Written by Semere Tesfai
If the Woyane spin-doctors and their Eritrean agents were to have the last word, this is how they would’ve written the history of the 1998 Ethio-Eritrean war (of course I’m paraphrasing).
The days prior to 12 May 1998 were all happy cheerful and sunny days. But after seven delightful and tranquil years, Isaias, erratic that he is he woke-up one morning and unexpectedly ignited the Badme border war. Not for any apparent rational reason, but just because he felt like it. And ever since that tragic day, things have never been the same again. And that’s why we all are finding ourselves in this terrible predicament today.
But is that so? Were the days prior to 12 May 1998 all that sunny? Did the Badme border-war really start because of the personal whim of a one mad man (Isaias)? Was Isaias/Eritrea the aggressor? Was it even border dispute the cause of the 1998 Ethio-Eritrean conflict?
Of course not! Any idiot knows these are all bogus claims and boldfaced lies. Let’s be real: prior to May 1998, EPLF leaders wanted to be so close to Ethiopia they were saying publicly – borders are irrelevant; free movement of people goods services and capital is the way to move forward; dual citizenship for those who wanted it (Eritreans and Ethiopians) is what brings the two people closer; single currency single monetary policy single foreign and diplomatic policy is what serves the two people best; having synchronized defense and security policy under unified central command is what makes the two people safe and secure; moving towards integrated economy under some kind of regional confederation is what brings stability and economic prosperity to the people of this region…… and many more were EPLF leaders public positions.
Again, EPLF leaders were so close to Woyane’s Ethiopia, and wanted to remain even closer that the current opposition leaders were outraged by their cozy relation with Ethiopia – accusing them of “abandoning our traditional Arab Allies”. EPLF leaders were so close to Ethiopia, the Arab Region was infuriated by their constant Arab bashing and their close relation with Ethiopia Israel and the West. Western powers were so elated about the Ethio-Eritrean close relation they were calling the leaders of both nations “close allies”, “visionaries”, “the new breed of African leaders”….. And the hope of Ethio-Eritrean close relation wasn’t just an empty-wish of EPLF leaders based on, unbalanced unfair and unattainable dream driven by insatiable Eritrean greed as some allege, but a seemingly achievable hope anchored on concrete agreement reached by both countries through the 1993 Agreement of Friendship and cooperation commission headed by the then two vice presidents – Tamrat Layne and Mahmoud Sherifo.
The point: in the greater scheme of things, at best, the Badme border issue was a hiccup; if that. But, even though the 1993 Ethio-Eritrean agreement was the best good news the two people ever heard in more than a century (of course it could be tweaked), to the disappointment of many Ethio-Eritrean relation failed miserably. And there is a lesson to be learned here: Ethio-Eritrean relation failed because it was a relationship destined to fail. Not because of the content of the agreement and its intended security economic and social objectives, not because the agreement was a lopsided agreement that favored Eritreans at the expense of Ethiopians, but because of the identity and the perceived shadowy political motive of its architects and its framers. Simply put: it failed because Ethio-Eritrean relation is more than a close relation of the two Tigreans.
And that was where the Ethio-Eritrean close relation was anchored; and that was the precise reason why the Ethio-Eritrean relation ended-up being polarizing and toxic relation that lacked the confidence of most Eritreans and Ethiopians (of course I’m not minimizing the “we’ve to restore Ethiopian pride by punishing Eritrea” and the “Eritrea should not be rewarded for having-it her own way” type ultranationalist factors in the overall political equation). And the minute the rubber hit the road, as expected, the weakest link (Woyane) gave way due to its internal pressure. Then and only then it dawned on all that the 6% Tigreans were, are, and will always be incapable of negotiating and delivering close Ethio-Eritrean relation while at the helm. And when the Woyanes reversed all their long held positions a complete 180° in the blink of an eye for political expediency (aligned themselves with gun-toting ultra nationalists ነፍጠኛታትን ትምክሕተኛታትን in order to govern) to those who were hoping and wishing to see a lasting Ethio-Eritrean close relation, the writing was on the wall.
