By Engdu Wolde
Tigrai online has recently published an article with an apparent objective of misrepresenting the content of an interview conducted by the VOA with Mr. Neamin Zeleke, Head of Foreign Affairs of Patriotic Ginbot 7. The interview came after a major political development in Ethiopia’s recent history of popular resistance when four opposition groups formed the United Movement for the Salvation of Ethiopia through Democracy (UMSED).
The Movement, formed by the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front, the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement, Amhara Democratic Forces Movement and Patriotic Ginbot 7 Movement for Unity and Democracy, has a clear mission of ending tyranny in Ethiopia using all possible means popular resistance, including arms. The armed struggle launched by the United Movement is gathering momentum as Ethiopians at home and abroad are expressing their support and demonstrating their resolve to put an end to the oligarchy that’s now nearing a quarter of a century.
News of the formation of the United Movement was welcomed with elation and celebration among the majority of freedom seeking Ethiopians both in Ethiopia and the diaspora; on the contrary, however, the likes of Tigrai online and its regular contributor, Tsehaye Debalkew, have immediately taken the task of misinforming the public. The article entitled, “Neamin Zeleke confirmed there is a warm and cordial relation between G-7 and the Eritrean government” (Sep. 27, 2015), has shamelessly described the United Movement as a mere group that “plant mines in Ethiopia.”
Many readers might know the writer, Tsehaye Debalkew, as an usher at the TPLF embassy in Washington DC, a regular contributor to anti Ethiopian and hatemonger websites like Tigrai online, Aigaforum, and as a producer of a weekly radio program funded by the TPLF embassy to disseminate disinformation, misinformation, and hateful propaganda among the Ethiopian community living in the Washington DC metropolitan area.
Tsehaye’s opportunistic and creepy modes operandi since his days as a media executive and representative of the Dergue at the Ministry of Information of Ethiopia, as it was called then, and his acrobatic sudden appearance as a stooge for the TPLF controlled media both at home and abroad is a subject for another article. Neither is this short piece about unveiling the individual’s record of indecency, morally unacceptable behaviors and his corrupt personality during his time as a TPLF media executive in Ethiopia before he came to the USA..
This article is therefore necessary to set the record straight about the goal of the United Movement by way of translating what actually transpired during Mr. Neamin’s interview with the VOA Amharic service vis-a-vis Tsehaye’s misinforming piece on Tigray online.
Ethiopians everywhere have tuned to the VOA Amharic interview with great interest and listeners of the VOA were given the chance to call in and ask their own questions, which Mr. Neamin entertained genuinely and clearly. The goal of Tsehaye’s article written in English was to hoodwink, confuse and misinform non Amharic speakers and foreigners who closely follow political developments in Ethiopia; not to mention that the writer’s move was an insult to the intelligence of modern day critical audience.
One of the repeated cry and accusations by the TPLF (its officials did not dare to face off Mr. Neamin in the VOA interview) and its agents in the Diaspora was that the United Movement is operating “under the command of the State of Eritrea,” to quote from Tsehaye’s article. Mr. Neamin, however, clearly stated that the government of Eritrea has never “meddled in the affairs of Ethiopian opposition groups.” According to Mr. Neamin, his organization has been in consultation with the government of Eritrea for over seven years and nowhere did he see any meddling on the part of Eritrea. As to the bogus reporting by some media outlet that the Eritrean government is imprisoning some members of Ethiopian armed groups, Mr. Neamin said that they had thoroughly investigated the allegations and found that the imprisonment had only to do with disciplinary actions taken by the respective opposition groups and that the Eritrean government had nothing to do with it. In all the cases, he said, the imprisoned individuals had been found violating organizational discipline or were caught spying for the TPLF regime. “Some of the individuals came to Eritrea with a mission to assassinate leaders of the Movement and some were caught secretly turning over intelligence to the TPLF.”
As a stakeholder, he said, the Eritrean government provides support as requested and put forward constructive propositions. “The Eritrean government provides shelter for the thousands of Ethiopian patriots who joined the struggle as a result of the injustice, discrimination and political persecution in their home country. Currently, several Ethiopian military officers, air force pilots and patriots who escaped the devouring jaws of TPLF freely move in Eritrea, and live in a better condition than government officials of the state of Eritrea themselves,” according to Mr. Neamin. Eritrea is the only country at the moment that can be used as a shelter to tens of thousands of persecuted Ethiopians. He said all the other neighboring countries: Sudan, Kenya, and Djibouti have been illegally and forcibly extraditing people who were deemed dissidents by the TPLF regime in Addis.
He said there is mutual respect and understanding between Patriotic Ginbot 7 Movement and the Eritrean government. “We trust the Eritrean government,” Mr. Neamin underlined. “UMSED members who have been working in Eritrea have seen it to themselves that Eritrea has become a safe place for Ethiopian freedom fighters. The accusation by some that Eritrean leaders directly influence or command the Ethiopian opposition movement in Eritrea is completely groundless.”
The notion that the Eritrean government works to “destabilize Ethiopia” as stated in the Tigrai online article is utterly ridiculous. “Patriotic Ginbot 7 is a living witness that the Eritrean government does not have any intention to destabilize Ethiopia and meddle in the affairs of Ethiopia.” According to Mr. Neamin, contrary to what those in the TPLF camp say, Eritrean leaders like to see a democratic, stable, and peaceful Ethiopia. “Such attitude by the Eritrean leaders would pave the way for a better relationship between the peoples of the two counties; which in turn facilitates the creation of a prosperous and peaceful sub-region.” he said.
