Eritrea real clear politics's Weblog

August 11, 2011

Amid Famine in Horn of Africa, US Wants Sanctions on Eritrea, UN Ignores Mercenaries of Saracen, Likes Sufi Militia

Filed under: News — eritrearealclearpolitics @ 11:28 am

Written by Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 10 — Amid news of famine in Somalia, and some say Eritrea too, Inner City Press on Wednesday asked US Ambassador Susan Rice to confirm that the Obama administration is indeed seeking additional sanctions, including against the Isaias Afwerki government’s tax on remittances to that country.
Ambassador Rice gave a long response, initially not address the Eritrean famine issue:
“The United States is very, very concerned about Eritrea’s behavior in the region. Its support for Al-Shabaab, its support to destabilize its neighbors is documented quite thoroughly and persuasively in the report of the special panel. We heard during the session last month from virtually all of Eritrea’s neighbors that they face a pattern of destabilization that is quite troubling and quite disturbing. Moreover, we’re profoundly troubled and we have clearly condemned the support that Eritrea lent to the terrorist attack that was planned for-to coincide with the African Union summit last January in Addis Ababa. We think that’s an absolutely abhorrent development, and we think it merits the full attention of the Council. Yes, the United States is very much interested in additional pressure and sanctions being applied on Eritrea. This is something that we’ll continue to discuss and debate in the Security Council. But from the U.S. point of view, we think that that is timely.”
Inner City Press then asked Ambassador Rice if the US believes there is a famine in Eritrea, and if so if further sanctions might not make that worse. Rice replied:
“any measures to be contemplated would be carefully targeted and would not go in any way to harm the people of Eritrea, who are suffering enough as it is. We believe there is a famine in Eritrea, but we’re deeply concerned that none of us know because they have barred UN agencies, barred NGOs. It has become a black hole in terms of governance and humanitarian ground truth. And the people of Eritrea, who must…most likely are suffering the very same food shortages that we’re seeing throughout the region are being left to starve because there is not access, there’s a clear cut denial of access by the government of Eritrea of food and other humanitarian support for its people.”
Ambassador Rice cited the Somalia and Eritrea sanctions Monitoring Group report, as later on Wednesday did UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon‘s envoy to Somalia Augustine Mahiga.
Actually, when Mahiga in a video conference briefing from Mogadishu talked about supporters of Al Shabaab, he mentioned people in the Gulf and Middle East. Inner City Press asked him, did this mean Eritrea is not a major supporter of Al Shabaab?
Mahiga called Eritrea a “middleman” that funnels others’ money to Al Shabaab. Later in his briefing Inner City Press asked Mahiga about other parties named in the Monitoring Group report, which he had not mentioned. Private military contractor Saracen, for example, was named as a violator of sanctions for its actions in Puntland.
Mahiga said he visited Puntland and Saracen is mostly gone, it “trained trainers” who themselves remain.

Susan Rice with Ban, envoy silent on PMC Saracen
Last December 27, 2010, Inner City Press reported:
December 27 — Amid growing doubts about private military contractor Saracen working for the Somali Transitional Federal Government and Puntland, the lawyer for the program, former US Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Pierre Prosper, spoke to a half dozen UN correspondents on December 23, ostensibly on background.
In remarks subsequently disseminated, Prosper said that he was briefing the Group of Experts of the UN’s Somalia Sanctions Committee but would not yet provide the name of the program’s funder, due to concerns the UN would leak it.
Afterward, Inner City Press on the record asked the outgoing chairman of the UN’s Somalia Sanctions Committee, Claude Heller of Mexico, if he or the Committee had been briefed about the use of PMCs or mercenaries in Somalia. No, Heller said, he had only read about it in the newspapers. Video here.
With Mexico leaving the Council at the end of the month, India is to be given the chair of the Somalia Sanctions Committee, as first exclusively reported by Inner City Press. Will Saracen reach out to India? We will be asking.
Inner City Press asked about Ethiopia’s support of and links to Ahlu Sunna. Mahiga called it a “Sufi militia” — “very helpful,” he said.
Next to him, the AMISOM force commander Fred Mugisha nodded. Apparently, Ahlu Sunna is the UN and AMISON favored militia. The Monitoring Group report says that Ethiopia never even sought Sanctions Committee approval for its work with this militia. As one wag concluded, when it’s all among friends…. Watch this site.
Footnote: Inner City Press three times asked Mahiga what message the UN had for the Transitional Federal Government about it human rights record. The first two times he did not answer — on the second, he diverged into a description of Al Shabaab “foreign fighters from Chechnya, Waziristan and Yemen.”
The third and final time, he said that the TFG is improving, and of course these things happen in war. He said he didn’t know if the TFG was involved in shooting into a crowd of aid-seekers in Mogadishu on August 5. We’ll see.


US Envoy Backs UN Sanctions On Eritrea

Filed under: News — eritrearealclearpolitics @ 6:17 am
  • August 10, 2011, 6:17 PM ET

US Envoy Backs UN Sanctions On Eritrea

The U.S. threw its support to impose international sanctions on Eritrea for its alleged links to militant attacks, AFP reported.

East African nations, led by rival Ethiopia, are lobbying for tougher measures against Eritrea, which first came under sanctions in 2009 (pdf). A United Nations monitoring group said Eritrea tried to organize bomb attacks during an African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa in January, the AFP report said.

“The United States is very, very concerned about Eritrea’s behavior in the region,” said Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. during a stakeout.

“Yes, the United States is very much interested in additional pressure and sanctions being applied on Eritrea. This is something that we’ll continue to discuss and debate in the Security Council. But from the U.S. point of view, we think that that is timely,” she said.

Citing the monitoring group’s report, Rice said the country, which was once a member of George W. Bush’s coalition of the willing that invaded Iraq, has undergone a campaign to “destabilize its neighbors,” which includes support for al Shabaab, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization that is preventing aid from reaching famine-wracked Somalia.

Aid groups say Eritrea is also suffering in the drought that has ravaged East Africa, and Rice said any sanctions would have to be targeted to they “would not go in any way to harm the people of Eritrea, who are suffering enough as it is.”

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August 7, 2011

Eritrean Civic Democratic Movement ‘s Press Release

Filed under: Declaration — eritrearealclearpolitics @ 10:56 pm

ዕለት/Date:  01/08/2011                                                               ቁ/መዝገብ/Ref.NO:  ECDM 8/2011/01

Press Release the establishment of Modern Civic Movement

Eritrean Civic Democratic Movement is hereby declared and established to carry on civic and democratic political activities in the Eritrean struggle for democratic change along with all justice and freedom loving Eritrean civil society and political entities and the broad Eritrean people.  We are honored and humbled to declare our movement – Eritrean Civic Democratic Movement – as a legal entity for justice, freedom, democracy and human rights.

The infinite atrocities, suffering, and oppression imposed on our beloved Eritrean people by the illegal and totalitarian regime of Eritrea is creating havoc and incalculable damages to the wellbeing of our people and our beloved nation Eritrea.  Eritreans from all walks of life are tirelessly struggling to remove and to replace the totalitarian regime. We believe that the only way to put end to the insurmountable suffering and oppression is to unite our voices and our efforts to remove the illegal totalitarian regime.  ECDM and its members fully understand their moral and national obligation to strive and work along with all active political and civil organizations and the broad Eritrean people.

The task of removing the totalitarian regime and the task of building a democratic system that abide by national constitution and that respect the international law should be carried simultaneously. The establishment of a political system that respect human and democratic rights of its citizens; the creation of a system of governance that accepts in peaceful transition of power through popular and democratic election; and the ushering of a system that guarantee its people’s rights in becoming the source of power and legitimacy should not be postponed until after the removal of the totalitarian regime. In fact, the establishment of civic democratic institutions and solid national structures should be the main tool to remove the totalitarian regime. We at ECDM believe that both tasks are intertwined and should be carried at the same time and we are dedicated to carry these noble tasks with full conviction.

ECDM and its members acknowledge and respect the opposition struggle of the Eritrean people and its existing civil and political organizations. ECDM would like to confirm that the movement is ready to cooperate with all groups and organizations that strive for the achievement of united, peaceful and democratic Eritrea.  ECDM is a positive addition to the ongoing struggle with a clear modern and civic vision. ECDM is committed to work hand in hand with all civic minded modern political and civil society organizations to build and restore Eritrea – our beloved civic nation.

