THE SEEDS OF RESENTMENT AND FUTURE INSTABILITY IN ETHIOPIA – By Genet Mersha
Events and celebrations come to Ethiopians in all forms and guises, even when there is little to celebrate. Distinctly rare, however, is the meeting of minds on anything between the people and the powers that be. Seventeen years later, therefore, in 2008 the people’s indifferent observer status has changed to profoundly resentful spectators. In response, the regime has of late tightened security around the TPLF top leadership 24/7, according to the Indian Ocean Newsletter. By all indications, it is a sign that the nation will need to brace up for harder times because of the dangers many of the current regime’s policies and politics have fostered.
Last February, the 33rd anniversary of the founding of the TPLF was celebrated at Shire, Tigrai. As a divided nation, elsewhere in the country the occasion was commemorated exclusively amongst some members of the Tigraian community. Abroad, the TPLF joined some of the celebrators by sending a Tigraian delegation from the House of People’s Representatives to some cities in the United States to preside over some carefully choreographed and selected TDA events. On the other hand, the Union of Tigraians in North America (UTNA) marked the occasion by honouring the memory of the heroes of recent and past wars. Similarly, in Portland, Oregon, Tigraians chose to celebrate the occasion by combining it with the 112th anniversary of the Victory of Adowa, again without any official TPLF representative from the capital. This time they used the occasion to discuss the worrisome situation in the country, following which they vowed to do three things: closely monitor the situation in Ethiopia, provide increased philanthropic help to Tigrai and fight the rampant official corruption in the country.
There is no doubt that the founding anniversary of the TPLF is a solemn occasion for the majority of Tigraians. Many of them have paid personal sacrifices either in their youth with their idealism, or through loss of loved ones for the cause of genuine liberation. Unfortunately, to date the reality in Ethiopia is hardly consistent with those expectations as Tigraians, and as Ethiopians. Therefore, if anything, the occasion has only unmasked the growing depth of disillusionment and polarization of Ethiopian society. In that sense, the occasion this year must have been extremely depressing especially to those Tigraians who have lost family members. Seventeen years after the end of the liberation struggle, all they can show for the sacrifices of their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, are the ever-tightening dictatorial powers of the TPLF that have blighted the country’s hopes for a democratic future.
Thus, in the midst of so many celebrations Ethiopia has become one huge resentful country, thanks to the TPLF’s repressive policies that have choked popular aspirations. Perhaps, if it were not for their fear of being blacklisted by TPLF agents, losing their kebele ration cards or harassment as Arena supporters or ‘chauvinist sympathizers,’ many Tigraians would have preferred no celebrations at all—just to avoid having to deal with their consciences, if not, their neighbours’ un-iterated cynicism.
At the root of Ethiopia’s problem is hardly the current devastating inflation, nor grain taxes, or the amount of money in circulation, the growth of which now Mr. Meles has decided to curtail sharply after years of opposition. Those are mere symptoms of our nation’s underlying ailments caused by the regime’s authoritarianism and its systematic promotion of ethnic narrow nationalism.
The year 2008 is the seventh anniversary of TPLF’s ‘renewal,’ according to a message the central committee addressed to the people of Tigrai last February. The Front claims that seven years ago it set out a clear path to the future, dedicating itself to democracy, development and peace,” although no one with conscience could come forward and affirm that in Ethiopia’s present situation. Apparently, the ‘renewal’ refers to the 2001 split, which many Tigraians have credited for opening their eyes to their lost goal of liberation for which they paid with years of tears, blood and sweat following the TPLF. In those days of innocence and zeal, Tigraian unity was fostered by the invocation of the first Woyane spirit, only to end in 1991 as the longest march for grabbing power by a few lustful men. Ever since, the decade-and-a-half (1975-1991) of indoctrination of the fighting forces about the ‘emancipation of every Tigraian,’ has evaporated into palace comforts power has afforded those few.
Most ironic, however, is that, in spite of the TPLF having been Ethiopia’s ruling party for 17 years, it has remained, at least in name, if not in deeds, the Tigrai Liberation Front. Therefore, in a way the TPLF’s spin on the 2001 split and its claim of dedication to “democracy, development and peace” rather appears a less deft hankering by the Front’s strongmen for exoneration from the guilt of breaking Tigraian unity, than a true moment and place of elevated spirit or cause. Whichever way one dices it, the long promised goal of Tigraian liberation has long been betrayed. In sum, the TPLF has failed all Ethiopians because of its singular commitment to serve the interests of a few strongmen in power. If this is false, come from wherever, be it Addis Ababa, Adama, Awassa, Dejen, Endaselasie, Gambella or Mekelle, Ogaden, Wukro…Let there come out a Tigraian who for the last 17 years has enjoyed a sense of security from fear and want; let there come he or she whose democratic rights are protected in accordance with the law and his or her fundamental human rights are ensured!
DIVISIVENESS AS POLICY OBJECTIVE
Strikingly, the above-mentioned TPLF central committee message presupposes the existence of two classes of citizens—one, those with added responsibilities and trust; and two, the rest of Ethiopians who are considered untrustworthy and subject to constant surveillance and control. Divisive as it is, the message singularly calls upon the people of Tigrai and members of the TPLF “to defend and protect the gains we have so far registered from organized and unorganized forces that scheme to snatch them.” Surprise! Surprise! There is no reference whatsoever to the rest of the Ethiopian people. Supposedly, those are also their “gains,” until this slip of the pen that confirmed what has so far been seen in practice.
Furthermore, in assuring Tigraian society, members of the TPLF, EPRDF and partner organizations of the solidarity of the TPLF “in their joint struggle to root out poverty and ensure development and democracy,” the message gives sort of an affirmation to the denial of role to other Ethiopians. In reading that paragraph, I felt sorry for all of us because of the self-serving choices the regime makes for us and on our behalf. I shuddered when I realized from the message that, even when the TPLF has been the ruling party in Ethiopia this long, it continues to place unique responsibilities on Tigraians, as protectors and defenders of the “great achievements” of the past 17 years.
As a bona fide Ethiopian citizen, I am deeply offended. After all, I began to wonder why, after 17 years of repressive control over all Ethiopians, Tigraians included, the TPLF has chosen to maintain itself as the ‘Tigrai People’s Liberation Front.”
WHY A SPLIT WITHIN THE TPLF?
Details of the 2001 split within the TPLF are still a subject of speculations, more so now partly hijacked by partisan politics as to who amongst them is more patriotic Ethiopian, as we saw a few months back during the much-welcomed and fruitful townhouse meetings with ex-defence minister Seye Abraha in the United States. Those expelled from TPLF membership accuse the prime minister and his colleagues of betrayal of the true principles of democracy and respect for human rights, which the TPLF was established to uphold and defend. There are many who still wonder, if that is all to it, why there scarcely was any reaction from within, say for instance, when the TPLF inured Ethiopia’s territorial integrity in 1993, or when all those barbaric killings and repressions took place from 1991-2001. Responses to those questions have been glossed over under the broad brush of apology for the past. Nor has Seye or others have adequately clarified those issues in subsequent interviews.
For the prime minister, his accusers were simply corrupt, amongst them, the ex-defence minister himself who served six-year prison term. Many agree that he was a victim of gross miscarriage of justice. In a press conference, carried on WIC, TPLF’s information outfit, on the evening of 24 March 2001, Mr. Meles accused all of them as culprits “in a foiled coup attempt.” The expelled senior members attributed the problem to the lack of democracy inside the TPLF and their defence of Ethiopia’s unity and territorial integrity, towards which the prime minister was not favourably predisposed. Quoting the prime minister, WIC further indicated that the incident started when certain members of the central committee walked out of a meeting that was convened to evaluate the Front’s ten-year performance (1991-2001). Included in the agenda were, “discussion on corruption and undemocratic tendencies.” Last December Ato Gebru Asrat of Arena reiterated in a VOA interview that their cause is democracy, especially the lack of it in Ethiopia today, and the need to ensure Ethiopia’s sovereignty.
