By Damo Gotamo
Diplomacy is an art. People who engage in the old profession are required to have a range of abilities, including negotiation, communication, and conflict resolution skills. The way a diplomat conducts himself when representing his country abroad is critical to the success of his mission. Many countries select their diplomats carefully and provide rigorous training regimes before they send them to overseas posts. It is both an honor and a privilege to serve one’s country as a diplomat. However, under the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) regime, the country’s diplomatic missions were used to advance the interest of the TPLF and its members, and the professionals who practiced the trade were harassed, abused, and their diplomatic careers cut short.
Ethiopia’s diplomatic mission during the 27 years of the TPLF authoritarian rule was used to advance the interest of the TPLF and its members. The gun-wielding ragtag group that controlled the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), misused the foreign service of the country, which was supposedly be serving the interest of the Ethiopian people. The diplomatic sector, which had been represented by dignified and skilled people like Ras Imuru Haile Selasie, Yilma Deresa, Bitwoded Zewede Gebrhiwot, and Mikael Imuru, was overrun by illiterate thugs who spent half of their lives in Dedebit pit. We witnessed one embarrassing spectacle after another in the countries missions abroad by the TPLF agents masquerading as diplomats.
In the TPLF Ethiopia, the country’s embassies became private clubs to the creme de la creme of the TPLF and their hand-picked minions. Instead of serving the interest of the country and its citizens abroad, the missions served the TPLF members and their families. While citizens who required services from embassies that operated under their name were prevented from entering their embassies’ compounds, the members of the TPLF were free to enter them any time. The TPLF members often gathered at the embassies to conduct secret meetings targeting Ethiopians who opposed the criminal regime. Many offices of the missions were used as night clubs and places where relatives of the TPLF members celebrated the birth date of the TPLF and their families. In many of the missions, the former TPLF fighters served as security guards, allowing only the members of the TPLF to enter into the buildings. People who went to Ethiopian embassies on business told me they felt they were inside the TPLF’s headquarter in Mekele!
Under the TPLF of Ethiopia, assignment to foreign missions was largely political rather than merit. Most of the people who were posted abroad as emissaries were either the members of the TPLF or the lickspittles of the TPLF honchos. The TPLF cadres who barely finished third grade education, let alone understood the art of diplomacy, were assigned in many embassies. Career diplomats who were appointed to cover up for the deficiencies of the TPLF cadres were constantly harassed and abused by TPLF agents.
The MOFA and Ethiopian embassies under the TPLF regime were not convenient places for the country’s diplomats to practice their profession. Diplomats were frequently subjected to harassment, and their activities were strictly monitored by the TPLF spies. Even ambassadors with the plenipotentiary powers were not at liberty to carry out their duties with freedom. Every activity, including the off-duty conduct of a diplomat, was closely monitored by the TPLF moles and reported to the head office. For example, ten years ago, two diplomats who worked at the Ethiopian mission in New York were prevented from entering the building by a TPLF agent. The agent alleged the diplomats of participating at an opposition rally in the District of Columbia a day before. Diplomats who opposed the TPLF’s way of doing things were, most often, shown the doors and advised not to return to work the next day. The careers of many diplomats were ruined by the TPLF ignoramuses and the country’s resources to train them wasted. Ethiopia missed out on the services of its skilled diplomats, who would have immensely contributed to the development of the country.
According to the former diplomats whom I spoke, working at the Ethiopian embassies felt like working in a war zone. Conflicts frequently broke out between the career diplomats and the TPLF informants. Trust was in short supply. The infamous Ande Lamest, the TPLF crooks brought from Dedebit and foisted on Ethiopians, was effectively exercised in the country’s missions. In some embassies, the TPLF moles installed listening devices to monitor the activities of the diplomats they mistrusted.
Ethiopian’s diplomatic missions became the ‘graveyards’ to the country’s diplomats. Unable to carry out their duties, hundreds of career diplomats who were posted in Asmera, Kampala, Egypt, Amsterdam, London, Washington DC, New York and other locations had left their posts. Many fled to a third country, and a few remained in the host countries to seek political asylum. It isn’t difficult to comprehend how difficult for the Ethiopian diplomats and their families to start life from scratch after their careers were cut short by the criminals who had controlled the country.
Things at the MF and Ethiopian missions were relatively better in the first three years of the TPLF reign. During the first three years, the TPLF leaders didn’t show any clue that they would make the MF and the embassies their exclusive clubs. Although many Tegadalyes were posted as ambassadors, important diplomatic activities were covered by professionals who were recruited based on their academic qualifications. However, things started to change, after the Coalition for Unity and Democratic Party (Kinijit) thumped the TPLF in the 2005 National Elections.
After rigging the election and taking the result from the winning party through the barrel of the gun, the TPLF goons started filling overseas diplomatic missions exclusively with their members. Patronage appointments became the norm. People who had no clue about foreign relations and diplomacy were brought from the far corners of Tigraye province and posted in Ethiopian missions abroad. Most of the appointees didn’t have formal educational credentials, let alone, training in foreign policy and diplomacy. Even worse, most of the appointees didn’t serve at the head office for a day. The only time they entered the building of the MF was to receive their diplomatic passports.
