Thursday, July 25, 2024
Interview“An already dire situation”: Post-war landscape and political dynamics in Tigray

“An already dire situation”: Post-war landscape and political dynamics in Tigray

Alula Hailu Nega assumed the presidency of the Salsay Weyane Tigray (SAWET) party on December 11, 2023, following a two-day general assembly held in Mekele. He takes the helm after having served as Deputy President since the party’s inception in 2019.

Alula’s professional background spans a variety of roles, including a five-year tenure as a software engineer in the private sector. He also served as the country director for an NGO before venturing into entrepreneurship with the establishment of his own software company. Alula also has experience working as a private consultant for both local and international firms.

His relocation to Mekele, the seat of the Tigray regional administration, coincided with the establishment of the opposition SAWET Party, which he now leads. The establishment of the party was also soon followed by a violent two-year war, the consequences of which are posing a grave threat to the region.

Abraham Tekle of The Reporter conducted an interview with Alula for his insights into the war, the significance of the Pretoria Agreements, and the prevailing political landscape in the region, among other pertinent issues emerging in Tigray. EXCERPTS:

The Reporter: Since the cessation of the two-year-long conflict in 2022, significant developments have unfolded. Could you elaborate on the overarching ramifications of the war and its aftermath in Tigray? Specifically, on the economic setbacks, infrastructural damages, unemployment, and other critical issues confronting the region at present.  

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Alula Hailu Nega: First and foremost, as the Salsay Weyane Tigray party operating within Tigray, we view the conflict in the region as a meticulously planned and orchestrated genocidal war. The range of atrocities, deliberate infrastructural damage, and purposeful destruction that unfolded in Tigray has led us, as a party, to firmly reach this conclusion.

The war unfolded in multiple phases. Initially, the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF), alongside various formal and informal forces – local militia groups, special forces, and the Eritrean army – supplemented by armaments and technological support from foreign nations, launched a campaign to seize control of the region. While the extent of their involvement varied, it’s worth noting the participation of Somali ground forces and the recent revelation of significant engagement by South African mercenary groups during the initial phase of the conflict. It’s crucial to acknowledge that all these forces contributed to the widespread destruction witnessed in the region.

The second phase saw Tigrayan forces entering the conflict in response to witnessing the injustices, authoritarian actions, and extensive devastation inflicted upon their people both within and beyond the region. Subsequently, the conflict escalated rapidly, laying bare to the world the egregious crimes and atrocities perpetrated not only in Tigray but also in adjacent regions like Afar and Amhara.

Hence, the repercussions of the conflict have been devastating, particularly for the youth and workforce of Tigray, both within the region and beyond. The toll on the younger generation has been unprecedented, resulting in severe consequences. Tigray, once a significant contributor to the nation’s economy, now finds itself in a state of collapse. The infrastructural damage, financial constraints, and broader economic repercussions have forced many youths to flee their homeland, leaving them with limited options for survival and diminished productivity. Consequently, a significant exodus of youth is underway, with many undertaking perilous migration routes in search of better prospects elsewhere, thereby depleting Tigray of its crucial human resources and hampering future reconstruction efforts.

In addition, essential service providers and infrastructure have been either completely or severely damaged. Schools lie idle, healthcare facilities lack the necessary personnel and resources to function effectively, and factories stand idle, leaving many skilled workers unemployed. Moreover, the psychological impact of the brutal conflict has permeated throughout the entire population of the region, exacerbating an already dire situation.

Crucially, alongside the war’s harrowing effects, the region grapples with starvation induced by drought and deliberate resource destruction, exacerbating financial woes, unemployment, diminished productivity, and psychological trauma. Moreover, the flight of trained professionals seeking better opportunities elsewhere further compounds the social crisis facing the region, painting a grim picture of modern-day adversity.

Could you elaborate on the economic repercussions you mentioned earlier, including the extent of the damage and its lasting effects on society?

Many are aware that prior to the outbreak of the 2020 war, Tigray was already grappling with prolonged economic challenges, which only intensified as the conflict unfolded. The war brought about widespread devastation: farmers lost essential tools, livestock were pillaged or slaughtered, crops and farmlands were deliberately destroyed using systematic methods, and trees were ruthlessly felled and incinerated.

Recovery from such extensive damage is hindered by financial constraints and a lack of cooperation among key stakeholders, including the former leadership of Tigray, the current interim administration, and the Federal Government. Furthermore, the region has been severely affected by drought, exacerbating the already dire situation.

Despite some progress following the Pretoria Agreement, certain sectors, particularly manufacturing and industries, remain crippled. This has left employees, including civil servants, enduring prolonged financial hardships, with many going unpaid for over a year despite the agreement being in place. The consequences are the same with the business community. With the debt and the damage of their property, they have found themselves in a situation where they are unable to resume their businesses.

More than a year has passed since the Pretoria Agreement was signed. Since then, there have been widespread calls for the federal government to fully implement its provisions. These calls come from various quarters including the international community, the TPLF, and the interim administration, particularly following the conclusion of the party’s two-month meeting. What are your thoughts on this matter? How do you assess the overall effectiveness of the agreement and its implementation? Where do you believe the agreement currently stands?

The main objective of the agreement is to cease hostilities between the federal government and the Tigray forces, along with other factions involved in the conflict, aiming to halt the bloodshed. Although there have been some improvements in providing essential services and humanitarian aid, significant gaps remain. These include maintaining the region’s democratic and constitutional rights and addressing the famine caused by drought.

“An already dire situation”: Post-war landscape and political dynamics in Tigray | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

However, bridging these gaps isn’t solely reliant on the Pretoria Agreement; it’s also the federal government’s responsibility to ensure the well-being, democratic rights, and basic services for the people of Tigray. The government governs all citizens, including those in Tigray, and agreements should not be limited to the federal government and TPLF, as the party doesn’t exclusively represent the people.

