What are the effects of Andargachew Tsige’s kidnap and arrest?

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De Birhan

July 19, 2014

Andargachew Tsige before and after arrest

27 (Twenty seven) days. Nobody knows where he is! Even the Brits who naturalised him as their citizen. The regime in Addis does not wanna say where he is! Some gossip his kidnap was a conspired plan of the three. News leaks from all corners about what he is going through: endless torture! Torture and torture at the hands of the Ethiopia regime. No power has so far come to give this lonely man who has fallen at hands of his prey a hand or a flitting visit. His elder sister Bizuayehu Tsige, who traveled to Addis Abeba, to pay him a visit from the U.S. has been immediately deported to the U.S. by Ethiopian securities without even being informed about his whereabouts.

It was on June 23, 2014 that Andargachew Tsige, the Secretary General of Ginbot 7 Movement for Democracy, Justice and Equality, has been kidnapped from Sanna Airport by Yemeni Securities and was handed over to Ethiopian securities. Andargachew is one of the main founders and backbones of the Ginbot 7 Movement. He is also one of the most direct, fearless and politically less correct critics of the regime in Ethiopia, which is led by the TPLF coalition.

A shame as it is on many international powers and some human rights activists, including Ethiopian ones, who often chose between those they shout for, it is  a praise that many diplomats, states and agencies have continued to call for his release or at least he be offered consular and legal advisory. “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere”.

Now let’s have a cursory glance of some of that effects that the kidnap and arrest / extraordinary rendition of this giant opposition leader could have on Ethiopian, regional and international politics. This is more of a summary that will be widened and substantiated at a later stage with more bullet points of effects.

Effect 101- on Ginbot 7: It is not that difficult to assume that the Movement is the first victim of this extraordinary type of arrest. The loss of Andagargachew leaves a void within the Movement until either he is released and returned or the party chooses and assigns another person on his vacancy. There is no doubt that Andargachew has been the core of the Movement. From 2008 to today, he has done a great deal in establishing a Movement that has become a threat to the regime in Addis Abeba, networked Ethiopians and politicians that have been divided along political, ethnic and personal factors. For someone who closely observed the Movement, most of the action orientated activities of the Movement were handled by Andargachew. He often travelled across the world including Eritrea, the only country in East Africa that has given a sanctuary to Ethiopian dissidents and accomplished many projects. He helped in the coordination and organisation of rebel groups that have been acting alone to come together and work for a united, free Ethiopia in unison. There is also a belief that Andargachew has done a lot of diplomatic work internationally.

“What made him different from his mates in the party and also compelled the Ethiopian regime to target him taking such a desperate action is his action orientation. Unlike his Movement peers who are still in the ideal world of civilised politicking, Andargachew knew that the only way that change can come in Ethiopia was by going down to the field, sleeping on the dust, doing more than verbal and PR fights” says a supporter of the Movement who lives in the US.

In addition to the momentary shock and chaos his disappearance would cause in the organisation, Andargachew’s arrest is assumed to cause confusion within the opposition and his supporters’ camp. His Movement disagrees though according to what we reported last week, the application for membership and the membership has “quadrupled”.

The ruling TPLF regime in Addis Abeba arrested Andargachew with the aim of first weakening the Movement and the opposition forces in general, second acquiring all the ‘secret deals’ and works that Andargachew has been executing for the past five years to topple the regime in Addis and thirdly but not least breaking the link between Ethiopian opposition forces and the Eritrean regime. The first and the second aims seem to have not so far worked. Although they captured him together with his laptop and his luggage, in their first news report regarding his capture, Ethiopian authorities only showed his own pictures in Eritrean desert and no more new revelations. The tortures must not have worked. The third may not work too but will time show how.

