“I was ambassador to Ethiopia when the war with Eritrea started in 1998. One of the things I learned in Addis Ababa is that lying is a justified means to achieve greater opportunities.” Avi Granot.
According to the famous Dutch Cultural Scientist Geert Hofstede, culture is “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.” The programming is done by families, schools, religious organizations, and society at large. Culture is learned and passed on from generation to generation. Many countries have conducted a cultural revolution. Not going too far, the Dergue regime in Ethiopia had an enlightenment program related to illiteracy eradication and the elimination of Feudalistic backward culture. The Dergue preached the equality of men and women and worked hard to eliminate the impact of unnecessary religious holidays on farmers’ productivity. Also, backward beliefs that gave healing power to individuals other than those in health-certified institutions were discouraged. Currently, Tigray needs a similar but deeper and more complex cultural revolution. The cultural problems in Tigray have been mainly created by the ruling elite and trickled down into the entire society through time. Next, I would like to explain each of the cultural changes that I believe Tigray needs.
Distinguishing Politics from Propaganda.
Politics is “the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.” Politics can determine the direction of a country or region. When politics goes wrong, like the in recent example in Sudan, it can have negative ramifications on the entire population of the country. That is why solid and visionary leadership is key for a country/state to achieve sustainable peace and economic development. Propaganda is different from politics. It is “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” The problem in Tigray is every lie is accepted as politics and it is normal to lie to gain an undeserved advantage. For example, a few years ago, it was discovered that most of the data Tigray’s agricultural technicians compiled and submitted to the World Bank was fake. This typical example shows how lies are deeply entrenched in the Tigray governance system. Moreover, such a trend has been evident in the propaganda machines of the TPLF. Former Israeli Ambassador to Ethiopia and Deputy Director-General of Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Avi Granot said: “I was ambassador to Ethiopia when the war with Eritrea started in 1998. One of the things I learned in Addis Ababa is that lying is a justified means to achieve greater opportunities.” Another recent example that reinforces the mix-up of lie, truth, propaganda, and politics in Tigray is a catholic priest in Mekelle (regional capital city of Tigray) lashing out at the visiting Ethiopian regional presidents because they did not say anything about the so-called occupation of the Tigray Territories by Eritrea. He called them Cowards. The bold-faced Lier priest and the visiting regional presidents very well knew that the land the priest claimed Eritrea to have occupied was given to Eritrea by the Ethiopia and Eritrea boundary commission in the year 2002. The priest was pushing the lies because he had a goal to achieve. To antagonize the Ethiopian regional presidents with Eritrea. If a priest lies openly then who is going to tell the truth? If a priest is a propaganda tool, then who is going to teach the kids the value of telling the truth? Before it becomes a chronic disease and destroys society, Tigray needs to conduct an enlightenment campaign that distinguishes lies from truth and politics from propaganda.
Respect for Women.
Many Tigrayan Scholars have indicated that Tigray has a big problem when it comes to the treatment of its women and girls. Rape in Tigray is common. Government officials, even the police use, rape as part of their corrupt governance system. TPLF leaders marry girls who are three times younger. Such abuse of women and girls is deeply rooted in the culture. A Tigrayan renowned scholar Dr. Hargeweini Assefa, who was working in Tigray before the start of the war on November 4th, 2020, claimed that she received a report that indicated close to 300 children were raped by family members in one region of Tigray. Around the same time concerned Tigrayan women and girls conducted a coordinated demonstration in the regional capital city of Mekelle against the ill-treatment of women and girls in Tigray. Since the war started in November 2020, TPLF’s propaganda machine has been widely invested in broadcasting the alleged rape of Tigray women by Ethiopian soldiers and their allies. War indeed comes with death and destruction. In fact, women and children are the main receivers of the brunt. However, what is unique in Tigray is any rape of women and girls that may have happened during the war is only one part of the big puzzle. The problem is bigger than that. That is why even after the Ethiopian army and its allied forces left Tigray, rape persisted unabated. It is time to recognize the bad treatment of women and girls in Tigray and conduct an education campaign aimed at correcting the evils entrenched deep inside the society. It is a social menace, and it can only be eradicated by society.
The Claim of Destruction and Looting.
As described in my prior discussion, war creates lawlessness, a vacuum in administration, and leads to destruction, hunger, and looting. Those problems could be minimized if society is well organized and understands whatever belongs to the government belongs to society. In the event a void in governance is created, schools, government institutions, and other public properties belong to society and should be protected. Tigray lacks such a level of thinking. When the prior Ethiopian Military Junta (Dergue) army was defeated in Shire (Tigray) by the combined TPLF and EPLF force during the late 1980s and fled from Tigray region to Dessie, all public institutions including schools and health clinics in Tigray were looted by the population. Such dangerous culture came back during the recent war that started in November 2020. Most of the public institutions were looted by the population they were established to serve. Even if they wanted to do it, the Ethiopian army and its allied forces couldn’t loot and destroy every school and health institution in Tigray. In fact, in addition to the military hospital in kuiha (near Mekelle) most of the medicine in Tigray’s health institutions was looted by the TPLF itself and transported to the Bushes. The heavy-duty trucks loaded with medicine that were captured by the Ethiopian army near Yechila (Gidget) during the early stages of the 2020 war was a testament to the irresponsible acts of the TPLF. Instead of pointing fingers at others and advancing the victimization propaganda, it is time to look inside and strengthen the ownership stake of the public on public institutions.
Dependence on Aid.
