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By attempting to shut opposition parties and independent voices out of the interim regional administration, TPLF officials are showing that the devastating war has taught them nothing.
Tigray’s political landscape has undergone dramatic changes on numerous occasions since civil war broke out between federal and regional forces in November 2020.
While the September 2020 election strengthened the TPLF’s position at the helm of the region’s government, holding this vote paved the way for civil war. Since then, two years of conflict have spun the region’s political dynamics in unforeseen directions.
The ebbs and flows of the war included the TPLF being expelled from Mekelle by the invading Ethiopian, Amhara, and Eritrean forces in late November 2020 and the Tigrayan armed resistance coalescing in response to unimaginable atrocities.
After the Tigray forces recaptured a large part of the region in July 2021, federal authorities imposed an inhumane siege on Tigray and an uneasy stalemate set in until the final, and most brutal, round of conflict took place between August and November 2022.
This round of fighting ended with the Tigrayan leadership effectively capitulating and being forced to sign a highly unfavorable peace deal in South Africa. The anticipated establishment of an interim regional administration—a central element of the Pretoria agreement signed on 2 November 2022—brings some hope for genuine change in Tigray’s politics.
However, all signs indicate the TPLF is back to its old tricks of being intolerant toward any internal opposition. Tigrayans are now more divided than ever, as some feel that, in its collaboration with federal authorities, the TPLF has sold out the people of Tigray.
An important development at the onset of the conflict was that Tigray’s large diaspora community united in mass mobilization against the war.
New civil society organizations came into existence and were successful in raising international awareness, launching advocacy campaigns, and organizing demonstrations. Individuals engaged voluntarily, sometimes risking their lives and careers, and worked tirelessly to create a global network and attract stakeholders for successful public diplomacy.
During the first nine months of the war, due to a full-fledged communication blackout in Tigray, there was little to no communication between the TPLF and Tigrayan diaspora. This explains why early initiatives remained largely independent, with objective and de-politicized discussions within the diaspora community shaping the agenda.
The movement which emerged successfully launched social media campaigns and engaged in international digital diplomacy, exposing the horrors of the war and sharing information with the world that federal authorities tried with all their might to suppress.
The resulting mobilization and lobbying to stop the atrocities gave a voice to those who had been muted in Tigray, filling a void that under normal circumstances would have been occupied by official channels.
Even though such efforts couldn’t alleviate the devastation inflicted by the invading forces, the international community was at least forced to give due attention to the humanitarian crisis in Tigray.
Henceforth, despite the concerted and aggressive diplomatic engagement by the government of Ethiopia, the administration has faced sustained condemnation and stringent economic sanctions. The diaspora has also mobilized substantial financial and material support for the people in Tigray.
Tigray forces eventually pushed the invading armies out of Mekelle and much of the region in June 2021. At that time, the TPLF started reestablishing formal diplomatic connections and strengthening its networks.
As the saying goes, old habits die hard. The infamous one-to-five network, the TPLF’s long-standing instrument used to monitor citizens and monopolize politics, started to change the structure of diaspora movements.
During this process, loyalists and representatives of the party gained control of diaspora initiatives. Community organizations were restructured in a way that better suited the party’s agenda.
Consistent with the established party practice, dissenting voices who offered an objective viewpoint were isolated. The vibrant mobilization formed against the war was rearranged to serve the TPLF’s political interests, not those of the public at large in Tigray.
Altogether, the strong party control has weakened the participation of the vast Tigrayan diaspora. This overbearing intervention has impaired the success of public diplomacy and has restricted the movement’s capacity and resources.
The TPLF also began to engage diplomatically on the international stage. Those leading this call were familiar faces from the previous administration who were responsible for serious human rights abuses.
It’s therefore not surprising they’ve done a poor job obtaining meaningful support to stem the challenges posed by one of the leading humanitarian crises worldwide.
The focus has been on mobilizing the diaspora to collect large financial contributions. While already facing the burden of providing financial support to their extended families in Tigray—with an alarming 40-50 percent commission taken by smugglers—Tigrayans abroad have been forced by party networks to contribute large sums to the regional authorities.
As has been the norm for decades, there is no transparency regarding the purpose of the millions of dollars collected and how this money has been spent.
