Tigrayan exceptionalism has led to the war, and is now hindering peace

Tigray’s political elites’ claims of exceptionalism based on the region’s glorious history and strong military posture is problematic.

Ethiopia has been bleeding from a self-destructive civil war for eighteen months now. Tens of thousands or more have died, millions have been displaced, the country’s international standing is severely weakened, national security is threatened, the economy is in shambles, and social cohesion is at an all-time low.

While the war has had devastating consequences in Afar and Amhara since July 2021, Tigray has shouldered most of its brutal effects for a protracted period.

Millions of Tigrayans have close to no supply of electricity, water, medicine, and banking services, and the region is almost entirely disconnected from the world. It is a miracle—and a testament to the tenacity of ordinary Tigrayans—that they are getting by under such horrible conditions.

The causes of this crisis include several historical, ideological, socio-political, and economic factors.

However, in my view, the war in Tigray has been caused and perpetuated to a large extent by one self-serving belief among Tigrayan political elites. I call this belief “Tigrayan exceptionalism,” something akin to what is commonly known as “American exceptionalism.”

Tigrayan exceptionalism is essentially marked by contradictory myths, narratives, and interests, which all boil down to a demand for differential treatment and special entitlement. This attitude from the elite contributed to the current crisis and is now among the obstacles to peace.

Glory and rebellion

Sentiments of Tigrayan exceptionalism appear to have stemmed from the historical narrative that portrays Tigray as a source of ancient civilization, the gatekeeper of Ethiopia, and the biggest contributor to the country’s nation-building project.

After all, Tigray is the home of the ancient Axumite civilization, the cornerstone of the Ethiopian Orthodox church and its traditions, the birthplace of great Ethiopian warriors and emperors, and the vessel through which Islam first came into Ethiopia.

Whether the Axumite civilization and other glorious historical records in Tigray were exclusively ‘Tigrayan’ or rather the collective achievements of various groups, including Agews, Tigrayans, Amharas, and Arabs, is something to be left for historians.

Nonetheless, the common view among Tigrayan elites is that Tigray made the foremost contribution to Ethiopia’s early state-building process, Tigray is the core state of Ethiopia—its birthplace, so to speak—and others are peripheries which became part of Ethiopia in time.

Some even claim that Tigray is the home of a once advanced polity that has failed to maintain its great civilization as a result of its unsuccessful mission of civilizing a backward Ethiopia.

This exceptionalist attitude by Tigrayan elites has led them to embrace, perhaps unconsciously, the position that Tigray needs to always be at the center of Ethiopia’s state power—anything less is deemed unacceptable.

Indeed, in modern Ethiopian history, there is no time when Tigrayan elites have not rebelled against whoever is at the Ethiopian center—except when Tigrayans are the center, of course.

The two Woyane rebellions are cases in point. The first, in 1943, was a strong yet unsuccessful uprising in Tigray against Emperor Haile Selassie’s regime, which was viewed as a ‘Shewan’ center by Tigray elites. The second was the successful armed struggle waged against the Derg by the TPLF in the mid-1970s that culminated with Tigrayan elites capturing state power in 1991.

The view among Tigrayan elites is that these rebellions were justified resistance against injustice and oppression.

Sadly, however, Tigrayan elites have often subjected others to the same injustice and mistreatment that they claimed to have fought against. Accordingly, many see Tigrayan insurrection as a fight for dominance and exceptionalism based on the elite’s belief that they are always entitled to rule or significantly control rulers, but never to be ruled.


Alongside the desire to overthrow an oppressive regime, Tigrayan exceptionalism, as the bedrock of Tigray nationalism, was among the driving forces behind TPLF’s seventeen-year armed struggle against the Derg regime.

Initially, TPLF’s stated aim, as presented in its 1976 manifesto, was Tigray’s secession. The principal goal of this project was said to be returning Tigray to its “glorious past.”

