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In the long term, my strategy will not only regain Ethiopian unity and territorial integrity, but it will also prevent Tigreans and Eritreans from destroying Ethiopia and themselves...
Prof. Tilahun Yilma:
By Elias Wondimu____________________________________________________ Q. In the February 1996 issue of Ethiopian Review you suggested that Ethiopia should secede from the provinces of Tigray and Eritrea, to save the country from disintegration. When and how did you come up with this solution? A. Before I answer your questions let me define some terms that I will use in this interview. Mereb Melash is the historical name for the northern territory of Ethiopia, a colony of Italy from 1890-1941. The Italians renamed the region "Eritrea" on January 1, 1890, and called its inhabitants "Eritreans". "Ascaris" (Ashker), meaning servant or slave, is the Italian word for the Eritrean soldiers they used in their campaign to colonize Ethiopia. I have proposed that Ethiopians abandon use of this colonial (or slave) name and return to the historic name of Mereb Melash (ER, May 1996). I will define Eritreans as those Tigrigna-speaking peoples whose origins are from the highlands of Hamassen, Serae and Akele Guzai, comprising about one third of Mereb Melash. Ethiopians (non-Tigrigna speaking) who are natives of Mereb Melash include Afar, Saho, Beja, Bilen, Kunama, Nara, Tigre, etc. Similarly, when I refer to the province of Tigray, I am only referring to the region occupied by Tigrigna-speaking people. I am not including the non-Tigrigna speaking Ethiopians and their regions, which include members of the Raya, Azebo, Shire, Agame, Temben, and Endirta, etc. The Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF) is an organization of Tigrigna-speaking people of Mereb Melash who fought for the independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia. The Tigre Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) is an organization of Tigrigna-speaking people of the Province of Tigray, organized by the EPLF. EPLF/TPLF fought for the independence of both Tigray and Eritrea from Ethiopia. Their stated intent was to form a new country called "Greater Eritrea." They are now bent on destroying Ethiopia, their claimed arch enemy. Kilil, the Amharic word for a restricted zone, is the equivalent terminology used by the TPLF/EPLF for their apartheid concept of tribal homelands for their colony of Ethiopia. Interestingly, advocacy of kilil or ethnic policies in Eritrea is a capital offense. Now let me answer your question. About a year and half ago, after observing the actions of the TPLF/EPLF since taking power in Ethiopia in May 1991, I had occasions for extensive conversations with prominent TPLF/EPLF officials in Addis Abeba. These included former Prime Minister and current Defense Minister Tamrat Layne, the current Deputy Prime Minister Kassu Yilala, the personal physician of Prime Minister Meles, Dr. Muli Tekle, and other officials of TPLF/EPLF. During my numerous travels to Ethiopia over the past 8 years, undertaken on behalf of projects funded by the United Nations and the British Government, I was contacted and asked to official meetings with these people (with the exception of Dr. Muli, who sought me out at the Hilton Hotel where I was staying). These conversations as well as other personal observations have made it crystal clear to me that the TPLF/EPLF's immediate and overriding goal is the building of Tigray and Eritrea, without the least concern for the concomitant enslavement and impoverishment of 50 million non-Tigrigna speaking Ethiopians. Let me quote some of the typical conversations with officials that led me to conclude that the TPLF/EPLF's agenda for Ethiopia is its destruction. As a first example I will remind readers of the selection of Alemaya University, because of its long and distinguished background in agricultural sciences as the site of a World Bank project on semi-arid agriculture in East Africa. That undertaking was cancelled by the Meles regime. When I asked Ato Kassu Yilala about its fate, his response was: "since we felt that the provinces of Gojam, Gonder, and Wello are also semi-arid, we chose Mekele in Tigray Province as the site for this $10 million project." Further, let me also quote from a lengthy conversation with Dr. Muli, who stated: "We will never allow Ethiopia to use the free port of Djibouti instead of the Assab port, since that would bankrupt Eritrea." There is no concern for bankrupting Ethiopia. In fact, they know a weakened Ethiopia is advantageous to their ambitions. My political solution as proposed in the article "Ethiopia Should Secede From the Provinces of Tigray & Eritrea" grew out of these observations and careful study of the following realities: 1) The independence of Eritrea under the EPLF was finalized by a referendum reportedly supported by 99.9% of the people of Eritrea, but with no participation of the Ethiopian people. 