The Army in Somalia: Is it TPLF’s or Ethiopian Army?

January 17, 2007

In particular, after the outrageous June and Nov/05 massacre of innocent civilians by Meles’ Agazzi Force, it becomes an undisputed fact that, not only ordinary foot soldiers but also so many high-ranking Army Generals and Officers are defecting from being suspended, held incommunicado and killed by Meles’ dictatorial regime. Mind you, in TPLF’s era, such degree of overt discontent by the Army is unheard of before. Put simply, the Army is being unsettled and shaken to its root. The question we need to ask ourselves is that: what is the real cause of the Army’s dissatisfaction? Why the defection? Why the suspension? Why the killing and detention is still going on? The purpose of this article is to answer some of the questions raised above and analyse its implication on the overall political picture of our country. I will also draw your attention to the current composition of the Ethiopian Army so as to critically examine whether or not it can reasonably be called a TPLF or indeed an Ethiopian Army.

Before answering these questions, let us have a very brief comparative over view of the make up of the Army under Emperor Haile Selassie, Colonel Mengistu and Ato Meles. It is true that the Army under Emperor Haile Selassie was very often used to serve the Emperor’s regime to crush internal dissent. Compared to the Army’s of both Colonel Mengistu and Ato Meles, the Army which served during the Emperor era, was the most professional and scarcely used to crush internal dissent.

Nevertheless, we can still confidently call the Army under Emperor Haile Selassie an Ethiopian Army as it was drawn from all cross-sections of the society; top to bottom. Furthermore, the Army under the Emperor was trained to love Ethiopia, its flag, its people, to defend the territorial integrity of Ethiopia and of course to love and respect the Emperor as well. Who would deny the Army’s undiluted and undying Ethiopian patriotic fervor under the Emperor?

As to the Army under Colonel Mengistu’s regime, it was obvious that the Army was notoriously used to suppress internal dissent unparalleled in Ethiopian history. Colonel Mengistu had an iron-grip on the Army and turned the Army completely subservient to him in order to satisfy his sadistic nature. Nobody in his right mind is going to deny that. Admittedly, it is very unforgettable and the saddest part of our history. However, when I say internal dissent, I am not referring to the Army’s defense of Ethiopia from TPLF, EPLF and ELF who were fighting to dismember Ethiopia. As a Pan-Ethiopian, I am very grateful and still respect our gallant heroes and heroines who sacrificed their dear life to protect the territorial integrity of Ethiopia in the war with TPLF and EPLF. I am positive their life will not be lost in vain.

Nevertheless, we can still confidently call the Army under Colonel Mengistu an Ethiopian Army as it was drawn from all cross-sections of the society; top to bottom. With out unnecessarily going to details again, as it was the case under the Emperor’s era, the Army under Colonel Mengistu, even though tainted with revolutionary ideology, was still trained to love Ethiopia, its flag, its people, to defend the territorial integrity of Ethiopia and of course to love and execute the wishes of Colonel Mengistu as well. I am aware that, TPLF do love to call the Army under Colonel Mengistu as the Derg’s Army. I am also aware that few well-meaning Ethiopians do prefer to call the Army like wise. However, I do not agree with them. In fact, as explained above, what one can sensibly and soundly conclude is that, it is indeed an Ethiopian Army though it falls under the iron-grip of a ruthless and bloodthirsty dictator.

Before I start to examine the Army under the TPLF, let me wind up my comment of the Army under both the King and Colonel Mengistu by emphasising a point from Shaleqa Dawit Woldegiorgis’ recent book entitled Kehidet Be Dem Meret. In the book, there is a real story about a soldier which more or less goes as follows. The soldier mistakenly dropped the Ethiopian flag into the mud. As a result, first the Ethiopian soldiers who were on the scene were so furious that they were restrained before taking deadly measure against the soldier. Second, the soldier himself was stopped from committing suicide because of guilt. Third, a reasonable punishment was imposed on the soldier by the military. What more do we need to prove the very Ethiopianness of the Army during the King and Colonel Mengistu?

For the sake of simplicity, I divide the Army under TPLF’s era into three categories.

