The argument – the people of Tigray would be praised when the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is praised, cursed when the TPLF is cursed, exist when the TPLF existed and perish when the TPLF perished – is absolutely illogical and nonsensical. In fact, it might also carry dangerous elements, argues Yohannes Woldegebriel.
Following the unexpected fury that exploded among the Tigraway after a decision was adopted by the Executive Committee of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) on the unconditional acceptance of the Ethio-Eritrea Border Commission Decision that has been shelved for nearly 15 years, the issue triggered Members of the Parliament (MPs) to summon Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) for questioning. Ironically, the decision of the Executive Committee was reportedly initiated and fully supported by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) albeit, it later twisted position and even forced awkwardly to criticize its own initiative and decision as if it was not involved, when protests flared up among Tigrayans at home and abroad for failing to have discussed and consulted with the people.
In response to the protest, TPLF bigwigs held an emergency meeting and released a statement alleging the EPRDF Executive Committee for the home works that the TPLF was supposed to previously perform but failed visibly. Not much can be commented on the excellent answer and clarifications that PM Abiy gave to floods of emotionally charged questions on this issue. I cannot, however, ignore to seize this opportunity to highlight the single most important point, that was eloquently addressed during the course of his reply that should have been advocated, promoted and explained by a responsible ethno-national political organization and above all, an educated and enlightened, nonpartisan Tigraway, who might faithfully believe in and cares about the existence of “national and (class) oppression of the Tigraway by former rulers of Ethiopia,” that the TPLF is but one political organization that would have to be considered as a liberation force. However, TPLF is by no means synonym with Tigraway and cannot represent the entire Tigraians.
Prime Minister Abiy’s statement that the TPLF does not mean Tigraway has raised so much dust among the Tigraway judging from the speeches and addresses made by representatives of youth, women, families of fallen fighters and party bigwigs, last June 22, 2018, during the celebration of regional state “martyrs memorial day” and afterwards. Nonetheless, I stand by the statement of PM Abiy that TPLF does not mean Tigraway not only for its correct argument, logic and reasoning but also because it is a statement that can only come out from a leader that is responsible, farsighted, cares for the enduring existence of his people cutting across futile party politics. Notwithstanding the fury from among the bigwigs and cadres of the TPLF on this statement, I would like to uphold again its correctness, accuracy and join hand with PM Abiy, as I did in my article published in this newspaper 18 years ago titled ‘Symptomatic of autocracy’, which is republished below in consultation with editors, as follow though views on the issue has not changed any more than before.
Symptomatic of autocracy
On the occasion of the 25th birthday of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a panel discussion was organized in Mekele by the Walta Information Center under the theme, “The Role of the TPLF in the Ethiopian Revolution.”
Adhane Haile (PhD), a historian currently heading the Education Bureau of the Tigray Regional State, was among the panelists who presented papers at the symposium.
In the introductory remarks of his interesting paper entitled “Overcoming the Problem of Famine in Ethiopia; Personal Observations on the Role of Revolutionary Democracy,” Adhane stated that the birth of the TPLF marked “the commencement of the organized armed liberation struggle of the people of Tigray.” He underscored that “the one will always suggest the other.” Therefore, the TPLF is “a national regional political organization that is of and for the people of Tigray,” he finally concluded.
In effect, for Adhane, TPLF and the people of Tigray are one and the same. This is the conclusion that one could inevitably reach from this statement in Adhane’s paper: “The foundation of the TPLF and the commencement of the organized armed liberation struggle of the people of Tigray are as a result indistinguishable.” Similarly, the organ of the Tigray Regional State, “Mekaleh Tigray,” which was issued during the silver jubilee of the TPLF, also boldly asserted that “TPLF and the people of Tigray are inseparably two sides of the same coin.”
No doubt, the TPLF was founded in the land of Tigray by Tigraians. Almost all of its members, as the name suggests, are Tigraians. Certainly, the TPLF mobilized many people from Tigray and rallied them behind the front’s platform to remove the Derg regime first from Tigray and subsequently from the rest of Ethiopia. The front primarily drew its mass base from among Tigraians in Tigray, and in fact won the support of other Tigraians from other parts of Ethiopia and the diaspora.