When TPLF and its allied forces defeated the Derg, it was portrayed as a Tigrayan feat, the defeat of a giant Goliath by the small David. This gave TPLF both a self-assured certainty and clout of legitimacy that stemmed from the barrel of a gun. Thereafter, TPLF advanced a narrative of its own exceptionalism—that it is invincible and entitled to dominate the country.

Consequently, the allocation of key military and political positions to members of the new Tigrayan ruling class was justified as ‘deserved’. Elites from other ethnic groups were allowed to hold political or economic power only as long as they had TPLF’s blessing.

Within the EPRDF ruling party, TPLF further arrogated to itself an equal number of representatives in the Executive and Central Committees as its coalition partners from Oromo, Amhara, and Southern regions, despite Tigray not having even one-third of the populations of the other regions.

Loyalist political elites were also put in place within each region. This was done because, if fully implemented, the new constitutional design would make Tigrayans a permanent minority. However, Tigray’s elites manipulated the governance structure to avoid such a situation, on the apparent assumption that they would always stay at the helm of power.

As a way to overcome their constant fear and insecurity as a minority ruling class, Tigrayan elites also oppressed other groups by various means. This created a sense of resentment and alienation among other ethnic groups, making TPLF a much-loathed group in the country.

The ultimate result was that Tigrayan political elites created multiple sworn enemies, both within and outside the EPRDF coalition.

TPLF retreated

At no time in the past has Tigrayan exceptionalism been as visible as in the last four years.

When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in April 2018, TPLF initially appeared to have welcomed the inevitable change. Unfortunately, this lasted briefly, and TPLF went back to Mekelle and resumed advancing rhetoric of its own and Tigray’s exceptionalism.

In both mainstream and social media, Tigrayan political elites began to paint war not as an internecine project with consequences of human suffering and destruction but as “Tigray’s cultural sport”, as if the art of war is an exclusively innate gift of Tigrayans.

The elites also proclaimed that Tigray is a de facto independent nation and TPLF’s mass mobilization of resources was justified as a necessary measure to fight against Abiy’s hidden plan to subdue Tigray.

Such rhetoric insinuates that only Tigray has not been subdued—while the rest of Ethiopia is—and that its forces alone can stand in Abiy’s way.

Tigray’s elites described the simmering disagreement with the federal government as a clash of visions between forces of centralization and decentralization. In this narrative, Tigrayan elites portrayed themselves as the guardians of federalism and, domineeringly, the spokespeople of “nations and nationalities.”

The open rejection of their authoritarianism and domination by Somalis, Sidamas, Gurages, and Afaris—groups who satisfy TPLF’s definition of “nations and nationalities”—were all considered the work of Abiy and his Amhara supporters, not the true voice of the said people, who, according to Tigrayan elites, still need help to know what’s in their best interest.

Most hypocritical was TPLF’s accusation that Abiy’s administration is ‘unitarist’ and adamant to centralise power, as if its own 27 years in charge were not marked by centralization in the name of ‘revolutionary democracy’ and ‘democratic centralism.’

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As divisions with the federal government grew, TPLF frequently made two demands: negotiated political solutions and respect for the constitution.

But, what its leaders eventually did was the exact opposite.

Overtures for peace and negotiation were rejected by the TPLF, claiming that it didn’t want to talk with the central government alone and instead preferred an all-inclusive dialogue.

It then rejected the House of Federation’s ruling to postpone the general elections, alleging the decision was unconstitutional, despite the House having the sole authority to adjudicate such constitutional matters.

This sent the clear message that TPLF’s leaders would only accept negotiations on their terms and felt entitled to disregard the constitutional order at their whim.

War erupted

And then came 4 November 2020, the fateful day the war erupted following Tigrayan forces attacking the Ethiopian National Defence Forces’ (ENDF) Northern Command.

According to the TPLF, the attack was a ‘pre-emptive’ strike. But, once again, this is another testament to the elites’ exceptionalist attitude.

