Yosief Anteneh Yihunie,
Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is a fifty-year old “liberation front” which is still struggling to fulfill its fantasy. An organization which has gone through several permutations during its five decades of existence, TPLF engaged in guerrilla warfare for the first 17 years of its existence; then, it lorded over the Ethiopian people for 27 years, until, finally, an outraged electorate relegated it to the status of a disgruntled regional force in 2018. The human lives ruined or lost, the destruction of property and livelihoods that have ensued, and the suffering of the people during TPLF’s phase as a guerrilla group and during the decades it controlled state power in Ethiopia continue to boggle the mind. At this point, one cannot help but wonder: what kind of political objective[i] is it that could not be realized when TPLF held state power for 27 years–with all the human and material sacrifices that this rule was characterized by—and how could it merit waging another round of war and instability?
As stated in its founding manifesto, TPLF was specifically established to “liberate Tigray” from Ethiopia. Notwithstanding this, Tigray did not declare its independence when TPLF overthrew the Derg [the dictatorship which deposed Emperor Haile Selassie] in 1991, as was the practice among other liberation fronts. Instead, it chose to keep Tigray under the Ethiopian flag. What is interesting here is the fact that, throughout all this, the group has chosen to keep its name: Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which signals that the task of “liberation” has yet to be achieved. The question is, from whom was/is TPLF going to liberate the people of Tigray? Is it from the Amhara “ruling elites,” whom it considers the enemy of Tigray, or from the abject poverty which has been the lot of the people for centuries? What is the ultimate goal of TPLF? Is it to enable Tigray to hold central government power and rule the country? Or is it to establish a brand-new country called Tigray? The purpose of the present discussion is to critically examine the objectives outlined, the strategies followed, and the actions taken by TPLF, to help understand the true character of the group’s agenda.
Why did TPLF start its guerilla war in the 1970s? Debunking TPLF’s official narrative
To understand TPLF’s raison d’etre, one needs to investigate why its founders chose to embark on armed struggle when they did. As most Ethiopians born soon after WWII may recall, the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s in Africa marked the advent of “revolutionary” movements all over the continent. Student movements, established by the corps of educated youth who were returning from universities in the West and the East, sprouted in colleges, universities, and even secondary schools. These returning students came armed not only with the knowledge and skills they had set out to acquire, but also with questions about why their respective countries were not as “fully developed” as other nations. While the idealism which fueled such patriotic concerns was commendable, the cures prescribed were often half-baked and left quite a bit to be desired. This was a time when many young minds were intoxicated with a lot of leftist literature, and like many movements at the time, TPLF was the brainchild of the Ethiopian university student movement[ii]. Yet, while most Ethiopian students in the movement (including some from Tigray) tended to pursue a class-based struggle—mostly to overthrow the monarchy—TPLF’s founders chose a different route, ethnic-based armed struggle, aimed at separating Tigray from Ethiopia!
TPLF’s official narrative presents “ending poverty” and “Amhara domination” as its twin objectives for waging armed struggle when it was founded in 1974[iii]. TPLF latched on to an unfounded and highly toxic claim–that the natural resources and economy of Tigray were ravaged, and the people impoverished, by Amhara rulers, who callously relegated Tigray to a battlefront for fighting all kinds of wars with an assortment of foreign invaders. Now, what is the merit in this assertion? Although it is true that Tigray has seen more than its share of wars fought against foreign invaders, this is explained by Tigray’s proximity to the Red Sea Coast, via which most invaders entered Ethiopia, rather than the deliberate machinations of Amhara rulers. To say the least, this assertion hardly amounts to a sound rationale for launching armed struggle, if not being outright unpatriotic!
Another reason was later added to the rationale behind TPLF’s embrace of armed struggle–ending the atrocities committed on the people of Tigray by the Derge, which tyrannized Ethiopia from 1974-1991. However, this is highly questionable. First, the TPLF was established at about the same time when the Derge came to power, and the atrocities that the TPLF claims the Derge committed in Tigray refer to the war between the Derg and the TPLF, rather than directed at the Tigrayan people per se. Thus, it is a fallacy to say that TPLF was established to bring to an end the war between TPLF and the Derge. Second, after it consolidated power, the Derge was as repressive to other ethnic groups as it was to Tigrayans. Third, TPLF did not drop its “liberation-front” name or agenda even after “overthrowing” the Derge and holding power for over 27 years!