Therefore, trying to describe the 1998 Ethio-Eritrean war, as a war that was fought solely over small patches of barren arid lands or as a war that was fought just because of a sudden impulse of a one “madman” is either mischaracterization of the facts, naïve and simplistic explanation of the facts or is being deliberately disingenuous about the real facts of the Ethio-Eritrean conflict. But again, if, “Eritrea/Isaias was the aggressor” is what you believed all along, and if you’re not still persuaded by the reasoning of my argument, please read the comment below and pay attention to every little detail of – all the unverifiable claims and accusations, all the myth, all the half-truth, and all The Kidney Heist type Urban Legends that were being disseminated by the Addis political machine to vilify Eritrea and Eritreans prior to 06 May 1998.
I completely understand – since the Awate commenter was making a blanket statement (all X are Y and all W felt Z type assertions) his comment can’t be portrayed as an accurate descriptive account of the whole attitude of all Eritreans and Ethiopians. But it sure does explain the relentless political campaign that was waged to shape Ethiopian public opinion (vis-à-vis Eritrea and Eritreans) prior to 12 May1998. And guess what! Once a gun-toting regime successfully shapes public opinion to its liking, what follows is a no brainer: a policy that fits “public opinion”. And that was exactly the whole objective of the hollow propaganda of the Addis political machine: to mold Ethiopian public opinion.
Again, to piece together the events that lead to the 1998 senseless war, please read and pay attention to every little detail of the comment below; because the comment is a perfect prototype of the daily political propaganda that was waged to vilify and demonize Eritrea and Eritreans prior to 06 May 1998. And as a case in point, this comment is selected by this author to serve as an appetizer for the whole argument of this article. Good read.
“Ethiopians belief that Eritreans contempt to Ethiopia and Ethiopians is deep rooted and beyond the manplation of their leaders. During the first seven years of Eritrean independence, the behavior of many Eritreans (particularly Kebesa Eritreans, who were in Ethiopia) was simply unbearable. Especially, their favorate targets were those Ethiopians, who were very emotional about Ethiopia losing a sea port and feared Eritreans independence would lead to disintegration of the rest of the country. They were targets of a relentless mockery, insults with lots of humiliating verbal and psychological abuses. Furthermore, EPLF gave an impression to the rest of Ethiopians and especially to its Eritrean supporters that it has an upper hand on TPLF/EPRDF, and even a kind of impression that they control EPRDF and through it Ethiopia.
Hence, Eritreans, especially, the elites and those who lived in Ethiopia felt that they had a free reign over everything and anything in Ethiopia. Many couldn’t control themselves and openly started belittling Ethiopians, as just tools to be used by Eritreans. Eritrea was packaging Ethiopian coffee and market it in the world, as ‘Eritrean’. Large businesses, factories and financial institutions were getting bough and obtained by those, who pledged aligence to Eritrea, leaving the owners of the country Ethiopians somewhat pushed aside.
When Isayas invaded Ethiopia, they had the audacity to openly fund raise in Addis and regional towns for his war effort. I don’t think you can under estimate a kind of resentment that could create among Ethiopians. That is why, during Bademe war, when EPRDF declared it’s divorce from EPLF and Eritrea and called young people to enlist to go to war, it’s call was recieved enthusiastically and eventually, Ethiopia managed to win the war. It is a human nature to seek a revenge against those, who you feel deeply hurt you, and Ethiopians can not be different.There are good number of Ethiopians, who would want those, who humiliated them to be humiliated. Those, who dehumanized them to see what it looks like to be insulted and belittled.” Eyob Medhane – a diehard Woyane/EPRDF supporter in his own words explaining the “feeling of Ethiopians” toward Eritreans pre-May 12, 1998 – Awate.com, September 22, 2013 at 2:42 pm – Chronology of Eritrea’s Reform Movement @ the comment section.
