Ethiopia: The West’s Diplomats Meet in Secret to Decide How to Help the TPLF

The West’s Horn of Africa experts have been meeting with a TPLF leader and TPLF/OLF supporters in secret, even as its governments claim to be impartial — TPLF’s Berhane Gebre-Christos speaks as TPLF member, proposed head of “transitional government” (limo/Uber drivers) and Washington-based Ethio-American diaspora.

Donald Yamamoto, recently the U.S. Ambassador to Somalia who just retired this year, to TPLF official Berhane Gebre-Christos:

“Abiy is not listening… Obasanjo has not been extraordinary helpful or very active, and so are there any other opportunities that you see?”

Vicki Huddleston, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs and US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa to Berhane Gebre-Christos:

“I couldn’t agree more that you know, Abiy should step down, there should be an all-inclusive transition government.”

Former ambassadors and current diplomats for the United States, Britain and EU had a Zoom meeting this past Sunday with an official for the TPLF in what amounts to a green light from the West for the terrorist group’s attempts to overthrow the democratically elected Ethiopian government. And there’s evidence to prove it: a phone-cam video of the two-hour meeting.

“I hope that you’ll have military success fairly soon, because it seems as if the situation is only becoming more drastic,” said Vicki Huddleston, who was Chargé d’Affairs ad interim in Ethiopia during years the TPLF were in power.

France’s retired diplomat and writer Stéphane Gompertz openly speculated on the potential for Abiy to be forced from power. “Even if Abiy sticks to his guns, which unfortunately he seems to be doing, you either hope that people around him either in government or in the military realize that this is going nowhere and might force him to, well, accept the cessation of hostilities or force him to step down?”

The Western powers — Britain, the EU and especially the United States — have been posturing for months that they have not taken sides in the conflict and are pushing negotiations only in the interests of peace. But the Zoom talk rips away the façade, revealing a chummy circle of foreign policy elite, both retired and still active who mostly know each other and are in sympathy with TPLF objectives. They include Donald Yamamoto, one of the U.S. government’s most senior Africa experts who just retired this year as the American ambassador to Somalia, and Spain’s diplomat Carmen de la Peña.

Former EU ambassador to Ethiopia Tim Clarke admitted that all of the attendants “maintain contacts with our former employees. Just the other day I was talking to the existing EU ambassador to Ethiopia.”

Others who attended included former British ambassador Robert Dewar and one of Finland’s top former ambassadors, Kirsti Aarnio. It’s unclear how many other Western diplomats were online, or for that matter, how many of these secret consultations they have had with the TPLF while feigning neutrality to the world.

A phone cam video of the Zoom meeting was taken by a participant, and the video reveals a lot. Donald Yamamoto displayed stunning ignorance of the situation on the ground when he said, “With troops now right outside of Addis — and as you know, the evacuations have begun — that’s a very alarming situation…” Only TPLF soldiers are not right outside of Addis but at least more than 200 kilometres away.

The Zoom meeting was held under the auspices of the newish Peace and Development Center International, but the source described it as a thinly-veiled front, calling it “TPLF and OLF-run masquerading as NGO.”

The who’s who of Western diplomacy listened to former Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Minister Berhane Gebre-Christos, now a stalwart TPLF official, give a meandering talk in which he claimed without evidence that Abiy Ahmed started planning the invasion of Tigray from when he took office as prime minister in 2018. “He started preparing himself to invade Tigray since the first day.”

Berhane, you might remember, was the lead spokesman for the coalition of separatist groups that joined together and introduced themselves at a Washington news conference almost three weeks ago. “There is no limit for us,” Berhane told reporters then. “Definitely we will have a change in Ethiopia before Ethiopia implodes.”

His fellow leaders were noticeably less articulate, with one mumbling that the coalition would form a new regime in Ethiopia by “force or negotiation, whatever they wish.” Even as these representatives made their debut, ethnic organizations back home let it be known that they had never heard of these men. But others had… It soon turned out that one had worked recently as a limo driver in Toronto while another had apparently been a limo driver in Calgary. The “dream team” — who also apparently needed to have new suits bought for their news conference — quickly became a laughingstock on social media, with Ethiopians at home and in the diaspora dismissing these new leaders as Uber drivers.