The situation is made more challenging by the fact that TPLF officials have not clearly articulated the central objective of the conflict other than invoking vague statements about self-determination.
For this reason, foreign diplomats and experts who are closely monitoring the situation have been largely unable to understand the fundamental goals of the popular resistance.
The monopoly over politics and the establishment of authority by the TPLF exerted over the diaspora was even stronger within the region itself. There, authorities have launched different strategies to regain control, often using the people’s boiling nationalist sentiments created by the war.
Witnessing the depth of the atrocities on the ground and the magnitude of hate speech against Tigrayans disseminated on conventional and social media, the vast majority of Tigrayans acknowledged the existential nature of the war.
Sharing in this belief, political parties stopped bickering with the TPLF and contributed in any way they could. This unity raised hopes of a new culture emerging in Tigray’s undemocratic political environment, something that was made possible only by the extraordinary context.
Fulfilling their oaths, leaders and members of the opposition parties have fought and died in defense of their society. The wave of recruits has included doctors, university professors, white-collar professionals, and diaspora Tigrayans from the US, Europe, and elsewhere.
During the course of the war, there was an incredible level of public mobilization. This led to the establishment of a new force, popularly called the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF), which was mainly composed of the new generations.
A strong consensus was built around the TDF’s role as guardian of people’s liberty. Most importantly, it was believed that this force would treat all Tigrayans—including those affiliated with opposition parties—equally and that it would be an independent actor in the internal affairs of Tigray.
What in retrospect might look like a naive expectation was in fact a rational evaluation of the debt of gratitude TPLF leaders owed to the public on account of the people’s sacrifices made during a war that had erupted in part because of fatal strategic party failures.
However, the hope that pluralism of opinion within the region would finally be accepted did not last long.
TDF generals in control of the army’s high command, many of whom were TPLF fighters in the years of armed struggle against the brutal Derg regime from 1975 to 1991, revealed their loyalty to the TPLF in their interviews. One among them specifically warned the youth to strictly abide by the ruling party’s monopoly of power.
In an attempt to strengthen political authority over the new role of the military in Tigrayan society, Getachew Reda, one of the TPLF’s top officials, added that Tigray could not keep its army while it remains part of Ethiopia. He went on to claim that it was him who had spontaneously coined the term “TDF” in an interview, further asserting that the expression does not legitimately denote any institution.
These statements were part of the political maneuvering by TPLF officials behind the scenes to curtail the emerging public view that the army was an independent institution that needs to be preserved in a would-be “new Tigray”.
The TPLF’s legitimacy was negatively affected by the war. With this in mind, the concerted strategies by TPLF leaders to reassert a monopoly over political narratives should be understood as having multiple objectives.
The key one was to show Tigrayan society the force and legality of the party’s actions even during war times. For this purpose, even though the regional government had been disbanded after being pushed out of Mekelle in November 2020, the party continued to use the term “government” for its propaganda.
Ignoring their shared responsibility in causing the conflict and blaming external circumstances beyond their control, TPLF officials misled the public about developments on the battlefield from the outset.
The fact remains, hundreds of thousands of Tigrayan combatants and civilians have sacrificed their lives due in large part to the TPLF’s strategic failures before and during the war. This was particularly true when TPLF leaders decided to march towards Addis Abeba in late 2021 instead of pursuing options that would have averted the deadly blockade.
Another strategic goal of this communications offensive was to signal to the international community that the TPLF remains their only interlocutor in Tigray capable of articulating and fighting for the region’s interests.
Having understood the governing party’s strategy, opposition groups and independent Tigrayan scholars requested the formation of an inclusive transitional government.
During the war, the TPLF openly rejected such proposals, arguing that its legitimacy continued to derive from the September 2020 election. By the same token, Getachew Reda reiterated that his party had been elected to safeguard the people in a precarious time, glossing over his administration’s shared responsibility for the devastation that followed.
In the spirit of constructive criticism, independent intellectuals proposed alternative ideas on how to deal with existing threats and form a new administration.
Fearing the growing voice of this group, the TPLF established the Tigray University Scholars Association (TUSA) in early 2022 to weaken the Global Society of Tigray Scholars and Professionals (GSTS), which had been instrumental in organizing the diaspora community.