So, what do you think? Does the above comment reflect the Ethiopian political reality that existed prior to May 1998? Do you think the comment is still defensible? Why or why not?
Anyway, regardless of one’s position to the above comment, the glaring fact is – that was exactly the insidious false propaganda the Ethiopian political machine was feeding its public prior to 12 May 1998. The reason: to go to war you have to prepare your country for war. And as a vital component of your war preparation, vilifying and demonizing your enemy to a point where there is no sympathy left for him, is job one. And that was exactly what the Addis political machine was doing prior to 06 May 1998. And the question that comes to mind is: was there similar propaganda campaign on the Eritrean side prior to 12 May 1998? And the answer is – absolutely not. And that in itself tells a story. Because it defies the logic of war (if one wants to claim that the 1998 Ethio-Eritrean war was started by Eritrea). And to this day, even though there is no any Ethiopian who could back-up the accusation (claim) that was/is leveled against Eritrea and Eritreans with a verifiable data and documentation, regrettably, the effect of that insidious propaganda → the false accusation, the hate, the anger, the resentment, the vindictive attitude……toward Eritrea and Eritreans is still alive and well.
But to anyone who could put two and two together, it was abundantly clear that the bloody 1998 Ethio-Eritrean war was never about land dispute. Badme, the “disputed” border region, didn’t have much to do with the bloody “border war” then, and it has nothing to do with the current ‘no-war-no-peace’ Addis policy. Badme was a casus belli for a premeditated aggression then, and it island held hostage at a gunpoint as a bargaining-chip to achieve a favorable concession from Eritrea, now – a concession that was impossible to achieve in 1991 to be exact. And for that reason and that reason alone, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if Badme remains a hostage for many, many years to come. But many people are calling the 1998 Ethio-Eritrean war ‘the Badme border war’ simply because the war was started at Badme and it was fought under the pretext of Badme border dispute. But in reality, the war was planned, instigated, provoked and declared by the Tigrean hardliners. The reason: grudge, territorial expansion, to heal and restore the pride of a wounded divided defeated Nation, to liberate themselves from the general public-perception (pawn of ShaEbia), to earn legitimacy to govern Ethiopia, and most of all to turn the clock back to 1991 in order to “negotiate” future Ethio-Eritrean relation, with a divided defeated humiliated Eritrea, led by a worthless Woyane installed puppet government. And the plan worked – well, almost.
Yes, the Woyanes failed to topple the Eritrean government. Yes, the Woyanes failed to occupy Eritrea. Yes, the Woyanes dream to assume supreme authority over Eritrea’s government and its sovereign territories until Eritrea signs a declaration of defeat that would meet all Ethiopian demands (including but not limited to, unfettered access to the Red Sea) failed miserably. Yes, the Woyanes didn’t add much of an Eritrean land to their beloved Greater Tigray. But they sure did get something else.
As a direct result of their naked aggression, Ethiopian unity and stability was solidified. As a direct result of their naked aggression, their popularity soared sky-high and continued to soar even higher every time they bled, humiliated, raised their threat level.…. towards Eritrea and Eritreans. As a direct result of their naked aggression their popularity was night and day the day before and the day after 13 May 1998. And most of all, as a direct result of their naked aggression, their image was improved in the eyes of many Ethiopians, making life easier for them to govern. Simply put: theWoyanes immensely benefited from their aggression and that was the exact motive behind their decision to back-stub and bleed their former ally. And that’s why their former allies are calling them ጠላማት.
