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

TPLF _ Warfare _ Ethiopia

By Fessehaye Kidane, Asmara

  1. Psychological Warfare of TPLF’s Con Artists

During its armed struggle, the TPLF used to practice its Pseudo-Narrative culture alone. Soon after it became a government in Ethiopia till this day, it has recruited other foreign con artists who advocate on its behalf under the title of experts and activists. However, most of all their activities and their so-called research are ostensibly conducted and published at the disposal of the Ethiopian money and resources. 

Among others, Alex de Waal, one of the TPLF’s gurus since 1988, is a relentless polemicist of a psychological warfare of the Tigray elite. Ever since the civil war of 2020-2022 of Ethiopia was set in motion by the TPLF, he has contributed dozens of articles besides his interviews in Western Medias. All his motives and the contents of his articles are based on the shades of ‘white and grey propagandas.’ In other words, white propaganda contains information of a certain source which is truthful, but only moderately biased. On the other hand, grey propaganda in its turn relies on information mostly truthful, but it disregards its source in accordance with its reasons. It is these tactics that De Waal prefers to conning his readers as well as in influencing the Western policy makers. Moreover, dwelling on such shades of sham campaigns, he purely attempts to inspire and hone the intransigence of his TPLF friends.  

For instance, if one happens to refer to his recent article of November 16, 2022, its contents are found to be in stark contrast to the ground hard facts. However, no matter what the battlefield speaks, what concerned him was just to justify the TPLF’s defeat. That’s why he associated the TPLF total defeat with ‘starvation’ which is only a lame excuse to his TPLF associates. In reference to the core substance of his article, even the stasis of his first paragraph starts with the phrase of “Starvation works.” He further argues that, quote unquote, ‘at the end of the day, famine decided the outcome of the civil war….” (Responsible Statecraft). Against the backdrop of his former article (November 3, 2022), he for the first time managed to criticize the TPLF delegation that ‘traveling to Pretoria to offer peace was a huge political gamble.’ However, as before, he still advocated that ‘the TDF could continue as a mobile force.’ Besides, he also urged the TPLF leaders that their ‘TDF [shouldn’t] disarm until Eritrea withdraws;’ [because]…no one expects Eritrea to withdraw willingly.’ 

Perhaps one may thus question as to why this writer is so concerned about ‘continuing a mobile force’ of Tigrayans. As the TPLF purports that ‘war is a traditional game, which is inherent to its culture’, he may be so enthusiastic to see his ‘war-hardened friends’ to entertain him regardless of the damage of war to Tigrayan subjects! If so, he has to be invited as well to be part of the war which he is praying for innocent Ethiopians. However, the motive that he is so eager with a prolongation of a war is nothing but perhaps only to satiate his appetite of essay writings; upgrading his CV portfolios via writing war articles may be a value-added in the course of his journalism career. 

Like de Waal, the other ‘White TPLF’ who is engaged unabatedly in scaffolding and sympathizing with the TPLF leadership through his pen is also Martin Plaut. This TPLF ally since the late nineteenth even never shies to lie to the world that the TPLF was defeated just because of ‘Somalia’s involvement in the civil war of Ethiopia’. From anecdotal evidence, it seems evident that it was this British journalist who deliberately concocted the story that Eritrea obliged the 10,000 Somali soldiers, who were supposed to take military training in Eritrea, to participate in the Tigray war to be on the side of the Ethiopian army. In this case, what may be shameful is the fact that even the TPLF used his ‘media speculations and lies’ as justifications that its military defeat was as a result of three foreign forces namely Eritrea, Somalia and United Arab Emirates. However, after a brief time, the Somali soldiers who were trained in Eritrea were officially visited by their President. Accordingly, the cooperation of Eritrea to Somalia became a public secret both after the official visit of the Somali Head of State and their inauguration. For sure, all the liars, not least Plaut might have buried their tongues and heads after such unhidden news was aired. Besides, on several occasions, Plaut also never relented to write through creating a scenario that ‘skirmishes of fighting between the Eritrean and Ethiopian platoons have taken place over and over,’ as he put it, due to disagreements to share captured tanks and other ammunition. 

