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Soft-Targets: The Predicament of non-TPLF member Tigreans in Ethiopia outside Tigray

Soft-Targets: The Predicament of non-TPLF member Tigreans in Ethiopia outside Tigray


Dr. Yohannes Aberra Ayele 1-23-19


“Soft-targets” are people and things that are unprotected or vulnerable and “hard-targets” are those that are protected from attack. In the history of conflicts the enemies are more inclined towards attacking innocent non-combatants such as children, women, and the elderly rather than face the enemy head on in a hardware battle. The latter incurs huge cost in the loss of life, material and finance; whereas, the former doesn’t. However, winning wars requires the physical degradation or elimination of the enemy combatants along with their hardware capacity to revive. The main reason why soft-targets are preferred is because it is believed that killing, raping, displacing, jailing, andtorturing of the family members of the enemy combatants and destroying their residences and field crops would demoralize them and drain their fighting energy.

Contrary to expectations soft-targeting would make the enemy combatants more defiant and the targeted communities more rebellious. Soft-targeting has, more often than not, brought exacerbation of conflicts rather than diminish them. Every time US troops hit civilian targets in the Torabora (Afghanistan) the Taliban will enjoy hundreds of recruits overnight. The sisters and brothers of stone-throwing Palestinian kids, and the children of mothers buried under concrete debris due to Israeli bombardment of civilian quarters in Gaza will no doubt happily be suicide bombers at a too early age.

During the Monarchy Eritrean war of independence was a low key struggle restricted to the remote peripheries. Soft-targeting was rare in those years. So Eritreans were least interested to disrupt their buzzing economic life. There was widespread “Jolly-Jackism” in Asmara among the youth as an indicator of relative ease in everyday life. When military rule dawned in Asmara and laid its heavy hand on the economy and the youth the “happy-go-lucky” Asmaran-youth were scattered into the Sahel hills. The unsuspecting youth in Asmara were terrorized, among other things, by the campaign of strangulating them, using metal wire individually, by the secret service. However, the Military never succeeded to prevent the liberation of Eritrea by razing villages to the ground. Hard-targeting was being debilitated by the ill-advised soft-targeting because the latter was boosting the capacity of the hard-targets.

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Whatever triggered the Hawzien carnage it hastened the downhill journey of military rule in Tigray. The mass arrest, all over Ethiopia, of hundreds of innocent Tigreans from all walks of life also contributed to its failure to defeat the hard-target: TPLF guerrilla army. Sometimes soft-targeting was so brutal that the victims joined the combatants even if they hated them. Mothers who were forced to dance over the dead body of their beloved sons and daughters would force or advise the rest of their kids and everyone else to join the struggle.Who would want to sleep with a bitter enemy just for the sake of self-preservation?

The commanders of the occupation army of Minilik II never suspected that several generations later the decedents of the Oromo victims of soft-targeting would build a huge provocative statue. While committing the atrocities none of them were thinking that their actions would put their grand- and great grand-childrenin harm’s way. The grand- and great grand-children of the imprudent musketeers are paying the inter-generational debt grudgingly. Many similar things are still going on installing time bomb for the future. In a big meeting, chaired by a member of the OPDO leadership four years ago, I expressed my objections to the killing of demonstrators in Ambo. I said this exactly: “Blood breeds blood; we have to mind the long term repercussions not how we solve everyday problems”. This warning was not heeded may be because it came from a political “nonentity”. What happened after that is everyone’s knowledge.Similar measures were taken in Ambo, and elsewhere in Oromia, in the second and the third time, which brought the “Gini out of the bottle”. The excuse for the soft-targeting in Ambo and elsewhere was that the rioting was being remote-controlled by the armed opposition.

Another form of soft-targeting, which often does not involve violence, but may be more potent than violence, is psychological harassment and social marginalization of groups of people who are alleged to be associated with the enemy. At the beginning of World War II Japanese air force attacked US marine-base, at Pearl Harbor, triggering war with the USA. The US public and the government directed their anger not only to the Japanese Imperial Government but also to the Japanese US citizens and residents. Many were deported to Japan. In history the victims are referred to as the “Japanese scapegoats’. What the deportees might have done in Japan is to join the Japanese imperial army and kill and maim fellow American citizens in the battles of the Pacific.The Tutsi liberation led by Paul Kagame was in the bush, when the Hutu majority massacred nearly a million non-combatant Tutsis. However, this did not prevent the few thousand Tutsi liberators to control the Rwandan government for the last 25 years.