2) The people of Tigray allied with Eritrea via TPLF to assist in the secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia. Like the "independent" nation of Eritrea, Tigray Province today has its own independent foreign policy and foreign trade ministries; no other province in Ethiopia is entitled to the same privileges. 3) Ethiopia has been colonized and occupied by EPLF/TPLF forces: a) to plunder Ethiopia's resources for the exclusive building of Tigray and Eritrea. b) to destroy Ethiopia by waging ethnic and religious politics restricting Ethiopians to their kilil, and requiring that children be taught in tribal languages (of which there are more than 80), thus destroying the educational programs of Ethiopia and a unifying national language. c) to inflict irreversible environmental damage in Ethiopia through indiscriminate deforestation by fire, as well as the massive harvest of timber for shipment to Tigray and Eritrea. At the same time, the TPLF/EPLF has undertaken an extensive forestation program in Tigray and Eritrea with funds borrowed from the World Bank in Ethiopia's name: Ethiopia pays the bill and Tigray/Eritrea receives the goodies. This scorch Ethiopia policy is reminiscent of the crime committed by Sadam Hussein when he torched the oil fields of Kuwait. In both cases, it is a crime against humanity. d) to ruin the business community of Ethiopia by promoting unequal competition: Tigreans/Eritreans are allowed to market goods without the taxation imposed on Ethiopians. When that did not yield results quickly enough, the regime raised rents on Ethiopian business more than several thousand percent, the intent being to drive Ethiopians out of their shops and replace them with Tigreans/Eritreans. This process is designed to promote Tigreans/Eritrean businesses and effectively neutralize the boycott response of Ethiopians. Let me further elaborate my political manifesto. First, I believe that peoples should have the right to choose their citizenship. Thus, Eritreans and Tigreans should have the right to be independent, if that is the decision of the majority, and they must also accept the rights of self-determination for the non-Tigrigna speaking peoples of Mereb Melash, Tigray, and the rest of Ethiopia. However, that is not the case, as we all know. The people of Afar are being annihilated by the EPLF/TPLF because they want to remain Ethiopians while the EPLF wants to control the ports of Massawa and Assab, located in Afar regions. Second, it is a general truth that Eritreans and Tigreans have never shown gratitude for the opportunities given to them by the rest of Ethiopians over the past years. Without giving undue significance to my ethnic origins, let me say I belong to four groups: Oromo, Gurage, Amhara, and Tigray. I am not aware of any of my Oromo, Gurage, or Amhara relatives that have ever lived in Tigray or Eritrea. However, my paternal grandfather, Wolde-Ab Felema, migrated south to Dukem in rags, hungry, and penniless--as did hundreds of thousands of Tigreans and Eritreans--and was given one gasha of prime land, probably confiscated from my Oromo relatives. Non-Tigrigna speaking Ethiopians have generally received Tigreans/Eritreans with open arms and generosity, providing land, homes, education, and work opportunities unavailable in their barren homelands. Eritreans/Tigreans have filled government and university positions; they have opened successful businesses, and then often excluded other Ethiopians in hiring and promotions. Meanwhile, Emperor Haile Selassie preferentially diverted money and other resources to Eritrea. Yet, their response has been to complain incessantly. They have defamed the name of Ethiopia globally. The international presses are full of their imagined grievances: they cry that Ethiopia colonized Eritrea and made it an educational desert, and that Ethiopians have discriminated against them (New York Times, April 27, 1993; Africa Watch, January 12, 1993). In fact, however, they have always received a greater share of the national resources than has any other group. So we must ask what benefit for Ethiopia exists in the uneasy association with Tigray/Eritrea. They have brought only poverty, war, misery, and the cultural poisoning of the Ethiopian people by waging ethnic conflict. They are like a malignant cancer that has been eating away at our vital parts. If we don't excise this cancer promptly, Ethiopia will cease to be a nation. Tigreans/Eritreans have drafted into the so-called New Ethiopian Constitution articles allowing secession and requiring restriction of ethnic groups to their tribal regions or kilils. We now should demand that they be the primary beneficiaries of their own laws: they should be deported to their own kilil, and Ethiopia as a nation should secede from the Tigrigna-speaking regions of the Provinces of Tigray and Mereb Melash. Q. Assuming that you stand for the unity and territorial integrity