In retrospect, Plaut, as a main drumbeater of the psychological warfare of the TPLF, has also a track-record of creating lies against Eritrea during the Arab Spring of 2011. At that time, he wrote that Eritrea had sent one battalion to help Libya’s leader which was commanded by a Brigadier General named Abrham Afan. Anyhow, if one may meticulously and collectively try to gauge the pattern of his behavior of lying, he can judge him nothing apart from observing and attributing to that Pluat’s ‘prime profession’ seems like lying and deception. It is a pity for him to spoil his career by indulging himself in ‘sham journalism!’ That’s why what he wrote is bereft of credibility and validity. As such, the various articles Plaut wrote and published in a dozen websites could and can never influence the public opinion of the critical mass who live anywhere and at any point of time.

Likewise, most applauders of the TPLF who i’ll-wish for Ethiopian unity and Pan-Ethiopianism are not exhausted to write venomous articles seated under the shadow of a Website known as ‘Ethiopia Insight.’ What is surprising is, however, the owners and editors of this Website are not Ethiopian citizens; they are foreign and mercenary White TPLFs.  Putting aside what Mistir Sew’s leading articles portend to, for a while, referring to Patrick Wight’s article of 25 November 2022 may give a glimpse of representations as regards what ‘Ethiopia Insight’ incites as its duty of its psychological warfare.

Briefly, the core message of Wight’s article underscores that “…the Pretoria and Nairobi agreements send a message to Addis Ababa and Asmara that military and man made famine are effective weapons in pursuit of their military objectives…Mass starvation has been legitimized as a means to achieve political goals in war. Tigrayan commanders may not abide by what they see as humiliating peace terms. When invading forces roamed freely throughout the region, Tigrayans may band together once again and fight back. Hardliners within the TPLF, TDF generals, and broader Tigrayan society may not accept this arrangement and continue fighting. [Issaias’] goal is not to destroy the TPLF, but also to destroy Tigray as a society, as a political force, a land and people with their own cultural, linguistic, and political rights, and aspirations to govern themselves. Because Eritrean forces saved Abiy’s regime from collapsing, Issaias has gained significant leverage over him…” 

In general, what Wight speculates is not different either from what de Waal or Plaut and their likes dwell on. In short, what his prophecies may imply are that it seems that he is not happy for peace to prevail in Ethiopia. Regardless of his arguments on ‘starvation, Tigray hardliners or otherwise,’ when it comes to Eritrea, the political thermometer of the writer is not graduated and as such his analysis is not objective apart from being too illusive and  poor. The argument of Mr. Wight that Eritrea’s Head of State plan is to ‘destroy Tigrayan society at large including all its social fabric and all its socio-cultural systems…’ is too emotional which is devoid of substance and evidence. In fact, it purely depends on and replicates the lies and narratives of the TPLF elite as it is. 

To the contrary, by this time, no one denies that it is a public secret that President Issaias has been advocating age-long on behalf of Ethiopian unity and Tigrayan integrity with its mother country. Of course, ‘destroying the TPLF’ is not only Eritrea’s leader’s agenda, but it is the agenda of all Eritrean nationals and the Ethiopian people at large; even this is just because of the TPLF’s illusionary dreams and pattern of behaviors, be it towards Eritreans or Ethiopians. The fact that the TPLF elite never takes a rest in creating wars time after time does not spare it from destruction. Otherwise, nor can any leader of a country can stand against people’s legitimate cause, political rights and belief systems. In this case, how far President Issaias was cautious and considerate enough on the people of Tigray was well-recorded during the season the TPLF chairperson, Dr. Debrestion Ghebremichael, for the first time visited Eritrea along with the PM of Ethiopia.

 During the couple of hours, in 2018, when President Issaias happened to meet and discuss with the TPLF leader, he advised, and at the time warned him that ‘Eritrea is well-informed about the TPLF’s war preparations; the TPLF should pursue the course of peace either with Eritrea or in the pursuit of the Ethiopian government ….’  In fact, according to the Eritrean president’s interviews, though he was pushed by the Ethiopian PM to advise and warn the TPLF leader to stop his war agenda, he had no appetite to speak with him. Prior to President Issaias’ interview, in fact, it was the TPLF leader who revealed the substance of their dialogue in one of his interviews. He said that he was amazed with what the Eritrean President boldly discussed with him. Moreover, Debretsion even went to the extent of mocking that ‘it was amazing the Eritrean president ventured to share his concerns while his PM kept mum.’ Granted that such evidence is erect on the ground, can one daresay that the Eritrean President wished bad to the people of Tigray? Never ever. As opposed to what Wight speculated in his article, the President of Eritrea was in fact not ready to war. Had he had been, he shouldn’t have shared or disclosed either about his intelligence information or his scheme of the war that Eritrea is a watchdog to the TPLF’s war arrangements.

