Teshome M. Borago of Zehabesha-Satenaw media group interviewed Arena Tigray opposition party spokesman Amdom Gebre-Selassie after his recent brave confrontation with the leaders of TPLF. (Below is an English translation from Amharic)
Amdom explains how TPLF is afraid of change in Tigray because the state is its “last refugee.”
Zehabesha/Teshome: Many Ethiopians outside and inside the country are calling you a “hero” and they are excited to witness an opposition to TPLF inside Tigray. Do other Tigrayans share your views?
AMDOM: Our party has members and many supporters. And I took that rare opportunity to present our organization and express our views but I was unfortunately forced to stop. But even after the meeting was over, several people came over to show me support and encourage me.
Zehabesha/Teshome: Then why don’t Tigrayans publicly protest TPLF or organize a rally for your Arena Tigray opposition party?
AMDOM: As you can see, the ruling party stifles even the smallest display of dissident in Tigray. We try to mobilize people, but for example, on May 9, our youth were arrested and released multiple times before we even began a rally. They basically deploy an army, sometimes TPLF deploys more soldiers than our whole people. TPLF has deep fear because they feel Tigray is their last refugee.
Zehabesha/Teshome: During the meeting, it seems they first got irritated when you said TPLF was never elected and compared their 99% election “victory” to North Korea elections.
AMDOM: That’s because they know they steal elections and power. Most of the society knows this fact and they know the society knows it. But their number one concern is that Tigray people will rise up against them or simply react to these facts. So TPLF’s agenda is to change the topics that causes the reaction.
Zehabesha/Teshome: Sebhat Nega especially got angry when you said millions of poor Tigrayans and billionaire TPLF leaders can never be one and the same people.
AMDOM: This was why they interrupted me because that’s the biggest question for Tigray. Most people don’t see and don’t know the so-called growth and development that TPLF talked about when it was in Addis Ababa. The people have many unanswered questions.
Zehabesha/Teshome: As you know, there has been growing dispute between Amhara and Tigray people regarding Welkait, Raya and Qimant as well as other ethnic flashpoint areas around the country. Is there systematic federalism problem?
AMDOM: The main problem in Ethiopia is we still don’t have democratic government. We must start solving all problems democratically and constitutionally for every citizen.
Zehabesha/Teshome: Thats the keyword, you just mentioned the word “citizen” but that’s not respected in the constitution of Ethiopia today. We address all problems only thru ethnicity. Now, they say Amhara region finally has democracy today and they want to have Welkait back. Will your party Arena Tigray give Welkait to Amhara?
AMDOM: Arena Tigray party accepts the constitution, and the current federalism which is based on language. And Welkait people speak Tigrigna so we believe it should remain part of Tigray. If there are any questions about this, we should address it peacefully and constitutionally.
Zehabesha/Teshome: Therefore, should the Amharic speaking Addis Ababa and Debrezeit become part of Amhara state? And what about Moyale and all other contested areas where diverse people live?
AMDOM: I think all these areas should have their questions answered democratically and peacefully. It is important to have an independent institution and government that can solve these problems. Yes, there are disputes around Addis Ababa and in many places today and I blame EPRDF for everything.
Zehabesha/Teshome: What is your position on the several TPLF figures and generals arrested recently?
AMDOM: They are accused of corruption and the law allows for such activity to be prosecuted by the government. The question is, was proper procedures taken to bring these charges, is there an impartial or independent judiciary, and are the rights of defendants respected? Other than these, many were rightfully accused of corruption and they should have their day in court.
Zehabesha/Teshome: Some critics complain that Abiy’s regime is targeting Tigray people. They ask why Oromo, Amhara and other Ethiopian high level EPRDF officials never get arrested and why the Abiy government extended forgiveness only for rebel groups.
AMDOM: Ofcourse some people believe these trials are more political. But I still agree that several METEC executive leaders and board members were involved in those decisions and could have resigned. So i believe they should face justice and get a fair trial.
But i also believe some trials and problems mirror the political division inside EPRDF. They had an original understanding to extend forgiveness or amnesty to all actors in Ethiopia, but they failed to discuss how it applies among themselves inside EPRDF.
But let alone criminals, even many Arena Tigray opposition members are still languishing in prison and got no amnesty. So the reform has several shortcomings.
Zehabesha/Teshome: Are you worried for your safety? And has the Abiy government offered security for Tigrayan opposition, just like there is security for known figures like Jawar?
AMDOM: I am not afraid. Whatever they may do to me will be the same like the rest of Tigray people. I can not afford security and nobody has offered.
Zehabesha/Teshome: What do you think of the return of peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia? And is Tigray ready to give up Badme to keep the peace?
AMDOM: What has happened recently is one of the great Abiy achievements we support. Tigray and Eritrea people have families on both sides of the border and we were cut in half. Now our people are united, excited and crying with happiness. This is something we support.
Regarding Badme, we must carefully address it by involving all local people and regional stakeholders. But if we impose the border ruling without consulting the people on the ground, the crisis will likely return.
Zehabesha/Teshome: What is Arena Tigray’s plan for 2020 election? And how will it use media and other resources?
AMDOM: We are mobilizing people, candidates and supporters. We have financial difficulties and TPLF controls both governmental and private media. So we hope all pro-democracy Ethiopians will support us by all means.
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