By Addissu Admas
By conducting several forays into Ethiopia’s other Killils, the TPLF is not only flexing its military muscle, but is sending a clear message that it is intent at bringing the war to all of Ethiopia; or perhaps, that it is about to march again to Addis Ababa to seize power by force? The TPLF is clearly aware that it can win this war only if it can induce other Killils to follow in its rebellion against the center. Even if this does not seem an immediate possibility for now, if the war drags on, there is a probability that Killil administrations may want to retreat from the center and its agenda. This would not only weaken the central government, but may lead Ethiopia to become a very weak, or indeed a failed state. I have no doubt that the TPLF would want Ethiopia to fail rather than it becoming completely irrelevant. Thus, it will do its utmost to foment rebellion against the center, induce total chaos and un-governability with the sole purpose to rise above the less organized forces and capture again the hegemonic position it once held.
Since the TPLF has apparently been controlling Tigray, and is the sole power ruling over its territory presently, why does it bother to continue provoking Ethiopia’s other Killils? Why can’t it declare “Free Tigray” and establish its own Stalinist state? Why can’t it submit a request to the United Nations to become a bona fide independent state? The answers to all these questions is simple: because it cannot! Apart from the fact that the Tigrean people, who have never seen themselves as being separate from Ethiopia, would have a hard time endorsing such declaration, the TPLF, as I indicated elsewhere, is faced with insurmountable difficulties. First of all, neither the Amhara, Eritrean or Afar people would ever return an inch of their reconquered lands the TPLF annexed during its nearly three decades of rule. Neither the Americans nor the Sudanese, or for that matter the UN would be foolish enough to demand these regions or countries to hand back the lands they have owned for centuries. However, I would be the last person to be surprised if the Americans or Europeans would make it as part of their negotiation strategy. The other reason, besides this, is of course Tigray’s lack of natural resources to become a viable economy.
Since the TPLF has not stated clearly its desire to lead Tigray to become an independent state, why bring the war to Ethiopia, since none of the other Killils, not only have they not expressed their support for its cause, but have declared their intention to rid Ethiopia of this undemocratic, cruel and corrupt party. The few, which have declared their support for it, do it only for some perceived future benefit. What this could be is anyone’s guess. Let me add also, in passing, that they are in for an unpleasant surprise.
The TPLF reasons for wanting to continue the war have been sold to and bought by the West wholeheartedly. However, for us Ethiopians, they remain hallow, disingenuous and even pretentious, because we know what the true reasons are. It stated that PM Abiy illegally postponed the elections beyond his mandate. If indeed it believed this to be true, it would have filed a suit in the House of Representatives or in Ethiopia’s Federal Supreme Court. If in fact it had done so, it would have burnished its image and gained more prestige. On the contrary, it chose to conduct arrogantly its own election with total disregard of PM Abiy and its duly established government, creating confusion and uncertainty in the country. It accused the Prime Minister and his administration of wanting to override the federal arrangement and centralize the government. One may indeed argue that no other government has been more centralizing than the TPLF’s, since it was always intent at expanding its power and dispose of the country’s wealth to benefit itself. PM Abiy’s philosophy of “Medemer”, as most of us understand it, is not a veiled call to destroy our federal arrangement, or much less restore the imperial system, but an invitation to infuse solidarity in our political culture. The West seems to have preferred of course TPLF’ interpretation of the word.
The accusation that the current administration is seeking at any cost the complete demise of the TPLF is intended by this latter to depict itself as a victim than revealing the true intentions of the Prime Minister. The fact is the current administration did not declare the TPLF a terrorist organization until it rose illegally and violently against our federal arrangements by attacking first the northern army. The TPLF would have never been declared a terrorist organization if it had proceeded to plead its case either in the House of the Federation, the House of Peoples Representatives or the Supreme Court of the Federal Supreme Court as the Federal Constitution determines. What the TPLF chose, as its wont, is the philosophy of “might is right”. The true reasons for its rebellion that led to our present uncertainty and instability are far more mundane and obvious: it started a war, in effect, to preempt the prosecution of it most corrupt and murderous members! It perceived this to be the only way of avoiding accountability and prosecution for the most egregious crimes it had committed against the Ethiopian people, including, of course, the Tigrean people. Since it had committed no less crime that the very regime it had replaced, i.e. the Derg, it would have stood trial just like the Derg. The Ethiopian people expected no less. At the same time, it resented deeply “the young upstart” charismatic Prime Minister, for enjoying a popularity it never was able to gain, could never dream or hope for. If it had any sense at all, it should have done some soul searching (or its usual Megemgem) instead of trying to undo the efforts of the only leader Ethiopians have embraced whole-heartedly in several generations. However, I do not exclude, on the other hand, that the TPLF harbors, deep under its thick Stalinist skin, the old imperialist hope that Tigreans deserve, just as the Amaras have done for centuries, to lead Ethiopia. One need not find a document where such an aspiration has been stated clearly, one need only consider the pervasive haughtiness that TPLF cadre reserved not only for the common people of Ethiopia, but also for the other members of the coalition (i.e. the EPRDF). For this read the several memoirs written by their one-time collaborators in the other parties.
As much as it is important to re-iterate the real reasons of this war, what is even more necessary is to investigate the ways by which Ethiopia can come out from her present predicament, if not unscathed, at least less damaged.
Resuming the conflict by fielding a vast force on the war theatre, as it seems the prevailing idea now, is in my opinion as counterproductive as is damaging. Doing so will put us back in the same position we were in the seventies and eighties. However mighty the national military, asymmetrical wars have never favored it. This has been true for Ethiopia as for most other countries in similar circumstances. On the other hand, the PM cannot simply agree to whatever demands the TPLF proposes for the sake of peace. In effect doing so will only plunge Ethiopia into worse crisis. What I believe the PM needs to do is to keep the TPLF walled in its enclave by strengthening the militias. I have little faith in a military that is still massively infiltrated, if not dominated, by the TPLF. It is in the interest of the regional militias affected by the current war to preserve the integrity of their territories. It is, on the other hand, the federal government’s responsibility to provide them with the equipment and training they need to combat their aggressors. This, in fact, must become the modus operandi of the central government until it succeeds in creating a truly national defense force drawn from every ethnic group.
Some may object to this idea by saying that if the militias become too powerful they will be a threat to the central government. True, but it is a calculated risk that the central government cannot afford not to take now if Ethiopia is to survive at all. Besides, the militias affected by the current war have never expressed the desire to rebel against the central government to form a separate and independent state. Nor are they plagued by an irredentist ideology.
Once the TPLF is contained externally, the central government must be amenable to a negotiated settlement. This could be done through the good services of the African Union or some non-partisan intermediary. I do not think that clamoring for more war, especially in a case such ours, had done any good in the past, nor will it in the future. What a continued war does is provide the opportunity to eventual aggrieved parties to pick up arms, rebel against the central government and cause enormous disarray in the country. The priority should not be to “wrest Tigray from the hands of the TPLF”, but to do for now whatever maintains the unity of the rest of Ethiopia. The strategy is to impede the TPLF from expanding the war further into Ethiopia and wreaking havoc everywhere. If the TPLF is walled in Tigray from every possible corner, it will come to its senses and negotiate not only the terms of its surrender, but also its future in Tigray. What indeed will become of Tigray is not a decision of the TPLF but of the people of Tigray.
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