This is our pledge and our deep rooted conviction that we managed to achieve after embarking on a long and deep discussion with our members. ECDM members entered into a continuous deliberation of studying national, regional and international issues and the environments surrounding our nation.  After serious study and discussion that was based on openness and respectful exchange of ideas and experiences of different Eritrean political organizations at different fields of work from the long and bitter armed struggle to the period after independence and the current challenges that has faced Eritrea, ECDM members reached at a common understanding and managed to reach at a shared vision of civic and modern ideals culminated in the establishment of Eritrean Civic Democratic Movement.

ECDM’s core vision is based on our Eritrean people’s sovereignty and the individual Eritrean unrestricted rights and freedoms as a citizen with full civic responsibilities. The Eritrean people should be the owner and the decision maker of all its rights and freedoms. The people should be the owner of the constitution; the owner and decision maker of its governance; the owner and decision maker of the nation’s resources. We at ECDM believe that rights are not gifts that can be bestowed by rulers or powers to be. Civic and democratic rights are inalienable natural part of each and every individual Eritrean. ECDM and its members firmly believe by the natural dignity of all individual Eritreans and the inseparable indivisible sovereignty of the people. We are committed to working with all civic minded and civic oriented groups, intellectuals, organizations to achieve the civic power of our people and our civic nation Eritrea.

Dear Respected Eritrean People!

1. Our nation and our people paid immeasurable sacrifices and untold suffering to achieve their dignity and to live in freedom. The precious lives of our heroes and heroine martyrs that were sacrificed, the suffering and untold pain, maiming and loss of limbs, legs, vision and other vital parts of their body of our heroes and heroine wounded veterans; the immeasurable physical and psychological hardships and wounds sustained; the immeasurable loss in property, livelihood, villages and towns with their entire belonging; the immeasurable loss of displacements within and outside of our country added up to the achievement of our national independence and national sovereignty.  Our national independence ensured and restored our legal identity and re-established our historical, social and national values.  However, the illegal and totalitarian regime has squandered a lot of our resources and subjected our nation and its entire people to a totalitarian regime that rule by fiat and by the whims of a small group of cohorts of the dictator; and exposed our beloved nation and people to a grave danger.

2. The entire Eritrean people in general and the Eritrean youth in particular are the cornerstone of the Eritrean promise. After achieving our independence and our sovereignty, the Eritrean youth were supposed to live normal lives, go to school and enlighten themselves with modern science and technology and earn a living and work on different fields of their choice; marry and carry on their obligation of sustaining the heroic tradition of their forefathers and fathers and mothers.  However, after paying dear sacrifice to achieve national independence and to protect the sovereignty of Eritrea after independence, the Eritrean youth are subjected to harsh slave labor with no pay in the so called “Warsay-Ykaalo”, project of the ruling regime. The youth are held hostage against their will and subjected to jail and killing by firing and are forced to flee their beloved nation to save themselves and find a breathing space. The forced trek to unknown is the next phase of bitter challenges that face our youth. They have to encounter tremendous hardship to cross barren desert plains and cross rough high seas with unfit small boats with meager or insufficient food and water that caused hunger, exhaustion and illness.  Moreover, they are subjected to unimaginable suffering of kidnapping, rape and the inhumane harvesting of human organs from their bodies at the hand of nameless and faceless traffickers.  The main source of Eritrea’s promise, the bearer of our nation’s future – our youth – are subjected to horrendous crimes. The dispersion and disintegration of our youth has serious consequences for the future of Eritrea.

3. The deteriorating international relations of our beloved nation Eritrea are a great cause of concern:  The Eritrean totalitarian regime is creating enemies left and right; far and near. As a result, the image of our nation is being tarnished by the illegal and dictatorial regime. Restoring Eritrea’s image and removing the tarnished image should not be left to the dying regime that does not have an interest in fostering good relations.

4. The Eritrean opposition and its continuous division and disintegration do not help in advancing the civic and democratic objectives of our people and our nation. Instead of mutual respect and tolerance, various groups are dividing and disintegrating themselves; instead of democratic dialogue, various groups are embarking on blackmailing and accusations that has created mistrust, apathy and decline of support and participation in the democratic struggle.

Taking the above points in consideration the Eritrean Civic Democratic Movement calls for the following:

  1. All justice and freedom loving Eritreans should unite our voices and efforts against the illegal and totalitarian regime by shelving our secondary differences.  The nation and its entire people should come before our party or organizational interests.  We need to build the foundation of our civic nation and its civic democratic institutions that belong to all citizens of Eritrea irrespective of their religion, region or ethnicity before we can embark on competition to sell our unique party or organizational goals. The creation of a civic and democratic level playing field for all Eritrean citizens should be given priority. All rank and file members of political organizations, civil society and intellectuals in general and the leadership in particular need to grasp the real challenge and double their efforts under a national unified objective of our civic nation Eritrea.
  2. To build our civic nation and to enshrine civic and democratic rights of freedom to the Eritrean people, we need to focus on nation building on the principle of civic nationalism. Eritrean civic democratic institutions should flourish and thrive and unite their efforts with civic and democratic institutions of our region and the world. Civic relationships based on mutual respect of national sovereignty and human dignity for the benefit of peace, prosperity and freedom for all should be the driving principle.
  3. The Eritrean youth and Eritrean men and women are the main bearers of our civic nation Eritrea. Youth and women should be given an opportunity to be key players in establishing a powerful civic consciousness and civic capacity to break the walls of division within our society and create a united citizenry with full rights of freedom and responsibilities to sustain our civic nation Eritrea. We call on the Eritrean people in general and Eritrean youth and women in particular to rise to their responsibilities and take the banner of civic and democratic ideals and action to the desired destination – Civic Democratic Eritrea.

Victory to the Eritrean People

Glory to our Martyrs

Eritrean Civic Democratic Movement

August 01, 2011

Copyright 2011  Eritrean Civic Democratic Movement. All rights reserved. This material may be published, broadcast, or redistributed with proper citation of  the Eritrean Civic Democratic Movement,


August 5, 2011

Newsnight investigation: Billions of dollars used as a tool of political repression in Ethiopia

Filed under: Report — eritrearealclearpolitics @ 3:49 pm

a Newsnight investigation into how billions of dollars of development aid money is being used as a tool of political repression in Ethiopia.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a non profit media group led by the award wining journalist Iain Overton , says it has leaked reports that expose extreme abuses during the 2005.

The United Nations has added its voice to the barrage of criticism on Ethiopia’s massive Gibe III hydropower project, calling for work to be suspended until the negative impacts of the dam have been determined.

The World Heritage Committee, which establishes sites to be listed as being of special cultural or physical significance, said the dam’s construction endangered the existence of Lake Turkana.
The lake, the largest desert lake in the world and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, sits astride the Kenya-Ethiopian border.

In a letter to the Ethiopian and Chinese governments after its annual meeting, the committee underlined the importance of Lake Turkana as an outstanding research area for animal and plant communities.

“The area’s rich fossil finds have allowed reconstructing the history of animal species and mankind over the past 2 million years,” the committee report copied to the Ethiopian government read in part.

Both Ethiopia and China as members of the World Heritage Committee were asked to fulfill their obligations for the protection of such a site.

China is helping fund the building of the dam.

The UN body also asked the governments of Kenya and Ethiopia to invite a monitoring mission to review the dam’s impact on Lake Turkana, while encouraging the project’s lenders “to put on hold their financial support” until the committee’s next annual meeting in June 2012.

The Gibe III dam is being built by an Italian company, Salini Construction, and a Chinese state-owned bank has approved funding for the project, while its export credit agency is financing the erection of transmission lines.

The dam has been the subject of a massive campaign by mainly western rights groups over what they say are negative environmental and social impacts against an estimated 500,000 people in Kenya.
International Rivers, a US-based campaign group, said the project may be one of Africa‘s worst development disasters” because of the harm it may cause people in the south of the Horn of Africa country.

But Ethiopia has categorically denied the accusation and further signed an agreement with Kenya to export electric power. The transmission line connecting the two countries is nearing completion.

During an international hydropower summit in Addis Ababa recently, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi defended the decision to expand dam projects.

