This article is not a political analysis. As we have too many articles these days, I have no intention of tiring readers with a long article. This article just makes a call. It is a call similar to the old “የእናት ሀገር ጥሪ”. It is an invitation to the former members of the historical Ethiopian armed forces. Though the issue in this article is of interest to the wider Ethiopian audience, it is primarily directed towards the former Ethiopian officers and soldiers. I wish I am writing this article in Amharic. But I am not a “Diaspora” Ethiopian refugee living in relative ease amidst resources. I am what I call a “Lame bora” Ethiopian refugee with limited resources. Hence typing in English is quicker and convenient for my situation.
The current situation in our country is very alarming. As many Ethiopians I was also optimistic about the new political change that was taking place in Ethiopia over the past year. However the troubles of that country are deep rooted. And during the 27 years under the TPLF regime, the politics had been structurally engineered to be a ticking time bomb and highly problematic. Unless the whole ethnic based political system and administration (including the constitution i.e. the blueprint for all the current mess) is critically revised and sane measures are taken, the future of that country is rather bleak. The hard truth
is that, like the Titanic ship, as a nation we may be on a collision course with a “political iceberg” (or we may have already collided) and it is only a matter of time before we sink into total chaos. May almighty God save the nation from such a dark scenario!
The so called EPRDF even with the reformists at the helm is a highly problematic and drunken political body. It is full of narrow tribal cadres who are actually working against the new reforms which the PM has been pushing over the past year. It is not only TPLF in Mekele that is hindering the reforms, but also many insecure and corrupt cadres and politicians in the other EPRDF sister parties as well. Outside EPRDF, there are also highly vocal tribalist politicians and activists with divisive agenda. The various ethnically demarcated regions have become increasingly tense and inhospitable for people that are considered as outsiders of those regions. This has resulted in millions of displaced internal refugees. The social media and YouTube are also full of fanatic tribal “activists” mainly based in the diaspora. In short what has been feared for many years is slowly unfolding before our eyes. It appears we are entering a season of harvest for what has been sown in the past 27 years by the TPLF. Hence it is time the unity forces from the opposition camp come up with new and original ideas to impede and stop this downward slide to chaos.
It is against this ominous backdrop that I make this call to members of our former historical Ethiopian defense forces. I highly encourage you to consider forming a brand new Ethiopian political party that could be a big player in the political scene of the country. Such a unity party with a “one Ethiopia” motto could be a center of gravity to attract, organize and represent millions of diverse Ethiopians who want the historical unity of the country to continue and be safeguarded. The majority of Ethiopians have now understood that your sacrifice and struggle were to prevent such an evil time from coming upon our nation. I am aware that over the past years some alumni like associations have been formed to represent our heroes from the former historical defense forces. The new political party I am suggesting can be quickly formed by these associations of the former Air force, Navy and Ground forces. It does not mean that these alumni associations will disappear after creating this political party. They could still continue as before. But they could come together and take the first initiative to create this big political party that has the potential to have hundreds of thousands of members in a very short time besides millions of supporters.
The new change in the country has allowed opposition political parties to function freely. Hence you should grab this window of opportunity and organize yourselves and stand again for your country at this critical hour. This time it will not be with guns and tanks but in a manner the present time requires i.e. in an organized peaceful political struggle.
Below I will enumerate several disparate points that could help in the discussion as well as the cost-benefit analysis of what I am suggesting.
- The creation of such a new political party could be a game changer in the Ethiopian political landscape and would give fresh oxygen and new vitality to the unity political forces, thereby creating a positive political dynamics. Hence it could have a big role in counteracting the negative effects of tribalism and ethnic politics in the country. This is because whatever their tribal or language background, members of our former defense forces, were strongly united under a “one Ethiopia” banner and were symbols of national pride and unity.
- This is not a call for the revival of the Derg or the former EWP party. It is going to be a totally new party without any political baggage. However former Derg officials as well as former EWP members, like any Ethiopians should have the right to join the party as individuals. If former EWP members want to revive their old party, it is their right. However this call I am making has nothing to do with that. People should not confuse the former historical Ethiopian defense forces with the Derg. It is true that the Derg was an elite group (that became a regime) that came out of the military following the 1966(EC) popular uprising. However simply equating the historical Ethiopian defense forces with the Derg was and is a great historical mistake. Even though Ethiopia in her three thousand years of history had been defended by her many ancient fighters and armies, however the modernized historical Ethiopian armed forces which we have known in our generation (until it was disbanded in 1983(EC)), had its roots in the army of Emperor Tewodros from the middle of the nineteenth century. Hence Derg happened to be the final Ethiopian government or regime to expand and command this historic Ethiopian force.
- The party should be founded by the former Ethiopian defense officers and soldiers but membership should be open for all Ethiopians and political elites.
- Such a political party could be easily created in a relatively short time with the potential of recruiting members by the hundreds of thousands. This is because the number of former soldiers and officers and their family members (including families of those who died) is very large in both the cities and rural towns. These former members and their families (for various historical reasons and family sentiments) would be highly motivated to join such an Ethiopian party thereby creating a committed strong fan base across the nation and the diaspora.
- It has the potential to recruit tens of thousands of committed members from the diaspora thereby having a strong financial base.
- It has the potential to become a highly disciplined party because of the military background of its members and founders. This would have an advantage as its members can become a committed and strong political base. It could also have an orderly culture that could minimize the schisms and back door politics that have always characterized many Ethiopian political parties.