2. Ethio-Eritrea relations/confidence on the Eritrean regime: The third possible aim mentioned in the above section i.e. removing and separating the link between the Eritrean regime and the Ethiopia opposition and Diaspora, is likely to backfire than help the regime in Addis. What has transpired in the past few days actually signals that. An observation of Ethiopian social media, live discussion forum, communities’ forum, and online voice discussion forum reveals that Andargachew’s arrest has increased the relations between the Eritrean and Ethiopian people and the Eritrean regime and Ethiopian Diaspora and opposition forces. For so long, since the ceasefire of the border war between the two countries was signed, there have been successive efforts of recreating the cordial relations of the two countries and people. However, the suspicion and mistrust between the people, the refusal of mostly the Eritrean regime until Ethiopia hands back ‘its occupied territories’ have hindered the hope of any possible dialogue or mediation. Both regimes have continued to polarise their people and accuse each other of sponsoring all things bad in their country. Both harbour oppositions from each country. Drawn as an “evil and dictatorial’’ as no one else by his foes, Isasias Afewerki, the Eritrean president, has been hell-bent on not talking to anyone coming from the Ethiopian regime side. Although the Ethiopian government, even if  hypothetically, argues that it wants to talk to the Eritrean regime, the later’s refusal has been dashing the hope. It was in the middle of this standoff that Andargachew, was able to come out as one who would unite the people of the two countries. He has been trusted and welcomed by the Eritrean regime and many of those that support it and Ethiopians who love the cooperation and peace of the two countries. In addition to creating a base to his Movement, Andargachew has been doing a work of mediation and cooperation between Ethiopian opposition forces there, the Eritrean regime and people and Ethiopians in general there and elsewhere. His arrest has now angered many Eritreans and the Eritrean government who saw, in addition to their interests, a hope of some harmony created between the two nations via the Andargachew’s activities and political clout within Ethiopia.

Last year, Andargachew was in the U.S. for work reasons and he spoke at a gathering of hundreds of guests in Sheraton Hotel. He spoke highly of the Eritrean government and the people. Some of his words were even split later by friends and foes. It is public that some activists and artists in the Ethiopian quarter have been artistically, using public fora calling for the togetherness and harmony of the two nation states. As is often the case, unless there is harmony and will from the political level/ the top, it is difficult to have actions and effects on the ground. Andargachew was trying to fill that political void of bringing the two into harmony until his unfortunate kidnap.

Unsurprisingly, the mistrust and suspicion of Eritrea and the Shabiaa regime does not always come from the Ethiopian regime, it also, sometimes excessively, comes from people who are in the opposition and conservative Ethiopians. The argument is that the current Eritrean regime is the one that brought the current regime in Ethiopia to power, the powers that be in Eritrea and Ethiopia (TPLFs) are blood brothers, Eritrea has warred with Ethiopia since independence taking the lives of at least 70,000 soldiers, Eritrea harbours Ethiopian opposition forces that vie for ethnic and geographic secession instead of unity, and mainly the regime in Eritrea does not have a ‘genuine interest of seeing regime change in Ethiopia’ as it has kept on arresting the opposition leaders that are based there or making them unable to function if they do not go according to the wishes of the Eritrean regime.  It is a legitimate fear; rare have been the cases in which Ethiopian rebels based in Eritrea have struck the Ethiopian regime or caused it a noticeable damage; they are either apprehended as they prepare to attack or are not even up to the challenge. Ginbot 7, which gets much support from the Eritrean government, has been highly criticised by many Ethiopians and even, as some gossip, led to some of its active members leaving the Movement. Choosing Eritrea as a place of sanctuary or country that gives aid to the Movement has been debated within the party often, many independent Ethiopians also criticised the move of choosing Eritrea as a ‘tactical, strategic and politico-economic base and ally”. Most feared that the Eritrean president could one day detain Andargachew when/if they disagree on some critical issues. That was most feared than the Ethiopian regime coming miles to abduct him. But the fact that Andargachew was abducted by Yemen and Ethiopia radically changed the views that many had held on Eritrea and the regime. The trust on the Eritrean regime has increased. Many radical and conservative Ethiopians started to see that their most enemies rather turned out to be “Yemen and the regime in Ethiopia”.