During the Sunday Zoom conference, Berhane claimed that Abiy’s government refused to negotiate “because they have committed so, so, so much heinous crimes” and negotiations could lead to government accountability. As well, he insisted that Ethiopia had “no defence capability today — there is no defence force, there are militias.”

This, of course, is not at all true as the Ethiopian army still exists with an intact command structure and has, in fact, had scores of new recruits rush to join for the anti-TPLF effort.

Tim Clarke later gushed, “It’s a huge honor and privilege to see you Ambassador Berhane, you haven’t changed at all. I’m really impressed at how you’ve kept your youthful appearance and are articulate and as convincing as ever, I have to say.”

Stéphane Gompertz also posited the idea of an amnesty or pardon “in order to — precisely to — encourage the other side [the Ethiopian government] to give up this useless fight.”

The stunning presumption here is that only the Ethiopian side is guilty of war crimes while survivors of the Mai Kadra Massacre say differently, as well as children who say they were used by the TPLF as human shields, as well as the growing list of witnesses to horrors perpetrated by the TPLF while they occupied Lalibela.

Yet the veteran diplomats who took part in Sunday’s closed Zoom conference complimented Berhane on his presentation and seemed to buy into his vision that the Abiy government would soon lose, with the TPLF’s victory assured.

“Abiy is not listening, he’s not listening at all right now,” commented Donald Yamamoto on the issue of negotiation. “And how are you going to reach him? A person who’s really in a corner. And [African Union envoy Olusegun] Obasanjo has not been extraordinary helpful or very active, and so are there any other opportunities that you see?”

It’s not clear at all who Yamamoto expects the TPLF to negotiate with if not the prime minister of Ethiopia and his cabinet, who received a clear mandate in the democratic elections held earlier this year in which approximately 80% of the eligible population voted.

Berhane claimed in his presentation that the TPLF’s coalition partners had agreed on a “transitional arrangement” without offering any specifics — only that there would be a need for a “provisional administration” to fill a security vacuum. It “would serve a very short period of time” and then through an all-inclusive political dialogue there would be a “transitional arrangement.” He also insisted grandly that political parties were already being consulted. “There will be no exclusion. Definitely the exclusion will be with PP, Prosperity Party… If they are defeated militarily, then PP will have no place.”

The diplomats’ reactions are hard to fathom since Berhane demonstrated yet again the contradictory TPLF positions that a powerful and sinister Ethiopia had put Tigray back into the “Stone Age” and had inflicted genocide, while at the same time as far as Ethiopian generals went, “Most of them are incompetent.”

“I couldn’t agree more that you know, Abiy should step down, there should be an all-inclusive transition government,” said Huddleston who also wondered, “I think — I worry because you know, the Tigrayans, yourself and leaders in Tigray have been very effective in carrying out the conflict [sic] and fighting back, and to me that sort of means that Tigrayans will be charge of a new government. And as competent as you are and the fact that you could probably do an excellent job, still, I think that probably would be a huge mistake.”

In his response, Berhane purred, “I assure you that we’re not interested in controlling Addis and so on.”

Given Yamamoto’s high stature in the State Department, it’s unlikely the TPLF wouldn’t interpret his supportive comments — and those of Huddleston’s — as any less than an American endorsement of a military coup. And here were seasoned diplomats talking on an open Zoom call. What then are U.S. officials saying to the TPLF behind closed doors?

The meeting was moderated by scholar Ephraim Isaac, who was close to Meles Zenawi, negotiated with the Derg, and was instrumental in helping to bring the TPLF to power. As the meeting ended, he told the diplomats, “Keep thinking of how we can get an international coalition to help us.”

The full video can be viewed here.

UPDATE, December 1, 2021: A new clip from the video, which can be seen here, makes it quite clear that those trying to minimize the role of the “retired” diplomats are either disingenuous or have no real idea what’s going on and how they still have influence. In this freshly leaked clip, Yamamoto enlists Huddleston’s help after getting a call from a “senior DOD person.”

Writer person. Books - Prevail, The Karma Booth, Gangs in Canada; in June 2021, Winged Bull, a bio of Henry Layard, the Victorian era’s Indiana Jones.