Ahmed Ugas Yusuf
Friday, September 16, 2016
EVERY revolution produces its own heroes, villains, highlights and pantomime moments that are etched in the collective memory of the affected nations long after the upheavals pass. Ethiopia, where the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is facing a crisis of political legitimacy, was never going to be an exception.
As a popular uprising by the majority Amhara and Oromo ethnic groups engulfs the country – in the process producing heroes such as Feysissa Lelissa, the Oromo Marathon runner, and Colonel Demeke, an Amhara ex military commander – two TPLF hardliners have become the undisputed antiheroes of this revolution-in-the-making. The first man is Getachew Reda, the Communication Minister, the second Abay Tsehaye, a veteran TPLF ideologue.
Minister Reda’s rants about Amharas and Oromos being “fire and grass” – implying that the two groups can’t live side by side let alone unite for a common cause – betrayed the callousness of TPLF’s ideology and political strategy. Reda lamented the joining hands of “chauvinists” and “narrow nationalists” – labels whose undertone and unsavory connotations even novices of Ethiopian politics do not miss.
“That we are witnessing a rapprochement between these inherently incompatible ideologies shows the work we did for over two decades has not produced the desired outcome”, he said. TPLF’s desired outcome was to foment endless hate, strife and mutual suspicion between these groups so it can continue to control every facet of public life in Ethiopia. This statement will remain for posterity as a shameful marker of the regime’s political behavior.
Another chilling reminder of the pitfalls of unchecked power was Abay Tsehaye’s secretly recorded threat against Oromos: “anyone who tries to stop the implementation of the Addis Ababa expansion Master Plan will be cut to size”.
It is hard to talk about every threat, gratuitous claim and conclusion that TPLF’s carping political claimants have said for 25 years or even in the last few months alone. They are one too many to address in this short article. I however felt it is important to react to Abay Tsehaye’s suggestion that Ethiopian Somalis are standing in Solidarity with Tigrayans in these testing times.
This claim is not only pushed by Abay Tsehaye but by the media of the regime: the state-owned national and regional TVs, radios, newspapers; by affiliated radio stations and websites (Radio Fana, Aigaforum, Tigrai online, etc.); as well as by surrogate bloggers on social media (Daniel Berhane and Abdulbasit Abdusamed to name but few). A $10 million dollars contribution from the nominally autonomous Ethiopian Somali Regional State to Tigrayan civilians allegedly displaced by protesting Amharas in the northern part of the country was presented as evidence of Somali succor to the besieged TPLF.
Prefacing his remarks by a phony show of sorrow for the “neglect and harassment” Ethiopian Somalis suffered under the DERG regime, Abay Tsehaye argued that Ethiopian Somalis are enjoying peace and self-governance under TPLF rule and that they are a model of the success of the “new Ethiopia” where Ethnic Federalism has ushered a newly found sense of inter-ethnic harmony and cooperation.
I have no difficulty with the insulting nature of this spurious claim. After all, it is an insult long administered into our body politic, one which we share with the rest of Ethiopians. Much of it arises from overweening TPLF triumphalism and sense of entitlement. Since TPLF measures the worth of a people by the amount of blood it shed in a war, those it deems not to have blooded equally cannot demand equal rights. It therefore regards legitimate aspirations for justice, equality and genuine self-governance by Ethiopian Somalis and other ethnic groups as petulance.
In multiple forums and instances, Abay Tsehaye and TPLF implied that Ethiopian Somalis owe their existence and social standing to TPLF. According to them, the “rights” we “enjoy” today – assuming we got more rights under TPLF for the sake of argument – are not our natural rights. TPLF “gave” these rights to us and we have no business asking for rights other than the ones they have “so considerately given to us”. TPLF sets the boundaries of our rights! Not us!
Secondly, Abay’s statement also partially comes from his ignorance of how to read things Somali. Such ignorance is the product of a cognitive dissonance you develop when you refuse to listen to others simply because you suffer from the folly of confusing more armament with superior intellect, a delusion aggravated by all too familiar Tigrayan traits of hotheadedness and needless bellicosity.
Abay misses that Somalis typically do not wait for government lead on issues related to charity. If Ethiopian Somalis were to offer hand to the said Tigrayans, it would not have come as a single fat cheque from the Regional State treasury. Mosques and community meeting halls are the authentic venues where charitable work is organized. This didn’t happen, which is not to say it can’t be staged as an afterthought by a regime that enjoys fake symbolisms. The choreographed donation is thus an indicator of Somali indifference not Somali generosity. The giver of the donation and the motive behind it are too obvious to merit lengthy examination.
Thirdly, of course, arrogance and ignorance alone do not explain why TPLF is so obsessed with showcasing Ethiopian Somalis as allies. There is a political ulterior motive in this misreading of our situation. An ethnocracy whose political isolation is exposed by uprisings of majority ethnic groups seeks comfort in useless gimmicks. TPLF’s typical response to Amhara and Oromo revolt has been to invent enemies and allies – real and imaginary.
In addition to its default scapegoat, Eritrea, it has found Egypt as a convenient enemy behind the protests. TPLF is also trying to invent new national “allies” in what it considers to be a showdown with Oromos and Amharas and the narrative of Ethiopian-Somalis’ solidarity with Tigrayans serves this purpose. The narrative is a ruse to frame the Amhara-Oromo revolt as an attempt by these two major ethnic groups to impose the “tyranny of numbers” on minorities – an attempt supposedly opposed by sizeable minorities coalescing around the ruling Tigrayans.
The corollary to this narrative is that the national revolt in Ethiopia is limited to Amhara and Oromo regions. International Media’s portrayal of the protests as one by Amhara and Oromo, coupled with its inability to link the ongoing revolts to previous similar uprisings in other parts of the country notably in Ogaden and Gambella, inadvertently helped TPLF’s storyline.
But ignorance, arrogance and invented narratives neither alter reality nor delay the inevitable demise of this oppressive system. Abay obviously hasn’t come across the colorful Somali proverb ‘beeni raad male’ [falsehood has no footprints]. He talks about “peace” in a region where TPLF needed 30,000 local militias, in addition to the national army, to quell an insurgency that started in 1994. He counts on the love and support of the very same communities his TPLF clique massacred and displaced for over two decades. He considers the very own native proxies he himself put in power in the Ethiopian Somali Region as organic and representative Ethiopian Somali leadership.
TPLF and its spin doctors, like all tyrants in history, can live with their delusions in the twilight of their reign. The bottom line is Ethiopian Somalis know who terrorized them, who raped their girls, who burned their villages. It wasn’t the DERG; it is TPLF. If Abay thinks they do not mind the hurt and humiliation TPLF inflicted on them, he must have taken Ethiopian Somalis s for silly nomads who suffer from a malignant case of Stockholm syndrome.
The current struggle in Ethiopia, its outer appearance notwithstanding, doesn’t pit ethnic group A against ethnic group B, C, and or D. It is a struggle between an abusive oligarchy – predominately of Tigrayan descent but also from an array of nationalities including Ethiopian Somalis – and the abused masses.
The majority of Ethiopian Somalis like the rest of Ethiopian people suffered under the TPLF rule and has no reason to stand with their abusers. They stand in solidarity with other equally oppressed Ethiopian masses and not with the TPLF. They realize that the evil of injustice and oppression must be fought from a national pedestal and no longer from a sectarian standpoint.
Ahmed Ugas Yusuf is a political commentator from the Ethiopian Somali Region. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.