By Keffyalew Gebremedhin* The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
Arbengoch Ginbot 7 (AG7) Thursday officially claimed responsibility for the military action by its Southern Front Command that engaged the TPLF army in Arba Minch and its environs from May 7-9, 2016. It reported that it had killed 20 government solders, while wounding ‘not less than 50 enemy soldiers’, according to its statement quoted by ESAT.
In acknowledging the movement’s own losses of troops, whose number it did not disclose, AG7 praised the ‘heroic deeds of its ‘Southern Front Command’, whose losses it described as “sacrifices”.
Without revealing my ignorance, let me seize this opportunity to state that, for me, “the Southern Front Command” is the first reference of its kind about existence of such hostile military structure inside Ethiopia proper, belonging to Arbengoch Ginbot 7 – of all places in and around Arba Minch. Perhaps this might be because I am not aware of other such force presences in other parts of the country.
One thing the AG7 statement made clear by its not mentioning is its force killing a TPLF police or a military commander in the area, as originally mentioned in ESAT’s first and second reporting on the matter.
I had also picked up that story and tweeted it as news at the time of its announcement. Inevitably, I have become a victim of the hazard of using modern social media technology that hardly affords no time for fact verification — if at all there is any way or means to do so. In the curcumstances, I bow to announce readiness to be corrected for circulating a misstatement I have unknowingly given further velocity.
We agree that, while conflict is not a game of honesty, on balance, I do appreciate anyone of the two sides that has endeavored to spare the Ethiopian people from being taken for granted. In that respect, while I cannot vouch for AG7 telling ‘the whole truth nothing but the truth’ and none at all to the TPLF, it is a matter of transparency and readers that the dice has fallen on AG7’s side, favoring its counts of truths with as little propaganda as possible in its statement, usually common in such situations!
Two sides; two dramas
Note that, like any conflict situation, this story too has its two sides – TPLF and AG7. The TPLF side seems to show that truth has many versions/faces. This has invited the flashlight to shine rather on its vulnerability. This means a discordant offiviak statement opens it up for suspicion and critcisms. Often, when one’s efforts gravitate toward exaggerating, or covering-up or outwitting the other side, gaps are created or readers notice serious shortcomings in such statements.
Note that the TPLF regime statement, issued Wednesday in the name of the National Intelligence and Security Service and Federal Police Joint Anti-Terrorism Taskforce contended it has: (a) “apprehended [“Terrorist group members trained by Eritrean government”] “together with their weapons and other materials”; and, (b) it claims it has “shot [some ‘Eritrean agents’] dead while trying to escape.”
The news story also related that, after receiving terrorist training in Asmara, the alleged ‘Eritrean agents’ “flew to Uganda with an Eritrean passport”, their true identities altered. Then, those individuals traveled by a vehicle to Kenya and crossed to the southern part of Ethiopia via Moyle, Kenya, and hid at a jungle there, the statement added.
On this matter, it might be in the nature of TPLF’s secrecy why its story has failed to state, if any information exchange with Uganda and Kenya ever took place, as it has detailed all the paths of the ‘Eritrean state recruits’, up until they entered Ethiopian territory to commit the alleged terrorism.
Perhaps, ‘considerate’ as the TPLF is known to be, it might have thought both Kenya and Uganda, as IGAD members, the countries collaborate with Ethiopia on anti-terrorism issues if common interests; also the relations between the regimes are tied by treaties of 2009/2010, which for all intents and purposes have ditched longstanding international conventions, for instance, the refugee non refoulment, a principle of international law that forbids returning a true victim of persecution to his/her persecutor, usually state actor.
In this closeness and the self-interest evident, nevertheless, I cannot see the harm of TPLF revealing — unless the feudal ruling party in Ethiopia did not want to disturb the two members of the East African Community (EAC) — when they were busy in Kampala in the celebration of Yoweri Kaguta Museveni’s coronation – with the social media totally shut off and Uganda’s leading opposition leader exiled up north close to the Kenya border.
Recall that in its first news release regarding its Arba Minch military with AG7’s Southern Front Command, the TPLF did not want to mention at all there was any action. Also it would have preferred to embrace a leper to mentioning Arba Minch. In the news, therefore, it chose to report on its media:
‘The Eritrea-trained-and-dispatched agents had hid themselves in the forest in the southern tip of Ethiopia [emphasis added], thinking that they were not under any observation.’