When the TPLF assumed the helm of power in Addis Ababa in 1990, the Tigray people hoped their problems would disappear overnight. Due to overpopulation and limited fertile land conducive to agriculture, Tigray has suffered from drought for decades. Considering the gravity of the problem, one would think that the initial task of the TPLF is to engage in full force to reverse the risk of devasting draught and build a sustainable agricultural mechanism in Tigray. Yet TPLF never focused on Tigray. A third of the population was dependent on food aid and unemployment in Tigray was rampant. In fact, the TPLF used food aid to control the Tigray people. After the war broke out in November 2020, food aid was used as a precondition for conscription and feeding the TPLF army. Those who were lucky enough to receive food aid were asked to return part of what they received to the TPLF. The whole governance system in Tigray is conditioned on food aid and such practice has a historical background. During the Ethiopian great famine in the 1980’s TPLF financed its operations by selling aid that was meant for the poor Tigray people in grain markets in Sudan. Therefore, currently seeing state government officials in Tigray depending on food aid to cushion their extravagant spending culture and feed their army is not a surprise yet highlights the gravity of the problem. To the contrary Tigray’s neighbor to the North, Eritrea, rejected food aid and was able to secure a preliminary self-sustaining agricultural system. Tigray’s regional government’s primary objective should be to get the people out of food aid. If you cannot feed yourself, you cannot have an independent political culture. If you cannot feed yourself, you are more likely to be on the whims of others and that will not bring peace and stability to the region.
Respect for the Rule of Law.
Law and order are the fundamental pillars of any civilized society. When there is no respect for the law fairness disappears and only those who assume the helm of power are the winners. Traditionally respect for law and order in Tigray has been weak. The bandit (shifta) culture is highly entrenched. It is common to see government officials and those who are connected to them to be immune from accountability. Government officials in Tigray come to power not to serve the people but to enrich themselves and their families. Such utter disregard for the rule of law by the TPLF Officials does not stop in local administrative government matters. The TPLF officials led by the late Meles Zenawi signed a binding border arbitration agreement with neighboring Eritrea during the year 2000. When the Ethiopia and Eritrea Boundary Commission gave its verdict two years later, they outrightly rejected it and continued the saber-rattling against Eritrea. Not only they continued occupying the land that was given to Eritrea for 20 years but also bought expensive long-range Missiles to destroy mining infrastructure deep inside Eritrea. Their twisted mindset kept the enmity between Tigray and Eritrea intact for 20 years and resulted in the recent devastating war. It would have been easier for them to accept the binding border verdict and work at mending the fractured relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia. But they could not have the capacity to think long-term. For them, the aid they get from Western powers and multilateral institutions at the expense of containing Eritrea was a major motivator to adopt a no war no peace policy for 20 years. The Tigray elite and the entire population need to understand that disrespecting the law is a double-edged sword. Peace can be established only when you respect the law. If you adopt the “the force is the law” policy, when you lose the upper hand, you become very vulnerable to an attack that may threaten your survival. Only International relations based on respect to international law can bring sustainable peace and development between countries and the region at large.
Destructive Inflated Worrier Culture.
The Horn of Africa is inhabited by a population that never got a respite from conflict and war for decades. Internal and external conflicts have been ravaging the Horn of Africa for years and that resulted in immense hunger, death, and destruction. Anyone can agree that the populations who reside in the greater Horn of Africa are worriers. The problem is, it is such a worrier mentality that is destroying the Horn of Africa. A civilized way of resolving conflicts through negotiations and court proceedings never got a chance to set foot in the Horn of Africa. When the TPLF waged a war of insurrection against the previous Ethiopian military regime for 17 years its major grievance was the marginalization of the Tigray people by the then-central Ethiopian government. Unfortunately, when the TPLF assumed the helm of power in Addis Ababa in 1990 it did more destruction to Ethiopia than its predecessor, the Dergue. Although it represented only 6% of the Ethiopian population It filled all economic, security, and military institutions with ethnic Tigrayans, divided the country into ethnic lines, and waged war against Somalia and Eritrea. When the TPLF was pushed out of power by a combined force of Amhara and Oromo youth it fled to Tigray and plotted a return to power. Instead of negotiating with the central government to resolve administrative and political issues, it gravitated to the destructive inflated so-called Tigray worrier culture. Kids as young as 12 and 13 years old were recruited and trained in how to shoot, in most cases, for only one to three days and were sent to the war front. The sad part of the story is those kids that were sent to fight better trained and armed adversaries were given only one Kalashnikov for five or six of them. Only one can shoot, and the rest need to wait until that person dies or kills an adversary. The uniqueness of the destructive inflated Tigray’s worrier culture is TPLF’s complete disregard for human life. Other than that, Tigrayans are not different from the Amhara, the Oromo, or Afar.
The current fall of Tigray is worse than the fall of the Axumite kingdom. The current fall not only brought Tigray fifty years back, but also antagonized it with its neighbors Amhara, Afar, and Eritrea. If one asks whether this was what the TPLF envisioned when it started the 17 years of struggle against the Dergue, the answer is a definite no. Yet the truth is the current situation in Tigray is the outcome of TPLF’s 27 years of dependence on aid, misguided policy, and adventurism. The marginalization of other bigger Ethiopian Ethnic groups, the division of Ethiopia in Ethnic lines, and of course the rejection of the Ethio-Eritrea boundary commission decision were the notable misdeeds of TPLF. Currently, TPLF and the Tigray people have no choice other than to cooperate with the central government to undo the damages they inflicted on the populations of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and the wider region. Above all TPLF and Tigray need to stop the politics of victimization and do house cleaning and embark on a cultural revolution to remove the ills that have been created by the 27 years misguided Journey.
Awet N’Hafash and Eternal Glory to Our Martyrs.