And rallying the defeated Amara hardliners, inline soldier-style was not that hard. All it took was a suggestive gesture to bring back Assab and a firm conviction to restore Ethiopian pride by “breaking Eritrea’s spine”. That’s all. And the minute the gun-toting Tigrean and Amara hardliners tied the knot, the fate of the Ethio-Eritrean Alliance was sealed. Why did the Woyanes back-stub their former ally? Because then, now, and forever, there is no way in hell for the 6% Tigreans to dominate and govern ethnically divided Ethiopia without the overwhelming support of the Amaras (or the Oromos(???) with the intent to deny the Amaras Power). And by the same token then, now, and forever, there is no way in hell, in which the Tigreans could sleep with the ambitious Amaras and still fall in love with Eritreans. Sleeping with the ambitious Amaras and falling in love with Eritreans are incompatible. And let me explain the obvious:
When at the helm, the Tigreans could only sleep with one, and not with the other: with Eritreans or with the Amaras. And the Tigreans won’t dare sleep with Eritreans (when at the helm) as a strong bond of the two Tigreans is an impediment to the Amara’s ambitious dream of getting to the helm. And the Amaras are not going to give-up on their dream; and rightly so. Therefore, in the 1990s, in order to govern, the Woyanes didn’t have any other choice but to do the obvious: to take the bow (accept the 3000 year baggage) and tie the knot. And to make their new marriage work they didn’t had any other choice but to make good on their solemn-vow. And there was only one way to make good on their solemn-vow: to divorce their former lover, and divorce it in a very, very, very, very…. convincing way. And that is exactly what they did. They planned, instigated, provoked and escalated a war that would get them up-to and including regime change. And why did they cook a bloody plan that goes as far as regime change? Well:
To prove to their new lovers in no uncertain terms that their old marriage is over
To turn the clock back to 1991 to cleanse the “colossal national-sin” they committed
But it all failed. Thanks to the bravery of the Eritrean people and their gallant Warsai-YkeAlo forces, all their crafty deceit, all their engineered blueprint, all their radiant-thinking and mind-mapping ended-up being just a pipe-dream. Yes! After all the – Zeraf, Geday, Zwesede Gzie Ywsed, Hibri Aynkhum Des Entezey Eluna….brouhaha, the Tigrean hardliners were forced to settle for a whole lot less: no-war-no-peace policy. Yep! Hoping against hope, one day their well-crafted no-war-no-peace policy to bankrupt and bring Eritrea to its knees. Yes, the Eritrea they always believed – was “economically unviable state” without the goodwill of Addis regimes (without access to Ethiopian resources). And as they say, the rest is history.
Mind you: I don’t have any illusion about the size, magnitude, and intellect of those who swear, the 1998 Ethio-Eritrean war was caused and triggered by the Eritrean regime. I hear them every single day. Yes, those from the South of the Mereb River and their Eritrean agents who swear “Eritrea was the aggressor” (of course for obvious reasons) and those from the Eritrean opposition who cut off their nose to spite their face – just to do harm to the PFDJ regime. But both sides don’t have a winning argument. Their “facts” are so wrong and their arguments are so weak and riddled with inconsistencies, it won’t even withstand a minor scrutiny.
But I’m not here to ask the “Eritrea was the aggressor” crowd to take my word for it and call it a day. No, no, no, no…. I’m here to make a compelling case argument for it; and I’m daring and challenging them to prove me wrong. And I’m doing this for one and only one reason. This is an Eritrean issue (not Isaias or PFDJ) and I believe we all Eritreans are duty-bound to contribute our part to set the record straight. And that is exactly what I’m trying to do here. Not that my argument is going to change anyone’s mind, but I just want to prove to the whole world that the “Eritrea was the aggressor” crowd don’t have any credible argument to offer other than to mislead, to deceive, to dwell in darkness and, to argue on trivialities and side issues. And explaining the motive, the opportunity and the means of the 1998 Woyanes war of aggression, and presenting a compelling case argument that:
The 1998 Ethio-Eritrean war was instigated and provoked by the Woyanes
The 1998 Ethio-Eritrean war was triggered and escalated by the Woyanes
History will be very kind to the EPLF government leaders for their handling of the 1998 Ethio-Eritrean “border” war
Ethiopian regimes will never, never find a friend like Isaias and an ally like the PFDJ regime for a long, long, long time if any
We Eritreans bled for our independence no doubt about it; but the Woyanes wanted Eritrean independence (in 1991) more than the Eritreans themselves
And more would be the argument of these series of articles. Let’s roll:
The 1998 Ethio-Eritrean War Was Instigated And Provoked By The Woyanes
To make a compelling case for this argument, let’s start with the following critical questions and logical statements.