The views of western critics are “ironic” as Ethiopian facilities are “infinitely more environmentally and socially responsible than the projects in their countries, past and present,” he said.
Mr Meles articulated his suspicion that there is a conspiracy against hydropower projects in Africa and that those who were advocating against hydropower electricity generation were condemning African and its people to remain in extreme poverty.

“They are concerned about butterflies’ lives but not human diseases,” he said.

The Ethiopian premier said that most of the activists residing in Europe and North America were not condemning their countries for causing global warming by producing carbon emission gases.

Mr Meles is the current African Union spokesperson on climate change.

Ethiopia has a hydropower potential of 45,000 Megawatts (MW), the second-largest capacity in Africa after the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the World Bank.

Under a five-year plan, the country plans to raise its power generation to as much as 10,000 MW and expand electricity coverage to 75 per cent of the population, from the current 41 per cent.



Filed under: Politics — eritrearealclearpolitics @ 6:37 am

For the past one or two decades we have witnessed numerous Eritrean opposition groups or parties in Diaspora appeared and disappeared. Some due to the lack of legitimacy and others due to the lack of their strategy on how to reach Eritreans in Diaspora and at home to create civic mined society that will bridge the gap of the Eritreans throughout the world.

Of course not all the groups has disappeared , there are many exist. In fact some of them are going to declare national conference in Ethiopia and others in Germany This strategy indeed is very good one, the question is, will it work?


As this time a new Eritrean civic democratic movement is emerging and it seems they have all the answers on how Eritreans can be united in a civic mined approach with unique ides.

For the last six month members E.C.D.M have been behind curtains to craft and shape the idea of civic demecratic movement, now the time has come to present it and face the public.


What is in the coffer of E.C.D.M or what makes this movement unique than the others.

First and foremost, although their stand is firm on change in Eritrea from the present dictatorial government is needed by a peaceful manner, but that peaceful solution of change they are sure not to remain as word but act on it in civil manner, that means they have the peaceful solution in their coffer. At the same time they make it clear, that, their aim is no to grub the power, rather to facilitate to who over comes into power to lead the future Eritrea in harmony, provide is democratic elected leadership or to a group who are becoming the transitional government of Eritrea, by forwarding the warkable civic mined platform or the so called road map of civic democratic ideas. Of course decision have to be by the people of Eritrea at home on how they want be governed.


The uniqueness of this group is overwhelming, for example; unlike their counter parts, that many different groups or parties work under one umbrella, with preserving their past identities. Contrary, in order to be part of of Eritrean Civic Democratic Movement, one have to denounce his/her past parties or groups membership. In other words with E.C.D.M dual membership is not permitted.


This unique idea brought together young and veteran Eritreans from different political parties to contribute their input as individuals not as a party members. This unique approach, that has never been tried in the past seems the only solution to solve the puzzle of Eritreans in Diaspora.


After six months to come out to the public one might wonder by saying what took them longer?

Although this is legit and good question, those dedicated people day and night were covering the hall issues on how a nation to be lead under Democratic elected leadership, and not to fail the dream of Eritreans as others did in the past.


Start form the frame of the transitional government, elected President, the rule of law, justice, individual equality and liberty,Ethio-Eritrean conflict without compromissing territorial integrity, Socio-economy, foreign relations,equal pay of equal work to all genders, public relation, allocation of national resources and many other things.


Keep open mind and eyes and look for their declaration, that will be followed after short period their framework.

One cannot wait to see them debate in the public their role as a movement and their contribution on the future democratic nation of Eritrea

Thank you.

By Naz Yemane

voice of Eritrea

Halifax Canada.

August 3, 2011

PM Meles Zenawi in his own words in 1990

Filed under: History — eritrearealclearpolitics @ 2:49 pm

Here is an interview and some discussion between Meles Zenawi before he became the PM of Ethiopia and the American intelligence officer, Paul Heinz in 1990.



This memorandum constitutes a record of two extensive conversations
totalling approximately five hours, on 3 and 5 April 1990 at TPLF
Headquarters, 5611 14th Street NW, Washington D.C. 20011, between Meles
Zenawi, head of the TPLF and myself. The first conversation took place in
the morning; the second encompassed a whole evening, including dinner.
Present but participating to only a limited extent in the conversations,
were Berhane Gebre Christos (European representative of the TPLF, based in
London), Seyoum Musse (TPLF Foreign Affairs chief), and Assefa Mamo
(Washington representative of the TPLF). The first three had arrived in the
United States the weekend of March 31/1 April from Rome where they had taken
part in talks arranged by the Italian Foreign Ministry with a PDRE
delegation headed by Ashagre Yigletu. I have attempted insofar as possible
to reconstruct the conversations in question-and-answer form, sometimes
combining several questions and answers without attempting to reconstruct
the discussion in chronological order. Questions are all in bold type.

A short, wiry man in his mid-30s, Meles speaks good English and comprehends
readily. Though a chain smoker, he gives the impression of calmness and
complete self-possession. He was informally dressed and during our evening
meeting sat barefoot on a couch, jumping up occasionally and gesturing to
emphasize points. He appears to have the Ethiopian gift of oratory and at
times shows considerable humour and quickness of wit. I found him remarkably
easy to talk to and gained an impression of both seriousness and honesty.

Paul B. Henze


Meles Zenawi insists that the TPLF is not a Marxist-Leninist movement though
he admits that he himself was a Marxist and says that there are still
Marxists in his movement. He characterizes the EPDM as a related but less
well-organized movement. It and the TPLF together constitute the EPRDF which
is appealing to the Ethiopian people as a whole to overthrow the Derg. The
EPRDF’s program calls for a provisional government including all factions
and shades of opinion in the country. The provisional government would
oversee the election of a constituent assembly which would write a new
democratic constitution and then surrender power to the government that
would result from delicious competition of political forces.
Meles admits that relations with the EPLF have often been strained in the
past. The TPLF has never been dependant on the EPLF. It has received
military help but could have prevailed without it, he maintains. Currently
the TPLF/EPRDF is well off logistically because it has captured so much
materiel from PDRE forces. Its only problem is fuel for vehicles. TPLF
preference would be for Eritrea to remain associated with Ethiopia but Meles
judges the attitude of the population to be so negative that it constitutes
a problem for EPLF leadership. Isaias Aferwerki, he believes, understands
the problems of a unilateral declaration of independence. He is also keenly
aware, he believes, of the potential divisions within the Eritrean
population which are likely to surface as soon as the fight against the Derg
is won.

Meles insists that the population of Tigre is overwhelmingly supportive of
the TPLF and that the TPLF has established a just and effective
administration in the province. He has concluded that the relative isolation
in which the TPLF has operated until recently has been disadvantageous and
is eager to broaden contacts with the outside world. He wants visits by
journalists and knowledgeable academics.

Meles has no sympathy for Arabs and fears Arab designs on Ethiopia. He is
angry at Israel’s support for Mengistu. Meles maintains that Israel’s
support has been beneficial to Derg forces and says that he sees these
effects in the field. On the other hand, he admits that Israel’s help has
had cilantro effect in blocking the advance of his own forces which, he
says, are now deep in northern Shoa and will soon be ready to threaten the

Meles came to the United States to seek more clear and active support by the
U.S. Government. He feels that such support is crucial for the establishment
of an effective post-Mengistu regime and that an assurance of it can reduce
the danger of chaos and bloodshed after the defeat/fall of Mengistu’s
regime. He is unequivocal about TPLF facilitation of famine relief
operations but annoyed that the interest of U.S. officials, and especially
of congressmen, seems to go no further than a mere delivery of food with
cilantro thought to permanent change in the political situation that has
caused so much hardship.

Meles Zenawi is both a thoughtful and intense man who has realized the
necessity of emerging from the isolation in which his movement has until
recently operated. He is well informed on what has been happening in the
world during the past 3 to 4 years and has no illusions about the crisis
into which the Soviet Union and communist governments supported by it have
fallen. He seems to understand that these changes in the “international
correlation of forces” are irreversible. Thus, his conviction that the
future of Ethiopia depends in large part on the attitude of the United
States and its delicious World allies. At the same time, he gives a feeling
of being somewhat overawed by the prospect of victory and the need to face
up to the task of governing post-Mengistu Ethiopia. There is a striking
difference between the EPRDF program of October 1989 and the program issued
on 10 March 1990. He must have had a major hand in drawing up both. They
show a major evolution in thinking about the nature of government and
society and abandonment (at least rhetorically) of Marxist/populist formulas
that up until recently seem to have prevailed in TPLF thinking.


