Asmelash Yohannes Teklu
(Mekelle University School of Law, PhD, Associate Professor of Law)
The simmering tension between the regional government of Tigray (Mekelle hereinafter) and the federal government (Arat Kilo hereinafter) would reach its climax if Tigray proceeds with its threat to hold a regional election. The sense of insecurity and the fear of heading into the unknown are terrifying most scholars I know of. You don’t find that sense of insecurity in social media posts as it is being discussed privately in coffee and liquor bars. Why privately? The answer is quite simple. Apart from those who came out publicly in support of Arat Kilo or Mekelle, the majority of scholars that I know of don’t want to be embroiled in political bickering. This assertion can in fact be adduced with the repeat, if not nonsensical, appearance of a handful of the so called ‘scholars’ on a regular basis as political analysts. The so called political analysts from each side of the two capitals don’t often reflect the deep tension that is gripping the nation at the moment. In addition to the majority of scholars, the best people who seem to grasp the impending danger are the senior elders who travelled to Mekelle and attempted but miserably failed to bring both capitals to the same negotiating table. So what is left in the pot for Arat Kilo and Mekelle if they fail to overcome the impasse, particularly if Mekelle holds an election in August? What are the possible consequences?
Tigray does not seem to blink first from its current position. When the ruling party in Tigray announced its intention to hold a regional election, I thought they were bluffing! I also thought that the regional government was up to something: it was trying to cling to power by getting a better deal from Arat Kilo. That was the furthest my head could turn around. Moreover, I thought TPLF did not have too much political leverage to twist Arat kilo’s arm. But if Arat kilo could be kind enough to let TPLF cling to power post 2012 [at least until an election is held at national and regional level ], I resigned to the fact that TPLF would abandon its threat to hold a regional election. However, it took me a while to realize that my calculation was wrong. First, it was only the executive organ of TPLF that made the announcement with regard to the unilateral decision to hold a regional election. This had been the case for a long time. Theoretically speaking, TPLF as a party cannot unilaterally made that decision without the blessing of the regional parliament of Tigray. The passage of time between the announcement of TPLF and the decision of the regional parliament of Tigray gave me the belief that there might have been some sort of negotiations between the two capitals behind closed doors. This in fact was the case as I managed to confirm it from a couple of reliable sources. However, the two capitals could not abridge their differences. While things were at a deadlock, the House of Federation came up with some legally dubious interpretation: it held that the federal government and the regional governments could stay in power beyond 2012. The decision of the House of Federation with regard to the extension of the power of regional governments came out of the blue. The decision was an ingenious way of settling TPLFites nerves because there was a fear in Mekelle that Arat kilo would attempt to disband regional governments after 2012. However, even the assurance from the House of Federation did not deter TPLF to convene its regional parliament and made the formal and legally binding announcement of its intention to hold a regional election. Moreover, the regional government had also requested the National Election Board of Ethiopia to “facilitate” the upcoming regional election. The latter had rejected the request outrightly.
The haunting questions are these: what would Arat kilo do in retaliation against Mekelle if a regional election is held? The possible options for Arat kilo are discussed herein below.
Option one: Mekelle proceeds with its plan and Arat Kilo sends the national army to punish TPLF
Would Arat kilo decide to send the national army to Tigray? It is not improbable to think that Arat kilo would be tempted to flex its muscles. There are compelling reasons behind this deduction. First, if an election is held in Tigray and Arat kilo fails to punish Mekelle, the federal government will be perceived weak by other power players in other regions such as Oromia and Amhara. This outcome would not be welcomed at Arat kilo. Moreover, Arat kilo would be under immense pressure from its allies to act against TPLF. The above combined factors would force Arat Kilo to act furiously. Once Arat Kilo pulls the trigger, it would hope for a quick and easy win. That was what Arat Kilo achieved in Somalia when it toppled President Abdi Iley from his throne and sent him to jail. But the outcome in Tigray could also be much different. TPLF has the money and media monopoly to mobilize the public against Arat Kilo in a short notice. Moreover, the number and quality of the regional army in Tigray is not known publicly. Thus, the combined force of the special regional police force, the regular militia and other armed groups could put up a stiff resistance against the national army. Moreover, the national army may not be willing to get involved in a bloody war against Tigray for fear of causing divisions between those who are originally from Tigray and those from the rest of the country. As a result, the country may be dragged into a protracted regional war. This could ultimately result in the disintegration of the country.
