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Twisting Facts for “Humanitarian Intervention”

By Abraham Tesfay

Profile Guest Column:

The spate of alarmist articles published last week in major western newspapers – and attendant pronouncements by prominent political figures in the US and Europe – on the war in Ethiopia, cannot but provoke profound questions of timing, motive, intent, and ultimate objective.

Among others, the New York Times; Washington-based Center for Strategic Studies (CSIS) and Project Syndicate; UK-based The New Arab; and, Brussels-based EPPA, have churned out “news reports and analysis” harping on similar, monotonous, arguments to drive the point home.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International duly chipped in with their trademark reports of “phone interviews with actual victims’’ on alleged “horrendous atrocities by Amhara Forces in Western Tigray”.

And to cap it all, EU Member States and their allies tabled a motion, sponsored by Slovenia, for a Special Session of the UNHRC on Ethiopia.  The intrusive Resolution was adopted last Friday with a slim majority in spite of resounding opposition from Africa.  This has prompted some astute African observers to ponder whether the whole farcical scheme constituted a second enactment, albeit in a microcosm format, of modern-day “Berlin Conference on the Scramble of Africa”,

The “harrowing” narratives portrayed in these defamatory press and political campaigns can be paraphrased and distilled into the following: “displacement of millions of people and prevalence of mass starvation and famine-like conditions in the Tigray region precipitated and exacerbated by deliberate government blockade; mass rape and ethnic cleansing as instruments of policy; and, arbitrary killings and detentions on the basis of ethnicity”.  (For the purveyors of these smear campaign, a pejorative reference and indictment of Eritrea is a staple diet, a routine and “mandatory appendage’’, in their news reporting).

In a nutshell, the scripts revolve around trumped-up accusations on “flagrant violations of human rights and humanitarian law which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity’’.

The bleak picture is willfully sensationalized with excessive hyperbole and buttressed with dubious “testimonies of victims” without proper modalities and mechanisms of validation.  The “potential implosion and fragmentation of Ethiopia”, with its “grave consequences to regional peace and stability” is further invoked for good measure and to impart the urgency and imperative for “external intervention’’.

The “End Game” of these frantic maneuverings appears to go beyond imposition and ramping up of illicit and unilateral coercive measures against the Eritrean and Ethiopian Governments.  Some of the notorious hawks in these circles are stealthily pushing for more robust “humanitarian intervention”.  And, keenly aware as they are of the illegality of these measures, the plot revolves around cultivating consensus among, and US corralling of,  “G7 support’’.

Another, quite new, dimension in the concerted defamation campaign is a wholesale effort to create a new false narrative on the origins of the conflict in Northern Ethiopia.

In the past, the devious strategy of the Consortium of powers bent, from the outset, on the political-cum-military rehabilitation of the TPLF in one form or another, was centered on downplaying its original cardinal sin.  To that effect, the event was coached in neutral terms such as “… the conflict erupted on November 3”; or its mellowed variant of:  “Ethiopia’s PM sent troops to subdue the TPLF after a minor attack/skirmish in one military base”.

Awkward and disingenuous as this narrative was, it is being discarded and supplanted now with a preposterous and outright lie:  “that the war was long-planned and first launched by the Ethiopian Government with the encouragement and collusion of Eritrea”.  The new appalling refrain now is that the conflict that the TPLF unleashed “was in fact a war of choice” for those on the receiving end.

Truth turned on its head; high time for a reality check!

