OPINION: By Kungu Al-mahadi Adam
On Thursday, the Federal Government of Ethiopia declared as Persona Non Grata, seven UN staff including senior humanitarian officials on grounds of meddling into the internal affairs of the country, at least according to Dina Mufti, the Spokesman for Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.
This landmark decision comes on the heels of the crisis in Tigray, the country’s northmost region where thousands of residents including children and elderly have been killed and displaced in a war orchestrated by TPLF, a group declared by the country’s Parliament as a terrorist organisation.
There have for months been speculations that several UN staff either acting on their own or on orders of their superiors with sinister motives against Ethiopia, have been aiding the conflict in Tigray, by way of funding TPLF as well as availing them with trucks, satellite communication gadgets and other items in the cover of delivering humanitarian aid.
The United Nations in Ethiopia said on September 16 that only 38 out of 466 trucks that entered Tigray since July 12 had returned. Photos of vehicles believed to belong to the UN carrying fighters of the TPLF were recently seen making rounds on social media.
The UN aid chief Martin Griffiths this week accused Ethiopia of installing a de-facto blockade to restrict aid deliveries to Tigray. He claimed that either the vehicles don’t have fuel to come out or may be the drivers are simply not interested in returning, all claims which are baseless and diversionary.
It is a known fact that despite the risk involved, the Ethiopian government reduced roadblocks on the road to Tigray from seven to only two with an aim of aiding quick movement of trucks carrying humanitarian aid. Also, government of Ethiopia has been supplying some food items to the affected people in Tigray. How then can the federal government block aid to reach its own people?
The UN is clearly not telling how they are failing to catch up with the fact that hundreds of their aid trucks remain in Tigray. It is explicit that UN is facing shortage in trucks as a result of the non-return of almost all trucks that traveled to Tigray to deliver aid.
We have also witnessed truck drivers carrying aid into Tigray being shot at at least twice and some Tigrayan drivers have been arrested in the neighboring region of Afar, although they were later released. This is the fact.
Why would any UN official want to misinform the world? Is it because of the desire to hide their sinister motives and actions against Ethiopia and it people? Doesn’t this justify claims that such officials, who are by the way meant to be neutral, actually aspire to escalate the Tigray war?
Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations states that, “Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such
privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.”
If allegations that the expelled UN staff have been providing TPLF with trucks, satellite communication gadgets and other items in the cover of delivering humanitarian aid to worsen the situation in Tigray and make Ethiopia ungovernable, then they clearly violated the Vienna Convention and several other local and international laws.
Through his spokesperson, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guteress said he was shocked by the news of declaring the 7 UN staff persona non grata. He said all UN humanitarian operations are guided by the core principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence, but this seems not to be case in Ethiopia where a number of UN officials are said to be sympathizing with the terrorist group.
The Secretary General says that he is confident that his staff in Ethiopia are focusing on delivering lifesaving aid to people in desperate need, which given latest developments, is not wholly true.
“We are now engaging with the Government of Ethiopia in the expectation that the concerned UN staff will be allowed to continue their important work,” says Guteress.
What should be done now is not PR (Public Relations) by the UN but investigating the behavior and actions of their staff and come out clean. The UN should with objectivity publicly distance self from amplifying the conflict in Tigray. Ethiopians are a united nation who have clearly demonstrated that they are against any person who seeks to divide them.
For starters, TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) is an ethnic based group which brutally ruled the country for 27 years, when Ethiopians both in the country and outside staged protests that forced the then Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who is from the Wolayta Ethnic group, to resign after clearly realizing that he was a puppet to the group.
Despite killing, torturing and forcing thousands into exile, the secessionist government failed to contain the pressure from the united Ethiopians – it was finally forced out of power after looting the country to the core.
Angered by the unexpected loss of the disproportionate influence and undue privilege they enjoyed while in power, the group have since 2018 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took over country’s leadership, retreated to Tigray, organized and engaged in activities aimed at toppling him including the unprovoked violent attack by the on Federal forces in November last year that sparked the current crisis.
When he took power, Abiy promised to bring the country together. He among others released all political prisoners as well as inviting back the exiled Ethiopians to return to Ethiopia and build a united country together. This is how he was accepted by the whole nation.
Meanwhile, for TPLF, they used the money they looted to fund and cause anarchy in Ethiopia. They wanted to acquire the national army’s possession which was in the region in November and illegally and forcefully change the leadership of the country, when they attacked military bases in Tigray, thanks to the swift response by national security that repulsed them.
But despite their criminal activities, the federal government still preferred peace. It put in place efforts to restore peace in Tigray including declaring a unilateral ceasefire in June this year, sending elders to Tigray for dialogue and negotiation and allowing access to humanitarian support, but all undermined by TPLF.
The international community including the U.S and the UN, has however consistently ignored all efforts by federal government aimed and restoring peace and instead propagate a narrative as though the Ethiopian authorities orchestrated the ugly developments in Tigray.
They continue to amplify claims by TPLF propagandists and lobbyists both inside and outside Ethiopia who are acting victim of their own insurrection and crimes on the people of Ethiopia.
TPLF has gone as far as attacking neighboring regions like Afar and Amhara, all without being condemned by the international community despite cries by millions of Ethiopians in other parts of Ethiopia and from within Tigray itself.
The Ethiopian National Defense Force has won the war of the battlefield but has lost that of propaganda that the international community has opted to believe and sadly act along at the expense of the 100 million Ethiopians craving for unity and peace.
Of course not all the 6 million Tigrayans support the terrorism by TPLF, no. It is just a small group of greedy and self-seeking lobbyists guided by nepotism and secessionist agenda.
The TPLF propaganda is steadily igniting the Biden administration to push the federal government to negotiate with terrorists, sad.
Nobody can gain the benefits of peace and dialogue while at war or armed against the state, or while rejecting the whole legitimacy of the federal government. This is why, even ignoring all the atrocities committed by TPLF, any negotiation with TPLF that is not disarmed and with Tigray that is not under Federal authority, will not only be unacceptable but it also set a dangerous precedent in Ethiopian politics.
It will imply a major step backward in the recent democratization efforts in not only Ethiopia but Africa as a continent. It will signal to dissidents nationwide that waging a violent and successful insurrection is what puts you ahead of the line and at the top of the negotiating table with a bigger chair.
This sends the wrong signals, not only to opposition groups, but also to sub-national state parties and armed regional governments (who all have grievances of one form or another).
It will trigger the beginning of a lawless Ethiopia at the regional state level and will eventually lead to state collapse and civil wars nationwide.
It is a fact that TPLF waged war against a legitimate government in Ethiopia and has committed dozens of crimes on the Ethiopian people including those against the international law.
The writer is a Ugandan Journalist with passion for current African affairs.