Abuse of military power in internal conflicts – By Robele Ababya
Internal conflicts had taken a heavy toll on the lives of children of the peasants on both sides of combatants seeking dominance over the other; it is the able-bodied young that are victims of casualties and fatalities; the bereaved families in their old age are deprived of their source of support in the shrinking days of their lives replete with anguish, hopelessness and depravity. (more…)
Internal conflicts had taken a heavy toll on the lives of children of the peasants on both sides of combatants seeking dominance over the other; it is the able-bodied young that are victims of casualties and fatalities; the bereaved families in their old age are deprived of their source of support in the shrinking days of their lives replete with anguish, hopelessness and depravity.
I salute those seeking the end of bad governance in earnest. So I thought it is my civic duty to present the piece in caption in the hope that it will contribute to the discourse on how best to end brinkmanship in Ethiopia threatening regional peace and stability. In doing so, I beg readers to know that I represent no one but myself. My unflinching support for the UDJP Covenant is a matter of principle.
I shall now proceed with a snapshot of events of abuse of military power, especially air power, in internal conflicts during the reign of three regimes the Imperial, Derg. and TPLF regimes.
The Imperial regime
The Imperial Ethiopian Air Force (IEAF) was established in 1944 at its permanent main base in Debre Zeit where its present Headquarters was located. The Emperor with little support from the nobilities established the Air Force counting on the overwhelmingly bitter recollection of the public that the Fascist Italian aggression would not have succeeded without its fighter airplanes raining down bombs and poison gas from the air.
Thus the IEAF was meant to deter foreign aggression. But, as it turned out, the IEAF tested its muscle attacking targets in Tigrai during the Woyanne–I uprising. As it were, the IEAF was deployed because it was there to use expeditiously. Thus the initial purpose of establishing it, and the future consequence of setting precedence for its application to internal conflicts, did not matter. It is possible to argue that at the time the Monarch had only a tiny ground force.
The Eritrean federation came in 1952. It was a result of noble struggle of Ethiopians and political wisdom of the regime well represented by that true and irreplaceable son of Ethiopia the late Aklilu Haptewold. Without a single shot, Ethiopia and Eritrea were one again as legitimate owners of the Red Sea coast. That was a historical milestone of significant achievement attributable to Emperor Haile Selassie. It was a remarkable manifestation of the power of people with common basic values in coming together peacefully to defend those values overcoming the gulf ofr separation of decades imposed on them by imperialism.
The Imperial regime was torn between two powerful forces, albeit it in good faith, one side advocating dissolution of federalism and the other supporting the status quo – federalism; the brilliant Aklilu was an ardent and eloquent supporter of federation to stay. Unfortunately, he did not succeed.
However the debate for autonomous local government continued. At one time the idea of autonomy of the provinces took the center-stage. In fact, two provinces, Tegulet in northern Shewa and Gimbi in Wollega were selected as pilot provinces; The Emperor appointed administrators for the said provinces (Awrajas)
The idea of decentralization failed; reversion to force prevailed in favor of highly centralized administration. The IEAF was conveniently misused in several cases of regional conflicts arising from demands for decentralization.
One other unfortunate example is the involvement of the IEAF during the 1960 Coup d’ Etats staged by General Mengistu Neway while the Emperor was out on a visit to South America. The Headquarters of the Imperial Body Guard was strafed, a bomb was dropped on a tank and the city was rocked with sonic boom – all by IEAF jet fighters and conventional airplanes. Air Force officers and men were reportedly divided over which side to take in the conflict. An officer of the Force, Abebe Hordofa, refused to take part in the air attack on Addis Ababa. He was court-martialed and then discharged from the Air Force. Considering the harsh measure that successive regimes would have taken, it is to the credit of the Imperial regime that he was not summarily executed.
In all fairness, Emperor Haile Selassie showed considerable restraint in the use of air power in domestic conflicts.
The Derg regime
The takeover of power by the Provisional Military Government was bloodless. People rallied to the promise of peaceful change. It is also to the credit of Emperor Haile Selassie that He did not want His Body Guard to intervene despite pleading by its Commander. But to Marxists who spent no time in flocking into Addis Ababa anything resembling a bourgeois revolution was unpalatable. So, White Terror and Red Terror took the center-stage in our politics. The people were ignored; Mengistu was baptized revolutionary Marxist; gross human rights violation prevailed.
