Media portrayal and broad political discourse on the conflict in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia are replete, especially these days, with dooms-day warnings of unparalleled mayhem and “looming humanitarian catastrophe”. Indeed, the constant refrain in major international media outlets (BBC, AFP, NYT, Foreign Policy etc.) and UNSG/UNSC pronouncements revolve on “a war that has spiraled into one of the world’s deadliest conflicts and worst humanitarian crises”. The interlocutors further insinuate perpetration of “unspeakable atrocities”, mostly by reference to dubious sources and entities.
War is intrinsically brutal; irrespective of its scale; and where and when it unfolds. Elusive notions that smart weapons can diminish civilian causalities are more real in textbooks and academic realms rather than in cruel battlefields.
The conservative estimate of civilian casualties in NATO’s air raids (around 10,000 sorties) in the war that it unleashed in Libya in 2011 was over 500,000. US Drone strikes on Taliban Al-Haq in Pakistan reportedly caused close to 15,000 civilian deaths over a couple of years in the process of killing not more than 300 of the intended terrorists. These casualties are often downplayed in NATO and US wars through verbal gymnastics and the novel and impersonal term of “collateral damage” that first gained currency during the US invasion of Iraq.
In the same token, the raft of Humanitarian Laws of War and the Rules of Engagement that all National Defense Forces accordingly adhere to, may go a long way to reduce civilian casualties. But they cannot eliminate them altogether due to insurmountable factors and parameters cited above. It must also be stressed that, above and beyond unacceptable civilian deaths and causalities, the loss of life of men and women in uniform; and/or the destruction of property themselves cannot be tolerable simply because the Humanitarian Laws of War mainly protect civilian life and infrastructure.
In the event, condescending tendencies of portraying African wars as exceptionally brutal do not stem from solid and incontrovertible evidence. They reflect an inherent bias and prejudice akin to a Borrellsque mind-set of the “rosy Western Garden juxtaposed to a chaotic Global-South jungle”.
Humanity’s primary focus and collective endeavor must therefore be geared towards averting war in the first place and seeking enduring solutions in accordance with legality and justice when and if conflicts erupt anywhere. These approaches should not be subordinated to, and eclipsed by, narrow geopolitical interests and calculus if the overarching objective is indeed saving humanity from the horrors and destruction of war.
In regard to the situation in northern Ethiopia, the vicious conflict that has raged for almost two years now was triggered when the TPLF unleashed a War of Insurrection against the Federal Government. Punctuated lulls in fighting and intermittent periods of relative peace were willfully broken by the TPLF when it subsequently unleashed two massive assaults – in June last year and August this year – by violating the Unilateral and Permanent Humanitarian Ceasefires that the Federal Government had declared to give peace a chance.
Furthermore, other distressing dimensions of the war – TPLF’s massive conscription of Child soldiers; its human-wave war tactics; the callous timing of its three offensives during critical harvest times etc.- have rendered the scale of human causalities and civilian suffering much more excessive.
The TPLF’s massive disinformation campaign – duly enhanced and amplified by media outlets and official institutions in several western countries – was, and remains, another feature of its War of Insurrection with few precedents and parallels in other conflicts in terms of a wicked design, intensity and outreach.
A comprehensive study by a team of scientists and data analysts at GETFACTet (published on August 21, 2022) established that the “#TigrayGenocide hashtag was launched before and during the attack on thousands of Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) stationed in Tigray, many of whom were massacred by TPLF forces while they slept”. The report further illustrates that from “November 5th – 30th of 2020, nearly 1633 cumulative new accounts were opened and reached 75,581 #TigrayGenocide tweets”.
TPLF’s principal leitmotif in invoking the specter of “genocide’’ was transparent: to package and legitimize its high crimes of unprovoked War of Insurrection as a “pre-emptive and defensive military response to thwart the threat of extinction and ethnic cleansing”.
But TPLF’s gambit and deception of the highest order could not have conceivably gained credibility and traction without the collusion of its Enablers who held high offices in western governments and UN Institutions; (EU former Special Envoy, Pekka Haavisto; OCHA former Chief, Mark Lowcock; TPLF mole who doubles as DG of WHO; AI and HRW etc.).
The network of its hired lobbyists further exaggerated and amplified the outrageous allegation through pliant main stream media outlets.
TPLF’s illicit war, which could have been terminated early on, if not averted from the outset, was thus given a long lease of life as the Villain became the Victim in a theatrical, though tragic, role reversal without historical precedence. This anomalous reality occurred essentially because powerful western countries could not let go a surrogate entity that was at their beck and call for almost thirty years and who felt threatened by the new political dispensation in the Horn of Africa.
It is these misguided geopolitical interests – not the quest for genuine peace and/or humanitarian concerns – that seem to drive the growing chorus for “immediate and unconditional cessation of hostilities” and the resumption of peace talks. The winks and nods that these same governments were offering the TPLF when it was purportedly ‘’marching towards Addis Abeba”; the long stints of Omerta, or utter and conspiratorial silence, that they collectively observed whenever it had, or was perceived to have, the “upper-hand”, belie their dishonest claims for innocent and benign concern for peace and stability in the Horn of Africa and the welfare of its inhabitants.
The misguided obsession of these powers to rehabilitate the TPLF at any cost – not out of fidelity to the organization but as a tool of their agenda of global and regional control and dominance; and, irrespective of its gross crimes and/or dwindling political capital in Ethiopia – has remained and continues to constitute a serious stumbling block for enduring peace and stability in the region.