The Pretoria Agreement stipulates the full restoration of the region’s constitution and requires the government to address all war-related issues in Tigray. Thus, it’s not a matter of whether the agreement was signed or not; it’s the government’s obligation, given its authority, to fulfill these provisions. Therefore, attributing blame instead of implementing these principles undermines the agreement and denies essential rights to the region.

TPLF’s tendency to manipulate its people for political gain doesn’t justify denying their rights when the party fails to meet expectations or vice-versa. This behavior is inherently unjust and indicates a failure to fulfill governmental responsibilities. Therefore, while the Pretoria Agreement is significant, the people of Tigray possess constitutional rights equal to those in other regions, which supersede the agreement. Using these rights as leverage for the Pretoria Agreement is unconstitutional, unethical, and fundamentally flawed.

Given this context, could you provide insights into the status of residents of areas currently under the full control of both local and foreign forces; areas over which Tigray asserts constitutional rights? Additionally, what is the outlook for those who have been displaced, both within and outside the region?

The fate of people residing in the occupied areas mirrors that of those within the region. Whether aiming for constitutional restoration or adhering to the Pretoria Agreement principles, those under the control of other forces retain the right to be governed by a chosen governmental entity, as guaranteed by the constitution. This principle extends to individuals in areas occupied by foreign forces, safeguarding the nation’s sovereignty. Such occupation not only violates international law but also falls under the federal government’s duty to liberate its people from subjugation.

Similarly, the fate of Tigrayans aligns with Ethiopians in territories occupied by other foreign nations, such as the occupation of significant Amhara regional areas and the parts of the South-East region. Upholding sovereignty over these territories falls squarely on the federal government’s shoulders, as per international law. The approach toward displaced individuals, whether within or outside the region, should prioritize their administrative preferences without imposing governance preconditions. Repatriation efforts must ensure their well-being, free from past resentments, with unconditional provision of basic necessities and humanitarian aid.

What is the current state of political dynamics and influence within the region following the end of the war? Are you able to freely exercise your political rights?

It’s challenging to argue that there ever existed genuine political freedom in Tigray. The region’s political landscape has historically been marked by suppression and limited space, resembling other parts of the country where a single party holds sway, marginalizing others. Our SAWET party’s experience aligns with that of other parties in the region, with little support from the local administration. However, there’s a notable shift occurring; an increasing number of Tigrayans are losing faith in the TPLF. This growing disillusionment signals a promising opportunity for us to exercise our political rights more freely, hinting at a brighter political future in the region.

Nevertheless, the people of Tigray continue to endure various hardships. Prioritizing their welfare is crucial, recognizing that resolving the region’s political turmoil is integral to addressing their plight. Through this process, individuals will grasp their interests and benefits, gradually loosening the TPLF’s grip. Thus far, TPLF has dominated the political scene in Tigray, but a growing realization, particularly among the youth, is leading to widespread rejection of the party. As such, we anticipate a more favorable political environment emerging in the region.

Do you anticipate any shift in the ideology of the party [TPLF] following a lengthy evaluation period lasting over two months, aimed at assessing and potentially improving the political landscape in the region?

Conducting such an extensive evaluation meeting pales in comparison to the current realities facing the people of Tigray. The TPLF’s authoritarian nature is well-known, characterized by a tight grip on political space and internal power struggles. Despite the region’s post-war upheaval, the party persists in its internal power struggles, leveraging the tumultuous situation to its advantage behind closed doors.

Calls for inclusive governance in Tigray have been rebuffed, with the TPLF retaining a monopoly on power. This is evident in the composition of the interim administration, where the party maintains full control over key sectors, including the military. Consequently, the administration operates under the complete sway of the TPLF, devoid of any multi-party involvement. This remains the stark reality on the ground in Tigray.

Have you actively contributed your share to effecting change and participating in the multi-party administration in the region?

As a fundamental approach, we endeavor to utilize both private and social media platforms to garner the support of the youth in embracing our principles and ideological stance. Recent developments have shown notable shifts in distancing themselves from the influence of TPLF, despite staunch resistance due to their enduring grip on power in the region. We advocate for Tigray to become a beacon of peace, recognizing that warfare is no longer a viable means for instigating change.

To usher in the anticipated transformation and administrative reform, concerted efforts are required from our faction and other political entities operating in the region. We firmly believe that change is imperative for the people of Tigray, given the diminishing capacity of the incumbent party in effecting meaningful change in the absence of TPLF’s dominance. Hence, it is incumbent upon TPLF to relinquish power, with the expectation that Tigrayan elites and political factions will promptly establish an inclusive transitional government.

Finally, given that Tigray remains within Ethiopia’s jurisdiction, decisions made by the federal government invariably impact the region, whether directly or indirectly. Currently, the Ethiopian government is advocating for port access, with the Red Sea being a primary target. Given Tigray’s proximity to this area, any repercussions stemming from this request could directly affect the region. How does your political party assess and analyze this situation, operating within the confines of Tigray?

When the federal government puts forth any agenda, we presume they have their own reasons behind it. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to fully grasp the rationale behind these agendas before passing judgment, especially since our understanding of the government’s request for port access is limited to media reports. Thus, our stance on the issue is somewhat constrained.

However, one undeniable fact remains: Tigray is currently grappling with challenges far greater than engaging in another conflict. Preserving the existence of the people of Tigray takes precedence in safeguarding the nation’s interests. Therefore, prioritizing the region’s reconstruction is imperative. By doing so, we can pave the way for meeting the country’s interests more effectively.

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