Interestingly, in looking back, one is sufficiently reminded how too often and rather successfully, Mr. Meles has used the ‘charges of corruption’ to kill democracy’s prospects in Ethiopia by silencing dissent of any sorts. It should be no surprise that he had used it against many ‘political enemies’ and his ex-allies within the EPRDF who had come even to his defence during the split. For unclear reasons, he had also invoked it several times against leaders of some ethnic organizations, some senior officials in government and businesspersons and leaders in business enterprises.
During the press conference on 24 March, Mr. Meles made an interesting show of force that presaged at the time what his future relations would be like with the TPLF and the Tigraian community, as it was known until that point. He appeared to the press conference flanked by his new allies from several important ethnic groups, none of them from Tigrai. These included Kuma Demksa and Abate Kisho, presidents of the Oromia and South Ethiopia Nations Nationalities and People’s Regional States, respectively, as well as Dr. Kassu Ilala, deputy prime minister and economic advisor to the Prime Minster and Addisu Legesse, chairperson of the Amhara National Democratic Movement, and vice-chairman of the EPRDF.
During the press conference, the triumphant Mr. Meles quipped, “The whole drama, which posed a grave danger to the country, has been resolved effectively, and the procedure adhered to represent a new political tradition in Ethiopia, because differences were resolved not at the barrel of a gun but through dialogue.” He did not anticipate the reverberations from the 2001 split would not only deprive him of substantial Tigraian support, but also would taunt him forever as a divisive figure. Already aware of that, he had shifted his power base from total Tigraian to partially Ethiopian. No sooner than that, he began to feel the consequences when Tigraians joined other Ethiopians to launch an attack against the TPLF and Mr. Meles’s surreptitious alliance with Eritrea, their agenda of domination of Ethiopia, or even the possible secession of Tigrai, if situations did not suit him.
2 The same year charged for corruption and sent to prison, although some say it was politically-motivated because of his support for expelled members of the TPLF.
Unfortunately, Ethiopia has not been lucky to be beneficiary of that precedent, as the regime has consistently chosen force over political solutions, as the means of settling differences, as seen under different circumstances after 2001.
In the past, the TPLF had prided itself of the full support it had enjoyed amongst all Tigraians. It easily mobilized them to favour any position it took, regardless of its basis in principles. At that time, Mr. Meles did not fully appreciate that Tigraian unity was TPLF’s gift and strength borne out of years of struggle that he has squandered, as he did to the goodwill of Ethiopians by his misguided attack on Ethiopian identity and disregard of the country’s unity and territorial integrity. For several decades, the TPLF misused that unity to promote its agenda of ‘the liberation of Tigrai’ by invoking the Woyane spirit of the early 1940s, only undermine systematically the true Ethiopian identity of young Tigraians.
In 1989, a TPLF cadre very familiar with indoctrination methods the Front used to fashion its brand of Tigraian nationalism was quoted in Identity Jilted or Re-Imagined Identity? as saying, it was one long process of tirbalization from 1975 to 1988 to the intensive de-tribalization of Tigraian society in one short year of 1989 when the TPLF determined that it should march on Addis Ababa. Until recently, it was not clear for many Tigraians how much the TPLF had shaken their true Ethiopian identity in the name of liberation.
To show the scars of ‘tribalization’ and ‘detribalization’ of Tigraian society, Alemseged Abbay, the author of the above-mentioned book, a Tigraian himself, quotes from his interview with Sebhat Negga when collecting materials for the book. At one point, Sebhat Negga let his guard and disclosed:
…When we were teaching the popular masses, we gave them the impression we were fighting for independence. There was indeed a tendency towards secession among the fighters. In 1985, a self-criticism was made among TPLF forces and narrow nationalist tendencies were denounced…We had to wait for ten years to tackle the problem of narrow nationalism because the TPLF works on priorities. We were made to fight a number of battles and we had to tackle numerous other problems, which were pertinent to the very survival of the organization. After 1985, more than just passing remarks, we were teaching more emphatically that we were fighting for Ethiopia’s unity based on equality…Before 1985, ‘May be’ used to be the answer to the question, “Could the Amhara oppressed masses be our allies?” “Would they struggle for emancipation?” Again the answer was, “They may.” So there used to be a lot of suspicion against the Amhara. That was why we stressed Tigrayan nationalism—language, culture, etc.
WHOSE TPLF IS IT ANYWAYS?
Ever since 2001, several mostly well-educated Tigraians have dissociated themselves from the TPLF. In that sense, the era of Tigraian unity and solidarity behind the tyrannical TPLF was long gone. Presently many Tigraians are engaged both at home and from exile in the struggle against the Front’s undemocratic behaviour and actions that have dishonoured the name of Tigrai. Certainly, the TPLF still has several supporters, both Tigraians and Non-Tigraians, especially those whose lives it has transformed radically through the powers and privileges it has afforded them and other corrupt means. In that sense, the TPLF is no longer an all-round Tigraian organization, as it is using non-Tigraian Ethiopians and organizations, although its relations with them seems to be akin to hired on service basis. For the TPLF, it has enabled it to draw its strength from individuals in both groups, although the Front is only committed strictly to protecting the interests of its strongmen.
On the other hand, the TPLF is in a dilemma. It is well aware that there is strong sentiment within the Tigraian community, including some in the leadership, that Tigrai has sacrificed its children for ‘Ethiopia’s liberation’ and that it should get its compensation now, even if it comes at the expense of other Ethiopians. Unfortunately, the proponents of those views care less even when this argument goes against TPLF’s repeated prevarication in the past as to its Ethiopian identity and its systematic promotion at present of Tigraian narrow nationalism. Moreover, it is simply opportunistic of the TPLF and self-serving too to claim that, while still straddling its one foot in government for all Ethiopians and the other in promoting Tigrian liberation.
There is an equally strong sentiment within Tigraian community that the TPLF is exploiting systematically. They say that Tigrai has suffered a lot because of the war and that it needs more help than others do to overcome the scars of destruction. This attitude seems to trace its origin from the implicit assumption that Ethiopians are responsible for that and, hence, they must pay for it now. In providing greater direct and indirect help to Tigrai, the TPLF has affirmatively responded to that pressure with a nod to Tigraian narrow nationalist sentiments it had ignited in the past and is now encouraging with a view to keeping Tigraians looking to it. If that is the case, the question the TLF should answer is where it would place its much-vaunted principle on which all along it claimed it had based its liberation struggle. On the other hand, what happened to that sense of satisfaction a liberation movement should enjoy from considering the destruction as part of the price it should pay for freedom? Of course, the TPLF cannot use that argument to convince the proponents of those views, as it has not delivered on the liberation agenda in the first place.
Consequently, the TPLF’s response is to put Tigrai in a relatively advantageous position relative to non-Tigraian groups, as the region is now enjoying at present significant resource transfers from central government, higher share of foreign aid and other forms of project assistance through international loans Ethiopia is acquiring, a burden shared by all in servicing or paying the debts. At the same time, the TPLF is promoting Tigraian nationalism both an end in itself and as a means to confuse others about its real power base.
In the past, Tigraians were compelled to seek TPLF protection from any future danger especially the one from the much-demonized Ethiopia chauvinism, the central grit of TPLF propaganda. In an interesting turn of events, however, today Tigraians realize better that the danger is coming from the TPLF itself, not from other Ethiopians. Tigraians have seen it from their own experience that they are as much losers, as are the rest of Ethiopians, because of TPLF’s tyranny. To some degree, this has helped to create better opportunity for continued unity and collaboration amongst non-Tigraian Ethiopians and Tigraians.
This recognition has now coalesced into opposition in Tigrai itself, the birthplace of the TPLF, as else where taking sharper tones and forms that are becoming more concrete. Recall how much Tigraian students at Mekelle University disapprove of the TPLF, the essence of which was captured in an article by Lecturer Gail Salisbury sympathizing with the fears and sentiments of her students before her termination as a lecturer in law at that university. The fact remains that, like any other Ethiopian, many Tigraians also resent TPLF’s bruteness, very undemocratic behaviour and betrayal of Ethiopia’s fundamental interests. Therefore, fully aware of its rejection by the people from the very beginning, it seems, the TPLF has decided to bury its heels into authoritarian control of society, which by all accounts has proved by the day detrimental to all Ethiopians and the country’s future.
