Goitom Tsegaye is deputy chairperson of Arena Tigray, an opposition party popular in Tigray. He has been voicing his concern over the war in Tigray since it broke out almost one and half years ago. The second time the conflict started, Goitom found it heartbreaking. He thinks that in carrying out the eagerly anticipated negotiations between the two warring groups, the African Union did not fully fulfill its obligations to the organization. The Reporter’s Selamawit Mengesha sat down with the opposition leader to get more of his perspective on the recent resumption of hostilities.
The Reporter: Let’s start with the war that erupted anew this week. Before the battle resurfaced, there were talks of a peace agreement. Is there still hope for negotiations?
Goitom: It is heartbreaking that the dispute has resurfaced this week. Since it began, there is a potential that it will continue, although much will be lost if it does.
War’s casualties are well known, and hopefully we have a government that cares enough about its people to put an end to it. They should have learned from their previous mistakes and avoided them, in my opinion.
Both parties demanded that mediators be appointed. What was the reason the two parties couldn’t agree on who should undertake the mediation?
Essentially, I believe there is one thing we should all remember: everyone must be fair and impartial while looking at things.
In a war, not everyone carries a weapon, but what we’re seeing in Tigray is people lacking necessities such as banks, water, transportation, telephones, and electricity.
We were taught to believe that these services were destroyed during the war and that the government was unable to repair them, but it is now clear that this was not the case all along.
According to the Tigray regional government’s discussions with the EU, the federal government is leveraging these necessities when it could simply provide them to the people; it’s using them as a weapon of sorts.
War has laws, but the warring side is separate from the people. The people of Tigray are also Ethiopian citizens; hence the administration is harming its own people. Personally, I believe it is not the best way to proceed.
I believe that the federal government should have learned from its failures from the beginning. I don’t think initiating a full-fledged war with the TPLF was the best course of action. Instead of attacking, it should have been defending.
It was not a prudent move, especially with other powers involved. What I mean is that the items the Tigray regional government is requesting from the federal government are essentials for the people.
Both parties bear responsibilities for doing the right thing by the people. I’m not sure why it’s framed as a difficult choice. It is for the people of Ethiopia; hence the government should have established a consensus for its people by now.
To return to the subject of the negotiations, the government already pledged to begin them without any preconditions. However, the offer was to negotiate solely with the TPLF, without including Amhara, Afar, or even Eritrea. Do you think these groups should have been taken into account during the negotiations?
I believe the government’s strategy was flawed from the start. We’ve observed unlawful acts such as Tigray transferring land to Amhara with the assistance of other forces, so what has the Amhara area lost from Tigray?
We’ve heard on several times, particularly in the case of Welkait, that the region is attempting to reclaim their land. Is it even their land is the question?
The structure of the regions, in my opinion, is fairly apparent.
I say this because there was a region called Show that later became part of the Amhara and Oromo region, a place called Bege Medhir became part of the Tigray and Amhara region, and if Welo became part of Afar, Tigray, and Amhara, then there is really nothing new that happened between Tigray and Amhara, unless there is a belief that if I am living here, there is no one else there, which in that case makes comprehension difficult.
Ethiopia and its land are inextricably linked, so stating the land was mine and I want it back makes no sense to me. Questioning the demarcation system is understandable, just as arguing “using language as a way of defining regions is wrong,” but claiming land in the same country is not.
Ethiopia’s land is reserved for Ethiopians. Sitting and talking with Tigray and the federal government makes sense because the government is clearly offending Tigrayans and requires mediation.
Because Eritrea was involved in the attack, having Eritrea participate in the talks makes more sense than having the Amhara region participate in the talks.
Understanding this, I believe, is critical.
As a representative of Tigray, Eritrea and the federal government should have discussed Bademe and other issues. However, in actuality, the federal administration has not been representing the people and territory of Tigray.
Negotiations have been attempted by international groups. We’ve seen people like Obasanjo come to the country and make attempts, and many people were optimistic that the talks would take place. Do you believe the conflict resurfaced because those bodies failed to carry out their duty properly? Or do you believe they carried out their responsibilities correctly?
I believe we should have taken the initiative.
Both the federal government and the Tigray regional government should have demonstrated interest in the negotiations from the start; only then could other groups assist in getting the talks started.
According to my knowledge, they did not fulfill their obligations, particularly the African Union. Aside from creating articles and laws, I do not feel the AU has a consistent and capable ability due to one of their articles; Article 2H, titled humanitarian integration.
Although the article has been ratified, the Union lacks the resources to put it into action. According to that provision, the Union has the right but not the resources to intervene in cases of humanitarian rights breaches.
For example, the AU did nothing to address the Tigray situation; there were words but no action. For these reasons, I didn’t have high hopes for the AU. It still has a long way to go, in my opinion.
Other international organizations with influence and power have their own military intervention regulations as well. The west has previously attempted to exert pressure on the administration, but international organizations such as the EU and countries such as the US are preoccupied with other matters such as the Ukraine-Russia war.
