Is the boasting of Tigrean secession a nightmare or attainable?

Tigray _ secession
TPLF 45th anniversary celebration in Mekele. Photo : TRCB / file

Damtew Tessema Deneke
June 14, 2020 

During my searches of the social media pages of our friends and contenders I was attracted by the article published in Tigraionline on 16 June 2019. Tigraionline is one of the media outlets to disseminate the position of TPLF. The title of the article is “Reflection on the strategic and (last resort) option of the Ethiopian Republic of Tigray.” The phrase “Ethiopian Republic of Tigray” is ambiguous. Author tries to show the current situation is a pushing factor to create an independent state of Tigray without losing Ethiopian mentality though still the expression lacks conceptual clarity. Chauvinist, Tigray, Neftegnas, Amhara, and federalism are the keywords of the article. The article blames almost all the political forces and media of Ethiopia. The following expression of the paragraph of the article can substantiate this claim.

“No authority, party or media is in a position to ever lecture to Tigrayans what it means be Ethiopia, as pontificated, for example by the chauvinists and reactionaries thrown out of the genocidal ESAT, and now congregating as Ethio 360 media” (TigraiOnline, 2919). The author also said that “It is a documented evidence that ESAT (the mouth piece of Birhanu Nega (PHD) and Angargachew Tsigie Ginbot 7/Ezema chairmanship and general secretary respectively) openly unashamedly called the genocidal elimination of the entire Tigray people in copy- cat Rwandan style genocide in order to combat what it called the “Woyanes” (TPLF), propagating, to quote verbatim from their Amhara program that, “it would be necessary to empty the Tigray sea in order to kill the Woyanes Fish”. What is important to recognize is the pertinent truth the Neftegnas and the big nation chauvinists may succeed, god forbid, in forcing Tigray out of Ethiopia but will never take out Ethiopia from Tigray (Ibid).

The author informs the proliferation of enemies against the people of Tigray. Undoubtedly, this is the tactic to reinforce the cohesion of the people of Tigray. The article concludes by proposing confederation or secession in face of irrecoverable and irredeemable subversion of the democratic federal state. Note that the current reduction of the hegemonic power TPLF is equated with subversion of the democratic federal state system. In its way to negate the system of the Abiy (PHD) government the article campaigns against Tigray is being formalized by all levels of Ethiopian governments. Is that really true? As everyone knows that although Tigray is the safe haven for the perpetrators of criminals against humanity, the federal government did not enforce law through bringing them before court.

The above articles instigate my mind to mull over the enabling and deterring conditions of secession. According to TPLF and its inner circle elites, the diminishing of omnipotent power of TPLF and the implementation proportional representation in the federal government position are the pushing factor for the secession of Tigray. Therefore, the focus of my discussion is on the pulling factors of the secession of Tigray.

According to the local and regional conditions, the secession of Tigray is unlikely practical as well as not an easy task. The rhetoric about secession were acts of intimidating others such as the Dr. Abiy Ahmed`s regime and the pan-Ethiopians. The detrimental reasons of the secessions are Loose of Influence on Djibouti, the position and the possible action of Eritrea, the posture of Sudan and inevitability of internal chaos within the independent state of Tigray. The details are as follows.

1. Lose of Influence on Djibouti

Unlike the TPLF rule, Dr Abiy Ahmed’s government eased the persistent tension with Eritrea, and normalized the relationship of the two countries. This move also created economic opportunity to both of them, and the diversification of sea outlets too. Soon after the reestablishment of diplomacy, Ethiopia started to use Assab port. On the other hand, the utilization of Assab port by Ethiopia reduced the intensity of transaction of foreign trade through Djibouti port. Undoubtedly, the coming of Assab Port as a major route to Ethiopia would have a negative impact on the economic Djibouti. Hence, this dynamism may compel Djibouti to yearn the rule of TPLF. And Djibouti could also side them in their move to regain their previous dominant position. The Djiboutian attack and the current problem in the Afar region likely related to the dynamism of Ethio-Eritrea relation. It is also expected that TPLF could promise Djiboutian to help them to regain their previous dominant position of providing port service Ethiopia. Still TPLF has the bargaining power in its relation with Djibouti.