Employees at the MF used to call the practice of assigning people to overseas missions who didn’t serve at the MF and qualify to serve as diplomats as ‘Ayer ba ayer medeba.’The shameless Woyane leaders sent many of their agents and family members as diplomats and local employees through ‘Ayer ba ayer.’ It was impossible to verify the relationships of the TPLF informants and the people they took with them to overseas posts as their relatives.
It was because of the incompetent TPLF former fighters that overrun the Ethiopian embassies overseas that many embarrassing and unpleasant incidents occurred over the years that tarnished the image of the country. Among the embarrassing incidents that involved the TPLF’s diplomats, I will mention a few that attracted the attention of many people.
In 2014, a former TPLF fighter who was assigned ‘Ayer ba ayer’ to the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, DC, as a security chief, fired several shots at the Ethiopians who were peacefully protesting against the TPLF crimes in Ethiopia. Apparently, the Tegadalay took the embassy’s building for a Woyane bunker in Dedebit and the protesting Ethiopians as the Derge soldiers. Solomon Tadese Gebre Silasse was a close relative of the former foreign minister of Ethiopia, Seyoum Mesfin. He was posted at the embassy as a favor for his service as the TPLF fighter. Solomon had nothing to show about his qualifications that would have enabled him to represent the country as a diplomat. He was a thug who shouldn’t have left the Dedebit pit in the first place.
Another embarrassing incident involving a TPLF mole masquerading as a diplomat took place in Ankara, Turkey. In December 2017, an inebriated former TPLF fighter threatened to ‘start a war’ between Ethiopia and Turkey unless he was let go. Tesfakiros Hailu Gebremariam was involved in two car accidents and had made a threat against the police officers who tried to arrest him. There were many TPLF fighters like Solomon and Tesfakiros who were assigned in Ethiopian missions abroad to spy on career diplomats and end up damaging the image of the country.
Diplomats who disagreed with the TPLF way of doing things at the MF and embassies were called by different terms to demonize and intimidate them. For example, Amharas were called ‘Neftegas ’ if they tried promoting ideas that were different from the TPLF. The Oromos were tagged as OLFites and narrow nationalities. Others were given different terms and attacked by the TPLF moles stationed at the MF and embassies overseas.
Employees at the MOFA who were considered to have different political views with the TPLF would never be allowed to serve in the country’s foreign missions and only be permitted to stay at the ministry at the discretion of the TPLF bosses. Many intelligent diplomats saw their careers and lives cut short by the TPLF operatives at the MOFA. It takes many pages to list the names of all the victims and describe their trouble at the hands of the TPLF. I would mention, here, a case many former and current diplomats at the ministry are familiar with.
Amare Lebese, an outstanding student of Political Science and International Relations, a graduate of Addis Ababa University from the class of 1985/86, was a prominent victim of the TPLF crimes at the MOFA. Amare, originally from Gojam, was never called up to serve his country in overseas missions because he was considered a ‘Neftgas’ sympathizer. The TPLF goons wanted to use his skills and kept him at the head office until he passed away. He was a classmate of professors Merara Gudina and Kasshun Berhanu. Amare was a top student from his class and had the same grade points as the two professors. He was an intelligent young man who would have been a great asset to the country’s diplomatic mission.
Opposing the TPLF policies and its practices while working at embassies abroad would entail catastrophic consequences on a diplomat. Nothing epitomized the TPLF’s abuse of its diplomats and how its agents go to great lengths to hurt Ethiopians who opposed them as the drama that unfolded at the Ethiopian consulate in California two years ago.
The TPLF head of mission at the California consulate, Berhane Kidanmeria, who had never served at the MOFA tipped off the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) of the United States about an alleged visa fraud involving one of the diplomats at the consulate. The case involved ambassador Dr Desta Woledyahnes Delkasso, who had been serving as the Minister for Political Affairs, Economic and Business Diplomacy at the consulate since 2016. Who is Desta and why did the TPLF agents scrambled to slander her reputation and hurt her after serving her country for several decades?
Ambassador Desta has carried out her responsibilities with due diligence and the utmost care in every sector she has been called up to serve. Before she became a diplomat, she had worked as a gynecologist at the Zewditu Hospital for several years. Then, she became the head of HIV in Ethiopia before she was kicked out of her position by Tedros Adhanom. The former TPLF Health Minister sensed that Desta would blow-the-whistle about the miss management of foreign aid by the TPLF members at the Ministry of Health.
When it was time to look for another challenge, ambassador Desta took several training courses in foreign policy and diplomacy and availed herself to serve her country. She joined the MF and served in different capacities, including as head of a department before she was appointed as an ambassador to South Africa.
As an ambassador to South Africa, Desta carried out her duties with great care. She went above and beyond the call of duty to serve her country and the Ethiopian diaspora in South Africa. Several people who returned from South Africa told me Desta frequently visited prisons in Johannesburg, Cap-town, and Pretoria where Ethiopians and Eritreans were incarcerated. She helped to secure their release and gave consul to those who remained behind bars.
