Ethiopia’s Tigray Crisis: Progress in Rule of Law?

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, announced the heinous crime perpetrated by the in-combat Tigray regional state

Ethiopian Defense Force, a remarkable achievement from a defensive position to controlling atrocities directed at itself, and the state’s territorial integrity and rule of law in a matter of a couple of weeks. 

Ethiopia's Tigray Crisis: Progress in Rule of Law?On November 4, 2020, the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, the reformist, and the 100th Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2019 announced the heinous crime perpetrated by the in-combat Tigray regional state special force against the Northern Defense Force Command. 

On the national television, Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation announcement, Abiy said “The northern command Defense force was attacked by Tigray regional special force in many parts of the region including in the region’s capital, Mekelle, and on the border of Amhara regional state.” 

According to him, the objective of the attack was to dismantle the army and confiscate the heavy weaponry.

Abiy called upon all armed personalities to stand by and defend the country’s territorial integrity and rule of law.

General Bacha Debele who was on early retirement and rejoined the army upon the Prime Minister’s call following the attack, revealed the intention of Tigray Regional Special force was to take over the heavy weaponry owned by the northern command. 

The General also discussed the atrocities perpetrated by the TPLF forces against the Northern command in highly vivid graphic words on November 10, 2020. 

“The Northern Command soldiers were attacked while they were least expecting, and in a vulnerable situation,” General Bacha Debele was quoted.

He said some soldiers were shot dead at night while in Pajama, strangled to death, stabbed, and their weapons confiscated.

Abiy had to call three retired army generals in the aftermath of the attack to rejoin the army including the outspoken orator Bacha Debele and the formerly house arrested popular General Ababaw Tadesse to lead the fight against Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF).

The TPLF’s ultimate intention whether to come back to power in the central government or proclaim its own independent Tigray state is not clear by taking this measure.

TPLF ruled the country for 27 years since 1991 following guerrilla movement against the then Derg regime for 17 years was pushed out of the central power since April 2018 and camped in Tigray regional state, in the northern part of the country along the Eritrean border.

However, ever since it was pushed out of the central power, it was heavily training and arming the regional special force in the Northern region.  

It claimed to have about 200,000 Para commando troops. 

Some of the surrendered special force members are under 18 years old teenagers though.  

The Ethiopian defense force’s northern command stayed in the region for the past 20 years following the deadly Ethiopian and Eritrean border war that left at least 100,000 soldiers dead from both sides. 

The two countries stayed in a ‘no war, no peace’ state until Abiy Ahmed came to power and made peace with the Eritrean regime on August 29, 2020, which, contributed to Abiy’s Nobel peace prize.

The northern command had many mechanized forces with heavy weaponry and thousands of soldiers in the region keeping the country from any possible attack by the Eritrean government until the peace agreement was made.

Prime Minister Abiy had to reshuffle the defense force and the intelligence department in order to mobilize forces to defend against the directed attack from within. 

However, there were many TPLF sympathizers within the army who conspired with the group to dismantle the northern command, according to government sources.

General Abebaw was immediately promoted to deputy chief of staff, formerly Amhara Regional State head Temesgen Tiruneh also became the head of Ethiopian National Intelligence. 

The Chief of staff, General Adem Mohammed, was removed and his deputy General Berhanu Jula took over his position on November 8, 2020. 

Following the reshuffle, some of Tigrayan origin military officials in the capital Addis Ababa were apprehended on allegations of conspiring with the Mikelle based TPLF leaders playing a role in the attack against the Northern command. 

Among them is Major General Gebremedhin Fikadu and Major General Yirdaw Gibremedhin who were the army’s radio communications operation officials in the central command. 

Government officials accused the two of allegedly cutting off the radio communications with and among the northern command to block communications with the army intending their surrender in confusion. 

Reports from government sources indicated that Amhara regional state’s special force played a crucial role in breaking and rescuing some of the encircled northern command brigades on the borderline to the Tigray region from the regional special force. 

The northern command army members on the Eritrean borderline had to take ambitious measures to break their encircled forces and go into the neighboring Eritrean border to catch a breath and restructure themselves. 

Colonel Assefa Maru who told his courageous stories on National TV said he had to fight his way into the Eritrean border with his 200 subordinates and rejoined the army back into the Ethiopian border once additional forces were deployed in the area. 

The other, Lieutenant Colonel Deresse Ayele Gobena had to threaten to destroy the nearby northern Tigray city, Shrie with his heavy weaponry demanded to be seized by TPLF forces. 

Lieutenant Colonel Deresse Ayele Gobena’s force was encircled by Tigray’s special force for five days with no food and barley clean water. None was injured among Deresse’s force, he finally joined the newly deployed army in the area and ambushed TPLF forces which are now cornered in Tigray regional State’s capital, Mekelle, the third-largest city in Ethiopia with more than 500,000 inhabitants. 

The anger, bitterness, feeling of betrayal by comrades from Tigrayan origin among these soldiers is just above and beyond.  They have witnessed their friends shot dead, decapitated, stabbed, and humiliated by their fellow soldiers of Tigrayan origin.

Ethiopian National Defense Force marched to Tigray on three sides Eastern, southern, and Western Tigray, and fought its way to rescue the surviving northern command and control the regional state. 

In just two weeks, the army took over most of the regional state’s defeating the Tigrayan regional special force.

The Tigrayan special force is now encircled in the region’s capital, Mekelle, still hesitant to surrender even after the Prime Minister gave a 72 hours ultimatum.  

TPLF soldiers who had surrendered claimed to have short-term military training, having no idea of the cause they were fighting for and whom they were fighting against a played a crucial role in their easy surrender.  


Fasil Girma, is an Ethiopian  Freelance Journalist