A Tigrayan speaks in support of the Ethiopian government.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, ruled Ethiopia brutally from 1991 to 2018 with a paper-thin guise of democracy and ethnic unity. In 2015, they reported that they had won 100% of the vote in a national election, and then National Security Advisor Susan Rice joked that it was 100% credible. The TPLF secured elite U.S. interests in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa until uprisings put Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in power. Last November the TPLF attacked a federal army base in Tigray, launching an ongoing civil war to overthrow Prime Minister Abiy.
Tigrayan leaders and commanders say that they must keep fighting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government until it is no longer capable of entering Tigray, which is their way of saying they are fighting to remove the Prime Minister from power.
U.S., Europe, and international NGOs have largely portrayed the Tigrayans as victims of atrocities, including rape by the Ethiopian National Defense Force, and the TPLF as heroes defending them. However, many Tigrayans have come forward to say that they neither support the TPLF nor believe this narrative.
I spoke to Negasi Beyene, a Tigrayan American bio- statistician working for the Centers for Disease Control in the Washington, DC area, who said that he supports Prime Minister Abiy, not the TPLF.
Ann Garrison: Negasi, first, how did you come to be a bio-statistician living in Maryland and working at the CDC?
Negasi Beyene: I completed my BS & MS in statistics in Russia when the Derg, formally the Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC), was in power and aligned with the Soviet Union.
However, despite its Marxist rhetoric about serving the people, the Derg was a repressive regime, so I eventually sought asylum in the United States. I also got my MS (Masters of Science) in biostatistics from San Diego State University.
I am a human rights advocate, and my motto for my motherland, Ethiopia, is “humanity before ethnicity.”
AG: What do you think of all the atrocity reports, accusing the Ethiopian National Defense Force of atrocities in Tigray?
NB: Well, the Ethiopian National Defense Force had been in Tigray for 21 years before the civil war began. And there were no reports of atrocities or rape or any crime committed by them. Those defense forces were helping the poor by distributing necessities, and they were helping the farmers. They were helping school children, by buying the exercise books they needed. So they were part of the society.
Since it is under investigation by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the UN Human Rights Council, I can’t be sure about who committed these atrocities being reported, but the Tigray People’s Liberation Front has always been known for misinforming and for creating stories that aren’t true. That is their habit. They’ve been doing that for the last 46 years.
AG: So you don’t believe the atrocity reports?
NB: For the most part I don’t believe the ENDF will do such crimes, but the government brought in a few solders who are suspected of doing wrong, and the court will give them their verdict.
AG: Do you think that the TPLF committed those atrocities against the Tigrayan people?
NB: I don’t know, but the TPLF has committed a lot of crimes during the last 46 years, since its creation in 1975. They have killed and tortured a lot of people. That’s their trademark.
And they also released about 30,000 criminals from prisons on purpose to destabilize communities and the whole society. Those criminals were raping, stealing, and killing. That is on top of the TPLF atrocities.
Late at night last November 3, the TPLF committed a heinous crime by attacking a federal army base in Tigray and killing soldiers of the National Ethiopian Defense Force while they were sleeping.
This criminal organization, the TPLF, was even registered as a terrorist group by the Global Terrorism Database .
AG: I looked that up. The Global Terrorism Database lists 12 incidents in which the TPLF attacked private citizens and property, NGOs, businesses, journalists, or religious figures and institutions. And these incidents occurred between 1975, when the TPLF was organized, and 2018, its last year in power. Seven of them occurred while the TPLF was in power.
Do you think the National Ethiopian Defense Force will be able to defeat the TPLF?
NB: Yes, because the TPLF are terrorizing the people and destabilizing the country. The national defense forces are backed by the Ethiopian people, so I’m sure they will be victorious. The people will not allow the TPLF to return to power.
AG: What do you think of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) forming an alliance with the TPLF?
NB: That’s an old story, the alignment between the TPLF and the OLF. They have been working together to destabilize the country, especially since the Abiy government came to power in 2018.
The OLF have been in politics for 50 years, but they have never done anything good for the Oromo people they claim to represent. They just committed a lot of atrocities, like killing and cutting, inhumane stuff. Especially Shene, the armed wing of the OLF.
So I don’t think it will change anything. It is just symbolic. The TPLF say they are allied with the OLF, or something like that, just to divide the Ethiopian people, but I don’t think it will change anything on the ground.
AG: You don’t think that the OLF has a significant base within the Oromo nation?
NB: There are a few extremists, but they don’t have support. They used to have some support because the people were confused between the OLF and other groups. But a majority of the Ethiopian people just elected the current government. So I don’t think there are any significant numbers praising the OLF anymore.
AG: What do you think Prime Minister Abiy is trying to achieve?
NB: Prime Minister Abiy has indicated, both by what he’s said and what he’s done on the ground, that he wants to unite and develop the country.
And that we should be self-sufficient instead of waiting for handouts from the West. So he’s trying his best to create progress for the country or to go out and achieve most of what we were hoping for Ethiopia. He’s doing that in practice, on the ground.
That’s why he has a lot of enemies in the West and the Arab world. Also the TPLF and the OLF, who want to come to power without election. They want to come to power using the barrel of a gun.
So Abiy is saying that we should stop here. We have been killing each other long enough. So we have to stop here. Any group that wants political power should be elected by the people. He’s trying to democratize and unite the country.
And he’s also trying to bring stability to the Horn of Africa by coordinating or cooperating with Eritrea and Somalia, even with Sudan. That is his plan and it’s a good plan. That’s why I support him.
AG: So he wants a strong, independent Ethiopia and Horn of Africa. Okay. And what do you think the US is trying to accomplish?
NB: I think the US is miscalculating their interests and those of Ethiopia. They want to install a government that takes orders from the White House, and you know some are looking out for their personal interests, but in my opinion, the interests of all the American people would best be served by a stable, united Ethiopia. I don’t believe that a fragmented Ethiopia is really in the interest of the United States.
But I think they probably want to install a puppet government that not only takes orders from the White House, but also lives on handouts from the US and the rest of the West.
No country, as you know, has defeated poverty with a puppet government living on handouts. We know that by looking at the experiences of Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and now Afghanistan. After 20 some years, how are they leaving the Afghan people?
I think it should instead be a win-win relationship between the US and Ethiopia. But that is not what is happening on the ground.
AG: Well, do you think that if the US cannot install a puppet, it would rather see the disintegration of Ethiopia into ethnic states?
NB: Probably, as you know, if they can’t have it their way. And even if Ethiopia doesn’t disintegrate, they would want it to be an ungovernable US franchise state.
But I hope they will come to their senses. I hope they will not go that far.
AG: I hope so too, Negasi. And either way, I hope that the Ethiopian people will continue to resist US efforts to destabilize and balkanize their country. Thank you for speaking to Black Agenda Report.
NB: Thank you for giving me a voice.
Ann Garrison is a Black Agenda Report Contributing Editor based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for promoting peace through her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes Region. She can be reached on Twitter @AnnGarrison and at ann(at)anngarrison(dot)com.