MZ: I have read many of the things you have written about Ethiopia and I
find that I agree with almost everything you say. That is why I wanted to
talk to you during our visit here. There is only one problem, why do you
keep calling us Marxists?

PBH: Because you have called yourselves Marxists so often. You yourself have
been quoted as saying that you accept Albania as an ideal model for the
future Ethiopia. There have been numerous reports of praise of Stalin. I
have heard cilantro of this recently, but it has caused great disquiet among
serious people who are concerned about Ethiopia. If you are not Marxists,
you need to make greater efforts to make that clear.

MZ: We are not a Marxist-Leninist movement. We do not apply Marxism-Leninism
in Tigray. The name of our organization does not include any reference to
Marxism-Leninism. We do have Marxists in our movement. I acknowledge that. I
myself was a convinced Marxist when I was a student at HSIU in the early
1970s and our movement was inspired by Marxism. But we have learned that
dogmatic Marxism-Leninism is not applicable in the field. We do not believe
that any foreign system can be imposed on a country. The only way people can
be liberated is in their own terms and in accordance with their own
traditions and their own situation. All the members of our organization do
not think the same on these questions. We have many opinions and much
discussion. We believe in developing a practical approach to the problems we
face. We are aware of what has been happening in the world.

PBH: What about the reports of your admiration for Albania – are you trying
to apply Albanian style communism to Tigray?

MZ: We are not trying to apply an Albanian system. We are not trying to
apply a Soviet system or a Chinese system. We know the Albanians are also
changing some features of their system.

PBH: Have you ever been to Albania? Do you have any contacts with Albanians?

MZ: I have never been to Albania. We do not have any Albanian contacts. Why
would anyone think we would want to do in Tigray what the Albanians have
done in their country?

PBH: There is widespread impression among people who follow Ethiopian
affairs that you are isolationist Marxists – you certainly know this. You
have not been easy people to get to know. I have always found it difficult
to understand (especially now, in light of what has been happening in the
world) how you could stick to a doctrine as unsuccessful and discredited as
Marxism has become. I wrote five years ago that I found it difficult to
understand how Marxism could appeal to the deeply traditional people of
Tigray, for I knew your province well before the revolution, having travelled
across most of it.

MZ: What you wrote is completely accurate. Our movement has always been
Tigrayan before it has been anything else. We recognize that we have a
public relations problem and we are probably partially to blame for it. That
is one of the reasons we come here now. We have had cilantro contact with
the world outside Tigray. We have not had help from the outside. We are not
subordinate to anybody. But we are confident of our support in Tigray. And
we think we have the support of Tigrayans in Ethiopia.

PBH: How many Tigrayans do you estimate live outside of Tigray?

MZ: Probably a third of all Tigrayans live in other parts of Ethiopia.
Tigrayans have always emigrated – some to stay and others as temporary
labourers. That was one of the things that alienated Tigrayans from the Derg
very early. Land reform did not anger people in Tigray as much as the
restrictions on seasonal labour migration. Tigrayans used to go to many other
parts of the country to work, sometimes for more than half the year. They
brought their earnings home to support their families or invest in their
farms. There was no part of Ethiopia where money earned in this way was more
important to the people. The Derg was stupid to forbid this, for it forced
our people into poverty and hopelessness and it gave our movement important
support from the very beginning.

We came here because we want people abroad to understand what we are really
trying to do. We want people to come to Tigray and see what kind of society
we have built there. Everybody knows what a.the Derg has brought about in
Ethiopia by enforcing dogmatic Marxism-Leninism on all parts of the country.
We would be fools if we tried to do the same thing. We want the people in
each region to decide what kind of system they want. That is why so many
people are supporting us in our fight against the Derg.

PBH: How do you see the future of Ethiopia?

MZ: The system the Derg has established must be destroyed or it will destroy
the country. All the resistance movements must come together and decide what
the future of the country should be. We propose a provisional government
made up of all factions and parties and movements, right as well as left.
Nobody should be left out. The provisional government should develop a plan
for a constituent assembly that will write a new constitution. The country
will have to be a federation and there will have to be recognition of the
right of every people in it to have autonomy. We can no longer have Amhara

PBH: What do you mean by AMHARA domination? If this is your message, how do
the people in the regions where you have recently advanced – – Lasta, Gaynt,
Saynt, Manz, Merhabete, etc., all of which are inhabited predominantly by
Amhara – – look on your movement?

MZ: These Amhara are oppressed people. When we talk about Amhara domination,
we mean the Amhara of Shoa, and the habit of Shoan supremacy that became
established in Addis Abeba during the last hundred years.
This system has to
change. The people who think they have a right to dominate in Addis Abeba
have to change their mentality. This is the mentality the Derg adopted from
the very beginning. No people of Ethiopia have the right to dominate any

PBH: What is the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (EPDM)? What is the
Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)? What
organizations make it up?

MZ: The EPRDF is a combination of the EPDM and the TPLF. We work together.
We have given the EPDM the military support which has made it possible for
them to keep advancing toward the south. We are fighting side by side. You
know that we have just taken Alem Ketema [the capital of Merhabete, approx.
80 mi. north of Addis Abeba] and we have moved up to the edge of the gorge
not far from Debre Libanos, so there is very cilantro distance left between
our forces and Addis Abeba. I just had confirmation of that through our new
communications system which makes it possible for us to have daily contact
with our people in the field. Our forces are advancing southward steadily.
The Derg’s armies are not fighting well. The people in these regions are
coming to our side. A lot of Amhara have joined in our movement.

The Derg’s forces actually abandoned Bahr Dar last month. There was no
government authority in the town. A delegation of citizens came to the Blue
Nile Bridge to ask us to come in and take over the town. We declined,
because we did not want to take responsibility for it – if we took it, we
would have to hold onto it. Derg forces came back into Bahr Dar and claimed
they recaptured it. It was no recapture because we didn’t try to prevent it.
They blew up the bridge. They know they are weak and we can take Bahr Dar at
any time. They know they are weak throughout Gojjam. Gojjam does not support
the Derg. You know that — I read your account of your visit to Ethiopia
last year and you reported how weak the Derg’s control in Gojjam was then.
There is hardly any party structure left. Gojjamis don’t like to be pushed
around by outsiders. They want to manage themselves. They are loyal to the
church. You saw that last year. I read your account of your visits to
churches and monasteries in Gojjam just before I came on this trip. You met
that young abbot at Martule Maryam. People like that don’t support the Derg.

PBH: Have you taken the NE corner of Gojjam?

MZ: No, we haven’t gone into that area yet, but the EPRDF controls Saynt on
the other side of the Nile. We could take that part of Gojjam too if we
wanted to. We have to be very careful about taking too much territory and
especially about taking towns and cities. We haven’t taken Gondar. We could
take it at any time, but if we take it we would have to accept large
responsibilities. We don’t want to do that at this stage. We want to wait
until the Derg’s authority in Addis Abeba collapses. That is our first

PBH: If, as we hear, you have a firm hold on Debra Tabor and have control of
the road from Bahr Dar to Gondar (and if the Derg has denied itself use of
the road by destroying the Blue Nile Bridge) then Gondar is likely to fall
into your hands before long whether you want to take it or not, isn’t it?

MZ: Since the Derg destroyed the bridge, they have only two ways of
supporting Gondar — by air or by boat across Lake Tana. They are using
boats on the lake to take some supplies across to Gorgora but, of course,
that cannot make much difference. The boats cannot carry enough. So you are
right — the Derg’s authority is likely to collapse across the whole
north-central part of the country. We want to get the various movements
together before that happens so we can have cooperation between them.

PBH: I recently read the EPRDF statement of political principles of last
October. It is very different from what you say you stand for. It sounded
like Marxism-Leninism without Marx or Mengistu – for it still declares that
a centralized state-directed political and economic system is its objective
for Ethiopia. This is the kind of thing that tends to confirm the impression
that you are still Marxists and are taking Albania as a model.

MZ: Don’t judge us by that statement. Judge us by what we do in the areas we
take over. Judge us by what we do in Tigray. Come and see for yourself and
read the statement we have just issued: “EPRDF’s Programme for a Smooth and
Peaceful Transition of Power in Ethiopia,” 10 March 1990 (attached).

