is there any justification for a return Tigray to war?

MekelleŠć°28 February 2023(Tigray Herald)

Writen by Zemenay Bahta

Do you sense that something nefarious is brewing in the Amhara region? There are reports that the Amhara authorities are gearing for yet another war over the occupied territories of Wolkayit, Tsegede, Alamata and Korem. This comes just a few months after the end of hostilities in Tigray following the Pretoria agreement. But is there any justification for a return to war? The answer to that question depends on where one stands on the dispute over those territories.

Let us start from some basic historical facts: (1) The territories were under the Tigray Administration for 27 years before Abiy came to power in 2018; (2) Prior to 1991, those territories were under Begemdir and Wollo following an Imperial Decree; historical records indicate that these territories were under Tigray administration until they were made part of Begemdir and Wollo – presumably to curry favor with local nobility who ruled the latter: (3) Recent census indicates that over 95% of the population of the territories are ethnic Tigrayans as are the names of the villages in those territories; and (4) The blessing or the curse – depending on how you look at it – of these territories is that they are fertile lands in addition to their strategic location.

The only argument that the Amhara authorities have for their claim that the territories belong to the Amhara region is that they were part of what is now the “Amhara region” before 1991. But they conveniently ignore the fact that they had been in Tigray for a long time before that and that the people who inhabit those territories are Tigrayans. One can argue that regional borders should not be based on ethnicity, but that kind of argument becomes a fallacy when you turn around and say that, because the people who inhabit those territories are Amharas (which is not true), the territories should belong to the Amharas. For better or for worse, most regional governments were formed largely based on language and culture. If one takes the Amhara argument a little further, Ambo, Nazret, and DebreZeit should also be part of the Amhara region because they were under Shoa, which is now part of the Amhara region. Likewise, Semera and Dufti should be part of the Amhara region because they were under Wollo – again a zone in the Amhara region. The same goes for Metekel, which was part of Gojjam. We can go on and on to show that the “Amhara” claim is a contradiction in terms.

Fast forward to 2020. The territories in question were occupied by Amhara authorities following the war against Tigray. The occupation was opportunistic as Tigray was unable to keep control of the territories while under attack from the federal government, the Fanos, and Eritrean forces. The Tigray war is now over but the occupation continues. The Pretoria agreement provides for all non-Ethiopian Defense Forces (EDF) to leave those territories, but that has not happened yet. Eritrean and Amhara forces continue to occupy the territories and are even threatening to declare war if the federal government does not recognize the territories as part of the Amhara region.

It is hard to know what is in Abiy’s mind in terms of dealing with the dispute. The only thing we know is that the federal government has vowed to resolve the issue through a referendum – a move that was rejected outright by the Amhara authorities. And now there is a conspiracy theory that Abiy will hand the territories to Tigray. Hence, the threat to go to war. Well, we know what war means. It means deaths and destruction. The reasonable thing to do would have been to sit down and negotiate, but that is not going to happen with warmongers around. So, is the war inevitable? I hope not but would not be surprised if it happens. All it takes to ignite war is the perception of being under attack, which makes avoiding war harder than starting it.

Leaving aside for a moment the thorny issue of where the territories belong, I have one simple question: How heartless and greedy should you be to claim territories as your own after you have ethnically cleansed (and confiscated their properties) the territories of close to a million people who are now displaced and find themselves in shelters all over the rest of Tigray?

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