On the other hand, tempting and stoking up Tigray hardliners and generals to derail from the peace course is meaningless and is not even helpful both for the people and the generals themselves. In fact, it is the Tigray generals who seem to be more interested in the implementation of the peace deal than the TPLF politicians. The fact that the implementation of the peace accord is gaining momentum is apparently just because of the Tigray generals. The reason is that even if a handful tend to continue fighting against their fellow Ethiopians, it may not go far from a banditry skirmish of ‘Woyane I’ of  1940’s; a movement of TPLF’s predecessor. 

Equally, the argument that ‘Issaias has gained a significant leverage over Abiy since he saved Abiy’s regime’ seems not substantiated by proof. Moreover, it seems to deny for the reason that the Ethiopian and Eritrean relationship is based on mutualism and reciprocity like any bilateral cooperation of two independent countries. As per the security pact of 2018 of the two respective countries, both of them have the latitude to leverage one over the other in cases time and situations allow. During Ethiopia’s trouble and aggression, Eritrea is mandatory to give a hand to Ethiopia. The reverse is true as well. Thereby, both governments are working in consultation with one another as far the Ethiopian civil war is concerned. It is thus no one’s moral or political mandate to divorce both governments whether by way of a carrot or stick. Hence, no matter what is written on paper, as long as it does not reflect reality and objectivity, if it is dictated by nightmares, it will remain as a chimera in the air.  

In the final analysis, the ill-objective and the drum of the psychological warfare of the TPLF’s Con Artists is nothing but, as it may be dubbed, only sedition and intervention in the sovereignty of independent nations; be it against the unity of Ethiopia or against the cooperation of Eritrea and Ethiopia. In other words, no matter what it hides behind its curtain, cloaked under ‘a sheep’s skin,’ it always searches for a bone of contention among nations and peoples. In particular, in this time around, the ill-campaign and naked propaganda of all sorts of masterminds and authors who swim in different websites aims towards aborting the ‘Peace Accord’ of Ethiopians. 

Yet, as far as the psychological warfare against Ethiopia and Eritrea is concerned, articles which are full of ‘inflammatory venoms’ seem to flow more than ever. Seemingly, upon the Pretoria ‘Peace Accord’ of the Ethiopian government and the TPLF, the pseudo-narratives of all the con artists seem to revolve at least around two reasons. Firstly, it aims to push or disengage the TPLF military wing from implementation of the Nairobi Road Map Declaration while at the same time dubbing the TPLF politicians as ‘surrenders.’ Secondly, as always, it seems to ‘quarantine Eritrea’ from its interest in the Peace Deal. What Jeffrey Feltman, a former US Special Envoy in the Horn of Africa, on his part, attempted to incite is a case in point as far as the two ill-motives are concerned. 

Hence, it also seems worth highlighting, among others, at least some of Feltman’s key messages. In verbatim, regarding the outcome of the peace deal of Ethiopia, he emphasizes that: ‘…Going into the peace talks in Pretoria, the Ethiopian government was in a much stronger military position than the TPLF. Not surprisingly, the agreement the two sides reached on November 2, [2022] tilts in Addis Ababa’s favor, providing for the restoration of Ethiopian federal authority in Tigray and the dissolution of the TPLF administration. The agreement has flaws, including an overtly ambitious initial timetable for TPLF disarmament, inadequate monitoring and reporting processes, a lack of clarity on accountability, and most seriously, silence on Eritrea.”