- The party can begin with primary agendas like, reviving the “one Ethiopia” sentiment in the country, putting forward plans to improve the security of the country etc. However with the help of the political elites that could join the party, several political, social and economic plans and policies could be devised that would fit with its “one Ethiopia” policy. The party has the potential to win the affection of millions of Ethiopians (besides the former defense members and their families) as it would be a symbol of historical unity which once the country enjoyed. There is the nostalgia effect as well, as the members of our former defense forces would remind us of the Ethiopia we grew up where people saw each other as simply Ethiopians.
- Such a party could also collaborate with other Ethiopian opposition parties who major in unity and citizen based politics. Such a working collaboration could create a formidable political force for any potential upcoming national elections.
- The party can have as its agenda the pension rights of the former members of the defense forces. Instead of only the alumni associations raising this issue now and then in a non-organized way, the political party can actually put it as one of its agenda. This also has the advantage of attracting many former members and their families to the party.
- The formation of such a party would do service to the sacrifices of the tens of thousands of the former defense force members and their families (including those officers and soldiers who took their own lives). They died for one and united Ethiopia. This party could continue and advance the cause for which these heroes died for.
These are suggested ideas to help in the discourse. It is just an idea. If you find it interesting expand and discuss it at length and let us see where the discussion leads.
As stated earlier Emperor Tewodros was the founding father of the modernized historical Ethiopia army (i.e. from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards).The key term here is “modernized”, because before that for 3 000 years, Ethiopia had many ancient armies in different eras. But the vision and the practical steps to modernize the historic Ethiopian army was first taken by Emperor Tewodros. Hence this modernized historical Ethiopian army that begun with Emperor Tewodros continued until 1983(EC) defending the country from foreign invaders as well as internal separatist groups. It was finally disbanded by Arab and CIA supported TPLF/EPLF when they came to power at the time when the cold war ended.
It is also in the heroism and image of Emperor Tewodros that our modernized historical army was shaped. That is why many high ranking as well as low ranking officers of the former Ethiopian defense force committed suicide during battles rather than face surrender. I am not encouraging suicide but we simply cannot underestimate the psychological influence of “Meyisaw Kassa” in the former Ethiopian armed forces. To give just one example, one cannot forget the emotional eye witness account of Lieutenant Tadesse Tele Salvano in describing the scene when the port city of Massawa was falling to the northern rebels. Brig. Gen. Teshome Tessema standing on the shore of the Red Sea and in front of an assembled group of Ethiopian soldiers and lower officers made a very emotional final historic speech saying that he felt very proud to have got the opportunity of emulating Atse Tewodros. Then he killed himself by firing his gun and fell into the sea rather than face surrender. According to the eye witness account, around 150 lower officers and soldiers also committed suicide on the spot following their commander. Shortly after that on the terrace of the Red Sea Hotel, Col. Belay Aschenaqi sitting on a chair, made yet another short final emotional historic speech to a group of few lower officers and soldiers and after turning his face to a nearby church (and made the cross sign) he too killed himself with his AK47 rifle. He was wrapped in the Ethiopian flag. Such kinds of stories are many and it shows the powerful impact that Emperor Tewodros had on our former historical armed forces and their commanding officers.
I will end this article with an original artistic print depicting Emperor Tewodros lying on the ground after his suicide in Maqdala. Some British soldiers of the 33rd regiment are shown standing nearby looking towards the body (see Fig below). A gun can be seen lying next to the body. For many of you this picture could be familiar. I am not sure but I think I saw this picture in a historical book in Amharic (entitled “From Emperor Tewodors to Emperor HaileSelassie”) by historian Tekle Tsadiq Mekuria which I read as a boy. Once upon a time, by some means I came to possess this original antique wood engraving and other two antique prints depicting Emperor Tewodros. Wood engraving is a style of artistic print very popular in the nineteenth century Europe. The wood engraving shown in the figure below was printed one year after the suicide of Emperor Tewodros in Maqdala. It appeared for the first time in a French travel journal entitled “Le Tour du monde” 1869 (GC). The engraving was made by an engraver named Emily Bayard based on a sketch by a British eyewitness in Maqdala. In the nineteen century, book and newspaper illustrations were original artistic prints using methods like wood engravings. The mass produced photomechanical reproductions from presses and printing houses that we know today started sometime in the first decades of the 20th century and they are basically copies or facsimiles hence could not be considered as original works of art (I leave the explanation about wood engraving and other similar methods to the experts). In any case this piece of historical print triggered a strong emotion in me the first time I handled it and I gazed at it for several minutes. It was cut from the very page of an 1869 (GC) Le Tour du monde French travel journal. It is really a captivating picture especially when you think you are holding an original print from the era. Maybe if a Museum is founded in the future to commemorate the history of this historic Ethiopian force, we will include such original antique prints in the collection. I leave you then with this powerful picture ( It is a photo I took of the antique print) as you ponder my call to create a political party that would represent the “one Ethiopia” sentiment of Emperor Tewodros as well as many of your comrades who drunk the cup of Meysaw Kassa.
ወደፊት በሉለት ይለይለት!
ኢትዮጵያ ትቅደም !
እግዚአብሔር ኢትዮጵያን ይባርክ!
July 5, 2019
Fig. Emperor Tewodros after his suicide in Maqdala