By Amanuel Biedemariam
In the past, I have expressed my view about the process Ethiopians will go through to accept Eritrea’s Independence and called it “Stages of Grief.” I opined that Ethiopians would go through grief stages as explained by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book, Death and Dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. After the events of the last 18 years, it is easy to see the process may have played out and culminated. Initially, Ethiopians rejected and denied Eritrean Independence saying; they would be back to rejoin their “mother-land” Ethiopia when they came to their senses.
In 1998-2000, during the height of the Eritrean Ethiopian war, Ethiopians’ repressed anger was exposed on the streets of Addis Ababa, the media, and the Internet.
After the TPLF announced it penetrated Badme by force, the festivities on the streets of Addis reflected the. At the moment, Ethiopians demanded to go After Eritrea or occupy the port of Assab by force to fulfill the dream of acquiring access to the Red Sea.
However, Ethiopians started to see Eritrea differently after the 2005 elections because they uncovered the true nature of Weyane thugs for the killers, criminals, and liars.
The moment created a sense of helplessness and depression amongst Ethiopians. Consequently, Ethiopians began to reexamine their position and views on Eritrea, and many visited Eritrea as a result.
The Ethiopian Review interview with President Isaias Afewerki created a new stage of relations between the good people of Eritrea and Ethiopia. The interview opened a door for Ethiopian acceptance and a willingness to learn from the past and move on.
The fact that Ethiopian Review went to Eritrea and interviewed President Isaias is a significant step and an example of willingness to engage. Moreover, the overwhelmingly positive reaction the interview received signals the beginning of a new era, direction, and a new way of looking at that relationship.
For years and particularly over the last decade, suspicions and rifts between Eritreans and Ethiopians widened primarily due to deliberate instigations by Weyane and the wars that took thousands of lives on both sides.
Weyane used fear and wedge issues to divide because that is the only environment it can thrive. The threat Weyane poses is real and deliberate. It is an imposed threat that creates a tremendous loss of life, wealth, displacement, fear, and instability.
However, as time went on, the tactics revealed themselves and exposed the fundamental nature of the Weyane thugs. As a result, Ethiopians began to open up to Eritrea, realizing Weyane is true cancer. Its removal will be a significant step towards creating a peaceful and stable neighborhood based on mutual understanding and respect.
However, years of mistrust have given way to misconceptions and misguided feelings in both countries. Ethiopians believed Eritreans wanted a frail and fragmented Ethiopia that posed no threat. Based on that assumption, many Ethiopians concluded that Eritrea’s cooperation and support of Ethiopian groups fighting Weyane are to use them as tools to that end.
Conversely, some Ethiopians’ Assab obsession and insistence that Eritrea belongs to Ethiopia reminded them of the existential threat Eritrea faced constantly. For Eritreans, the danger is existential.
Those feelings created a cycle of intractable division and mistrust between Eritrea and Ethiopia based on suspicion and history.
President Isaias busted myth after myth by exposing the wrong understanding people on both sides have regarding Eritrean views of Ethiopia. The interview provided a vivid insight into the thinking process of the Eritrean government, a point of view, a foundation for constructive dialogue, and opened doors for genuine trust amongst the people of both countries.
The interviewers asked questions from a list of two hundred questions compiled over three months from Ethiopians everywhere. It was the frankest exchange between a leader and journalists I have ever witnessed.
The interview covered the gamut. It touched on all the sensitive issues, including some that have nothing to do with the Eritrean Ethiopian problems like election and democracy in Eritrea. It addressed Assab, border demarcation, dialogue, Somalia, Djibouti, and other related issues. It is hard to think of a subject matter they did not cover.
They even asked President Isais about future federation possibilities for Eritrea and Ethiopia. However, President Isaias candidly, honestly, and meticulously addressed the issues to educate and inform Ethiopians and Eritreans by giving detailed analysis and the genesis of the problems. He did it in a way that made sense by allaying concerns logically, by providing historical evidence and facts. One can argue about the merits and even disagree with the President on issues, but no one can deny the genuine exchange and its impact!
The point of this paper is not to restate the four-hour interview. It is an attempt to look at what it achieved, an opportunity to assess what was stated and use it to further the cause for PEACE in the region. In addition, it is an attempt to build on the fast-paced momentum that is building up engulfing the Ethiopian political scene in particular and its implication to Eritrea and the region. What did the interview achieve?
