By The Alula Aba Nega Collective.
The anti-democratic and ethnicist TPLF may be the darling of America, but it is the number one enemy of the downtrodden of Tigray. Under its watch of 27 years, Tigrayans have remained as poor as ever, and two million Tigrayans continued to depend on international food aid. In the meantime, the TPLF elite amassed an inordinate amount of wealth, most of which they stashed in foreign banks. But how did the TPLF succeed in duping Tigrayans into supporting it? By a continuous barrage of propaganda on Tigrayan superiority over other Ethiopians. Since we are speaking from within the belly of the beast, we know what we are talking about.
In public addresses in Mekele, Meles Zenawi used to say, “we Tigrayans are gold.” And often, he said, “I am proud to be the son of the gold people of Tigray.” The implication is of course all other Ethiopians are “base metal,” less worthy than Tigrayans. Members of the TPLF routinely refer to the Amhara as “adgi” (donkey) and to the Oromo as “abdi” (simpleton). The TPLF has used every ideological and political tool to separate Tigrayans from other Ethiopians and to inculcate in them a belief in their ethnic superiority. This propaganda has paid off handsomely for the TPLF.
First, it justifies in the eyes of Tigrayans that only the TPLF has the right to rule and other Ethiopians have to be content with subaltern roles. Thus, in 1991, the TPLF formed the EPRDF, a collection of ethnic parties, organized and led by the TPLF. The ethnic parties were forced to be junior partners. When in 1992, the OLF dared to claim that it is an equal partner, the TPLF slaughtered it and replaced it with more obedient Oromos. It did the same to the Amhara, Somali, Afar, Sidama, and other ethnic groups.
Note that the TPLF is repeating the same strategy in 2021 with the help of America. It is trying to bring under its wings a number of ethnic individuals to create an organization similar to what it created in 1991, with decision-making power totally controlled by it. In both 1991 and 2021, the TPLF treats other Ethiopians as if their destiny is to be led by the TPLF and serve its interests, on pain of being decimated, as in 1992. The belief of Tigrayan ethnic superiority is the foundation of TPLF politics. This sense of ethnic superiority is palpable in the Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube commentaries the Tigrayan elites post. It is openly expressed in private conversations.
Second, the TPLF uses its claim of Tigrayan ethnic superiority to make Tigrayan hostages to its rule by continuously evoking the specter of Tigrayan genocide. It interprets any critique of the TPLF as an existential threat to Tigrayans. Note that Meles Zenawi started talking about Tigrayan genocide just after taking power in 1991. Meles accused whoever criticized the TPLF as a nascent Interahamwe. Indeed, he often mentioned the Ruanda genocide as something that could happen to Tigrayans if the TPLF is removed from power. Tigrayans believed him and saw in the TPLF the only rampart against genocide. This is probably one of the most successful brainwashing of a population by a political party in contemporary history.
The TPLF is now, in 2021, resorting again to the same genocide discourse to mobilize Tigrayans to overthrow the democratically elected government of PM Abiy Ahmed. And as before, the genocide propaganda is working. The fear of genocide that the TPLF has inculcated in Tigrayans is making them participate blindly in the destruction of Ethiopia.
However, the swift and open-ended democratization process that the new government of Abiy Ahmed initiated in 2018 has triggered cracks in the blind faith that Tigrayans had in the TPLF. All of a sudden, the democratic light that Abiy’s actions shone on the dark words and murky acts of the TPLF started exposing its lies. And some Tigrayans started questioning the TPLF claim that without it, their existence is threatened. The TPLF quickly retreated to Mekele to prevent the new democratic light from revealing its decades of deception and started to plot how to extinguish the fragile democratic flame in Ethiopia.
Many of the Tigrayan elite now know that the TPLF has fed and still feeds Tigrayans lies about the genocidal threat that would be hanging over their heads. They now know that if Tigrayans participate in the current democratic process, they will enjoy freedom and equality, though the TPLF will lose its monopoly of power. However, the majority of the Tigrayan elite is denying this new democratic reality by resorting to what philosophers call the “fetishist disavowal”— “We know the TPLF genocide discourse is false, but we nevertheless believe it and act as if we do not know the truth we know.” They thus continue to support the TPLF, its lies and destructive acts.
Such is the case of the Tigrayan diaspora, which is mainly made up of the children and relatives of TPLF members. They espouse the “fetishist disavowal” and continue beating the genocide drum, though they know it is false. This comes easily to them due to the sense of ethnic superiority they have internalized by sticking firmly to what they “know” is false. They thus feel authorized to inferiorize non-Tigrayan Ethiopians, as one could see in the constant barrage of dehumanization of Ethiopians that saturate their social media comments.
Nevertheless, many of us Tigrayans are waking up after an ideological inebriation that lasted more than three decades. And we are discovering the damage that the TPLF has done to Tigrayans through the damages it has inflicted on Ethiopians. We need to organize ourselves to repair these self-inflicted damages. This is going to be an uphill battle, because the Tigrayan elites live in a self-imposed psychological ghetto. Consequently, there is a herd mentality among the Tigrayan elite, which has diminished their independence of mind and macerated their critical spirit. Therefore, the pressure to blindly follow whatever the TPLF says and does is enormous.
Indeed, one could say that the TPLF is more of a sect than a political party; it brooks no dissension and expects its followers to obey its edicts without questioning. We have to resist this spiritual and mental debasement and belittlement of Tigrayans, which necessarily leads to the debasement and belittlement of all Ethiopians, as we could see in the current media war. The work of liberating ourselves from the mortifying clutches of TPLF propaganda must be done to save the democratic soul of Tigray and Ethiopia.
Tigray will never know democracy and prosperity as long as the TPLF exists as a political organization. We Tigrayans will never enjoy the innumerable historical, cultural, musical, artistic, literary, physical, affective, spiritual, and psychological wealth which we congenitally share with other Ethiopians irrespective of their ethnic origins, religions, and regions. Without Ethiopia, Tigray will be an organ without a body; and without Tigray, Ethiopia will a body without an organ.
Only with the dismemberment of the TPLF will Tigray discover her Ethiopian soul and Ethiopians their Tigray soul and achieve their historical wholeness without which neither democracy nor prosperity are possible. As long as the TPLF exists, Tigray will be permanently racked by war and misery. It is thus incumbent on the Tigrayan elite to abandon their “fetishist disavowal,” exit the psychological ghetto in which they live, throw away their ethnic superiority blinkers, and join hands with all Ethiopians. They could then enjoy and nourish the democracy that has come to see the light of day in Ethiopia in 2020.
For this to be possible, whatever is the outcome of the present conflict, the struggle to disband the TPLF must continue. This is a task for all Ethiopians and, above all, for Tigrayans.
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