As regards Eritrea, he put his argument under a title of ‘Spoiler Alert’ in such a way that: “… But the potential problem posed by Eritrea remains. Whereas nearly all Ethiopia’s partners have praised the Pretoria and Nairobi Agreements, Eritrea has remained silent. In theory, TPLF disarmament should incentivize Eritrea’s President Issaias Afwerki to order his troops home. Afwerki [Eritrea’s President] appears impervious to the usual array of incentives and disincentives. He dismisses as Western hostility the widespread condemnation of his regime. Afwerki seeks to become the regional hegemon.  Sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States – including on the Red Sea Trading Corporation (RSTC), Afwerki’s main conduit for arms and money laundering – have had no perceptible impact on his external meddling. Just as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was not tempted by US President Donald Trump’s offer in 2018 to swap nuclear ambitions for hotels. But Eritrea’s neighbors do have some leverage over Afwerki, although they often claim otherwise. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) hosts the RSTC largest offshore facility, which Afwerki relies on for imports and exports, including arms. Simply by asking questions about the RSC’s activities, the UAE could change Afwerki’s calculus. Saudi Arabia, which hosts the historic peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 2018, could also link its support of Afwerki for his behavior toward Ethiopia. …Moreover, the lack of agreement among regional powers on how to deal with Eritrea gives Afwerki much room to maneuver.” 

By and large, what Feltman’s recent article which is published in ForeignAffairs.com (26 December 2022), transpires seems to reflect about his biased attitude and ill-position both on the outcome of the Pretoria accord and on Eritrea’s invincible fare-share as a ‘game changer’ of the TPLF’s adventurism of war. Besides, there appears no doubt that his prime motive also seems to be against Eritrea’s ‘neutralism policy and rational influence’ in the region of Africa or the Gulf states. That’s why his core focus became ‘sanctioning’ Eritrea by any means necessary. However, he could cite no corroboration apart from the hatred of Eritrean neutralism and self-reliance policy whether with Ethiopia or other neighboring countries and name it. Moreover, the basis of his initiative to write this article is just because Eritrea stands on the side of Ethiopian favor and safety.

In brief terms, as far as Feltman’s stance on Eritrea is concerned, first of all, what he opined is not different from his government’s policy of putting Eritrea at bay ever since Eritrea became a sovereign country. Even from an objective point of view, regardless of the USA’s position and attitude on Eritrea, Eritrea has never been a ‘peace spoiler’ as Feltman preferred to term it.  Rather, Eritrea always tends to be a leading example to other African countries to follow its policy of neutrality, self-reliance and resilience. In other words, though it is intimidated and even tested for two decades by the usual stick and norm of Western countries ‘sanctions,Eritrea’s political unity and social stability has never been threatened or compromised as expected. As once, the Guinean late President, Ahmed Sekou Toure (1958) advised his fellow Africans, ‘[Eritrea] prefers poverty in freedom to riches in slavery’ other than being a host and slave of Western policies. 

Anyway, though Feltman’s ill-motto seems to infringe Eritrea’s dignity, unity and political freedom,’ if need be, Eritrea always strives towards uniting the African community as well. As Eritrea is ever since a fountainhead of nationalism, it is also always on its way to be a hub of fountainhead of Africanism and African nationalism. As starting with small is always beautiful, that’s why a small group of African countries are gathering momentum towards this end. A case in point is the good rapprochement among the Horn countries namely Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan which the USA is not in favor of it since its sphere of influence and blackmail are absent; apparently everyone is not oblivious about Eritrea’s fare-share in attempting to create synergy among such countries. In this regard, as Eritrea’s President is a leading exponent and architect of peace, security and unity of his country, irrespective of Feltman’s suggestion of ‘incentives or disincentives’, what matters to Afwerki is not ‘hegemonism’ or otherwise; but he is rather in a bid to sharing fertile ground of peace and stability for a mutual coexistence and collaboration of the Horn fragile countries. Indeed, what Eritrea tends to show thus far in spirit and practice is empirically witnessed in the cases of Ethiopia (via practical involvement in dismantling its threat of the TPLF), Somalia (through training its soldiers) and South Sudan and Sudan (advising and recommending solving their problems by their own political values); not by a policy of carrot and stick or blackmailing one party or the other as Feltman himself seems to have followed, but failed while he was an envoy of his country for the Horn of Africa. 

On the other hand, what is striking is that Feltman seems too concerned about ‘Eritrea remaining silent’ whether it ‘accepts or not’ both the Pretoria and Nairobi agreements. It may be just because he seems blind that Eritrea is not fond of publishing rush statements. Indeed, such an experience was learned and accumulated as from its armed struggle time. 

