By Addissu Admas
Since it captured Tigray’s capital Mekele, the TPLF has been no doubt weighing its options vis a vis the Ethiopian state. I speculate that among these options the following three could have been entertained: 1) to regain total control over its traditional and annexed territories and proceed to establish a separate and completely independent state. 2) To regain the power it had lost by fighting its way back to the Capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. 3) Force a negotiated settlement whereby it would arrogate itself a much greater autonomy similar to the one enjoyed by Eritrea from 1950 to 1962. All three will involve in one form or another the question of settling its exact territory since it has been and will remain a sticking point for the future.
It is not unrealistic, though it is highly unlikely because fraught with insurmountable challenges, for the TPLF to seek complete independence from Ethiopia as Eritrea did in 1993. It is indeed an option that the TPLF has considered aloud after its reconquest of Mekele. Given the option between renewed wars with the TDF (Tigrean Defense Force, the armed wing of the TPLF) or a completely separate and independent Tigray, I would venture to say that the majority of Tigreans as well as Ethiopians would choose the latter. The TPLF has convinced so well fellow Tigreans that the destiny of Tigray is so intimately bound to its own survival that they are willing to follow it blindly. Through the ugliness and fog of war, perpetrated by both sides I must add, somehow the very long list of sins committed by the TPLF during its long reign have been forgotten and even forgiven. A sober mind must realize that the destiny of a people is too great to be handed to a party that has proven itself to be, time and again, a most divisive, tribalist, rapacious, incompetent and bellicose group. Tigreans, as an integral part of Ethiopia, must consider if it is worth shedding blood to follow to the gates of Hell this party to earn only the eternal enmity and hostility of the rest of Ethiopia. It is time for our fellow Tigrean compatriots to reject the hegemonic, ethnocratic and irredentist TPLF once and for all.
I need not here list all the insurmountable difficulties that Tigray would face as an independent and separate state. Let me say simply that the fortunes of Tigray are intimately bound to Ethiopia’s, as recent history has amply demonstrated. What Tigray has been able to achieve so far has not been despite Ethiopia but because of Ethiopia! This is an acknowledged fact by all concerned. What narrative can the TPLF counter? In fact, the very fortunes of this party and all those who were associated with it are entirely owed to Ethiopians who have patiently endured their insatiable and shameless plunder of public and private enterprises. Unless an unknown vast undersoil of wealth is hiding somewhere in Tigray, I do not believe that Tigray can sustain itself economically. All indications are that she will end up in the list of the poorest countries of the globe as Eritrea continues to be since its independence.
Another sticking point concerning the complete and separate Tigray is that unless the TPLF renounces the very large swathes of land it had annexed from Amhara and Afar during its nearly three decades of rule, the reality of having a peaceful independent separate state will always remain chimerical for Tigray. As the history of humanity has shown with predictable regularity is that if land disputes are not settled once and for all, they will become a source of conflict for generations to come. It is very unlikely that the TPLF, in light of its recent success, will be amenable to a negotiated settlement of its annexed lands. Nevertheless, if it wants a peaceful negotiated separation for Tigray, it will have to hand back the lands it seized illegally and surreptitiously.
During its decades long ethnocratic rule, besides all the innumerable abuses it had perpetrated against the Ethiopian people – not excluding the Tigrean people – the TPLF used, as stated above, its unchallenged power to annex territories which did not belong to Tigray historically. Thus, it brazenly took large tracts of land from Amhara, Afar and Eritrea. In this latter case, it should be remembered, the annexation became the “causa belli” of the 1998 war of Ethiopia against Eritrea, which was followed by more than two decades of non-negotiated ceasefire without formally ending the war and not accepting the terms of the settlement on the part of Ethiopia. This situation ended only with PM Abiy ending the stalemate by accepting the UN resolutions on the matter. While Eritrea led by Issayas Afewerki put fierce resistance to TPLF’s expansionist politics, the Ethiopian regions of Amhara and Afar submitted without putting up any armed resistance. This naturally changed with TPLF’s rebellion against the central government of Abiy Ahmed, and its brazen attack on populations that traditionally owned the lands it had annexed.
Now that it is controlling Mekele and much of Tigray’s territory, it realizes, as it did in the late eighties, that its victories could be pyrrhic if Tigray, poor in resources as she has always been, end up at the mercy of Ethiopia at large. Thus the temptation to march again to the capital to force-out the duly elected prime minister and the representatives of the House and induce Ethiopia into a never-ending war in order to reclaim power over contending forces. In either case, Ethiopians must put up tremendous resistance to thwart with all their might the destructive ambitions of the TPLF if they hope to remain one nation. There is no doubt that TPLF’s ambition to regain its lost power over Ethiopia, though much desired and encouraged by the US and its European allies, will only lead to a savage war that will only produce misery and destruction. Ethiopians are more than ever determined not only to resist but to destroy, if need be, a party that has only been the source of ethnic hatred, tribalist to its core and more corrupt than any Ethiopia has known. It is obvious that the TPLF’s intent to regain control over Ethiopia requires not only the support of the West, but also that of the mindless, ill-informed, ill-led and undisciplined hordes of “liberation fronts” pullulating in the far recesses of the various Kilils. These unscrupulous, murderous, and confused self-appointed “freedom fighters’ ‘ will be effectively used by the TPLF in its bid to regain control over Ethiopia, and discarded duly once it had achieved its goals. If they have any sense, they need to be aware of the catastrophic danger that the TPLF is posing not only to Ethiopia, but ultimately to Tigray as well. I say that the TPLF needs to reconsider this option very seriously if it wants to have any future not only in Ethiopia but even in Tigray as well.
Finally, that Tigray returns to the fold as just another Killil may be an unrealistic expectation. Since the TPLF will want to extract the best possible settlement short of returning to power again, what can be offered to Tigray is perhaps greater autonomy, like the one Eritrea enjoyed in the 1950s until the ill-advised “complete annexation” by the Emperor in 1962. This would add an extra layer of independence to that enjoyed already by Tigray as one of the Killils. It must be added, however, that such an alternative may be presented to the other Kills eventually if it proves to foster stability, peace and prosperity to all Ethiopians. It is evident that from here on, seeking a military solution for Tigray will only resurrect and reinvigorate the separatist movements in Ethiopia, which would eventually become unwitting or willing tools of TPLF’ long term agenda. An agenda that will inevitably lead to the disintegration of the Ethiopian state. What needs to be done is to seek negotiated settlement that will not only restore some peace to the country, but also curtail the unhealthy ambitions of the TPLF.
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