Comment on Tesfaye Gebreab’s Interview
By Bekele Habte
After reading the book entitled “Ye Gazetegnaw Mastawesha”, I admit it was with high expectation that I started listening to Tesfaye Gebreab interview with Ato Abebe Belew at Addis Dimits. For reasons listed below, my interest did not last long. I found Ato Tesfaye’s replies very poor by any standard, at times self-contradictory and self-discrediting.
The most repugnant part was Ato Tesfaye’s assumption that the public is so stupid to notice his clumsy evasion tactics and convoluted logic. Put simply, the interview shades some light on Ato Tesfaye Gebreab to reveal who he is more than his memoir. Let’s see what he had said:-
On Question of Eritrea’s Referendum: When Ato Tesfaye was asked whether the referendum was fair, just and to an acceptable standard, his response was clumsy to say the least and a bit comical. He said: “he was young, not mature enough to understand the Eritrean issue”. Can you believe it? Was there any Ethiopian at the time who had no view on the subject leave alone the head of EPRDF propaganda-machine?
What he forgot however is that, in his book, he was self-congratulating himself for being a propaganda guru of EPRDF to reform the Dergue’s propaganda system, confront his bosses and protect the ‘people’s interest’. Judging against this background, when it comes to the referendum, it is comical to hear Ato Tesfaye portraying himself as if he were in nappies with his milk bottle in his hand for failing to understand the implication of Eritrea’s succession.
Credit to Ato Abebe, when Tesfaye was further asked what he thinks of the referendum now from the benefit of 17 years hindsight, he just said “he did not participate on the referendum personally but he noticed that his parents were very happy to participate on the referendum”. When the interviewer further pushed whether Eritrea’s independence was a good thing, Ato Tesfaye clumsily tried to avoid the question by talking about the unity of Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti etc.
By the way, where did we hear this logic before? Yes, your guess is as good as mine. Of course it was from EPLF cadres before the Independence. When they were asked about federation or confederation with Ethiopia, they used to argue- why not with Sudan, Kenya, Djibouti or a confederation of the Horn of Africa, to belittle the historical, cultural and blood ties between the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia.
The most revealing part is that, after saying he was in nappies to understand the complexity of the Eritrean independence, he turns to become an expert in the history and psychology of the Amharas and Oromos. Here is where the little knowledge becomes dangerous.
Credit again goes to Ato Abebe for highlighting the venom that Ato Tesfaye packed in few pages of his book while he was on EPRDF payroll as editor-in-chief of the propaganda.
This is the interesting bit. When it comes to the venom he wrote to instigate hatred and bloodshed between the Amharas and the Oromos, Ato Tesfaye is telling us in no uncertain terms, he is an expert to be believed and trusted on the subject. It was with this ‘expertise’ conviction he wrote Ye Burka Zemeta and still defends it. Probably that is why Dr Negasso Gidada remarked, Ato Tesfaye not only wants to be an Oromo more than the Oromos themselves, but also he portrayed himself knowing about the Oromo more than the Oromos themselves!!
The big deception I want to highlight is this: how come a person who simply dismissed an important question like that of the Eritrean referendum by saying he was too young to understand can claim at the same time to be an expert when it comes to the Amharas/Oromos issue? It seems to me that, when it suits him, all of a sudden Ato Tesfaye is elevated from a small boy in the nappies to an expert!
If one is curious enough to ask, may I ask why the characters weren’t, for example, Eritreans and Tigreans or an Eritrean from Hammasen and an Eritrean from the low land? The truth is he was on full pay as a chief propagandist to spread hatred between Amharas and Oromos. At least, “I am sorry, I was naïve or I was exploited” would have restored his credibility in the eyes of the Ethiopian people. Instead, he foolishly chose to believe the unbelievable.
I am a boy from Bishoftu
In the interview and in his book Ye Gazetegnaw Mastawesha, Ato Tesfaye says he is an Ethiopian. That is good and no one can take away that from him. Nationality is a choice but it is also nationalism. Nationalism is a belief primarily based on the unity of the people and territorial integrity of a country.
Then how come that he claims to be an Ethiopian nationalist and has no feeling or views about the secession of a part of his country? When a knife is put to severe historical, cultural and ancestral relationships, it should have at least triggered some feelings no matter how irrational nationalism may be.