of Ethiopia, how do you reconcile your call for the separation of a part of Ethiopia with your stand on Ethiopian unity? A. The unity and territorial integrity of Ethiopia became a moot issue when the EPLF/TPLF "won" their war, and the Province of Tigray and Eritrea became independent. Tigreans and Eritreans are in Ethiopia not because they are proud Ethiopian citizens, but to rape the resources of Ethiopia in order to build their new country (Eritrea/Tigray) at our expense. Burying our head in the sand like an ostrich facing mortal danger is not going to make the TPLF/EPLF disappear. The sooner Ethiopians recognize reality, the better the chance to rescue a nation at risk. Under the present circumstances, my plan will eventually regain Ethiopian unity and territorial integrity when we accomplish the following objectives: First, we must remove Tigreans/Eritreans from Ethiopia and return them to their kilil, if the disintegration of the rest of Ethiopia is to be stopped. Second, our liberation fronts in the south should join hands with fellow citizens such as the Afar people in the province of Tigray and Mereb Melash. The Eritreans, who led a 30-year battle for their own self-determination, have shown absolutely no respect for the self-determination for the majority of non-Tigrigna speaking people of the region, including members of the Saho, Kunama, Hidarib, Rashaida Nara, and Afar. These people live in the region stretching from the ports of Assab and Djibouti in the south to Massawa in the north, including Danakil and Dahlak. The main purpose of EPLF's occupation of Afar Region is to generate income by taxing goods coming to and from Ethiopia; this policy also fulfills the colonial design to landlock Ethiopia and ensure its vulnerability and dependency on Eritrea. We should direct our full energy to helping our fellow citizens who are fighting to gain or retain their Ethiopian nationality and territorial integrity; then all Ethiopians would have a chance to become part of a political entity emphasizing democracy without tribalism, ensuring the rights of all by eliminating domination by any one ethnic group. Third, The Central Highlands should be designated a country for Tigreans and Eritreans exclusively. They have declined Ethiopian citizenship and have shown no gratitude for their opportunities in Ethiopia, instead choosing to regard Ethiopia as the arch enemy and bringing the devastation of a war for independence. Now let them enjoy their newly gained independence and the deprivations that will surely accompany it. All TPLF/EPLF members and their secessionist Tigrigna-speaking supporters should be deported from Ethiopia to the newly-formed country, which they may then call by the colonial or slave name of Eritrea if they wish. We can see now that Ethiopia's policy of appeasement towards Tigreans/Eritreans was a total failure, and it should never be tried again. We should learn from the Italian experience: they treated Eritreans as slaves for 60 years and never allowed them to be educated beyond the fourth grade. And yet Eritreans admire, glorify, and even revere their Italian masters, emulating the Italian way of life in mannerisms, food, and language while nursing hatred and disdain for Ethiopians. Fourth, I assure you that Tigreans and Eritreans will not be able to survive in that arid land for long. They will soon return, begging to regain their Ethiopian nationality. Soon, after experiencing misery and hunger, they will be craving the gold (Ethiopia) that they have discarded as copper. That will be the time to define a relationship with them that will ensure they will never have another chance to threaten Ethiopia. In the long term, my strategy will not only regain Ethiopian unity and territorial integrity, but it will also prevent Tigreans and Eritreans from destroying Ethiopia and themselves. Q. Some Tigreans and Eritreans who read your articles have accused you of being extreme and a hate-monger. What is your response? A. What a coincidence--this problem must run in my family line! The Eritrean Ascaris and their Italian masters accused my great-uncle, Gebeyehu Gora, of being a terrorist and a hate-monger during the battle of Adwa, but to Ethiopians he was one of the most celebrated heroes of the war (Gebeyehu bimot teteka Balcha; Medf agelabach bcha lebcha). Similarly, they accused my father of terrorism during the Fascist occupation of Ethiopia. He bore service wounds from 13 machine gun bullets of Fascist Italy and the Eritrean Ascaris. A classic strategy of Tigreans/Eritreans, in addition to harassment and threats of physical violence, is to resort to character assassination and personal attack, hoping to divert attention from the real issues. They have used these techniques effectively to silence Ethiopians from speaking out. That reaction has now changed: Ethiopians are speaking out because they recognize now the TPLF/EPLF cancer (the enemy within) that is eating away at the vital parts of a 3,000-year-old nation. They also know that "hatred" for an enemy is in fact a prerequisite if a nation is to rally its citizens in a battle for survival. But let us explore who the real hate-mongers truly are by providing a few examples of the many atrocities inflicted by Tigreans/Eritreans on Ethiopians: 1) Who callously expelled 200,000 Ethiopians from Eritrea (mainly women and children, empty-handed after their homes and property were confiscated)? 