Troops raise the Ethiopian flag after defeating the invading TPLF rebels in Woldia town.
In 2018, as nationwide protests threatened to overwhelm Ethiopia, many feared that popular uprisings against the TPLF’s authoritarian rule would culminate in a massive violence against the Tigrayan people. To our great relief, and astonishment, the TPLF itself—after years of arresting and slaughtering protesters— averted this catastrophe by allowing a bloodless transfer of power to take place. Despite their decades of suffering, the Ethiopian people also chose peace and declined to hold the TPLF accountable for its past crimes—a tacit amnesty that was applied not only to TPLF but to all the guilty parties of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
TPLF’s continuing stranglehold on military, political and economic power, and its refusal to negotiate the status of North Gonder (Wolkait) and Badme (Eritrea), among other territories, perhaps made violent conflict inevitable. There’s evidence that the TPLF, Prime Minister Abiy, and Eritrea were all fearful of and preparing for war. Ultimately, however, it was not Ethiopian Prime Minster Abiy or Eritrean President Isaias, but the TPLF, on the night of November 3, 2020, that chose to foreclose diplomacy and resort to violence as a means of resolving its disputes with the government.
#NoMore Protesters in Tennessee, part of a global day of protest held in over 30 countries across 5 continents, opposing U.S. foreign policy on Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The TPLF chose war as a means to settle its differences, and for the past year, it has been given ample space to pursue war by the international community, including the Biden Administration and the United States Congress (which has stripped trade access from the Ethiopian people and sanctioned the elected government, but not applied a single punitive measure to the rebel forces). The war has brought immense suffering to the people of Tigray, Amhara, Afar, and to the whole nation of Ethiopia, whose children will bear decades worth of economic losses. Having failed to achieve its objectives through violence, the TPLF leaders have no right to expect immunity for their crimes and cannot backtrack to diplomacy.
Prime Minister Abiy cannot negotiate with any of the leaders of TPLF. He did not choose the war, and he cannot choose to negotiate. That decision belongs to the Ethiopian people, and to be clear, Abiy will lose his government if he consents to sit with Reda and Debretsion. The Biden Administration’s demands that he do so are not realistic or reasonable and can only add to the outrage Ethiopians feel against the United States.
The war has been won: the only questions are how long it will take TPLF to surrender or be disarmed, and how bloody that process will be. The bulk of the TPLF’s militia have surrendered, are voluntarily retreating, or are encircled in Amhara without access to a supply line. With TPLF forces defeated in Amhara and Afar and in retreat back to Tigray, helpless civilians can be used to shield them from artillery—Prime Minister Abiy will effectively have a hostage crisis on his hands, and he will be compelled to resolve it or watch civilians suffer. The State Department should take note that the worst TPLF atrocities—like the ethnic cleansing in Mai Kadra town—have occurred during TPLF’s retreats.
The Western press is already primed with horror stories about the TPLF occupation of Amhara and Afar. More lurid stories of TPLF atrocities will be coming to light in the coming days and will surely be magnified by the media. A tidal wave of outrage is building—but the United States has the power to quell it.
Longstanding and legitimate concerns over the possibility of genocide in Ethiopia have made the Biden Administration and the State Department reluctant to draw attention to TPLF atrocities, Tigrayan complicity in the TPLF’s war, and the real national security justifications that have driven Prime Minister Abiy to declare a state of emergency and arrest large numbers of Ethiopian citizens alleged to be affiliated with the TPLF. However, it must be clearly understood that the failure to hold TPLF accountable is creating a robust anti-U.S. sentiment that the Department of State will have trouble reversing. By continuing to downplay TPLF atrocities, its diversion of humanitarian relief, and its culpability for initiating the war, the Biden Administration is itself fueling outrage and a sense of helplessness against the TPLF that is not only extending the war but increasing the likelihood of reprisals against ordinary Tigrayans.
If the State Department wishes to stop the bloodshed in Ethiopia and begin the process of reconciliation between the Tigrayan people and the Ethiopian state, the time has come to demand that the TPLF ring leaders surrender. Prime Minister Abiy’s government has issued arrest warrants for approximately 100 people. Those individuals who are not dead or in custody must surrender so that the Prime Minister can consider declaring an amnesty and unconditional peace negotiations for those who were compelled by the TPLF’s leadership to be complicit in the fighting and/or have not committed war crimes.
Continuing U.S. support, direct or indirect, to the TPLF, will only embolden the rebel group to take hostages, plunder communities, and commit atrocities in its efforts to force the Ethiopian government into negotiations. The starving people of Tigray will suffer most from any unnecessary extension of the conflict. The lives of innocent Ethiopian citizens are in your hands. And if the United States now wields its influence over the TPLF to end this war, it will earn back some of the gratitude of the Ethiopian people.