Once again, Ethiopia is bleeding from a war that emanates from a political rift. The fall out between the Federal government and Tigrai People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) which has been the vanguard of Ethiopia’s coalition ruling party- EPRDF for over the last two decades and a half, has turned to open warfare on November 4th after the former attacked the Northern command of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces based in the region in an ambush they termed as ‘pre-emptive strike’.
Over the last couple of weeks, Ethiopia became the epicentre of all and sundry providing commentaries, analysis, and even issuing prescriptions without diligent diagnosis of its problem. This is understandable, especially given the geopolitical importance of Ethiopia for both the region and the continent, and its strategical vantage position in the war against terrorism.
However, the most perplexing thing to watch was not the fact that the solicited military response of the federal government has superseded TPLF’s naked attack of the national army or that the hostility is largely framed as a clash between an aggressing central government that is determined to usurp the autonomy rights of its subset region but the fact that TPLF is portrayed as pro-democratic party fighting to save the federalism. A concerted effort to positively paint TPLFhas cascaded in some pockets of the international media who are largely oblivious to Ethiopia’s inner world.
The credulity of such propaganda and the concomitant impression it has resulted is largely bolstered by the secretive nature of the country and the reticent tendency of Ethiopian people.
In the process, a question of who is TPLF and their historical legacy as Ethiopia’s de-facto ruling party over the decades has escaped from scrutiny and was evaded.
TPLF’s history of Manipulation
From an ethnic nationalist to Albanian-style dogmatism and now with a camouflage of pro-democracy group, TPLF has never been anything consistently, but a chauvinistic ethnic group who are imbued with hate and exploitation. They constantly shifted their ideological pronouncements depending on the time and the circumference of the circumstance to survive and to cling on to power at all costs.
That is why, from the outset, it has never equivocated its ambition about Ethiopia. It was never interested in establishing federalism where real autonomy flourishes, neither were they ever genuine about the Ethiopia project as wholesomely. At their initial days, it was interested to continue wielding power under the auspices of nominal federalism in which it is the one and the only vanguard and dominant group as long as it is possible. In short of that, the prevailing choice was to walk away and precipitate forceful divorce with their marriage of Ethiopia. While this itself is constitutionally guaranteed, TPLF’s nature of modus operandi defies the peaceful logic that such path dictates.
TPLF’s autocratic nature doesn’t fit well with a democratic environment where opposing ideas are exchanged and clashed, which gives credence to why they have placed an arduous effort to sabotage the reform agenda and the political openings that came with the advent of the new Prime Minister. Therefore, to dupe the world again that TPLF is for pro-democratic values and fighting against tyranny is tantamount to the subversion of the truth. The undemocratic tendency of the group is partly tactical and strategic based. It well comprehends that the new political dispensation in the country will lead her to a finally settled political weight equalled to its demographic size – an eventuality they feel compelled to oppose at all cost. TPLF is, therefore, anything but a democratic party.
History always has the answers!
Ethiopia’s current transition should be viewed in the lenses of its predecessors, especially the one that propelled TPLF to power. Ethiopia is a country of nations, nationalities and people of diverse culture and religions who are fused coercively through Menelik’s state-building project in the late 19th century. As Scholars argued in many fora, its formation has both similarity and dissimilarity with European state formation rather than an African one. Its long indigenous institutions that existed over the century and transversely absorbed shocks have made it formidable and anti-fragile to use the parlance of Nassim Nicholas. However, Ethiopia’s successive regimes never aspired or bothered to create national harmony within the citizens of different ethnic groups, which explains why the country failed to attain mature nation-state status to-date.
The political landscape of the country is ethnically charged, where actors with different ethnic backgrounds contest in a politics of the zero-sum game. The turbulence and ethnic conflicts, including the current turmoil in the Tigrai region, should be understood under that context. It is not a sign for disintegration as some have alluded in their analysis but another labour pain experience and exploratory salvo for the re-creation of the state in another model.
In every political change, two competing types of actors emerge in Ethiopia; those who compete and run for the state capture and those who run away from the state-capture, see and sense an opportunity for secession. Historically, Somalis, Oromos and other marginalized communities belonged to the latter camp. TPLF is unique in that it belongs to both parties and inter-sails them. In 1991 after the fall of the Derg regime, TPLF was killing the Somalis for leading the secessionist camp and suppressed their ill-fated aspiration to break-away peacefully; the reversal is now happening – while the TPLF is waging a secessional war technically, Somalis are now rallying behind the federal government for defending the territorial integrity of the country. It is for the readers to judge whether that is a case of irony or history manifesting itself in another way!
Looking into the future – Conclusion
TPLF is dead and forever over. Its post-mortem analysis shows that it died of many causes but mainly its tyrannical jaw-crushing party that kills, maims and oppresses the people of Ethiopia. The same was true to the military regime of Mengistu and the imperial regime of Haile Selassie that proceeded it. The current attempt by the TPLF to wage guerrilla warfare will hit a dead end, for the ground has shifted, and the circumstances permitting it are no longer valid.
Now, the question is how Ethiopia can look into a democratic and peaceful future – one that has escaped from it since its inception as conquistador with confused priorities. For a starter, I would argue that the International Community should focus on the big agenda of democratizing Ethiopia – led by the current premier – through affording the badly needed support at this critical juncture of its history.
Secondly, ethnic federalism per se is not the genesis of our current political problems as some have overtly and covertly suggested. Instead, the problem is lack of devolved power from the inception and keeping the federalism over the decades in a wishy-washy form. And just like any other political card if ethnic federalism was misused and used by TPLF as a tool to further drive a wedge among the different ethnic groups, the perfect response is neither to discard nor to deconstruct it but to reinvigorate and augment it for equitable use.
Finally, Ethiopia must come to terms with its past – one with chronic wounds that need special care. Its historical fault lines are too stubborn that the only course to bridge is to collectively move to the contemptuous issue we are struggling now. For as long as we continue trapped on settling scores with the gone this vicious cycle of political disorder is likely to continue!
Omar Farouk Warfa
The writer is the deputy bureau head,Office of the president, Somali regional State. He can be reached via twitter; @Farouk_H_Warfa. The views expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect the view of The Reporter.
Contributed by Omar Farouk Warfa