3.  Increasing opposition membership, support: The miscalculated actions of the Ethiopian government had a side effect in glorifying the Ginbot 7 Movement and rather pulling many new members into G7.  The Mekele based regime believed that Andargachew’s arrest could totally weaken the Movement as the absence of the key guy within the party could fracture them and scares supporters’ showing how ‘omnipresent’ the Ethiopian regime is. The abduction rather made G7 stand out as the strongest opposition Movement in Ethiopia. It made the opposition force more committed, angered and resolute. Since the fall of the previous regime, what most Ethiopians lacked and wanted to see was a dedicated political leadership that they can count on. Andargachew’s sacrifice and ‘heroism’ has increased the confidence of the doubting many to join his party. The Movement has also stated recently that the number of supports, new membership applications has been increasing every day. The anger and infatuation of Ethiopians is widely visible. The recent arrest spree of Ethiopians opposition leaders at home and Andargachew’s extraordinary arrest has persuaded many Ethiopians vie and think about Ginbot 7’s approach called “all inclusive struggle”.

4. Citizenship: This is an issue of  a disrespect of another country’s sovereignty that, in those days, could have caused a diplomatic row. Andargachew is an Ethiopian-British. He has been a naturalised citizen of the UK since few decades now. Although originally an Ethiopian, he carries the rights and entitlements of any Brit and also the passport. Andargachew’s unwarranted arrest despite him holding a British passport does mean the unwarranted arrest of a British man. Many Ethiopians, or people in general who have been persecuted in their own countries, have often sought refuge and protection in safe states that have the economic and political power to offer protection while in residence or away wherever. Having their citizenship has served as an insurance. This powerful insurance is now being eroded by rowdy and ‘unassailable’ regime such as Ethiopia and Yemen. The attempts by the British Embassy in Addis Abeba or the Foreign Office to visit Andargachew have not been successful so far. This raises a question if Western nations do at all care about their naturalised citizens and then how powerful and protective is having a Western citizenship? Have those times when any Brit or a U.S. citizen gets detained in a foreign land and their governments immediately intervened to get them released become long overdue?  Another effect of Andargachew’s abduction/detention in the diplomatic/international relations quarter.

5. The frailty of rule of law and the prominence of the rule of the jungle: What happened on Andargachew has rarely happened in Ethiopia or the case of any African country. There might be some rare international incidents when very few internationally needed criminals or persons that are believed to have had hands in the deaths of thousands of civilians were extraordinarily deported. The likes of Andargachew, who have an officially registered opposition Movement with offices in the U.S. and the U.K., with no record of killing people but perhaps plots to topple a regime, have not been extradited in such a manner. We would struggle to cite similar cases. Andargachew’s abduction trespasses international law and agreements. Many now question if such kinds of similar illegalities by those who have some weapons and gang up becomes an acceptable and normal act, what will be the future of humanity, coexistence and international law. If regimes with huge authority and responsibility cannot abide by law but act according to the rules of the jungle, how will we then expect those that are fighting injustice to act in a civilised, non violent and legal manner?   The desperate acts of the Ethiopian regime could lead the Ginbot 7 Movement to cease focusing on its rational and grand plans of replacing the Ethiopian regime with a democratic one to an emotional, narrower goal of revenging what has happened on Andargachew Tsige. Although in a dilemma of being called ‘armed attackers’ and team of decent grand planners, the Ginbot 7 Movement is at a critical time of making hard choices. Their chances of developing into more of revengeful, hit and runners is huge and this can obviously add more fuel into the already burning region of the Horn of Africa (HoA). Those of us coming from the pacifist school of thought and life principles may push and advise for a non-revengeful and reconciliatory politics. But it would be an injustice and foolish to expect the victims who lost their key leader, i.e. Ginbot 7s, to simply forgive and sit for a talk. Such cases do pose tougher challenges to people in the fields of mediation and peace building.

Such an illegality and resurgence of the rule of the jungle type of governance and system of life would only make our country and the world a very insecure, unsafe and hopeless place to live in. The cake is still in the hands of those who hold power to find cures or simply follow their own books since what ‘we’ all want at the end of the day is a peaceful and hopeful world and country.

 Eirene! De Birhan 

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