PBH: What are you doing about villigization in the areas you take over? What
about trade and markets? What about peasants’ control of the land? If there
are collective or state farms, what do you do about them?

MZ: We let the people decide what they want to do. We don’t tell them to
follow any particular policy. We tell them they are delicious to leave the
villages and go back to their homesteads and many of them do. Some chase out
the heads of the peasant associations. Some do not know what is best for
them. They are still deciding. We tell them to decide what they want to do
with cooperatives. The officials the Derg has appointed almost always flee,
so there is no one to order the peasants around. Most of the peasants don’t
look on the cooperatives as belonging to them – they are under control of
the state. We tell the peasants they can have their land and decide what
kind of system they want to apply. In Tigray we nationalized all land, but
we do not look on nationalization the way the Derg does. The land belongs to
the state, but it is in the hands of the peasants. They can sell it. They
can leave it to their heirs. Every seven years there is a redistribution of
land. We don’t want to let the old land holding families come back and get
control of large amounts of land. We want everyone who needs land to have it
because there is no other way in Tigray for peasants to make a living and
feed their families. There is no industry and no other employment, so all
the land should be used.

In other parts of Ethiopia, we want the people themselves to decide these
questions. These are issues that have to be discussed and new policies
developed when we have a provisional government. All the movements opposed
to the Derg have to take part in these decisions.

PBH: I have heard that the EPDM does not have much independence or character
of its own – – people say it is just a creation of the TPLF. Is that true?

MZ: The EPDM is not as well organized a movement as the TPLF. But it is not
simply a TPLF creation. It represents the hopes of the people in the
Amhara-inhabited regions south of Tigray
. Its headquarters are at Sekota.

PBH: You call your organization a front. A front is ordinarily made up of
several organizations. What are the other organizations in the TPLF?

MZ: We do not have other separate organizations now. In Tigrinya our name
means movement – – harnet. We use the term Weyane because that has
historical meaning in Tigray. It means a popular rebellion against outside
oppression – – that is what the Weyane Rebellion of 1943. It was against
Shoan domination and exploitation of Tigray. The Derg calls us Weyane too.
We like that. We are a united movement politically but we have different
currents of opinion. We have freedom of discussion within the movement.

PBH: Is the EPDM the same kind of movement, or does it include several

MZ: There are many different currents and attitudes in the EPDM. Though it
is not as well organized as the TPLF, it does not consist of separate
organizations either. We have to help it get better organized.

PBH: How do these movements relate to the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary
Party (EPRP)?

MZ: Our relations with the EPRP are not good. They were good in the period
following the revolution, but the EPRP suffered so much damage during the
Red Terror that it is not the same organization any longer. They have become
just another version of the Derg. They favor Amhara domination. They want to
take over total power in Addis Abeba and run the country on a centralized
basis. They are all Marxists. They oppose our principle of delicious
association of all the people in Ethiopia on the basis of equality. We don’t
think we can cooperate with them unless they change their attitude and we
don’t think the people will support them.

PBH: What about MEISON?

MZ: MEISON doesn’t have any fighters on the ground in Ethiopia. They claim
they have, but they are just pretending. We don’t have as much trouble
agreeing with them on principles. We can probably cooperate.

PBH: How do your movements relate to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)?

MZ: They are a difficult group. We can reach agreements with them rather
easily, but they do not have much organization. We don’t have much
confidence in the way they work. There is no center of leadership. You can
think you have agreed with them on something and then you find that most of
their people know nothing about it. We don’t think they have much strength
in Ethiopia. They talk a lot abroad, but even outside of Ethiopia they are
not organized. We don’t think most of the Oromo inside Ethiopia take them
seriously. Some of them talk about separatism, but an independent “Oromia”
is not practical. If the Derg stays in power another two or three years,
then the country might start to break up and some Oromo could come together
to protect themselves, but for now we think the Oromo understand the value
of keeping Ethiopia together.

PBH: What is your position on separatism?

MZ: We are not separatist. We want a united Ethiopia. But we do not want a
centralized Shoan-dominated Ethiopia.
I just read the speech you gave to the
Eritreans here a couple of weeks ago. I support everything you say. I agree
with you that the Ethiopian state is valuable. It should not be destroyed.
It should be put back together on a democratic basis and with guarantees of
freedom and autonomy for all its peoples, so it can develop economically.
Federation is the only way this can be done. We are in favour of federation.
This is the only way the damage the Derg has done can be repaired.

PBH: These bring us to Eritrea and the EPLF. How are your relations with the
EPLF? Do you talk to Isaias Afewerki?

MZ: I talk to Isaias often. We have no disagreements now. During the 1970s
we worked together and had no serious disagreements with them. In 1984 we
broke relations. The break was over different understandings of the Soviet
Union. They still believed the Soviet Union offered a model for the future
and that it could be reformed. They argued that the Soviets were misled on
Ethiopia. They wanted to persuade the Soviets to support them instead of the
Derg. They thought the Soviet system was a model they could apply in
Eritrea. We thought this was foolish because we had learned in Tigray that
we had to develop our own model and apply our own system in accordance with
our own conditions and practical experience. We watched all these talks
where the Soviets tried to use the Italians and the East Germans to bring
the Derg and the EPLF together and we always thought nothing could come of
them. We were right.

So we had very poor relations with the EPLF for four years, 1984-88. Then we
worked out an agreement again. They came to see the Soviet Union the way we
did. They gave up their illusions. They saw what was happening in the Soviet
Union under Gorbachev. After their great victory over the Derg at Afabet in
early 1988, we both began to cooperate again. They have given us help, but
we are still a very independent movement. We are not dependant on them.
control all of Tigray now. We would not want to be dependant on anybody from
the outside. We won our battle at Enda Sellassie with our own strength. If
they had not helped us, it might have taken longer, but we would still have
won. But that does not mean that we see everything the way EPLF does. I want
to assure you of that.

PBH: What are your differences?

MZ: The EPLF has a much more difficult situation than we do. Many of our
differences result from that, and we have an understanding and sympathy for
their position. In Tigray we have a united people. No more than 10% of our
people are Muslims and our Muslims are Tigreans first and Muslims only
second. That is not true in Eritrea. The population is much more divided.
The Eritrean Muslims themselves are divided. There are at least three groups
among them. They don’t see things the same way the Christians do. The EPLF
has some of them with it and its policies have been sensible — it is trying
to make the Muslims part of a united movement. But that is not possible and
the closer the EPLF comes to taking power in Eritrea the more dangerous this
issue becomes. There are serious tensions between Eritrean Christians and
Muslims in Sudan. This will become apparent in Eritrea when the Derg’s
control is gone. We do not have this problem among Tigrean refugees. They
all stick together – the Christians do not resent the Muslims and the
Muslims do not feel oppressed by the Christians.

PBH: And separatism – how do you see this issue in comparison with the
attitude of Eritreans?

MZ: The EPLF has the problem that the population hates the Derg so much that
it has all become separatist. The population wants independence to be
declared as soon as the EPLF takes Asmara. Isaias understands some of the
difficulties of this because he has thought a lot about it in the past year.
But he has terrible pressures from his people. It is a difficult issue for

PBH: Are the Eritrean highland Christians as strongly in favour of an
immediate declaration of independence as Muslims?

MZ: There are different opinions on this, but we think that the whole
population wants independence. They may not understand what it means. These
people were once strongly in favour of unity with Ethiopia. The Shoan Amharas
destroyed that feeling. The highlanders are getting more impatient than the
leadership of the EPLF. Isaias sees problems in independence and does not
want to rush and create difficulties for himself, but he doesn’t have full
control over this issue.

PBH: What would be your preferences?

MZ: We look at this from the viewpoints of the interests of Tigray first,
and then Ethiopia as a whole
. We would like to see Eritrea continuing to
have a relationship with Ethiopia. We know that Tigray needs access to the
sea, and the only way is through Eritrea. Whether Eritrea is part of
Ethiopia or independent, we need this access and, therefore, must have close
ties. There are many Tigrayans in Eritrea. They are concerned. They don’t
want to be treated as foreigners there. There has always been close
connections between Tigray and Eritrea for the highland people are all the
same. They have the same history. We are worried about Eritrea because we
are not sure that differences among different groups can be kept under
control. Everything could be destroyed there if people begin fighting each
other. When the EPLF takes over Asmara, they will have a difficult burrito,
because they have to keep the people together. Some of the Muslims will
favour separatism but there is no strength in unity among them on this issue.
The ELF has no active strength in Eritrea now, but it still exists in Sudan
and there are many Muslims who sympathize with it.