WHY ARE ETHIOPIANS OPPOSED TO THE TPLF?
For many Ethiopians, the TPLF is an organization without any genuine principles, because of which it has let down the people, Tigraians included, and by the way in which it mismanaged the country and abused its citizens.
Under the façade of multi-party system, Ethiopia is a single party authoritarian state that is myopic, abusive and intolerant.
Freedoms of organization and assembly have been abrogated, or systematically curtailed. Political organizations are controlled and hamstrung in every possible way. They cannot campaign freely throughout the country. They have been denied of access to funds. First, people are afraid to contribute to opposition organizations for fear of being harassed by security forces. Secondly, recently the country adopted a new law that prohibits receipt of funds from abroad, that is from Ethiopians living abroad, in a country where government does and cannot fund party activities. As far as the TPLF is concerned, the substantial resources of EFFORT at its disposal, it has no such worries. Businesses also curry favour from the ruling party by making earmarked contributions. Last year, MIDROC’s boss alone contributed five million birr to the TPLF. Therefore, the reason for such a law now is to block the possibility of national political parties that could compete and challenge the TPLF from emerging. Therefore, the motive of the law is hardly to protect the interests of the nation but to perpetuate the TPLF in power. Furthermore, agents and members of the ruling party make the lives of individuals who are the likely to be supporters and members of opposition parties difficult by unleashing violence against them. This is systematically encouraged by the ruling party itself, as seen on several occasion in the past and now as candidates prepare for the forthcoming local elections.
Freedom of the press and speech do not exist in Ethiopia today. Rights and wrongs are defined by the needs of the TPLF, not the laws of the land. The motive is to curtail people from speaking and writing freely about the on-going abuses in the country and the mismanagement of its resources by the TPLF. The TPLF is free to abuse government media, in addition to WIC, Aigaforum, EPRDF organs, etc. funded with EFFORT funds.
Human rights and civil liberties are totally curtailed. The state can throw anyone to jail indefinitely without any due process of law. There are tortures and other forms of abuse, including disappearances. These are all intended to intimidate citizens from opposing or rising against the TPLF.
Let alone ordinary citizens, even government officials and experts are restrained by what they can and cannot say. Fear abounds in the country.
If the above cannot make Ethiopians oppose the TPLF, what would?
TIGRANIZATION OF THE ETHIOPIAN STATE
Unlike many Tigraians, a substantial number of Ethiopians consider TPLF’s commitment to Ethiopia skin-deep. Its Tehadso, as the TPLF refers to the split, is seen as one of its strategies aimed at its domination of Ethiopia. TPLF’s policies and actions have always been contradictory. On one hand, it claims it stands for the equality of nations and all Ethiopians, while on the other it is promoting Tigranization of the power structures of the country and its institutions. Yes, today there is clear delineation of territories of the different ethnic groups in the country. Ethnic groups are encouraged to organize around their ethnic interests. Some of these parties have representatives within the EPRDF, giving Ethiopia under the TPLF the semblance of a multi-party state. There is also decentralization along ethnic lines and federal arrangements based on ethnic areas, without devolving real power and, much in the same way as in the centre, without creating the mechanisms for checks and balances. At the national level, there seems to be a neat ethnic based formula for distributing especially ministerial posts, without endangering TPLF’s control mechanisms.
In the past, the charge by the TPLF against subsequent Ethiopian governments was that of the state was Amhara. Therefore, the TPLF raised arms in opposition to the ‘amharization’ of the country. Today, the TPLF is engaged openly and systematically in Tigranaizing the Ethiopian state. It seems that revenge against history is now TPLF’s mission, although two mistakes do not make one right. Hence, a very substantial number of non-Tigraian Ethiopians see today that Tigrawinet has become TPLF’s ideology for the goal of Tigraian domination of Ethiopia. For many Ethiopians, ‘Tigrawinet’ is becoming tricky to understand and interpret, especially in relation to other groups. Therefore, they are compelled to focus on the glaring reality of favouritism by the power structure toward Tigraians.
Seen in that light is, among others, the appointment by the prime minister in October 2005 of five Tigraian/Eritrean advisors at the rank of ministers who staff his office. From his office, they control all activities in the life of the nation. That is not all. Agazi, the force that was rushed in to crush protests after the 2005 election was entirely Tigraian, which makes it obvious that this regime which is established to promote ethnicity as a goal has an ethnic army to protect itself, not the nation. The large body of forces that are responsible for the personal security of the premier and his colleagues are all Tigraians, without exception.
This preponderance of Tigraians in the power structure, systematically promoted under the guise of Tigrawinet, Tigraian nationalism, has become TPLF’s post-liberation ideology, which, as Tigraian narrow nationalism only comes at the expense of Ethiopian-ness and the interests of other Ethiopians. TPLF is using ethnicity as a basis for national development and a good cover for the realization of its goal of dominating Ethiopia, a sentiment it has harboured for a very, very long time. Because of it, many Ethiopians observe, there has emerged paradoxical relation between the official identity of power and its institutions as Ethiopian on one hand, and on the other its exclusiveness that has reduced its essence to being purely Tigraian. Non-Tigraian Ethiopians consider this dominance of content over form, of essence and motives over appearance, the very sources of present resentment, uncertainty and instability for the future. Today, the TPLF is operating as the sole vehicle of change and implementer of its agenda in the country over which citizens hardly have any input or voice.
Therefore, the TPLF should not be surprised that its lack of transparency and its dubious actions over the years have given rise to a number of concerns and questions amongst considerable number of Ethiopians, Tigraians included. Here are some of them: (a) If the TPLF is working with others as an Ethiopian political party and believes in its Ethiopian identity, why does it persist in continuing in its blind lust for power at the expense of other Ethiopians. What are the reasons for its persistence in remaining a liberation front at the helm of government? Why does it invoke Tigraian nationalism, as it did in the days of the liberation struggle, without now ensuring it being a subset of Ethiopian-ness? (b) If other EPRDF members are also equal partners with the TPLF, why is it that core TPLF members are a preponderant presence in the nation’s important power structures, especially in policy-making at both party and government levels, the national security, defence institutions and the country’s economy?
A glance at the prime minister’s office reveals that there are five clusters spearhead by five Tigraians/Eritreans. These are: (i) security, intelligence, military and police matters, (ii) economic and financial affairs, (iii) social, civic organizational and party related matters, (iv) legal and judicial affairs, (v) information and propaganda. The persons responsible for these clusters are:
(a) Ato Mulugeta Alemseged, member of TPLF central committee, advisor on national security affairs;
(b) Ato Newayekiristos Gebrab, advisor on economic matters,
(c) Ato Abay Tsehaye, member of TPLF executive and central committees, EPRDF executive and central committees, advisor, public organization, social affairs and mass participation;
(d) Dr. Fasil Nahom, advisor on legal and judicial matters;
(e) Ato Bereket Simon, member of ANDM/EPRDF executive and central committees, advisor on information and propaganda matters.
In addition to these, two TPLF/EPRDF executive and central committee members, that is, deputy chairman of TPLF Seyoum Mesifin and Dr. Tewodros Adhanom, TPLF, are also cabinet ministers in charge of foreign affairs and health, respectively. Similarly, three TPLF members are also ministers of state in the ministries of education, trade and industry, and, public works and urban development. The latter state minister is a very close ally of Mr. Meles and member of the executive and central committees of TPLF/EPRDF at the same time.
