‘Eritrea Crucial for Building Capacity’ – Ethiopian Opposition Leader

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"We'll pull out of Eritrea once we achieve fighting capacity" - G7 Chairman
“We’ll pull out of Eritrea once we achieve a fighting capacity” – G7 Chairman

By Ethiomedia,

Dr. BERHANU NEGA, Chairman of the opposition Ginbot 7 Movement for Freedom, Justice and Democracy, was in Seattle recently to address Ethiopians on the progress of his group as well as the overall political situation that transpired in Ethiopia.

On the sidelines of the meeting, a local journalist from Ethiomedia met Dr. Berhanu and throw him a few questions. What follows is the excerpt:

Ethiomedia (Q): How is Ginbot 7 following the arrest of Andargachew Tsege?

Dr. Berhanu: Counter to the desire of the TPLF/EPRDF regime, the arrest of Andargachew has galvanized the struggle for justice and democracy. The abduction and eventual end of Andargachew in a Woyane prison has sparked anger throughout the Ethiopian diaspora as evidenced by the protests and demonstrations seen in many countries, including the United States and Europe. We believe the condition back in Ethiopia is no different than what has been witnessed in the Diaspora.

Q: When are you to pull out of Eritrea?

Dr. Berhanu: Why should we?

Q: You think you will succeed where many other Ethiopians before you have failed?

Dr. Berhanu: Can you give me a reason for their failure?

Q: Because the Eritrean regime didn’t want the emergence of a united Ethiopian force that would topple TPLF

Dr. Berhanu: No, I don’t accept that. Those organizations that were in Eritrea failed not because of the Eritrean regime but because they lacked leadership qualities. Poor leadership was to blame for their own failure.But holding the Ertirean regime for their own weaknesses was the easiest excuse to offer. The Eritrean regime doesn’t interfere in our affairs, and if we fail, we blame no one but ourselves.

Q: Take the case of Col. Fesseha, the TPDM leader. Many sources said the former TPLF rebel who joined and became a prominent leader of the heavily-armed TPDM was murdered by the Eritrean regime. How come?

Dr. Berhanu: You got the information wrong. Fesseha was killed during an argument with an Eritrean known for having mental sickness. But opponents of the Eritrean regime were quick to make it as a politically charged murder.

Q: So, no reason to pull out of Eritrea?

Dr. Berhanu: We are not saying we will depend on Eritrea forever. We need to build our fighting capacity, and the only ideal place to achieve our goal is in Eritrea. Once we are done with building our [fighting capacity], we will move into our country where we shall fight to secure our own military base.

Q: Your organization vows to use both the peaceful and armed struggle to effect a political change in Ethiopia. How is the progress on the armed side?

Dr. Berhanu: We are currently working to bring Ginbot 7, Ethiopian Patriots and TPDM into one fold. We are working so that these three Ethiopian organizations build a common front. We believe this will greatly enhance the armed struggle against the ruling party in Ethiopia.

Q: Any time frame?

Dr. Berhanu: I can’t be specific but we hope to move into a higher gear this year.

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Following the 1998 – 2000 border war with Eritrea, the Ethiopian government pursues an open policy of ‘regime change‘ by continually harbouring, financing and arming Eritrean subversive groups on its soil. To tame the tide, Eritrea responded in kind, in fact, in a more organized and fashionable manner.

The majority of Ethiopians today want to see change and rid Ethiopia of tyranny and dictatorship. They want the current regime led by the notorious Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF) removed for the heinous crimes and disastrous ethnic policy it waged against the majority of Ethiopians for more than two decades.

The Ethiopian people have tried to change the regime through a culture of peaceful and non-violence struggle. However, previous election outcomes, for instance, resulted with vote rigging, violence and the death of hundreds of innocent civilians. Making peaceful revolution impossible is like making violent revolution inevitable. The people finally lost hope, throw their hands up and gave up the peaceful struggle. They were left to take the path of an armed struggle.  Through out the years, armed groups like OLF, ONLF, EPPF, ODF, TPDM, etc … have started to run a struggle from the northern and eastern parts of the country and at times even from the Kenyan and Sudanese soil. However, for an obvious reasons, the struggle hit a snag and quickly weakened and head to disintegration.

At this stage, the opinion of the Ethiopian opposition politics divided in to two: one camp argues Eritrea as the one and only place they can use as a stepping stone to launch armed struggle against the regime; and the other camp who usually uses Assab port and access to the sea as their swan song argues to run the struggle from inside Ethiopian territory as they usually say they don’t like or trust the Eritrean government.

These two camps always agreed to disagree when it comes to Eritrea. Recent media and propaganda campaign against those groups that are leading the struggle from Eritrean soil reached almost its peak. They labelled them as stooges of Shaebia. Instead of working together to challenge both the power and ideology of the regime, the later camp wasted their time and energy on trying to weaken and undermine the pro Eritrea-base struggle camps.

One of these groups that pays such a hefty price was Ginbot 7. The leader of the movement, Dr. Berhanu Nega, walks a fine line between Ethiopians who still believe Eritrea as enemy and those who want to use Eritrea for freeing their people from the clutches of TPLF and reclaim or negotiate on the issue of Assab after.

As indicated on the above interview, Dr. Berhanu wanted to use the language of ‘temporary stay‘ and ‘capacity building‘ to calm the ever polarized society. He said he definitely needs to enjoy the reliable Eritrean support until its movement acquires a fighting capacity. He also tried to re-assure friends and foes alike that his dependence on Shaebia is only temporary and lasts until the capacity of its armed wing becomes well developed. Once achieved that, he said, it will be time to lead the struggle right from within Ethiopian territory using some liberated areas as a springboard.

Although it is difficult to gauge the popularity of this strategy among the divergent Ethiopian opposition camps at this time, however, everyone who embraces the struggle of all oppressed Ethiopians should not miss the golden opportunity of working with the Eritrean people and government. They liked it or not, Eritrea is now the only highway that leads to democratic governance and change  in Ethiopia. United they stand, divided they fall.