19/04/2018 18:43 PM
Eritreans Have a Profound Sense of Their Own History: A Response to Getachew Reda
By Petros Tesfagiorgis
I do not want to reply to Getachew Red’s article and claims point by point as it is full of fallacies and emotional assertions. Let me explain again what my view is.
My article does not suggest peace at all cost. It is peace with justice. It is with the belief that differences that bread hostility and war can be solved on the table through negotiations and consultations. May I say that many in African, especially those living in the Horn, are prone to violent conflicts and seem to have developed the culture of war than culture of Peace? We have witnessed the wanton loss of human lives, the destruction of properties, perpetuation of poverty and loss of opportunities because of avoidable wars. War is also a magnet to arms dealers who make huge profits by supplying arms to both warring parties. I would like to assert that the peace I am advocating is the peace of the People led by civil societies and individuals, independent of Governments. It is a voice of the people I am talking about and their empowerment. More often than not governments who came to power through armed struggle do not allow civil societies to flourish; if they do they have to control them.
We have seen also wars in third world countries end up with the intervention of big powers (god-fathers) who supply sophisticated arms to one party or another, making the wars more destructive and endless.
The Red Sea has become the fastest militarized zone in the world. It is because Governments in the Horn open their doors of opportunity for the big powers and their clients to pursue their strategic interest, to exploit the people and their pristine natural resources. It seems a form of pay back to the support they rendered.
I advocate for peace from the point of view that the campaign for peace is a movement of moral conscience that can end the suffering and pain of the victims – the ordinary people and not the politicians.
Eritreans have a profound sense of their own history:
Getachew Reda’s main contention is ‘Peace cannot take place unless the “issue of the illegal separation [which is the independence of Eritrea] and illegal blockage of sea port” is addressed.
Distortions of history, denials of reality and other theories of conspiracy does not change the fact that like all colonised countries in Africa and beyond, Eritrea is forged into a modern nation state under Italians colonial rule. With the defeat of Italians, during the Second World War, the case of Eritrea, like Libya and Somalia became a case of de-colonization. When the destiny of Eritrea was debated by the United Nations, there were Eritreans who favoured union with Ethiopia and others who opt for independence. The United Nations took the middle way; in 1950 it decided to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia. The people of Eritrea accepted it.
However, during the federation period and the subsequent annexation of Eritrea by Emperor Haile Selassie, the Ethiopian government mismanaged the Eritrean society and the economy. The Emperor abolished all democratic institutions, such a political parties, trade and student unions as well as the parliament. The Eritrean official languages, Tigrinya and Arabic, were replaced by Ethiopia’s ruling class language - Amharic. Any protests and demonstrations by the people were met by beating, imprisonment and other forms of torture and human rights violations. All these made Eritreans realize that they cannot pursue their case peacefully. This then gave rise to the beginning of the armed struggle by the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in September 1961. After 30 years of popular armed struggle later led by the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), Eritrea got its independence. The rest is history. More details can be found in many books that explains the history of Eritrea.
What is illegal is not the independence of Eritrea but the unilateral abolishment of the Federal status of Eritrea. The Emperor violated the terms of the Federation and the people of Eritrea rose up to take what is taken away from them; to determine their own destiny given to them by International Law and practice. Some Ethiopian revolutionaries did not support the claim that Ethiopia colonized Eritrea. They could see colonizers as only white powers who come from overseas. Yes, Ethiopia might not have been a colonial power like the Italians or the British - but abolishing the Federation, dismantling all democratic institutions and annexing by force amounts to the same thing – colonizing a people and a country by force. Some of the Ethiopian liberation movements supported the Eritrean struggle for independence on the basis of the right of Eritreans for self-determination including having their own country. The decision remained in the hands of the Eritrean people.
What is amazing is that Getachew seems to change history, or be ignorant of it, by totally denying the cause that gave rise to the Eritrean struggle. The same goes to the struggles of the OLF, EPRP, the uprising in Sidamo and the ONLF. These are all legitimate movements that contributed to the defeat of the military Junta. They all co-operated with EPLF in many ways. In the exchange of arms, information and intelligence, in diplomatic missions and also in fighting together against the Military Junta. As Getachew wrongly said the bond is not only with TPLF alone. It was with all the movements who fought for justice and freedom.
We repeatedly find that the rulers and the ruling class do not have the same perception of history as the victims. The Amhara ruling elites are no exception. They were beneficiaries of the feudal repressive system, including of the Military Junta. They felt they were the legitimate rulers of Ethiopia chosen by God.