Regardless of growing disputes, how could a regional force legitimately engage in a pre-emptive strike against a national army base? Also, how would the TPLF-dominated EPRDF have handled an identical situation? Surely, TPLF would have engaged in a brutal mission to restore the constitutional order.

According to its elites, however, Tigray can do this legitimately.

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This, of course, is not to say that the war began on 4 November. Indeed, the sense of insecurity created among Tigrayan elites due to growing irredentism in Amhara, the purported threat posed by Isaias Afwerki, and other perceived provocations by the federal government have all significantly contributed to the escalation.

After the war broke out, Tigrayan exceptionalism took on a somewhat different form, but still had its core building blocks such as indomitability, omnipotence, and intransigence intact. In addition, the international media’s frequent reference of Tigrayan forces as ‘battle-hardened’ was taken as a global recognition of the exceptionalism.

Initially, TPLF’s military adventure did not go as planned. The federal government, assisted by Eritrean soldiers, Amhara forces, and military drones, managed to dislodge the Tigrayan regional administration in a matter of three weeks. This sent the first shock to the self-assurance of Tigrayan elites, creating temporary self-doubt and fuelling a desire for vengeance.

It also led the TPLF to go underground, regroup clandestinely, and, following months of preparation, wage a successful counterattack in June 2021.

Following the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by the federal government and the ENDF’s withdrawal from Tigray, TPLF marched onto Afar and Amhara regions and unleashed vengeful military operations. The operations led to the death of many innocent civilians and widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure.

TPLF’s subsequent ability to cause disturbance in neighboring regions and advance on town after town towards Addis Abeba was again seen as a demonstration of Tigray’s army exceptionalism as being capable of defeating a national army and toppling a central government. To a large extent, the international community also bought into this narrative.

Vulnerability and invincibility

All this ended abruptly when the federal government relaunched successful offensives, which forced Tigray forces to retreat to their home region in late December 2021. However, this military setback has not changed TPLF’s narratives of exceptionalism and bravado.

TPLF now portrays Tigray as being invincible, but also vulnerable.

On the one hand, the horrendous suffering of ordinary Tigrayans is used to show to the world Tigray’s vulnerability—a small minority under a “genocidal” attack by an evil majority. On the other hand, the partially successful military operation and the army’s strength are presented as proof of Tigray’s indomitability.

Tigray’s elites also continue to play with the idea of Tigray’s independence.

At the same time, they request that the federal budget be released and disputed lands—which were seized by force at the war’s outset and are now administered by Amhara’s government—be returned to Tigray.

These, of course, may be considered sensible constitutional demands. However, if Tigrayan elites are to rely on the constitution when it comes to solving the land dispute with Amhara or the release of the federal budget, they also need to show a willingness to accept the constitutional order.

The constitution recognizes only one defense force—ENDF—and not a regional defense force such as the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF); the constitution allows secession only in accordance with legally prescribed procedures under Article 39, and not through the de facto statehood entertained by Tigrayan elites.

Furthermore, they must accept the legitimacy of the federal government and its institutions such as the houses of parliament and the National Election Board. Accordingly, if the need emerges, they should be willing to conduct federally mandated regional elections or a referendum that is overseen by the Board.

However, at least up until now, there is no desire to respect the constitutional order, and the thinking amongst the elite is that Tigray is not bound by the constitution.

In short, the current state of Tigrayan exceptionalism could be summed up as a blend of fear and courage, vulnerability and invincibility, omniscience and willful ignorance, and the desire to be free and in control.

The exceptionalism does not know any sort of compromise—something inherent in the general political culture of Ethiopia but particularly so among the Tigrayan elite. Persistence and stubbornness are viewed as coveted virtues, regardless of the net outcome.

As a result, no matter how many people die and how huge the destruction, all is justified as martyrdom and sacrifice, and such sacrifice is encouraged irrespective of the devastating consequences it has on the long-term interest of Tigray.