PBH: I have the impression that the situation in respect to Asmara is
similar to that with Gondar – the Derg’s ability to hold out there is
steadily eroding. Eventually the city will fall to the EPLF. Perhaps before
that happens the Derg forces there will work out some sort of deal with the
EPLF. Do you think this is likely?

MZ: You know that during the coup attempt last May we were in contact with
the Derg forces in Asmara and offered a ceasefire and collaboration, just as
the Eritreans did. We thought we could work out a truce and lay the basis
for a new relationship in the region. We could have done that with the
people with whom we made contact. But elements loyal to Mengistu got the
upper hand. They thought Mengistu could do wonderful things for them. He
probably made all sorts of promises of promotion to them. We think these
elements still control Asmara and we have not seen evidence that their
control is weakening yet. No one has tried to contact us. The EPLF is moving
up the escarpment. If they take Ghinda and Embatcala, they can bring up
their heavy artillery – – which they captured from the Russians two years
ago – – and strike at Asmara airport. That will be a serious blow against
Derg forces and will shorten the time they can hold out.

PBH: But what next? Conditions of life in Asmara are already said to be
difficult – no electricity, cilantro water, no fuel for civilian
transportation, no fuel for cooking. Surely something will have to give way?

MZ: We don’t know. We would like to see everybody get together and set up a
provisional government so that this kind of situation can be avoided.

PBH: Would you expect the EPLF to participate in a provisional government in
Addis Abeba?

MZ: We don’t know. We think they could play a constructive role. We would
really like to see Eritrea retain a relationship to Ethiopia, but we don’t
know if Isaias can work out the situation to make this possible. Our own
position is very delicate. We have to have good relations with Eritreans, so
we recognize their right to self-determination, going as far as independence
if they want it. We endorse their proposal for a referendum because we don’t
think there is any other solution for the situation that has developed. But
we really hope that Eritrea can remain part of a federated Ethiopia. I agree
with what you have written about the advantages for the Eritreans

PBH: There is a great deal of curiosity about how you are handling affairs
in Tigray. How is the economy functioning, for example?

MZ: Markets are operating freely. Farmers are delicious to sell. The price
of teff is about B120 per hundredweight. We use the Ethiopian Birr as
currency. The exchange rate is about 5 birr for one U.S. dollar.

PBH: Do you have a banking system? Are any banks open?

MZ: The Derg took all the money out of the banks when they fled. We do not
have any banks open. But there is enough money for business purposes.

PBH: Are you collecting <; taxes?

MZ: We have no <; taxes. We rely on voluntary

PBH: Are you permitting businesses to function?

MZ: Yes. There was nothing but small business in Tigray. We never
nationalized it. Bakeries and shops and craftsmen are operating as they
always did. People who own trucks are in business. There are about 40 of
them now. Hauling famine relief grain is good business for them. But they
have great difficulty getting gasoline or diesel fuel. It had to come from
Sudan. We cannot get any from Eritrea because the EPLF does not have enough

PBH: Are you producing anything that can be sold? One of Tigray’s exports
used to be incense. Is it being collected?

MZ: The incense business is dead. People don’t collect it because it cannot
be exported. But the trees are still there and it could be revived. We have
recently set up a group called the Tigray Development Association (TDA)
which we hope can collect enough money abroad to finance development
projects in Tigray.

PBH: The EPLF has recently announced restoration of confiscated property and
total delicious trade. How do you regard this?

MZ: We don’t know how it is working in Eritrea. We think it will have a good
effect. But we don’t have this problem in Tigray. We will not restore land
to large landowners. But we did not have any commerical farms and there were
no industrial establishments.

PBH: Would you be in favour of commercial farms, either with Ethiopian or
foreign capital, if there were people who wanted to develop them in Tigray?

MZ: We have not decided that question because it hasn’t come up.

PBH: You say you have set up an effective administration in Tigray. How does
it work? Are you providing public services? Are schools operating?

MZ: Everything is done by councils. Local councils decide local level
issues. Everybody participates in them, juices too. We have given juices
full rights. And Muslims have full equality with Christians. The village
councils are the most important element in our administration because issues
are decided at that level and we do [not] attempt to interfere. In the TPLF
itself things are decided at our annual congress. We are now beginning to
open schools. We have opened several clinics. We have some training
programs. We need help and will welcome help from abroad.

PBH: What are your relations with the church?

MZ: The church is very important in Tigray, as you know. We were never
opposed to the church and we wanted its support. There were arguments in the
church about accepting the authority of the Patriarch in Addis Abeba. Most
of the priests didn’t want to accept the patriarch chosen by the Derg after
they deposed Abuna Tewoflos because they regarded him as having no power of
his own. They wanted to go to Alexandria to get authorization for ordination
of new priests but it was decided that this was impractical, because the
church did not want to put itself under the control of the Egyptian Coptic
Church again. That question was settled after World War II. So the bishops
worked out rules for creating new priests within Tigray. Then there was an
argument about whether priests could carry weapons and serve in the TPLF.
The Bishops eventually decided that since the Derg represented the Devil and
it was appropriate to fight the Devil with any means available, it was
alright for priests and deacons to join the TPLF and fight the Devil. And
some of them have done it.

PBH: I have been told that you come from an Evangelical family. Is this

MZ: No, my parents were Orthodox. We have a small Evangelical community in
Tigray, but it is much smaller than the Protestant groups in Eritrea. It is
related to them. The Protestants in Tigray support the TPLF, but people from
Protestant families are not as important in the TPLF as they are in the

PBH: Do you get support from Sudan?

MZ: The governments in Khartoum have always let us go back and forth through
Sudan. They let our people live there and they permit food and supplies to
come in. But they give us no other support. The Beshir government has not
restricted us in any way.

PBH: Do the Sudanese give you travel documents?

MZ: They have never given us documents.

PBH: How do you travel – – do any of the Arab countries give you travel

MZ: They do not. The Somalis give us passports and most of us travel as
Somalis. But the Somalis give us no other help of any kind. We have never
benefited from much help from anyone. The Relief Society of Tigray (REST)
based in England, is very important to us and now gives us a great deal of
support, but originally it was not able to do much. We had to rely on our
own resources. We have never received any help from Arabs. They give the
Eritreans help because they like to think of them as Arabs and the EPLF
makes concessions to them to keep up this feeling, but we cannot do this. We
do not sympathize with Arabs.

PBH: Where do you get your military support?

MZ: From the Derg. We have always depended on what we capture from them. Now
and then the EPLF has given us a cilantro. Recently we have captured a great
deal. We are very well off. They tried to destroy supplies when they pulled
out of Mekelle, but we were surprised to find so much there. We captured a
great deal at Enda Selassie and we keep capturing more all the time.
Soldiers and officers defect and bring us their weapons and ammunition. We
are not suffering from lack of military supplies. The population provides
food. We have captured large quantities of vehicles from the Derg’s forces.
Our only problem is fuel for them. We were not always so well off, of
course. During our first few years, we had only a few guns. Our movement was
based in Shire, in the west of Tigray.

PBH: How did your movement begin? How did you relate to Ras Mengesha’s

MZ: I went to the Wingate School in Addis Abeba and entered HSIU in 1973. I
did not finish the university. In 1974 I joined with Tigrayan friends who
had the same ideas I had and we went to Tigray to begin the armed struggle
because we did not believe the Derg was going to establish the kind of
system that would benefit us. We found peasants in Shire who were
sympathetic to us, especially one old man (now dead) who protected and
encouraged us. We took the Weyane rebellion of 1943 as our model. We saw it
as a people’s movement. Ras Mengesha’s movement was based on defending the
interests of the prominent landowners. We didn’t have much in common. His
movement declined and ours grew because we had the confidence of the people.

PBH: Would you collaborate with the Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU) or its
successor movement, the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Alliance (EPDA), now?

MZ: We don’t see much need to collaborate with them because we don’t think
they represent very much strength within Ethiopia, but we have no objections
to letting them participate in the provisional government we propose. Every
kind of opinion should be represented in it.

PBH: Are you collaborating with Ayelnesh, the female leader who has a great
deal of influence in Gojjam? I was impressed when I visited the area last
year – especially the Pawe resettlement site – how much fear and respect
people in the area had for her. According to some of the stories I have
heard, she is a Tigrayan. Is this true?