2) Was it not Netsannet Asfaw, Meles's spokeswoman, who demanded that these people be banished and removed from her sight when they arrived in Addis Abeba on foot? There was no sense of responsibility or compassion for these displaced persons, the "Unforgiven Ethiopians" (New York Times, November 3, 1993). 3) Who advocated on the TPLF/EPLF media the ethnic cleansing of Amharas that led to the slaughter of innocent woman and children in the various provinces of Ethiopia such as Harer, Arsi, etc.? 4) Who selectively instituted an apartheid policy of Bantustanization in Ethiopia, a first by Africans for other Africans? When the TPLF/EPLF marched in Addis Abeba in May 1991, Meles Zenawi discarded our national flag as a piece of meaningless rag and hoisted his TPLF/EPLF colors. Should we assume this was a gesture of love and goodwill towards the people of Ethiopia? This is the same flag that Fatuma Roba and many other proud Ethiopians waved in front of billions of people around the world during the Olympic games in Atlanta. This is also the same flag with which the great Emperor Menelik rallied his people to win the Battle of Adwa against the Italians and their Eritrean Ascaris. They struggled and sacrificed to keep Ethiopia intact as one of the oldest independent nations in the world, with its rich culture and literature and proud people. Yet, our Modern Eritrean Ascaris, Meles and Issayas, backed by their new masters, the US and Israel, will destroy Ethiopia if unchallenged. Eritreans have defined Ethiopians as the enemy in numerous press releases and publications, including the June 1996 issue of the National Geographic. In the same article, they state that they were able to beat Ethiopia only when they were able to overcome ethnic and religious conflicts in Eritrea. Now they are implementing policies of just such conflict in Ethiopia, fully realizing the consequences. Recent coverage by Michael Scholar on Eritrea (July 18, 1996) in National Public Radio's Morning Edition program clearly shows who is the hate-monger. It was reported that the Eritrean Government has commissioned the writing of new songs and plays to teach their children, so that they will never forget the Eritrean "freedom fighters" who gained "independence" for Eritrea, and never lose their hatred for the Ethiopian enemy. Yet, Issayas and his Ambassador in Addis Abeba proclaim that Ethiopia and Eritrea are to be one country. They have legitimized hatred for the Amharas, and even made it a requirement for advancementjof course that is not considered hate-mongering. As I understand it, it appears more likely that Ethiopia is to be condemned to remain a colony of Tigray/Eritrea, which they will dismantle at will to ship the resources to Tigray and Eritrea. Even Fascist Italy, once considered the arch enemy of Ethiopia, did not inflict the same degree of damage on Ethiopia in such a short period. Graziani and Mussolini built an extensive infrastructure--roads, bridges, and buildings--in Ethiopia, instead of bundling up our assets for shipment to Tigray/Eritrea. What did they expect the Ethiopian people to do when their plans became obvious? Are they offended that we do not reward them with medals for a job well done? This reminds of an old Ethiopian story about a bully and his victim, whom he beat unmercifully. When the police arrived, the bully started screaming, charging his victim of assault and battery. In amazement, the victim looked into the eye of the policeman, and said, Sir, this bully just stole my complaint (chuheten kemang). Similarly, I feel that my complaint has been stolen by Tigreans/Eritreans, including Hailu Mengesha and Tecola Hagos of TPLF and Mesfin Araya. I am accused of being a hate-monger, but other Ethiopians or I have never advocated that we go to Tigray/Eritrea to destroy the people, wage ethnic politics, or rape their resources. How could two peoples, Tigreans/Eritreans, without a trace of scruples (yulugnta) and the other, Ethiopians, culturally burdened with excessive scruples and magnanimity, live in harmony together? Right now, Ethiopians in their own country are victimized and abused mercilessly by Tigreans/Eritreans. Let us not forget that, for the Ethiopian people, there is no obvious benefit and only economic suffering and pain in the current relationship between Ethiopia and the provinces of Tigray and Eritrea. There is no southward flow of resources and goods, except for thousands of poor, rapacious, and ungrateful immigrants. None