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A Brief Case Study on the Ignominious Defeat of the TPLF and Its Implications for Ethiopia

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Assefa Fayesa
February 18, 2021

Ethiopia is undergoing drastic and seismic changes. The Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF), a minority party that claimed to represent roughly the six million people of Tigray and for decades the undisputed overlord of Ethiopia’s ethnic/linguistic federation, made fatal miscalculations and now finds itself in its death throes. The TPLF, the honcho in the now defunct governing ethnic coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRDF), dictated politics for three decades in the second most populous, geo-strategically, and historically important country in Africa. Politics, as often stated, is the art of compromise. But in the TPLF’s lexicon compromise was nonexistent. While in power, the TPLF weaponized Ethiopia’s linguistic/ethnic differences and employed Machiavellian tactics in “winner-takes-all” deadly politics to the detriment of the vast majority. The Oromos and the Amharas, respectively about 35 and 27 percent of the population and others were treated in this lopsided system as sidekicks.

The TPLF squandered multiple opportunities to shepherd meaningful reform from a position of strength and nurture a democratic system fit for a multi-ethnic nation with strong minority rights protections. Despite welding national power, the TPLF remained a “liberation” front and used dictatorial tactics and chicanery to hold absolute political and economic control. Political dissidents were killed, arrested, tortured, or exiled and business competitors were systematically vanquished. The systemic repression and exploitation created deep resentment and led to the 2016 nationwide uprising and to the 2018 right-sizing of the TPLF in national power. The new government, led by the charismatic and pragmatic Abiy Ahmed, realized the dangers of ethnic politics, and tried to subdue the flames of division. It transformed the EPRDF ethnic coalition into a single political party and severed the longstanding stranglehold of the TPLF over the governing party and the country. \

Despite the TPLF’s gross human rights violations, grand corruption, and penchant for mischief, Abiy tried to work with it. But the TPLF was uninterested in genuine and equitable power-sharing and schemed to gain back its lost power at any cost. It left the federal government, decamped in Tigray, and launched an asymmetric war to weaken Abiy’s government and make the country ungovernable. The TPLF is accused of instigating and funding ethnic conflicts in Amhara, Metekil, Oromia, Somalia, and in the South, resulting in the deaths of thousands and dislocation of millions, putting the Abiy government’s ability to hold the country together in question. It objected the government’s decision to postpone the 2020 national elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in clear defiance, conducted its own regional election and, of course, as it did in the past 30 years “won” 100 percent of the contest in Tigray. In fact, the TPLF assumed a more belligerent position and claimed that what Ethiopia’s regions needed was more autonomy from the center under a confederate structure and sponsored a conference of known extremists in a failed attempt to form a pseudo-confederation.

Meanwhile the TPLF readied an estimated 250 thousand militia and paramilitary force and secretly organized key Tigrayan officers in the country’s military, intelligence, and security forces and created a parallel structure with the intention to usurp national power. On November 4, the TPLF made its biggest miscalculations and surreptitiously attacked the unsuspecting national forces guarding the Ethio-Eritrean boarder. Many non-Tigrayan were arrested or executed by their own comrades in a treasonous act, according to the government.
The surviving and betrayed national forces retreated to Eritrea. Abiy and his military leaders quickly reorganized their loyal forces and launched a blistering counteroffensive, and in a span of a few weeks, decapitated or arrested almost the entire TPLF political and military leadership and dismantled the organization. Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia and others in the wider region, fearing the specter of ethnic strife and instability, quickly sided with Abiy. Of course, others in the region also used the distraction to try to advance their expansionist and geopolitical interests. If the TPLF had succeeded and clawed back to national power, the subjugation and exploitation of over 100 million people would have resumed déjà vu with vengeance, and in reaction the country could have descended into a civil war and possible disintegration.

The TPLF’s hubris and uncompromising lust for power created in its leadership a false sense of military superiority and invincibility, faulty reading of the changed national and geo-political environment, and in a poorly formulated and executed stratagem riddled with layers of fatal risks. Untamed by advanced age and experience, the TPLF’s mostly septo-octogenarian leaders remained stuck in their extremist positions of their youth and failed to transform into statesmen to help guide their country into a moderate state and a kinder and gentler future for themselves. It was sad to witness the disheveled and disgraced TPLF leaders paraded one after the other in handcuffs reminiscent of recent history in Iraq, Libya, and Côte d’Ivoir.