A number of important board chairmanships, governorships and post of heads of office are held by core TPLF members, directly appointed by the prime minister’s office. The list includes:
(a) Ato Newayekiristos Gebrab, chairs the board of the National Bank of Ethiopia;
(b) Ato Alemseged Assefa, is vice-governor of the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE);
(c) Ato Abay Tsehai chairs the board of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE);
(d) Ato Abay Tsehai chaired the board of the Development Bank of Ethiopia concurrently with the CBE for eight months until he was moved recently, although the two banks are competitors;
(e) Ato Seyoum Mesfin, chairs the board of the Ethiopian Airlines;
(f) Ato Debretsion G. Michael, chairs the board Ethiopian Telecommunications;
(g) Ato Assefa Abraha, chairs board of Ethiopian Privatization Agency. There could be many others whose names and roles have not been publicized;
(h) Ato Kidane Nikodimos, deputy general manager of the Development Bank of Ethiopia until recently (DBE);
(i) Ato Meressa Gebremariam, deputy general manager of the Construction and Business Bank (CBB);
(j) Ato Demelash Alem, Director-General Budget Department, Ministry of Finance and Economic Development.
One should also bear in mind that there are several TPLF members heading a number of government agencies, such as Central Statistics, government Insurance Corporation, Ethiopian Road Authority, Investment Commission, Tourism, Ethiopian Mapping Mission, Privatization, National Metrology Service, etc., and departments in a number of important government ministries. From time to time, their numbers are increasing systematically. Recent two additions to that list are the portfolios of general manager of the national postal service and that of director general of the commodities exchange authority, which are passed to Ato Gidey Gebre Yohannes and Ato Addisalem Balema, respectively, two TPLF central committee members.
As could be seen from their titles, most of the above-listed individuals are powerful in their own rights, as members of the TPLF and/or EPRDF executive and central committees. At the same time, in carrying out their responsibilities, especially the individuals in the prime minister’s office also invoke the name and his immense authority when giving instructions on his behalf to all government officials, including ministers and party functionaries. It is routine to hear or read in the government media reports that the “Office of the Prime Minister has appointed…has decided…” Therefore, by virtue of their proximity to the prime minister and for being able to speak in his name, they exercise enormous authority and are more powerful than cabinet ministers are.
The point here is not to deny Tigraians the right like any other citizen to run government, or government offices or hold power at all. Far from it! It matters very little, if Tigraians hold power legally, that is to say without nepotism and long-term political motives involved. However, the prevalent fear and concern is that of their disproportionately higher emplacement at the core of power relative to them being only five percent of the entire population. After all, Ethiopia is a country where institutional accountability and enforcement of even the laws on the books is non-existent.
The military is another important instrument of control. Consequently, although the defence minister after 2001 is a non-Tigraian, the national defence forces are constituted mainly of the original TPLF fighting forces, the premier’s Tigraian allies and new recruits, especially at the higher echelons, as shown below. All sector commanders and divisions, with one or two exceptions, are Tigraians.
At the head of the forces at the post of army chief of staff is a Tigrean by the name of General Samora Yunis. In addition, Tigraians head all the departments in the ministry of defence that are responsible for operations, logistics and administration, training, military intelligence, air force. In addition, Tigraians head all sector commands and divisions, with two exceptions. At the highest echelons of the defence forces, a few members from the previous regime, including at the rank of generals, were retained until 2005. During the last two years, many non-Tigraian Ethiopian senior military and air force officers have been removed from their posts, both through dismissals and early retirements. A Tigraian by the name of Getachew Assefa heads the intelligence services. An all-Tigraian group commands the Ethiopian force of 23,000 strong that is occupying Somalia, while most of the non-commissioned officers are drawn from non-Tigraian groups.
Consequently, as shown above, real power in today’s Ethiopia is concentrated in the hands of core TPLF members, while EPRDF members owe their existence to the TPLF and thus are mere potted plants on TPLF’s windowsills, or their presence a mere cover up as token at the head of some offices which would not affect TPLF’s immediate interests and activities. This is the translation of ‘Tigrawinet’ into reality. Although individual Tigraians, outside the TPLF core, do not seem to be knowledgeable about the schemes, or are indifferent, many are duped into supporting the regime’s policies, even when crimes are committed in their name.
There is not doubt that Tigraians are united in their respect to those who had given their lives to the cause from 1976-1991. Nevertheless, the betrayal of sacred principles is not one of those things with which many good Tigraians would like to associate. In fact, many see this unity between the majority of non-Tigraian Ethiopians and those reformist Tigraian democrats as a blessing in disguise. They hope that it would help in keeping the country together through harmonious inter-ethnic relations.
Although Tigraian society is equally denied of its democratic rights, respect of their civil liberties and fundamental human rights, nonetheless, many Tigraian intellectuals have proved incapable of crossing the ethnic bridge. Owing to that, they have continued in their support of the regime’s brutal policies, even when betrayals of trust and crimes against humanity are perpetrated in their name. That has definitely driven a wedge between other Ethiopians and Tigraians especially from 1991-2001.
In stating this, it should be re-emphasized, however, that this view is not oblivious of the many Tigraians who disapprove of and oppose the regime’s nepotism, tyrannical behaviours and actions. Having very many Tigraian good friends, this is very important for me to reiterate with a view to helping many others to overcome bias, if any, as a reaction or opposition to the regime, before it becomes an unwanted stereotype and tomorrow’s sores.
ECONOMIC GROWTH & TPLF CONTROL OF THE ECONOMY
Today, the concerns of Ethiopians are not about bread only. Ethiopia’s future stability—its unity and territorial integrity—and, in brief, where it is headed, is their not-so-much-verbalized preoccupation. Obsessive ethnicity is lurking behind everything that is going wrong with Ethiopia today.
Buttressed by opportunistic policies of the day and the huge wealth of party businesses, ethnic nationalism is posing the severest challenges to Ethiopia’s identity. At present, there are four party businesses in Ethiopia, the largest one being EFFORT, owned by the TPLF. The rest are: (a) ANDM’s Endeavor (ENWEK) and Ambasel, which focus on Amhara region; (b) OPDO’s Dinsho for Oromia region and (c) SNNP’s Wondo Trading that caters for Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples region. The last three are insignificant in terms of their capital base or penetration of the economy. Irrespective of size, nevertheless, there is little to justify their existence. In fact, EFFORT is using them as a cover to divert attention from and scrutiny into its huge business empire.
As if deepening poverty, the problems of democracy and human rights are not enough, party businesses are now feeding ethnic nationalism, perhaps leading to separatism eventually. To date, the impact of party businesses may only be limited to empowering the TPLF more than others. They have also proved to be conduits for corruption and obstacles to genuine competition among the country’s businesses. They have constrained the growth of the infant private sector and the efficient allocation of national resources.
In the circumstances, tomorrow’s story could be entirely different, unless citizens are vigilant and begin to expose and oppose the long-term consequences of political party businesses. The focus here is the threat that is militating quietly against Ethiopian-ness and the Ethiopian identity itself!
TPLF’s political and military power is nourished by the growing economy though control of the state machinery and the enormous and fast expanding economic activities of EFFORT. Today, EFFORT is engaged in banking and microfinance, insurance, construction, agro processing, mining, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing textiles, leather, consumer goods, services of a diverse nature ranging from transport & trucking, media & printing (Walta and Aigaforum included), tourism to import and export businesses and consultancy firms in various sectors that enjoy huge state awards and international contracts through the bureaucracy. Of late, several companies have also ventured into the export of coffee, hides and skins, oilseeds, grains, spices, gum extraction, and precious stones, thereby taking control of the country’s sources of foreign exchange. Textiles and leather exports are now given prominence in national policy, in a country where the best and most sophisticated Dutch, German, Italian, Japanese and Swiss equipment have been installed in the factories in Tigrai—owned and operated by TPLF members.
EFFORT was built out of what started with the Relief Society of Tigrai (REST), an organizations responsible for mobilizing humanitarian aid from foreign countries at the height of the drought. Subsequently, REST added to its assets formerly government owned enterprises and businesses through corrupt practices. In early 1990s, state owned institutions were disposed of to Tigraians through whom the TPLF was able to buy at throwaway prices. In 1994/95, those responsible for the disposal of those enterprises, as government officials, were exclusively Tigraians and the buyers too.