At a superficial level, ending “ethnic domination” might sound like a plausible reason for engaging in armed struggle–provided that the alleged “domination” of one ethnic group by another existed in the first place. In its founding manifesto, TPLF boldly asserts that the Amhara elites are the “enemy of Tigray ” and vows to fight and bury them so that Tigray could have “lasting peace”. The problem with this claim is that one will be hard put to find a period in Ethiopian history when Amharas as an ethnic group “dominated” Tigrayans to the extent of forcing them to raise arms. There is not a shred of historical evidence which proves that Amharas invaded and looted Tigray, denied Tigray the right to be governed by Tigrayans, forced Tigrayans to change the language they speak, made them practice Amhara culture (which in fact is a shared culture with Tigray), or forcefully annexed their territory. On the contrary, there is documented history of the Tigrayan invasion of the Amhara people, accompanied by looting, killing, and annexation of the latter’s territory. What Ras Michael Sihul, (a Tigrayan autocrat who was the power behind the puppet king in Gondar) did in the 17th Century, Bezbiz Kassa (later emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia) in the 19th Century are worth mentioning here. (James Bruce has meticulously recorded Mikael’s cruelty to the Amhara inhabitants of Gondar, then the seat of power)[iv]. Likewise, various sources have documented the devastation[v] that Ras Kassa (Emperor Yohannes IV) visited upon the Amhara inhabitants of Gojjam, yet the Amharas merely did their best to thwart Yohannes’ attempt to subjugate them, but at no point did they march to Tigray for revenge, let alone for extended domination.
These days, it is common to hear other bold but equally baseless assertions–such as “Amharas are robbing Tigrayan culture and civilization” or “Amharas are rooting out the Tigray kingdom and taking power”[vi]–especially when TPLF cadres brainwash their young captive supporters. However, those who make such assertions have always failed to explain what they mean when confronted by those who have knowledge of the geography, culture, and political history of the region. First, for Amharas to rob Tigrayan civilization, there must be a Tigrayan civilization to rob. Both Amharas and Tigrayans are based on language groups that evolved independently from Geez around the 12th Century[vii]. The two languages were believed to have evolved thanks to the ruling elites’ need for a communication tool among each other, and the two languages subsequently expanded through assimilation. For instance, the main language of Enderta (which includes Mekele and its environs) 150 years ago was Agawgna. The same is true of Tembien and Abergelie. As for Raya, Azebo, Wojirat, and Chirchure, they were predominantly Oromifa-speakers 100 years ago. Agame used to be part of the Beja kingdom, which is Agaw. The same goes for Axum, Sherie, Adwa. The truth is a language evolved around Logo Sarda[viii], Akele Guzai in Eritrea, simply expanded to other parts of present-day Tigray through assimilation.
There are claims of Axumite civilization, but Axumite civilization is not the same thing as Tigrayan civilization, since the Tigrigna language evolved much later (12th Century AD) than the beginning of Axumite civilization, (probably around 5th Century BC)[ix]. Even the Aguezat, South Arabian immigrants who introduced the Sabean language, from which Geez originated, to Ethiopia, arrived in Ethiopia around the 1st Century BC. Amharic is as much a descendant of the Geez and Sabean languages, as is Tigrigna. Some Tigrayans exaggerate minor issues, such as the celebration of Ashenda, and use it as a bone of contention to buttress their “Amharas- robbed-us” narrative. In reality, Ashenda is celebrated in Tigray not because it was part of the non-existent Tigrayan civilization, but because it was the culture of the Agaws (who later started to speak Tigrinya or Amharic), and that is why it is celebrated with distinct Christian overtones in the Lalibela and Sekota areas, in the Amhara Regional State. It is somewhat embarrassing to treat inheritance of culture as a basis for discord in the 21st century, but to reiterate, the Amhara people did not rob any civilization or culture introduced by Tigrayans, since a separate Tigrayan civilization or culture did not exist in the first place.