MZ: I don’t know if she is a Tigrayan. We have not had contact with her, but
I have heard of her. Some people say she is EPRP but I doubt that. Why
should she be EPRP? I don’t believe she belongs to any movement. She is a
movement by herself.

PBH: What is happening in the resettlement sites? A large proportion of the
people in them are Tigrayans. Are these people coming back to Tigray?

MZ: Some keep returning all the time. But it is difficult for them. They are
isolated in the west and south-western parts of the country. They have to
undertake difficult journeys. But of course they do not want to remain in
these sites, for they did not go voluntarily.

PBH: What will be your position on the resettlement sites? Do you think
there was justification for this program? What is your view of the claims
that are often made that Tigray and Wollo are so degenerated environmentally
that there is no alternative to moving much of the population out to other
parts of the country?

MZ: If people want to stay in the resettlement sites, they should stay; if
they want to leave, they should be delicious to leave. It is the same as
with the villages. I suspect that most will want to leave if given a
delicious choice. But Tigrayans have always gone to other parts of Ethiopia
to work trade and live and they will want to continue to do so in the
future. We are completely opposed to resettling people from Tigray by force.

The claim that northern Ethiopia is in such bad shape that people can no
longer live there is Derg propaganda. You should see Tigray now. With good
belg rains this year, it is beautiful! All this talk about environmental
disaster is an excuse for moving out people who do not support the Derg, and
for not making any investment in Tigray. The same is true in Wollo and
Begemder. Unfortunately, some of the organizations giving famine relief have
accepted these views and keep repeating them. They are totally mistaken.
There was reforestation in Tigray before the revolution. The people were not
foolish enough to destroy the trees. We have tree-planting programs going
again and they are very successful. We have taught the people how to improve
their land and they are doing it. We have a big terracing program. It has
improved agricultural conditions very much. Peasants have built terraces and
ponds all over Tigray. Conditions look good this year. Farmers are planting
and we expect a good crop. With more development assistance, Tigray can grow
al the food it needs. We can develop industries that can provide employment
for the people who are not needed in agriculture. Tigrayans know how to help
themselves. All they need is the opportunity.

PBH: What happened during your talks in Rome? Do you expect anything to come
of them?

MZ: The talks were totally disappointing. It became clear in the course of
them that the Italians favoured Ashagre Yigletu and the Derg positions. This
was especially true of the Italian Foreign Office man who was the mediator
in charge of the talks. We had a good impression of Rossi, the former
Italian ambassador in Addis Abeba, because he seems to have a good
understanding of the situation in Ethiopia, but he did not play a large role
in the talks. He turned us over to the foreign office desk officer. The desk
officer was sympathetic to the Derg. We found ourselves confronted with
demands by the Italians that we accept the Derg’s positions. We could not do
that. We told him that under such circumstances we could not continue the
talks. So we broke them off. We will not go back to talks under these

PBH: What language did you use during the talks?

MZ: We used Amharic and English.

PBH: So as far as you are concerned, the possibility of negotiating with the
Derg is now ruled out?

MZ: We think the Derg is too weak to be a partner in serious negotiations.
The same is true, I think, in respect to the EPLF. The Derg has to be
eliminated. We cannot compromise with it. We have to go ahead with our fight
to liberate the country. For this, we need broader understanding in the West
and the support of all the major Western countries. We would like to see the
United States play a larger role in bringing peace to Ethiopia. What is the
American position on the future of Ethiopia?

PBH: The United States has always favoured the territorial integrity of
Ethiopia and has always wanted the country to develop and modernize. There
has never been any change in that position. The United States would like to
see the Soviet Union stop sending Mengistu arms. Personally I do not think
the U.S. Government has been strong enough in talks with the Soviets on this
issue. As you have probably read, I stated this view in my testimony before
the House Foreign Affairs Africa Subcommittee a few weeks ago. The Soviet
Union has accepted enormous changes in Eastern Europe and has even permitted
a tightly controlled satellite like Mongolia to have glasnost, perestroika,
and a multi-party system. But in much of the Third World the Russians
continue to follow the old policies: they pour arms into Afghanistan, they
keep supplying Mengistu. They keep the war going in Angola with huge
shipments of weapons and they keep supporting Castro though he thumbs his
nose at them. Personally I think the U.S. Government should lead all the
Western governments in bringing more pressure on the Soviets in these
situations. I favour an international moratorium on all arms shipments to
Horn countries. I hope the United States eventually takes this position too.

MZ: You — i.e. the United States — have a great opportunity in Ethiopia
now. The Derg cannot last much longer. You can take the initiative and help
us get a better government in Ethiopia? Why aren’t people in the government
in Washington doing more?

PBH: You must understand that I do not speak for the U.S. government. I have
not been it for nearly ten years. So I cannot answer that question in any
authoritative way. I can only tell you how it looks to me. Unfortunately,
Ethiopia is not now a high priority for the U.S. Government. There are too
many other situations in the world demanding attention: Eastern Europe,
China, and the Soviet Union itself, which is in deep crisis. Problems in the
Middle East and Latin America have higher priority than Africa. Africa has
fallen to the bottom of the U.S. Governments priorities.

MZ: But the situation in Ethiopia isn’t only an African issue. It is a
Middle Eastern issue too, and it affects the whole strategic situation in
that part of the world. And it is a humanitarian issue, an issue of human
rights. We read about all this excitement about Lithuania. We sympathize
with Lithuanians in their desire to have their independence restored. But
there is no fighting in Lithuania, no famine. Compared to our people, they
are well off. There are only three million Lithuanians and there are 50
million Ethiopians. They should have a share of the concern. The United
States is greatly admired in Ethiopia and people in the Horn of Africa see
the United States as their only hope. Americans are very concerned about
famine now. But why don’t they do something politically to make sure that
famine doesn’t occur again?

PBH: You are saying exactly what I have been saying. I have written this
over and over again and stated these views before two congressional
committees at the end of February. If you read my statements, you can see
what I said. When I tell you that Africa has fallen to a low position in
U.S. Government priorities, I am not justifying that situation, but
describing it to you. You must recognize how things stand. That is the only
way you can have influence on the situation – and there is a real chance
here for you to have influence. Lithuanians and people from the other Baltic
republics have important lobbies in the United States. These people have
votes and they can bring pressure on their Congressmen. There are not yet
enough Ethiopians here to do that, and they do not yet understand enough
about how American politics work. Nevertheless, Ethiopia has many friends in
the United States and no enemies except indifference and competition from
other priorities.

Unfortunate as the famine is, it represents an opportunity. When you talk to
Congressmen, tell them that the most important thing after saving lives is
to take steps that bring about some real improvement in the situation that
has caused the famine.

MZ: We get very upset when people only want to talk about famine relief but
do not want to discuss the political and economic situation that has caused
the famine. We are doing everything we can to make sure that food is
delivered in areas we control. We will not block any relief shipments. We
can assure all Congressmen of that. But we cannot be responsible for what
the Derg does. They want to block food that is coming to areas that support
us. Why can’t people here in Washington understand that? The way to get
famine relief to the people who are starving is to put more pressure on the
Derg — and to see that the Derg is replaced so there is a government in
Ethiopia that all the people can support. Then there will be no more

PBH: Some people in the U.S. Government certainly understand that. So do
Members of Congress. I gained the impression at the hearings of the Joint
Economic Committee that Senator Gore understands it particularly well. Talk
to him and as many Congressmen as you can and say the things you have been
saying to me.

MZ: Does the United States support Israel in what it is doing to help the

PBH: I have seen almost no support for this, neither in the Administration
nor in the Congress. I have been told that the U.S. Government advised the
Israelis against establishing relations with Mengistu at this time and
opposed any military aid for his government. I have not heard of any
Congressman who has supported Israeli actions. Many Jewish Congressmen have
been highly critical. The action is controversial in Israel itself, as you
no doubt know. Israeli friends have expressed the same doubts about it to me
that I have and most Americans have. No one sees any point in enabling
Mengistu’s government survive a few months longer. That is the only effect
Israel’s support can have. My own view is that Mengistu would probably have
fallen by now if it had not been for the Israelis.

