I am not sure who the president of Sudan was then, but I think it was Ismaiel AlAzhari when a propaganda war followed the 1967 Arab-Israel war. Soon a joke circulated quoting claiming the Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan, said, ‘we can occupy Sudan while the people are eating their breakfast.’
The Sudanese are known for their unique mid-morning meal, Fetur, when they walk out of their workplaces for the meal. I am not sure if the Sudanese army marched to AlFashaga during Fetur time to retake their problematic territories from Ethiopia whose army stayed calm, unlike the enraged militias. The war against Tigrai was raging.
Abiy’s government has made many excuses to justify its attack on Tigrai. Some excuses were laughable if not sad, others were plain foolish. But with the die cast, Abiy and his ally Isaias Afwerki were determined to finish off the TPLF and they started the war.
Ethiopia had changed its currency and they delegated a banker to deliver the new bills and collect the old from Tigrai—he said the airplane loaded with the currency had just landed at Mekelle airport when shooting started. If that was the start of the war, how was he to deliver the currency?
But there was another excuse for starting the war. Abiy claimed the TPLF forces attacked the Northern command (stationed in Tigrai) while they were asleep and naked–“raqotachewn eyyallu, tegnitew eyyallu….” I think that is an insult to any self-respecting commander; it’s unsoldierly to be caught sleeping– no advance guards and no precautions in a tense situation. But Abiy had more to say. He said he flew to Eritrea with some generals to regroup his troops that fled to Eritrea and prepare for a counterattack. He compensated the shame by giving wild animal prefixes to his generals: the Lion General so-and-so, the Tiger General so-and-so, etc.
Abiy adamantly denied the involvement of the Eritrean army in the war in Tigrai. He even convinced UN Secretary General Guterres to believe him. But somehow truth overcomes lies and finally Abiy’s generals confirmed the involvement of the Eritrean army. Even the helpless Abiy-appointed mayor of Mekelle sheepishly complained about the presence of Eritrean forces and appealed to Abiy’s government to remove them. Even Berhanu Negga’s party, EZEMA, politely complained about the presence of a foreign army in sovereign Ethiopian territories.
Meanwhile, a commander of the Amhara regional militia openly said his region can afford to lose six-million people in a war to eradicate the six-million Tigraians—he believes sacrificing 12 million lives can guarantee his hegemonic ambitions. With that kind of bloody people carrying deadly arms, why would a genocide be surprising?
Now the involvement of Eritrean army is beyond the pale, it was and is an integral part of Abiy’s war on Tigrai. The long-term result? The centuries-old foolish plant of grudge between Ethiopians and Eritreans is now nourished by the two dictators and will continue to grow for a long time.
Northern Command Caught sleeping Naked
Ethiopian elite, particularly the social media pro-Aby hacks, have been repeating that lame excuse as if it’s noble for a soldier to be caught off-guard, as if seeking sympathy for their troops. I do not know of a large army caught sleeping, flees without its clothes, and is respected for that. I am sure the Ethiopian army does not like that shameful excuse concocted by the elite who lack basic common sense. Worse, prime minister Abiy repeated that. Colonel Abiy whose fashion statement is appearing in camouflaged attires. Even the veterans of the struggle area, not a conventional army didn’t go into deep sleep let alone naked. They used to cling to their guns like a breastfeeding mother who would keep her baby in her bosom. They slept with one eye open. They had one pair of tattered clothes that didn’t leave their back except when they washed it, occasionally, when they found ample water. It was their day cloth, pajamas, weekend cloth… and many times they go to their graves in it.
But the lies! The same Colonel Abiy who convinced Guterres that Eritrean troops were not involved also said no civilian casualties in the war fought by militia, infantry, air force and drone attacks because “we are very careful.” Of course, he had a situation room where he followed the “advanced technological war.” A situation room styled like Obama’s. To Abiy, all is about showmanship, fit for the social media propaganda. He circulated a picture—a copy of Obama and Hillary Clinton while they watched live images as the marines killed Osama Bin-Laden. Even the posing and the sitting arrangement is a copy of that iconic image.
However, time proved Abiy’s technological toys were not as efficient and as effective as an old police dog. Toys do not differentiate between civilians and others like a police dog. Simply because one wages a war siting in a room full of television monitors, it doesn’t make a war clean. But why couldn’t the elite see what was really happening? The result was clear for those who were not sound asleep like the Northern Command troops starting 2018.
The high risk and reckless confrontation is going on; many people killed, arrested, displaced, and an unimaginable, horrendous acts are being committed–including on Eritrean refugees who escaped oppression in their country and sought protection in Tigrai.
It’s surprising to see Haile Selassie’s recycled tactics of arresting civilians executed by Abiy’s generals who think it is a novel idea: so-and-so, an official of the “Junta” arrested together with his wife, son, maid, neighbor, his driver; now they are searching for the grocer who sold him tomatoes. Naturally, in a region where the degree of separation is low, many were victimized and were destined to go to jail.