Question And Logical Statement #1. Were the Woyanes in and around Badme, harassing intimidating arresting evicting and killing Eritrean citizens, and confiscating properties of Eritrean citizens consistently prior to 06 May 1998? And the answer is emphatic YES. Did the Woyanes completely alter the social-demography of the whole Badme region (on both sides of the border divide) by evicting tens of thousands 3-4 generation Eritreans, and by settling Tigreans in their place? And the answer is emphatic YES. Was their action, a provocative action tantamount to declaring war on Eritrea and Eritreans? Yes it was. Then, assuming the duty of any given government is to protect its citizens, the EPLF government was within its rights to stand-up to the aggression of the Woyanes to defend its citizens.
Question And Logical Statement #2. Did the Woyanes try to alter the century old (1900–1991) Ethio-Eritrean border with the intent to incorporate large swaths of Eritrean territories into Tigray (Badme region being one of them)? Again the answer is emphatic YES. Did they try to create facts on the ground using force (to reflect their newly created map)? YES they did. Was their action a provocative action tantamount to declaring war on Eritrea and Eritreans? Yes it was. Then, assuming the duty of any given government is to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation it is governing, the EPLF government was within its rights to stand-up to the aggression of the Woyanes to defend the territorial integrity of Eritrea.
Question And Logical Statement #3. Did the Woyanes try to dismantle Eritrean local administrations by force in the “disputed” border areas to reflect their newly created map? Yes they did. Was their action a provocative action tantamount to declaring war on Eritrea and Eritreans? Yes it was. Then, assuming the duty of any given government is to protect its branch governments and its public servants, the EPLF government was within its rights to stand-up to the aggression of the Woyanes, to defend its local governments and its public employees.
Question And Logical Statement #4. Now, let’s be fair to the Woyanes. Even when the EPLF government believed Badme to be sovereign Eritrean territory, did the EPLF government dismantled any Ethiopian local government, at any of the “disputed” border areas including the Badme local administration (which was administered by Tigray Killil) prior to may 6 May 1998? And the answer is a resounding NO. Did the EPLF government altered the century old (1900–1991) Ethio-Eritrean border with the intent to incorporate some swaths of sovereign Ethiopian territories into Eritrea? Again, no it did not. Did the EPLF government harassed, evicted, killed or confiscated properties of Ethiopian citizens at the “disputed” border areas? No it didn’t.
Therefore, in order the – ‘Eritrea was the aggressor’ argument to fly:
One has to deny all the statements above (1,2,3 and 4) or
One has to deny the EPLF government’s right to defend its people, its local governments and its sovereign territories
And no Tigrean/Ethiopian worth his salt would dare deny the ordeal of tens of thousands Eritrean families, who were facing the wrath of the Woyanes for twenty long years, when thousands of them are still walking on their own two feet on this planet. Therefore, not only the two decade (1978 – 1998) Woyanes consistent provocation was real, but also it was unsustainable. That kind of life – life of constant and never-ending border encroachment, harassment, fear, killing, eviction and confiscation of properties was unsustainable. It was inevitable – at some point, some day, some Eritrean government was going to be forced to stand-up to the aggression of the Woyanes, to defend Eritrean citizens and sovereign Eritrean territories. And that day happened to be May 12, 1998. And the question that comes to mind is:
Ok, the Woyanes were constantly provoking Eritrea/the EPLF government for war. We got that. But that doesn’t prove the Woyanes started the 1998 war. How could you prove beyond reasonable doubt that the 1998 Ethio-Eritrean war was ignited by the Woyanes? Well, that and more would come in part II of this article in about two weeks.