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Brief Retort to Hailemariam Desalegn’s Unwarranted and Misguided Moral Equivalence

Ghelawdewos Araia, PhD                                                      November 25 2020

I was caught off guard when I read Hailemariam Desalegn’s piece on Foreign Policy (FP November 24, 2020) entitled “Ethiopia’s Government and the TPLF Leadership are not Morally Equivalent”, and the reason for my unwary reaction to his writing is because I had the impression that the former Prime Minister was a decent human being with integrity and I never expected him to come up with such contradictory, misguided, and unwarranted argument by way of supporting the Abiy war on Tigray; apparently, in his opinion, the government is waging war in order to enforce security measures.

Mr. Hailemariam is entitled to his opinion, but with his present argument in favor of Abiy and against the TPLF, it looks that he suddenly shed his deceptive appearance and came out with his true nature that is embedded in hypocrisy and war mongering rhetoric. If he were a true Ethiopian concerned with the necessity of peace and progress of Ethiopia and the welfare of the Ethiopian people, he would have advocated on behalf of brokering peace between the fighting forces (the TPLF, OLF etc.) and the government, as well as demanding the paramount importance of national reconciliation and dialogue, which by the way he insinuates it is a cliché because many are talking about dialogue these days.

The former prime minister, again, is entitled to his opinion, but by siding with the war mongering clique, he will be judged by history, and Ethiopians will view and evaluate him as a person with no principle but double-standard vested interest at the expense of the security and well-being of the Ethiopian people. Hailemariam criticism of the TPLF is okay with because I myself used to criticize the party while at the same time giving it credit for its contributions in development. But what Hailemariam does is simply fomenting the “ugly picture” of the TPLF, that he would never dare do it during his stay in power between 2012 and 2018, and this by extension means he is a coward and an opportunist.

So that readers can fathom the essence of Hailemariam’s FP Argument, I hereby quote what he said: “I confess, a TPLF-dominated coalition ruled Ethiopia shrewdly for 27 years. After being forced to give up the reign of power due to popular protests against our economic and political mismanagement – which I was a part of – the TPLF leadership designed and is now executing a strategy meant to capitalize on the propensity of the international community to fall into its default mode of bothsidesism and calls for a negotiated settlement.”

Thumbs up for Hailemariam for at least admitting that he was part of the economic and political mismanagement; at least he is accepting responsibility in this regard. But, any sensible person may query his positions and stances during his premiership. Was he simply a ceremonial figure with no powers to decide in the routine daily political affairs between 2012 and 2018? Was he operating at the behest of the TPLF like a stooge and a robot without uttering a word in the decision-making process? Despite the dominance of the TPLF in the EPRDF coalition, the other three parties of the coalition had autonomy and some leeway in running their own affairs. So, why is Hailemariam suggesting that he was a figurehead with no powers whatsoever? In order to be fair to Hailemariam, lets even assume that he was utterly supervised by TPLF politicians and cadres at the top echelon of the Government, but I still would argue that he had a chance to ask questions, verify the validity of a policy, and also a moment in which he could say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ unless he was completely muzzled, which I very much doubt.

At any rate, Hailemariam could be part of the many grand coalition orbiting around Abiy and against the TPLF; many former officials like Dina Mufti, Redwan Mahdi, Demeke Mekonnen, Mestefe of Somali Regional State, and the now hiding behind IGAD, Worku Gebeyehu are also part of war drumming team against Tigray, and no one would expect these petty opportunist politicians to come to the fore and argue on behalf of peace and dialogue and no would expect these dwarfed elements to exhibit the magnanimity of Kassu Elala and Genet Zewde.

However, Hailemariam missed a golden opportunity as a former prime minister to come up with a proposal that could bring peace to Ethiopia. He is probably disillusioned by the massive disinformation in regards to “the TPLF attacking the Ethiopian Defense Forces in Tigray”, a new rallying cry that hoodwinked Ethiopians and a justification for the declaration of war on Tigray on November 4, 2020. What Hailemariam was unable to see, however, is the declaration of war on Tigray was also declared on the Oromo in Wellega, and the Wolaita (Hailemariam is a Wolaita himself) when they simply requested self-determination and an autonomous entity and were attacked and at least 35 of them were killed. By the same token, the Afar and Somali people who were not ready to endorse Abiy Ahmed’s Prosperity Party were attacked and subdued by “unknown gunmen”; there is also the case of Benishangul in which constant ethnic skirmishes are conducted. Therefore, although the war on Tigray has now completely distracted Ethiopians and world observers, Ethiopia as a whole is embroiled in violent conflicts, that Mr. Hailemariam is unable or unwilling to see.

One final point that needs deep explanation and that Hailemariam neglected to address is the war on Tigray is not a war of the people of Tigray against other Ethiopian people, or even as Hailemariam wrongly stated, ‘the war between the TPLF and Ethiopia’; the TPLF never had a fight against Ethiopia, but it did wage a huge fight of seventeen years against the murderous regime of Mengistu Hailemariam (exiled in Zimbabwe since 1991 and with whom Hailemariam Desalegn had a photo up during his visit to Zimbabwe) and now against the Abiy-led government. Additionally, the General Bacha type of vainglorious lies of liberated land in Tigray from the TPLF and that the objective of EDF operation in Tigray is “to liberate the people of Tigray and secure Ethiopian independence” is full of contradiction and/or false equivalence, because a truly concerned government would not bombard civilian areas if indeed it is interested in liberating the people; a concerned government would conduct surgical operations without attacking the people, but what we have witnessed so far is the aerial bombardment of St. George church, Mekelle University, and some civilian areas including farm areas, and the bombardment of Adigrat by Eritrean artillery. No government would say “I will bombard the cities and stay away from the cities” an incredible and self-incriminating expression of Abiy Ahmed.

Hailemariam may also suffer from state of denial and corroborate the idea that Isaias and the Eritrean government are not involved; I am not saying that Hailemariam said this, but so that it impinges unto his consciousness, Eritreans are fully involved in the war against Tigray; they have come mostly from the northern front but they were also part of the invading and occupation forces on the southern frontier of Alamata. A significant number of Eritrean soldiers including top commanders have been captured during the war; they are now prisoners of war of Tigray. But I would not be surprised if Hailemariam denies the involvement of Eritrea in the war against Tigray because Ethiopians have seen him flying to Asmara along with Abiy and others in the first flight to Asmara, apparently to make peace with Eritrea, now it can be safely assumed that the trip was “to normalize relations with Eritrea”, but in the final analysis, the objective was to encircle and wage war against Tigray, as they are doing it now. If Hailemariam denies this hard fact, he is probably fooling himself, and my advice to him is that he must seriously consider his erroneous political positions so that he would not regret it when a popular unrest dislodges the current regime.

By way of concluding, I like to share some lessons from history that some Ethiopians are aware of and some are not, and it has to do with coalition formation during war, especially when confronted by a common enemy. What is happening in Ethiopia now is unheard of phenomenon in history; no government or country had ever allied itself with a foreign power against its own people, which is the case of the Abiy-Isaias coalition against Tigray. Contrary to this bizarre behavior of the current regime of Ethiopia, the astute leaders of China, during their revolutionary war, sometime in 1937 had formed a common front against the invading forces of Japan. The Mao-led Peoples Liberation Army joined the nationalist Kuomintang forces when Japan took over the Chinese province of Manchuria. The Peoples Liberation Army was fighting the Kuomintang government for years, but when a common enemy Japan threatened the sovereignty of China, they joined hands and eventually defeated the external foe. The current Ethiopian war is the exact opposite of the Chinese experience and treasonous to Ethiopians in general and the people of Tigray in particular.