Kibrom Berhe Shebatu assumed leadership of the Baytona Tigray just before a year, after having served as the Party’s head of foreign affairs for more than three years. Prior to his tenure with Baytona, Kibrom held a seat on the central committee of the Arena Party in the Tigray Regional State.
A prominent politician, Kibrom’s career has often been characterized by opposition to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the former regional administration. The two-year armed conflict between the Federal Government and the TPLF is the central subject of a book recently authored by Kibrom in Tigirigna. The book is dubbed ‘Mitseat, which is roughly means ‘Judgment day.’ Like many Tigrayans, Kibrom was subject to adversity during the war. He was arrested twice in Semera, Afar – the author asserts the arrests were a direct result of the publication of his book, which elaborates on the plight of the Tigray Regional State, the consequences of the war, and the country’s overall political landscape.
Although the guns were silenced in Tigray last November following the signing of the Pretoria Peace Agreement, the residents of Tigray are still living with the very real consequences of war. Kibrom sees the Pretoria agreement’s potential as a resolution to the two-year conflict, but he believes it heralds an end to a battle, whereas he characterizes the broader political and social struggles facing the Regional State as a “war” that predates the 2018 political transition and persists today.
In an interview with Abraham Tekle of The Reporter, Kibrom delved into a range of pressing issues, covering the significance of the ongoing situation in Tigray, the Pretoria Agreement, the political tension in the region, and many other critical issues. EXCERPTS:
The Reporter: As a member of an opposition party, how do you assess the situation in Tigray after two years of war ended in a peace agreement?
Kibrom Berhe: Before I answer your question, I would like to comment on your statement about the two-year war that ended in a peace agreement. Although the actual battle may have ended with the peace agreement, the war is still ongoing.
The war in Tigray has been going on for several years, and it has only changed its form. The people of Tigray are still suffering, and the price they are paying is dire. Although the guns have gone quiet, and the heavy shelling and bombardment have stopped, the people are still under siege.
They are surrounded by internal and external forces, arbitrary killing is still a threat, and displacement of people is continuing. Those who have been displaced have not yet been able to return to their homes. Job opportunities and any investment in the region are still closed, peaceful living is a distant memory; there are people still in prison because of who they are, including former military officers, and there is no justice or resolution to any of the crises in the region.
Moreover, it is important to note that the war over the people of Tigray also did not start two or three years ago, but rather it began during the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPRDF) reign. The EPRDF launched the war on Tigray under the guise of diminishing projects, which ultimately led to the destruction of its people.
And today, the Prosperity Party (PP) perpetuates the devastating war initiated by its predecessor. This conflict stands as one of the most severe instances of warfare in recent history, impacting countless lives worldwide.
So, it is crucial to distinguish between battles and the overarching war. While specific battles may conclude, the war itself endures, and it is essential to acknowledge its true origins. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) can be traced back to as the mastermind behind this protracted conflict, which was set in motion years ago. Further, the implementation of this war involved the active participation of Eritrea’s government, under the leadership of Shabiya, and its progeny Prosperity Party (PP), along with various other stakeholders.
Where will the political dispute between Getachew Reda and TPLF lead? Will it spark another crisis in Tigray or open a new chapter?
The consequences of conflict are universally detrimental, yielding no positive outcomes. The people of Tigray continue to bear the devastating impact of the ongoing war, leaving them in a state of shock. The horrors they have witnessed haunt their dreams, both within and beyond the confines of their homes. It is disheartening to witness children as young as six or seven who can eloquently describe the meaning of war instead of receiving an education. Such circumstances inflict an unfathomable burden on the next generation, as they will carry the memories of these traumatic experiences throughout their lives.
Therefore, it is imperative for any wise leader in the region to recognize that the people deserve nothing less than peace. Those in positions of power should be immediately relieved of their duties, while still being held accountable for their actions, just as the EPRDF experienced. This must remain paramount in our considerations.
Any incoming administration must prioritize the restoration of peace in Tigray and a seamless transition of power, marking the beginning of a new chapter. It is unnecessary for every transition to be accompanied by bloodshed, and it is crucial to break the cycle of a tradition that has perpetuated violence, as witnessed during the Derg period, the EPRDF era, and the incumbent PP, which has resulted in the execution of countless political dissidents.
Continued disputes and instability will only exacerbate the crisis in the region. Although their time together may be remembered for its destructive nature, it is essential to recognize that the solution cannot be found in endless conferences. True progress lies in acknowledging the realities at hand and actively pursuing transformative change.
The people of Tigray must now be liberated from the oppressive rule of both the TPLF and the current administration, as they both stem from the same camp that has caused immense suffering, particularly at the expense of the youth. It is time for them to release their grip on the people and cease holding them hostage. I refer to both the TPLF and the new interim administration when expressing this sentiment, as they bear striking similarities despite their apparent differences.