Ato Tesfaye not only failed to put into context the illegal separation of Eritrea, he was also quick to seize the opportunity to promote the very idea of the unification of the Horn of Africa that EPLF gurus advocate as diversional tactics. So, is Ato Tesfaye’s comment a mere coincidence or a reply off the script?
In one hand, Ato Tesfaye tells us he is a boy from Bishoftu and yet he justifies the original divide and rule days of EPLF/TPLF joint operation; by emphasising what divide people than unite them. This policy has been tested and failed. Even those who drew the blue print and implemented the policy are distancing themselves from their work which led to the massacre of innocent people in Ethiopia. To love Ethiopia, is to love all its people, not only the Oromo, but also the Amhara or the Tigre or The Hadya, etc as well.
Ato Tesfaye told us he is through and through an Oromo because he is from Debre-Zeit and speaks the language. So why didn’t he then join OPDO than TPLF since at least joining OPDO should have lend him some credence to his story. Then what has he got to do with TPLF? What made him a centre player of TPLF structure unless he was banking on his Eritrean heritage? If not out right deception, is it not hypocrisy?
For that matter, most of EPLF leaders from Ambassador Merkorios to many of the leaders and diplomats were born and raised in Addis Ababa. A place of a birth does not automatically equate to loyalty to the people.
On Ye Burka Zimeta: Ato Tesfaye should understand that there is no new discovery in his book entitled Ye Burka Zimeta or no inspiration is needed to write a propaganda pamphlet. All those sayings and venoms were by and large propagated by all liberation movements. This was and still is propagated by many liberation fronts which dream creating banana states to become head of the state.
The template is already out there and one only needs to insert the characters of the evil and the good, the oppressor and the oppressed, the perpetuator and the victims. Amharas were favorite evil characters for liberation movements in the last 40 years. Even today, nothing has changed except Amhara is being replaced with Tigre or Abyssinia to bundle up Tigre and Amhara. And yet Tesfaye calls his propaganda pamphlet a creative art and a result of his fertile imagination. What an imagination!
Ato Tesfaye pleaded in his interview, compared to what is being propagated by other hardliners, his Ye Burka Zimeta is mild and moderate. Ato Tesfaye should have thought twice before insulting our intelligence. To begin with, it easy to understand the position of secessionist hardliners, as they do not believe in Ethiopiawinet and their approach is consistent all along with their belief. We do not expect from them otherwise.
What makes Ato Tesfaye’s position disingenuous is that while he is disseminating venom and discord among Ethiopians in the book, he is swearing on Ethiopia at the same time.
Unless Ato Tesfaye is taking the Ethiopian people as a fool and stupid, Ye Burka Zimeta was not written with the intention of promoting peace and reconciliation among Ethiopians. Divide and rule was the official policy and he was paid to head the execution of this policy.
We all heard it in the meeting holes, speeches of Tamerat Layne, Lencho Letta, Negado Gidada etc. Marketing mistrust, division, hatred was part of the job description of chief propagandist. Sorry, I was naïve or I was exploited would have helped towards closing this subject.
Today, many architects of the divide and rule policy are coming out public to express their regrets saying how naïve and ignorant they were. Even the top leaders of TPLF like Ato Gebru Asrat, Seye Abreha, General Abebe Tekle Haymanot, Andargachew Tsiege have the courage to say we were naïve and ignorant to take measures that damaged the national interest of Ethiopia like that of making Ethiopia land locked.
Put simply, Ye Burka Zimeta was a book written on the basis of EPRDF’s infamous balkanization of Ethiopia. Ato Tesfaye was there at the time promoting TPLF’s interest. To me, to deny this at this moment is tantamount to stupidity and ignorance. It may be hard to swallow the truth on the part of Ato Tesfaye. But denying this truth will not get him anywhere; not least the respect and love of the Ethiopian people.
Hey, the most honourable thing to do would be for Ato Tesfaye to say sorry about the book rather than trying to defend the indefensible. Time has changed. Yet Ato Tesfaye sticking to the original plan of divide and rule on the interview and defending earlier plans of stirring genocide is very regrettable.
In conclusion, Ato Tesfaye lost credibility with me when he clumsily avoid the issue of Eritrea and keep justifying his toxic work while he was editor-in-chief of propaganda. Sorry would have been one-step forward.
Related Link: Interview with Tesfaye Gebreab [Addis Dimts]