Ethiopia needs healing and this can be achieved only through dialogue and compromise. But, this requires humility from all sides.

Tigrayan elites ought to therefore change their priorities for the sake of innocent Tigrayans currently going through unimaginable suffering. They should conduct honest introspection, put aside exceptionalism, and demonstrate that Tigray is indeed the home of Ethiopia’s civilization and ancient wisdom by coming up with dynamic plans to facilitate a peace process.

At the end of the day, Tigray’s salvation depends more on its elites’ ability to make peace with their neighbors than waging and winning war over them. Peace, of course, entails a painful compromise; but, whether one wins or loses, the cost of war is much higher than that of peace.

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

Main photo: TDF fighters on a pickup truck in the outskirts of Mekelle; Finbarr O’Reilly for NY Times; July 2021.

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Published under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. Cite Ethiopia Insight and link to this page if republished.

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About the author

Zola Moges

Zola has a Ph.D. in international law and works in the fields of human rights, conflict analysis, and peacebuilding in post-conflict societies. Contact him at


  • The author is a paid cadre of Abiy Ahmed & Co. trying to cover up Abiy’s failure in leading. Ethiopia has never been at its lowest, as currently is, in its economic, diplomatic and military status thanks to Abiy’s henchmen such as this author who is not bold enough to author in his true name.

    • Is Yitshak your true name? Then write your full name here if you are “bold enough” and let’s see two forms of ID. LMAO. FYI, “Abiy Ahmed & Co.” are still at the apex of power of in Arat Kilo and there isn’t much anyone can do about it, and not for lack of trying either.

  • What’s funny is the so-called Oromo federalists who don’t realize that ethnic federalism is the strategy of Tplf to have equal power status as the Oromos even though they’re just 5% of the population!

    • You are contradicting yourself. Federalism creates a sense of identity regardless of your number, it protects one’s culture and tradition. Did you not understand this? In the past only Amara values and traditions were gloried and even imposed on the rest regardless of the population count.

  • Hypocritical, yes. “Let’s talk about deficiencies of the other side and blame them for everything bad in our country.” That attitude is why Ethiopia is in such a mess now, and why PP thinks they can solve the problems if the country by force. Now they take the same tack with Oromo. You want a solution, try beginning with you.

    This article promotes a convenient fiction of the Ethiopianist side. Namely, that it is a war against TPLF. In fact it is a war against Tigray and all Tigrayans. Need I repeat all the derogatory words used against Tigrayans, including by Abiy and hus closest advisors? Frankly, believe their words when they talk like that instead of listening to the excuses of the Ethiopianist side that they just mean TPLF. Heard of a dogwhistle? Trump uses it often?

    Fact is, these words about Tigrayans are not new. Tigrayans have been labeled like this for a long time, by Eritreans and Amharas especially.

    Your attitude about Tigrayans is exactly why this war started, why it has resulted in such atrocities against Tigrayans, and why Tigrayans can no longer be part of Ethiopia. Regardless of what other outcomes result from this war, and regardless of the impracticalness of it, Tigray must be independent.

    • Well, good luck with that. If Tigray becomes independent against all odds, Tigrayans will be running away in droves just like Eritreans having been fleeing Eritrea. Tigray has zero chance of becoming a successful, independent country. Anyone who believes secession is the answer is delusional.

    • Actually it is a war against self (Ethiopia) – you can’t eat one part of Ethiopia and expect to thrive….hence the current issues

    • It is foolhardy to believe that Tigray will be better served as an independent republic. For those who will govern Tigray will be none other than TPLF. They have impressively demonstrated that the interests of the people of Tigray do not come first. Poor Tigray!

    • This is tone of a blind foreign TPLF supporters, you labeled it as … fiction of the Ethiopianist side, instead of commenting on content or substance of the article. Probably you’re among paid guards @international arena. Shame on you!!!