  1. The year-long vicious war in northern Ethiopia was triggered solely and only because the TPLF launched massive, premeditated, and coordinated military assaults on all the contingents of Ethiopia’s Northern Command on the night of 3 November last year. The TPLF deployed 250,000 Militia’s and Special Forces that it had trained throughout the years for the operation that its commanders dubbed as a ‘blitzkrieg”.
  2. The TPLF’s objectives in launching the reckless War of Insurrection were to totally neutralize the Northern Command, capture all its heavy weaponry (which constituted about 80% of the EDF’s total ordinance), and topple the Federal Government. Part of the plan was subsequent invasion of Eritrea.
  3. This information was in the public domain from the outset, particularly as senior TPLF commanders were bragging, in the early days of the conflict, on “the inevitable outcome” of their War of Insurrection on local TV and through their external media outlets. TPLF leaders assumed that their war plan would end with swift success as they had also infiltrated and co-opted, along with devious ethnic loyalties, almost a third of the rank-and-file as well as senior officers within the 32,000 strong Contingent.  It must be recalled here that even if the assault was foiled in the subsequent days, the TPL’s act of treason and insurrection had exacted the lives of more than 3,000  Ethiopian soldiers in that brief period alone.
  4. In the event, to downplay and virtually condone TPLF’s cardinal crimes of treason and insurrection, and in these strange times, revise yesterday’s history to fabricate an utterly false narrative is despicable and inexcusable. This is of course done willfully.  The fact is, TPLF’s Enablers know full-well the ramifications of its War of Insurrection in terms of established norms and provisions of domestic and international law.  They are keenly aware that their advocacy for, and sinister agenda of, political and military rehabilitation of the TPLF is vacuous; incompatible as it is with normative State practices and legality.   They know that this is the Achilles Heel in their toolbox and that it will remain a thorny issue unless it is somehow discarded and eclipsed. Hence, if a white lie can do the job, why not give it a shot!
  5. The lopsided political stance of TPLF’s Enablers (essentially the US and the EU) has further distorted the discourse as well as effective and meaningful remedies to avert and mitigate the humanitarian consequences of the war.  And, instead of genuinely promoting an end to the war on the basis of legality and enduring regional peace, the ill-advised approach that these powers have and continue to pursue revolves on insidious demonization and scapegoating of the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments to advance their preferred political agendas. Indeed, the tempo of their efforts have ebbed and flowed in negative correlation to TPLF’s “military successes”.
  6. TPLF’s extensive and forcible recruitment of child soldiers that it has callously used as cannon-fodder in its military rampages in the Afar and Wollo regions; its requisition of more than 1,100 UN trucks for troop movements; and, the atrocities that it has committed, were rarely reported in mainstream media outlets that had no qualms to recycle, almost daily, any and all allegations against other protagonists without minimal efforts of ascertaining their veracity. TPLF’s launching of its War of Insurrection during a critical harvest time in November last year; its expansion of the war in June this year – again during the main rainy season – were not examined in light of their adverse consequences for food production in Tigray; especially in view of the fact that over 1.6 million poor farming families had remained dependent on food aid for over 12 years now.
  7. Insinuations of “ethnic cleansing”, floated by certain quarters from time to time, are ludicrous and belie a scant knowledge of contemporary political dynamics in Ethiopia. Institutionalized ethnicity has been, and remains, the hallmark of the TPLF; its ignominious trademark and legacy in Ethiopian politics since its advent to power in 1991.  The TPLF brandished this policy instrument to stoke permanent tension and ethnic polarization and thereby perpetuate its monopoly of power.  Its demise by popular and nationwide protests in 2018 represented a backlash and clear rejection of this odious policy.  In the event, to portray the main villain and paragon of ethnicity as the “victim” is tenuous and far-fetched.  This does not, of course, detract from the political task of reversing the toxic policy of ethnic fragmentation and balkanization to advance a healthy and normative climate of equity and unity within diversity.
  8. TPLF’s ambivalent and “dualist” agenda – to permanently monopolize power in Ethiopia through ethnic polarization and hostility or exercise the option of “secession” – is another destabilizing corollary of its ethnic agenda, especially as the latter involves territorial aggrandizement for “Greater Tigray” through forceful occupation and incorporation of adjacent territories in Ethiopia and swathes of sovereign lands in Eritrea.
  9. For all the reasons cited above, the “humanitarian agenda” selectively pushed by TPLF’s Enablers is, incoherent, inappropriate, and untenable; by all standards.  This has nothing to do with genuine efforts to avert war in the first place and to preclude and mitigate its humanitarian consequences through vigorous and constructive endeavours. Circumstantial and anecdotal evidences of collusion of these powers with the TPLF in its war efforts are also too substantial to ignore.  These range from TPLF documents and periodic admission by its senior officials that illustrate tacit approval by these powers of its initial offensive as well as subsequent endorsement of its recent offensives, to material support including sensitive satellite information, provision of communication equipment, etc.  Unsolicited pronouncements and diplomatic gaffs by US and EU Special Envoys, essentially disparaging the region’s governments and also laying bare the larger agenda of rolling back the Eritrea-Ethiopia-Somalia Tripartite Agreement only reinforce the conclusion that the underlying agenda is not prompted by and transcends purely humanitarian considerations.
  10. This is the backdrop of the demonization campaigns and unilateral coercive measures adopted so far.  And as the TPLF’s reckless military adventures crumble, the tendency in notorious hawks in the camp of TPLF’s Enablers appears to urge for more of the same instead of seriously examining and rectifying past follies.  The Horn of Africa Region, the Africa Continent as a whole, and strong voices in the Global South and elsewhere have rejected this path of illegality, chaos, and destruction with a fitting clarion call of #NoMore.


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