Hence, their withdrawal from the political stage alone would bring relief to many. It is high time for them to step aside and hand over power to a new generation, thereby breaking the vicious cycle of death and despair that has plagued our society.
The interim administration’s term is ending, and the region has no representation in the country’s Parliament. What should happen next?
An initiative has emerged in the region to establish a council that represents all party members. It is reported that Tsadkan Gebretensae (General), the head of the region’s democratization sector, initiated the idea, with a statement from Getachew Reda, the president of the Interim Administration, supporting it. While the origin of the idea is not the focus of discussion here, its essence is of paramount importance.
However, it is essential to ensure that the council does not become a mere façade, allowing individuals to manipulate it for their own interests. Its primary purpose should be to genuinely represent and amplify the voices of the people.
The conflict in Tigray has inflicted immense suffering and deep divisions, necessitating healing, reconciliation, and comprehensive support for trauma recovery and psychosocial programs. As such, the council should embark on the journey of reconstruction and healing for the betterment of the country as a whole.
Crucially, all parties involved must demonstrate a sincere commitment to peace, reconciliation, and the well-being of the people of Tigray. By engaging in inclusive dialogue, addressing underlying issues, and fostering an environment of trust and understanding, a path towards sustainable representation and stability can be forged.
It is therefore imperative that the role of the organized council be limited to the region. Without having representation anywhere in the central government, discussing the part it plays in the federal government would be futile. Establishing the council as a genuine voice of the people, at least within the region, holds significance in ensuring meaningful representation and advocating for its interests.
What is your opinion on the Prime Minister’s decision to resolve the border and identity dispute between Tigray and Amhara regions through a referendum?
The topic at hand is a sensitive and complex issue that requires careful consideration and a multifaceted approach. Before delving into this discussion, it is crucial to understand the nature of the agreement between the Interim Administration and the federal government, which unfortunately remains undisclosed.
The secrecy surrounding the agreement raises concerns, as the public has the right to be informed about its contents. A leadership that fails to recognize this right cannot claim to represent the people.
Moreover, it is morally unacceptable for a political figure to make decisions regarding land allocation without transparent mechanisms. Such decisions can lead to further crises and should not be made arbitrarily, as no individual has the authority to do so without proper legal mandate.
It is important to acknowledge that land disputes exist in various parts of Ethiopia. However, resolving the border and identity dispute between the Tigray and Amhara regions should be approached with the principle of allowing the affected populations to have a voice.
Exploiting the war and transferring constitutional rights and land from Tigray to another region will only exacerbate instability and potentially lead to further conflict, which is not in the best interest of the people of Tigray.
Hence, the decision-making power should not be vested solely in Parliament or any specific ministry. The unique context of the Tigray region, which has not been adequately represented, must be taken into account. Therefore, we strongly oppose the recent suggestion made by the Prime Minister to resolve the land dispute through a referendum, as it fails to consider the voices and concerns of the people of Tigray.
Ultimately, the success of any referendum in resolving the dispute hinges upon the willingness of all parties involved to accept the outcome and collaborate towards peaceful coexistence and long-term stability.
Tigray’s relationship with the federal government has yet to normalize. Is there risk of another conflict?
In order to foster positive and productive relations between parties, the rule of law must be upheld. Resorting to the use of force or firearms to resolve conflicts only serves to exacerbate crises and cause further destruction. It is unjust for the people of Tigray to be subjected to such conditions against their will and in violation of established law and order. This is an unacceptable situation that requires immediate attention.
Constructive dialogue, reconciliation, and a comprehensive and inclusive resolution are essential for all parties involved. It is crucial to address the underlying causes of the conflict, promote accountability for past actions, and ensure the well-being of the affected population.
By doing so, the potential for violence to recur can be minimized, and long-term stability can be achieved.
Therefore, it is imperative that all differences and disputes be resolved through peaceful negotiations and open dialogue. The normalization of relations should be pursued under any circumstances that benefit the people involved.
It is the responsibility of the federal government to take a proactive role in facilitating the normalization process, which includes taking steps to restore the invaded areas of the region to their rightful status. By doing so, trust can be rebuilt, and a path towards a more harmonious and stable future can be forged.
The Tigray Administration, other forces in the region (such as the TPLF), and the federal government are in dispute over the implementation of the Pretoria Peace Agreement in accordance with the peace accord. What do these disagreements mean, and where will they lead?
As previously mentioned, the Pretoria agreement succeeded in silencing the guns and putting an end to the battle, which helped alleviate the displacement and loss of life caused by the war. However, it did not fully resolve the ongoing war.
Of course, disagreements and accusations have arisen between the Tigray Administration, the Tigray TPLF, and the federal government of Ethiopia regarding the implementation of the Pretoria Peace Agreement. However, it is important to note that the nature of the agreement itself has been a source of confusion, both during and after its signing.