The other delusional assertion is that the Amhara rooted out Tigrayan kings and took power from Tigray[x]. A question to ask here is: from which King of Tigray did the Amhara ethnic group grab power? The only king from Tigray who ruled Ethiopia in the country’s modern history was Emperor Yohannes IV, whose ancestry is traced to the Tigrigna-speaking Agaw families in Tembien. He was as Ethiopian as any of the kings who ruled Ethiopia before or after him. However, Emperor Yohannes IV succeeded Emperor Tewodros II, an Amhara king who committed suicide after losing the battle of Meqdela to the invading British Army, with which Kassa Mircha (who became Emperor Yohannes IV) collaborated, leading to Tewodros’ defeat). Then, following a three-year interregnum, during which Atse Tekle Gyorgis’ short reign took place, Ras Kassa Mircha used Britain’s generous supply of modern firearms to defeat Tekle Giyorgis and crown himself Yohannes IV. Thus, Emperor Yohannes IV did not inherit the crown from another Tigrayan King. In turn, Emperor Menelik II took power after Emperor Yohannes IV died in Metema, defending his country from invaders. Indeed, when it comes to TPLF’s claim that Amhara nobility took power from those of Tigray, the reverse is the truth. Warlords from Tigray disrupted the long-established central governments of Ethiopia several times in history. Ethiopia was plunged into its version of the Dark Ages, the Zemene Mesafint (The Era of Princes) because the heartless Tigrayan warlord, Ras Mikael Sihul, became king-maker and sabotaged the centralized government-structure in Gondar.
Unveiling the true motive and nature of TPLF
The desire to form a new Tigrayan country remained a central goal Tigrayan elites embraced and promoted to their supporters as a cause worth waging armed struggle for. Some Tigrayan scholars contend that the people of Tigray were deliberately separated into two (Eritrea and Ethiopia) by Emperor Menelik[xi]. They blame Menelik for not driving the Italians out of Eritrea after the battle of Aduwa. They believe that the continued occupation of Eritrea by Italy separated the two and caused a different type of social, political, and economic landscape to evolve in Eritrea. Unifying the Tigrayans in the two countries under Tigrayan nationalism[xii] and creating a new country on the Red Sea has been the driving force behind the armed struggle, and here is how:
The way TPLF defined a “Tigrayan” and the geographic boundaries of “Tigray ” speak volumes about its intent to establish a brand new “Tigrayan” country. According to TPLF’s Manifesto, a Tigrayan is defined as anybody who speaks the Tigrinya language irrespective of wherever he or she lives. This definition implies that people speaking the Tigrinya language, living anywhere and with whatever ethnicity, are “Tigrayans”. However, to contend that, if a person speaks Tigrinya, then he/she is a “Tigrayan,” is like saying, if one speaks English, then he/she is English, and, if one speaks Arabic, then he/she is an Arab!
Another serious point of departure is the geographic boundary of Tigray as defined by TPLF, which extends to the borders of Sudan to the West, to the Aluha River in the South and the Port of Assab in the East. The land and people of Afar, Amhara (Wolkait-Humera, Raya), Kunama, Saho, Agaw are declared by TPLF as being part of “Tigray ”. Such an extended definition of Tigrayan identity—merely based on speaking Tigrigna, while coveting other ethnic groups’ territories is not about ending “domination” by the Amhara ruling class. It is an expansionist policy on par with what colonialist Europe and Nazi Germany pursued. It is simply a design to establish a brand-new Tigrayan country, by annexing territories from the surrounding ethnic groups
Some of the practices TPLF followed in fact support the expansionist argument to create the new Tigrayan country referred to above. TPLF forcibly annexed the areas of Wolkait, Telemet, and Tegedie of Gonder and Raya of Wollo both in Amhara region when it controlled government power in 1991 and well before the current constitution was “ratified” in 1995. Although TPLF acknowledged the independence of Eritrea from the outset, it never stopped sticking its nose in the internal affairs of that nation. In fact, TPLF attempted to organize a rebel group to overthrow the current government in Eritrea and replace it with its own puppet regime. The late Meles Zenawi wrote books and articles about the struggle in Eritrea (not about Ethiopia). The following statement from David Shinn [former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia] says it all, when it comes to TPLF’s ambition to annex Eritrea:
“I would point out one thing that was mentioned to me on several occasions in meetings that I had with Prime Minister Meles, which I always found fascinating and I was never able to sort of get why he made those statements. But on several occasions during the 1998 – 2000 conflict, he said “Mr. Ambassador, one of these days we are going to be back together again” and I would try to press on that to find out how is this going to happen? What’s the plan here? He gave no time frame at all and he did not imply it would happen in his lifetime, but he made that statement on several occasions to me and I found it intriguing but was never able to determine why he thought that was going to happen? But I am convinced he believed it very sincerely!” Ambassador David Shinn US Ambassador to Ethiopia 1996 -1999
The main challenge to achieving the “Tigray” project was the outright rejection of the idea by Eritreans, and the end of TPLF domination in Ethiopia. Things could have been different from what we see now if Eritrea had supported TPLF’s idea of creating a Tigray Republic, or if TPLF had stayed in power in Ethiopia to mature to its fullest extent. The fact that Eritrea rejectedTPLF’s expansionist policy from the very beginning forced TPLF to go into Plan B–to start with a much smaller independent Tigray, and continue to work on annexing the Port of Assab from Eritrea at a later date. The abrupt end of TPLF’s power in Ethiopia before it developed the military, economic, and political muscle needed to strangle Eritrea may have saved the latter from annexation.
The second area to delve into in order to understand TPLF’s true intent is to look into the strategies it followed and the actions it took to achieve its objectives. As stated earlier, the first thing TPLF did was wage armed struggle to dismantle the Ethiopian government. Parallel to the armed struggle, TPLF started undoing Ethiopian identity and instead institutionalized ethnic identity. Individuals, organizations, and even armed groups fighting the Ethiopian government with Ethiopian identity were targeted and annihilated. Ethnic identity thus became the mantra of TPLF politics. Tigrayan identity replaced Ethiopian identity in the whole of Tigray. The rest of Ethiopians were told to embrace the ethnic area they hailed from, not an Ethiopian identity. TPLF created alliances with anti-Ethiopian separatist groups, and foreign adversaries to dismantle the country. For instance, it fought along-side Siad Barre’s forces when Somali invaders violated Ethiopian territory in 1976.
TPLF was able to “overthrow” the government of Ethiopia in 1991, after it had sacrificed about 120,000 lives in a span of 17 years. However, unlike Eritrea, TPLF did not declare Tigray’s independence after the fall of the Derge–as many observers might have expected. Rather, once it was in power, TPLF started to adopt policies and strategies designed to weaken, and ultimately dissolve, the central government. Accordingly, it introduced a brand new administrative and political hierarchy (Regional States) by redrawing boundaries along ethno-linguistic lines. It then introduced a constitution which allows each of the new states to secede and become an independent country whenever it wants–with no question asked! The new states were urged to establish their own army and media, the primary role of these being to flex power and beat war drums against each other.
Following this, TPLF started fomenting hatred and tension among the major ethnic groups so that they would fight each other. In the schools, young children were taught how the founding fathers of Ethiopia were “evil,” in establishing this great country for them. They were constantly brainwashed to focus on their ethnicity, rather than on their Ethiopian identity. Although it took TPLF more than twenty years to see the fruits of its hard work, in time, ethnic groups started fighting against each other; millions got displaced, and tens of thousands perished in senseless inter-ethnic conflicts. Meanwhile, while the various ethnic groups were kept busy hating and fighting each other, TPLF set about plundering Ethiopia systematically, and stashing its ill-gotten wealth in its presumed territory and in offshore bank accounts. The magnitude and sophistication of the looting by TPLF is one which has probably never been seen in the history of groups holding government power. Land, money, machinery, technology–anything that has value–was plundered as if Ethiopia was an occupied nation[xiii]. Also, Forbes Magazine estimated that 30 billion dollars was looted and stashed in offshore accounts from Ethiopia during the TPLF era, and ironically, this is the same amount of aid given to Ethiopia by the United States.