The TPLF is now for all practical purposes a militarily defeated and a politically spent force. For the first time ever, people are free from its suffocating clutches. Several Tigrayan political parties are sharing power in a transitional government. A lot needs to be done to fully restore peace, security, and law and order. Urgent work is a must to rehabilitate wide segments of the affected population, rebuild damaged infrastructure, reestablish full government services, and breathe life into the economy. Some remnants of the TPLF are agitating for a prolonged, costly guerrilla war to unseat the government. They are ignoring that the TPLF is a ghost of its former self, the absence of a galvanizing and unifying just cause to spark, drive, and sustain such a struggle, and the unfavorable extant national and geopolitical landscape that makes success inconceivable. Pragmatic TPLF supporters and sympathizers should learn from the mistakes of the ignominiously defeated leaders of the TPLF and spurn the temptation to engage in another cycle of retribution. They should instead embrace peace and sell their vision and ideas through the next and subsequent elections. The question for all Ethiopians now is whether they can learn from their torturous collective history and build a promising future where citizens can live and work with freedom and dignity in any part of their country under the equal protection of the law. Prime Minister Abiy was right when he warned his compatriots not to glow in the euphoria of the moment, but instead to focus on the hard work ahead.

Assefa Fayesa

4 Comments

  1. TPLF is not dead and burried. TPLF is not receiving budget from the federal “government” or is not participating in the hyped upcoming national election but that does not mean TPLF is dead and burried. Actually TPLF is at the same status as OLF-Shane or Amara Liberation Front (ALF) now , since they all do not plan to participate in the upcoming election and they all are fighting guerilla warfare (civil war) against the Ethiopian “government” , this guerilla warfare (civil war) which is being fought at so many fronts within Ethiopia had crippled the Ethiopian military to the point of not being able to defend it’s territory. Just because the GERD is not attacked it does not mean Ethiopia is currently safe. When Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japan during the second world war USA hurt all over , but in Ethiopia when a Sudanese government non-stop attacks twenty plus miles square miles radius Ethiopian habitants within their country non stop for months the Ethiopian government is unable to stop these gruesome attack of total enslavement on the Ethiopian dwellers who mostly are dead while fighting back with their bare hands , their skeletons left on the side of the roads within the occupied territory to terrorize those that are currently enslaved . Ethiopian women enslaved shackled in chains are being sold as slaves in northern Sudan by the Sudanese arabs. While all these is going on talking about working hard or working soft to rebuild Tigray while letting hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian citizens get enslaved is nothing but total idiocy on the part of the Ethiopia government. The Ethiopian military had lost the civil war and the war against the foreign colonizing slave traders.

    Whether anyone is admitting it or not , the fact is Ethiopia is currently colonized for the first time in the Ethiopian history by Sudan with no to little resistance from the Ethiopian side, just because Sudan is not occupying enslaving all hundred plus millions of Ethiopians at the same time it does not mean Ethiopia is not colonized. So we should concentrate on building or rebuilding Ethiopia’s sovereignty first, then we can talk about building or rebuilding infrastructures in Tigray or anywhere else . Without sovereignty talking about building or rebuilding is same as buying a trouser while not having underwear pants. First buy an underwear then you can buy a trouser. If a country is not sovereign then TPLF got no interest in being part of the government body same as OLF , ALF and many others currently eating a civil war to distance themselves from the “government” of Ethiopia. Nagasaki was bombed Japan hurt all over same is the case with Ethiopia we are paralyzed in shock since our pain is too much. We are being sold as slaves for $10.00 USD in Sudan. Arab Sudanese friends of Ethiopia bought many of these slaves and released them but sadly the Sudanese military caught them again hope traveling back to Sudan , many are being taken captive and resold as slaves again but they were able to release the video recorded below while they were freed for a brief moment before they got resold.

    /m.youtu

  2. ” talking about working hard or working soft to rebuild Tigray while letting hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian citizens get enslaved is nothing but total idiocy on the part of the Ethiopia government.”

    “ወዳጅ” ሞረተኛው ባለኮሜንት”ተጠየቅ! ልጠየቅ!”
    ትግራይ ስትደበደብ የደስደስ ዳንኪራ መርገጥ፣ ትግራይን እናስባት የሚል ቃል ገና ሲበተን ደግሞ የሞረተኛ ጭሆት መልቀቅ ሆኖ ቀረው ማለቅያ የለሹ ዘላለማዊው ሽፍጠኛው እኩይነታችሁ!
    ደጋግሜ እንዳልኩት፣ wie der phönix aus der Asche እንነሳለን! የኢትዮጵያ መንግስት የዚህ የመነሣታችን አካል ለመሆን ከተንደረደረ እንደ ሃላፊነት የሚሰማው አካላችን እንጂ አንዳችም “total idiocy” የሚባል ሞረተኛነት አናይበትም!!!
    ስላሌላችሁ የግዴታ Anstand መግዛት ሊኖርባችሁ ነው!

