The Mystery Behind the Meles-Isaais Covenant: What Ethiopians and Eritreans did not Know and Must Know By Kaleb Gebremeskel
First and foremost, I like to thank Ehiomedia for exploring and exposing the story behind the assassination of Hayelom Araya; Ethioobserver for breaking the news on the crime of Bsrat Amare; Abebe Gelaw for providing follow-up stories on Bsrat’s crime; and Abughida for maintaining an open forum for the Ethiopian Diaspora.
This essay goes beyond Hayleom’s murder story and Bisrat Amare’s crime and covers a range of mysteries that characterize the leaderships of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and in order to crystallize the hidden agenda of these two organizations, it is important to briefly assess their origins and background.
From the outset, the EPLF was an intriguing organization that confused Eritrean and Ethiopian progressive forces by its “progressive” slogans and party program. The EPLF indeed successfully camouflaged itself by promoting Marxism-Leninism within its ranks, although it was neither Marxist, nor progressive, nor nationalist. There is no doubt that there were nationalists within the EPLF, but they did not know that Isaais was a planted agent when he joined the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in 1966. Some say, Ras Asrate Kassa, the then governor of Eritrea, recruited him; others claim that the CIA in the mid-1970s recruited Isaais when he secretly met his patrons at Kagnew Station in Asmara, the then American military base. Isaais was accompanied by two Eritreans, namely Tsegai Iyasu and Tesfamichael Georgo (Weddi Georgo). It was Weddi Georgo who first broke the top secret of Kagnew when he surrendered to the Derg, the then military government of Ethiopia, but when the TPLF-led EPRDF forces marched on Addis Ababa in 1991, EPLF agents assassinated Weddi Georgo. In 1991 a lot of people (mainly of Tigrayan and Eritrean origin), suspected of being brothers to opposition elements in the Diaspora, or who did not contribute money during the so-called struggle years, or who were perceived as threat were assassinated by the joint TPLF-EPLF death squads in Addis Ababa and elsewhere.
Tsegai Iyassu, who was a resident in Michigan, USA, kept the secret of Kagnew for himself all these years, and after he died his body was flown to Asmara, and during the funeral and burial ceremony, non other than Isaais Afeworki was present. Good riddance for Isaais. Now, the only one person alive that knows what took place at Kagnew is Isaais Afeworki.
In the middle of the 1970s, i.e. 1975-76, some progressive groups within the EPLF, known by their adjective name Menkaẽ (“bat”) were eliminated in the EPLF-controlled areas in Eritrea, and it is during this time that TPLF original fighters were trained in a place known as Ẽen, in one of the EPLF’s training areas in lowland Eritrea. After the training was over, the first TPLF fighters, led by Seyoum Mesfin and Aregawi Berhe, marched to Tigray and found a base area around Dedebit in the Shire area of western Tigray.
At Dedebit, the first TPLF fighters were met with stiff resistance from the local people and because they were few in number (around 140 of them) and lack fighting experience, they were forced to abandon their first base area and move to a remote place in the Ethiopian Eritrean border known as Wida’k. During this time, the main field leaders were Seyoum Mesfin, Gessesse Ayele (a Shire resident and former MP during Haile Selassie), and Mehari Tecle (a Tigrayan born in Asmara).
On October 1976 the TPLF core leaders held a meeting in Dema, Agame (eastern Tigray) and for the first time they established a central command in the form of central committee for their organization; Aregawi Berhe became the political leader; Mehari Tecle (Mussie) the military commander; Ghidey Zeratsion, commissar; Abbai Tsehaye, in charge of political affairs; Agazi, economic affairs; and Sebhat Nega, organizational affairs. Gessesse Ayele (Sehul) was left without any portfolio.
Sehul subsequently resigned and told his comrades he “would rather help them from outside Ethiopia, somewhere from Sudan.” He probably felt bad when his comrades were assigned to a high level leadership posts while he was left without duties. Nonetheless, the TPLF leadership accepted his resignation and he was determined to walk all the way to the Sudan, but while he was on his way he was mysteriously killed. Some say the Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU) fighters killed him but there is no credible evidence for this claim. Likewise, Mehari Tecle (Mussie), in a skirmish with EDU forces was wounded, profusely bled and died; some say he was shot by a “friendly fire”. Beyond these kind of systematic killings, the TPLF is also known for eliminating its own comrade-in-arms as well as opponents outside its organization. A good example of the latter is the murder of the Tigray Liberation Front (TLF) leaders.
