EPLF and the May 89 Coup: A Response to Mr. Tibebe Samuel Ferenji (Part II, Separating facts from fiction) – Neamin Zeleke
“A man should keep learning as long as he is ignorant, as long as he lives” Seneca (more…)
“A man should keep learning as long as he is ignorant, as long as he lives” Seneca
“The whole glory of virtue lies in activity” Cicero
In his latest article, written as a response to my response, Mr. Tibebe continues his exercise of recycling and rehashing fabrications and allegations to prove his points which cannot be proved otherwise. He starts by asserting: “…Though Mr. Neamin’s article “EPLF and the ’89 coup: Setting the record straight” is written eloquently, it is short in substance, misleading and intellectually dishonest…”. Throughout out the article, Mr. Tibebe does not give concrete evidence to refute my arguments, where I was “misleading” and where I was “intellectually dishonest”. Instead he engages in desperate attempt of cover up his previous blunders by repeating more the same. Full of allegations and assertions without adducing factual and material backing. Parading the names of Majors and Generals—none of whom had ever corroborated his ludicrous claims—is not going to cut it either. But he chose to continue on a slippery slope just to win an unwinnable argument. Therefore, I say Mr. Tibebe is the one who should be looking himself in the mirror and reexamine his assertions that I am engaged in “intellectual dishonesty”.
Before I lay out to the reader with established facts how Mr. Tibebe is using fiction to support his point, let me identify the theory he is trying to prove. Mr. Tibebe’s main theory is that EPLF is a treacherous entity and accepting Eritrea’s help in fighting against TPLF is a bad idea. I do not wish to debate this point mainly because I choose to debate this point only with those who have accepted armed struggle as a necessary means of freeing our people. The issue whether or not to accept military aid and sanctuary from Eritrea is a question of process and options for those committed to free Ethiopia from the chokehold of TPLF’s minority and fascistic dictatorship.
Mr. Tibebe, while having many alternatives to make his point, however, chose to use fabricated facts to establish the nature of the EPLF. He boldly asserted that EPLF orchestrated the May 89 coup and directly or indirectly ordered the removal of 400 troops from Asmara to allow marching to Asmara. It is on this point that I utterly disagreed with Mr. Tibebe. It is this assertion that offended me so much that I chose to set the record straight with the credible information available.
• Let me restate the core argument for which I responded by refuting his claim as regard to the direct involvement of EPLF in the coup of 1989. In fact, as the writer claimed the EPLF was leading or “orchestrated” the coup of 1989. Save for EPLF’s agreement to accept a ceasefire offer made by the leaders of the coup, this is patently false statement; I maintain my core point of refutation to Mr. Tibebe’s claim. It is only a fabrication made by those who have political points to score and recycled by the writer and his likes. Of course, Mr. Tibebe’s claims are made in order to prove a political position by distorting and twisting hisorical facts and records in the service of a political agenda. The agenda being that of “teaching” and “enlightening” us about the EPLF and its past deeds as lessons to be learned from and relevant for the current political configurations.
• Although he makes desperate efforts to prove his points with all sorts of gymnastics and mincing of words, his assertions as regard to who led and orchestrated the coup of 1989 , I still maintain they cannot be corroborated by General Kumlachew’s handwritten notes that Mr. Tibebe claims to have, or in the books written by Maj. Seleshi, Maj Dawit, and even with a dose of help from Col Mengistu ‘s 11 tapes that he quotes. If one looks at the Dictators’ self serving statements found in his tapes and that of Genet Ayle’s book entield “YeColonel Mengistu Tizitawotch”, the former president has no qualms to present himself as the blameless saint and that he has nothing to do with the woes and wrongs in Ethiopia during his reign. While all others Ethiopians who worked under him including Maj. Dawit and the leaders of 1989 attempted coup were the culprits for the demise of the Ethiopian armed forces and the ascent to state power of both EPLF and TPLF in Asmara and Addis respectively.
• General Wubetu Tsegay’s name is mentioned in Mr. Tibebe’s latest article. General Wubetu was the commander of the 2nd Revolutionary Army in Eritrea for several months before General Demissie took over. He is a person who spent more than 13 years in Eritrea, starting as a brigade commander, and then reaching the height as the commander the 2nd Revo. Army’s in Eritrea would not possibly corroborate Mr. Tibebe’s claims. As the military adviser to the former President Mengistu and in charge of the National Service program, Gen Wubetu was among more than 400 high ranking and line officers who were victims of imprisonment for two years in the aftermath of the coup. I know for sure that he would not be party to corroborate Mr. Tibeb’s ridicules claims.