Building Tigrayan institutional capacity–by dismantling Ethiopia’s–was a major strategic objective, with which TPLF worked hard to achieve its goal. For example, the modern army of Ethiopia–built over the last 100 years– was summarily dismantled and replaced by raw TPLF recruits. To ensure that TPLF had a vice-grip on the military, all key positions in it and the security services were reserved for individuals from the Tigrayan ethnic group. Likewise, Federal government offices, and strategic financial, security, and business institutions were exclusively run by Tigrayan technocrats. At the same time, Tigrayan-owned corporations–established mostly using the looted money–mushroomed overnight, and these entities monopolized almost all aspects of the Ethiopian economy. TPLF also built major edifices, such as universities, airports, roads all over Tigray at a higher rate and scale than was the case in the rest of Ethiopia. The Tigray region started to be the home of big financial and economic powerhouses that ran Ethiopia. None of this brazen robbery was hidden from the defenseless Ethiopian public, spawning the Amharic proverb, “ትግራይ እስክትለማ ኢትዮጵያ ትድማ”, which was widely shared in many circles, summing up TPLF’s policy of building Tigray to the detriment of the rest of Ethiopia.
Given the foregoing, the question one might ask is, what stopped TPLF leaders from opting to secede– probably the presence of an organized federal Army? Not so: TPLF had made sure from the very beginning that all strategic positions within the military were staffed exclusively by ethnic Tigrayans. They also deployed about 75% of the military’s strategic assets and manpower in Tigray. As a final cushion, they avidly fomented ethnic suspicion and rivalry among Amhara and Oromo, Amhara and Kimant, Somali and Oromo, Wolyita and Sidama, etc. Thus, they re-calibrated the hate agenda they had planted some twenty years earlier, just in case they needed to explode it to achieve their goal of dismantling Ethiopia and creating the Republic of Tigray!
TPLF’s retreat to Mekelle in 2018 was not only due to the mounting pressure from the protests in Oromo and Amhara regions; rather it was embedded in their overall plan of seceding from Ethiopia. TPLF held state power mainly to implement the dismantling of Ethiopia and to build Tigray’s economy–using Ethiopian resources. They had no reason to stay in the capital once they had achieved the two objectives, which they almost did. (I recall a discussion I had with one of the TPLF executive members in 2005 to support my argument here. Following the public unrest after the flawed 2005 election, Abadi Zemo, who was a Polit-Bureau member of TPLF, and who is now in the custody of the Federal government, told me that TPLF could “activate its original plan” (which was temporarily shelved), and “pull back to Mekelle” if the public uprising against TPLF did not stop. When I asked him to explain what he meant by “original plan,” he said it was to establish the “State of Tigray” once it overthrew the Derge and “stabilized” Ethiopia. According to him, it was the “patriotism” exhibited by the Ethiopian people in response to the war with Eritrea that induced TPLF to shelve the plan.)
Defining characteristics of TPLF
Deception, looting, hatred for Amharas, and cruel and inhuman treatment have been TPLF’s hallmarks as a rebel force, even as a government in power, and as a disgruntled regional force pushed out from Addis Ababa. If one can define the creed of TPLF that drives all its operations, then the following four will stand out:
1. Fascistic Anti-Ethiopian Tigre nationalism: TPLF is fighting to establish a new state based on Tigre hegemony. Almost all the policies of TPLF were designed to weaken Ethiopia and favor the establishment of a Tigre country. It is an absolute totalitarian system where descent or opposition is not entertained. The cruelty and barbaric nature of TPLF in dealing with individuals or communities other than Tigre ethnicity is extremely disturbing. Killing a child in front of the mother, wiping out villages, burning crops and killing animals to impoverish communities, episodes of ethnic cleansing by inciting violence between ethnicities, rampant gang rape[xiv] are some examples how far it go to punish the people labeled as “enemies”. TPLF Propaganda through songs, radio, television, and public meetings are mainly designed to galvanize the people of Tigray with anti-Ethiopia Tigre nationalism and demonize groups they labeled as enemies.
