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TPLF’s Psychological Warfare: A Longstanding Practice and a Deadly Weapon of its Political Existence

Ethiopia _ TPLF _ Psychological Warfare
TPLF Leaders during their meeting. Current WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom is seen in the front row (Photo : file)

By Fessehaye Kidane, Asmara

  1. Psychological Warfare: A war in the Mind.

In general, psychological warfare is a soft form of war whose aim is to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of people. It uses various techniques so as to meet its ends. As a result, the value system, belief system, emotions, motives, reasons or behavior of the target is aimed and influenced. According to an essay of Robert Longley (December 6, 2021), as a non-lethal effort of ‘war in the mind,’ it is the planned tactical use of propaganda, threats, and other non-combat techniques during wars, threats of war, or periods of geopolitical unrest to mislead, intimidate, demoralize, or otherwise influence the thinking or behavior of an enemy. Ultimately, the targets of such propaganda campaigns can include governments, political organizations, advocacy groups, military personnel, and civilian individuals (ibid). 

By the same token, what the TPLF leadership has been practicing as its political culture both as a guerrilla organization and a government of Ethiopia seems to have borrowed the same modus operandi of survival: as far as the TPLF is concerned, there is no doubt that psychological warfare has been used and exploited ever since. 

  1. TPLF-led Government’s Pseudo-Narrative for Diverting the Attentions of Ethiopians

From an uncontroversial vantage point, no one may deny that the machinery of the psychological warfare (PSYWAR) of the TPLF has been defying ever since. Most often, like Radio Free Europe or Radio Liberty which was created and funded covertly by the CIA since 1949, during the cold war era, the PSYWAR of the TPLF also always tries to win the ‘minds and hearts’ of its subjects mostly concocting or relying on Pseudo-Narratives. What may appear contrasting, however, is that Radio Free Europe used to disseminate anti-communist propaganda against the Soviet Union and its satellite states while the TPLF apparatus of psychological warfare usually has been targeting on its own people of Ethiopia and Tigray at large, not least Eritrean subjects as well.  By so doing, at least it might have won in diverting the attention of the people of Ethiopia over the three decades. Perhaps, by dint of its influential position in Ethiopia, it seemed as if its PSYWAR would take the TPLF leadership to a smooth course of governing the Ethiopian people. 

As far as the practice and culture of the TPLF’s psychological war is concerned, it is worth mentioning some tangible cases as a proof. Firstly, after it lost the hearts and minds of Ethiopians almost after a decade of its governance, the TPLF’s PSYWAR created a Pseudo-Narrative against Eritrea under the pretext of a border war. As a result, a bloody and brutal three years’ war was in interplay in the Horn of Africa between the two neighboring countries. Secondly, at least for some time, the TPLF’s PSYWAR through its sham narratives also tried to hoodwink its Ethiopian subjects even after it misquoted the border verdict of Eritrea and Ethiopia. In this case, soon after the day of the border decision, the then Foreign Minister of Ethiopia, Siyoum Mesfin, lied that ‘his country was able to win both in the war and the verdict’ is something fresh in the minds of the international community. 

At the moment, the tactic of his lies was arguably to acquit his government from accountability of the cause of the war. In other words, on the one hand, the flashpoint of the cause of the war, Badme town, was awarded to Eritrea. On the other, the false claim of the TPLF-led government that Ethiopia would get access to the sea and a port as a compensation for its war also was not fulfilled by law. Therefore, it was eminent that Ethiopians would ask as to why they shed their blood for no reasons. That’s why the TPLF-led government pursued a policy of lies simply to divert the attention of the Ethiopian people at least for a while. However, after three months or so, the PM of Ethiopia, late Meles Zenawi, never shied to reject the verdict dubbing it ‘as miscarriage of justice.’ What followed afterwards was, of course, a ‘no-war-no-peace’ situation.  

From a pragmatic point of view, it seems that the false narratives of the TPLF might have served it at least for its tactical reasons. However, in the course of time, the people of Ethiopia were not deceived by both of the TPLF’s creative stories. Not long after then, thirdly, the TPLF government of Ethiopia devised another Pseudo-Narrative which was coined under a ‘Renaissance Dam Slogan’ mainly to rally the Ethiopian people behind it on the one hand. On the other hand, such tacit deceit was meant to create a stalemate as well to avert the ‘pregnancy of chaos’ that was looming both from without and within its EPRDF party. Nonetheless, regardless of the ill-motive of the TPLF’s latest intrigue, the latter may be seen as a ‘blessing in disguise’ to generations of Ethiopia; the fact that the ‘Renaissance Dam Project’ seems to prove effective in terms of its yield is important by any standard. 