• I assert this in confidence because I happen to speak with the General about many historical issues pertaining to the era almost on a regular basis. I bring his name to the fore because his name was mentioned by the writer himself. With regard to Gen Kumlachew, we also happen to have in our hands several hours of tape records about the circumstances of the coup and how it came about and why it failed. My relationship with him was neither that of a business or a professional one. We had a very close friendship for several years that spanned from 1998 until he passed away in 2004. This is just for the record and to give an idea of how much time I spent time with the late Maj. General Kumlachew Dejene. Even towards the final weeks of his life, I was the one who flew with him to Boston when he went there for medial treatment. I flew back to Boston to bring him back to Virginia where he resided until he passed away. Again, I am stating these facts because they are relevant to establish the basis for many factual assertions. Nowhere did the late General Kumlachew make statements near to the claims made by Mr. Tibebe so flatly and misleadingly. Indeed, the late general never said, or wrote, or gave a tape recorded testimonial that he had ever had a communication with the EPLF let alone being sent by Mr. Issayas Afeworki to Addis along with the 400 “elite military” as falsely presented by Mr. Tibebe. Yet, the writer has the temerity to accuse me of being presumptuous.
• Mr. Tibebe seems ever determined to gloss over his lack of knowledge of elementary military matters. Although he tries to appear logical and reasonable, his assertions are illogical and unfounded. He writes: “The country was pulling all its military personnel from everywhere, and I find it incredible that Mr. Neamin who wrote a review for this book attempt to convince us that taking 400 elite military forces from Asmara was insignificant.” Mr. Tibebe’s insistence that EPLF’s grand strategy was to have 400 troops withdrawn to Addis to allow it to march to Asmara is stupefying. Let’s be real, how on earth would the absence of 400 soldiers from Eritrea allow the EPLF to march to Asmara undeterred? Mr. Tibebe never cares to answer the fact that Ethiopia had close to a quarter of a million troops I Eritrea, as I argued in my previous response. These are battled tested troops in Eritrea back then, before the coup of 1989. Does the writer know that the more than 200,000 strong 2nd Revolutionary Army included several brigades and divisions of Special Forces, airborne commandos, mechanized brigades, and all sorts of battle tested elite units numbering in tens of thousands in Eritrea outnumbering the mere 400 at least by many many times or more? Not to mention the Naval Northern Command at Massawa and 2nrd Air Regiment in Asmara.
• Here is a hard fact for you Mr. Tibebe. The entire air born division was withdrawn after the coup and transferred to Wollo. Still, the EPLF did not march into Asmara until after the government in Addis fell and the then commander the army in Asmara, Gen. Hussain Mohammed abruptly abandoned his troops in 1991. The reader should keep in mind that EPLF was able to march to take Asmara in May of 1991 , two years after the coup of 1989.
• In the interest of historical accuracy for which the writer seems not to care, the less than a battalion force numbering 400 under the command of Gen. Kumlachew was sent by Gen Demissie to help the coup leaders. Because the leaders of the coup in Addis did not have a fighting force in their hands to take control of the situation in Addis Ababa. They only planned and depended on using the Sparta special force on training by North Koreans at Toli military camp, hundreds of kilometers away from Addis. Only 150 soldiers made it to Addis from this force as opposed to the thousands available. The reason for the failure of the coup, in part, had to do with this fact. The force they intended to use did not make it to Addis, for whatever reason.
• That was why the leaders of the coup were surrounded by the palace force numbering less than a battalion and few Tanks under the direct command of Capt. Mengistu Gemechu, the former President’s special assistant. The palace force managed to put under its control the so-called “elite military” force of 400 so feared by the EPLF as to be a target of an orchestrated ploy to send it to Addis so that EPLF’s march to Asmara is cleared of from the fearsome millitary force. This is if we take Mr. Tibebe’s claim seriously. Tragic indeed that the “elite” force was deceived and quickly put under control by Palace force under Cap Mengistu Gemechu without putting up a fight.
• The coup failed, in part, also due to breakdown of the original plan to shoot Col Mengistu’s plane and, in part due to the subsequent breakdown of communication between Gen Kumlachew, the Sparta special force of more than 7000 under Gen Wubetu, Gen. Abera Abebe, the head of Defense Ministry’s Head of military operations and training. He was put in charge of leading the operations for the coup. But the late General Abera fled the premise after shooting Maj. General Habte Giorgis Habte Mariam the Minister of Defense inside the building of Ministry of Defense instead of coordinating and deploying the forces under the command of Gen Kumlachew and Gen. Wubetu.