Secession of Tigray will not allow this political group to have bargaining power. As a result, Djiboutian will not have the intention to approach TPLF in their way to benefit from the huge economy of Ethiopia. After secession, the people of Afar in Tigray will be the minority and aspired to join their brothers in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Such loss of relevance is also an encouraging factor to the Afar people to struggle against the oppression of the Republic of Tigray. Their brother from the Afar region of Ethiopia could not refrain from helping their Brother to liberate from oppression. In other saying, in the region, Irredentist felling and war will be possible. Thus, secession is a dead-end solution to the people of Tigray, and it is unlikely.

2. The expected reaction of Eritrea

After the coming of Abiy Ahmed (PhD), Esayas Afeworki and his party, “Popular front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ)” has not concealed its hostility to TPLF (Mastewal, 2019). As a matter of fact, beyond the political hostility of the two groups, the geographical position and the resource possession of Tigray is not attractive to Eritrea. Wise policy makers of Eritrea do not recognize the Republic of Tigray.

The territories of Ethiopia beyond the current border of Tigray region has endowed with diverse resources. It can attract the strategic policy makers of Eritrea. The trade relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea is highly imperative for both nations (Port services are one of the main economic connections between the two states). In these respects, secession of Tigray will give lower bargaining power to their government due to its economic and geopolitical significance. Therefore, Eritrea will prefer to reinforce its strategic connection with Ethiopia, rather than Eritrea. As a result, Eritrea may be dictated to help Ethiopia to open a common border line and trade route around Metema. Indeed, Eritrea will disregard the sovereign existence of the new country, Tigray. As a result, the Metema border will be the conflict zone between the two states. But, Tigray will not have the power to deter the opening of the Metema border since the moves of Eritrea will be backed by significant forces of Ethiopia. Corollary, TPLF and its new state will be detached from its historic friend, Sudan in both politically and geographically. Such are a constraining factor to precede Tigrayan secession.

3. Sudan`s posture

Currently, Sudanese political forces have strongly believed that TPLF has a potential to regain the federal power. They are supporting the completion of the Abay Eclectic Dam, due to that the completion of the dam will reduce the amount of mud poured into the Dams of Sudan. For them, the political force of Tigray mainly TPLF will be the major role player in finalizing the plant. In contrast, the diminishing of the role of TPLF will result in the diminishing of the diplomatic importance of TPLF for Sudan. On the other hand, Sudanese political forces could continue as a close partner of TPLF and Tigray if the new state of Tigray is capable of incorporating the areas of Ethiopia that are bordering Sudan. However, the current political development in Amhara region and Benishangul region make impossible the secession of Tigray with incorporating the border part of Amhara region and the entire or part of Benishangul Gumuz Region. To the extent that according to (Mastewal, 2019), for the TPLF, the issue of wolqait Tsegede and Raya is a nightmare. Therefore, TPLF propaganda of secession could not be attained.

4. Inevitability of internal chaos (caused by economic problem and ease of enmity)

The more a country economically strong the less prone to civil war and internal instability, and the vice versa is true. The prevalence of common enemies or the shared perception of the prevalence of external enemies is a factor that can cement internal cohesion. In other expressions, inter alia, the presence of poverty and economic backwardness and in the absence of real or perceived common external enemies are the main factors to lose internal cohesion and unity of a nation. The loss of cohesion is also a leading reason for Civil war. Here, the problem is more severe and aggravated in a state where firearms are easily accessible to the people. Thus, in this section, the above variables are the pillar of the discussion of the issue of Tigrian secession. The details are as follows.

