By Dr. Aklog Birara, Horn of Africa, Ethiopia, Tigray, War, USA


Dr. Aklog BiraraI had argued that US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s repeated reference and attribution to and use of the historically flawed geopolitical and regional boundary term “Western Tigray”. Such a narrative is a “de-facto” recognition of the contested claim of the right by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to incorporate forcibly annexed Amhara lands into Greater Tigray. Tragically for Ethiopia, this policy will reinforce violence and cause more bloodshed.

The “king-makers “of the international order (UN, multilateral financial institutions, human rights organizations, and the like) express and dictate severe terms and conditions on Ethiopia without any let up. These edicts under the rubric of human rights and democracy have direct impact on Ethiopia’s negotiable domestic problems including contentious regional boundaries. These are domestic and sovereign matters that lend themselves to amicable resolution by Ethiopians.

In terms of the root causes of human insecurity in Ethiopia, I suggest that it is high time for Ethiopians to soul search and agree that the future is far more important than the past. They must agree on what type of future they envision for Ethiopia, and for whom. They must agree that the rights, safety, and personal security of all Ethiopians matter. This will not happen through dreaming and assaulting or demeaning one another. This requires arduous work. This demands a unity of national purpose. Commitment to establish, nurture and recognize strong and robust national or Ethiopian institutions is critical.

The crux of the matter is this. The West led by the USA believes that Ethiopian political and social elites are incapable of resolving the country’s crisis. Therefore, the US must design, engineer, lead, and manage foreign policy instruments with a mindset that must fill a “void in Ethiopia’s governance. The social base of their current argument is the harm on Tigrean Ethiopians inflicted by Amhara militia, Fano, administrators as well as by Eritrean forces.

The cohort of influencers include corporate media, legislators, policy, and decision-makers as well as human rights organizations. Today, these influencers dictate what is good for Ethiopians and other Africans. In short, the USA and its institutions are treating Ethiopians as immature people.

I subscribe to the overarching and painful theme that insurgency, civil war, targeted ethnic killings, rape, displacement of millions, revenge and counter revenge and destruction of socioeconomic and physical infrastructure in Ethiopia are an affront to our common humanity. However, it is important to remember these tragic occurrences did not just erupt after November 2021. Subdued and cleverly managed by Ethiopia’s rulers, targeted ethnic killings, ethnic cleansing, massive displacements of Indigenous people based on ethnic affiliation began in the 1970s. They continue unabated to this day. These degraded the entire Ethiopian society.

The uncommon phenomenon of “Western Tigray” became common post in 1991 when the TPLF took political power. It gained prominence after the TPLF initiated civil war of November 4, 2021. The “big elephant in the room” that popularized and internationalized the term “Western Tigray” as a vital and legitimate component of Greater Tigray is the symmetry between TPLF policy claim and public policy concerning forcibly annexed lands on the one hand and the legitimacy granted by the USA-led West to this claim on the other.

I say this based on concrete evidence left out by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. Last week, the Ethiopian Press Agency (EPA) reported to the international community that the TPLF “murdered more than 60,000 ethnic Amhara over a forty-year period in Wolkait, Tegede and Telemt. It based its report on research findings including the unearthing of mass graves. This staggering figure constituted close to 75 % of the population at the time.

Assistant Professor Geta Asrade, a member of the Gondar University research and fact-finding team reported to ENA that his team “conducted the research by identifying, unearthing, and assessing mass graves, and by interviewing survivors. We have found that the whereabouts of 19 % of the family heads is still unknown after the TPLF abducted and took them to prisons. Twenty-five percent of ethnic Amhara killed; and 29 % of ethnic Amhara forced to leave or flee their homes and properties.”

This is the genesis of the “Western Tigray” phenomenon. If facts matter in defining foreign policy, why not adhere to the truth?

“Why deaf ears and blind eyes?”

When it comes to foreign policy and punitive measures, Western leaders, legislative bodies, corporate media, human rights organizations, most notably, Amnesty International and Human Rights as well as think-tanks speak and operate seamlessly together. The strategic goal of speaking from the same script using partial and jaded data sends a chilling message to Black Africans. This is because it is not the wellbeing of our common humanity that Amnesty and Human Rights Watch are really serving when it comes to Ethiopia. Rather, it is someone else’s agenda with the intent to serve a specific national security objective in the name of humanity which matters. That someone else includes western governments and non-governmental organizations working together to serve western interests.  

Regardless of the merit, history, and the truth on the ground these entities lend deaf ears and blind eyes to competing factions and counter views. I urge the reader to remember that the post-World War II international order dominated by the United States of America is replete with false and misleading narratives that led to the collapse and or massive destruction of countries: Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Vietnam. Given its strategic location, Ethiopia is no longer an exception to this global phenomenon.

It is not my intention here to discuss who really benefits from civil wars and wars between or among countries. I leave this to the imagination of the reader. It is incontestable that civil wars and wars between and among countries entail losers and winners.

Following the release of massive research findings by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch titled “War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing in Western Tigray, Ethiopia”,  April 6, 2022, US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price acknowledged the report and clarified the US position on the matter on April 8, 2022.

The convergence between the conclusions of the human rights organizations and the embrace of broad findings and conclusions by the Department of State is not coincidental. In my assessment, Westerners planned and synchronized their scheme carefully. The emotive term used by Amnesty and HR Watch "We Will Erase You from This Land" is so graphic that it is believable. It disarms the international reader or listener. In effect, it is Ukraine like.

I am not aware of any rational Ethiopian, regardless of ethnicity or faith, who supports the massacre of Tigrean-Ethiopians. Targeted ethnic cleansing and killing degrades and dehumanizes all Ethiopians. The TPLF and its allies crafted, introduced, and executed this uncommon and unacceptable political culture and practice in Ethiopia in the 1970s and early 1980s. The TPLF and its ethnic elite allies imposed the current ethnicity and language-based Constitution that also grants the right to secede (Article 39). No wonder Ethiopia is on a roller coaster.

The gaping hole in the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch latest report and the sweeping conclusions emanate from their deliberate disregard of the massacres of thousands, the displacements, and expulsions of hundreds of thousands of Amhara by the TPLF when it forcibly annexed Wolkait, Tegede, Telemt and Raya and incorporated these Amhara lands into Greater Tigray. This action changed the demographic composition of the population overnight. Newly dug mass grave sites at Wolkait (so-called “Western Tigray”) by academics and experts from Gondar University cited earlier, reconfirms the plethora of evidence availed to the international community over the past 30 years, but it was ignored.

By their own definition, the TPLF committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. This occurred without challenge from Western governments, corporate media, or human rights organizations. I underscore the incontestable fact that the TPLF changed the demographic composition of the population by targeting indigenous Amhara.

Had Amnesty and HR Watch wanted to present a balanced scorecard and fair assessment of human atrocities in Ethiopia, they could have acknowledged that the TPLF committed dozens of Mai Kadra like massacres before the Mai Kadra massacre of November 2021 that they acknowledged as incidental and or peripheral.