• Mr. Tibebe makes yet another claim without adducing evidence of direct and active role of the CIA in the coup either through Maj. Dawit or with one or more of the coup leaders. Mr. Tibebe writes: “the 1989, coup was initiated by the CIA, led by Major Dawit, orchestrated by Mr. Issayas, and conducted by General Fanta Belay and by others under him”. He continues “I have no doubt that you have read Major Dawit’s article written on June 29, 2009, because his response was prompted by your article. In his article titled “The Way Forward for Ethiopia and Eritrea” this is what he said regarding his role in the 1989 coup.
“After I left the Derg at the end of 1985, I became actively involved in the effort to overthrow the regime through the movement we had established, The Free Ethiopian Soldiers Movement. The first attempt was the failed coup of the generals. I and my colleagues did the external arrangement for the coup. During those times I went into the area controlled by the EPLF in Nakfa”. (Major Dawit Woldegiorgis).
• The foregoing quote by Mr. Tibebe taken out of Maj. Dawit’s article does not state or prove, contrary to the writer’s misleading quotations that Maj. Dawit, along with the CIA was behind the coup. The above quote, the article in its entirety, or the book written by author do not argue or give any indication that CIA had a direct or an indirect involvement. Maj. Dawt did not, anywhere, in the book tells the story of CIA’ involvement in the coup. Maj. Dawit did not say nor does any other person claim that the EPLF was the one that “orchestrated the coup” as the writer flatly asserts and misleadingly attempts to defend those assertions. What is intellectually dishonest is stacking quotations that have nothing to do with his utterly false thesis with regard to the details of how the coup came about, who led the coup and many others details of coup and its tragic conclusion.
• Despite the writer’s insinuation, Maj. Dawit did not hide anywhere in the book and articles he authored that he worked hard to topple Col Mengistu’s regime. His efforts to find an alternative by establishing contact with opposition forces including the EPLF are subjects he has dealt with profusely and openly in public. He and Major Seleshi even met with Ato Mersha Yossef, among The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRPs) leadership then, in their bid to find allies to their pursuit of an all inclusive peaceful solution for Ethiopia’s political crisis. I know the writer may not be privy to this and other facts that have not been made public.
• The author even brings the tape recorded messages of the former President to back up his patently false thesis full of fabrications. All those who have listened to Col. Mengistu’s tape would agree that it is nothing other than a condemnation and scapegoating of most of those under that system and all those against him as evil and unpatriotic. Of course, he would like us to believe that and to think of him as the immaculate saint. Let it be known that Col Mengistu executed more than 40 of Ethiopia’s brightest and best generals while the number of generals killed or captured by EPLF and TPLF remains a negligible 5 during the course of seventeen years of war with EPLF, TPLF, the Somali invading forces, and conflict and war with other Ethiopian opposition groups such as EDU and EPRP combined. If there is anyone who should take the prime responsibility and a culprit for the demise of the Ethiopian Armed forces and the march of both liberation front’s to Asmara and Addis Ababa, it is none other than Col Mengistu and his political, economic, military policies, and including the meddling of his top cadres like Sergeant Legesse –the supreme commander of the Military in Tigray and prime culprit for the loss of Tigray to the TPLF– and other inept loyalist cadres of the former president in military matters at the expense of those with professional know how, expertise and experience. Indeed, these were the professional commanders whose top leadership, for the most part, constituted part of the leaders of the attempted coup of 1989.
• The Achilles hills of the Derg/PDRE regime when it comes to its military policies and handling of millitary problems and affairs are amply documented by many writers including in Dr. Gebru Tareke’s recent book, The Ethiopian Revolution. He has dealt with such issues as argued above and many other challenges faced by the Ethiopian military leaders. It provides a fairly objective account of the war in both Eritrea and Tigray. In fact, a serious understanding with regard to the origin and tragic conclusion of the attempted coup of 1989 can only be understood in the context of the politico-military and other problems as well as the attendant strategic and tactical challenges the leaders of the 1989 coup encountered when prosecuting the war in the North.
• It cannot be comprehended with useless allegations and tabloid like fabricated accounts by certain writers–whose discredited account Mr. Tibebe chose to use –who bring external forces such as the CIA and EPLF etc as the main causes and leaders of the attempted coup 1989. This is not to suggest that the CIA did not want to topple the communist regime of Mengistu. Surely it was the Cold war era; the CIA would have a vested national interest to engage in such activities the pursuit of keeping the spread of communist for which the Derg/PDRE regime is among many in the third world. Surely, there were such Ethiopian forces that were supported, in many ways, by the CIA. Commodore Tassew Desta’s book “Ye Tigil Tizita” gives a good account of the role of the CIA and opposition forces like EPDA that included the Late Mr. Dereje Deresa, Kifle Wodajo, and many others in a bid to overthrow the Derg. But, so far there are no concrete evidences that directly link the CIA with the coup leaders 1989, leave alone instructing them to do this and that. And for the EPLF even less so. As the author weaves them together as the masterminds and leaders of the coup. Pathetic indeed.
