There was a time when many,even among the educated circles, were reluctant to refer to the government of Ethiopia as TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front). Why? For some, it appeared to be a matter of political correctness as they found it tantamount to embracing ethnic politics in a different form. Others found it obnoxious to accept the reality that ethnic based minority group managed to bring a prestigious country as big and rich in history as Ethiopia under its tight grip. Still others, wanted to buy the illusion that the country is under the rule of EPRDF.
Nominally, the ruling party in Ethiopia is,still, EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front)- a coalition of three other parties -all ethnic based political entities and essentially creations of, in one way or another, Tigray people’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Consequently, and to a great extent by design too, these three political parties in the coalition are simply subservient to the entity that exercise real power – Tigray people Liberation Front.
Potency of reality is changing perception about TPLF ; considerably majority of Ethiopians now believe – given the structure of power, how it is exercised and policies pursued – that not only Ethiopia is under the grip of TPLF but also that TPLF has ethnic chauvinistic agenda and will not hesitate to plunge the country into chaos should there emerge a development that compels TPLF to accept a power arrangement on the basis of principles of equity which represents “danger”, in the minds of TPLF leadership and ostensibly to its followers, to the business empire, which is backed by political and military power, they built out of corrupt practices and loots from the resources of all Ethiopians.
At the very core of the political necessity, so to speak, for TPLFites to adopt a combination of systematic and outright repression is insecurity of power which is fundamentally related to legitimacy crisis. And the legitimacy crisis is only getting worse. Given the fact that almost all of TPLF political undertakings in a time spanning well over two decades are outcomes of coercion and repression as opposed to policy outcomes based on consultation and reconciliation in the best interest of Ethiopia, the legitimacy crisis is hardly surprising.
Recent mounting hostility towards TPLF government for which the series of events -horrifying killings of Ethiopian Christians in Libya, what is now described as xenophobic attack in South Africa, virtual paralysis emanated either from irresoluteness or unwillingness to rescue more than hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian migrants stranded in Yemen when Yemen is razed by Saudi led air strike ,among other things- that triggered an even more outrageous discontentment are only the latest indicators of TPLF’s legitimacy crisis.
It is common for authoritarian governments, irrespective of the validity/invalidity of the yardstick with which one measures as to what really constitutes authoritarian governance, to have some form of legitimacy problem or at least concern about political legitimacy.
TPLF’s political legitimacy crisis is uncommon in a fundamental way. Uncommon because quite a considerable number ( if not absolute majority) of Ethiopians consider it as an enemy of Ethiopia, in the real sense of the phrase, on a mission to destroy Ethiopia if the objective and task of building ethnic based minority chauvinism -at times through very subtle means and at other times through outright chauvinism- by maintaining a hold in power is threatened.
In contrast, For many million Ethiopians,identity politics -one that emphasizes ethnic identity shaped by ethnic -‘izing’ the past and projecting historical nihilism is not just alien but represents a danger to the very existence of Ethiopia, rightly so.
from the outset, cognizant of legitimacy crisis wall in view of repugnance of Ethiopians to the kind of identity politics, TPLF , that is to mean ideologues within TPLF including the late Meles Zenawi, resorted to what they thought was astutely engineered ethnic based coalition with a supporting a federal structure for it.
In retrospect, the idea was partly to craft legitimacy by projecting political illusion that power is decentralized/devolved with ethnic based support structures and that different language speaking groups exercise, as opposed to the past, power and control over “their” affair.Partly, the arrangement appeared to be even a military strategy of TPLF to avoid a possible military conflict,then, with other ethnic based rebel groups soon after taking power after 17 years of guerrilla warfare some 25 years ago.
However, in the course of time, the project of “decentralizing” power rather proved to be simply a cover for chauvinistic agenda to build economic and political power while not compromising absolute control over the military and security apparatus. Ethnic based regional states, there are about nine of them, proved to be under direct and indirect control of TPLF.
After fifteen years in power, after massive structural deconstruction of the unifying Ethiopian identity, after intensive propaganda campaign against Ethiopia’s political past in a very dismissive way, TPLF learned the hard way that the effort to legitimize ethnic politics is essentially a failure. A remarkable example to demonstrate that is, among many others, the 2005 federal election – a time when TPLF entirely lost control over dramatizing elections which compelled it to swing to the scare tactic of destroying Ethiopia by resorting to virtually a war like situation against Ethiopians and hundreds had to die. That way TPLF took the result of the election it lost to a popular vote which only added impetus to the legitimacy crisis. Yet, TPLF was regularly fooled by “popularity” it got after the 2005 election.
Then, the idea of transforming, although much later, the ruling coalition to united party in view of the legitimacy crisis was briefly discussed. Apparently, on a second thought the leadership understood that transforming the coalition EPRDF into a single united party amounts to deforming the very basis of the ethnic federal structure. For that reason, TPLF opted for living with legitimacy crisis rather than embarking on a fundamental change that would bring about turmoil within the ruling coalition.
Too much reliance on repression is expensive not just politically but also economically. The more the repression machine is stretched, it might not be able to bend. It will rather break. And the basis of legitimacy crisis in the realm of the economy could make it inevitable and very soon.
By Dimetros Birku. Follow the writer on twitter : @dimetros
Part II of this peace will be published in two days