Excerpts From Awate Discussion Forum

As editors, we frequently find comments that we believe could be brilliant articles if expanded. And we wonder: if the brilliant members of the Awate Discussion Forum could articulate their ideas in such a manner, as comments, what would they produce if they spent some time to present their ideas in an article format!

Today we bring you highlights of a debate that is raging at the Awate Discussion Forum because we thought our wider readership would benefit from them. We pulled the highlights from the comments under an article written By Beyan Negash: Myth, Politics, History, Religion, and Eritrean State. Please note that we have slightly edited some of the comments for flow and brevity.

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Ismail AA wrote,

When politics lose direction and mix up with sentiments they give you a mish-mash of the two. It’s like trying to separate mechanically a mixture of flour and fine soil. Consider this: had Meles and his then powerful organization with and equally powerful EPLF behind him declared a Tigrai republic and left the rest of Ethiopia to sort out its fate, what would have been the situation now? Irrespective of other things, would not history give Meles Zenawi credit for keeping the country together?”

Ismail added,

My understanding of Ethiopia and its history was an empire run on relationships of kingship-subject and not ruler-citizenship. The coherence and strength of emperors at the center were crucial imperatives to sustain their rule; otherwise, any weakness entailed rebellion at the peripheries. That was why we read in Ethiopia history intermittent interregnums.

At least from the decline and fall of the Zagwe’s at Lalibela led to the shrinking of the “togetherness” of the parts. Then you have the so-called restoration in 1270, and territorial expanse changing from one emperor to another depending on the state of power and control up to the centralization at Gonder. The collapse of Gonder brought the ruinous Zemene Mesafint until an ambitious warlord emerged from Quara and restored some sort of chaotic centralization.

One could go on citing examples along the country’s historical narrative. Thus, if one is aware of such background, don’t you think the risk of another destructive interregnum was real in 1991 which the EPRDF under Meles Zenawi had avoided?

Horizon added,

In 1991 the region of Tigray has just come out of a devastating civil war in which catastrophic wars were fought, two biblical famines of the 1970s and 19880s had occurred, and a mountainous arid land that produces very little was the trophy for TPLF at the end. cessation could have been a suicide, which TPLF silently avoided in 1991

Yes, Ethiopia could have immersed in a civil war, not for any other reason…

We have heard of wars of independence and secession, especially in Africa and Europe, but usually, it is/was about regions that are resource-rich and developed and not regions that are/were in utter poverty like the rest, as in our case.

Would Tigray have done any different today if she takes the way of independence? Nope! For good or bad, and for better or worse, Ethiopians are stuck together. Therefore, it is better that Ethiopians cut their narcissism in their poverty.

Paulos added,

One of the issues that you hear people talk about is that, what could’ve happened if TPLF went its way by breaking Tigray from Ethiopia-proper. Surprisingly, the hypothetical seems to bring people back to their senses as they cannot bear the scenario and tacitly they give credit to the man for opting otherwise.

He added,

Lidetu Ayalew, to his credit, said something about TPLF when the Opposition remained clueless about the political reality in Ethiopia. He said the Opposition do not have an inkling about the nature of TPLF for it is the first step to be taken if one is to engage in the dynamics.

Thing is, [some people] portray TPLF as a separate entity when the Front is part and parcel of the Tigrean people. In fact, if the Tigrean people remained suspicious of any Front including EDU and EPRP, it was a stellar success for TPLF to have the Tigrean people convinced about the very spirit of the Front.

Consider this: If Tigreans have cultural commonality with Eritrean Kebessa including language in comparison with the rest of Ethiopia, why did they not only claim to be Ethiopians but shouldered the brunt of defending Ethiopia since time immemorial? Simply because, not only they are Ethiopians through and through, but they bled and died for the nation so that Ethiopia one day would be hailed as the “New China of Africa.”

Hawzien is not only laughable but a classic scenario where a person of your caliber compromises his intellectual integrity. Not sure where you were when the Front had to help the people get to Sudan in rather dire circumstances when famine from above and a military junta here on Earth was determined to finish them off. And do you know what the Tigrean people said at that time?