MZ: It has made us very angry and we are deeply disappointed. What do the
Israelis who were responsible for this decision think? Do they think we are
Arabs? We are not Arabs. We are not tied to the Arabs. And they should not
think the EPLF is an Arab organization. The EPLF may not be clear where it
stands in respect to Ethiopia, but it is not going to sell Eritrea or
Ethiopia to the Arabs. We know where we stand in Tigray. We are for
preserving Ethiopia. The Israelis are helping Mengistu destroy Ethiopia. If
they want to preserve Ethiopia’s territorial integrity, they should be
supporting us, not Mengistu and his shaky Derg! Why can’t they understand

PBH: Many Israelis do, I think, for there has been strong criticism in the
Israeli press.

MZ: What about a scholar like Haggai Erlich? He has written very
intelligently about Tigray and Eritrea. He understands our history. How
could he possibly support this kind of action?

PBH: I suspect that he doesn’t support it and I suspect that most of the
real friends of Ethiopia in Israel — and there are many — do not support
it. Maybe it would be possible for these people to convince their government
that they should use their new position in Addis Abeba to persuade Mengistu
to step down, or to depose him.

MZ: I don’t think it will be possible to get him to step down — he will
want to kill a lot of people in the process. The weapons and advice the
Israelis are giving him are already killing hundreds of real Ethiopian

PBH: Do you see evidence of Israeli support in the field? Have you come
across reports of Israeli advisers? What do the Ethiopian officers and
soldiers you capture, or who surrender to you, say?

MZ: We see a lot of evidence of Israel presence. They moved in very fast. We
get reports all the time of Israeli advisers serving with units in the
field. And we get reports from the people that come over to us of the
weapons the Israelis are giving. We believe there are at least 200 Israeli
advisors with the Ethiopians forces. They have given Mengistu a lot of
weapons and other supplies he needs. We also know that they are taking
Ethiopian officers to Israel for training.

PBH: But to judge from the advances your forces have been making, the
Israelis’ weapons and advice are not having much effect. Mengistu’s army is
not fighting well and continued to be pushed back.

MZ: You are right. The Israelis cannot create good morale in Mengistu’s
armed forces. He has destroyed it. But they can delay what can happen. They
can give Mengistu and the people around him in Addis Abeba more confidence
so that they will keep on inducting more men into the army and sending more
of them against us. But in the long run it is hopeless. More and more
Amharas are now coming over to our side. We sometimes capture the same men
two or three times. We cannot hold them when we capture them and they try to
go back to their homes. But they get caught and put back into the army. So
they defect to us again. When they are ready to fight with us, we accept
them and keep them.

PBH: The way things seem to be going now, I can see you standing on top of
Entoto in a few weeks, looking down at Addis Abeba and preparing to march
in. What will you say to the population then? How will you go about
exercising power?

MZ: This concerns us very much. We have to think about this and get our
whole movement organized so we know what to do. We would like to have
Western understanding and backing for our actions. This is the main reason
we have come here. We would like to be assured of American support when we
are ready to take over, and we will need advice and help. We have issued our
program [the EPRDF statement of 10 March 1990] and we believe in it. We want
to bring democracy and freedom to Ethiopia. We do not want to establish a
dictatorship. Our program is not a Marxist-Leninist program. We state very
clearly that we will set up a provisional government that will create a new
governmental system and then turn the government over to the people. We want
to do everything possible to establish peace throughout the region. We want
to settle all sources of tension between Ethiopia and Sudan and Somalia. We
want to see an orderly settlement of the Eritrean question. We want
international understanding and help. But the attitude of the United States,
we believe, will be most important of all. The United States has a heavy

PBH: Do you expect to be able to preserve law and order when you push into
the centre of the country? What do you think will happen in Addis Abeba when
the Derg falls?

MZ: We know the citizens there are worried and so are we. We will appeal to
the population to avoid panic and fighting and preserve order. We have done
that in the areas we have taken over and we have been successful. The people
have welcomed us because we have liberated them from the Derg. If the people
know we have support from abroad and the United States approves of what we
are doing, we believe they will remain orderly, continue working, trading
and serving the interests of the whole country.

PBH: How are you communicating with the people now?

MZ: We have our radio and we announce our positions as soon as we come into
an area. We also have friends and supporters everywhere in the country. They
know our positions.

PBH: Some of the declarations on your radio that I have read over the last
couple of years have left me very puzzled about your policies and
intentions. Your radio has often given the impression that your movement is
indeed Marxist and that you might replace the Derg’s system with a similar
system minus the Derg.

MZ: Our radio used to say these things, but it has been more careful
recently. We have to admit that we have difficulty controlling our radio and
we are working on this now. We need to bring it completely and directly
under our control. But this is difficult, you will understand. You seem to
have the same difficulty with the Amharic service of the Voice of America.
We are often very unhappy with the Amhara chauvinist line we hear on it.
Don’t the people in charge of the Voice of America understand that they
should keep it under better control to avoid insulting and angering
important parts of the people of Ethiopia? It sometimes sounds more like the
“Voice of the Amhara” than the Voice of America. We sometimes jokingly refer
to it as the “Derg’s Other Voice”.

PBH: You are a cilantro too harsh on it. There was no special broadcasting
for Ethiopia at all until I took steps to organize it when I was still in
the Carter Administration. When the VOA Amharic service came on the air in
the early 1980s, it very quickly became the most popular foreign station in
Ethiopia. If people in Ethiopia regarded it as the “Derg’s Other Voice”,
they would not be listening to it and writing letters praising it in the
quantity they do. Since it is staffed primarily by people who used to work
in Addis Abeba Radio and TV and broadcasts in Amharic, it naturally reflects
an Ethiopian centrist point of view. It would be hard for it to take any
other point of view. But it is certainly not advocating a tightly
administered central government. As a broadcasting service, it is not
authorized to advocate any specific political position — only to give news
and selection of opinion. How could it satisfy the positions of each
insurgent movement? But I can accept your view that there are times when
some of its broadcasts seem to go too far and I can understand why you might
be irritated by some of the things it reports about meetings of Ethiopians
here in Washington. Why don’t you go to the VOA and talk to the people who
do the broadcasting while you are here and ask to have your views aired?
What do you listen to yourself? What do the people of Tigray depend on for
news from the outside?

MZ: I listen to the VOA in Amharic most of the time. Many people in Tigray
listen to it. I listen to the VOA in English too. I also listen to the
Deutsche Welle and to Moscow. But most of all I respect the BBC for news of
the world. We depend on BBC Broadcasts for news of the world. I follow what
is happening in the world very closely. I like to read and take advantage of
all the reading material I can get. I have things sent from Europe and
America. I very much appreciate the things you have brought me and you can
be sure I will take them back with me and read them carefully.

One of the things which concern us very much is that the world doesn’t know
about us. Newspapers in Europe and American print very few stories about us
and often they publish complete distortions of our positions. We would like
to have more journalists and specialists come to see what we are doing in
Tigray. We are not afraid to show them everything and we don’t think they
will disapprove. What advice can you give us on this problem — can you help

PBH: You clearly have a public relations problem. I am impressed with your
positions and attitudes as you explain them to me. Your vision of the future
of Ethiopia makes better sense than anything the Derg has offered. It has
never had much public relations success either. So you don’t have to waste
your time convincing people in the outer world that the Derg is a failure.
What you do need understanding for is the fact that you have worked out a
more constructive approach to Ethiopia’s problems. I suggest you invite
journalists to come to visit Tigray. Invite academic specialists to come
too. There are many who have specialized in Tigray, but there are some –
have them come in and observe your system firsthand.

MZ: Do you think we could get Haggai Erlich to come to visit Tigray? We
would like to show him everything. We would even take him to Ras Alula’s
birthplace. And we would like to invite Christopher Clapham for he has great
understanding of Ethiopia. I recall hearing him lecture when I was a Wingate
student at Addis Abeba. Tell him we would appreciate a visit from him. He
can put his theories to the test firsthand.

PBH: I will be happy to relay your invitations to both Erlich and Clapham.
The only problem is that it would be difficult to get an Israeli into Tigray
through Sudan – impossible, I should think – but maybe a way could be found.

MZ: We will work on it. And why don’t you come visit us? You can stay as
long as you like and see everything. We will arrange for you to stay at the
Castle Abraha in Mekelle. We are using it as our guesthouse.

PBH: Thank you for your invitation. I will consider it and let you know


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