Be that as it may, though, in the end, all attempts of the TPLF’s psychological warfare were in vain. In other words, Ethiopians of all walks of life came to understand that the TPLF was no longer useful to Ethiopian peace and prosperity. After that, even the TPLF-led EPRDF itself came to recognize the ‘legitimacy crisis ‘of the country. According to a recent study of a long-time TPLF friend, the party per se convinced that the ‘breakdown of law and order’ was prevalent in the country (2021, Kjetil Tronvoll). Pragmatically speaking, such crisis and disorder were as a result of ‘growth of chauvinism and narrow nationalism, widespread rent-seeking and corruption, anti-democratic outlook and practices as well as maladministration and governance failures’ of the ruling party (ibid). That’s why the Ethiopian youths’ movements, namely Quereo and Fano, challenged and opposed the TPLF’s entire status quo of politics and practices and thereby threw it to the garbage of history. In the end, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Dr. Abiy Ahmed with his ruling PP was born as the result of the collapse of Ethiopian ruling coalition party, EPRDF.  In the phrases of one of the TPLF’s staunch advocates, Kjetil Tronvoll, ‘Falling from Grace’ became its final end. In other words, the TPLF’s sham narrative which was always aimed to make it live forever in the limelight of Ethiopia couldn’t make its ends meet. 

Upon ‘Falling from Grace,’ the TPLF ruling party left the capital of Ethiopia and fled to its sanctuary region, Tigray. Afterwards, the Tigray bullhorns gradually tended to operate like a Hezbollah political structure of Lebanese. For the one who observed from a distance, it even seemed as if a ‘state-within- a- state system’ was in place in Ethiopia. In a word, a state-within-a-state is an organization which seeks to function independently under a big state. Most often, Hezbollah which is a Shiite Muslim political party is described as a ‘state-within-a-state’ organization (Kali Robinson, May 25, 20222, what is Hezbollah). The party which is backed by Iran has grown into an organization with seats in the Lebanese government, as well as with its own radio station and a satellite TV; it is even able to provide social services to the people of its country.  Moreover, Hezbollah is a party and at the same time a paramilitary that is considered more powerful than the Lebanese National Army. As such, the party also deploys its large-scale military fighters beyond Lebanese borders and fights against the Israeli army whenever deemed necessary. 

From an analogical vantage point, Ethiopia’s TPLF’s political movements and posture, since 2018, also was not different from that of Lebanese’s Hezbollah. The fact that the TPLF reorganized its paramilitary and defied its government’s directions after 2018 likens it with the Hezbollah party.  Moreover, believing in the support of the international community and relying on its military muscle, all the TPLF’s political and military orientations were directed towards its second vision of creating a Republic of Tigray. To this end, it used multiple pretexts.  Finally, the TPLF resorted to war for two reasons: if it could to come to an ascendancy of power  to re-governing Ethiopia once more; if it couldn’t, to dwell on its first vision of establishing a State of Tigray. However, all its attempts were to no avail. 

As once an Algerian political activist and writer, Ferhat Abbas, wrote in 1936 (2005, Martin Meredith, The Fate of Africa), “One does not build a homeland on the wind.” As such, the TPLF came to know that ‘Tigray is not a nation, but only a mere geographical expression like its counterpart regions of Ethiopia.’ That’s why the TPLF signed a ‘Peace Deal’ of Pretoria. By hook or by crook, the prescription of the ‘Peace Deal’ ordered it to believe in Pan-Ethiopianism.  

However, the tide of events aftermath seems to have challenged and swept the TPLF away not only from the political landscape of Ethiopia, but even from the political arena of Tigray too. The fact is that all the social, political and economic ills which Tigrayans in particular faced are subject to the TPLF leaders.  Accordingly, Tigrayan peoples and elites are questioning all the TPLF’s political miscalculations and military adventures if the end result is to be abided by the Peace Deal of South Africa. Unequivocally, unlike what the TPLF has been preaching that Tigray can one day be a State in Africa failed for good. As opposed to that ill-prophesy and pseudo-narrative of decades, the Peace Deal of Pretoria transpired nothing but it proved only that Tigrayans are also pure Ethiopians like the rest of other Ethiopians. 

Writer’s Brief Note: 

Fessehaye Kidane Melaky is based in Asmara. He is a cadre of education in the Eritrean Ministry of Education at the Office of the Minister. Besides being an author of one book in English (entitled Star Reader), he has also written dozens of articles both in English and Tigrigna (mother-tongue language) versions in the State-owned Newspapers namely Eritrea Profile and New Eritrea. As a case in point, the writer’s recent publications in Eritrea Profile and Hadas Eritrea respectively include ‘From Home Song’ to ‘Family in an Ordeal’ (Shabait.com, Feb 16, 2019) and (መጕስዕ ኲናት ስነ-ልቦና ኽሳዕ መኣስ፧ ጋዜጣ ሓዳስ ኤርትራ፣ ሚያዝያ 2022 or ‘Regurgitation of Psychological Warfare: For How Long  Will It Last?’). Prior to that, he has contributed various articles regarding education, linguistics, book reviews and political history of Eritrea.  

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