For instance, it took an extended period of time to establish an Interim Administration once the fighting ceased. Typically, an Interim Administration’s lifespan ranges from six months to two years due to the complexities involved in its formation, but in this case, it took the full six months to establish the administration.
One contributing factor to this delay was the conflict of interest within the TPLF’s network.
In general, disputes over the implementation of peace agreements can arise due to differing motives among the parties involved. In this case, the initial intentions behind the agreement were not solely driven by the well-being and benefit of the people or other stakeholders in the region. Consequently, the ongoing confrontation has only brought further misery to the affected population.
Furthermore, after the signing, various measures were outlined to ensure long-lasting peace in the region. For example, the agreement stipulated the return of displaced individuals to their homes, yet millions remain stranded in shelters both within and outside the country. The agreement also called for the withdrawal of non-ENDF forces from the region, but significant portions of the region are still occupied by the armed forces based in the neighboring Amhara region, the Eritrean Defense Force (EDF), and other militants.
Unfortunately, the federal government has failed to execute either of these provisions thus far.
The people of Tigray have been forcibly uprooted from their homes, stripped of their possessions, and subjected to unimaginable suffering. Without addressing these grievances and finding a solution, it is impossible to bring an end to the ongoing war or heal the deep psychological wounds inflicted by the conflict.
The outcome of such disputes can vary greatly depending on the specific circumstances and the willingness of the parties involved to seek common ground. However, when individuals have been displaced from their land, stripped of their dignity, and have witnessed the theft of their history, it becomes exceedingly difficult to envision a peaceful future.
Therefore, despite the signing of the agreement, it has failed to resolve the problems in the region, and countless lives remain at risk. The peace agreement has not fulfilled the limited rights it was granted, leaving many unanswered questions regarding justice.
Regrettably, the Interim Administration has also fallen short in its responsibilities. Rather than prioritizing the well-being of the people and acting as their defenders, they have become preoccupied with their own political struggles and managing their personal crises.
Furthermore, the relationship between the administration and the federal government remains unclear. It is disheartening to see that a party or administration that has failed to protect and advocate for its own people primarily focuses on salary and allowance increments when engaging with the federal government. Their primary concern seems to revolve around financial gain rather than being the voice of the people in Tigray.
Consequently, any disputes between the two parties appear to stem solely from personal interests rather than genuine concern for the welfare of the population.
The presence of Eritrean and Amhara forces in Tigray continues to cause problems, such as preventing displaced people from returning home. Why hasn’t your party pressured the federal government to force the withdrawal of these forces?
It is true that we have not been successful in exerting sufficient pressure on the federal government to fulfill its obligations as outlined in the Pretoria agreement. The situation is further complicated by the fact that we are preoccupied with internal affairs within the region, and the aftermath of the war has left us all in a state of despair and despondency. However, it is crucial that we rise above these challenges and redouble our efforts. By working harder than ever before, there is a possibility of bringing about the desired change that has eluded us thus far.
Therefore, we must commit ourselves to addressing this issue diligently and with renewed determination, focusing on the future and the opportunities it holds. Through persistent work and dedication, we can strive to achieve our goals and make a positive impact in the times to come.
Do you suspect that the federal government is using the interim administration to pressure the TPLF? Is it possible that it is the other way around?
The establishment of the Tigray Interim Administration (TIA) is solely linked to the Pretoria agreement and has no additional underlying reasons. However, if there are any other justifications for its establishment, it is the responsibility of the federal government to provide its own rationale.
What are the opposition parties’ chances of winning over the TPLF if elections are held in the Tigray region?
To the best of my knowledge, our party and the other parties in the region did not organize to defeat the TPLF through elections. Our primary focus was to present useful policies to the people. However, due to the TPLF’s oppressive tactics, any election that took place in the region was controlled by them and conducted under duress, making it unfair.
If a free and fair election were to be held in Tigray, many parties, including ours, could win over the TPLF. In addition, it is crucial to stop prioritizing the TPLF as the primary subject regarding the Tigray situation, as there are other parties with new ideologies that are more competitive.
The party, TPLF, has lost its power and is not as formidable as it once was.
If the Transitional Justice process holds and the TPLF leaders are held equally responsible for war crimes, will the TPLF continue to be a party leader in the region?
I prefer not to comment on this matter. This is between the federal government and the TPLF.
As a member of an opposition party, how do you perceive the country’s cycle of conflict?
War is a profoundly cruel and devastating phenomenon, and the situation in Tigray serves as a poignant reminder of its destructive impact. It is our fervent hope that the tragic events that unfolded in Tigray do not replicate in any other region of Ethiopia. Resolving these conflicts necessitates a holistic and inclusive approach that tackles the underlying political, economic, and social grievances.
It is imperative to foster a collective sense of unity and purpose among all Ethiopians, transcending ethnic and regional divisions. Hence, it is of utmost importance that any ongoing conflicts within the country come to an immediate halt, as their catastrophic consequences manifest in widespread misery and untold suffering.