After the restructuring of REST, EFFORT was created in 1995 and ever since thirteen major corporations have been incorporated under it. These corporations have under them several companies whose total annual turnover is estimated to be more than or equal to the country’s total income from its exports and transfers from abroad. This puts the total figure in the range of two-and-three-quarters to three-and-a-half billion dollars annually. Suppose one takes GUNA as a simple indicative measure of the annual incomes of EFFORT companies. GUNA was established in 1992 with a capital base of ten million dollars, according to EFFORT. GUNA started making an annual turn over of 50 million dollars already in the 1990s. Compare that with the huge ones like those in the fields of construction (SUR)—winner of Ethiopian Road Authority contracts for Tigrai and surrounding regions—mining (EZANA), pharmaceuticals (ADDIS), engineering (MESFIN), tracking and forwarding (TRANS ETHIOPIA), and transit services through which, among others, Ethiopia’s import of oil from Port Sudan using TPLF companies is undertaken (EXTRAN), producer of building materials (MESSEBO), producer of dimensional stones (SBA), leather tanner (SHEBBA), the textile producer (ALEMDA) etc. All of these were established with very substantial capitalisation, many times higher than GUNA.
With respect to money and finance, Wugagen, EFFORT bank, is doing well with its tentacles spread into so many other ventures. Among Ethiopia’s private banks, Wugagen has the largest involvement in inter-bank money markets, easily mopping up the excess reserves of the other banks. For instance, in the first quarter of 2007/08, of the total of 259 million birr, Wugagen had a share of over 80 million birr, dwarfing others by a substantial margin, according to the National Bank of Ethiopia. Similarly, Wugagen has been the largest purchases of foreign exchange after the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, as successive reports of the National Bank of Ethiopia indicate.
In terms of the management, usually a senior member of the TPLF heads EFFORT. It is not clear whether it is the internal policy of the Front to rotate the leadership of EFFORT, which was the practice until 2001. After Mr. Meles’s victory against what he called “coup plotters,” Mr. Sebhat Negga, a close ally of the premier’s has retained control of it. Earlier, Seye Abraha, the ex-defence minister, used to run it until his expulsion from the party.
One very interesting development, however, is Mr. Meles’s decision to include a non-Tigraian for the first time in the running of the operation of EFFORT. Six months after the botched election, Mr. Meles appointed Ato Getachew Belay, an Amhara, a close ally of Mr. Meles’s as the deputy chief executive officer of EFFORT as of October 11, 2005. Previously, Ato Getachew was minister of revenue from October 2001 to October 2005. This is seen as an attempt by Mr. Meles to ensure his control of EFFORT. It has also added to the existing suspicions within the Tigraian community itself. More telling, however, is the role the wife of the prime minister plays in supervising and running some of EFFORT’s operations. She was elevated to membership of the TPLF central committee in 2006.
Eyessus Work Zafu, President of the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce, who was the first to decry the role of party owned companies, aptly described how this danger began to loom onto the Ethiopian economic scene. In a 2002 interview, he told Addis Tribune, an Ethiopian weekly magazine that went out of existence after the post-election period, “Such companies [EFFORT] were first established with not more than three shareholders and yet they were called share companies. Even when they were established with a minimum of five shareholders as per the requirement of the commercial code of the country, they will be found being chaired by persons who do not have any share. A person who is in the post of director or chairman must be a person who own[s] at least a minimum number of shares in a given company…When political parties become traders especially those in power, all other traders would be at a disadvantage.”
EFFORT, whose control of the economy is expanding exponentially from year to year, as have its profits, has recently entered its first international deal to explore and export gold with a 45-percent controlling stake. Ezana Mining Development (EMD), as the TPLF company is known, is located in Tigrai and is involved in mineral exploration, groundwater assessment and drilling of water wells, geological and hydrological mapping. In addition, TPLF’s political connection is creating advantages to EFFORT with its dealing with foreign companies that are winning international construction bids. Of late, in an under the table deal, some European construction companies have started subcontracting EFFORT firms, especially those in construction, without any local competitive bidding. Many see this as profit sharing, as a possible political connection and influence for future contracts from ERA, EPPCo and others. Such practices are seen in road building and other projects worth several tens of millions of birr. Perhaps if such arrangements are closely examined, they may be found in breach of existing international laws, especially in many European countries and the United States, as it may be a corruption of businesses, individuals and officials in developing countries in order to promote business interests of the ruling party.
Several knowledgeable individuals have written extensively about the EFFORT’s genesis, especially how it illegally acquired public properties through bogus privatization measures and its aggressive practices. One such paper was presented at a forum held at the Harvard University Centre for International Development (CID) of the J.F. Kennedy School of Government, which stated, “…non-Tigrean investors were denied the opportunity to benefit from the programme [the sale of state owned businesses]. Parallel to privatisation and ownership diversification of public enterprises, there emerged a huge conglomerate of enterprises owned by the TPLF through its prominent members and supporters fronting as shareholders. They are now interlinked with the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT), which was formed in 1995…” Although EFFORT conducts its businesses in the name of Tigraians, there is no evidence that the people of Tigrai are beneficiaries, nor are they any better than the rest of Ethiopians—be it in the material sense or in their level of enjoyment of their rights and freedoms.
The US Department of State has made known its awareness of this anomalous situation, which it mutely considered as a corrupt practice. In its 2003 country report, it expressed its concern, which read, “Trade barriers favored party-owned businesses.” Although not forceful, its 2005 country report wrote with some details stating, “The Ministry of Justice has primary responsibility for combating corruption. A combination of social pressure, cultural norms, and legal restrictions limited corruption. Nevertheless, the lack of transparency in the cancellation of telecommunications, power, and other infrastructure tenders raised suspicions of corruption. In addition, government officials appeared to manipulate the privatization process, as state- and party-owned businesses received preferential access to land leases and credit.” As part of exposing corrupt practices, the 2006 report observed, “the government’s decision to grant MIDROC, the country’s largest foreign investor, exclusive license to import cement was perceived as favoritism toward a government ally.” One thing that hopefully would get closer examination is the link between the alleged membership of MIDROC’s owner in the party and his January 2008 decision to transfer substantial billions of birr to Tigrai.
WHY ARE ETHIOPIANS CONCERNED ABOUT PARTY BUSINESSES?
There are sufficient indications about EFFORT behaving, or allowed to behave, as a state within a state, with the political protection provided to it. In my earlier writing, I had questioned whether Ethiopia’s current economic growth is sustainable. I am convinced that the answer is an emphatic no! Outside the failed politics of the regime, the fact remains that there is no economy in the world, especially in a poor country, that can utilize its full potentials when it is suffering from: (a) leakage of resources in the form of capital flight, (b) the granting and manipulation of licences, (c) use of inside information pertaining to privatization, competition for state contracts and bids and awards of project contracts such as road and building and other construction works, (d) lack of competition, and, (e) systematic discrimination of businesses and professionals.
In other words, EFFORT is disadvantaging others, the other party businesses—ANDM’s Ambasel and ENWEK, OPDO’s Dinsho and SNNP’s Wondo Trading inlcuded, although the scale of the latter’s penetration of the economy is insignificant. In brief, EFFORT’s is worrisome owing to its size and also due to TPLF’s dubious objectives. EFFORT’s involvement in all aspects of the country’s economic life has been responsible for choking up genuine competition among economic agents, breeding corruption and nepotism. It has also become the real conduit for enormous amounts of periodic capital flights into banks in Asia, Europe and America, some of which have been reported even by major European newspapers, including The Independent, which based its story on research by The New Economics Foundation that identified British banks as the main recipients of such cash flows.
In its country profile of Ethiopia, The Business Anti-Corruption Portal, financed by the Governments of Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and United Kingdom, states, “The ruling party [in Ethiopia] remains largely authoritarian, continues to dominate all the formal institutions of the federal republic, and the local governments are effectively controlled by the central government. Furthermore, all forms of political dissent are heavily suppressed, made evident by the surge of government violence following the public protests in the wake of the 2005 elections.” In a 2007 report, the World Bank described the role of party businesses and their practices as a controversial feature of Ethiopia’s current investment climate.