of my Oromo, Gurage, and Amhara family members reside in or benefit from Tigray or Eritrea. If the people of Tigray/Eritrea truly want independence, they should at least obey their own kilil policy and move back to their own tribal regions. Q. Several Ethiopians have expressed support for your idea by writing letters to ER and contacting you directly. On the other hand, others including well known figures such as Drs. Mankelkelot HaileSelassie and Mesfin Araya came out against your suggestion. Tsegaye Gebremedhin Araya of TOBIA magazine said that Ethiopia without Tigray cannot be called Ethiopia and warned that your suggestion is dangerous. Ethiopian Register magazine, a self-proclaimed advocate of Ethiopian unity, said that it would not even print such an idea in its pages. What is your answer to the critics? And how do you evaluate the level of support you have gotten so far? A. I would say that a majority of Ethiopians have been grateful for my words, since many have been intimidated by these bullies. Many have told me that I have spoken in public what Ethiopians routinely discuss in private. Printing of these articles has given many the courage to express similar views publicly. And yet many Eritreans and Tigreans who have been friends of mine for decades now consider me as the enemy. Some, including a member of TAND whom Hailu Mengesha uses as an envoy to send messages to me, have actually expressed death threats on the phone. It is interesting to note that not a single Tigrean/Eritrean has come to my support, although you find non-Tigreans on both sides of the issue. This is no different from previous observations that there has not been a single demonstration by any Eritrean/ Tigrean group protesting the activities of the TPLF/EPLF at home or abroad. If anything, they have wholeheartedly rallied in support of the TPLF/EPLF, with the lame excuse that anything is better than the Derg regime. During Meles Zenawi's recent visit, Tigreans and Eritreans residing in Washington, D.C., received him with flowers and cheers while Ethiopians of all other ethnic background held protest marches. At a reception for Meles in the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, only Tigrean embassy staff members were allowed to be present. Other embassy staff members were given a day off because they are not to be trusted. Last January, four non-Tigrigna speaking embassy staff members finally resigned in disgust. Dr. Mankelkelot HaileSelassie and the others have their right to oppose my ideas. However, you should note that our disunity has become the greatest strength of the TPLF/EPLF, and accounts for the failure of Ethiopia to dislodge the enemy. You must also remember that many of these Ethiopian organizations were organized indirectly by EPLF's Issayas, and played a key role in the independence of Eritrea in the name of "the right of nationalities for self-determination." I do feel sorry for Ethiopia though when it has citizens more occupied with the rights of their enemies to destroy Ethiopia than of Ethiopia's right to exist; they need to rally behind their country at this time to prevent disintegration. Dr. Mesfin Araya is also entitled to his opinion. I suggest that he, as well as Hailu Mengesha and Tecola Hagos, should get the courage, as Meles and Issayas did, to go to Tigray and Eritrea and convince the people there to organize an army of even 1,000 persons that stands for the unity of Ethiopia. When and if they decide to take that course, I am sure all Ethiopians will stand with them. After all, the people of Eritrea have raised an army of 100,000 for Issayas and the people of Tigre have raised an army of 90,000 for Meles. Some say that I should not condemn all Tigreans and Eritreans as enemies, since many of them are for Ethiopian unity. Yet, I have not seen a single organization in Eritrea or Tigray fighting the TPLF/EPLF except for our fellow Afar citizens. However, I would no longer trust the direct participation of any ethnic Eritrean or Tigrean to fight alongside me; I would not risk the security and survival of Ethiopia. Let us remember that Haile Selassie and Mengistu trusted many high level Tigreans and Eritreans in their cabinets who turned out to be working with the EPLF/TPLF against Ethiopia. A classic example, among many, is the former high official in both the Haile Selassie and the Derg regimes, Dr. Berket-Ab Habte Selassie, who served as Justice Minister of Ethiopia, now an avowed Eritrean nationalist and Ethiopia hater. The TPLF/EPLF Ambassador in Washington dismissed non-Tigrigna speaking staff during the visit by Meles Zenawi because they were not to be trusted. I think Ethiopians should follow his example and be wary of including any Tigreans/Eritreans in their struggle against this regime. Some say it is unfair to treat Tigreans and Eritreans as a single package. Historically, they are one people; the division is a product of the Italian colonization of Mereb Melash. They