Tigray Defense Forces, Chemonics & Ethiopia’s John Bolton

By: Sebs Solomon — Originally Posted on July 3, 2021 via SolarTsunami

7 min readSep 25, 2021

I recently read an analysis about the conflict in Ethiopia by Michael Horton in the Terrorism Monitor section on the Jamestown Foundation website, released late May.

Terrorism Monitor

Michael Horton is a fellow for Arabian Affairs at the Jamestown Foundation, a conservative think tank where Dick Cheney and Zbigniew Brzezinski were once board members. Furthermore, Horton is a co-founder of Red Sea Analytics International (RSAI), an advisory firm recently incorporated in the UK. RSAI provides governments, international organizations, and the private sector with geopolitical analysis of events that impact security in the Red Sea region. In addition to Horton, another RSAI co-founder is Ahmed Al-Khameri, who is a program and development manager in Yemen and Syria for Chemonics; a private international development firm founded by Thurston Teele in 1975. More on Chemonics International in a later section.

In the article, Horton asserts it is unlikely the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) will be defeated over a short or medium term because, as well as having a sympathetic local population, they have an abundance of weapons, fighters, officers, and commanders like General Tsadkan Gebretensae (a billionaire who was a former chief of ENDF, current board chairperson of Lion Bank, and founder of Raya Brewery).

Raya Brewery (left) & Lion Bank Chairperson (right)

Gebretensae has been a vocal critic of Abiy Ahmed, in a 2019 interview, he said there was a, “strong feeling in the region that Tigray people were excluded by Abiy Ahmed [making] peace with Eritrea…[the] muddled nature of peace with Eritrea and the shuttle diplomacy has left people in the region concerned.” Similarly, in the past, Gebretensae has called for a more aggressive posture toward Eritrea because he believed it was vital for Ethiopia’s national security. However, he never seems to think the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) elites (who were in power for almost thirty-years and of which he is one) are also a threat to Ethiopia’s internal affairs. For example, in 2008 (under the TPLF administration), ReliefWeb noted that tens of thousands of Somalis in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia were being forcibly displaced, having their homes burned down, experiencing abuses, and a humanitarian crisis was underway; however:

The western governments, including the US, UK, and European Union…refrained from even mild public concern, much less criticism…the US government…a staunch Ethiopian ally…has minimized and possibly actively ignored internal concerns and reporting on the situation.

Perhaps, it is the continuity of TPLF’s rule that Gebretensae cares about, and not so much Ethiopia’s safety. Meanwhile, BBC referred to Gebretensae as the Tigray rebel mastermind who, in the past, “tried to warn his TPLF colleagues that Eritrean leader Isaias Afwerki was a threat to Ethiopia.” The BBC piece, briefly, mentions that Gebretensae was fired by Meles, in 2000, for attempting to advance into the Eritrean capital of Asmara at the conclusion of the conflict that began in 1998.

In my opinion, if a diabolical megalomaniac, such as Meles, ousts you from his administration for being “too aggressive,” it should sound an internal alarm. General Gebretensae is the John Bolton of Ethiopia.

General Gebretensae (left) & John Bolton (right)

Akin to Bolton’s frustration with Trump’s slow and cumbersome approach toward Venezuela and Iran, Gebretensae, in a similar fashion, is acting like a hawk toward Eritrea. Bolton endlessly complained that Trump was not enough of a neocon for his taste; he even wrote a book about it after he was fired. Nonetheless, that does not validate Trump or Isaias Afwerki, nor does it minimize any atrocities in which they are implicated. In essence, John Bolton and General Gebretensae are both out of touch and out of date men still seeking to engage in “zero-sum” games that most people are tired of playing. Let us leave the neocon ideas behind and move forward to caring about and recognizing one another’s humanity while cherishing and respecting our ecosystem. Compassion for human beings should not stop at an arbitrary border. Nationalism means nothing when it’s not based in internationalism or rooted in empathy for every single person within or outside a synthetic boundary.

Let’s compare two New York Times headlines about insurgency; one published June 29, 2021 about Ethiopia and another from Jan 6, 2021 about DC.

Ethiopia Coverage (left) & DC Coverage (right)

Is it a surprise that the New York Times, Washington Post, and those alike portray the recent Tigray Defense Force (TDF) “insurgency” in a positive light; while still claiming the January 6th “insurgency” in DC was the biggest threat to US democracy? No, it is not surprising because that is how war-mongering publications run. Adding another abomination to their record of careless reporting, yesterday, NYT featured an article with photos of 6000 captured Ethiopian soldiers marching to prison while being paraded through the capital of Tigray by TDF forces, as crowds cheered and applauded.