  1. The first one is the “rag-tag” TPLF Army which victoriously marched to Emperor Menelik’s Palace after Colonel Mengistu shamefully fled to Zimbabwe by abandoning the Ethiopian Army. This Army of TPLF was fighting along side the EPLF Army to dismember Ethiopia and it was instrumental in the separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia. In addition, this Army of TPLF was trained to hate the Amhara people, its country Ethiopia, its flag and its history. Put simply, this Army of TPLF was indoctrinated with nothing but the poison of ‘Greater Tigray’ in place of Ethiopia.I think it is fitting to quote TPLF itself from its Amharic book entitled Terarawen Yanketekete Tewled (Volumes One to Four). The book unambiguously tells us how the TPLF leadership encountered its strongest challenge when its rag-tag Army abandoned the struggle after the province of Tigray fall under their control. The rag-tag Army told the TPLF leadership that they have ‘liberated’ Tigray; thus, as far as they are concerned, mission is successfully accomplished. As to neighboring provinces of Wello and Gondar, the rag-tag Army told the TPLF leadership to tell the Amharas to liberate themselves.It was only after the TPLF leadership convinced the rag-tag Army that unless they finish the Ethiopian Army by defeating it in Addis Ababa, their beloved Tigray would never be safe from being recaptured by the Ethiopian Army. Believe it or not, according to the TPLF book, this was exactly what made most of the rag-tag Army, which marched victoriously to Addis Ababa, change their mind and keep-up the fight. Thus, one can surmise from this that, the “rag-tag” Army of TPLF couldn’t be considered as an Ethiopian Army. Its objective was the liberation of Tigray and it has nothing to do with Ethiopia. Therefore, it should rightly be called a TPLF Army. By the same analogy, Ato Seye Abraha and Ato Hayalom Araya can not be Ethiopia’s heroes. I have no problem if they are called TPLF’s heroes.
  2. TPLF’s rag-tag Army essentially remained the same up until the start of the war between the twin enemies of Ethiopia, TPLF and EPLF. Of course, under the influence of TPLF’s donors, to appease some minority groups and to avoid criticism of out right ethnic favoritism, TPLF has made a cosmetic change in its rag-tag Army to give it a semblance of an all-inclusive Ethiopian Army by enrolling few non-Tigreans in the Army. But, the cosmetic change was limited only to the rank and file of the Army. Almost all the leadership and decision making apparatus of the Army were in the hands of the Tigreans.I think it is enough to look at an incident that happened at the Air Force to assess the validity of the above contention. I still remember when they recruited the first Air Force pilot trainees. To our surprise, TPLF’s leadership displayed their shear arrogance by taking 19 Tigrigna speakers out of 20 recruits. If any body is in doubt about it, all the names of the recruits were on the then popular free press newspaper called Ethiopis. For your information, the editor-in-chief of Ethiopis was detained for publishing this news and the newspaper was forced out of circulation. Ethiopis’ Newspaper editor- in – chief at the time was the late Tefera Asmare. Therefore, it is very difficult to call this Army as an Ethiopian Army. It is TPLF’s Army but in name.
  3. The composition of the Army has shown significant changes before and immediately after the start of the Badme war. To begin with, it was very clear for TPLF that, with out the support of the former Ethiopian Professional Army that was vengefully disbanded by TPLF, it would be very difficult to contain the advancing EPLF Army, let alone defeat it. Furthermore, with out the support of the Ethiopian people and the vast number of new Army recruits from non-Tigrigna speakers, it also became very clear that TPLF was dreading to go to war with EPLF.Thus, the Badme war effectively forced TPLF to recruit large numbers of non-Tigrigna speakers in to the Army. This fundamentally changed the rank and file composition of the Army. Nevertheless, all high-ranking posts, particularly above the ranks of Captain, are still occupied by Tigrigna speakers. That is the hard truth. This is also the very Army which is in Somalia fighting the UIC and its supporters at the moment. The recruitment of soldiers from other ethnic groups, reflecting the multi ethnic characteristics’ of the country, has changed the composition of the Army and its representation. Although the critical posts are still under the domain of the Tigreans, it will be very difficult to call the current Army in Ethiopia as TPLF’s Army.

Given the present composition of the Army and the sacrifices they are paying in Somalia, would it be right to call them a TPLF Army, as it has been referred to by some of the prominent Ethiopian Opposition Websites? For the reasons elaborated hereunder, I would argue that the Army who is currently fighting in Somalia is an Ethiopian Army.

First, as argued above, looking at the composition of the Army in Somalia particularly at the rank and file level, calling the Army a TPLF Army is tantamount to calling the new recruits of our own brothers and sisters who joined the Army during and after Badme war for various reasons TPLFites. People can argue that they are fighting the wrong war or Meles Zenawi’s war but they can’t contend that it is a TPLF Army. It is worth remembering that the Army in Ethiopia under successive governments has fought wars which the incumbent government orders them to fight and the current Army isn’t any different from previous ones.

