a crucial branches as banks, electricity and water supply, retailers etc. Many observer would for sure very much appreciate a statement of what your party is now doing or intending to do for the people of Tigray. For this I thank you very much in advance.

  • TPLF has been disarmed of heavy arms and therefore weakened. Ethiopian forces should withdraw because too many Tigray civilians are dying.

    Another worry is perpetual war between Tigray and Amhara over Tsegede, Wolkiat, and Raya.

    The future looks grim unless by some miracle, Amhara and Tigray make peace with each other and come up with some kind of ethnic border agreement which respects the rights of minorities.

    In our common medieval history, Amhara and Tegaru principalities have occasionally been cruel to each other. For example, Negus Yohannes and his atrocities in Wollo and Gojam come to mind. But they also formed alliances with each other, and Yohannes died for Ethiopia with Negus Michael at his side.

    Sad at how things have turned out. Betam yabesachal, betam yasazenal.

    The first priority is to get aid into Tigray as soon as possible. The federal govt and TPLF revenants have to negotiate with each other to that end.

    • I think the narrative of “Amhara and Tigray” principalities is the heart of the problem.

      Welqayit was not a problem when it was within Gonder, which was admittedly a majority Amharic speaking province but did not have any ethnic label assigned to it.

      Ethnic labels/ownership to pieces of land lead to us to today.

  • Dear Goitom Tsegay,

    I appreciate your concern. But, as a proud Tigrayan, I am very sad to see Tigrayans divided like this. We should not let our division give birth to the annihilation of our Tigray and the death of our family members. We need to learn from this cycle of war on us by Amharas who want to see us gone from our land.
    Please keep working to unite us and save our people.

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