In Amharic the reads:
“የኤርትራ መንግስት ተላላኪዎቹ ስማቸውን በመቀየር የኤርትራ የጉዞ ሰነድ ከተዘጋጀላቸው በኋላ ከአስመራ ተነስተው ወደ ኡጋንዳ በአውሮፕላን ቀጥሎም በተሽከርካሪ ወደ ኬኒያ ተጉዘው በሞያሌ በኩል ድንበር ተሻግረው በደቡብ ክልል ደቡባዊ ጫፍ አካባቢ በሚገኝ ጫካ ውስጥ ያልታወቁ መስሏቸው ራሳቸውን በመደበቅ ቆይተዋል ነው ያለው [የፀረ ሽብር ግብረ ሃይሉ]።”
I have no sufficient information to question that. Nevertheless, in the age of GPS my first reaction was to wonder where that “southern tip of Ethiopia” could be. Is the TPLF talking about Borana, which is extant on both sides of the border, or Lake Turkana, Gibe on our side. I consulted Google only to be convinced that the TPLF claim about the individuals’ movements couldn’t hold water.
In the circumstances, my instinctive reaction was to make public my puzzlement in a tweet, date-marked May 12, as follows:
The TPLF English news report simply states: “Then, they [‘The Eritrea-trained-and-dispatched agents] traveled by a vehicle to Kenya and crossed to the southern part of Ethiopia via Moyle, Kenya, and hid at a jungle there…”
As usual, government communications Minister Getachew Reda thoughtlessly Thursday added his puzzling inputs to the issue in a casually-organized press conference. He said that the ‘Eritrean-trained-and-dispatched destructive forces’ “were detained while preparing to commit an act of terrorism in Ethiopia.” The spokesperson did not make any mention of physical elimination of the still unknown number of the Eritrea-dispatched force members. This was supposed to be very important since the task force had said some “were shot dead …”
I cannot speak to why Getachew Reda omitted that. Anyways, since he is a TPLF central committee member, most importantly anointed by Sebhat Nega, who last summer nominated him to that post, he has no worries whatsoever, when he commits such ommission (assuming it’s intentional). He has severely cut down the TPLF intelligence, ignoring the fact that the whole news item was about their exaltation, especially about their ‘heroic action’ in killing the enemy that has come to unseat their Front.
In his wisdom the spokesperson has limited himself to stating about the intruders’ arrest, as the “foreign agents were preparing to carry out an act of terrorism.”
Finally, why did the TPLF want to suppress any mention of Arba Minch? Is it the case that it was afraid the truth would come out to the rest of the world that the TPLF regime has been militarily engaging in true combat an unknown number of the Ethiopian people that now also earnestly want to unseat it in a battlefield, given that in quarter century the electoral system has not worked, which in May 2015 again has awarded it 100 percent electoral victory?
The fact of the matter is that, the TPLF faced its first serious challenge less than half a year since, when Oromia constituting 40 percent of the Ethiopian population and 60 percent of the nation’s GDP, said enough is enough and began its not yet suppressed rebellion. The TPLF keeps on telling the word that it is in charge of the situation in Oromia, after criminally killing over 400 Ethiopians. This has been is the most horrendous story in the annals of national governance.
Interestingly, such is the sense in Ethiopia today that both state violence and popular rebellion are taking place at the same time. Deaths, as a result of killing by the regime with every passing day, have become common occurrences in today’s Ethiopia.
Yet Ethiopians observe moral decadence in some individuals, especially Western leaders such as Tony Blair. He had been to Ethiopia days ago, perhaps on behalf of some class of investors, or to shore up his income by any means, or the TPLF sharing with him what it gets begging on behalf of drought victims to confirm to Western market that Ethiopia is still open for business, as a nation on a path of great progress.
My stomach was churning as I read his words. Another Ethiopian was in the same state of anguish; my response to the young lady who early on had chastised Tony Blair for failing to tell the truth about the ongoing tribulations Ethiopia was:
Why business AG7 has in Arba Minch and its environs?
Arbengoch Ginbot 7 is in Arba Minch, as well as several youths from that region are members of its army, even siblings. And yet the question why the movement has chosen that region requires explanation.
Over the years, news reports have consistently shown that the youths and even adults in Arba Minch, most of the surrounding areas, have been subjected to discrimination, SNNPR being a motley of ethnic minorities the TPLF in its 1994 constitution did not sort out their problems.