share the same language and culture. Most Ethiopians cannot tell a Tigrean from an Eritrean, and they clearly and unequivocally demonstrated their homogeneity when the EPLF/TPLF joined in their struggle for independence of Eritrea and Tigray provinces. Last but not least, this alliance has announced publicly that Ethiopia is their arch enemy, and Issayas has boasted he will cause turmoil in Ethiopia that will last for the next 100 years. So we must deal with both Tigreans and Eritreans as one, not only because they have shown us it is a fair assessment, but also as a matter of security. How will Ethiopia protect itself from Eritrean enemies if they enter Ethiopia as Tigreans? Are we going to ask "loyal" Ethiopians such as Hailu Mengesha and Tecola Hagos of TPLF/EPLF and Mesfin Araya to guard our borders from infiltrating Eritreans? Is this not just the strategy of the hyenas guarding the donkey (adgi) farm? Ato Tsegaye Gebremedhin Araya of TOBIA magazine is entitled to his opinion as well. However, you should realize he has reconsidered and retracted what he wrote in his latest issue of Tobia. After receiving an avalanche of criticism by fax and phone from all over the world, including Ethiopia, in protest against his article, he is now bending over backwards to mend fences. I would like to encourage everyone to read an eloquent response to Tobia by Girma Bekele in the October issue of Ethiopian Register. There is also a response to Tobia by Professor Habte Giorgis Churnet in the same issue. Ato Tsegaye's original thesis is seriously flawed: 1) The idea that Tigreans and Eritreans as people are not responsible for the mess in Ethiopia is ludicrous. If Meles and Issayas have accomplished this single-handedly, it makes a better story than that of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with only 5 loaves and 2 fishes. Perhaps we should canonize both Meles and Issayas for these miracles, or at least nominate them for a Nobel prize in science: Meles has converted into 90,000 Tigre soldiers and Issayas into 100,000 Eritrean soldiers. Is it not amazing that both have been able to shatter the laws of physics that declare matter or energy cannot be created or destroyed? Tsegay's second point is that all Ethiopians originate from the Aksumite Empire (Tigray). I know many Ethiopians whose origins (more than 80 tribes) include other provinces of Ethiopia. His other argument, that Ethiopia in not Ethiopia without Tigray, is wrong, since the Aksumite Empire also comprised most of Mereb Melash including Hamassen, Akele Guzai, Serae and the Red Sea port of Adulis, not far from Massawa. And I believe we still have a country called Ethiopia without Eritrea. In regard to Ethiopian Register's unwillingness to print my article on secession, let me point out that they have printed articles by Prof. Habte Georgis Churnet articulating his views of Eritrean nationals as enemies of Ethiopia (I wholeheartedly support his views, and congratulate him for his courage), and recently they asked me to submit future articles on other topics to them. More importantly, Ethiopian Register has not served as a forum for the propaganda machinery of the TPLF/EPLF, unlike Ethiopian Review which has published articles undermining the Ethiopian movement toward justice, including the one suggesting Ethiopia should mourn the passing of its hero Hyelom, a TPLF/EPLF military general, written by Tecola Hagos (ER, April 1996). It should not be assumed that I will write only for the Ethiopian Review. At the end of the day, I am more concerned with how the people of Ethiopia, currently under the yoke of the TPLF/EPLF, respond to my articles than I am with the reactions of Tigrean/Eritreans in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. And so far the response from Ethiopians in Ethiopia has been wildly positive, more than I could ever have imagined. The view of Hailu Mengesha, Tecola Hagos, and Mesfin Araya that this movement will blow over is clearly just a lot of wishful thinking. I can evaluate my level of support by the appreciative letters, phone calls, and speaking invitations that I have received. I have been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm for my ideas from Ethiopians all over the world. At Alemaya College, over a thousand students responded with astanding ovation at the end of my seminar, especially when I told them to discard the ethnic policy of our enemy, the TPLF/EPLF. They stood in line for hours to ask me to autograph their ID cards before I could leave the campus, even though we were completely surrounded by TPLF/EPLF soldiers brandishing machine guns. Q. How do you view the fact that members of other ethnic groups are collaborating with the current regime? A. This is not surprising; there are traitors (banda) in every nation. We had them during the occupation by fascist Italy, and during the Battle of Adwa. I assure you that there will always be traitors around. Q. Do you put