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Commentary: A Call for a meaningful participation of Irob and Kunama communities in Tigray Transitional Politics

Featured image:Irob, also referred to as Irob land or Adi Irob (ዓዲ ኢሮብ/ኢሮብ ዲክ) in Tigrigna/Saho, is located in the north eastern part of Tigray. It borders Eritrea to the north, Ethiopia’s Afar region to the east, and the remainder of Tigray to the southwest. Irob is part of a region in northeastern Tigray historically called Agame, which had Adigrat as its capital,” Source OMNA Tigray: Picture: Prof. Kindeya Gebrehiwot/2019 Archive

By Hulluf Weldesilassie Kahsay

Addis Abeba – All and sundry know that Tigray is forced to set up transitional or provisional governance arrangements as per the Pretoria and subsequent agreements. Now, apparently, the ball is in Tigray’s court to comply with the demand of Addis to set up a transitional/provisional government if it is to receive federal funds and for the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) to be removed from the terrorist designation. We from Tigray should come to terms with this as an inevitable reality. We all must negotiate with the reality on the ground without losing hope and sight of our collective aspiration as peoples of Tigray: Irobs, Kunama, and Tigrigna-speaking Tigrayans, civil society groups, diaspora – all of us. This is a moment of reckoning of where the rain started beating Tigray. Accordingly, we have to make sure some past political mistakes should never be allowed to be repeated of course as we sail cautiously to avoid perilous exposure to attacks.

Now, though I am not privy to the details and requirements of the transitional arrangements, I share the fear that TPLF and other political parties might unduly dominate the proposed transitional process. Thus, there is a high likelihood that Irob and Kunama minority language groups, and women might be sidelined though they deserve special attention and inclusion from the word go. That is why I want to make few, simple but crucial points that Tigray should avoid from the past mistakes of exclusion and paternalistic one-party show:

Tigray must have political magnanimity at structural, public, and civil society levels to meaningfully include its minorities in its structures

The Irobs and Kunama are numerical minority ethnic groups in the larger Tigray region. Definitely, such minorities are extremely endangered by cycles of merciless wars in all forms and packages, mainly by Eritrean forces. These groups are on the verge of extinction, though without much notice and attention. Irobs and Kunamas did not enjoy much affirmative action in the past under the Tigray government. The obvious reality is that they symbolically had only one seat each in the Ethiopian parliament, and did not enjoy any meaningful representation in the Tigray’s various power structures for fact. Therefore, this time round, in appreciation of the precarious conditions and the principle of inclusivity, the two groups need to have their say and opportunities to sit on the negotiating table! I am neither talking about meaningless promises nor about putting stooges in the name of Irob and Kunama but direct inclusion in various institutions at the decision-making levels. It is a test of Tigray’s political enlightenment; after all these experiences we have gone through as Tigray. Tigray must have political magnanimity at structural, public, and civil society levels to meaningfully include its minorities in its structures. Moreover, the Tigray political elites must make a commitment to come up with structures that perpetuate fairness, protect cultures, languages, and save the ancestral lands of the minority groups. Nonetheless, the Irobs and Kunama MUST, at all times, act in the overall interest of the Tigray region – as sociopolitical framework of reference. This is a categorical principle that Irobs and Kunamas must uphold at all times, I want to reiterate.

Affirmative action is needed in regard to Irobs and Kunamas participation in the transitional process and beyond. Tigray region, the whole of Ethiopia, and the partners in potential regeneration and rehabilitation efforts are duty-bound to consider Irob and Kunama’s meaningful inclusion and support at all levels in Tigray. It should start off well right from now; because, as they say, ‘it doesn’t go wrong, it starts wrong’. Tigray, has to avoid another wrong start. The inclusion of all political and ethnic groups, civil society, and technocrats will be crucial for the success of the transitional process. Let all feel included and own the process because united in death and struggle but divided in sharing dividends of peace cannot build a sustainable Tigray.

Civil society in Tigray’s Transitional arrangement must be encouraged to participate. In the past, Tigray didn’t have robust civil society commensurate with the democratic, development and governance demand that existed prior to the war of Nov. 2020. Independent media, religious leaders, non-governmental institutions must participate as one entity – with the equal status as political parties during the transitional process. Leaving the Tigray transition to competing political parties alone amounts to killing the accountability and Tigray’s political future, in my view.

The inclusion of all political and ethnic groups, civil society, and technocrats will be crucial for the success of the transitional process

Tigray must also attempt to introduce more robust democratic culture in this chapter of its history using the upcoming transitional moment. By now we must know that, one party paternalism costed Tigray everything. I don’t mean to whitewash the crimes committed on Tigray by external enemies and their deadly motives on Tigray and Tigrayans thereby blaming everything on TPLF. However, undeniably, the TPLF’s lack of foresight and bad governance exposed Tigray in multiple fronts. One of the problem has been the reality of weakening and stifling of civil society, muzzling of independent media in Tigray, controlling all opportunities in the region forcing the elite to be fanatic supporters of the party, even when it is deadly wrong, and usually at the expense of principles of human rights. Therefore, TPLF grew politically short-sighted, chronically undemocratic, politically lazy, and dominated by parasitically networked corrupt and inept bunch of politicians. This made most of the elite from the region fear criticizing the frameworks of the ruling party. If one dared, they risked being stigmatized, unemployed and wildly blackmailed, sometimes arraigned in court on cooked accusations. TPLF’s failure is colossal though the party is not without exemplary exploits such as dedication to its cause, organizational and mobilization capacity, accumulated capital of political experience, and some good policies like health and environment. The party, surely has its undeniable and unmatched strengths in some aspects but it is time Tigray moves on with the reasonably diminished role of TPLF, and enhanced, inclusive participation of all Tigrayans. The transitional elite must be able to make a meaningful dialogue with stakeholders such as Federal Government of Ethiopia without diluting the constitutional and rightful demands of Tigray with regard to yet to be liberated territories.

Conclusion – Tigray elite must now be drastically changed to new reality because – if not, the change will change us, as they say, – we risk being passive victims. International community, federal government, Tigray elite, diaspora and civil societies have RESPONSIBILITY to ensure there is meaningful inclusion of Irobs and Kunamas in the governance and public affairs of Tigray! Civil society must also have a big role in the transition process with a view of balancing the undue influence of political parties. Nevertheless, it is crucial to be cautions of the fact that some political parties may be aligned to some civil societies. So, if Tigray is to have a moral pedigree about lack of democracy and self-determination rights from Ethiopia, it has to be truly inclusive and democratic at home. We have to stop being governed by fear. Governance by fear brought us this far. Fear and exclusion from political life in Tigray resulted in our being victims of one party’s mistakes and lack of foresight – while we are also partners in this failure to some extent. Therefore, democratically tamed TPLF and other political parties are political assets for Tigray but none should be given undue prominence in the transitional process and thereafter. Civil societies must play a watchdog role in ensuring there is the inclusion of minorities and overall accountability by all stakeholders.

Let us avoid a bad start. Let us be inclusive. The going is still tough. Get the best from every corner of Tigray. I say all this assuming that the agreement between the federal government of Ethiopia and TPLF will continue to hold. AS


Editor’s Note: Hulluf Weldesilassie Kahsay is Former Deputy Secretary General of Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia (IRCE). He can be reached at

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