Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"The Ethiopian Revolution - War In The Horn of Africa"

From Ethiopiansemay- Editor- Professor Gebru Tareke is my home boy from the same city. He is a distinguished scholar with a tremendous writing skills. To my dismay, in the past years of the Ethiopian people's ordeal, the professor was flirting with the most hated criminal political organizations like EPLF (Eritrean People Liberation Front) and the likes when he was living in LA. I am also uncomfortable by his positive comments about the anti Ethiopian groups now in power "the Eritrean and the Ethiopian "mercinary, tyrant Governments of TPLF and EPLF" for saying- Quote " I have a great respect for both gentlemen leaders of the Eritrean and Ethiopian government Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and President Isayas Afewerki" during his interview as a guset to the VOA Amharic program as a guset with Professor Issak Efrem (the other useless and medicor scholar). Now Professor Gebru has came out with a new book "The Ethiopian Revolution......". I have not read the book yet, when I read it, I might comment on it based on what he wrote. In the mean time, our brother Solomon Gebresilassie has some comments on professor Gebru Tareke's new book. Here is his view on the new book. Thanks. Getachew Reda Ethiopiansemay.blogspot.com Editor.

"The Ethiopian Revolution - War In The Horn of Africa" Author: Gebru Tareke Review: Solomon G. Selassie 437pp. Yale University Press October 5, 2009 GEBRU TAREKE is emeritus history professor with 31 years of teaching at Hobart and Smith Colleges. Initially, Gebru titled his book Comrades Against Comrades -The Ethiopians in Revolution and War. However, perhaps sensing that he had already authored a few years ago a piece on the same theme, The Red Terror in Ethiopia - A Historical Aberration1, Gebru settled on the current title for his seminal book. Still, the provisional title was kept and made the title of Part 2 of this new book. Perhaps his better known previous work is Ethiopia: Power and Protest: Peasant Revolt in the 20th Century(1996).
This review is divided into 4 sections: In the first part, we will show that Gebru is a progressive Ethiopianist hailing from Tigrai, and not a Tigrean parochialist as some would hastily and erroneously conclude; followed by his analysis of the EPRP and then forays into Marxism and finally closing with a conclusion.
Gebru dedicates his book to the memory of his parents and also kindly to "all those who died for a free, democratic, and secular Ethiopia" for which he needs to be commended. Gebru the Progressive Ethiopianist In a political era where some amateurs are engaged in the pernicious perfidy of the indiscriminate criminalizing of Tigreans, it is imperative to debunk their ignorance by citing examples of Tigreans in the era of the TPLF that have steadfastly stood for democracy, Ethiopiawinet and the rule of law. Prof. Gebru is one such Ethiopian. Gebru seems to have spent well over a decade in working on this book. He traveled to Ethiopia in 1994 and interviewed over 500 people from all spectrums, except as regretfully admitted by him his failure to get the cooperation of the Eritrean side. He also got access to the treasure of the Ministry of National Defense's documents which he profusely and liberally referenced in the book.
From the outset, in an uncharacteristic frank admission, Gebru honestly pleads guilt on his inability to stay neutral in the interpretation of such momentous events. However, he assures us that he has made a special effort to keep his biases to a minimum (p.xiv), and it seems to me he has succeeded beyond expectations in spite of his fleeting reference that he may have once belonged to EPRP (p.79) - not that every one that once belonged to EPRP has now charitable and kind words for the organization.
Discussing the relationship between TPLF and the people of Tigray, he states "...but not everything they did [i.e. TPLF] was spontaneous or of their own free will. There was a lot of manipulation and coercion involved. Partly through inducements and partly by intimidation, the front mobilized thousands..."(p.108). This objective assessment of TPLF, among others, earned him the wrath of General Tsadikan - one of his reviewers - as we shall see later. In a similar vein, on page 76, the author says: "Another fraud has been perpetrated by a segment of the Tigrean "modern' elite that ascribes the territory's poverty to "successive Shoan rulers'. The best antidote to such hoaxes is history. So, let's begin." With that, he smoothly sails into correcting the record.