forward this idea of secession as an immediate solution, or long-term solution? A. This is an immediate solution, to be in force until Tigreans and Eritreans discover that without Ethiopia they will have very little food for their population. When they return begging for their Ethiopian citizenship, we will need a referendum on the conditions under which the Ethiopian people are willing to take them back. Frankly, I don't know that Ethiopians will be interested in inviting back such a source of misery. They may resort to the old Gurage philosophy, deciding that just like socialism, there is no profit in dealing with thieves. I believe Ethiopia should not give them citizenship status. They could, however, consider giving the territory a protectorate status under Ethiopia. Q. Are you planning to actively campaign for the secession of Ethiopia from the two provinces? How are you going to conduct the campaign? A. Our campaign has two fronts: 1) to educate the people of Ethiopia to recognize their enemy, and to assist in every way possible to deport Tigreans and Eritreans back to their kilil. 2) to coordinate a united front between Ethiopian freedom fighters such as the Afars in Tigray and Mereb Melash with other freedom fighters in the rest of Ethiopia. As you are aware, the Afar people live in the region stretching from the ports of Assab and Djibouti in the south to Massawa in the north, including Danakil and Dahlak. How this might be implemented will not be discussed in a public forum, but we are now organizing a major fund-raising campaign for our fellow citizens, the freedom fighters of Afar. Q. Do you have any message to ER readers? A. Yes I do. But let me first say that the questions and issues raised in this interview are thoroughly discussed in my articles that have been published in Ethiopian Review, including "Ethiopia Should Secede from the Provinces of Tigray & Eritrea" (February 1996);"The Bantustanization of Ethiopia" (April 1996); and "A Strategy for the Reunification of Mereb Melash (Eritrea) with Ethiopia" (May 1996). In addition, I strongly recommend that Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia interested in an in-depth exploration of the current Ethiopian national crisis read "The pillage of Ethiopia by Eritreans & Their Tigrean Surrogates" by Dr. Assefa Negash (Adey Publishing). My short letter published in the editorial section of The New York Times on April 24, 1996 sheds further light on the deliberate destruction of the Ethiopian educational system by Meles and Issayas. I offer the following advice to your readers, in particular to those who believe in Ethiopian unity: First, get involved. Every citizen has an obligation to defend the nation, and it is a great privilege for those of us who can help our people in their time of desperate need. You may never have another opportunity to make a difference, to help save your country from disintegration. If Ethiopia is destroyed, that chance is gone forever. Second, stop apologizing for Tigreans and Eritreans; they are doing a fine job of destroying our country without this aid and comfort. If you are unable to help, or are too selfish to care about your fellow Ethiopians, don't take the role of the banda (traitor) - at least have the decency to remain neutral. Finally, all the opposition groups must join forces. As you are aware, I have published a number of articles in Ethiopian Review challenging the opposition forces to unify. Please allow me to repeat: There will be plenty of time for learned discourse or expression of diverse views and political beliefs once we have rescued our motherland. It does not matter who has the right to sleep in the master bedroom of a house that is on fire. If we cannot come together and meet our obligations to solve a major national crisis, then we will have truly earned the scorn of our enemies and the destruction facing us, as well as the bitter legacy bequeathed to our posterity. Let me close my interview by relating a true story of an Ethiapian mother who was diagnosed with a malignant cancer in one breast. She refused to have her breast removed, unable to envision living with a single breast and never believing that the cancer would metastasize and kill her. Many Ethiopians attended her funeral on September 21, 1996 in San Jose, California. She lost not only a breast but also her life. In the process, she orphaned four children and widowed a husband. I pray we do not allow this fate for Mother Ethiopia!
Note by Aberra Molla The above English HTML document is not an exact copy of the original interview as published in the November 1996 issue of Ethiopian Review magazine. Some of the Amharic words in brackets were replaced by Amharic-English (Amharic in English alphabet) words and these may not make sense to those who do not know Amharic. These words will be typed in Ethiopic or non-Ethiopic Amharic characters at a later time.
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