  3. Zarayacob

    The war b/n TPLF and the federal government is no where near over. You can not build infrastructures while you are fighting war at the same place and at the same time. To defend Mekele from TPLF the federal government is currently diging defensive trenches around Mekele , there is no infrastructures being built in Tigray as many try to say it is being done. Noone is actually that idiot to actually build infrastructures in a war zone. Zerayacob Call anyone you know in Mekele and ask if the war is over? They will tell you light is out and TPLF is right outside Mekele advancing to recapture Mekele. Anyway if Ethiopia can not stop or can not at least delay Sudan from advancing to Tigray first, then it doesn’t matter who wins this civil war between TPLF and the Federal govt. over Mekele because Sudan will defeat the weakend civil war fighting national defence forces or the TPLF easily if TPLF and the federal govt. continue their civil war then Sudan will for sure enslave residents of Tigray too as Sudan currently enslaved those Ethiopians who lived near upto 50 Kilo Meters deep in the Ethiopian side across the Ethio-Sudaneese border , selling these Ethiopians in northern Sudan for ten US dollars each as slaves and killing those who resisted being enslaved. This is not ተረት ሞረት it is the hard truth we must face. አለባብሶ ሊታለፍ የማይቻል ሀቅ ነው።

    ዘረ-ያዕቆብ እንነሳለን እንገነባለን እያልክ ፌደራልን አዘናግቼ ሲያስጠጋኝ እወጋዋለሁ ብለህ አስበህ ከሆነ ብልህነትህን ሳላደንቅልህ ለማለፍ አልፈልግም! ከተቻለህ ብልህነትህን ለበጎ እንድታውለውም አበረታታሀለው!

  4. በመጀመርያ እኔ ፀረ ማንኛውም አይነት ጦርነት ነኝ:: ያላለቀው ጦርነት ከመጀመሩ በፊትም “ህግ ማስከበሩ” በጦርነት ሳይሆን በሌላ ዜቤ መከናወን እንደሚገባ ሌት ተቀን አሳስቤ ነበር:: ግን ማን ይስማን:: ከሁለት አመታት በላይ ወያነ በየስታድየሙና በየጫካው ጦርነትን ስትለምን፣ ያሳደገችው ልጇ አብይም ለእሷው FAVOR ሲል ተንቀሳቀሰና ይሄው ያለንበት ሁናቴ ላይ እንገኛለን:: ጦርነት ሆይ ምነው ነይሊኝ እንጂ እየተባለ ሲለመንም፣ መስሎኝ የነበረው(ከዚህ ቀጥሎ መባል ያለበትን በሌላ ጊዜ እንመለስበታለን)
    ኢንፍራስትራክቸርና ጦርነት አብሮ አይሄም ስለአባባልህ፣ አስብ፣ ጣልያን ሙሶሎኒ እኛን የተምቤን ተራሮች ላይ በጭስጋዝ እየፈጀን በሌላ በኩል ግን የሊማሊሞን ገደላገደልን ሁሉ ለጎደናነት አበቀው፣ ከዚያም ማይጨውን አልፎ ወደ አዲስ አበባ ሲቃረብ አላጀንና አለማጣን አቅንቶ ለጎዳናነት አበቃው:: ብቻ ምን ልበልህ በአምስት አመቱ የጦርነት ጊዝያቶች ውስጥ ጣልያን የጠቅላላ ኢትዮጵያን ኢንፍራስትራክቸር ቀይሶ ሲያበቃ፣ ከተቀየሰው አንድ ሩብ የሚሆነውን በካትረአመ ጎዳና ሸፍኖት ነበረ::
    ከዚህም በመነሳት ነበር ይመስለኛል አዲስ አበባ (sorry, ወረዳ ሱልልታ) ባደኩበት ጊዜ አባቶችህ ሲሉት እሰማው የነበረ አባባል፣ “ምናለበት ጣልያን ተጨማሪ አምስት አመታት ቆይቶ ቢሆን ኖሮ፣ ጠቅላላ ኢትዮጵያን በኢንፍራስትራክቸር አሟልቷት ያርፈው ነበር” እያሉ በተከናነብነው ነፃነታችን ላይም ሳይቀር ሲያሟርቱ የነበረው::
    ግን የሆነም ይሁንና በመንኛውም ጊዜ በእድገት ላይ መረባረብ ያስፈልጋልና፣ አሁንም በትግራይ መገንባት ላይ ርብርብ ያስፈልጋልና ሁላችንም ምድረ ፅዮንን እንገነባ ዘንዳ የእናቴ መቀነት አደናቀቸኝ አይነቶች ሸፍጥንና ሞረትን አቁሙና ልበገርም ለመሆን ጣሩና በዚህ ተግባር ላይ የኢትዮጵያን መንግስት በክፉኛ እንተባበረው………..!!!

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