A Unilateral Military Defeat

Last week a characteristically cocky if not inarticulate Abiy Ahmed said ‘there is no hunger in Tigray there is a problem in Tigray and the government can take care of it’ in response to a question posed by a BBC reporter. The interaction which lasted for less than two minutes was the only opportunity reporters have had to directly interrogate Ahmed on widespread accusations and concrete evidence of a plethora of war crimes and crimes against humanity including the deployment of starvation as a weapon of war.

Duplicity has been a corner stone of Ahmed’s significant public relations machine throughout his time as interim head of government and throughout the Tigray genocide. Ahmed and his administration lied about the presence of Eritrean and Somali troops. They lied about the ‘immediate’ withdrawal of Eritrean troops. They lied about targeting civilians in air strikes. They lied about weaponized starvation in Tigray.

It is, therefore, quite the turnaround for a government which declared its own “final offensive” on June 19th to claim the primary impetus behind its declaration of a unilateral ceasefire is the sudden discovery of a conscious. Abraham Belay head of the federally appointed and now defunct interim administrations’ ‘appeal’ to the federal government for a ceasefire on the grounds that there’s a need to avert hunger rings hollow. The planting season has passed and the harvesting season doesn’t begin until October, a full month after the ceasefire is scheduled to expire.

This is not a unilateral ceasefire, it is TDF’s unilateral military victory over ENDF. The Eritrean government and the Amhara regional government have yet to call a unilateral ceasefire because they have yet to be unilaterally defeated.

A statement by Ahmed’s collaborators delivered through Yemane Gebremeskel’s tweet yet again decreeing ‘Game Over’, indicates the limited possibilities of a unilateral ceasefire’s ensuring a cessation of hostilities in which multiple actors have been engaged. Commitments for the withdrawal of Eritrean troops made by both the Afwerki and Ahmed’s regimes as far back as March have yet to materialize. Even if the ceasefire was anything more than dubious exercise in marketing, it’s unclear whether Abiy has the military strength, political capital, or moral will to call off his collaborators.

A statement by the Amhara regional government, administered, like the now defunct Tigray interim administration, by Ahmed’s prosperity party exposes the dishonesty underlying his unilateral ceasefire. A full understanding of the bipolarity of Ahmed’s espoused positions requires an appreciation for his dissolution of the EPRDF’s nationally delineated autonomous parties in favor of a single centralized supranational party – an action that played a significant role in provoking the war. Ahmed’s prosperity party has pleaded with itself for and granted a unilateral cessation of hostilities whilst also declaring its commitment to continued use of force to return annexed lands already liberated by the TDF.   

Fano and the Amhara regional forces’ federally sponsored war on Tigray did not begin on November 4th. Even before the war, the Amhara regional state government, with the federal government’s close supervision, has for years actively engaged in the closure of roads and other acts of economic belligerence. As far back as 2016, these actors committed acts of ethnic based violence, killing, seizing and destroying the properties of Tigrayan’s residing in Gondar. The event would prove to be a precursor of what we’ve witnessed in Mai Kadra and other parts of Western Tigray.

Since the outbreak of war such activities have synchronized with larger efforts to commit genocide. For instance, when on Monday the 24th of May Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers abducted a large number of IDPs, the road to Shire from Gondar was simultaneously closed. The road was an exclusive access point for aid workers seeking to provide vital services to the large numbers of IDPs, most victims of ethnic cleansing, in western Tigray, that had flooded the city. Amhara regional forces (directly led by Ahmed’s Prosperity Party) that then occupied Mai Tsebri, told humanitarian organizations that their institutions had to pay taxes to the regional government or see if America could secure their right of passage. A now liberated Shire found itself under absolute isolation from Ethiopia while regularly welcoming an inflow of Eritrean soldiers who killed, raped and abused its residents daily. The road through Gondar became an exclusive access point because all other roads to Shire had been closed for several months by Eritrean troops who refused to let aid and aid workers through.

It’s important to note the abuse rendered on Tigrayan’s remains largely unaccounted for as a telecommunications blackout has been in place with intermittent breaks throughout the war.  Electricity, health care, food, medication, banking, information – everything one could need for survival, has been weaponized. Since the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire, Mekelle which thus far enjoyed better access to public services than the rest of Tigray has also been cut off.  Tigray is now back under a complete communications blackout as part of the general suspension of all public services to the region. Ahmed’s regime in rhetoric and in action has shown absolute disregard for its own unilateral ceasefire within hours of declaring it. That ENDF troops entered UNHCR premises in Mekelle to commandeer all communications equipment before retreating from Mekelle is revealing of the lengths the Ethiopian government will go to suppress information.

That viewing the declaration as anything more than a mendacious PR stunt would be the height of infantile naiveté isn’t lost on the TPLF’s leadership. Debretsion Gebremichael, TPLF chairman and president of the elected government of Tigray, reportedly responded to news of the unilateral ceasefire by saying, “How can we take the ceasefire declaration seriously, when they cut power and communication lines to Mekelle to punish the people. It is just to buy time for them to regroup. We will not allow that.”

A Bloomberg article quoted Getachew Reda, spokesperson for the Tigray Central Command as saying the ‘TPLF also wants Abiy to restore services to Tigray, including power and telecommunications, and agree to be held accountable for atrocities in the war, Getachew said.“If he is interested in a cease-fire, let him address those issues,” he said in a phone interview. “You cannot cut off electricity and services and expect to make peace.” These sentiments were echoed by the Biden administration which reiterated its request for the withdrawal of Eritrean troops, immediate unhindered humanitarian access and a restoration of public services such as telecommunications but made no mention of the Amhara regional forces and aligned militia. On his part, Abiy Ahmed delivered a speech to Ethiopian journalist and media outlets in which he made a number of claims that most problematically doubled down on narratives that conflate the civilian population of Tigray with the TPLF and the TDF.

In the same speech, Ahmed went on to augment statements by the Amhara branch of his prosperity party. In an effort to inspire more bloodshed he asked of the forces accused of committing ethnic cleansing in Western Tigray ‘This may for us politicians be a matter of politics, a gamble, but what are you showing your children, what are you teaching them ? that they should be afraid of people from one area (Tigray)? Media should not engage in narratives that exult people from some region as superior, they should not teach their children to be afraid of these people’

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