On August 10, 2006, Oromo nationalist all over the world woke up to the news of Gen. Kemal Gelchu’s (a TPLF army general) defection to Eritrea and joining the Asmara Group of OLF (AKA the Dawud Ibsaa Group). Kemal Gelchu had been a very loyal soldier of the Ethiopian empire for many years both under the DERG and TPLF regimes. At the time of his defection to Eritrea, he was the commander of the TPLF 18th army division.
According to media reports, Kemal Gelchu simply walked across the border to Eritrea under cover of darkness from where he was stationed on Ethio-Eritrea border. What is more, he brought along 150 fully armed soldiers and, by some accounts, “tens of commanders” including Col. Abebe Geresu.
TPLF explained away the general’s defection as a disgruntled soldier who was denied promotion and chose to engage in “divisive activities”. Ethiopian TV reported: “Although his [Kemal Gelchu’s] colleagues repeatedly tried to correct the commander from his anti-government and inappropriate activities, the commander was not willing to change".
Regardless of his alleged “divisive activities” and notwithstanding TPLF’s knowledge of it, Kemal was allowed to command TPLF’s 18th army division stationed at the border with Eritrea – Ethiopia’s arch enemy. By any standard, the border between the two states was highly guarded and monitored at the time he crossed over. Regardless, the general was able to walk across the border with 150 other soldiers in tow and with a minor shooting incident.
How he accomplished such a feat was never explained, much less in sufficient detail. Hard to believe? Read on!
Gen. Hailu Gonfa and Col. Gemechu Ayana, two other long time soldiers of the empire, followed suite a few weeks later. How they arrived in Asmara was never explained to my knowledge.
Their defection generated euphoria in some corners owing to the belief that these generals would re-organize and re-build a guerrilla force that would match, surpass and defeat the TPLF army.
The two generals fanned the euphoria by informing the public that peaceful struggle against TPLF is futile and that they had exhausted the possibility of bringing TPLF to its senses through dialogues. In an interview he gave to BBC soon after arriving in Asmara, Kemal Galchuu said “The language they (the Ethiopian government) understand is force and we're going to challenge them by force." (Read Here). Hailu Gonfa, on his part, told Eritrean Television, that their demands for democracy “fell on deaf ears, [as a result] they were compelled to raise arms against the [TPLF] regime and thus join the popular struggle.”
Five years after they joined the Asmara Group of OLF and given that they now lead an OLF faction and their announcement on new year 2012 of having changed the OLF political program (Read Here) , it is about time, and fair, to assess their performance.
Have they challenged TPLF by force as they promised they would do when they defected? Has the Oromo struggle fared better as a result of their defection? Has the Oromo struggle become stronger or weaker – militarily, politically, socially, etc - as a result of them joining it?. Most importantly, did they defect to the Asmara Group of OLF to help the struggle or to do TPLF work? How about the faction that Kemal Gelchu is leading – is it advancing the Oromo struggle or is it a TPLF tool – a Trojan horse for TPLF spies and saboteurs? Where they sent to infiltrate the Asmara Group of OLF, take control of the organization and ensure that faction accepts TPLF conditions of surrender: Accepting the TPLF constitution and renouncing armed struggle?
In the following paragraphs, I will search for answers to these questions in their actions over the last five years.
But, first, what is a “Trojan Horse?”
The term “Trojan Horse” comes from the legendary ancient war story between Greeks and Trojans (People of Troy). In this epic story, having given up on confronting the Trojans in face-to-face combats, the Greeks came up with a crafty plot. They built a wooden horse, hid Greek soldiers in its belly and left it at the gate of the heavily fortified and defended Trojan city. Believing that this was a parting gift to the gods from the Greeks, Trojans opened their gate, wheeled the wooden horse in and went about celebrating their “victory”. Unbeknownst to them, the Greeks had hidden their soldiers in the wooden horse, whom in the middle of the night came out of the horse’s belly and opened the gate to the Trojan city. Once the gate was thrown open, more Greek soldiers streamed in to the city and decimated the Trojans thereby winning the war. That wooden horse became known as “Trojan Horse” and the term itself has since been used to describe enemy operatives in one’s midst conducting espionage and sabotage to undermine the opponent from within.
So, is Kemal Gelchu & Co. a Trojan horse? Let the facts speak for themselves.
On Strengthening the Oromo Struggle
In a couple of years after their arrival, the Kemal Gelchu group split the Asmara Group of OLF. The reason given for the split depends on which side of the divide would be doing the explaining. However, there is one glaring fact that is undeniable about how they split the organization and the consequences accompanying the split on Oromo struggle.
The first, and the most damaging one to the Oromo struggle and Oromummaa (Oromo identity), is the fact that when they parted company with the Dawud Ibsaa Group, their constituency consisted entirely of Oromo nationals of Arsi birth. Not a single known Oromo personality from other regions of Oromia appeared in their list. They exploited the latent regionalist tendencies espoused by some in the organization. They purposefully promoted regional differences and suspicions to gain support. They presented the split as one caused by the organization’s refusal to allow an able leader from Arsi to take his rightful place at the head of the organization. “The time is ours”, they told their fellow Oromos from Arsi. “Arsi Oromos are discrimintaed against in the organization” they preached to them. They succeeded in taking their divisive activity to the Oromo public and worked hard to destroy Oromimmaa (Oromo identity) which had been built with the blood and flesh of heroes and heroines of the struggle. They sprayed this venom in every Oromo institution in diaspora including community associations, political and religious organizations. By doing so, they saw the seeds of mistrust even among former comrades and personal friends from Arsi and other parts of Oromia. The purpose was to destroy Oromummaa and Oromo unity without which they know the struggle cannot progress.
Without the slightest exaggeration, no action of anyone, including that of the enemy, has rolled back what was gained by the Oromo struggle to the extent they did by this action. This is a major setback Oromummaa suffered from which it is yet to recuperate. Insha Allah, it will!
“Divide and conquer” strategy against the Oromo has been a tried and true way utilized by successive Ethiopian regimes to keep Oromos from uniting. It is also a strategy employed extensively by TPLF against other nations and religious groups in the empire. Their fear is that a united group of people will be able to pool their resources together to build enough capacity to one day defeat them. Consequently, they leave no stone unturned to frustrate their effort to unite through their agents particularly within the group they fear. One of the missions Kemal Gelchu & Co. is charged with by TPLF was to execute this policy within the Oromo and other diaspora oppositions.
Today, the Oromo diaspora is socially more divided than when they arrived. Politically, it is more fragmented and disunited than when they defected. Militarily, the Oromo struggle is in a worse position than it was when they joined it to purportedly re-energize OLA and challenge TPLF by force. While they are not responsible for everything that transpired since their arrival, Kemal Gelchu & Co. have contributed purposefully and immensely to weakening the Oromo struggle over the last five years.
This is the first evidence of their clendestine work for TPLF from within the Oromo movement for freedom.
Continued in Part II - (Read Here).
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