Option two: Arat Kilo swallows its pride and lets TPLF hold the election but implements a less costly strategy to punish TPLF.
This is another possible face-saving exit for Arat kilo as it does not involve direct army confrontation. Arat kilo can simply denounce the election as a sham one and deny any recognition to the results of the regional election. Moreover, it can stop allocating federal budget to Tigray by insisting that TPLF must relinquish power first. It could also explore addition way of squeezing the pockets of the regional government in Tigray. This may strangulate TPLF but it could also create unintended consequences. TPLF could use this tactic to her own advantage i.e. to galvanize the public against Arat kilo. In consequence, this tactic needs to be played cautiously as other tactics such as stopping foreign delegation and potential investors from travelling to Tigray had backfired.
Besides attempting to drain the pockets of the regional government in Tigray, Arat kilo could also put off air propaganda machines of TPLF such as Tigray TV and DW TV. Jamming tv and radio stations in Tigray while at the same time intensifying media campaigns against TPLF could gradually erode its base in Tigray. However, these tactics require the implementation of a thoughtful strategy. Restricting or at least slowing down access to social media platforms is another tactic that is worth trying. Digital weyane has become a formidable force to reckon with in recent times. On the other hand, Arat kilo does not seem to have a well-organized strategy to counter digital weyane. Neither neutralizing digital weyane nor jamming tv and radio is the preferable route to punish TPLF but all the issues discussed in the second option are the lesser of the two evils for the following reasons
 Waging a war against Tigray for holding a regional election could ultimately result in the secession of Tigray. Whether the international community would welcome a new born country is another issue that needs to be discussed separately but war could cause irreparable damage to the relationship between the two capitals. Most importantly, it could force the silent majority, especially the educated and the elite, in Tigray to back the new emerging parties that are openly advocating separation of Tigray from the rest of the country.
 Arat kilo is currently engaged in a bloody conflict in Oromia. Despite its relentless effort to destroy OLF-Shene, the latter has managed to survive the Arat kilos onslaught. This is causing headaches for Arat kilo. Therefore, waging wars on two fronts would seriously dwindle the national army. It could in fact hasten the downfall of the federal government.
 There are unsettled international issues that are not sorted out yet: Ethiopia’s border with the Sudan and the construction of the GERD. The border with Sudan should have been demarcated a long time ago. Both countries are pointing fingers at each other and sporadic conflicts have been reported quit recently at the controversial border. This border issue is causing Sudan to flip flop its position on the GERD. Moreover, Egypt, a staunch opponent of the GERD, would not hesitate to intervene militarily, economically and politically if Arat kilo is engaged in a bloody war against Tigray. Egypt could use the chaos to her own advantage.
However, it should also be noted that the second option is not preferable. This option, specially shutting down the Internet, was attempted by Arat Kilo in Welega and other parts of Oromia. But it failed to bring the intended results against OLF-Shene. Moreover, tampering with the development of Tigray by holding budgets and other investments would hurt ordinary Tigrayans more than it hurts TPLF.
Option three: Arat kilo targets specific TPLS officials and companies affiliated with it
Arat kilo could be tempted to freeze assets of TPLF officials and companies associated with it. Moreover, it could impose travel restrictions of individual officials. These measures have been effectively used by America and its Western allies against foreign countries who refuse to succumb to pressure. But it has yet to be seen if they could be effective in domestic politics as well. Moreover, I do not think TPLF officials would be foolish enough to deposit a large chunk of their money in domestic banks. Most of their money may have been shipped-off the country by now. Thus, Arat kilo would need to solicit the help of foreign countries to track the money and freeze it. This by itself is not an easy task to accomplish. But by any standards, the third option does not involve affecting ordinary lives that has nothing to do with politics.
Join the conversation. Like borkena on Facebook and get Ethiopian News updates regularly. As well, you may get Ethiopia News by following us on twitter @zborkena