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Review of Lt. General Tsadkan Gebre Tense’s Article | Messay Kebede


I read with great attention and interest a recently posted article [see http://www.ethiomedia.com/1012pieces/ethiopia_political_challenges_and_proposed_solutions.pdf] in which Lt. General Tsadkan Gebre Tensay analyzes with a sharp critical eye the ruling government and party of present-day Ethiopia and gives us a blueprint of the various scenarios awaiting the country. Let me begin by admitting my surprise and admiration to see a top member of the leadership of the ruling party and a former Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian Armed Forces undertake such a critical review of a regime that he had served for a long time. One cannot but wonder how deep the level of the deterioration of the political edifice has become for a top veteran and servant of the regime to feel the need to speak up openly in so alarming terms. Be that as it may, my review has two parts: in the first one, I present the undeniable virtues of the article and, in the second part, I proceed to some critical remarks, the objective of which is to encourage Gen. Tsadkan to go further in the critical assessment so as to get to the root of the problem bogging down the TPLF itself.

Without doubt, the article gives a candid, almost thorough and straight criticism of the regime. Almost nothing of what is detestable and faulty is left out: the absolute control of all the branches of government, the calamitous identification of the government with the ruling party, the heavy-handed involvement of government in the economy, the proliferation of corruption and clientelism, etc., are severely denounced. Gen. Tsadkan is not even nice to his former colleagues: he is highly disparaging of the involvement of army generals in the running of key sectors of the economy instead of focusing on their true job, which is to protect the integrity and sovereignty of the country. In a word, the entire regime is put on trial and condemned without any reservation. One admires the courage and honesty of Gen. Tsadkan, given that his position will certainly ostracize him, perhaps even arouse the animosity of the leaders of the ruling party.

This much is undeniable: Gen. Tsadkan wants genuine solutions for the numerous and serious problems besieging Ethiopia. For him, the stake is none other than the survival of Ethiopia so that the solutions must be far-reaching enough to stop the dangerous trends toward which the country is moving. His proposal is clear and simple: the implementation of democracy and the rise of a political system based on the verdict of the people are the only means to tackle the deep problems of the country. The use of force repeats the mistakes of previous regimes and can only yield the same outcomes, but this time in a context that is much more explosive. Clearly, the author is genuinely concerned about the fate of Ethiopia. True, he does not hide his high concern for the people of Tigray and the TPLF, but one of the virtues of the article is that it understands that the fate of the TPLF is tied up with good things happening in Ethiopia.

According to Gen. Tsadkan, the regime has come to the point of recognizing the seriousness of the problems facing Ethiopia and is looking for a solution. Unfortunately, says Gen. Tsadkan, it is looking for easy and self-serving solutions, which are all doomed to failure because they all miss, deliberately or not, the core of the problem, which is the restriction of democracy and democratic rights. The restriction is all the more inexcusable as it violates the constitution, the very constitution that the TPLF and all its allies have sworn to respect and serve. All the problems of Ethiopia have one, and only one, source, namely, illegality, transgression of the constitution.

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One admires the author for admitting that the case of Kinijit was not well handled in the 2005 election disputes. A similar mistake was committed earlier when a conflict broke out with the OLF. In both cases, force was used to settle disputes instead of the democratic means made available by the constitution. Similarly, I commend the author for spelling out the true interest of the Tigrean people, which is to work in concert with other people of Ethiopia to protect and advance democracy, as opposed to some leaders who orchestrate the scenario of Tigray versus the rest of Ethiopia. Last but not least, I applaud Gen. Tsadkan for being the first top member of the TPLF (to my knowledge) to acknowledge that the Ethiopians who fought under the leadership of the Derg lost, not because they were coward and Tigreans distinctly brave, but because their leaders betrayed the cause for which they were fighting and used them for a totalitarian and self-serving purpose.

Granted this positive side of the article, there remains the question of knowing whether Gen. Tsadkan’s explanation of the causes of the derailment of the regime away from the democratic path are equally pertinent. The analyses of the paper rest on one major premise, namely, the contention that the TPLF had a solid, deeply-engrained tradition of democratic methods prior to the seizure of state power, a tradition that was also free of secessionist agenda and the pursuit of ethnic hegemony. This is so true that Gen. Tsadkan ascribes the alleged derailment of the TPLF to the war against Eritrea whose major consequence was a deep split within the party and the rise of a non-democratic clique led by Meles who, by the way, is mentioned only once.

Without denying the importance of the split, one fails to understand how a party based on such solid and embedded democratic commitment and practices would go suddenly so off course as to empower Meles and his openly undemocratic clique. Is it not fair to say that the split and the outcome prove that democracy was just a façade, a hidden device of manipulation, something similar to the “democracy” that existed in the Soviet camp or, for that matter, in Ethiopia under the Derg? I can easily explain the rise of Meles to dictatorial power if I see it as a consolidation of a trend already existing in the party. By contrast, his rise becomes a complete mystery if I base my analysis on the assumption that the TPLF had a long tradition of democratic workings.

