SUBJECT: ETHIOPIA: PURGED AIR FORCE COMMANDER SAYS MILITARY SUFFERS FROM ETHNIC DIVISION
Ambassador Donald Yamamoto
SUMMARY. Alemshet Degiffe, an Oromo
Major-General purged in 2006 while serving as commander of the Ethiopian Air Force, told the Ambassador on May 12 that the Ethiopian military suffers from ethnic division and Tigrayan dominance. Alemshet said Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles cannot afford to fight a war against Eritrea because the military lacks the will to fight and a war would exacerbate the growing cracks in the Ethiopian state. Lastly, he noted based on his continuing contacts with some military officials that the Ethiopian military was limiting itself to small-scale tactical operations in Somalia only and was not conducting any major offensive operations. END SUMMARY.
PURGED AFTER 2005 ELECTIONS
General Alemshet opened by explaining that he was “purged” from the Ethiopian military in 2006, in the fall-out of the 2005 national elections, while serving as commander of the Air Force because he was Oromo and that the government, particularly Chief of Defense (CHOD) General Samora, wanted him out. Alemshet said that although he had supported Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles in the 2001 split in the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) Central Committee, he had also been a supporter of ousted CHOD Lieutenant General Tsadkan and that Samora had never forgiven him for that.
(Note: The Ethiopian military conducted a major purge of over 1,000 mostly Oromo officers from the military on ethnically based suspicion of their loyalty to the ethnic Tigrayan-led ruling party.)
After the 2005 elections, the government accused him of conspiring with the political opposition and claimed he was the leader of opposition activities within the military. Alemshet insisted that he had no contact with the opposition and to this day has no contact with them. He said after he was purged he was kicked out of his government house and that the Ethiopian security services followed him for six months. He stated that he is unable to get a job because potential employers fear retribution from the government if they hire him. Alemshet said some day he hopes to be a contributor again to his country, but for now, to stay safe and out of prison, he must keep a low profile and stay away from the opposition.
Alemshet added that in the lead up to the 2005 elections the military expected a change in government and that the military would serve whatever government was elected. He noted that after the election the military understood that the Tigrayan government served itself and only itself.
ETHIOPIAN MILITARY SUFFERS FROM ETHNIC DIVISION
Alemshet said, “there is no one army in Ethiopia.” He stated that the Ethiopian military was “built the wrong way” when the current government came to power and that it was fractured along ethnic lines. Alemshet, who fought in the 1977-78 Ogaden War, and against the Eritrean rebels, and later in the 1998-2000 Border War, said ethnicity in the military was much less a factor in the Derg army than it is now. He commented that the current government had 17 years of practice at “systematic segregation” and that they were good at it.
Alemshet continued that the Amhara and Oromo in the military know they serve the Tigrayan elite and not the broader interests of the Ethiopian state. He estimated that since the purge in late 2006, Tigrayans constituted 60-70 percent of the officer corps. He said the soldiers continue in military because they need the jobs to get paid.
Nevertheless, he said they resent the way they are treated and they are unhappy. Before the 2005 election the soldiers voiced their complaints, but since the election they have learned to keep quiet or face discharge from the service or imprisonment.
The general thought that the status quo would continue in the military in the short term where soldiers accept their position and the problems with it, but in the longer term he did not know what could happen and he feared for the integrity of the army. He noted that every Oromo and Amhara soldier knows they have limited prospects for advancement.
“BORDER STATUS QUO WILL CONTINUE, WAR UNLIKELY”
Alemshet, referring to the Ethiopian military’s deployment along the Eritrean border, said “the weapon is there, but its morale and political condition will not allow it to fight.” He added that neither Eritrean President Isaias nor Prime Minister Meles can afford to fight a war.
He said Isaias fears he would lose and Meles fears that the level of dissatisfaction in the military and the country is too high. Alemshet speculated that Meles fears a war could widen current Ethiopian “economic and political cracks” to where Meles could no longer hold the country together.
MILITARY ONLY CONDUCTING TACTICAL OPERATIONS IN SOMALIA
The Ethiopian military is limiting itself to tactical operations only in Somalia, Alemshet said based on continuing contacts with military officers, rather than conducting large offensives. He stated that most of the military’s casualties were coming from ambushes and roadside bombs. He said that the army could deploy another one or two divisions from the Eritrean border to Somalia without weakening the border, but that there was no need for the redeployment because the army wasn’t that active. Alemshet, who was involved in the initial planning for the Somalia operation, added that Meles never intended for a lengthy deployment to Somalia. He did not know how long the military might stay.
Alemshet’s comments about the Ethiopian military provide a rare insight into an institution that is by nature secretive and difficult to access for outsiders. His reporting of widespread dissatisfaction for the Tigrayan dominated government within the military is consistent with the views of the government held by the broader non-Tigrayan population. The morale problems within the military are certain to worsen in the next several years unless the government changes course and becomes more inclusive, something that at present they appear to have little interest in doing. END COMMENT.
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