|Volume 50 Number 42, November 21, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
People and organisations across the world have expressed grave concerns about the actions of the Federal Government of Ethiopia, which has embarked on a military campaign against the Government of the Regional National State of Tigray, one of ten regional states in Ethiopia, led by the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF). The African Union, the UN and many others have called for a ceasefire, following reports that hundreds have been killed in fighting and some 30,000 people have been forced to flee as refugees to the neighbouring country of Sudan.
The growing conflict has led to particular concerns because the Federal Government is preventing access to Tigray and appears to have suspended phone, internet and power in the region, although it claims that the this has been undertaken by the TPLF. Both sides have accused the other of attacks on civilians, but there have also been reports that the Federal Government is arresting and persecuting those of Tigrayan nationality throughout Ethiopia. The Federal Government has also issued arrest warrants for many of the leaders of Tigray and the TPLF.
Although the Federal Government is evidently waging its attacks with air and land forces, there have also been some reports that other countries, including Eritrea and the UAE, are assisting its assault by supplying troops, as well as carrying out missile and drone attacks. The TPLF has also fired missiles, which it claims are in self-defence, some of which have reportedly hit targets in Eritrea. The growing conflict therefore has the potential to envelope neighbouring counties and to destabilise the entire region. The speed and manner in which the conflict has unfolded pose many questions, not least why in the 21st century it is necessary for any government, let alone one headed by the recipient of a Nobel Peace prize, to declare war on those in its own country?
According to the Federal Government, it "is compelled to undertake a law enforcement operation to defend and protect the constitutional order and uphold the rule of law." This is apparently because the "TPLF clique" were "determined to trigger an armed conflict by attacking the northern command of the federal armed forces stationed in the Tigray region." This attack was alleged to have taken place on November 4 2020 and is denied by the TPLF.
The second major reason given by the Federal government for its military "law enforcement operation" is that "in a blunt violation of the Constitution, TPLF adopted its own illegal electoral law, an illegal electoral commission and conducted an illegal election in which it won all the seats in the Regional Council." The Government of the Regional National State of Tigray held elections in September of this year, arguing that it was abiding by Ethiopia's constitution, as well as the constitution of Tigray. It argued that the people of Tigray had the democratic right to elect their government, even during the pandemic. It contrasted its approach with that of the Federal Government and of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's Prosperity Party, which had never stood in an election, nor been elected to office. The TPLF, for its part, maintains that the postponement of Ethiopia-wide elections in 2020, ostensibly because of the pandemic, was unconstitutional.
The question of the rights of the people, whether to elect their own government or to exercise the right of self-determination as nations, therefore seems to be at the heart of the current military conflict. It must also be recalled that it was mainly the struggles by the TPLF and its allies in the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) that led, in 1991, to the overthrow of the dictatorial military government in power in Ethiopia at the time. Those struggles ushered in a new era in Ethiopia's history, which produced the first ever elections and in 1995, after countrywide consultations with the entire population, a new Ethiopian constitution . That new constitution was unique in many respects, and not only in the African context. For example, Article 38 of that constitution declares that every Ethiopian has the right to vote and be elected to office. Article 39 of the constitution refers very specifically to the rights of nations to self-determination, an iss ue of enormous importance in Ethiopia, a country of over eighty nations and nationalities, where hitherto such rights had been denied. Article 39 included the following provisions:
1. Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has an unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession.
2. Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has the right to speak, to write and to develop its own language; to express, to develop and to promote its culture; and to preserve its history.
3. Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has the right to a full measure of self-government which includes the right to establish institutions of government in the territory that it inhabits and to equitable representation in state and Federal governments.
The constitution also includes the right to secession of every "Nation, Nationality and People" in certain circumstances. It explains that "A 'Nation, Nationality or People' for the purpose of this Constitution, is a group of people who have or share large measure of a common culture or similar customs, mutual intelligibility of language, belief in a common or related identities, a common psychological make-up, and who inhabit an identifiable, predominantly contiguous territory."
There is some evidence to suggest that the current Federal Government and prime minister of Ethiopia are less than enthusiastic about these aspects of a constitution decided by the deliberations of the Ethiopian people themselves. This certainly seems to be the view of other organisations in Ethiopia, such as the newly formed Ethiopian Multinational Federalist Support Forum, which has condemned the state violence that has plagued the country in the past two years, and that has been especially evident in other national regional states such as Oromia and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region. It has led many to draw the conclusion that the Federal Government is attacking all those who uphold the rights of nations, whatever their nationality. However, at present it appears to be particularly targeting Tigrayans - even, without evidence, levelling accusation against Tedros Adhanos Ghebreyesus, the Tigrayan director-general of the World Health Organisation.
What is clear is that the people of Tigray are being collectively punished by military might in an attempt to deny them rights that they and other Ethiopians have given their lives to guarantee. In this context there can be no justification for further conflict and the loss of life in Ethiopia, which has already created the conditions for foreign intervention in the country and has led for calls for further intervention, most notably from the United States. It is a time for cool heads but also for the people of Ethiopia to become the decision-makers in all matters regarding their country's destiny.
1. Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of