Se’are Mekonnen (Gen).

It is not often that successful military men are remembered for their humanity and compassion. But that is exactly how many of Se’are Mekonnen’s (Gen) colleagues and friends remember him.

Tsegaye Berhe, the former vice president of Tigray Regional State, remembers a moment back in 1979 during the struggle against the Dergue. He was leading a rebel group that included Se’are as a team member in Asgede Tsemebila in that region.

“I was much older than him. He was just a young kid then,” said Tsegaye.

An unidentified group was seen travelling in the area. Se’are was told to take action and not let them escape. But he refused to take measures, arguing that he didn’t have a cause. Tsegaye remembers him arguing on the radio, “What if they are innocent people? We can’t have their blood on our hands.”

Se’are was a man who always stood against arbitrary decisions and a person who respected and protected the rights of others, Tsegaye told Fortune.

Tsegaye and Se’are grew up in the same area and have known each other since childhood. He remembers Se’are as a very active kid who was a fast learner. He transferred these skills to the battlefield when he joined the rebel movement while in high school at the of age 15.

“He was a man that could read a battlefield,” said Tsegaye. “He was a quiet and calm person who made decisions carefully.”

His superiors noticed those personal qualities both in the armed resistance and later in the national army. He joined the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in 1976 and was rapidly promoted to leadership positions. He had led many operations against the Derguesuccessfully. He rose through the ranks of the TPLF, quickly becoming one of the top commanders.

When the national army was reorganised after the defeat of the Dergue, he was assigned as commander of the Eastern Division. One of his significant contributions came as the commander of the Ethiopian forces in the Bure operation during the war with Eritrea in 1998. Those who fought under his command say his troops loved and fought for him, because he led by example.

Getachew Reda, a member of the executive committees of the TPLF and the EPRDF, has been friends with Se’are for over twenty years. He recalls visiting the General while he was stationed on the Bure front. He says Se’are interacted with his soldiers more as a friend than as a commander.

Getachew says Se’are was an open person who was always willing to share his experiences and mentor young people. The army recognised that, and he was made the head of education and training from 2014 to 2018 when he was promoted to be the Chief of Staff of the armed forces.

It was a difficult time to take the baton as the country was going through a turbulent time following the reform. The army was increasingly getting pulled into domestic peacekeeping duties as communal tensions and internal displacements started flaring up in different parts of the country.

Even though Se’are dutifully performed this task, he believed that is not something the army is trained for, and it showed a failure of political leadership. He calmly but bluntly presented this assessment to the Executive Committee of the EPRDF about a month before his death.

Getachew said the governing principle of Se’are’s life was the love of country and service to its people. He looked at all the people of the nation equally, and partiality was not in his nature.

In this polarised time that was not equally appreciated by all. Abebaw Tadesse (Lt Gen), a longtime colleague, speaking at his memorial service said, “He was seen as a traitor by some for his unwavering stand to serve his country impartially.”

He was doing just that on June 22, 2019. He was coordinating the army’s response to reported disturbances in Bahir Dar. When he found out his longtime friend, retired General Gez’ae Abera had come to his home to visit him, he decided to take a break and spend a little time with him. It was while chatting with his friend at his own home that his bodyguard killed him.

Getachew says there should be an independent investigation to get to the bottom of what happened, as this was an attack on the country. This is a significant loss for the country as leaders like Se’are who have been tested and experienced, consistent, principled and calm are hard to come by. He said he had talked to him on the phone minutes before he was killed. Even when he asked him about what was going on in Bahir Dar, Se’are’s message was to remain calm. His wife and two children survive the 57-year-old.

PUBLISHED ON Jul 06,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1001]

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