There is no credible source of information in regards to the murder of the TLF core leaders. However, some sources indicate that they were shot point-blank while they were asleep in a place where they had come to negotiate with the TPLF leaders. But according to the Marxist Leninist League of Tigray (MLLT) report of July 1985 (pp. 98-100), “following the agreement reached by the two organizations, the TLF came to the meeting place. During this time the TLF was already divided into three; it was known that the one (main) group was in favor of unity with the TPLF, but the Mafia-type of killings committed by the TLF leaders that was kept secret till this time became public and the TPLF fighters heard about it. Despite this problem, however, the TPLF decided to initiate the process of unification. When the unity process was completed, it was ascertained that the TLF leaders, knowing that their deeds were exposed and fearing that they will be held responsible, they had planned to escape. Even if they had decided to escape, it was increasingly becoming clear that they would have continued their mode of killings and engaged in terror. One of these Mafia-type criminals opened fire and he was unwilling to surrendered and he was killed, and the other TLF leaders were put under control.”
The MLLT report is a fabrication of the TPLF leaders and the real Mafia actually is the TPLF leadership, especially the Meles-Sebhat group. Unless the history of the TPLF is rewritten, we may never know the extent of the crime committed by this organization against the people of Tigray in particular and the Ethiopian people in general.
Following the elimination of the TLF from Tigray, sometime in 1977 a faction initiated by the rank-and-file fighters hit the TPLF. This faction movement that had shaken the foundations of the TPLF was branded by the latter as Henfeshfesh (chaos) although the demand of the fighters was simply “to have an equal say within their organization,” because they felt that fighters coming from various districts in Tigray were not treated equally. In addition to this simple request, the fighters challenged the TPLF leaders and criticized them for their political immaturity and for lacking military strategy. They also complained that people coming from Adwa, Shire, and Askum dominated the TPLF; they strongly believed that the rest of Tigray was underrepresented.
The Henfeshfesh crisis got out of hand and the military leadership of the TPLF was divorced from the rank-and-file, and it was during this time that Hayelom Araya, a high-ranking military commander, requested resignation. As a result, the timid and frightened TPLF leadership had to devise a strategy to put down the rebellion within its organization. One of the strategies was to eliminate the spear leaders of the Henfeshfesh and thus one of the Henfeshfesh leaders, by the name Solomon (Hayet), was murdered in his sleep.
Ghebremedhin Araya and Asghede, the author of Gahdi (a very important book that deals with the sinister and diabolical schemes of the TPLF leaders), recently exposed the nasty politics of the TPLF. Ghebremedhin was clever enough to have left Ethiopia in the nick of time; otherwise, his fate could have been the same like that of Tesfamichael Giorgo.
Given the above politics of murder and intrigue of the TPLF and the EPLF, one could conclude that the two organizations, or more specifically Meles and Isaais, are two faces of the same coin. However, I don’t think Ethiopians and Eritreans knew about the covenant or hidden agenda of the two leaders.
Both leaders have laid-off university professors suspected of being undesired elements; both have imprisoned political opponents and in some instances murdered them; both leaders have attempted to subdue the moral of the people they rule; both have attempted to destroy their respective societies; both are mercenaries to a strange patron saint.
Exposing the common denominator of this political duet in the Horn of Africa is not enough unless we further uncover their deeds and political pursuit. Both are supported by their patron saint, but while Isaais constantly attacks and condemns his patron (Mafia-type pretense), Meles does not entertain any word in regards to his overseer commandant. However, at one point, Meles was unable to govern and rule as he wished and he consulted the matter to his wizard-saint and the latter inquired, “who are the groups that are giving you trouble?” and Meles replied, “they are Tewelde, Seeye, Gebru, and Aregash.” “Well,” said the patron saint, “you could systematically oust them from their power, by first provoking them and using that pretext you either get rid of them all put them behind bars, but do not kill them, because if you kill them the people might revolt.”
The grand wizard, as mentioned above, recruited Isaais and the latter, in turn, recruited Meles. It is at this point that the covenant between the two was established and once a joint EPLF-TPLF communiqué was agreed upon, the two leaders concocted a hidden agenda that neither Ethiopians nor Eritreans detected to this day. Even the close associates of the two leaders, who are now either ousted from power or imprisoned, did not know about the janus-faced Meles and/or Isaais.