Among the malevolent assistants of Mengistu, Gebru mentions the notorious Corporal Gabre Hiwet Gebre Egziabher (p.44) who was posthumously known to have infiltrated the Derg for TPLF and who along with Melaku Tefera (the butcher of Gondar) decimated thousands of youth in central and northern Gondar. The author also ridicules one of the Derg luminaries, Major Fisseha Desta, who at one time uttered male chauvinistic remarks and Gebru puzzles by saying "this after 16 years of communistic rhetoric! (p.379/23).
While analyzing the Derg's resettlement program, Gebru's progressive probity shows with full force. While it has been commonplace to disparage the program just to score political points against the Derg, Gebru dispassionately analyzes the resettlement as a socio-economic imperative and casts aside the unsupported criticisms, such as the ones made by Major Dawit W/Giorgis in his book Red Tears, and the rebels who shrilly argued that the Derg's motive was to depopulate Tigray. The author rests his case on this issue by mentioning the fact that TPLF has now embraced resettlement as one solution to the pressing problem of ecological degradation and rural poverty, but wonders how in the era of "ethnic states" this would be implemented (p.380/26). Commenting on a similar event, the famine of 1985 and TPLF's actions, he says: "The TPLF went further to convince the international community by forcing thousands of the people under its control to emigrate to the Sudan. Claiming that it had only facilitated their exit to save them from the claws of a "genocidal regime," it paraded many of the ragged peasants before the international media. It was an unpleasant spectacle but may have achieved its intended purpose of shaming the regime" (p.380/34) -see also Gebremedhin Araya's, a former TPLF official, recent postings on Ethiomedia for detailed and serialized information on this particular subject.
Turning to his profession - education, Gebru laments at the tens of thousands of ill-educated and ill-equipped young Ethiopians. He partly attributes the national crisis to the fact that all the leaders of state universities are political appointees (he says this without naming Andreas Eshete - so self-evident, it was probably not necessary). "Despite two revolutions, there still is not a single chartered autonomous institution of higher learning should be a national disgrace," says Gebru (p.336)
Gebru also pays attention to a little-discussed tragedy in contemporary Ethiopia, i.e. the sad fate of the disbanded Ethiopian soldiers who lost the war to TPLF. Through his interviews, one senses the palpable anger and destitution of these heroes who have been thrown out to their devices as if they have not heroically served their nation. Gebru's narration of a chance meeting with a 20-year-old former soldier-turned-shoeshine is revealing. Asked by Gebru how he feels about the peace that the country has achieved since TPLF's assumption of power, the youth replies: "Sir, what good is peace without bread and water?" (p.122). The author reminds the nation to kick start a national reconciliation program, one of whose acts could be the erection of a memorial for all Ethiopians who lost their lives fighting on different sides of the cleavage (p.323).
Amazingly, and perhaps as a pioneer, Gebru surmises that the 1977/78 victory in the Ogaden war by Ethiopia was perhaps more important than the much celebrated victory of Adwa, weighing the implications if the war had been lost (p.216).
One of the two TPLF generals that Gebru admires is Hayelom Araya (the other being "the first 4-star Ethiopian Moslem general" Samora Yunus). While Hayelom's rise to military prominence is admirable as an individual accomplishment (the Holeta Military Training School has been renamed after him), his interview with the author belies TPLF's narrow nationalism. Asked by the author who he admired of his Derg opponent officers, Hayelom mentions only two commanders who have Tigrean sounding names who served under the Ethiopian army: Colonel Sereke Berhan, about whose bravery at least the author tells us, and a Brigadier General Araya Zeraay, about whom nothing is recorded in a 437 page book (p.367/62).