Undoubtedly, the issue of legitimacy, that only the Amharas had legitimacy to rule Ethiopia, was the reason why, right from the beginning the Amhara elite refused to accept the TPLF, in spite of the fact that the TPLF fought all the way from Tigray to Addis Ababa heralding the final defeat of the repressive and cruel Military Junta, the Derg. The Derg slaughtered thousands of revolutionaries particularly the youth in its red-terror campaign. The defeat of the Derg stopped all that. Don’t misunderstand me, the Amharas have also the right to form their own opposition to advance Amhara rights, to demand more inclusion in the system, to share power. But, they cannot remain sole rulers and oppressors, and they cannot deny others their right to self-determination. But the propaganda by Gunbot 7 and other predominantly Amhara groups is channelled against TPLF more because they are Tigreans. Such propaganda saw hatred against civilian Tigrayans who lived in different parts of Ethiopia and almost caused ethnic cleansing.
It is important to acknowledge that all the liberation movements started because their people were subjected to repression. In fact during the student movement some labelled Ethiopia as a prison of nationalities.
Take the case of the Oromo. It is by invading the South of Ethiopia, largely inhabited by the Oromo people that the Shoan Emperor Menelik II (1889-1913) built a strong feudal Empire. The Oromo’s which comprise the single largest ethnic group in Ethiopia saw millions of their people being killed during the Showan invasion and occupation. Their land was appropriated by the invading army (Neftegnas), royal family members and feudal lords, and they were made landless tenants. For the Oromo Emperor Menelik was an invader, for the Amhara ruling class he was a hero. That is why after the defeat of the Dergue some Oromos threatened to destroy the monument of Menelik in Addis Ababa. They were prevented by the EPRDF. Any Oromo who came to Addis Ababa to pursue a higher study and seek a professional job had to live with the humiliation of Showan supremacy. Some Oromos even had to adopt Amharic names in order to get accepted by the “mainstream” society, the Amhara.
The people of Tigray had a case to rise up. The region was marginalized and forgotten and their extreme under- development was taken for granted. It was a region that had suffered by chronic poverty leading to successive famines. The 1972 famine affected Tigray acutely. The Government was indifferent until it was exposed by Jonathan Dimbilby, a BBC correspondent in whose name a street in Addis Ababa exists now. That is why like the Oromos they started the armed struggle to correct historic injustices.
This is not ancient history. But there are ways of reconciliation to overcome past injustices and crimes: Facing the past requires a great deal of honesty and courage.
Honesty in this context means the readiness to recognize past mistakes that the feudal system committed against different oppressed nationalities in Ethiopia and the people of Eritrea.
The Amhara elite have the right to oppose corruption, mal-administration and to advocate for change; however, they must do it against those in authority, the TPLF/EPRDF, and not the people of Tigrai. Otherwise, this will lead to ethnic conflict and threaten the unity of Ethiopia, which is bad not only for Ethiopia but also for Eritrea, Somalis, Djibouti and the rest of the Horn. It will destabilize the whole region. There are countries who would like to see weak Ethiopia.
On the other hand one should not dismiss the achievement of the TPLF/EPRDF government. TPLF/EPRDF under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi did at least two fundamental things no previous ruler in Ethiopia attempted to do. Meles addressed the chronic poverty in Ethiopia. The government also built wide network of roads uniting the whole country for the first time.
Experts talk about the amazing progress in Ethiopia. They say, Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world, and a byword for starvation and poverty for a long time, has changed. By African standards, Ethiopia is a fast growing economy. This, however, is not sufficient. The country suffers from youth unemployment partly because of the explosion of Universities and the number of youth that come out of them, partly because there are not enough industries to absorb the graduates.
The Past is dead. History cannot be undone; its wheels cannot be turned back. Eritrea is a sovereign country. Period. No one however suggested Ethiopia should remain a land-locked country; had it not been for the 1998-2000 war, Ethiopia would have continued to use both the ports of Assab and Massawa. Ethiopia is a huge country developing fast; it needs many ports. The present activities is what defines future relationship. So let’s learn from past mistakes and talk about peace and reconciliation that can pave the way for social cohesion, economic development, prosperity and cooperation between the two peoples and countries – Ethiopians and Eritreans. Let us exploit the natural resources that we are endowed with to benefit our peoples. Dr Abiy Ahmed, the new Ethiopian Prime Minister’s campaign for reconciliation and peace within Ethiopia and as extended to Eritrea gives me the hope that there is a chance for peace.
If Eritreans are suffering because of the current rulers, it does not mean that we have to go back to colonial relationship with Ethiopia. We have very vicious, oppressive and undemocratic rulers. It is our responsibility as Eritreans to change it and bring back our dream of a democratic, prosperous Eritrea contributing to the peace and security of the region.
NB: The allegation that the EPLF doctors were injected with HIV is pure lie. These are the unsung heroes of the Eritrean revolution- their underground hospitals – operating using torches have saved many lives.
By Petros Tesfagiorgis