2. Anti-Amhara stance:All the policies put out by TPLF were designed to inflict maximum harm on Amhara people[xv]. Below are some examples just to mention:
- Adopted ethnic based federal system which excluded Amharas from any political or civic participation in the new ethnic fiefdoms. This rendered the over 10 million Amhara people, who lived throughout the country in other than the Amhara region, stateless, hence, subject to persecution.
- Openly advocated and conspired to create animosity between other ethnic groups and Amharas which resulted in several instances of genocide-like killing and displacement of the Amhara people from other ethnic-states.
- Committed economic crimes of unparalleled magnitude to impoverish the Amhara people. TPLF made sure not to establish new power stations in the Amhara region to deprive the region of power supply needed for medium and large-scale industries, which resulted in low investment rate in middle and heavy industry in the region during the 27 years they ruled Ethiopia[xvi].
- Forcefully took the most resourceful parts of Amhara (e.g., Wolkait and Raya) and annexed it with their ethnic state, Tigray. They forcefully removed the original dwellers in the annexed lands and settled thousands of Tigre to create an unnatural demographic shift.
3. Plunder and loot as economic base and as tool to impoverish “enemies”[xvii]: TPLF plundered and looted Ethiopia all the time in its 50 years of existence[xviii]. History has shown that plunder has been at the core of the strategies of Tigrayan leaders, who have mastered starting wars and conquering neighboring territories for this purpose. We saw it in the era of Emperor Yohannes IV and we are witnessing it now with TPLF. Yohaness looted Gojjam as never before, stripping the region to the bare earth as if a swarm of locusts had descended on the region! TPLF did the same during its time as a rebel force, when it controlled the government of Ethiopia, and as a disgruntled regional force after it was purged from government power. As a rebel force, TPLF confiscated all government and public resources from offices, schools, hospitals, construction projects, rural and urban dwellers’ cooperatives, and so on, every time it occupied villages, towns, and cities. It sold the loot in domestic and international markets (mainly in Sudan), and used the proceeds from the sale to finance its various battles. Even as a government power, TPLF looted everything in the public treasury, including gold, and hard currency. TPLF also forced banks to write off loans given to its companies and those of its cronies, and it forced these banks to lend billions to their favorites with no collateral, or by allowing them to use public land as collateral. Now, as a disgruntled rebel group, TPLF is looting hospitals, universities, banks, government offices, hotels, stores and everything in the Afar and Amhara regions it controls in the ongoing war[xix]. The damage created by the group in the two regions is estimated to be worth more than 260 billion Birr on agriculture alone.
4. Pretentiousness and deceptive: It is very skillful at hiding its true intentions and riding the tide with alternative truths[xx]. For example, when TPLF was faced with strong opposition from its own members and from the broader Tigrayan public–regarding its secessionist agenda–it simply let it slide without any explanation. It did not declare that it had abandoned its secessionist agenda; it simply stopped talking about it. Rather, it designed a strategy to uproot the spirit of Ethiopian identity from the people of Tigray, by killing patriotic Ethiopians of Tigrayan ethnicity, and by purging members who questioned it about its agenda. It orchestrated horrible incidents designed to alienate Tigrayans from other Ethiopians, a good example of this being the Howzien massacre. TPLF also started teaching school children exclusively about Tigray, and TPLF, not about Ethiopia. All these efforts bore fruit eventually, and now it was able to raise a generation which would openly advocate the secession of Tigray from Ethiopia.
Another example of TPLF’s penchant for deception is how it lures and destroys rivals in the name of negotiation and reconciliation. 40 years ago, there were two competing organizations to “liberate” the people of Tigray–TPLF and TLF (Tigrayan Liberation Front).[xxi] TPLF regarded TLF as a mortal threat it had to destroy. Thus, it invited the fighters and leaders of TLF to a celebratory event after a “reconciliation” meeting, and it made them eat, drink, dance and go to sleep as “comrades in arms”. The real plan, all along, was to lure them into a false sense of security, since selected operatives were busy finalizing preparations for exterminating all the TLF fighters and leaders in the middle of the night. They accomplished this grisly objective, and TLF is now history! Anyone who delves into TPLF’s sordid past can easily see that TPLF used similar tactics to annihilate the Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU) and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) in Tigray.