  • It’s a well-written article, superbly researched. Kudos to the author. It’s only the die-hard TPLF supporters that are whining about it. The current Ethiopian constitution is a travesty, and it needs to be changed so that Ethiopia is no longer divided into ethnic regions. I think dividing a country along ethnic lines and and giving the right to secede is the worst thing you can do to a country. Even the worst dictatorship is better than dividing a wonderful country like Ethiopia into smaller, useless regions. Ethiopia needs “Ethiopianism,” not some cockamamie ethnic federalism designed to keep the Tigrayan elites in power indefinitely.

  • The better question here is how is this long paper contributing to the the current human tragedy?
    It is a waste of time and only adds a fuel to the ethnic divide must be helped if the circumstances are to change. We are in the mist of a dirty war and intellectuals are worried about exceptionalism? Always best to write after examining one’s intentions

  • Well written and analytically piercing, except for one perspective that deserves critical reflection. That the Tigrayan Exceptionalism actually emanates from collective inferiority complex that the Tigrayan elite seem to instill in their own children. What is that inferiority complex? Well it is a sentiment that Tigrayans think they are looked with ‘contemptment’ by others (this others includes many groups and sub-groups). This is manifested in the every day language that the T-elites use- e.g. ‘Amhara Expansionists’, ‘Shaebia Chauvinists’, ‘Oromo Pride’, ‘Tigrayan Banda’s’. So basically, they have a term for every group or sub-group that they think is better than ‘their group’, and that Term is overloaded with words that foretell the user is vulnerable to inferiority deep down. Any group that suffers from inferiority complex has a tendency to take apocalyptic decisions. Another variable the article failed to highlight is the fact that TPLF never was a force that threatened the Derg. TPLF was literally carried to 4-kilo on the Shoulders of Shaebia. Tigrayans don’t want to admit this because they are vulnerable to inferiority- Note when one of their own leaders said ‘Shaebia looks at us with contempt. They say one cat can defeat 1000 rats; and one anti-insect can kill thousands of flies’ (the cats are Shaebia and the rats TPLF). This is the kind of inferiority complex they are infested with that they find it difficult to deal with.

    • My friend Nyat, Tigreans do neither feel inferior nor superior to anyone else. They have all the reasons to be proud of, as Tigray is the cradle of all civilizations Ethiopia prides itself. From the Christianity to Islam, from the geez alphabet to its first government, from trade to agriculture, from architecture to history of fighting and beating foreign invaders are based in Tigray, Had it not been for TPLF, EPLF would have never achieved its secession objective and your country Eritrea would have remained part of Ethiopia.The TPLF saved EPLF from being annihilated by the Derg in 1982’s Red Star campaign. EPLF benefited from Tigrean fighters who engaged the Derg from Tembien to Adwa, from Debertabor to Guna, from Dessie to Merahbete. Eritrea suffers from the little man’s syndrome. For that reason, it built an army with over a million personnel over the last 3 decades.
      Even then it lost to TPLF led Ethiopian army at Badme. The fact that forces composed of 50 Eritrean divisions, the entire Ethiopian army, the Amara and other regional forces, Somalia forces couldn’t beat the will of the Tigray people and were kicked out from most of Tigray in less than 8 months despite support by Arab drones tells you all who helped who during the fight with the Derg. Comparing the children of Alula vs. the Italian subjects is a total ignorance. Shabians are with the inferiority complex here as shown by all the barbaric and evil crimes they committed in Tigray against innocent children, women and the elderly.

  • Just afterthought.: I am glad that someone has brought up this tragic, faulty and timely topic of Tigray exceptionalism and elaborated further beyond the wild explanations. I brought this same issue few weeks ago in my two cents in another article and the reason I brought was that I was unable to fathom any other explanation to my observation. Sadly I got irritated response from someone called himself Nimitai. If he is in quest for truth and willing to break up with the Woyane’s old lies, indoctrination bubbles , political abuse and find out the truth, I recommend for him to read this missive thoughly and intellectually without biased ethnic group mindset. Only and after only that we would be able to communicate with tha same wavelength wirh each other in terms of peace, war and futures of nation building..