Thousands of Ethiopian POWs were shamed and paraded in the capital of Tigray while marching to prison.

Under the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war “must be given food, clothing…protected from violence, intimidation and public curiosity.” Nevertheless, NYT postulates there is no existing proof that the Ethiopian POWs were abused or “whether marching them through the streets of Mekelle amounted to a violation of the Conventions.” How is marching thousands of prisoners through the street as jubilant crowds heckle them not an ethical or moral violation; let alone, defying the Geneva Convention? In the same way, how can one be against violence in Tigray, while glorifying the public shaming and flaunting of Ethiopian POWs? Hence, this contradiction is further evidence that the NYT editors are either completely morally bankrupt or profoundly ignorant.

To be clear, I do not believe that January 6th was an attempted coup motivated by violent “white outrage” against the “radical left” orchestrated by Donald Trump. That would be explaining it through the confines of a manufactured paradigm designed by the spooks themselves. Furthermore, opposing TPLF/TDF violence and pointing out the inconsistencies in the media’s coverage is not an endorsement of any cruel and inhumane monstrosities committed by the Eritrean army or the Ethiopian federal forces in Tigray. Abiy Ahmed’s neoliberal economic policies and intolerance of dissent should not be ignored when discussing TPLF’s history. In a recent statement about Tigray, HOA PALS noted that since there is no minimum wage law in Ethiopia, Abiy’s embrace of free-market solutions and big-business oriented policies have mostly hurt workers because, “as labor, raw material, and tax costs rise in Asian factories, Ethiopia offers a cheaper alternative, luring big brands such as…Gap and…H&M.”

HOA PALS Report: Abiy Ahmed’s neoliberalism in full display

Likewise, to the principled and honest observer, it is obvious that Isaias is no bastion of hope or symbol of liberation for anyone; he is corrupt, just like Joseph Biden, Emmanuel Macron, or Abiy Ahmed. Isaias displays signs of severe narcissism and ignorantly believes punishing dissenters by turning them into political prisoners will quell the mass outrage over lack of elections and the shortage of freedom in Eritrea. Imagine thinking that the answer to the, justified, fury over inadequate civil liberties, is locking up more people. He should free all of them and make amends for the pain he has inflicted on many people because no one is beyond redemption and it is never too late.

A sidenote to the people in the northern hemisphere who think they live in a civilized democracy or republic; having consistent government elections every few years does not guarantee a democracy or justice if the people making the policies are unethical and deceitful.

A few words on Chemonics, Afghanistan, and Syria

In 1972, before Chemonics International, Thurston Teele was Chief of Party to the USAID funded, Afghan Fertilizer Distribution Project (or Afghan Fertilizer Company) that formed a private-public partnership with the agriculture sector of Afghanistan to efficiently distribute fertilizer to farmers. This was a year before the Afghan monarchy was overthrown by Mohammed Daud Khan, in 1973, to establish the Republic of Afghanistan; which, initially, had close ties to the Soviet Union but eventually warmed up to the west and then overthrown in 1978. Subsequently, Jimmy Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski provided the Mujahideen, a jihadist guerilla group, with military aid to counter any forces partial to the Soviets in Afghanistan. As a result, Mujahideen went on to, “terrorize the civilian population, loot, stage mass executions, close schools, rape thousands of women and girls, and reduce half of Kabul to rubble” and, according to Michael Parenti, it spread to Algeria, Chechnya, Kosovo, and Kashmir.

In 2020, Chemonics was one of the US government-funded companies accused of paying the Taliban to refrain from attacking their business interests because “it was cheaper [for them] to buy off the Taliban than…to invest in the security necessary to mitigate the terrorist threats.” Moreover, Chemonics, through USAID, provided aid for the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as, White Helmets.

A visual display of Michael Horton’s link to Chemonics International via Al-Khameri (among other notable or noted connections)—Interactive Map Here

After reading Horton’s article praising the Tigray Defense Forces and provided that Chemonics International has a tendency to fund controversial and extremist groups, it is important to highlight Horton’s link to Chemonics, through the co-founder of RSAI, Al-Khameri. There is no direct proof that Chemonics is funding TDF/TPLF via USAID at the present time; however, it is important to note these connections and then further explore them as more information becomes available. After all, on the USAID website and by their own admission:

USAID coordinates with U.S. Special Operations to address complex challenges in fragile states, particularly in conflict situations, to ensure that diplomatic, development and defense efforts are mutually reinforcing.