The Harvest of Rancor

Radio Erena: 12 January 2021

The inconsistent statements and contradictions among Ethiopian officials on the Eritrean Defense Forces’, EDF, involvement in the recent war in Tigray are signs of unfathomable future unrest in the region. Initially, active Eritrean troop’s engagement had been confirmed by the American government, NYT, Reuters, and Bloomberg. Third-party confirmations of Eritrean troops’ engagement unearthed deep disagreements between the military and civilian leadership in Ethiopia.

In the beginning, the premier Abiy Ahmed thanked Eritrea for “giving help to Ethiopian forces after the collapse of the Northern Command near Makelle” without mentioning the participation of the army of neighboring Eritrea in his brief to the parliament. Confidently quoting Abiy Ahmed, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the Eritrean troops were confined to their territories and didn’t take part in the battles.

The bombshell-like statement came this time from lieutenant general Bely Seyoum, the commander of the Northern Command. Describing the Eritrean troops as foreign troops ‘ye ba’ed serawit – የባእድ ሰራዊት’, he said this army’s involvement came without an invitation or call on our side. He further reiterated that his conscience wouldn’t allow him to ask for help from Eritrean troops in what he labeled as a pure Ethiopian affair. No wonder that he was instantly summoned to the capital to account for these ‘embarrassing’ statements.

Formerly, the provisional mayor of Makelle Ato Atakhelti Haile Selassie said the Eritrean troops participated in the fight after the collapse of the Northern Command. He also said, in a public meeting, that the problem is not the ‘entry’ of the Eritrean troops but when are they going to leave our land.

The involvement of Eritrean troops taking place or not isn’t the matter at stake here. Those who denied it before, especially among the Eritrean government supporters came to justify it later under the pretexts of the right of ‘preventive war’ strategy. As continually restated in our previous articles, this war is considered a godsend opportunity for the Eritrean dictator which he wouldn’t foolishly let slip off his hands without sapping the last drop of juice out of it, primarily at the expense of his nation’s scanty resources.

From the point of view of Asmara’s dictator, though never explicitly expressed, the war means the return of occupied Eritrean territories, from which TPLF rejected any Ethiopian troop’s redeployment. Equally, the ejection of TPLF from Ethiopia’s political scene after thirty years of total control would also secure a glorious victory for the Eritrean dictator for whom the matter was no more than a personal vendetta. Such long-sought defeat would also provide him with a significant say in Ethiopia’s internal affairs, especially the fate of the Tigray region, as he wouldn’t permit any new administration that might be a potential threat to his rule.

Thirty years of dictatorship under Isias Afwerki have unquestionably depleted the country, proving that the interests of the country are inherently divergent of those entertained by him during his dark rule years.

Accordingly, the engagement of EDF in the battles in Tigray which came as a result of direct orders of the Supreme Commander of the Defense Forces was only to settle the personal score against his archrivals in Makelle.

The gruesome consequences of this imprudent involvement have tragically started to unfold with atrocities being reported in the first days of the battles, with accusations against the Eritrean troops of committing some of these atrocities.

Throughout history, peace in Ethiopia meant plowing the land for a coming conflict, and the cultivation of lethal disputes fueled by ethnically and regionally frenzied impulses, the recent war in Tigray wasn’t an exception. It will no doubt leave ineradicable marks in the mass psyche similar to those generated by the TPLF leaders themselves in the past thirty years, especially during the border war with Eritrea in 1998-2000.

By Fathi Osman