This came immediately after GSTS’s soft push for an all-inclusive government, proving once more the hegemonic aspirations of the TPLF. What’s ironic, however, is that GSTS, a group of thousands of Tigrayan scholars, as it claims, has served the TPLF’s objectives rather than putting due pressure on its leaders and organizing the community to meet the present challenges.
After several stages of unsuccessful deliberations, a permanent cessation of hostilities was signed on 2 November 2022 between the government of Ethiopia and the TPLF. The peace deal has been celebrated as a victory by different actors, including Tigray’s authorities.
It’s safe to conclude that with it the Ethiopian government achieved most of its war aims. Most notably, the peace deal ensured the restoration of federal authority in Tigray and imposed the dissolution of the regional government.
Furthermore, it included an unrealistically ambitious timeline for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of TDF fighters, while setting up poor monitoring and verification processes for the implementation of the agreement, including the withdrawal of any armed forces other than federal ones from the region.
There’s no denying that the peace agreement has, at least temporarily, stopped the war, improved the flow of humanitarian relief, and led to the partial resumption of basic services.
Yet, the agreement has fallen short of expectations in many ways, among which are the unsatisfying provisions on transitional justice for wartime atrocities and the absence of lasting solutions to underlying issues.
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It’s particularly worrying that the peace agreement has excluded well-established principles and guidelines from the UN-based transitional justice framework. Instead, the Ethiopian constitution, despite lacking articles to that purpose, and the newly adopted AU transitional justice policy are the central instruments guiding this process.
In this sense, the peace deal gives in to the Ethiopian government’s persistent objections to international mechanisms and appears to have successfully evaded international accountability for crimes committed by its forces and those of its Amhara and Eritrean allies.
It can be argued that the lengthy siege, the staggering atrocities which followed the new round of confrontation that started in August 2022, and the unbearable human cost of the war forced Tigray to accept any deal, no matter how unfavorable.
For TPLF leaders, the peace deal has opened an embarrassing chapter, as it was forced to make painful concessions. The infamous election that played a triggering role in the conflict was nullified, the regional administration agreed to be dissolved, and Tigray accepted to come again under the exclusive authority of the federal government.
These steps stand in sharp contrast to the TPLF-backed genocide designation passed by the defunct State Council in January 2022 concerning the federal government’s military efforts.
In defense of these choices, the TPLF—in statements issued through the government offices and party organs—tried to sell the deal as a success story which led to the “restoration of constitutional order.”
This argument is a weak rationalization and hides the reality that one of the deal’s primary objectives was securing the party’s political survival through the planned removal of its terrorist designation by federal authorities.
Having temporarily dealt with its external foes, Tigray is now confronted with many internal challenges. In such a time, inclusivity in the decision-making process is of paramount importance and calls to build a government of national unity are more important than ever.
Unfortunately, the TPLF doesn’t seem to have learned much from its leadership failures that helped bring on the war in the first place. The party led the region, as its governing political force, into a terrible war and now wants to monopolize power again in Tigray.
The Pretoria peace deal obliges the establishment of an inclusive regional interim administration, but the process thus far is being single handedly dictated by the TPLF leadership, much to the dismay of opposition parties, scholars, and dissenting generals.
If Tigray is to have any hope of forging a more peaceful and prosperous future under such dire circumstances—in which federal authorities now control the region, marauding Eritrean troops continue to roam freely, and Amhara forces still control Western Tigray—TPLF leaders must change their ways and foster a more inclusive political dispensation.
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This is the author’s viewpoint. However, Ethiopia Insight will correct clear factual errors.
Main photo: 40th Anniversary of the TPLF; Mekelle, Ethiopia; 18 February 2015; Paul Kagame.
Published under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. You may not use the material for commercial purposes.
Libération, one of the leading French newspapers yesterday published 5 full pages about war and peace in Tigray war, including the cover: https://twitter.com/libe/status/1635371083263012879.
One of the titles: “C’est donc ça, leur paix?” – “So this is what their peace looks like?”
On page 4 of Libération, we read this text, that tends to confirm some of the points made in the above article:
“Tigrayan opposition parties, whose members also fought in the ranks of the TDF, are now contesting the TPLF’s hegemonic role. “During the war, the survival of Tigray was at stake, we had put our differences aside to resist together, explains Kinfe Hadush, spokesperson for the opposition party Salsay Woyane. But now that peace has been signed, the TPLF is reverting to its past practices and is seeking to lock in power entirely.”