Ismail rejoined, 

People with broader knowledge of Ethiopia’s diversity within the context of its complex imperial history do appreciate the imperatives needed to keep the country together. I remember we had exchanges with friends like Amde about the fluidity of the situation right after the collapse of the Derg regime, especially when the army disintegrated, and soldiers vanished into their respective ethnic enclaves. Consider what continuation of that void of authority at the center could have delivered.

Then Abi added a comment that Paulos and other Eritreans found abrasive,
There is nothing that comes before unity when it comes to Ethiopians. Why do you think is putting TPLF agaEthiopians?ans ? “United Ethiopia” is what people telling the thugs. They don’t seem to get it, unfortunately. PMAA is bringing unity back to the front burner. That is why you see TPLF operators working overtime to discredit the PM .

For a change try to see it from our side just as I grudgingly accepted your struggle for the independence of mountains and seas and camels…Hopefully, soon, will include people in the list.

And finally, here is Amde’s comment:

[This is a response regarding the hypothesis, and it is] basically that the late Ethiopian Prime Minister, Melles did a historic service by choosing to keep Tigray within Ethiopia and thus maintain the country’s unity. I think if this was an easy and viable option they would have done it, and I am convinced for a not-insignificant faction of the TPLF this has always been the preferred option. But it was impossible then as now. Independent Tigray would be too small and too weak. Tigray+Eritrea is a formula that looks nice on paper but dead on the ground as seen by the challenges of today’s movements [aspiring to realize that]..

The country is so populous, large and diverse, center-periphery struggles are a natural feature of the system (to paraphrase Saay, I don’t think of this center-vs-periphery tension as a bug, but as a feature). “Center” was defined as basically whoever excelled at the art of the use of military force and intrigue to be the most powerful.

But I think there is a qualitatively different political meaning to “the center” the since late 1800s and any period before. Basically, before the advent of the idea of government as an agent of modernization, a Neguse Negest [Kings of Kings] (the political expression of the united entity) was really interested in taxing his subjects and maintaining hegemonic position over the other princes. And that was really it. As late as the 1980s my own grandmother was astonished at the idea that government was responsible for the welfare of its citizens since she grew up and lived with the notion of that rulers were elected by God and subjects’ duty was to obey, pay taxes and otherwise fend for themselves–It is funny how such conversations gain more weight over time.

The thing with modernization era is, whoever becomes the “center” takes over the modernizing mantle.

That brings with it many goodies that make the center qualitatively much, much, more powerful than the periphery. Remember, for the most part, the historically contending units saw themselves as, more or less, equivalent in competing with each other in what mattered – political/dynastic alliances, peasants that can be dragged into war, weapons that can be bought. Who lost and who won was determined by the outcome of single battles or series of skirmishes. But by the time of Menelik’s, Shewa had access to what was available to sovereign powers. The battle of Segelle had an Air-Force for the Shewan side for example. That was just one of many benefits the center started to have that its competitors simply could not (issuing one’s own money, getting international loans/grants, centralized communication etc…). So inevitably the center got stronger throughout the past century.

So TPLF (Tigray Peoples’ liberation Front) wins and enters Addis Ababa. If let’s say it decided to split from Ethiopia, it would be walking away from the tax revenue and other economic opportunities the center offers. Even if it decides to take whatever can be taken, that still leaves future cash flow for somebody else to benefit from. It makes sense then for it to stay and maximize its benefit from it. And once it decided to do that, it logically follows it will permit no competition internationally (leading to the currency spats leading to the Badme war), and domestically (virtual monopolies under state and party businesses).

When you look at the economics of a modernizing center, it is overwhelmingly compelling to sustain and profit from it rather than destroy it and walk away from it. A long time ago an old official who worked in the Emperor’s government told me in his opinion all the units that want to secede cannot easily do so because they cannot afford it. I understand him better now. Literally, Ethiopia is worth a lot more than the sum of its constituent units.


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