Having honed its deceptive tactics in dismantling TLF, EDU and EPRP, what TPLF did to the Northern Command of the Ethiopian military took such deception to a level never seen before–at least not in Ethiopian history. The Northern Command of the Ethiopian Defense Forces had defended Tigray for over 20 years. Members of the Command were active participants in all social and developmental activities of the local community, such as building schools, dams, and carrying out water and soil conservation projects. Under the pretext of war with Eritrea, TPLF had moved close to 75% of the Federal Government’s Army equipment and strategic assets to Tigray, and stored this immense arsenal under the control of the Northern Command. By deliberately maintaining a no-war, no-peace stalemate vis-à-vis Eritrea, TPLF effectively kept the Federal Army and its assets hostage for over twenty years in Tigray. What happened to members of the Command on the 4th of November, 2020 would become a defining moment for Ethiopia: On that bloody day, members of the Northern Command had spent the day harvesting the crops of Tigrayan farmers, fighting locusts, and participating in all communal and civic activities–as usual. What they were not aware of was that TPLF had completed its preparation to massacre them in the middle of the night. The leader of TPLF even talked over the phone with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia about a peaceful resolution of the problem. This tactic worked, luring the Federal government to ship about 4 billion of the newly printed Ethiopian Birr to Mekele so that banks could replace the old banknotes. TPLF launched an all-out attack on the Northern Command in the middle of the night, and set out to massacre[xxii] members of the same army which had gallantly and selflessly defended the people of Tigray for twenty years[xxiii]. The objective? To destroy the last frontier that kept Ethiopia united, and to confiscate army assets with which to attack Ethiopia and Eritrea for TPLF’s ultimate project.
The only way one can come to grips with why TPLF is inflicting all the harm described above on Ethiopia and Ethiopians is if one knows TPLF’s driving obsession: establishing the Republic of Tigray–by first dismantling Ethiopia. That is why TPLF worked hard to estrange Tigrayans from other Ethiopians, looted Ethiopia as if it were not its own country, committed despicable crimes on Ethiopians in general and Amharas in particular, and forged alliances with the long-standing and emerging enemies of Ethiopia. The dream of creating a “Tigray” Republic is not something that evolved after time, but has been its core objective from day one!
The new Tigray Republic is envisioned as an ambitious project which will necessitate annexing territories from Ethiopia and Eritrea. TPLF knows very well that this can only be achieved by dismantling Ethiopia and Eritrea first. The main reason they hate Amharas is not because Amharas dominated or colonized Tigrayans but in anticipation of the strong resistance it will face from Amharas as it sets about dismantling Ethiopia. The 27 years TPLF spent in Addis Ababa was simply to build Tigray’s economy, military, and political might by using the vast resources of Ethiopia, and to eventually strategize and implement the dismantling of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is fighting its worst enemy in centuries. The invasion of Ahmed Gragne in the 16th Century (1526 to 1543) is probably something that can be equated with what TPLF is doing now. The looting and destruction of the central highlands of Ethiopia (mainly Christians) by Grange was devastating. However, Grange did not come to dismantle Ethiopia or to create his own kingdom. He rather wanted to convert the Christians into Muslims and make the region part of his territory. The war by TPLF differs from the Gragne Invasion in one respect: TPLF wants to dismantle Ethiopia–after looting all its valuables–and make it nonexistent. So, the war is a matter of survival for Ethiopia, not a matter of choice, like it is for the TPLF. TPLF could choose to let the people of Tigray live in the country their forefathers helped build. The resources of Ethiopia are abundant and can support hundreds of millions more if fully and sustainably used. Thus, it’s puzzling why an organization would choose to dismantle a country with so much potential just to scavenge on its carcass, when the whole country is at the disposal of all its inhabitants!
There is no way anyone can equate TPLF and the Ethiopian Government–whether to criticize them or to make them negotiate. The two are completely different entities, and no country can negotiate its dissolution unless defeated fully and forced to acquiesce. The U.S. Civil War ended not by negotiation but when the Confederate forces were defeated and made to sign a surrender agreement on terms drafted by the victor, the Unionists. The Nigerian civil war came to an end after the government defeated the secessionists and forced Biafra to surrender. The civil war in Sri Lanka ended after the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, not through the countless negotiations by domestic and international groups. One side must win for such wars to come to a conclusion.