Hundreds of thousands of young Tigrayans took part in the war. Some of them no longer hesitate to openly criticize the political leadership of the TPLF – the military leaders, on the other hand, remain unanimously respected – a behavior that was unthinkable just a few years ago. “The older generation of the TPLF, Ethiopianist, authoritarian, is challenged. Especially in the cities, but also within the TDF. Young people are nationalists, in favor of independence, they demand reforms, assures Kinfe Hadush. The TPLF is ready to compromise with Addis Ababa to ensure its survival… and Abiy Ahmed needs its cooperation to bury the investigations into war crimes. In Pretoria, the two former enemies have made a kind of pact.”
TPLF is Ethiopianist huh? Quite the opposite.
And if the youth or any substantial amount of Tegaru want independence then there’s not much protest from the rest of Ethiopia. By all means, become independent I will vote for you.
TPLF is trying to save the same youth they brainwashed into feeling invincible. But as a society, make a stand to be independent, bravely fighting against TPLF as you claim you fought and defeated the horn super power, Goliath aka the Derg army. Put your money where your mouth is.
Creating trouble for areas outside of Tigray, however, will continue having consequences.
Mr. Nyssen. Carry on.
Dear Emnet et al,
Thank you for offering us with publications that are focused around your specialties also. Research publications that can be digested by the public like us are as good as it gets, especially when conclusions are backed up by data. Your report on Tigray’s conditions within the first few months of the war was the first document or reporting that had credibility: not the international news, or domestic info outlets of the belligerents. It is shocking, the lack of such informational evidence based analysis throughout this war. Where are all the so-called PhDs? Why aren’t we seeing their reports focused on their specialties? Talk is cheap, and as many so-called PhDs we have, so are PhDs I guess.
Tplf needs to go and be dissolved, permanently. Ethiopia and the entire Horn of Africa have had enough of their crimes against humanity.
How disgusting it is to observe a super genocide promoter blaming a minority group.
What is missing from this article is the political hysteria that Abiy and the Amhara ultra-nationalists had orchestrated against TPLF in the prelude to war. The threats and intimidation in the mass media, road closures, and the military encirclement of Tigray for a vengeful and genocidal war on the people of Tigray. Isaias the secessionist in Eritrea was brought in to do his own share of vendetta. From the authors here, with all their academic credentials, I expected to read something more meaningful and insightful. Instead, we are offered this pitiful and superficial assessment of what led up to the conflict. Regardless of what shape political governance in Tigray may take, this much needs to be said: blaming TPLF for the war that was imposed on Tigray is grotesque, really grotesque!!!
27 years of Tigray elite rule over Ethiopia is well documented by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. If anything, their crimes have not yet been solemnly digested, and this explains why Tigray elite are hysterical claiming genocide and blaming, who exactly? Amharas? Again? Right. Trying to cover up past crimes that are still calling for justice, by claiming victim.
Shouldn’t you take ownership of your own disaster? Of the fact that you betrayed an entire generation of Ethiopians? Slaughtered subordinate soldiers you had intentionally setup for failure? Do you think the world forgets how many of Tigray commanders defected along their Tigray identity? Every martyred ENDF, Fano, Special Police, anyone that fought you needs compensation, from Tigray. Need justice.
We are still seeking justice for the rapes and robbery Tigray has caused on Amharas and Afars. No, it will not pass without each of your perpetrators being brought to justice. You cannot raise your military to attack this time around, when asked for justice.
This massive amount of deceit and scheming will crush you. You have already denied Ethiopia, the making of your own ancestors. You can never come back from that. You think you can somehow magically own the history of Axum and priors, they would be ashamed of you of course, but you need to understand that history just doesn’t work that way. You share in that history. You do not own it exclusively. The same with all the relics.
You have already waged war on your neighbors. You have already allied with militia which you have brainwashed into hating their own countrymen. Every slaughter you participate directly or indirectly, will never ever be forgotten, and we will receive our justice.