In Ethiopia, after the TPLF victory over the Military government in 1991, the soft-targeting of Tigreans continued in a different way. Many outside Tigray hated the TPLF for different but interrelated reasons: its role in facilitating the separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia, rendering the latter landlocked; a carryover of the rivalry between Shewan/Amhara and Tigrean nobility for the crown in the 19thand early 20th centuries; for the alleged domination of the Ethiopian economy; the feeling of revenge in the minds of the tens of thousands of former officials and functionaries of the defunct Military regime; for allegedly putting the unity of Ethiopia in jeopardy by dividing it into linguistic regional states; and for creating a Political Front, leading a coalition government, wherein it is believed to have a lion’s share of the decision making. The point here is not proving or disproving the allegations on TPLF. Provable, non-provable notwithstanding the issue here is who is being affected. There have been many incidents of hard-targeting the TPLF after it controlled political powerin Addis Ababa; but the most successful arena for the formidable anti-TPLF alliance has been soft-targeting. However, I argue that, until the TPLF officials were removed from political power by a silent coup a few months ago (an unusual form of hard-targeting) TPLF did not feel the prick of the soft-targeting of ordinary Tigreans in different regions and cities of Ethiopia outside Tigray for their alleged association and benefit sharing with TPLF’s domination of the Ethiopian economy, politics, military, and security service. This is atypical to the fundamental attributes of soft-targeting. The conventional thinking for soft-targeting is to sap the morale of the enemy party or combatant because the soft-targets are indispensible to the enemy party or combatants socially and psychologically. There is a huge difference between the soft-target on behalf of the TPLF during the armed struggle and after victory where in the latter the TPLF members have become self-sufficient in terms of their food, personal security, shelter, finance, recruits, etc. They became no more reliant on the people of Tigray as they started to live their own lives all over Ethiopia, but more in Addis Ababa. After victory, something was creeping into the mentalities of the TPLF members and supporters. There evolved a shift from seeking assistance from every Tigrean soul to being selective. It started with the utter neglect of thousands of fighters who were demobilized on meager means for living. Once a firm economic and political foothold became established the alliance and benefit sharing was not only selective from among Tigreans but also was extended to non-Tigreans. The Tigrean-TPLF alliance became conditional. The conditions were both political and economic. The political aspect involved being a member of the TPLF and/or an ardent and visible supporter. The economic side had to do with mutual reinforcement of personal and group enrichment. There was a joke in the streets of Addis Ababa: A Tigrean businessman from Mercato requested for a loan from one of the Tigrean owned banks; he was denied. This businessman had a trick up in one of his sleeves. He asked a fellow Gurage businessman to help him. The Gurage businessman called the bank officials and asked them to provide the loan to the Tigrean businessman, which they did pronto!  This may be a joke; but it hints what the life of hundreds of thousands of Tigreans outside Tigray who are not associated with TPLF.

The game the TPLF opposition plays seems to be tacitly approved by the TPLF itself. The opposition, but at the same time beneficiaries from partnership with TPLF members and supporters, in the bureaucracy and in business, enjoy the liberty of harassing, intimidating unattached Tigreans, denying them of hiringandpromotion opportunities, barring them from access to business opportunities, etc. Complaining to the TPLF officials at any level is a futile attempt to solve their problem,which has come due their alleged membership or support for the TPLF. The tormentors know very well that those people they are tormenting are not TPLF members, not even supporters. This is the most convenient and least costly weapon in their arsenal to defeat their Tigrean competitors. They know very well these Tigreans are never defended by the TPLF. They sometimes complain to the TPLF about the Tigreans who are allegedly disturbing them. Here we have soft-targets who are undefended by their “fellows” because of whom they are being targeted. The TPLF narrative has been those who would help TPLF to stay in political and economic power are no more ordinary Tigreans but the elites of other groups. This was an ill-informed narrative because the TPLF was using the non-Tigrean elite to stay in powerat the same time the non-Tigrean elite was using the TPLF itself to overthrow it! Gradually uprooting the TPLF by systematically and gradually lulling it away from its Tigrean mass-base using its own tacit support. I heard once a Ministry of Education story about the AMDM minister and the Tigrean vice minister (RIP). When the vice minister was unable to work with the minister because of her frequent harassment he complained to the former Tigrean prime minister(RIP). The reaction of the latter was unexpected but “trendy”. He told the vice minister in black and white: “resign if you don’t conform!”. The same minister was tormenting a Tigrean dean and later vice president of Bahir Dar University, without any fear of retaliation from TPLF, for just protecting federal budget from misuse as is expected of him. These are very few cases that I personally came across. Hundreds of similar cases have combined to dethrone the TPLF. It has only itself to blame. It was only during the twilight of the power of the TPLF that its voices started to be heard about the displaced Tigreans. Even that came after a lot of public pressure. The mass displacement was not an event; it was a process. It was long years of neglect of the predicament of non-member Tigreans in different parts of Ethiopia who were being disabled for alleged collaboration with TPLF. Ironically, the accusers have been more collaborative to the TPLF than the ordinary Tigreans who scratched to make a living in different corners of Ethiopia. They had considered their residential regions as home! There is an Amharic saying “Balebetuyaqelelew amole bale edaayqbelewm”; meaning if a bar of salt is rendered valueless by the owner a debtor will not accept it as a form of repayment. Even if the dismantling the TPLF is completed by the “friendly” opposition the soft-targeting has still continued, this time on all Tigreans regardless of whether they are TPLF members or not. Is there a tough guy to fear and trick it into destroying itself now? Not at all! The job is done! For the TPLF, this is its own making; but for the ordinary Tigreans the soft-targeting has continued unabated. It is undeserved now; and it was undeserved before. I appeal to all Ethiopians to include Tigreans in the National building effort without bearing any grudges. We have a much bigger future than a smaller past and present!!Politics is much smaller than people. Let us collaborate to make the former still much smaller!!



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