Mr. Neamin said in the VOA interview that the Eritrean top leadership and the rank and file do not even have the slightest resentment towards Ethiopia and Ethiopians. “The propaganda that Eritrea does not want to see a stable Ethiopia is waged by the TPLF in a futile attempt to stir up confusion among the Ethiopian people and Ethiopian opposition groups,” he said.
The ultimate goal of the movement, according to Mr. Neamin, is to free Ethiopia from the TPLF despotic regime and create conditions necessary for a genuinely democratic process. “The struggle is not about the use of Eritrean ports or other strategic questions. These issues would be negotiated with Eritrea once a democratic government is put in place in Ethiopia. The future engagement with Eritrea would be based on mutual understanding and benefit to the people on both sides of the border, who are have a unique relationship, intermingled culturally and historically.”
Mr. Neamin pointed out that some distracters have tried to divert the attention to the issue of using Eritrean ports. He said that Patriotic Ginbot 7 movement believes today is not the time to talk about ports but to wage an all-out struggle against the ethnocentric and dictatorial oligarchy in Ethiopia. He however said that once a democratic government is put in place in Ethiopia, it is a possibility that Eritrea and Ethiopia could even start to mull over federation or confederation. He quoted Isaias Afeworki, the Eritrean president, as saying “the sky is the limit” as far as future relationship between the two countries is concerned. All strategic issues, however, would be discussed by the two sides once the TPLF regime is removed and replaced by a popular government that would have the mandate of the Ethiopian people. Mr. Neamin underlined that the movement does not have the mandate to negotiate on behalf of Ethiopia at the moment. The focus now, according to Mr. Neamin, is to get rid of the tyranny in Ethiopia and replace it with a democratic system that respects fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, and a system that allow citizens to live freely.
Responding to questions by the VOA and its listeners as to why UMSED did not resolve its differences with the TPLF through peace and reconciliation, Mr. Neamin said “the TPLF should fist reconcile with the people up on which it caused untold suffering. It should release all political prisoners, create a favorable environment for national reconciliation and allow institutions that are pillars of democracy to freely operate in the country. The regime has to answer the democratic demands by the people before any negotiations with opposition forces.” He said efforts by concerned Ethiopians in the past 24 years to bring the regime to the negotiation table have failed, thanks to the leaders in the TPLF camp.
The TPLF has closed all doors for peaceful resolution of political, economic and social crisis in the nation. Mr. Neamin said the regime had actually made a mockery of democratic elections, declaring it had won 100% of the vote even during the so called “election”, the last election held in May of 2015”. The regime has closed all doors to a meaningful peaceful struggle in Ethiopia as it wantonly imprisons political opponents under trumped up charges, tortures with impunity those in prison, , and has created an almost impossible conditions to wage a meaningful peaceful and legal struggle in Ethiopia, he added. The only option left for Ethiopians, according to Mr. Neamin, is to remove the ethnocentric and unjust regime of the TPLF through popular resistance and civil disobedience. He said it is the wish of tens of millions of Ethiopians to live in a country where their rights are respected.
Mr. Neamin abundantly made it clear in the interview that the struggle is not with the people of Ethiopia; neither is it with the Ethiopian army which itself is the victim of TPLF’s nepotism and ethnic discrimination; an army whose top commanders are almost all composed of TPLF generals who hail from a minority ethnic group. He said the struggle is between freedom fighters and the oppressed people of Ethiopia on one side and the TPLF’s corrupt generals known for their unbridled plunder, as well as few beneficiaries of the cruel and corrupt oligarchy on the other. “The resistance movement does not consider the Ethiopian army as an enemy. The Movement believes that the rank and file of Ethiopian army is a victim of the ethnocentric, unjust, and corrupt regime,”
Mr. Neamin said in the interview that unlike the misconception by some people, Tigrians are not beneficiaries of the current government which is solely controlled by few anti Ethiopians who happen to hail from Tigray. “The intention by the regime operatives is to create fear among the people of Tigray. The regime’s officials are trying to inculcate in the minds of the people of Tigray a spurious notion that only TPLF can protect them and their survival is at risk if others take control of the government. Only few Tigrian elites and their cronies from other ethnic groups benefit from the corrupt and tyrannical regime.”
He called attention to listeners that one of the armed groups that formed the United Movement, the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM), is formed and led by compatriots from Tigray who had enough of the oppression of the people of Tigray, whom the regime claims to represent. Mr. Neamin said the recent defection by one of the leaders of the TPDM, Mola Asgedom, would not in any way affect the Movement. He said Molla represents neither the TPDM nor the oppressed people of Tigray. “The freedom fighters within the TPDM, who hail from Tigray, have aligned themselves with United Movement to bring about democratic changes in Ethiopia. The fight has never been with the people of Tigray.”
Further giving details on Molla’s defection, Mr. Neamin said Molla had tricked the freedom fighters of TPDM saying they would be going to celebrate Ethiopia’s New Year’s Eve. He then crossed the border with Sudan with few of his confidants who already had knowledge of his intention; while other soldiers who were caught by surprise had decided to return to Eritrea once they knew about Molla’s deception.
Answering to a question whether a group that comes to power through armed struggle would guarantee democracy in the country, Mr. Neamin, who recalled that past governments that took government power by force have dashed the people’s hope for a better Ethiopia, reiterated that the goal of the United Movement is never to gain control of political power in Ethiopia. He said the goal of the Movement is to first do away with the dictatorial regime by all available means and then create conditions necessary for the country to have an orderly and peaceful transition to a constitutionally liberal democratic system where the people would elect their government in a free, fair, and democratic process. “The struggle is to make this the TPLF/EPRDF regime the last autocratic government in Ethiopia.”