The TPLF effectively and successfully played an important role in organizing Tigraians to drive out the Derg’s control over what came to be known during the last days of the Derg as “the autonomous region of Tigray.” Ultimately, the TPLF together with other Ethiopian organizations dismantled the military regime altogether and installed the Transitional Government of Ethiopia. No one denies the strong foundation of the TPLF among Tigraians. The power base of the TPLF will no doubt continue to be Tigraians living at home and abroad. In this regard, however, it would be appropriate to pose the following questions:
Is the TPLF the only symbol of the commencement of the organized armed liberation struggle of the people of Tigray?
Is the TPLF the only realistic representative of the armed liberation struggle of the people of Tigray?
Does “TPLF” always imply and suggest “Tigraian”?
Is TPLF synonymous with Tigraians? Can the people of Tigray and the TPLF be considered as two sides of the same coin?
Is the TPLF the sole option for Tigraians?
The TPLF emerged as a national liberation front from among numerous Ethiopian political organizations following the downfall of the imperial regime. It started with very few members, and gradually mustered the support of many Tigraians to become one of the most powerful political organizations in Ethiopia both militarily and organizationally.
It wouldn’t be right, however, to characterize the beginning of TPLF’s armed struggle as “the commencement of organized armed liberation struggle of the people Tigray.” This is because the TPLF was not the legitimate representative of the people of Tigray. Its members were not lawfully and democratically delegated by the entire people of Tigray to start armed struggle. The armed struggle was a self-declared action by the TPLF and its members. In fact, one would not contend that members of the TPLF represent a cross-section of the Tigraian society. The formation of the front, however, was conceived by its founders and came true solely through their consent.
The idea of establishing the TPLF and the subsequent commencement of armed struggle, though very much espoused and supported by many Tigraians, does not imply the consent of the whole people from which its founders and fighters emerged. In this regard, how the TPLF could become “of and for the people of Tigray,” as Adhane asserted, is not clear.
The people of Tigray are part and parcel, if not among the first and the oldest members, of the Ethiopian community. Along with Eritrean compatriots, these people had several times been the primary victims of foreign invaders. Consequently, they had to wage incessant wars against external aggressors and, together with fellow Ethiopians, had to pay dearly to ensure the indomitable independence of our motherland. Its children also actively participated in various Ethiopian political organizations that mushroomed after the collapse of the monarchy in 1974. In fact, many Tigraians had been very active and had assumed positions in the uppermost echelons of several multi-national political organizations.
Thus, not all student activists and enlightened Tigraian politicians enthusiastically joined the TPLF, particularly during its formative period. As a result, the TPLF can neither denote nor suggest a small proportion of the Tigaian elite, let alone the entire Tigraian population. Therefore, the assertion that the TPLF and the people of Tigray are two sides of the same coin is unwarranted. Such statement could also give a wrong impression that would reduce the whole of the prestigious people of Tigray to nothing more than the TPLF’s rear appendage and attempt to link the destiny of all Tigraians to a single political organization – the TPLF.
If one should accept Adhane’s argument, the people of Tigray would be praised when the TPLF is praised, cursed when the TPLF is cursed, exist when the TPLF existed and perish when the TPLF perished. In a nutshell, the very survival of Tigraians would entirely depend on the survival of the TPLF.
This line of argument is absolutely illogical and nonsensical. In fact, it might also carry dangerous elements. Members of a given political organization may come out from a given people and even assume its name. But “the one cannot necessarily suggest the other.” The people of Tigray, who can be and have the right to be a breeding ground for any type of political organization, cannot be forbidden to form organizations other than the TPLF which is but one among numerous others that had existed previously, are existing now and will exist in the future in Tigray. The TPLF is not divinely adjudged to be the only political organization “of and for the people of Tigray.”
The liberation of Tigray, which is the banner held up by the TPLF, includes the liberty of all Tigraians to support any political view of their choice. It includes the right to support and be part of the TPLF, but it also includes the right not to be part of the TPLF, to criticize the TPLF, and even to set up political organizations to oppose the TPLF. Therefore, gluing the people of Tigray and the TPLF together as “two sides of the same coin,” would very well put in jeopardy the very motto of liberty often proclaimed by the TPLF itself.
To sum up, claiming that “the TPLF is of and for the people of Tigray” and that “the TPLF and the people of Tigray are two sides of the same coin,” etc… only implies that the TPLF is the only option and is perpetually entitled to rule the people of Tigray. This is symptomatic of an undemocratic and dictatorial rule in Tigray to the exclusion of others.
Ed.’s Note: Yohannes Woldegebriel is a legal expert. The original article titled ‘Symptomatic of autocracy’ was published in The Reporter on March 15, 2000. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]