The Derg spared no region. It was the first to use the F-5E jet fighter airplane against Merid Biru who sought a hideout in Menz in northern Shewa to organize opposition to communist ideology. Few probably remember the crime inflicted on the poor of people of Menz. The cunning TPLF, which most probably masterminded the bombing of Hawzeen made a political capital out of it including erecting a monument.
The Derg, despite advice of its mentor the defunct USSR or even some western diplomats, shunned the idea of federalism and relied on force to impose its sham arrangement of autonomy granting special autonomous status to Eritrea and autonomous status on two other regions – Assab and Diredawa. I do not know the logic for this. Any way, this granting of special status did not save the political situation and the unpopularity of the Derg from plummeting further. Socio-economic issues were put on the backburner. The single-track mind of Mengistu could only revert to military solution.
Moral among the armed forces hit rock-bottom. Desertions were rampant, among them conscientious objectors.
The TPLF regime
There is no need to dwell much on the well documented gruesome crimes of the Meles regime. TPLF is doing a good job of breaking its own constitution; whereas the constitution permits self-determination including secession, it is not prepared to talk with dissidents pursuing that agenda with a view to persuading them to moderate their self-destructive radical position. Instead, the TPLF chose its indiscriminate aerial bombing of targets in the Ogaden.
Certainly, the historic election of 15 May 2005 marks unprecedented milestone. Indisputably, that election revealed the longstanding desire for orderly change intrinsic in the culture of the Ethiopian people, but overlooked by their leaders even by those who had exposure to western democracy.
Credit to silent majority
The comments or sometimes even complaints that the majority is a silent by-stander in internal conflicts are unfair. What can this majority do in the face of their educated children taking sides and massacre one another on ideological grounds totally exotic to their parents? The majority deserve credit for showing up in their millions at the polls as in the historic election of 15 May 2005.
Mounting urge for solutions
I am aware that readers are fed up of repeating the heinous crimes of the TPLF regime. They want workable proposals to end tyranny. In my opinion, there are far too many variables and a crowded field of rivals with incongruent political agenda vying for power. On my part, the only way to go forward, is to start with one least common denominator, namely one indivisible Ethiopia embracing inviolable right of the individual, unity in diversity, justice and the opportunity of prosperity for all. In an environment where the unity of Ethiopia is non-negotiable, the end to tyranny will occur sooner than later. For, the fracas in OLF and EPRP is a good omen that the same fate awaits EPRDF. The least common denominator mentioned above shall ultimately and inevitably prevail, and a powerful and democratic Ethiopia shall be built on that strong foundation. Those who have a genuine desire for the unity of their motherland should keep the pressure on others in EPRDF to see reason and end their subservience to the few at the top echelon of the dominant TPLF.
The unity of Ethiopia should be seen in the long-term interest of a larger federation with Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti as well as in the context of a viable African Unity.
It is incumbent on all pro-democracy and pro-unity Ethiopians to support political entities of their choice, especially those operating on home soil, materially and morally.
The three regimes have one thing in common; using force as a means to stay in power. This there was no legal constraint to curb their impulse. Lethal military weapons were within their easy reach to deal with their foes than their brain and patience to reconcile through amicable dialogue. In all fairness, however, Emperor Haile Selassie commendably showed far more restraint in the use of air power in domestic conflicts.
Men and women in uniform, especially the young ones, carry out their duties against the dictates of their conscience but end up suffering under a vengeful new regime for obeying lawful orders. So, the past history of fratricidal conflicts should serve as a lesson to the men and women in uniform in the TPLF regime to avoid repeating the carnage.
The proven unity of the Ethiopian people against external aggression is an invaluable quality; their proven mindset inclined to orderly political change is equally priceless; their patience is extraordinarily remarkable; their culture of reverence for justice is supreme.
Leaders should capitalize on the above mentioned wonderful attributes of the Ethiopian people and substitute abuse of military power in internal conflicts with civilized dialogue in resolving those conflicts.
The unity of Ethiopia should be seen in the long-term interest of a larger federation with Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti as well as in the context of a viable African Union. This is crucial in for peaceful development by saving human and material resources thus far squandered on military hardware. As it were, the leaders in the region have so far miserably failed in converting military hardware to ploughshare.
Never forget our martyrs; seek justice for their sacrifice for our freedom.
Freedom can never be a gift of earthly powers. It is the God-given right of every individual who must pay the price to keep it. So it makes sense to prop up the spirit of self-reliance in protecting ones inalienable right; to refuse taking what one can get through his/her own effort.
LONG LIVE ETHIOPIA