Bring your children and spy for the army that invaded you we have seen that—let’s move there
Abiy found the Haile Selassie regime manual on how to recruit the people to spy against their own. Not everyone accepts that role, but every society has people who don’t know anything except to spy.
The Haile Selassie regime used to round up fathers of those who were in the Eritrean Liberation Front and tell them: we are concerned about the life of your children; we don’t want them to be killed. We are giving you one month to go and bring them back and “Moa Anbessa Z’amneged Yehuda, Grmawi Qedamawi Atzie Haile Sellasie First Nguse-negest Z’Etiopia”1 will pardon them. A month went by and the official language changed: ‘if you do not bring your children back in two weeks, you will be considered collaborators of the bandits and there will be consequence. Go and bring them back.’
And the parents complain: ‘Dear Colonel, they have guns, and you have guns; How can we the poor parents bring them back? They are armed men!’ And the enraged colonel snaps and tells the man to shut up and go away. He will then rush out of the room.
One early morning after the two-week time elapsed, Landrovers and Jeeps spread around the town and rounded up all the parents with children in the struggle. They hauled old and sick parents, some carried in their beds and threw them in jail where their health deteriorated they died. Others were released from prison never to recover from the harsh situation. They lived a miserable, sick life and waited to die. A few chose to leave the town to avoid humiliations; they lived and died in refugee camps, in exile.
One of Abiy’s generals recently read the manual to the people of Mekelle: spy on the leaders you elected–a talk with a subliminal threat. He urged them to cooperate with the security forces (meaning spy on your own). It is funny because many of us have seen all of that played decades ago. We saw it fail miserably. It didn’t end the rebellion then, and it will not end it now.
We Couldn’t protect our sovereignty, foreigners just bumped in
It seems that one morning the bored Eritrean General “Wedi-Fisto” ordered his troops to just march into Tigray. The embarrassments on the face of most Ethiopians, particularly the real soldiers were visible—any soldier would feel that way. They are all hoping for the Abiy government to ask the Eritreans forces to leave. But Abiy has invited the Eritrean army to Tigrai; the war is a joint Abiy-Isaias undertaking. They both showed their intentions and plans in so-many ways, but unfortunately, there were very few keen observers–the war pans were cooking on a slow fire since the summer of 2018. Didn’t Isaias declare “anyone who thinks Ethiopia [excluding Tigrai] and Eritrea are two countries must be living in another planet”? But those who read the writing on the wall were not able to do anything beyond whining.
Certainly, the Eritrean army is not on a touristic tour or a pilgrimage to the Negashi shrine or the Debre-Damo monastery. Isaias openly gave the authority to Abiy in 2018 when he told him, “you lead, and we will follow you.” Since Isaias is a dictator, he cannot give Abiy any other position but the dictator title he holds. With that, Abiy became the dictator general while Isaias became the deputy dictator general. And that is why the PFDJ regime hosted, fed, and clothed the fleeing Ethiopian troops of the Northern Command. Abiy and his generals should stop giving common Eritreans the credit—if the Eritrean people were not in an unenviable position, they wouldn’t allow a single armed soldier into their country, let alone an army. So, Eritreans have nothing to do with the hosting, therefore, they do not accept unearned credit. The credit belongs to the deputy dictator general and his clique.
Hide and Seek
Abiy is hiding like Isaias. He could be busy in his situation room monitoring the developments in AlFashaga where there is a serious and unpredictable confrontation with Sudan. He could be watching the unrest in the regions of BenShengul, Wellegga, Oromia, and almost in every spot in Ethiopia. Isaias has not addressed the public like a leader for a while– even the promised New Year interview he promised is one-month late. Maybe it was intended to be a cliffhanger though the naïve are eagerly waiting to see the leopard change his skin and announce tangible promising policies—they do not care about change because the word is removed from their vocabulary.
The last time Isaias had a public meeting in Adi Keih, almost a decade ago, the late sheikh Siraj threw at him an astounding honey-laced criticism. Isaias and his entourage laughed like idiots. The elderly man had said, “we were afraid you will be in harms way driving here because our roads are poorly maintained.” That was an exceptionally intelligent traditional oratory skill.
Isaias rarely made public meetings after that except in Sawa.
So, Abiy passed the parent-threatening manual that he found in Haile Selassie’s palace complex to his generals in Tigrai. Now he is revising the second manual about Motivational Speeches. He is probably preparing a new series of sermons to preach in 2021. Or, maybe he is busy watching people dying under his watch in every corner of Ethiopia… in his situation room monitors.
But now the region must live with the uncontrollable bloodletting unleashed everywhere. It’s a destructive war (to serve the ambitions of two power-hungry men) the aftermath of which is rape, wanton violation of human rights, and destruction, looting or torching properties. What is needed now is not the pursuit of ugly wars, but a courageous endeavor to resolve the problems politically. I wish anyone who aspires for fame considered achieving it through peace—only peace can preserve an honorable fame for posterity.
- The official name and title of King Haile Selassie