• Whatever claims are made by Col Mengistu against Maj. Dawit and many others, they should be taken with a chuck of salt instead of a grain of salt. It only proves the writer’s gullibility to take what the former president says to be the truth and only the truth in his attempt to score a point. Even then, as argued in my previous article, nowhere does the former president says the EPLF was the one that planned and orchestrated the coup of 1989. How one can be so audacious and full of himself to make such the same foolish statement in attempt to twist and distort history to prove a political point.
Mr. Tibebe writes: “Reading Major Getachew Yerom’s book would shed some light regarding the role of the CIA in this coup.”
What light would that be? Why don’t you cite to any particular fact that establish your point. Where did Major Yerom assert that EPLF or the CIA orchestrating the coup? Simply stating a book “shed some light” does not allow you to make the leap and boldly assert that the CIA was involved. It was not a secret that the US wanted Mengistu removed, that it had dealings with TPLF and EPLF. But where is the evidence that the generals receiving orders from the EPLF as you assert? If one stretches this fact to its limit, one cannot draw a reasonable inference other than that the US would have supported the coup makers if they succeeded. Any other inference is a mere speculation.
Mr. Tibebe’s bold and offensive claim is encapsulated in this paragraph: “The facts are that Major Dawit had a primary role in recruiting generals like Fanta Belay; the facts are, Major Dawit had several meetings with Issaias; the facts are Issaias wanted chaos and bloodshed in Ethiopia; the facts are, the 1989, coup was initiated by the CIA, led by Major Dawit, orchestrated by Mr. Issaias, and conducted by General Fanta Belay and by others under him. I have no doubt that you have read Major Dawit’s article written on June 29, 2009, because his response was prompted by your article.”
If one parses this paragraph, it shows Mr. Tibebe’s proclivity to draw conclusions based on mere speculation. The fact is Maj. Dawit and Gen. Fanta had limited communication. Other than that one cannot say who recruited who. There is also no evidence that Maj. Dawit recruited “generals like Fanta Belay.” Speculation. Maj. Dawit had dealing with EPLF. So what?. The coup leaders were motivated by bringing peaceful resolution to the war and to the extent peace requires the cooperation belligerent forces, it is not unusual that contacts would be made. It is significant that Maj. Dawit initiated the contacts and he went to EPLF to begin negotiations.
The assertion that EPLF directed the coup cannot be made with such flimsy speculations. This is a significant part of our history. This is the story of many brave men who sacrificed their lives. The coup plotters, particularly generals Merid, Demissie, Fanta, and Abera Abebe, have been plotting to get rid of Mengistu for several years. It is written by many that Mengistu shuffled these generals from various posts, including removing Gen. Fanta from his post as Air force commander; several times because he was concerned they were plotting to overthrow him. He himself has stated that the Russian intelligence came to him several years before the coup and informed him of the suspicion that these generals were plotting against him. The difference between our analyses of the historical fact is clear. Mr. Tibebe ignored the personalities and motivation of the individuals involved in the coup inside Ethiopia. He ignores several books and accounts of individuals who were involved in the coup. None of these people share his view. Mr. Tibebe, however, ignores these specific facts. Mr. Tibebe claimed that I was perhaps asleep during “part I” of his metaphorical movie that showed the role of Maj. Dawit and others in the US. I think the problem with Mr. Tibebe is that he was watching science fiction version.
As yet another example of Mr. Tibebe’s proclivity to jump to conclusions without factual basis, I cite to his description of my book review of Derege Demissie’s book, Abate Yachin Seat. Mr. Tibebe wrote, “The claim that the book is written with an enormous research and even from documents obtained from US State Department record through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is ridiculous and laughable. The book has one record found through FOIA which shows the denial of General Kumlachew Dejene’s asylum claim in American embassy in Addis Ababa.”
Well, Mr. Tibebe, if you have paid attention when reading the book, you would have learned that Derege did receive a lot of information through the Freedom of Information Act. He has referred to the source in describing how Mengistu’s plane returned to Addis, for example. The fact that the over one hundred pages of information he received was not attached to the book does not mean he did not receive several documents. Before you find something laughable, I hope you dig a little deeper in the future. Additionally, the interviews Derege conducted of many participants in the coup and personal recollections of his conversation with his father, the late Gen. Demissie Bulto, are incredibly important facts.