The hidden agenda was to become operational when the TPLF ostensibly called upon Ethiopian progressive forces in the so-called Addis Ababa Charter in 1991, where Isaais was also present. Isaais’ presence in the conference was not merely symbolic or a sign of solidarity; it was in fact meant to help and encourage Meles and the TPLF stay the course in Addis Ababa, because both of them were not sure whether the Ethiopian people would accept or reject the TPLF.
The Ethiopian people did not embrace the TPLF/EPRDF, but when the latter’s forces marched on Addis Ababa the people did not show resistance either. Still, Meles and Isaais were not confident; the Eritrean case was taken for granted because Isaais knew well that Eritreans love and support him and on top of this Isaais had witnessed the euphoria of the people that had gripped his country for so long. For some unknown reason, Eritreans (excluding the opposition) love Isaais even when he mistreats and abuse them, and the gathering of Eritreans at the Manhattan Center in New York on September 25, 2011 to show their affection and love to Isaais is good enough to conclude that Issais is idolized by his people.
In Ethiopia, on the contrary, the people were silent and the two leaders likened the silence to a dormant volcano. They were concerned that the Ethiopian people could rise up anytime and topple the EPRDF regime. In the event the Ethiopian people revolted and the TPLF/EPRDF is unable to rule over Ethiopia, the two leaders agreed to establish a Tigray-Eritrea state at the expense of dismantling Ethiopia. This did not happen, of course, but the agenda is still considered as an option by Meles and Isaais.
The other grand agenda that the two leaders concocted was that Meles preside over a weak Ethiopia without outlet to the sea and Isaais systematically turn Eritrea into a failed state. In other words, Eritrea was to commit infanticide while a divided Ethiopia breaks down into several states. Today, although Eritrea is not like Somalia, it is on the brink of a failed state; Ethiopia has not broken yet but given the ‘divide and rule’ policy of the EPRDF and the fragility of the Horn of Africa, the country may face the same fate of a failed state as well. To some extent, the joint agenda worked in Ethiopia and to a greater extent it became a reality in Eritrea.
The reason I say “to some extent” in relation to Meles’ agenda in Ethiopia is not because he did not try his best to dismantle Ethiopia but because he met strong challenges within his party, the TPLF, and other opposition parties in Ethiopia. Meles and the EPRDF allowed “elections” in Ethiopia (hypocrisy of the highest degree) because the people terrified them. In Eritrea, such scenario does not exit; Eritreans seem to be satisfied with the way Isaais governs Eritrea. Every time Meles imprison political opponents (like Seeye Abraha or Birtukan Medeksa), the Ethiopian people opposed the government and demanded the release of the prisoners. When Isaais imprisoned Petros Solomon, Mohammed Sherifo, and Haile W. Tensae (Durủ), Eritreans were silent. That is why Seeye and Birtukan are now freed and but Petros, Durủ, and others are languishing in prison in unknown location in Eritrea.
In all the intricate and messy politics that we have seen above, Meles and Isaais are not alone. They were accompanied from day one by patron cupids (messengers of the patron saint) who serve as consultants, ministers, government bureaucrats, university professors, and in some cases as preachers in churches and mosques alike (same like the missioners who came to Africa before the Europeans colonized it).
The patron cupids are recruited from all over, irrespective of nationality and religious backgrounds. Some of them work closely with Meles and Isaais and they are their official advisors; the rest of the cupids have acted as if they are in the opposition in order to hoodwink the real opposition. They are dangerous because they speak the language of the people and they were assigned to infiltrate the opposition at home and in the Diaspora, and that is why the Ethiopian and Eritrean opposition groups in the Diaspora were unable to secure unified and strong political organizations in the last two decades.
In conclusion, I like to reconfirm that the Meles-Isaais covenant is still on, although it could be in its diminished state. The objective of the covenant was sometime tarnished as a result of the Ethiopian-Eritrean war of 1998, when Ethiopia came out victorious in the war. Then, Meles and Isaais were caught by surprise because the Ethiopian people rose in unity to defend their country. But the covenant is still on and the symptoms are the following: Isaais’ Eritrea is trying its best to reestablish relations with neighboring countries; reenter the Inter-Governmental Agency for Development (IGAD) of the Horn of Africa regional development cooperation; reenter the African Union (AU) and reestablish its embassy in Addis Ababa. Moreover, Italy has recently brokered “a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea,” and based on this pretext Meles and Issais are scheduled to meet in person. We will not be surprised if the two leaders pause for a photo opportunity. They have accomplished their mission, but they may face the rage of the people in the end and they may be forced to reprogram their amygdale of fight or flight. We have to wait and see.