SHAM MULTI-PARTY SYSTEM: INSTRUMENT OF SINGLE PARTY RULE
The present executive committee of the ERPDF consists of 36 members. These members are drawn from: (a) the TPLF (founder); (b) ANDM (founder, largely composed of Amhara ex-soldiers, prisoners of war); (c) OPDO was established by TPLF in 1990 from the ranks of captured Oromo soldiers during the war against the previous regime and kept in re-education camps until the Front launched its offensives and headed south. (d) Southern Ethiopia Peoples Democratic Movement (SEPDM), formerly known as Southern Ethiopia Peoples Democratic Front (SEPDF) was established by the TPLF in 1992. In order to improve its “representativeness,” the EPRDF at its sixth congress in 2006 also “decided to work closely with affiliated members such as Benshangule (BGPDUF), Gambella (GPDM), Somali (SPDP), Afar (ANDP), and Hrari (HNL).” On the side, there are also non-TPLF affiliated parties, dubbed as the loyal opposition in parliament and fledgling movements outside parliament and are struggling for identity, funding sources and legal personality.
While the political system portrays the image of openness, the presence of opposition parties that compete in regular and seemingly free multi-party elections, essentially governance in Ethiopia is rule by a single party. Free competition for political power is discouraged through various hurdles, or squashed through illegal arrests, detentions, murders, ransacking and closure of party offices under various pretexts, as seen during and after the 2005 elections. In brief, alternative political organizations in Ethiopia are discouraged and restrained in every sense from competing freely, even in local elections. The easiest way for the TPLF now is to deny them resources for their day-to-day activities. At the same time, they often find themselves restricted from campaigning openly and throughout the country because of violence, members of the TPLF inflict on them and their supporters, with no legal sanctions whatsoever. Opposition groups scarcely enjoy protection by the politically malleable courts, which are staffed by TPLF/EPRDF cadres that masquerade as judges.
Like any modern state, the Ethiopian constitution, in its article 10, provides “Human and democratic rights of citizens and peoples shall be respected.” In spite of that, however, today Ethiopia is one country where gross and flagrant violations of human rights are common occurrences. Dissent can easily land anyone in prison without due process. Opposition parties have difficulty in organizing and the people cannot, as seen in 2005, realize their desire to be ruled by a system and individuals of their choosing. In addition, Ethiopians do not enjoy freedom of the press, thought, assembly, and organization. In brief, the democratic and human rights and civil liberties of the Ethiopian people have been under constant attack. Ever since 1991, national and international human rights organizations have expressed their profound concerns about human rights conditions in the country. Even as far back as 1992, Human Rights Watch wrote, “Throughout 1992, the Transitional Government of Ethiopia has arbitrarily arrested and detained political opponents.” Ever since, there has never been any positive national or international report on conditions of human rights in Ethiopia.
The regime’s position is to deny all charges of human rights violations. For instance, Jonathan Dimbleby asked the Prime Minister in May 2007 in a Teachers Television interview regarding the concerns of British society about the continued suppression by his government of dissent and alternative views in Ethiopia. The Prime Minister countered by saying that those rights are fully respected in Ethiopia. To that end, he said, “Alternative ideas, as exemplified by the position taken by those in detention [CUD leaders], are still alive and kicking in parliament…are still alive and kicking in parliament…The same type of ideas are being pursued with the same vehemence in parliament.” He assured the timid Dimbleby, who became reluctant to ask follow-up questions, that those are rights assured by the constitution and that nothing happens whatsoever to any of those parliamentarians. However, reality has a different take on that, given the fact that a high number of parliamentarians have sought asylum abroad fearing for their lives. In addition, the following are evidences that contradict the claims by the prime minister.
(a) When the loyal opposition refused to support the government’s adventure in early December 2006 to occupy Somalia, the Prime Minister launched a scathing attack against their leaders in parliament. He told the media that the rejection by opposition leaders of the motion to go to war represented lack of loyalty on their part to Ethiopia’s interests. He angrily threatened them in parliament. He then quipped their action was “a sore to conscience and an historic hitch.” As a standard TPLF practice, this was followed by a floodgate of months of horrific campaigns that portrayed Ato Beyene Petros and Ato Bulcha Demeksa, among others, as unpatriotic. Domestically and internationally, Walta Information Centre and Aigforum, two news outlets paid for by EFFORT funds, held weeks of hateful campaigns directed at their persons. TPLF members were encouraged to be part of a letter-writing campaigns heaping on these individuals insults, threats and calling them traitors. This is not only indecent and undemocratic, but also a firm indication of the lack of tolerance by the TPLF to alterative views.
(b) In late 2007, during a parliamentary debate on the President’s opening speech delivered at the House of Peoples’ Representatives, the prime minister warned some of the opposition parties that he described as front organizations for the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). His warning was in response to the frustration expressed by Mr. Bulcha Demeksa, chairman of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), who complained about the lack of reference in the President’s speech about the intensified persecution of Oromos. The prime minister responded to that by accusing Mr. Bulcha of being a front to the OLF. What is astonishing is the claim by the prime minister that he had strong evidence linking some opposition leaders to an Oromo separatist movement. He said that at a time when internal and external pressures were mounting on him, given the continued mass arrests of Oromos in the country. Africa Watch, Amnesty International, Freedom House, among others, and a number of governments have openly and bilaterally criticized the regime for those actions. The leaders in parliament had been making incessant attempts to get government and international attention on behalf members of their imprisoned constituencies. This infuriated the TPLF. In fact, Mr. Bulcha’s criticisms are consistent with practices in parliamentary democracy, as it is his duty as a member of parliament to defend the interests, in this case the human rights of his constituencies. Again, in this case, Mr. Meles’s claim of his regime being tolerant to alternative views became another blatant lie.
(c) Outside parliament, Arena, local Tigrian party, has become another focus of TPLF’s latest political attacks and threats. The TPLF is trying hard to discredit the party and its leaders with a view to discouraging Tigraians from becoming its members. In less than six months since Arena’s establishment, its leaders have complained already several times in press conferences about the threats and smear campaigns they have received. The TPLF has circulated a 15-page instruction in Tiginga in Tigrai how to isolate and discredit the founders and members of the new party. To that end, it has assigned cadres to carry out smear campaigns and intimidation activities. Most interesting is also the types of charges the TPLF put on different parties. In the case of Arena, it is attacked as being divisive, since they are Tigrian, and are weakening Tigraian unity and solidarity, which Mr. Meles has already destroyed for the sake of hanging on power. Non-Tigraian parties are referred to either as chauvinists or as anti-peace and anti-democratic. Once again, this is not an indication of the existence of tolerance of alternative views and organizations in the country.
(d) Election is another manifestation of the political failure of the TPLF. The TPLF turns elections into a physical contest between itself as politico-military organization and opposition parties, all of which are weak and undefended by courts of law. As mentioned in an earlier article, in a meeting held in mid-January 2008 between the TPLF/EPRDF and the loyal opposition parties in parliament on the subject of the forthcoming local elections, the ruling party declared, “The success of our election is measured by its democratic conduct and its lawfulness, not by who wins and loses.” Reminiscent of the 2005 elections, however, allegations of clear violations of the law by the ruling party started surfacing already a long time ago, only reaching its height when the majority of opposition candidates ended up in prison. Opposition parties allege that several of their candidates are still in prison and their offices in different parts of the country remain closed. When the issue was raised at the said meeting, the coordinator of the election on behalf of the ruling party retorted by saying that none of the parties had ever filed complaints about it. The interesting thing is Prof. Beyene Petros said he had informed the government and reminded them repeatedly, without much success about this unbecoming situation. The professor in fact added that most worrisome was the presence now as election officials of those who were caught staffing ballot boxes in 2005 and were dismissed at the time. He informed the interviewer that the ruling party has recruited those individuals again as election supervisors, despite the evidence of their dismissal in their personal records! Again, this is not consistent with tolerance of alternative views and organizations, be it inside or outside parliament.