This is how ethnicized politics defiles the body politic of a country. As I was admiring the diligence of the author in shifting through the Ministry of Defense documents and interviewing no less than 500 including former and current army officers, one question kept coming to my mind. Would this access to government documents and personnel have been possibly granted by TPLF to a non-Tigrean Ethiopian historian, such as Bahru Zewdie or Teshale Tibebu, or Shumet Sishagne? The answer notwithstanding, Gebru has made good use of the opportunity. On The EPRP
To his credit, Gebru, while discussing the atrocities perpetrated against the youthful radical generation of the 1970s, does not use the fictive "White Terror" appellation that Derg apologists have thrown in the political lexicon. Instead, he puts the crimes fittingly under the rubric of the Derg's Red Terror. EPRP was neither a government nor a power symmetrical with the Derg to conduct a strong counterattack. What it engaged was a limited self-defence that quickly crumbled in the face of massive atrocity meted out by the Derg (a similar analysis on the asymmetry is also made by another reputable Ethiopian historian, Teshale Tibebu ii see his 'modernity, Eurocentrism, and radical politics in Ethiopia, 1961-1991', p.356)
Discussing the TPLF versus EPRP disagreements and eventual war in Tigray (PP.87-88), Gebru displays extreme caution to a fault. Gebru could have mentioned the "Abay Ethiopia" 'pejorative' term TPLF lashed out at EPRP. He could have also mentioned the insult Tigrean EPRPites endured while being called "korakur Amhara" (puppets of the Amharas) by the TPLF. This was the TPLF that was burning with regional parochailsim and regarded EPRP politically as its existential threat and did everything from repeated provocative acts to harassing its mass organizations, such as peasant associations before it started an all-out war against it. And unashamedly, TPLF's retired Major General Tsadkan engages in fabrications in his review of Gebru's book that EPRP was forced out of Tigray as a result of the local people's decision/referenda in Golomakeda, and Irob. TPLF was driven into desperation and war when the Tigrean broad peasants and intellectuals rejected its narrow nationalism and its toying with the notion of secession. What proof to cite for EPRP other than the live and continuing exhibit of TPLF's parochialism that has been plaguing the nation for almost 2 decades. Tsadkan goes on to heaping praise on EPDM for staying put in the field when the rest fled to the West. It is small wonder that Tsdaikan puts the EPDM in a positive light, an outfit that made a Faustian bargain with the TPLF as an enabler for TPLF to get a cover as an Ethiopianist force. Soon after its Addis Abeba entry, EPDM was molded into an "Amhara Democratic Movement," dropping its former name and identity. So much for staying put in the field.
Likewise, Gebru could have done a comparative analysis of the positions of EPRP and TPLF on the Eritrean question. Although the two organizations might have shared the secession right of Eritreans, for TPLF this derived from the colonial thesis it ascribed to the Ethio-Eritrean relation, while for EPRP the Eritrean question fell in the broad category of the National Question, and hence secession might not be the only and even the most desirable option. In line with its colonial thesis, according to the freewheeling admission of General Tsdaikan, TPLF sent up to 5,000 fighters to the Eritreans aid, and the favor was returned by the Eritreans during TPLF's Shire engagements with the Derg. With times now changed, Tsadkan puts down the Eritreans as a non-factor in TPLF's survival and as a weak military power.
To set the historical record straight, in order to resolve the problem it had with TPLF, the EPRP proposed 3 solutions: 1). working in a united front where other entities might also be members of the front; 2) a full merger and 3) a "live and let live" policy for each organization respecting their separate operations free of provocations. But the TPLF's insistent demand was for EPRP to evacuate Tigray. Surprisingly, some still to this day try to paint EPRP as an Amara based party (see for instance Jawar Siraj Mohammed's depiction in his exchanges with Messay on Ethiomedia). It is less than sincere to assert so regarding the party that brought together youths and sections of Ethiopians from a wide swath of the national mosaic.
Turning to EPRP's relations with the Derg, the author brings out a common myth and lie cruelly perpetrated by the Derg and its partisans. And this is the allegation that EPRP had assisted Somalia in its war with Ethiopia, or in its mildest form, that the EPRP had sabotaged Ethiopia's effort to crush the Somali invasion. Practically, almost any soldier or officer associated with the Derg and who has written a book, with the possible exception of General Tesfaye Habtemariam, has indulged in this scapegoating enterprise. This list includes Brigadier General Kassaye Chemeda, a Derg-time general who also reviewed Gebru's book. Curiously, however, not one of them has produced a shred of evidence to support this allegation. It seems that because EPRP was the leading opponent of the dictatorial Derg at that time, any legitimate grievance or concern by any Ethiopian in the military or in civilian discourse was attributed to EPRP. So, for any losses the Derg suffered in the Ogaden front, or for any challenges and suggestions that came from the units on the ground, the proponents were categorized as EPRP and summarily executed (p.198). Later after the Derg crushed EPRP's urban structures and yet the challenges and alternative thoughts flourished around the various war fronts, such as Naqfa, Shire and Massawa, there was no EPRP to blame. At one meeting with party functionaries, Mengistu blabbered the usual I-am-Tedodros II bravado. He specifically said, " I have fulfilled the responsibility vested in me for 15 years, like any other citizen and to the full extent of my ability. Henceforth, I shall not talk failure. I will not beg anyone. My choice is to join the Third or Second Revolutionary Army and die honorably like an ordinary soldier" (p.409/24). Of course we all know his ignominious flight out of the country at the decisive hour. And such cowardice when his subordinates such as Major Bekele Kassa and General Teshome Tessema took their lives during the Ogaden war (p.209), and during the Massawa War (p.295), respectively when faced with great difficulty. Instead of taking full responsibility for the disasters and facilitating the establishment of a Provisional People's Government as EPRP steadfastly called, Mengistu went on a rampage of murdering irreplaceable officers and NCOs and destroyed the nation. Marxism Anyone?