I don’t know ambassador Desta personally. But, I spoke to several people who had known her professionally in preparing to write this piece. They told me ambassador Desta wasn’t the kind of person who would silently watch when she sensed something nefarious. She spoke her mind and called a spade a spade. They suspect, they told me, something sinister was taking place behind the embassy walls which involved the TPLF moles. The TPLF agents at the consulate must have known that Desta knew what was going on and they felt threatened and decided to attack her.
I also share the accounts of Dest’s former colleagues about their suspicions. Based on the TPLF’s modus operandi, something wicked was taking place at the consulate involving the big TPLF officials in Addis Ababa that forced its agent to take a preemptive attack against Desta. Because of her strong personality, Desta must have been at loggerheads with the head of the mission at the embassy. The TPLF agent, Berhane Kidanemariam, instead of resolving whatever differences transpired at the embassy, chose to be a snitch and contacted the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) to inform about the visa status of ambassador’s families. Had Desta been a Woayne we wouldn’t have heard all the commotion the TPLF members and their vassals staged.
Serving one’s country in foreign missions entails esprit de corpus among the members of the diplomatic core. When disagreements and differences arise, they should be resolved peacefully and diplomatically. However, the TPLF agent who had neither the diplomatic skills nor the culture of teamwork chose to throw one of the members of his mission under the bus. Rather than being exposed for the scam that was taking place at the embassy, the TPLF agent chose to make the woman a sacrificial lamb. What the TPLF mole did at Ethiopian consulate in California to destroy the life of a fellow Ethiopian who was serving her country was criminal. What is embarrassing and wrong was as if he had done something extraordinary, Berhane Kidanmeria was moved to Washington DC to serve in the country’s embassy.
Taking dependent relatives with them to overseas missions isn’t new to the Ethiopian diplomats. Many had taken their families and dependents. The TPLF Tegadalyes took their relatives, including their, cousins, concubines, and distant relatives when they were undeservedly posted overseas. Whenever the TPLF officials visited Europe and the US, they often took their relatives with them. How have many of the relatives of the former TPLF fighters who have been congesting the streets of big cities in the western countries got there? Whose relatives are attending schools and owning businesses in the United States and Europe?
Desta took with her a couple of sick relatives who were dependent on her. Why the TPLF goons everywhere made a big fuss about it and didn’t utter a word when Seyoum Mesfin was encouraging the TPLF members to request for political asylums in the west , who travelled using diplomatic visas? I strongly believe Desta was undeservedly prosecuted and didn’t receive support from her own government when she was attacked by the TPLF crooks.
What really perplexed many people was the alleged charge that ambassador Desta was trying to bring 20 people to the United States from Ethiopia. I have looked everywhere and couldn’t find any information about ambassador Desta opening an employment agency in the United States. How the MF would have allowed a letter to leave its building requesting a visa for a single diplomat to take additional twenty people to the United States? Still, how could the embassy of the United States would have approved the request? The TPLF agents through aiga forum and other websites they owned had spread their lies, and sadly many people fell victim to their scam.
The TPLF dominated MF foreign was riddled with corruption and nepotism. Corruption was worse under Seyoum Mesfin, a TPLF henchman, who run the MF affairs over twenty years as if it was his private corporation. To get a foreign assignment, for example, some diplomats had to promise their first three months of salary to pay to the people who were directly responsible for foreign assignments. Furthermore, some diplomats who were already serving abroad and whose diplomatic mission was about to end had to pay bribes if they wanted to extend their stay by a year or two.
When Seyoum Mesfin was in charge, he did everything he wanted. He sent hundreds of his relatives and the relatives of TPLF officials to foreign diplomatic posts as local employees. It was a long practice of the MF to send drivers, cooks, guards, and others to foreign missions as local employees. Mesfin also allowed his wife and the wives of other TPLF officials to seat with diplomats to take foreign language courses at the MF as if the ministry was a tuition-free language school open to anyone.
In conclusion, Ethiopian’s diplomatic mission and its diplomats under the TPLF regime were subjected to unprecedented mismanagement and abuse. The country’s embassies were used as business centers, night clubs, political venues for the TPLF members and their lackeys. At the MOFA and Ethiopian embassies, career diplomats were abused and framed for the crimes they didn’t commit. The cases involving Amare Lebese and Desta Delkasso mentioned above were just the tips of the iceberg with many of the crimes of the TPLF agents at the MF and embassies going unreported. Amare was a young man with a bright future, and his career was cut short by Seyoum Mesfin. Ambassador Desta, who served her country tirelessly for decades, was a victim of the TPLF scam.
The government of Abiy should clean the MOFA and the country’s missions abroad from the TPLF agents. They shouldn’t be allowed to drag the country and its diplomats. There are still many TPLF operatives in overseas missions who are engaged in spying and sabotaging the change undergoing in the country. Making the working environment conducive for the country’s diplomats should be one of the priorities of the government. Given the opportunity, there are many former diplomats who are willing to serve their country. Instead of relying on cadres, allowing trained professionals to serve at the head offices and missions abroad will help the country achieve its foreign policy objectives.