I never made the claim that the notes of Gen. Demissie were from the coup days. If you re-read the review I wrote properly, you will discover they were correctly identified as notes from two major military operations in the North. Again, I merely point out these misrepresentations because they are symptomatic of your thinking and writing.
Finally, let me make it clear to the readership once again that I have neither the time nor the interest to debate Mr. Tibebe on whether or not the opposition should engage with the government of Eritrea. In deference to the readership let me also make it very clear too, as the writer did, that I do not know Mr. Tibebe Samuel Ferenji. It is true that we have met or seen each other a couple times several years, to be more exact, more than a decade or so ago. I understand that the author was politically active since he was 13 and as he claims an “independent thinker” too. Well and a good. The words I used to describe the writer such as “sudden appearance” and “zealous” in my first article is due to the fact that I have never seen Mr. Tibebe in person in any social or even political activities organized by various opposition groups in the past decade to expose and oppose the fascistic minority regime of Meles Zenawi. At least here in this part of the United States where I live. I bring this to clear any shadow that may linger in the readership that Mr. Tibebe and I may have problems of personal or political in nature.
In part, that is why I do not find it compelling to debate with him or any other critiques giving advice from their fountain of wisdom on how and with whom Ethiopian opposition groups should conduct their affairs and what kind of strategy they should follow etc etc. On the issue of engaging with the government of Eritrea a life and death mater for the writer where he zealously and repeatedly pontificates, I have already made myself very clear in the previous article as follows “ …Several Ethiopian groups have made the liberation of Ethiopia from the ethnocentric minority mafia groups in power their paramount objective. Indeed the liberation of Ethiopia from the Apartheid like anti-Ethiopia minority dictatorship that has imposed a quasi-internal colonialism with its political, economic, and military domination over the rest of the Ethiopian people has become the prime and overriding task of our times. Those groups will do that by any means necessary within the bounds of international law and democratic principles including respect for each other’s views. Freedom and democracy are our rights. If we need to struggle for it, we will. If we need to find allies who will help us gain our freedom, we will form alliances. Throughout history all alliances were formed to promote mutual interests. Alliances were formed out of pragmatic necessity as opposed to based on moral Puritanism. We will keep our eyes on the prize!” .
I agree that our Ethiopia is in grave danger indeed. But the most potent danger facing Ethiopia and our people comes from none other the ethnocentric minoroty dictatorship of Meles Zenawi that has stranglehold the Ethiopian nation and our people. Our task then is to liberate our country from the chains and bondage imposed by the internal cancer eating away our country and people. By all and any means neccessary! If Mr. Tibebe and others have the political wisdom and strategy otherwise, nobody has held them not to do so. Let them show us that they are worthy and able to bring about the change we aspire. Let them walk the talk. The talk they have started after prolonged absence or a no show in the struggle many others have waged consistently to see a United and Democratic Ethiopia.
Note to the readership and the young generation:
I have received several e-mails in response to the original article I wrote on this topic posted on Ethiopian websites. All those who have keen interest in finding more about our recent political and military history are served better to do their own readings and research instead depending on many false prophets and pseudo historians out there with no respect for historical truth and Intellectual honesty. I urge the readership to evaluate and come to their own understanding and judgment by discerning the facts from fictions on these and related issues. This could be accomplished by reading and researching all the available literature, and when possible speaking with and interviewing the military and political actors of the Derg/PDRE regime era, including the wars in the Northern Front. Few of the relevant books include Miskernet, Ye Letena Mengisu Haile Mariam Tizitawoch by Genet Ayele, Ye Tigil Zemen Tizita by Commodore Tassew, Yewogen Tor Tizita by Maj. Mamo Lemma, YeTor Meda Wullo by Brig Gen. Tesfaye Habte Mariam, Tisnat and Meswatinet by Maj. General Hussein Ahmed, the Ethiopian Revolution by Dr. Gebru Tarake, Neber Vol I and II by Zenebe Bekele. Ethiopia Ferje by Maj. Getachew Yerom, Abate Yeachin Seat by Derge Demissie, Kidhet Be Dem Meret by Maj. Dawit Wolde Giorgis, Ye Tor Meda Wullo form East to North by Brig Gen. Kassaye Chemeda,. There are also many other works of scholarship that deal with the genesis of problems in Eritrea and Tigray including books written by Dr. Daniel Kindie, Dr. Shumet Sishagne, Dr. Aregawi Berhe, Ato Kiflu Taddesse, and many others.