Emnet. Can you write us how come the number of raped women in Tigray went from 120,000 to like 30,000? What did Letecia Bader say about there being Genocide in Tigray just a few days ago? Some of you may need to have the courage to confront these realities. Because under that narrative of genocide perpetrated by Amharas on Tigrays as per subtext, Tegaru online are digging deep graves encouraging slaughter of Amharas and those they label Amhara. This is on going. You didn’t tell them why they are in this position to start with, and what is coming is worse and fast.
I wish for the moment when I no longer hear a single sentence about the tplf. After massacre of a million Ethiopians simply to satisfy the ego of some evil ethnic politicians, after devastating large parts of Amhara and Afar lands and people, many of whom had nothing to do with tplf narrative, what is happening now…with abiy giving the tplf another stick to go another round and finish off the hated Amhara? It may be good to support the renegade tegaru who are vying for independence for tigray..then we will hear nothing from the notorious tplf once and for all. I wish them success!
Thank you for a very insightful and well written article. Courageous, thought provoking and brutally honest voices challenging our leaders are only beneficial. Taking ownership of our problem is somehow empowering too and quality I appreciate in Tegaru’s struggle.
As a non-Tigrigna speaker new ‘TPLFite’ : ), my sense is the support for TPLF is no longer logical but emotional at this stage. This is true both within the leadership and the regular people.
Because of the political nature in Ethiopia, we have to manage our expectation of how much new idea/change opposition parties can make being separate from TPLF. Being systematic on how to engage with TPLF so there is somehow flow of internal information and knowledge sharing to begin with may have a bigger impact in the long run?
Also ALL opportunity offered for opposition parties to let their ideas be heard must be taken advantage of. ሳይደክማችው ፡ ሳይሰለቹ፡፡ Finding a single project they agree on without being a threat to TPLF would be a starting point. The other is to rename their parties as TPLF 4.0, 5.0, 6.0 so long as they make favorable difference in the people’s lives? This are my two cents.
Thanks again for a great article. Keep challenging the status quo.
I have no problem with TPLF but its Leadership
If a weak & retarded person like Debretsion is going to lead Tigray that will be our greatest problem because he has no map to lead Tigray except the so called
“The situation is made more challenging by the fact that TPLF officials have not clearly articulated the central objective of the conflict other than invoking vague statements about self-determination.”
መልኣከ ሞት የወግደልና
It is wise to express criticism based on factual findings rather than because of prior issues you may have had with the party. For instance, you mentioned the one-to-five network, which was active in the past but is no longer active today. It aided people in enrolling in universities, improving their job fluency, and enabling them to function on par with those who were excellent. Why then do you simply need to point out potential flaws that may arise infrequently while ignoring its significant output? Attempting to betray something that took you to this stage, which is becoming a normal occurrence in today’s society, is something that I’m confident as I can see from your face you were among the beneficiaries. Sharing information and making friends was all that was necessary to compete at the highest level. Now, I thought your arguments were full of hate speech and were incredibly dated.
Another absurd and false claim was that using the Google search engine to write in acceptable English does not allow you to conceal, stifle, or embellish your lies and fantasies. The agreement is as crystal clear as ice and belongs solely to the TPLF and FDRE. Opposition parties and other stakeholders are being invited to the interim administration with the blessing of the TPLF for democratization, not out of necessity.
I only see lunacy at its peak and no mines from Tigray’s so-called elites or professors. Your attempt to manipulate the Tigrayan populace into believing that we have short memories similar to what you believed about our neighbors won’t succeed, History will recall your senseless use of zero-sum politics and the way that you pretended to be revolutionaries and benevolent angels while paving the ground for yet another wave of genocidal attacks against the people of Tigray. You will never succeed if you make such an unethical, contentious, and lucrative move; instead, you will fall into the abyss.
As an educated segment of the society and who have the opportunities to better socioeconomic and political life internationally, the diaspora of Tigray needs to engage in debates respectfully without making defamatory statements. Mehari is doing what is too low in any debates. Instead of unravelling his differences, he is attacking the authors right and left.
The challenges facing the region today do not stem solely from external factors. There is a strong connection between the three decades of authoritarian TPLF rule in Tigray with current political events. Only a politically illiterate or a lunatic TPLFite can deny this. There are Tigrayans who are certified idiots who don’t understand politics and life that worship TPLF, more than TPLFites themselves.