Truth Will Prevail, So Will Tigray
By Girmay Berhe
To be fair, Ethiopian rulers who came after the demise of Emperor Yohannes IV, handled Tigray with care as they realized that Tigray has a special place in Ethiopian history. After all, Tigray is the origin of what we now call Ethiopia. Ezana, the Axumite ruler in the 4th century A.D., was the first Ethiopian ruler to be converted to Christianity, making the Ethiopian state one of the oldest, if not the oldest, Christian nation in the world. (At that time, there was no distinction between the state and the religion the ruler embraced). Likewise, it was to Tigray that the Prophet Mohammed sent his followers who were persecuted in Arabia, making Tigray (Ethiopia) not only the first nation to grant asylum to people fleeing persecution, but also the nation where Islam flourished. Moreover, who would forget Tigray’s contribution in the realm of arts and music? Yared comes to mind, of course. Also, much of the Ethiopia’s battles against foreign invaders, including the Italians, were fought on Tigrean soil, and there is no doubt the people of Tigray bore the brunt of those battles. For these and other reasons that I do not have time to dwell on, Tigray has always had a special place in Ethiopia.
Fast forward to the time when the center of power shifted south to Showa. Ethiopian rulers, from Menelik II to even Mengistu Hailemariam, realized the importance of Tigray and therefore tried to everything they could in order not to alienate Tigray. This is not to say that these rulers had the best intentions. Hence, Menelik II, who succeeded Emperor Yohannes IV, did everything he could to appease Tigray by, for instance, allowing Ras Mengesha, the son of the latter, to be the Governor of Tigray. At the same time, though, Menelik II, worked hard to sow discord among the Tigrean nobility. As we know, Mengesha Yohannes finally died in exile in Ankober. Haile Selassie I appointed Mengesha Seyoum, the grandson of Ras Mengesha, to be the Governor of Tigray with special powers – not to mention that the Emperor tried to buy Tigray’s loyalty by marrying off his granddaughter, Aida Desta, to Mengesha Seyoum. Remember that Haile Selassie I learned his lesson from the Woyane movement before he did so. Sowing discord among Tigrians has also been a hallmark of the Haile Selassie rule.
Therefore, although the Showan kings realized the importance of Tigray, they also worked hard to sow division among Tigrians. But, at least, they were aware that they could not afford to alienate Tigray altogether. This trend continued even when the military took over. There is a reason why Mengistu Hailemariam declared that Tigray was an autonomous (“Ras Gez”) region, although in reality Tigray was under a military administration until it was liberated in 1991. In short, all recent rulers in Ethiopia did realize the special place Tigray holds in Ethiopian history and politics, although the way they handled Tigray leaves much to be desired, to say the least. As a matter of fact, their strategy for ruling Tigray was the old trick of 'divide and rule.' The ticks, notwithstanding, however, there was no time in Ethiopian history where the center felt safe when Tigray was simmering with discontent.
I was prompted to write this piece because of the way the current Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has been treating Tigray since he came to power almost two years ago. Although he made a complimentary speech about Tigray when he visited Tigray soon after he became the Prime Minister, his words and actions after that speech have been outright bellicose. In his successive speeches, he insulted the people of Tigray by referring to them, albeit in a very veiled way, as “daytime hyenas.” He feigned ignorance when thousands of Tigrians were robbed by mobs and even killed; he made sure that most Tigrians in government positions were fired; he chose to do nothing when all roads connecting Tigray with Addis Ababa have been closed for almost as long as he has been in power; and he used state media outlets to air expressly anti-Tigrean documentaries aimed at inciting genocide against Tigrians. And now his last – and probably the most fatal – move is cleansing all federal offices of anybody Tigrean.
What was Abiy thinking? Does he believe that Tigray will get along? In my view, this must be the gravest mistake so far. How does Abiy believe that Tigray will sit idle when he is clearly telling Tigrians that we do not belong there? He should read a page or two from Tigrean history to learn that the people of Tigray have never succumbed to those who want to divide and rule them. Like his predecessors, Abiy is attempting to divide Tigrians, but that is not going to work at all.
Abiy’s childish and dangerous actions have made Tigray to effectively have no representation in the federal government. Time will tell what comes next, but marginalizing Tigray will not work just like it did not work for former Ethiopian rulers, who, at least, reluctantly tried some kind of accommodation. Abiy will take his rightful place in history as the mortal enemy of the people of Tigray.
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