In vain does one look for the numerous blunders committed by the TPLF from the very start. For instance, the paper does not mention the momentous decision to land-lock Ethiopia. Nor does it denounce the ill-founded justification to disband the Ethiopian army––which resulted in many soldiers becoming beggars––as though it were a mercenary army, all the more so as Gen. Tsadkan, as already mentioned, recognizes that the army as a whole was not against any people. Gen. Tsadkan never questions the prevailing assumption of the ruling circle according to which the foundation of the Ethiopian state is sound and that many good things have been accomplished, even though he does not mention them. In so thinking, he turns the problems into an implementation issue, and so fail to see them as the step-by-step unfolding of a design that was originally very flawed.

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As a matter of policy, Gen. Tsadkan opts for the developmental state as opposed to neo-liberal policy. The paper does not present strong arguments in favor of developmental state; nor does it indicate why the developmental state is expected to achieve better results in Ethiopia than liberal policy. Still less does the paper pose the problem of knowing whether the ideological and political setups of ethnic federalism go hand in hand with the requirements of the developmental state. Moreover, as stated previously, Gen. Tsadkan strongly favors democracy in the precise sense of multipartism, respect of human rights, including the rights of free assembly and free speech. Yet, this type of democracy does not square with the notion of developmental state, which precisely advocates the postponement of democratic rights to bring about faster economic growth. Equally noticeable is that the paper does not see that the dismal condition of education in Ethiopia, mostly due to politicization and the preference of quantity over quality, goes against a major requirement of the developmental state, namely, the production of a highly trained and nationalist technocratic and bureaucratic elite.

One key issue is that the author expects the appropriate solutions to come from and be implemented by the ruling party, since one need not look further than the already approved constitution to find the right answers. In Gen. Tsadkan’s view, the remedy lies in the restoration of the suppressed rights and in the development of a mindset approaching opposition parties with a spirit of dialogue and common interests. Not only does such an expectation look utterly utopian, but it is also contradictory. After having made this severe criticism, how does Gen. Tsadkan expect reforms and a change of attitude from such a rotten party? Is it not too late? Is not the party beyond redemption?

The danger of calling for an extremely unlikely change of attitude is that it lends itself to the interpretation that the paper is nothing but an attempt to prolong the life of the TPLF by reviving an already rejected hope. What is more, since the author admits that the difficulties are serious enough to rise to the level of structural impediments, is it not obvious that they require nothing less than structural changes? Evidently, change under the leadership of the ruling party will significantly fall short of being structural. In short, what is necessary in the face of failures of such magnitude is regime change.

As already noted, a leitmotif in the paper is the belief that the constitution provides the appropriate solutions to all the problems of the country. We just have to restore its democratic provisions and respect them. As a matter of fact, the paper criticizes everything, except the constitution and the ideological and democratic credentials of the TPLF prior to the capture of state power. Because of the reluctance of the author to critically examine the constitution, no attempt is made to connect some of the problems to its shortcomings.

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For instance, there is no any reconsideration of the infamous article 39 affirming the “unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession,” a provision that an organization like MEDREK has rightly questioned as it carries the threat of the fragmentation of the country. Likewise, no prospect is envisaged for the privatization of land ownership through the removal of the stipulation that “ownership of rural and urban land, as well as of all natural resources, is exclusively vested in the State and in the peoples of Ethiopia,” even though the dictatorial tendency of the regime can be traced back to the exclusive control of land by the state.

To be fair, Gen. Tsadkan does not reject the right to alter the constitution provided that it emanates from the democratic decision of the peoples of Ethiopia. The trouble, however, is that the respect of the constitution is presented as a sine qua non of all dialogue with opposition forces. A repeated injunction is that everybody must work under the provisions stipulated by the constitution. The condition excludes by definition any structural change to the system. Unless the opposition is given the right to organize and mobilize the people with the official intent of changing the constitution, I do not see how the stated condition does not amount to a serious restriction of democratic rights.

I cannot push aside the impression I have of a certain naivety on the part of Gen. Tsadkan. Indeed, for him all the problems of Ethiopia originate from a defective implementation of the constitution. The foundation and the principles of government are good, but they have not been properly implemented. May I remind that dictatorial regimes tend to write constitutions that are perfect? Their problem is in the application, not because they fail to apply them properly, but because they do not intend to apply them in the first place. They are written for two purposes: firstly, for external consumption to fool donor countries, and secondly, to manipulate their own people. Their constitutions are just ideological tools for make-believe, for the purpose of misleading by giving an ideal picture of their regime. What defines them is not the failure of implementation; it is the deliberate gap between stated principles and actual practice. One thing is sure: the leaders of the TPLF who drafted the constitution perfectly knew that the democratic provisions were not meant to be applied.