For the past 18 years, President Isaias was probably one of the most hated figures around Ethiopian circles. Ethiopia did not trust the President, they questioned his motives constantly, and they blamed him for many problems in Ethiopia. Elias Kifle even dared to ask the President if he holds private consultations with Meles Zenawi.
After the interview, all that changed overnight! Because for the first time, President Isaias was able to speak to Ethiopians unfiltered, directly and genuinely. He addressed their concerns, questions, fears, suspicions, and wishes respectfully and clearly, and to their satisfaction.
Clarified Eritrean positions
For 18 years, Eritreans and Ethiopians could not communicate openly and effectively because they lacked a foundation and mutual understanding. That in large part is due to the fact there was juxtaposition. Ethiopians believed Eritrea was in a much weaker position militarily and thought it was a good idea to keep the conflict going would better their chances of acquiring Assab.
However, in the backdrop, the politics in Ethiopia deteriorated from bad to worse and led to giving up on Weyane altogether. That forced Ethiopians to look at every avenue to fight Weyane. Eritrea seemed a viable option and opportunity.
However, Eritrea was perceived as enemy number one for a long time, and going to Eritrea was considered unpatriotic. Those who went got chastised as traitors, and the Weyane sold the idea of working with Eritrea as un-Ethiopian very well to their advantage.
The President clarified that the Weyane is in Menelik Palace because of Eritrea. However, once they controlled Etgiopia, instead of working for the greater good once in power, the TPLF interrupted the dream of a peaceful, robust, and stable region. The TPLF wanted to control the area at the expense of the people in the region. The Somalis, Eritreans, and Ethiopians were all impacted.
“The last 18 years have been a dream interrupted.” President Isais Afwerki
The President assured Ethiopians if Eritrea wanted to divide Ethiopia, all Eritrea needed to do was support article-39 of the Ethiopian constitution which gives every ethnic region in Ethiopia the right to secede; fulfilling Weyane’s agenda!
President Isaias stated Eritrea’s principled stand guided Eritrea to fight for the long-term interest of Eritrea and Ethiopia, avoiding any temptations to betray Ethiopians for a short-term gain even at risk; of potentially hurting Eritrea!
On the contrary, Weyane placed Eritreans, the people of Tigray, Somalis, Somaliland, Puntland, Oromo, Ogaden, and all Ethnic groups in the region for sale and in serious jeopardy. The President noted, Weyane put the people of Tigray, in particular, at a greater risk of isolation and harm because Weyane committed hateful crimes claiming to represent the people of Tigray.
The President elaborated a strong and united Ethiopia does not threaten Eritrea because instability in the region will impact Eritrea negatively. Therefore, Eritrea will give Ethiopians all the assistance to strengthen their position. The President assured Ethiopians, this is not a stand taken for political expediency. Instead, it is a long-standing principled policy because Eritrea can not live in a vacuum.
For the last 18 years, particularly during the previous eight years, the Ethiopian mainstream plan was dictated by Weyane. They controlled and manipulated the issues to suit their needs and US interests with the help of some staunch supporters like Dr. Jandayi Frazer.
The TPLF essentially controlled Washington with a strong PR and lobbying force led by former Congressman Dick Army and the War-of-Terror as a cover. All Diaspora Ethiopians could do was react to Weyane’s actions. The duplicitous Weyane clique paraded Democracy, DIALOGUE, War-of Terror, and peace-keeping effectively to gain a political upper hand.
The interview with Ethiopian Review changed all that. Ethiopians dictate their agenda for the first time bypassing the TPLF clique and addressing each other directly. That means Ethiopians are in charge of their destiny for the first time.
President Isaias accommodated and spoke directly to Ethiopians everywhere. It was a resounding yes when asked about Diaspora Ethiopians talking to Eritreans. He stated, even if you disagree, you have to sit down and hash it out.
Ethiopians have an open arm and mind to talk amongst themselves openly and honestly in Eritrea and with Eritreans everywhere.
The President expressed Eritrea’s desire and readiness to work with Ethiopians regarding security, economy, Ports, and bilateral concerns after he dismissed Weyane by telling Ethiopians there would be no dialogue with Weyane.
It worked because the TPLF clique said anything to change the subject and retake the agenda. Seyoum Mesfun Seyoum is mumbling about returning Eritrean properties he stole from Eritreans to change the subject.