Second, we are witnessing some sort of dissatisfaction in the Army after the May/05 General Election. We know that Meles is a hated and rejected tyrant by the people. We also know Meles is ruling Ethiopia by shear force. Meles can stay in power if he can only control the Army. If Meles can not buy the loyalty of the Army, then there is no doubt that his regime will be over. I think the army has rightly taken note of it. Had there been an insightful opposition at the moment, there is a great opportunity to exploit the Army’s discontent and call them to side with the Ethiopian people by rising against Meles. If we have a coherent Opposition leading the struggle, they would have grabbed the opportunity created and utilize it to further their struggle. The Army desperately needs guidance, reassurance and far-sighted vision from the Opposition in order to use them as a weapon of change but not intimidation. In the absence of such a concerted effort on the part of the Opposition, it will be ridiculous to claim and assert that the Army serves only TPLF’s interest. Had they tried hard enough, they would have been able to influence the role the Army is playing. By the way, even though I am not sure whether it is a blessing or not, OLF is cleaver enough to work and exploit this discontent in the army to its benefit.

For goodness sake, if we are calling the Ethiopian Army a TPLF Army or showing pleasure when an Ethiopian soldier is killed in Somalia or praying day and night for the slaughter of the Ethiopian Army in Somalia, can any body reasonably explain to us why the Army should take the Opposition’s call seriously and side with the Opposition? It seems to me that we are self-contradicting our selves. If we need the Army to side with the people and help us remove TPLF, it goes with out saying that we need to show our sympathy to the Army. We need to embrace the Army. We need to see the Army as the people’s ally. At least, we need to call them an Ethiopian Army and not a TPLF Army.

Third, is it politically correct to call the Ethiopian Army in Somalia a TPLF Army? Who would benefit out of it? TPLF or the Opposition? What is the Opposition’s objective: to multiply its enemies or win more friends? Can’t we make the Army ask whose war they are fighting? Can’t we make the Army think TPLF and Meles are the number one threats to Ethiopia over and above the UIC? Can’t we make the Army think they are sacrificing their dear and irreplaceable life in Somalia to save Meles’ skin? Can’t we make the Army ask Meles to free all the political prisoners who are languishing in TPLF dungeons?..etc.

But, can we ask the Army to do such things by calling them a TPLF Army? I do not think so. I hope we have now learned a big lesson and we are politically correct in differentiating the people of Tigray from TPLF. That policy helped Kinijit and UEDF to largely win the heart and minds of Tigreans during the May/05 election. Don’t you think we need to do the same to the Army? I tell you what, calling the Ethiopian Army a TPLF Army and wishing their demise and death in Somalia and at the same time calling them to side with the Opposition is an absolute non-sense and a complete political incompetence. It does not do any good to the Opposition.

Fourth, if we call the current Army a TPLF Army simply because it is made to serve Meles, we run a very great risk of ending up calling the Civil Servant a TPLF Civil Servant; the judges, TPLF judges; etc. as they are also made to serve TPLF. You see, it is a very big trap and there is no ending to this non-sense name-calling. We might even run the risk of calling the people a TPLF-people as they are not rising to over throw the Meles’ regime!! Strictly speaking, nobody who is living in Ethiopia would be spared from this accusation. Is this what the Opposition want? Is this how we multiply our friends? Is this how we isolate the TPLF? I do not think so.

Fifth, we shouldn’t naively believe that Meles opposes some people addressing the Army as a TPLF Army. Despite TPLF-controlled Medias denouncing individuals who call the Ethiopian Army as a TPLF Army, I bet, Meles privately loves and enjoys it since the existence of his regime depends on the presence of a society or a group that feels threatened if Meles is not there to protect them. If we insist calling the Army a TPLF Army, we would further be pushing the Army into the folds of TPLF and we would be instrumental in making the Army more loyal to Meles. The Army would start feeling their own fate is intertwined with the fate of Meles. The Army may feel the end of Meles means the end of the Army. That is exactly how Meles has been using the ethnic card to blackmail the Tigray people. Meles is telling the people of Tigray loud and clear, if he is gone, all hell will brake lose on them, i.e. it will be the end of them. Thus, not for the sake of Meles, but for their own survival, Meles argues, the people of Tigray has to side with him. Put simply, by addressing the Army as a TPLF Army, we are simply running the risk of helping Meles create more loyal Army and solidify the thoughts of those who question and doubt Meles’ sincerity.

To conclude it, it is very counter-productive to call the Army a TPLF Army if our aim is to bring them on the side of the Opposition. It is a contradiction in terms if we seek the Army to side with the Ethiopian people by revolting against Meles’ tyrannical regime on one hand and at the same time if we keep calling or portray the Army a TPLF Army. It just does not tally. It is not politically correct as well. It will certainly not help us in the struggle to isolate TPLF from the Army and facilitate its eventual downfall.