This is to say that failure in practice does not explain a regime like the one established by the TPLF. Instead, the real intent of the TPLF, as opposed to the fake one, must be given primacy.  All what we know about the TPLF points to one overriding intent, to wit, the absolute control of state power to empower a furiously ethnicized elite by excluding other elites or by turning them into clients. Only some such approach makes everything clear: the rampant corruption, the dictatorial methods, the policy of divide and rule, the absolute control of all the branches of government are all means to empower a regional elite and sustain that empowerment through the complete ascendancy over the economic, political, and ideological apparatuses of the country. To paraphrase a famous sentence, in the analysis of Gen. Tsadkan, the TPLF “is standing on its head. It must be inverted, in order to discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.”


  1. I thank Professor Messai for presenting a complete review of Lt. General Tsadkan Article. What I understood from the Lt. General Article is he is advocating a peaceful and constitutional transfer of power in Ethiopia. I am not sure whether this is inspired either by fear of the possible punishment or retaliation on those affiliated with the ruling party or the genuine desire to keep the continuity of “achievements” made during the existing regime. I am of the opinion that peaceful transition is ideal but not constitutional transition. Peaceful and negotiated transition of power is a timely solution.

  2. What constitution?

    Implementing the constitution to the letter brings the fake “ethnic” boundaries as an acceptable to begin with and consequently brings article 39 to the forefront for “ethnic warlords” to play with. In light of the present protest of Oromo/Gondar it shall add fuel to the fire.

    Why would such proposal help Ethiopian nationalists?

    EPRDF has a lot of problems but, General Tsadkan’s proposal will take them 2 steps backwards taking the country back to a primordial state of affairs from the present “developmental state” vision; Where GERD, Industrial Parks and the likes are already being in the forefront of guaranteeing the future democratization of a united country.

    No wonder General Tsadkan was ousted before Meles implemented his developmental state vision! G. Tsadkan is a beneficiary of DS via Raya Brewery however, seems his proposal puts the cart before the horse at this juncture.

  3. Hi everbody !

    I don’t understand why Dr. Mesay wrote this opinion in English. Lt. General Tsadkan Gebre wrote his in Amharic which appears to be his second language. Maybe Amharic is not Dr. Mesay’s first language, but he writes and speaks exceptionally well in Amharic. I feel it is fair to expect Dr. Mesay to write in Amharic which is the language of the essay which solicited his reaction. Amharic would have made it easier for many to fully understand and comment on his opinion. But that’s just me.

    It has been a couple of days since I read Lt. General Tsadkan’s essay on the situation of our country. I found him comprehensive and thorough in approach and analysis and honest in his suggestions. Opinions on the essay vary from support to mixed to outright rejection. Dr. Messay’s reaction falls in the mixed one. He srtarted by praising the General and and then by attacking his ideas. I called it an attack because Dr. Messay seems to have missed the central point the General wanted to convey – save the country from disintigaration and its people from chaos.

    I feel that the General rightly identified a document on which Ethiopians – irrespective of their ethnicity and political leanings – can work on together to address the political and other complex problems of our country: the constitution. There is no other document or national principle or general understandig ( written or unwritten) on which anybody can agree right now. Both the government and the opposition (including the violent ones) invoke some important articles of the constitution. That is to say – article related to democratic and human rights. As the General suggested, respect of these rights will surely change the situation in Ethiopia.

    Unless the constitution is taken seriously by both the government and the opposition, the country and its people will face serious problem. First, a sizable portion of the opposition supports the constitution because of article 39. From his writings and speeches, one can easily understand that Dr. Mesay is opposed to Article 39. It is sad that he wanted to make Article 39 an issue before democracy since democracy might make the implementation of Article 39 irrelevant. It does not matter who drafted and adopted the constitution at this juncture, the point is if it can be used as a workng document in the absence of any other.

    Accpting the constitution as a working document presupposes certain things the opposition including Dr. Mesay might not like. The government stays because power is not to be taken by means other than election. Should this be an isse if democratic rights are respected? We don’t think so. I think that’s what Lt. General Tsadkan said. To me, his concern is the risk to the country and its people is enormous if the government including regional governments fall. His concern is founded. The way things go in the country might precipitate military takeover – invited by the government or without invitation. Given our history, military rule will not be a pleasant experience. If the government falls and military takeover is avoided miraculously, it is fair to assume the chaos in the country will only compare to that of Somalia. The suggestion that the diaspora oppostion which has started talking to each other now will reign on the chaos in the country is simply hope that will be impossible to realize.

    This is not fear mongering on the opposition, but a call to come to its senses.