They have the ability, but their focus has been diverted away from Africa. They, too, lack consistency, as evidenced by their actions in Ukraine. As a result, I don’t believe they’ve done their part
They have the power and capability, and yet here we are.
Who do you believe is to blame for the re-ignition of the war? Could the difference in negotiation beliefs be the cause, or do you believe the absence of the Welkait and Humera concerns is a contributing factor?
As I stated at the outset, if we refer to the Oromia area, we need to know which cities and counties comprise that region. That is, the problems of Tigray and Welkait should not be a problem. I cannot argue that the requirement should not be met because the federal government granted the land without Tigray’s approval and is now requesting that Tigray accept it.
People who lived there before are now refugees. People are unable to use their own funds because banks are closed. All of these difficulties should be considered as prerequisites.
It’s not difficult to grasp, even for the federal government. People are hungry, so shouldn’t that be addressed first as a prerequisite before any negotiations begin?
I cannot accept the idea that there are no prerequisites. Negotiations would be conducted with a boot on the people of Tigray if those demands were not met.
I don’t have any information on who restarted the war. To be certain, I would have to live there. I am like everyone else, listening to all sides’ arguments.
What will the people of Tigray face if the fighting continues? You’re already aware of the issue. What do you think about the present humanitarian crisis?
I don’t believe that anything positive can come from conflict.
War will take innocent lives, destroy property, and deplete the economy, and what could be worse than that? Tigrayans are at a significant disadvantage.
They are under attack from their own government, former foes such as Eretria, and adjacent territories such as the Amhara region. It’s painful to see how something that should have been resolved amicably has turned into an injustice against the people of Tigray, which is also an injustice against the rest of the country.
Hopefully, people will realize this soon. I’m sure there will come a day when our empathy will be tested. Ethiopia will pay a high price as a result of the conflict. In the war, there are no winners, but all are losers.
Do you believe the constitution can deescalate and resolve the conflict? What are your thoughts on the matter? Is it possible to resolve the disagreement based on the current constitution and the new statute established by the federation under which regions could decide directly to be regions?
There aren’t enough people organized to hold a referendum. Furthermore, Tigray has no representatives in the House of Federations. How will Tigray make its case? Who will be Tigray’s representative?
At this stage, it would be child’s play; the most serious offenses have already been committed. Atrocities in violation of the constitution have occurred. International agencies have branded it ethnic cleansing, and some have even called it genocide.
So this is pretty strange. On paper, the constitution is just and fair, but its implementers are not.
Is it truly conceivable to exclude Eritrea from the war in the future if Eritrea’s government refuses to withdraw its troops? Will their departure solve the problem in any way?
I believe we must consider how they got to be involved in the war.
Did the federal government request that its troops participate? Was the Parliament able to represent them? I mean, there are multiple options, right? Who delegated authority?
These points must be addressed first.
It would be pointless to question something that has no legal foundation. Was a formal agreement reached between the Ethiopian government and President Esaias? If so, what were the terms, and where are the documents?
Is it even conceivable for an Ethiopian Prime Minister to pull out such a deal out of the blue? He cannot. To begin with, it must go past Parliament.
As a result, the question of whether Eritrea should withdraw has become extremely convoluted, with numerous loose ends.
We have observed that since the beginnings of the war, a large number of Tigray-born residents living in various cities throughout the country have faced discrimination and harassment everywhere they go. They couldn’t return to Tigray due to the war, and during this time, everybody from Tigray or of Tigrayan ethnicity was in a plight. That had been subsiding to a degree in recent months, but now that tensions have resurfaced, what does this mean for Tigrayans living around the country?
This is a clear problem. Kibrom authored a book and was detained because of his ethnicity; he traveled to Afar and got into a lot of problems; I’m using him as an example, but there are many others like him.
What is the UN peacekeeping mission doing now? To be honest, I don’t think it was even this horrible during Derg’s reign.
Innocent people are openly mistreated based on their race, with some even losing their lives as a result. Tigray is not being represented by the government, and this must change. It must reflect on its previous activities.
We are on the verge of a major crisis, which must be examined thoroughly.
It is unacceptable to feel unsafe and to face severe discrimination in your own country because of your heritage. There was a glimmer of hope. As you stated, the current circumstance may pass as it always does, but it may leave wounds and scars that will not go as readily.
Do you believe Ethiopia will be restored to its former glory in the future? What is the hope in a situation when many already believe Tigray is no longer a part of Ethiopia or that it would have a referendum? Do you believe Ethiopia is one of them?
It depends on the next steps we take.
As far as I am aware, Tigray is still a part of Ethiopia. Even Eritrea would have been a part of Ethiopia if not for the Adwa war and its consequences.
Right now, looking at the government’s actions against the people of Tigray, such as refusing to reopen banks, the internet, and transportation, it appears that there is a power that does not want Tigray to be a part of Ethiopia, which is incorrect.
It’s pointless for me to go over what happened. It is all well known that we simply need to take our time and evaluate everything before coming up with a way to mediate it.