Unfortunately, the U.S.A. and Europe seem to have chosen to abandon Ethiopia, and they put undue pressure on the Ethiopian Government at the time it needs support from its allies–for reasons Ethiopians cannot fathom. The world expects high moral standards and integrity from the developed world–not aiding and abetting terrorist groups to dismantle stable nations. Standing with TPLF is strictly supporting terrorism, injustice, and the principles of Nazism. I am not sure how the USA and the West benefited from what they did to Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and the like. Ethiopia is definitely fighting not to be one more nation on that dreadful list, and, in the end, Ethiopia will prevail!
[i] Krause, Peter. 2017. Rebel Power: Why National Movements Compete, Fight, and Win. Cornell: Cornell University Press. http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOI=80140100373960
[ii] The Origins of Tigray People’s Liberation Front, by Aregawi Berhe, published by Royal African Society in 2004
[iii] TPLF Briefing (Manifesto), February 1976, First Edition, Amharic
[iv] Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile (1805 edition), by James Bruce
[v] The Wolkait Affairs, January 2019, by Achamyeleh Tamiru, Amharic
[vi] Desta Gebrekidan.2018. Emperor Yohannes and Emperor Menilik from the Perspective of Ethiopian History.
[vii] Origins of Amharic, Tigrinya and Tigre Languages, a paper on language and Culture by Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins, January 2009
[viii] The Origin and Development of Tigrinya Language Publications (1886 – 1991), by Abraham Negash, Santa Clara University (2016)
[ix] Aksum, An African Civilization of Late Antiquity, Stuart Munro-Hay, 1991
[x] “Emperor Yohannes and Emperor Menelik from the Perspective of Ethiopian History”, a book published by Memhir Gebrekidan Desta, March 2018.
[xi] “Emperor Yohannes and Emperor Menelik from the Perspective of Ethiopian History”, a book published by Memhir Gebrekidan Desta, March 2018.
[xii] የወያኔው ታላቅ ሴራ በቀደሞ አባልቱ ሲጋለጥ፣ የሕዋህት የቀድሞ አባላት የነበሩት የአቶ አብርያም ያየህና የአቶ ገብረመድህን አርአያ ቃለ ምልልስ፤ ጥቅምት 1982
[xiii] Though hard to quantify and show the looting in monetary terms, attempt is made to show the magnitude of looting in the next pages
[xiv] Ethiopia: Survivors of TPLF attack in Amhara describe gang rape, looting and physical assaults, Amnesty International, November 9, 2021
[xv] The 1976 TPLF Manifesto and Political instability in Amhara Region, Ethiopia, Bamlak Yideg and Dr.Peteti Premanandam, published in Research Review Journal, V-4, Issue-1, January 2019
[xvi] As reported by the late Tesfaye Getachew, ANDM executive member, fast forward the video to the 7th minute to understand about this heinous crime on Amhara, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-nUlmFPE80
[xvii] Ethiopia: Survivors of TPLF attack in Amhara describe gang rape, looting and physical assaults, Amnesty International, November 9, 2021
[xviii] Abusing Self-Determination and Democracy: How the TPLF Is Looting Ethiopia, by Matthew J. McCracken, 2004
[xix] “Rebuilding region would take at least 30 years” , 20 November 2021
[xx] TPLF Strategies of deceit, a reminder, by IVO STRECKER on FEBRUARY 11, 2021 https://sites.tufts.edu/reinventingpeace/2021/02/11/tplf-strategies-of-deceit-a-reminder/
[xxi] The various interviews given by X-TPLF members such as Gebremedhin Araya, Aregawi Berhi, and journalist Araya Tesfamariam
[xxii] The harrowing stories of captured, escaped and released soldiers and civilians, The Barbaric End: A sequel to the last “Super”
[xxiii] The Barbaric End: A sequel to the last “Supper”
Yosief Anteneh Yihunie, M Ed. Policy Planning, MPA. Mr. Yosief is a former Amhara regional government executive and closely follows political developments in Ethiopia. He currently works as a Senior Research Analyst in a higher education institution in California.