  • Just afterthoughts.: I am glad that someone has brought up this tragic, faulty and timely topic of Tigray exceptionalism and elaborated further beyond wild explanations. I brought this same issue few weeks ago in my two cents in another article and the reason I brought was that I was unable to fathom any other explanation to the observation. Sadly I got irritated response from someone called himself Nimitai. If he is in quest for truth and willing to break up with the Woyane’s old lies, indoctrination bubbles , political abuse and find out the truth, I recommend for him to read this missive thoughly and intellectually without biased ethnic group mindset. Only and after only that we would be able to communicate to communicate with wavelength wirh each other on terms of peace, war and futures of nation building..


    Many thanks, to the author for this superbly written analysis. Yes, Tigrayan exceptionalism is a severe problem yet not searched well.

    During the reign of Tigrayans in power, my good friend, by profession ‘medical doctor specialized in psychiatric’ had to say this on the corrupt Tigrayan elites’ psych, refereeing them as “children who grew up in hateful and abusive behavior”.

    His examination on Tigrayan elites’ behavior as a psychiatrist detailed the following;-

    “…It is well-known event often; children who grow up in hateful and abusive behavior grow older and often repeat the same mistakes over and over again from generation to generation without breaking the cycle of evil and hatred; it moves from family to family. When it comes to the evils and hatred of the T-TPLF regime in Ethiopia today, the social crisis can be devastating and destructive.” Assefa Negash (MD)

    Tigray nationalism has been burning like a burning coal for more than a century. As we all know, for the past fifty-five years or so, it has been dominated by left-wing political slogans merged as a major destructive political force for the past forty-seven years.

    As the author superbly explained Tigrayan exceptionalism, I and other few of my friends were arguing that the “feeling of excepetionlaim” felt by Tigrayan is nothing but “fascism”. But, the question is how did today’s Tigrayans, who were intoxicated by extremist Tigray nationalism, come out of Ethiopianess regardless they were in power for the last 27 years controlled the wealth, exploiting and abusing Ethiopian citizen?

    What is Tigrawaynet? Tigrawaynet is what the author is detailed “Tigrayan exeptionalism”. Just listening the following video you will understand what it means Tigrayan exceptionalism.

    The following is a testament to the content of the song, which was composed and played by different Tigrayan artists touring across Europe who gathered in Amsterdam just few months back before the removal of TPLF from power. The TPLF song I am quoting below is a clear indication that the harshness of the so-called Tigrawaynet (Tigrayan exceptionalism) how completely blinded the entire Tigrayn mentality that most of them do not see the light as we do.

    The Tigreans, who see “TPLF/EPRDF” government as their own, have declared at the time a massacre after massacre of the Amhara and Oromo people in Ethiopia. The country was hosting riots after riots. When the country was in a bloody riots, Tigrayans dance sang and sang in all over Europe . One of their get together parties in Amsterdam was a good example of how Tigrayan exceptionalim was openly declared.

    The two popular Tigrayan artists (both in their young age) Mahlet and Tewelde their declaration of Tigrayan exceptionalism on stage echoed “You know our hand” “one Tigran can defeat 50 of you!!”

    Aryan descent, were expressing the same nationalism that the Tigrayans are showing today. It was this fascist ideology that ignited the fire that claimed the lives of fifty million Europeans and sparked World War II.

    German adventurers- Nietzsche and Rosenberg preached the necessity creation of what they call it “overman”. This future man is supposed to shape world history based on Nordic racial soul”. Similarly the Tigrayan elites dedicated their effort by throwing light on the past which is fascistic and pure demagogue who believe like the French Fascists “Tigray must became as strong as she had once been, must ‘remade’ into a state as organized at home, as powerful abroad, as she had been under the Axumite kingdom”. That is what Tigrayan Exceptionalism mean. I thank the author.