There is no doubt that all and sundry well know that Eritrea’s Head of State was born out of the armed struggle. In the course of his political tenure as of the mid 1960’s, apart from being a nationalist, he was honed as to be a well-talented, versed and seasoned politician and military strategist as well. Besides, he was also able to become a vanguard politician as Eritrea was not re-created not only by a barrel of a gun, but also through challenging and aborting political conspiracies and maneuvers of both the Western and Socialist Blocks. This long standing experience thus has a value-added lesson as to whether Eritrea needs statements or not; the reason is that President Issaias being at the helm such conspiracies and intrigues have had a leading and pivotal role in challenging and foiling Eritrea’s foes ill-theories and strategies. He is also still intact in the same line of stance and integrity in challenging the same intrigues on behalf of his country’s sovereignty and his people’s dignity. Sometimes being too ‘economic in your words or keeping mum’ where necessary is a preferred policy of governments; the fact that sometimes ‘silence implies understanding’ matters more. In a word, this seems what Eritrea and its leader follows suit. 

Last but not least, as far as President Issaias Afwerki is concerned, it seems pretty good to shed a light if what Susan Rice, a former American ambassador and National Security Advisor who was also a staunch enemy of Eritrea throughout her political tenure, like Feltman, assessed as far as her experience in Eritrea and Ethiopia are concerned. According to Rice’s autobiography memoir (January 20, 2017, Tough Love), quote unquote, she said that “We knew that Isaias would be an even tougher in terms of his willingness to compromise, but armed with Meles’ bottom-lines, we flew across the border to Asmara, the neat and orderly Eritrean capital, to explore Isaias’ position. In normal times, Isaias was hot-tempered and mercurial, unpretentious yet canny.” 

In one way or the other, what the American counterpart of Feltman said gives sense. Eritrea’s Head of State, as per her words, ‘is unpretentious yet canny.’ Regardless of what others may say or write about him, it is for this reason that Eritreans believe and value him more than enough. In other words, if he is ‘canny and unpretentious as well as not compromised easily,’ that’s why he is supposedly to become a model of his compatriots in particular and, where need be, like Patrice Lumumba of Zaire and Nkrumah of Ghana, a paragon of Africans at large. In a sense, the lesson is that if a leader is not ready to compromise his integrity, it is also true that the political independence and sovereignty of his country is not compromised by any means necessary.       

Moreover, It also seems crystal clear that Mr. Feltman wants to keep the TPLF elite as a political entity seemingly to make use of it, as before, as a lackey of his country’s hegemonic policy in the Horn of Africa. Needless to say, the fact that he tries to treat both the Ethiopian federal government which is in pursuit of safeguarding and uniting the whole of Ethiopia in equal footing with the TPLF organization which has been on its adventure to disintegrate Ethiopia are quite controversial to each other. As opposed to Feltman’s assessments, the ‘Peace Deal’ of Ethiopia has nothing new apart from abiding by the TPLF-made constitution of Ethiopia. Moreover, the core substance of the ‘Peace Deal’ is TPLF’s ‘disarmament’ which Feltment is unreasonably infuriated more about it. Besides, the fact that the ‘Peace Accord’ aligned with Addis Ababa’s favor is the most outstanding success story since it augurs well for Ethiopian future unity and prosperity. In other words, it is pretty important that finally the federal government of Ethiopia succeeded both in terms of military success and diplomatic return-rates. As far as the cause and assessment of the civil war of Ethiopia are concerned, it is an undeniable fact that the triumph of the government is also the triumph of the people. As such, anyone who tends to oppose to and belittle such victory of Ethiopians is thus not a friend of Ethiopia, but rather a bloody foe of Ethiopia and its people.  

Anyhow, why are all kinds of con artists whether in the form of political or humanitarian activists or ex high-profile diplomats preferred to be more ‘Catholics than the Pope’ is something questionable as far as their biased integrity is concerned. As a matter of fact, it is none of their business to meddle in the affairs of independent peoples and nations. At the end of the day, it is up to the sovereign nations to be masters of their destiny. Hence, be it Eritrea or Ethiopia, it is up to them whether to pursue a political policy of neutrality or to influence and cooperate each other which is more solidified and promising unlike before; while Ethiopia was under TPLF’s governance which followed  a ‘containment policy’ on Eritrea arguably prescribed by its patrons notably the US successive governments. Long live Eritrean and Ethiopian solidarity! 

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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