Teshale Tibebu asserts in the above quoted article that Marxism in Ethiopia was episodic - that it came into the Ethiopian political scene - and that it disappeared as suddenly as it appeared (p.349). Despite - or probably- in line with this assertion, Gebru makes occasional forays into Ethiopian Marxism. Comparing and contrasting Meles's and Isayas's personal traits with other revolutionary leaders, Gebru tells us both fall short and lack the sophistication of Amilcar Cabral (A Guinea Bissau Marxist revolutionary whose young life was cut short by an assassin's bullet). Gebru says Cabral articulated a subtle theory of liberation and is perhaps Africa's only original revolutionary thinker (p.102). Commenting on the Dirg cadres' skin-deep knowledge of Marxism, Gebru says "the WPE had many talented and dedicated agitators, polemicists, and organizers, but hardly any thinkers or theoreticians with deep knowledge of what they preached" (p.147). Out of the 447 interviewees he contacted, only 43 held views about political education that could be considered mildly positive. That the triumvirate leadership of army units imported from the Soviets (a joint authority shared by the commander, political commissar, and a security chief) severely undermined the fighting spirit of the Ethiopian army and undermined the traditional role of commanders has been widely commented upon. According to Gebru's findings, religion was one factor for loss of party membership, making WPE perhaps the only "leftist' party in Ethiopia on this score. Thirty-four members were expelled for getting their children babtized, or for giving feasts in memory of the dead (tezkar)(p.378/12).
Commenting on the Ethiopian student movement, Gebru says "it never produced public intellectuals like Ali Shariati of Iran, men and women who could anchor Marxist ideas in traditional mores or religious percepts and share them with the masses in plain language" (p.357/19). In fact he attributes, perhaps wrongly, the current student dormancy to the void created by the absence of Marxism. (p.336) Describing EPRDF's economic policy, Gebru quotes a South African communist, the late Joe Slovo who said 'a middle ground between the failures of socialism and the ravages of capitalism" (p.335). Conclusion
Gebru has written a superb book supported by dependable data. The data pertains to the type and number of equipment the combatants used, the forces arrayed, the desertions, the war victims and the expenditures. For proper context, he also provides an overview of the struggles [winners and losers] of several guerrila movements across the globe, including that of Nicaragua, Mozambique, Kenya, the Boers, Uganda, Rwanda, Algeria, Malaysia and Guatemala. He occasionally compared the Ethiopian revolution with that of Iran, and the Ethio-Somali war of 1977-78 with that of the 8-year Iran-Iraq war that began in 1980.
As Gebru's book goes into future revised editions, a couple of suggestions that might make it even more robust are: 1. A clear and expanded endorsement of multipartyism and the rule of law in Ethiopia; 2) a less harsh utterance about the Ethiopian Diaspora (p.331), and showcasing the Diaspora's constructive contributions to the democratization of Ethiopia along with its shortcomings; 3) additional effort to get the Eritrean side of the story, and whether Ethiopian POWs are still there, and if so, under what conditions, and whether or not the Eritreans still call their guerrilla staple, kitta - indeminesh Gondar! (the name they used during the struggle). Gebru has made a crucial contribution to the study of Ethiopian history and politics, and any Ethiopian interested in the recent political and military history of our wretched country needs to get the book and read it.
Solomon E. Gebreselassie October 2009 ---Notes 1 Journal of Developing Societies, pp.183-206, vol.24 #2, June 2008