  • I was trying to find a logical connection b/n his both introduction and conclusions. What a shoking falacy he has made. He reported that TDF has commited humaniterian catastrophy, but silence about what has happen to them. Shame on you so called Ethiopian centered blinded phd candidate

  • Are u for real ? What is Ethiopia if its shrinks every few decades, as the saying goes ” Mehalu Dar eyehone ” Ponder on that friend

  • It is strange that a scholar with phD in international law ,working on human rights for international organization, expresses openly his one-sided view ,on Tigray war and tragedy ,contrary to the code of conduct of his organization .

    • Thank you for pointing that out. A humanitarian has no race, religion,gender, political or any other biases but serves humanity from a non partial standpoint??

      Paper is unbalanced and only points finger at one party. Makes no contribution or new insight into the messy war where suffering has only increased. Where is the humanitu?

  • Good Article. Worth the read.
    I think its hightime for introspection, and challenging the status quo in tigray.

    However, a question or two for the author..

    1)The article is peppered with phrases like
     ' Tigrayan elite '. So is the author precluding the general Tigrayan populace from the negative exceptionaliam he bemoans ? & wat constitute tigrayan elite..just TPLF brass or the millions who got education in z relative stability of the past 3 decades ? also, r not elites z products of their people ?

    2) Regarding Tigrayan elite responsibility to giving peace a chance, and engaging in earnest with the federal gov't, should not the same be reciprocated by the federa gov't ? The  Author's thesis of ' Tigrayan exceptionalism ' and its damages may be helpful  in future attempts to forge a better political roadmap in Tigray, however, wouldn't it be too extended a causality to show the dire humaniterian crisis in Tigray today ? Tigrayans today are perishing not b/c of their exceptionalism, but b/c they r put under a perfect seige. What is negotiation in this circumstances ? In fact its the perfect caliber for tigrayan elites claiming their famed ' weyen '.

    Again, good read.

  • There is a sense of history in Tigray, but there is absolutely no Tigray exceptionalism that can be seen as boisterous and belligerent. You have to look elsewhere for that. Spinning a false narrative about Tigray exceptionalism is a willful attempt to distort the truth about the war. Years of threats and unrelenting animosity, including road closures, culminating in the military encirclement of Tigray, that is how the war started. Many observers have characterized the war on Tigray as one of extreme cruelty and widespread atrocities. In that regard the author here, whose byline includes human rights credentials, may want to reflect on the “exceptionalism” of a different sort: cruelty and the capacity to hate revealed in the conflict.

  • And JUSTICE is when 2 people are at war both are wrong and both need to make compromises. Waiting to read Somewhere such an article born out of fairness and equity and TRUTHFULNESS rather than HATE….

  • No, this paper misrepresents the reality and over simplifies the problem. There is Ethiopia and Ethiopian exception. But there is no Tigrian or Tigray exceptionalism.

    Had the war targeted the politicians & the elites, this article would probably hold truth.
    The war targeted the everyday person; the farmer, the housewife, the children with killing and looting and raping. Did you forget this reality as the Author of this article?
    This aggression and violence against the CIVILIANS completely eliminated the elites and diplomats and politicians divide.

    This article is a complete manufacture of a HATE filled mind & heart and has no reason or thinking behind it with all due respect….

  • “The exceptionalism does not know any sort of compromise—something inherent in the general political culture of Ethiopia but particularly so among the Tigrayan elite. Persistence and stubbornness are viewed as coveted virtues, regardless of the net outcome.”
    True but sad.