However, while Seyoum tries to appease Eritreans, in contradiction and in what is probably the most vivid example of desperation, the morally bankrupt Aboy Sebhat Nega said,
“It is not Isayas Afeworki that is sick, but the Eritrean people who have been hypnotized to believe whatever Isayas told them about who they were and are!”
He is a thug they call Aboy (father) spewing venom. He is among the many thugs in charge with absolutely nothing good to do but sell hate. The people of Tigray deserve better. They don’t need to call Aboy (father) a morally bankrupt criminal who uses their name to stay in power at any cost. It is an excellent example of why Ethiopians and Eritreans are ready to start fresh with the spirit to cooperate and goodwill for the sake of peace and prosperity while making a clean break from these thugs!
In May of 2000, the devious Weyane found an opportune time to hold elections while the world focused on the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The TPLF sailed through it without the world noticing.
Emboldened with that success, they continued the trend to the 2005 elections. This time, however, all Ethiopians rejected the TPLF. Surprised, shocked, and afraid, the clique became belligerent, put all opposing leaders in jail, and exposed its criminal nature.
Ethiopians were at a loss because the world and mainly the Bush administration made a mockery of justice and Ethiopian politics. The West, and particularly the US, let Ethiopians down. Ethiopians didn’t have anyone to turn to but their brothers in Eritrea. However, misconceptions and misinformation held them back.
The interview gave all involved relief by clearing the misconceptions and misinformation. President Isaias explained the best interest of the people in the region is served by peace and unity, while conflict and division serve the interest of Weyane.
It gave most interested parties the freedom to partner with Eritrea to achieve bigger and better things for the suffering people in the region. Most importantly, by opening a dialogue at the highest level, President Isaias gave a viable opportunity for the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia to begin the healing process by urging all not to be held hostage to history.
While I combed through the commets, I stumbled over a commentary that can serve as an example to the reaction,
I am an Amhara. During the Derg regime, I lost my beloved brother in Dekemehari, Eritrea. I used to picture Isayas Afeworki as a cruel man and an inventor of Woyane and always behind Woyane to destroy Ethiopia. But this interview washed away everything. I am sorry about the innocent Ethiopians who are kept hostage by the woyanes. Who doesn’t want to learn from this genius person? He is the living witness for all the past and present mess of Ethiopian/Eritrean politics. He knows Ethiopia better than the narrow-minded woyanes. After listening to the interview, I found another point to hate Derg. They should have created a peace agreement with Isayas/Eritrea, and this parasite Woyanes should have been left out. Today, we would have enjoyed United Democratic Ethiopia, which would be a proud home of Tigres, Amharas, Oromos, Gurages, Benshanguls, Somalis…
The question one must ask is, why did President Isaias accept the interview?
President Isaias gave the interview to present Ethiopians with an accurate and genuine picture. He wanted to help start a dialogue to help put the past and the current situations in the right perspective. President Isais did it to help establish a foundation for the future based on respect, trust, mutual interests. He also wanted to expedite the ouster of the Weyane thugs from Menelik Palace!
Eritreans have gone through many thorny hurdles placed in front of them and sailed through them united. It was challenging to reach out to Ethiopians because of a filter/Weyane, history, wounds, and unmet expectations. That was a significant obstacle. In addition, there is an urgent need for Ethiopians to come together quickly to plan their future.
“There is no army without a doctrine!” That statement says it all. There have been many credible reports on some Ethiopian websites on how the minority ethnic group is dominating and mishandling the Ethiopian army. Ethiopia has been and remains at crossroads. It is by far the most crucial moment in the history of Ethiopia because it will certainly determine the future of the country. What President Isaias did was underscore the urgency. He told Ethiopians in many ways and openly that the Weyane clique’s fall was inevitable and approaching fast.
It has become impossible for the coterie to promote leaders from other Ethnic groups because that poses a significant threat to their survival.
Ethiopians have an opportunity to come together to address their issues to chart their future freely without interference from Weyane and Western meddlers. They have the welcoming hands of the people in Eritrea! And there is one inescapable fact that Ethiopians and Eritreans must come to terms with sooner or later; to live peaceful and prosperous coexistence as neighbors, they must find the middle ground based on mutual understanding and respect and the rule of law!
President Isaias exercised his leadership and jump-started the process to plant a seed for future generations.
In addition, I would like to extend my praise to Elias Kifle and Sileshi Tilahun for initiating the process and following through professionally. Kudos for a great job! They have played a significant role by adding on to the momentum to put the Weyane thugs where they belong, in jail and dirt-bin of history!