For the first time in 17 years, the Prime Minister spoke candidly on 25 January 2008, when told The Guardian, “We are endeavouring to democratise. We have faltered. We need to pick up and move on … But we believe that here in Ethiopia the worst is behind us.” Usually, he is suave and articulate. In this case, however, it shows that he was running short of adequate cover. The question is what exactly did he mean by “…the worst is behind us”? Is he talking about the circumstances that forced him from the very beginning to ‘abrogate’ democratic and human rights are now under control, and that citizens are free to enjoy their rights? Unfortunately, that is not the reality on the ground. Alternatively, is that one of his habitual contradictions, arising mainly because of inability to put under the rug TPLF’s dubious actions and motives? On the ground, however, the situation of denial of rights to citizens is getting worse.
(a) The TPLF does not feel any qualm, or thinks it can get away with lies when it says Ethiopia is democratic. In fact, Ethiopia under the TPLF is the most undemocratic country in the world. There is no rule of law in the country. The TPLF says the functioning of the courts has improved after 2005; the so-called improvements now are limited to the use of computers to reduce backlogs in court cases. Otherwise, courts and judges remain politically controlled. That is where EPRDF parties become useful to the TPLF, putting their people to promote the interests of the TPLF. The prime minister’s office reverses court decisions with a single telephone call, or instructing the police not to cooperate. Therefore, there is no rule of law in Ethiopia.
(b) TPLF claims that a system of good governance has been established in Ethiopia. By definition, for the TPLF good governance means the physical delivery of goods or services, for which it has not even proved adequate, as the current rampant inflation seems to attest. The regime’s concept of governance denies citizens’ of the right of choice, that is, how they want to be governed. For the TPLF bread comes first, which it has proved incapable of delivering too. In that sense, the Front wants to give the impression that it believes in the hierarchy of rights. The contradiction here is that its concept of governance does not include respect of citizens’ political, civil and other human rights, as these are considered Western and inconsistent with Ethiopian culture and history. If that is the case, Ethiopians would not have been pressing him this long for respect of their fundamental human rights. The real reason is TPLF’s authoritarianism, which says it at the centre of power or nothing else. Owing to that, civil liberties—freedom of the press, organization, assembly, and due process of law—are lacking in the country today.
(c) TPLF is a politico-military organization whose capacity for violence is immense. Human rights organizations, both Ethiopian and international, accuse it of disappearances of its opponents after apprehension by the police; it is often accused of gross and flagrant violations of fundamental human rights of citizens, such as beatings, torture, etc. The TPLF either denies these, or justifies by referring to the individuals as anti-peace and anti-democratic elements that are engaged in terrorist activities, as if the commission of crime empowers the state to deny individuals their rights to due process.
TPLF’s authoritarianism is not limited to its use of violence and political deceptions. For instance, another of its control methods is to plant its members into other parties. Although they are not members of a given ethnic group, TPLF members join other parties, even at the highest possible level to control their activities from within. For instance, Bereket Simon, the premier’s information and public relations advisor, is Tigraian/Eritrean. At the same time, he is also member of the executive and central committee of the Amhara Nation Democratic Movement (ANDM) and the EPRDF, when he is not an Amhara. ANDM and TPLF are trying to justify that by invoking article 8, sub-article 8.1 of ANDM’s charter, which provides for membership by any Ethiopian above 18 years of age and is resident of Amhara areas. There is no doubt that this has opened the door for the TPLF to control others, given that Bereket Simon had been working in Wollo for the TPLF and was later tasked to be one of the organizers of ANDM. At the same time, one should recall that TPLF is not that open to allow non-Tigraians to be members, except a few useful tokens, or rise to prominence within its party structures. For that matter, the TPLF central committee does not even have a single Tigraian Moslem as member, despite their substantial number in Tigrai and within the ranks of the TPLF itself. In the case of Amharas residing in Tigrai, they are still seen as ‘chauvinists.”
What are ANDM’s important achievements to date? It named streets in Mr. Meles’s name in the Amhara region. It paid millions of birr to erect a structure in Tigrai as a memorial for the fallen heroes of the TPLF. Not any other single organization has ever done that, nor has the TPLF reciprocated that as evidence of its loyalty to the friendship of Amharas and Tigrai. Any ways, who is pushing those ideas from within ANDM, which the other members are afraid to resist?
Another fantastic case of political shenanigans is that of Sekuture Getachew, the head of TPLF/EPRDF’s propaganda department. He is an Amhara who joined the TPLF in 1976 and remained its member until 2005. However, after the 2005 election debacle, he switched from TPLF to ANDM, allegedly to strengthen the organization. Many view this as an attempt by the TPLF to measure the temperature within ANDM after the 2005 election, which ended up with government crackdown on opposition leaders and their supporters. Others see this switch as an attempt by the TPLF to cleanse from its ranks non-Tigraian members. There are also some instances in which the TPLF has used some individuals, for instance, a trusted Amhara or Oromo, etc. to work inside other organizations. Reports have also circulated at some point about Tigraians taking Amhara or Oromo, etc., names and join other ethnic organizations, the purpose of which is to enable the TPLF penetrate other organizations with a view to exercising influence from within or serving as barometer in gauging the sentiments of non-Tigraians.
The TPLF is a divisive politico-military organization that has achieved its dominance at the expense of other ethnic groups. For instance, during the transitional government from 1991-1995, the OLF was compelled to withdraw from the political processes because the TPLF had fostered four more Oromo organizations during the formation of the transitional government. The objective of the TPLF was to weaken the OLF, as it did to others, especially the southern Ethiopian groups and Amharas. The TPLF came as a single united front of Tigraians, supported by smaller non-Tigraian fronts it had fostered before the conference. In the end, the TPLF emerged as the dominant force over fragmented groups, despite the status of some of these forces as the largest ethnic groups in the country. In brief, that is evidence of the failure of TPLF divisive politics and policies that have kept the country engaged against Oromos. If the TPLF had not been blinded by its greed for power, today Ethiopia would not have been witness to the sufferings of its Oromo children that Mr. Meles accuses of separatism. The problem today is TPLF’s politics based on expediency, lies, and manufacturing of evidences.
In a 2006 article, Kahasay Berhe, a former TPLF member, reminded Ethiopians by drawing attention to the following duplicity of the TPLF:
For the TPLF any organization or individual standing for Ethiopian unity is Amhara chauvinist, or Greater Ethiopianist. The pan-Ethiopian political organizations were neither exclusively Amhara organizations nor Amhara dominated. The organizations portrayed as Amhara chauvinists at that time did not only work with other ethnic groups, moreover, in reality, they worked under the leaderships of non-Amhara groups. If we look at the three most important multiethnic organizations of the time, EDU, MEISONE & EPRP, we can nowhere trace Amhara domination. The first three consecutive leaders of the EPRP (Berhane Meskel Rheda, Dr.Tesfay Debesay and Zeru Kehishen) were Tigreans. The first leader of the MEISONE (Haile Fida) was an Oromo. The Tigrean prince, Ras Mengesha Seyoum, also led the EDU. The allegation that the Ethiopian multiethnic political organizations during the 1970s represented Amhara chauvinism is therefore, unfounded.
In the last several years, CUD was also demonized as motley of chauvinists, when it has in its executive committee Amharas, Tigraians, Oromos, etc. The TPLF has made it difficult even to its own supporters to walk in dignity because its brute actions, its promotion of narrow nationalism and obsession with power. Because of the TPLF, Ethiopia has been forced to fight part of its citizens, as it has happened to the OLF for 15 out of of TPLF’s 17 years. The OLF is mischaracterized as separatist, even when it has shown interest in being part of the political processes from the very beginning. Notwithstanding that, today repression is intensified against Oromos, considered as OLF sympathizers and prisons in Ethiopia have Oromifa as their official language, to paraphrase Seye Abraha’s observations in prison. Similar situation is also brewing up in the Ogaden, Gambella, some parts of Amhara, Sidama and Wolayatta etc. merely because of TPLF’s insatiable appetite for power and control.
Today, there is a strong sense that the country is headed into greater danger, as the TPLF has become more arrogant, unrealistic and taking everyone for granted. At the top of the TPLF, are seated not only flawed men, but also fearful men who distrust their own shadows. Could this be the height of their insanity, or the price they must truly pay for their retribution against history?