    • Thank you Shegitu for your sober and sharp observation of the issue at hand. Dr. Messai’s article is more of an academic discourse than clearly understanding the grave situation envisaging our country now. It is a call to save our country from total collapse. It is an emergency situation. As to my understanding any person concerned with the future of the country should give heed to Lt. Gen. Tsadqan’s proposal.
      May God help us to rise to the needs of the hour and save the day for our country.

      God bless our country!

      • The dandger of disintegration is a creation of TPLF to divert struggle against TPLF. We expect nothing out of election (Lt General Tsadkan’s kind of election) unless the manner of conducting the election itself is negotiated by the participation of all (no one is excluded) political forces. One other important matter for negotiation will be whether to run the election under the existing constitution or not. One thing not to be negotiated is that all TPLf who commited crime including corruption must face the law. All property taken must be returned to the people.
        No more TPLF manipulated election.

  4. thanks professor Mesay kebede,it is very important for the people of ethiopia your thought and intellectual opinion.TPLF is at the edge of falling but most of the former and active high ranking TPLF are badly need to fix their absolute power and continuity of the TPLF in the state power.it is very obivious that the people of ethiopia need a change,it is true that the sun of TPLF is downing and the people of ethiopia including the Tigrian freedom is coming.

  5. Dr. You keep on reviewing people’s opinion and do nothing sorry to say that makes you nothing.

    I am not as learned as you are, what I can say for sure is that you missed his point. He said what he believed as a solution. What else do you expect from him?

    The other point why writing in English while 1% of Ethiopian could not read and write in English properly (I am among 99%).

    The guy gave his email address, have you discussed with him or asked him why this article now? FYI I did, I thank him he gave me his opinion even though I don’t agree with some.

    In general for the love of our country (if we do as you talk) let us try to listen to each other.

    Love for a Country is like love for wife…
    One marries to share life and value her in that respect, other marries to do other stuff.which one are you?

  6. 1/ የመንግስት ባለስልጣኖች ለአገሪቶ ችግር መፍትሄ ለመፈለግ ተ ሰበሰቡ
    እነ እንትና ይህን በተመለከተ አናላዙ አረገው ችግር አለበት አሉ
    2/ እነ እንትና ለሀገር መፍ ትሄ ለመስጥት ጫካ ገቡ
    አሁንም እነ እንትና አናላይዙ አረገው ችግር እዳለበት ገለፁ

    3/ እነ እንትና እና እነ እንትና መንግስትን ተቃውመው ሰልፍ ወጡ
    አሁንም እነ እንትና አናላይዙ አረጉ የሁለቱ ተቃውሞ እደሚለያይ ነገሩን ሁለቱ በበአጠቃላይ ሲታይ ትክክል አይደለም አሉን

    እኔ ምለው እነዚእ ሰዎች የአአፍንጮ ዶክተር ናቸው ወይስ
    እረተው አንደንዴ ሼም ይኑረን

  7. In case Dr. Mesay has not seen it, he will find Lt. General Tsadkan’s incisive but humble response if he searches at the following address: http://hornaffairs.com/en/2016/07/31/general-tsadkan-response-prof-messay-kebede/

    Hopefully this will bring Dr. Mesay down from the ivory tower of academia and see things differently and objectively. That’s what Lt. General Tsadkan calls pragmatism as applied to the current pressing situation in our country.

    It appears that Lt. General Tsadkan is obliged to write in English which he managed well. More interesting than his English is his candidness and civility in addressing Dr. Mesay’s remarks in a manner devoid of emotion.

    Lt. General Tsadkan’s response clarifies several points which, I believe, will help Dr. Mesay and many others of the same political persuation to reflect long and hard on issues.

    Again, I feel that Unless Dr. Mesay and others moderate their rhetoric, propegating animocity to underme and topple the government will eventually be destructive.

    As I said somewhere, the opposition both in the diaspora and in the country is irrelevant force to introduce positive change in the country due to alienation. Who matters are the people on the round who face the government and put forward demands, the government itself and positive thinkers like Lt. General Tsadkan.

    I hope cooler heads prevail at last.

  8. GUYS!!! General Tsadkan is an Eritrean. None of his business talking about us. He left the position during the war of Badime and replaced by General Alemshet. Ignore his prediction or philosophy!!!

  9. I think General G/tsadkan has great idea to be implemented to help the country and keep the growth momentum while revising and applying the constitution so that people could enjoy their democratic right. This could be done by revising and reforming what we have other than destroying what we harvested and start from square one. Dr. Messay was garish to criticize most of the genuine opinion forward by General G/tsadkan. The General wouldn’t write his mind at once. It is the beginning we shuold be patient so that he will forward more ideas. He has forwarded practical ways reforming the party and constitution. We don’t have split Hair ideas on the article. We need the positive side of the article which indicates the need to change. Our hopes depends on great hero like him. Thanks General G/tsadkan.

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