  • Fair analysis and especially for calling self-absorbed Tigrayan elites and other upstart, ethnically charged politicians to come to their sense and give a fair shot to a genuine peace and spare the masses from unnecessary death and destruction for everyone involved in the conflict. As the familiar saying goes, war is very, very expense and it doesn’t need explanation to know what it means while peace proposition is free of charge . As for the false sense of glorious civilization,which is unique to Talaku Tigrai, nothing is further from the truth. First, civilizations, even thousands years before, are not isolated to a single people or region, let alone to a single content . There is always an interaction and influence be it trade, knowlege, spirituality, migration, intermarriage and so on. So the present day Tigriyans cannot exclusively claim to the Axum civilization as their own brainchild. Not more closer than those living within the same radius or those living to 100 Km from it or even more and as far Nubian desert and coasts of the Red sea and the Indian ocean. One even doubts whether presant day names of Tigray, Amhara,, Somali, etc. were in use the in lingua franca one millennium before.
    As far as the notion of Tigrain exceptionalism is concerned , which means not bound by the rules, equality, fairness ,ethics ,etc. It is misleading narrative that immerged and nurtured in the last 30 years or so of power excess , unearned prevelage, unaccountably. It is more like psychological coping mechanism and sense of entitlement posture against other groups or external observers . More likey than not ,it would dissipate sooner than later. Note that other groups are also not immune to it as Amhara groups have been in their heydays in the past while it is temping for Oromos in future . It is err of human nature inspired by ignorance, greed., accountability and unfettered brute power

  • Very good piece. I thank you! I think the same can also be said of Oromo and Amhara elites to a varying extent. I hope the suffering of our people and an earnest desire for peace will help us realize the futility of war. The only option is a federally constituted state that respects the right to life, liberty, and property of every ETHIOPIAN.

  • Quite interesting piece.
    Polite and well written. IMHO.

    However too polite, to my liking, the description of Tigrayan elites wherever they may be.

    Knowing a little about it (born there, escaped famine ~60 years ago, visited it repeatedly before 20 years ago, volontiered recently for village work for years, had opportunity to meet top elites there), the whole predicament of the poor people came to no surprise to me.
    Sadly, I saw it developing, approaching and unfolding to a predictable disaster. Like the famous novel of Garcia Marquez.

    A long story short: there is nothing these arrogant idiots (beteley denkoro muhuran tebiye, warmongers and propagandists), sorry elites, didn’t screw up with their stupid adventures, at least in the last decade after the death of ?? PM Meles Zenawi (Rip).
    #TPLF one-party dictatorship turned mafia organization with the elites as warlords after his departure, miscalculated and ruined almost everything.

    When facts matter, the unprecedented 2 decades of undeniable progress all over ?? (albeit insufficient), and its constitutional order that assured stability (but not democracy) was effectively disrupted due primarily to their stupid arrogance and ignorance.

    The miserable result of displacements, suffering, abuse, oppression, starvation, desperation etc.. is what they themselves now recognize, and use it for begging (as convenient).

    Though the narratives of phony glorious history ‘telek neberin – telek enehonalen’ is not unique to Tigray (Amhara and other wannabe elites not saints either), the dumbest level is reached when declaring ‘tarik yalleu vs tarik yellielleu’ stupidity.
    Strife, endemic poverty and misery has always been a common denominator in every part of ?? since time immemorial.
    Now as well, and as a proof.

    Evidently, boasting supremacy or exceptionalism of the poor can only be loughble, given actual sad circumstances too.
    Suffice to remember that the overwhelming majority here, including ‘mequanent’ walked barefooted, and used ‘kit metregia dingayi’ till few decades ago.
    Still practiced mostly in rural Tigray/Ethiopia (where clean water is not assured).

    Indeed the reality on the ground presents a grim, less politically correct situation.

    So, elites here (all of us) need only to reexamine ourselves, repent and work hard to remedy all our damn mistakes, and compensate the innocent people that deserved better.
    ‘Denkurinna’ rather exceptionalism led the impoverished people to unnecessary misery.

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