Therefore, the TPLF’s solution for them is discrimination and beatings by its police and militia in the streets, humiliated in government offices, seized off from homes to be imprisoned being members of Ginbot 7 as pretext, in instances never returning home – secretly eliminated by the regime.
In Arba Minch, children of parents that are suspected of involvement in opposition politics are denied of education, and adults of jobs – a curse that has befallen our nation under the TPLF regime. I recall watching one news program on ESAT on this matter that has educated me on the particular problems of the region.
Once seized in Arba Minch and Gamo area, many young citizens still remain in prison at either Maekelawi, the TPLF’s torture chamber in Addis Abeba, or as in the several other local detention centers held forever without trial; or in Zeway and Hawassa prisons, possibly in the many unmarked ones too around the country.
As in many parts of the country under the TPLF, the political space in Ethiopia has long been closed down. This has deprived Ethiopians of the possibility of operating without fear and peacefully in organizations of their choosing. This is simply because the TPLF has low self-esteem and it cannot tolerate any alternative views, even if they could add up as support or improvements to the country’s development programs.
Individual citizens, unaffiliated with the ruling party, have to be vetted constantly. This is because of the regime’s suspicion of them either as members of the opposition or harboring a view not favored by the regime. At one time or another, such individuals end up in prison or indefinitely jobless.
According to various news sources, there are Arba Minch parents and relations who still could not trace the whereabouts of their sons, daughters or relatives seized from Arba Minch and its environs.
Consequently and sadly, Arba Minch and its neighboring areas are known to have produced their share of larger numbers of Ethiopian refugees and migrant youths, including as young as 13, both boys and girls. Many have perished in the deserts or high sees or in some jails or abused. Some of them have become subjects of reporting by prison officials in Eastern and Southern Africa for illegally entering their nations.
Heart-rending is the fact that even parents are known to encourage their children to migrate across the southern frontiers into Kenya, if possible to go to Europe, if not to South Africa, to escape the barbarism and cruelties of the ruling TPLF party.
If anything the Arba Minch terrible situation has taught me, the European Union (EU) has also negatively contributed to the problems, instead of the solutions. In seeking solutions to the African refugee problems in collaboration with the refugee producing countries, EU politics has been contributing to the problems prioritizing the needs of the state.
At the end of last year, the EU Foreign Affairs Chief and in Charge of Security Fedrika Mogherini has all been an embrace to the TPLF regime, the main disruptor of peaceful co-existence in Ethiopia and producer of refugees in the country. This was contrary to the spirit of the EU parliament resolution on Ethiopia, which strongly condemned the human rights situation in the country, in particular TPLF’s state violence.
That is why, in response to her invitation on her blog and her ‘velvet views’, I negatively reacted mainly, because of which I turned for rescue to the words of former Israel’s Foreign Minister Abba Eban, who said:
The regime tries to give this its own interpretation accusing human traffickers that have been routinely operating in the area. On account of that, Arba Minch is made to host the regime’s anti-human trafficking office, even when the country does not have the appropriate policies on this, as the State Department has constantly reminded the regime. Ignoring its failures, however, it uses as scapegoats individuals changing this human tragedy into business in human trafficking activities in the region.
Moreover, for a long time teachers have also been aggrieved party in Arba Minch, as is the case throughout Ethiopia. Teachers in Ethiopia at some point started complaining about finding deductions from their meagre wages to contribute for membership in ruling party affiliated political parties. This was a subject of reporting by international human rights organizations as well as the International Labor Organization (ILO), including the United Nations Human Rights Council. See for instance a statement by The Advocates in 2012.
All said an done, Arba Minch is seen as the bed of revolutionary change in southern Ethiopia. Eventually, I am assuming, AG7 and others, might using to as their recruitment and operational ground.
Fresh indicator in Ethiopia’s future
AG7’s Southern Front Command statement, quoted by ESAT, justified the latest military action in a more determined futuristic statement underlining, “We have been embittered by the whole state of affairs in our country. We would no longer allow ourselves to be seized by cadres of the regime like sheep and be slaughtered.”
It emphatically stated, “We would no longer remain responseless in the face of the cruelty the TPLF regime has been perpetrating on our people.” “If we have to die on account of our freedom, we too have to kill,” it added.