In Ethiopia’s long history, power has always been feared, but never revered. This is true for the TPLF today, as it was during the Dergue’s time and before that. The reason for that is that those who wield power, presumably in the name of the people, have used to abuse the people, instead of promoting their wellbeing and interests. In that sense, Henry Kissinger was right when he said power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. He only forgot to add that its lust is animalish, its means of upkeep cruel and demeaning.
In Ethiopia today, there are many policy failures and unanswered questions. Amongst them the most prominent being TPLF’s lack of integrity and transparency, its reliance on violence instead of political solutions, its authoritarianism and the sacred pledges it made in late 1976 to Tigraians about ‘emancipation’ and to Ethiopians in 1991 and betrayed. Because of its continued polarization of the country, well-educated and experienced Ethiopian professionals are moving out steadily and in growing numbers. That has made Ethiopia’s future less certain. Those staying behind are demoralized, while the young are compelled to flee the politics of a parochial and intolerant regime.
Hence, unable to build sustainable national capacities and law-based institutions, accountable to the people, TPLF’s narrow nationalism and backward politics have become a dead-wall against change and the prospects of a better future for the country. As businesses improve and capacities increase, murmurs and complaints are rising, even by the admission of various surveys by the regime itself, because of the huge dearth of skills in the country. In spite of this, the call by the prime minister on the youth of Tigrai last February in connection with the 33rd anniversary of the TPLF “to show same degree of determination as in the armed struggle and repeat the victory in the fight against poverty” only sounded disturbingly hollow, if not ironic.
Certainly, the regime is unpopular among ordinary citizens and businesses. This is because of its repressive policies, dishonesty and their strong suspicion of its motives. Therefore, with every passing day the Tigrawinet agenda is becoming for many citizens a conundrum, as the TPLF aggressively steers its way between the competing interests of other Ethiopians and its singular commitment to Tigraian domination of Ethiopia. It is not only that; citizens are also against the Front because of its denial of their freedoms. These conflicting interests have undermined TPLF’s capacity and commitment to build genuine democracy in the country, respect the fundamental human rights of all Ethiopians and exercise tolerance of dissent.
Indeed its growing reliance on force, instead of political solutions, are breeding more resistance, thereby endangering the unity and stability of the nation. At the same time, the TPLF agenda at present is the protection of its powers at any cost, which has become too costly for all citizens. In fact, that has forced TPLF to become inward looking, which has compelled it now to mend fence with Tigraians that it broke ranks with in 2001. Evidence of this is its increased resort to Tigranizing the power structures and the institutions of the country at the expense of other groups. Only when it is in difficulty the TPLF looks for more allies, unfortunately always at the wrong places.
Therefore, at the root of Ethiopia’s current political, economic and social problems are TPLF’s undemocratic nature and its lack of integrity in using the state and its institutions to promote parochial interests. There is growing conviction that, with its current policies and dubious practices, the TPLF has proved incapable of addressing Ethiopia’s twin problems of lack of democracy and underdevelopment. Without these, it is not possible to improve the lives of the people, ensure the country’s long-term interests, and safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is time that the TPLF came out and denied them, if not true. In that case, it should tell the Ethiopian people in unequivocal manner of its commitment to the country’s unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty and demonstrate to them with national reconciliation and the building of pluralistic democracy.
Recent negative consequences of promoting ethnicity as a policy come to mind from south of our border. In Kenya, Kikuyus have been indoctrinated for decades to believe that it is necessary for them and the protection of their interests to empower Kikuyus. No doubt, Kikuyus have played important roles in spearheading Kenya’s struggle for independence and in the country’s modernization efforts. In the years after independence, however, the state got into the habit of making it its duty to transfer prime and fertile lands from members of other ethnic groups to Kikuyus, promote their interests and proffer at them with rewards and privileges. Kikuyus are also invariably groomed for national leadership, just for being Kikuyus. This made power, privilege and access to opportunities in Kenya exclusively identifiable with Kikuyus. The signs are there now that Ethiopia under the TPLF is heading in the same direction, as it has become the standard practice to reward TPLF members and Tigraians who are willing recruits and those from the same locale with the leadership.
Kenya’s leaders mistook silent rage with acquiescence, as it is now the case with the TPLF. In a similar way, Kikuyu leaders also assumed that nepotism, force, corruption and political deception are the only way for them to prolong their dominance and stay in power. In the eyes of the people and the laws of Kenya, this was not consistent with the laws of the land and democratic practices elsewhere. Kenyan politicians allowed resentment and frustrations to build to breaking point, until the genie got out of the bottle last December and vented its long repressed anger against Kikuyu narrow nationalism. There is valuable lesson should the TPLF be willing to take heed of it. After all, it has come with a huge cost in terms of Kenyan lives.
Historically, hunters and gatherers first got into dependence on each other, or their ethnic groups, because they have to pool their resources in confronting nature. In modern societies, the state through its institutions and its laws is supposed to provide that protection, support and security that a community needs. Unfortunately, these old dependence on powerful individuals and ethnic groups is revived and very well alive in Ethiopia, thanks to TPLF-engineered laws that took us back in time. Today, our laws and institutions and the government in general cater to ethnic instincts and want to relish strength the negative forces of ethnicity would afford the state. That strength comes at a cost to some group somewhere. In contrast, the world is moving in a different direction. Very many poly-ethnic nations have managed to transcend ethnicity. They have established modern states with laws and institutions, which have successfully upheld the equality of everyone under the law principle without favour to and fear of anyone, thereby offering similar opportunities to everyone. This comes close to the true meaning of human liberation, which all Ethiopians aspire—the opportunity to be free from stooping to another human being or group in power because of human legitimate human needs for protection and security—the TPLF has failed to deliver.
When Ethiopia spent 17 years under Mr. Mengistu’s dictatorship, Ethiopians prayed and struggled for his downfall. That became a reality 17 years ago, thanks to the TPLF. However, the TPLF has failed to take notice that the Dergue was like a rotten tree from within, because of its rejection by the people. If the people were behind the Dergue, the TPLF could not have had that cakewalk to Addis Ababa in 1991. Unfortunately, 17 years later the TPLF has hardly succeeded in mending relations between the people and government. Consequently, ensconced in its arrogance, narrow ethnic nationalism and lethargy, it has let government and the people to remain arrayed in opposite trenches.
Those Ethiopians who have taken no lesson from the past still shout at the height of their voices to see the back of Mr. Meles, only to find later that in the current milieu another TPLF/EPRDF strongman of his type would replace him. Early in March Senator Feingold rightly described the Ethiopian situation when he said, “I am seriously concerned about the direction Ethiopia is headed – because according to many credible accounts, the political crisis that has been quietly growing and deepening over the past few years may be coming to a head. For years, faced with calls for political or economic reforms, the Ethiopian government has displayed a troubling tendency to react with alarmingly oppressive and disproportionate tactics.”
What needs changing is the system. Ethiopians need to wake up and learn to fight in unison against a system of injustice, duplicity, political terrorism by state power, instead of one another. Citizens’ response should not emulate the regime’s example either; it would only defeat their objectives. Both Tigraians and non-Tigraian Ethiopians must realize that no one group’s interests would be served better by yielding to the negative energies of ethnic politics. It would only lead to the disintegration of our country. Our common farms and common labours that bring yields to our common markets could serve all of us better today and create a better future for our children. Division and fragmentation are incapable of rendering that. In that regard, holding individual Tigraians responsible for TPLF’s misguided policies is an equally misguided opposition. Misguided opposition is no answer to the humiliation of our country or the sufferings of its people are going through at present. Tigraians also need to transcend ethnicity and decades of TPLF’s indoctrination with pseudo-nationalism.
Finally, Ethiopians need to demonstrate strong political will to have laws that could take the interests of all sides and good institutions that enforce them. Only then can we be able to redeem our country and citizens from the negative energies of ethnicity and the destructive lust for power of a few flawed men. Only when we have done that can our country become capable of utilizing fully its resources, innovate, compete freely and fairly and gain a place of pride in the eyes of its citizens and internationally, built solely through every citizen’s stregnths and devotion.