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The Umbilical Cord of Ethiopia is Buried in Tigray: Do not venture anywhere near the Navel String

IDEA Editorial                                                 November 6, 2020

Ghelawdewos Araia, PhD

When I first began drafting this essay, my heart was pounding in response to the outcome of the US 2020 elections, while at the same time I was saddened by the massacre of Ethiopians in Wellega, western Oromia; the bulk of Ethiopian social media outlets reported the incident as ‘Amhara genocide’ but I prefer to call the victims Ethiopians, and my use of the word ‘Ethiopian’ paradoxically is perhaps in a vain attempt to avoid a narrow ethnocentric portrayal of dignified Ethiopians. It is unfortunate that these days ethnic identity has become the dominant political language of Ethiopians as opposed to the overarching pan-Ethiopian identity, but twenty-five years ago I had already detected the dangers of ethnicity and tribal-like solidarity in my debut book, Ethiopia: The Political Economy of Transition, and this is what I said then:

The TGE’s [Transitional Government of Ethiopia] policy of Kilil and self-determination is commendable, but the consequence of fragmentation as a result of new wave of ethnic political consciousness, and the inability of some minority nationalities to become economically viable, would ultimately preoccupy Ethiopians to otherwise unforeseen problem.1

However, now it is because of ethnic politics or of ethnocentric new values that Ethiopia is in deep crisis; it is due to the incompatible interests of the centrifugal and centripetal forces, with their seemingly irreconcilable differences, that Ethiopia is in bad shape and in shambles. Nevertheless, despite these variations, Ethiopians did not wage ethnic conflicts against each other; but in the last two and half years, a significant number of Ethiopian nationalities and sub-national groups were violently attacked by “unknown” gunmen; the latter strange camouflaged terrorist forces have operated in the same manner almost everywhere – they attacked and massacred innocent people, destroyed their properties, and burned down Ethiopian Orthodox churches.

What is incredibly unconscionable, however, is the silence and ineptitude or unwillingness of the government to exhibit empathy toward the Ethiopian victims; in most instances, the disgruntled social media outlets and government spokespersons invariably attribute to all the violence, including failures in polices, drawback in government actions, protestations such as that of Wolita and Sidama before it, and even the recent massacre in Wellega, to the Woyane-led regional state of Tigray. In brief, all ills in Ethiopia are perpetrated by the TPLF, according to these blindfolded minuscule politicians. If one extraterrestrial being from outer space descends to Ethiopia by accident and encounters the melodramatic fabrications against the TPLF, s/he would assume or conclude that the so-called Woyane is endowed with some extraordinary talent or divine authority. I am not trying here to give a saintly image to the TPLF and absolve it from all mistakes it had committed when it had the upper hand in Ethiopian politics, but like all governments that assumed state power, it had its strengths and weaknesses; I strongly believe that governments should be judged by what they contribute to their respective societies and criticized for either violating the fundamental rights of citizens or fail to provide justice, good governance, as well as goods and services.    

However, are Abiy and his entourage interested in scapegoating the TPLF or are engaged in a hidden agenda or a mission to accomplish; a mission to destroy the Woyane regime, because at one point, when it was in control of the central government as EPRDF, it gravitated toward China while it maintained good relations with the United States. The foreign affairs that the EPRDF implemented in having relations with China and other nations is a sovereign right of Ethiopia, although the West in general and the neo-liberal agents view it as an offense, and as a result were behind the instigations and uprisings against the seating government between 2016 and 2018. During this period and beyond, when Abiy assumed power, Tigrayans residing in all Ethiopia were singularly attacked, murdered, and their properties burned down, especially in the Oromia and Amhara regions. Then, neither the regional states nor the Abiy-led government said a word in sympathy with the Tigrayan victims, and left without protection and security, the Tegaru began to migrate back to Tigray and close to 100,000 found themselves in their original homestead.

The roads to Tigray were closed by local militias and the government did not utter a word in resolving the problem, let alone order the reopening of the highways and ending the blockage, and its silence makes it part of the problem, if one employs a simple logic. On the contrary, it seemed that the government had plans not only to encircle Tigray by collaborating with the Isaias-led Eritrean government, but also to initiate an all-out war against Tigray; now, the inevitable war against Tigray has been declared on November 4, 2020.

Is the war against Tigray an isolated Abiy-Isaias operation or there are also other regional actors involved? It is highly probable that Egypt and Sudan are directly involved in the war against Tigray, because, in one form or another, the governments of these two nations were reassured by the Abiy regime that their interests will be met and translated into action; such actions as delaying the filling of the GERD by fifteen years. In order to realize the grand plan signed and agreed upon by the actors in a secret covenant, they have recently been conducting shuttle diplomacy between Cairo, Khartoum, and Addis Ababa, while at the same time they have deployed their military personnel by the Ethiopian border. Incidentally, Sudan cooperated by closing its borders where Tigray is contiguous with eastern Sudan districts.

Therefore, the war against Tigray is not only between the federal regime and the TPLF, but also between the joint external forces and the Ethiopian government against the people of Tigray. In the annals of Ethiopian history, this is going to be the first of its kind whereby the central government of Ethiopia attacks its own people by joining hands with external enemies.

The current leaders of Ethiopia, most whom are now members of the Abiy Prosperity Party (PP) and most of whom enjoyed power and wealth by working hand-in-glove with the TPLF, have now violated the umbilical cord of Ethiopia and desecrated the navel string, and whoever violates the sacredness of the Ethiopian umbilical cord, a metaphor for Tigray but also historically valid, will inevitably be cursed and pay a huge price. In due course of the conflict, however, innocent people could pay a heavy toll, and in the end, there won’t be winners in this war.

If possible, for the sake of historic Ethiopia as well as peace and stability in the Horn of Africa region, both the Abiy-led government and the government of the regional state of Tigray should offer a truce, deescalate the war and sit on a round table to resolve the conflict.

The Institute of Development and Education for Africa (IDEA) is interested in the realization of peace and stability in Ethiopia and the security and prosperity of its people. Some international observers, including the United State Institute of Peace are proposing the peaceful settlement of the conflict:

“However severe the events of the last 48 hours and the preceding violence in multiple parts of the country may be, a wider war is not inevitable, nor is it too late to prevent one if Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy and Ethiopia’s federal states exercise responsible leadership. To do so, they must take immediate, visible steps to defuse the crisis and signal to the Ethiopian public a commitment to de-escalation. These steps should include a cessation of military operations and the launch of an inclusive political dialogue that is credible to the Ethiopian people and lays the groundwork for free and fair elections. Neither will be possible while many of the country’s most prominent political leaders remain in prison.”2

Once peace is reinstalled and regained, the Ethiopian umbilical cord and the birth string that have been buried for almost five millennia will rest in peace again, and it is for this reason that IDEA is requesting a peaceful resolution to the conflict and ultimately a national reconciliation and dialogue that includes the TPLF, the Abiy government, the opposition political parties, civic organizations, and faith-based institutions.


1.   Ghelawdewos Araia, Ethiopia: The Political Economy of Transition, University Press of America, 1995, p. 168

2.   United States Institute of Peace, “Statement on Ethiopia by Senior Study Group on Peace and Security in the Red Sea Arena,” Thursday, November 5, 2020