I). Shortage of Economy/Resource: For Tigray (if secession happened), the suspension of connection with the resource rich center and south will make the economic crisis and poverty inevitable. Power shortage that coupled with food shortage will be the acute problem within the “Republic of Tigray”. The power production of Tekeze Dam proved to ease throughout the dry seasons, due to evaporation of water. The major sources of both the electric power and the food stuff of Tigray are the parts of Ethiopian beyond the regional border of Tigray. The separation of Tigray from Ethiopia possibly accompanied by the interruption of the supply of the above mentioned basic necessities.

Hence, within the new republic, economy and resource driven internal friction and instability are inevitable. According to Verstegen (2001), poverty and conflict are widely understood to be closely interconnected; with poverty making countries more prone to civil war, and armed conflict weakening governance and economic performance, thus increasing the risk of conflict relapse. There will be an unprecedented quest for self-administration by the different identities found in the current Tigray region. The natural setting of TPLF could not allow treating such movement democratically and thus a violent relationship between the regime and the people will be inevitable.  

II). Enemy driven unity: For a sovereign country, fear of the enemy can bring domestic cohesion. For instance, during the struggle against the colonizers (during the war of independence) Americans were united in their spirit and physical forces. Later, they engaged in civil war after the defeat of their common enemy (colonizers). Similarly, the current political card of TPLF is the half century old propaganda of creating fear mentality on the mentality of Tigreans. It has been indoctrinating that the Amharas are their persistent enemy. This is the modus operandi of TPLF politics. As a result, at least two generations of Tigray have been shaped by TPLF`s bad lie of considering the Amharas and others pan-Ethiopianism as their common enemies. The June 2019 published article on Tigraionline, says that “The struggle to uphold the federal order, the integrity and unity of the country against the onslaught of “chauvinist” and hegemonic forces is not a lost cause yet” (Mekonen, 16 June, 2019). For them, chauvinist and hegemonic forces are mainly the Amharas, no more, no less. The 30 decade back position of TPLF is not changed; still they are struggling against the Amhara. This siege mentality helped the party to cement the people together and consider TPLF as their better guardian/savior/. However, in the aftermath of the secession, the aforementioned strategy could be outdated. People will feel free since they have their sovereign state that has no attachment with the so-called enemy. Indeed, common enemy propaganda of TPLF could lose its value.

By the way of summing up, internal chaos and civil war will be possible due to the termination of common enemy driven internal cohesion, the inevitability of poverty and economic deterioration. The prevalence of excess firearms within the state of Tigray is also another civil war exacerbating factor. For this reason, the political forces of Tigray will not be prone to secessionism.


The diminishing of the gladiatorial position of TPLF in the federal government of Ethiopia, in the post-2010, resulted in the renewal of propagation of the republic of Tigray by the TPLF Cadres and its mouth pieces. However, regional political dynamism and the local circumstance (the geographic position and resources possessions of Tigray) will make the secession worthless and unlikely. To elaborate, secession could degrade the influence of TPLF and Tigray on Sudanese and Djibouti politics. In the day after the secession of Tigray, Eritrea could be dictated to open the Metema border to have a common boundary with Ethiopia since Ethiopia is a better strategic neighbor than the independent state of Tigray. In doing so, Eritrea will negate the natural interest of TPLF. This also resulted in the disconnection between Eritrea and Sudan. As a Consequence, TPLF will lose its bargaining power and the old partner, Sudan. Deterioration of regional influence and the local economic problem will make internal split and power completion inevitability. That means, chaos will be the rule of the game in the Republic of Tigray (in the aftermath of the secession). These conditions are the detrimental reasons of Tigrian secession, and it could be also overruled by sober and rational discussion of Tigrian elite (if sober discussion would happen) since independence has daunting impacts on the fledgling republic.

Editor’s note : Views expressed in the article reflect the views of the writer.To publish article, please send submission to


Debretsion Gebremichae( 2019). The campaign against Tigrai is being formalized by all levels of Ethiopian governments. Available at, 19 June 2019

Verstegen,Suzanne (2001). Poverty and conflict: An entitlement perspective. Clingendael institute, available at http.//

Mastewal Dessalew (2019). TPLF hegemony has ended, but EPRDF power struggle is just beginning. Ethiopian insight.

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