The members of AG7 are drawn from all Ethiopian ethnic groups, unlike the TPLF minority group ethnicity, which for all intents and purposes is executive over a multi-national state, backed in particular by contented top brass of the army and the security. These have ensured tight control over politics and the nation’s economy through monopolistic business activities it owns and operates throughout the country.
As to the cause for this latest AG7 action against regime forces, it can in every sense be taken yet as the strongest indication to date of the likelihood of intensification of military engagements in Ethiopia, possibly in the months and years ahead. This can only be reversed, with the TPLF seeing reason to change its violent course so far, which has only been endangering the nation’s existence and its own continuity in power, or otherwise in peace.
I dare say that this action by AG7 is an initial realization of the promises by movement’s chairman Prof. Berhanu Nega, who at the end of January 2016 told Ethiopians to stop looking toward Eritrea’s direction.
He confidently assured them that AG7 is within the people, including in Addis Abeba, while I caution this not be given more hype than it deserves. There is no doubt he meant what he said, when he clearly stated in Maryland:
“ከልቤ ልናገር”…ሕዝባዊ እምቢተኝነትን በሃገር ውስጥ ለማካሄድ – ጊዘው ሲደርስ – ከማንም ያልተናነሰ ጠንክራ ድርጅት ሃገር ውስጥ አለን! – [የወያኔን] የሰለላ ኃይሉንና የጦር ኃይሉን ማዳከም ዋናው ሥራችን ነው…!”
“I say this from my heart. When the time comes, we undertake public resistance. In comparative terms, we have as strong an organization. Weakening the intelligence and the army is the primary task we are engaged in.”
Also clear and giving sure basis to that is the Ethiopian youth in, which for a while long has been in favor of change and AG7 has had the greatest appeal to it.
Therefore, Prof. Berhanu Nega’s Maryland statement ties well with the much-talked about creeping instability in Ethiopia, in the face of the building up opposition within the country against the worsening barbarism and corruption of the regime.
The #OromoPrtests have surely induced great awakening in Ethiopia’s hitherto gasping aspiration for change. In a long time, this year personally I have heard and read from Oromo intellectuals there is a great deal of desire to fight for greater autonomy, individual freedoms, ethnic equality and equality opportunities, premised on democratic dispensation and under a federal arrangements loyal to the rule of law.
The Arba Minch action is certainly one more step in the right direction and the only option from this vantage point. It is in keeping with the Maryland promise. It could come to fruition, when Ethiopian opposition groups substitute and begin to operate in the interest of common cause.
In the unequal Ethiopia under the minority regime, prisons flourish, few get richer, and TPLF companies are first bite takers of national resources and budgets.
TPLF companies have become majority business owners, consultants with a cause, road builders, construction firms owners and masters of huge villas and rising buildings. Of late, they now have elevated some of their enterprises to the level of joint-project owners and operators along with different Chinese-owned firms on one side and Ethiopian state-owned companies on the other.
This possibility of and them being gripped to be free to do whatever they like have blinded the TPLF, It is a political organization, encouraged daily to become more pushy, not only to individual citizens they freely violate their human rights because of the political power behind their ethnicity. But also they have become even capable of standing even to state authority as well as state bosses in state-owned companies.
If one only one takes the example of Metals and Engineering Corporation (METEC) – the main funds-distributor to the EFFORT companies, gobbled up from state enterprises – it has now moved on to exercising controls over private sector businesses in indirect ways and officially state-owned firm.
Metec is run by none other than one Gen. Kinfe Dagnew, several colonels and others in uniform all from the same district in Tigray, the TPLF has been using it as an enterprise to rob from Ethiopians to enrich itself and the irresponsible TPLF individual bosses. The mafia must come to the TPLF to acquire the best lesson in the art of greed, murder, corruption and – not that it needs it – bas governance too!
The general’s back is covered by the army chief-of-staff, as both are related not only in ethnicity, but also eventual goal in life, and in marriage too.
So far, we have seen with our own eyes in these five years, Metec has proved to be the ‘touch of death’ in Ethiopia, since anything it has touched has been dying.
*Mr. Keffyalew Gebremedhin is not an advocate of position of any particular political party. As non-affiliated individual, not belonging to any political party at home and abroad, his sympathy to AG7 is nothing more than sympathy to the views it articulates for a democratic Ethiopia.
TEO is also an independent medium, promoting ideas and views beneficial to Ethiopians, and the cause of a peaceful world and the equality of all human beings.