The Rise and Fall of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)
It was unimaginable for the Ethiopian people to accept “a blatant miscarriage of justice” – specifically over the awarding of Badme to Eritrea. Badme was symbolically important and the casus belli for the two years’ war. The decision is thus a recipe for continued instability, and even recurring wars… nothing worthwhile can, therefore, be expected from the commission to salvage the peace process …indeed, the commission seems to be determined to continue its disastrous stance whatever the consequence to peace in the region.1a
(Meles’s Letter to the UNSC, September 2003, pp. 10-11 in Grebrewahid’s, 2019 article).
At the pinnacle of its political and military prowess, Ethiopia, under the late Meles Zenawi, could challenge any entity that opposed it without any conceivable consequences. Badme was a perfect pretext to ignite a border war, not Asseb as some wanted to rearrange the facts. Consider the late Meles Zenawi’s stern warning above how the decision to hand Badme to Eritrea even legally would not avert future wars between Ethiopia and Eritrea. No wonder one Zemari appears to responds in a song into the seeming invincibility of military prowess trumping even legality: “ንስኻ ግን ህዝበይ ንስኻ ግን ስዒርካዬም ብዂናትን ሕግን1b” The above letter is evidence of such a bravado. Two years later, when the confident Meles opened the country to an open and transparent voting process, he had to use his swagger to silence European countries when the voting was halted abruptly because EPRDF was losing in all major cities. See several scholarly articles that deal with the subject of the 2005 vote manipulations. 2,3,4,5 A particular note that needs the readers’ attention is reference number 2 below, where no other than Tronvoll was screaming foul in 2009 before he had given up his objective scholarship to a blatantly subjective one as was seen during the recent civil war in Ethiopia.
Granted, trying to understand history of a people while it is ongoing is truly challenging because sufficient distance lapse of time has yet to occur for a sober assessment to take place. Combine politics to history as this article is grappling to do in trying to have some semblance of comprehension of the two former revolutionary organizations turned governing bodies of their respective nations, it is not that hard to see how monumentally difficult that can be. But prudence demands that it gets done to close-shut the 27 years chapter of TPLF rule in Ethiopia so Eritreans and Tigrayans move onward and forward toward a brighter future. The uniquely human temperament and attribute gives us room to think critically of the past and see its application in the present as a future trajectory is being mapped out simultaneously and extemporaneously.
Provision: The intention here is an unequivocal desire to have a sincere dialogue as my first article tried to call on scholars like Dr. Chefena to back up the claim for the need to a sincere discourse akin to Eritreans from the 1940s who openly discussed their vision of the future of Eritrea to paraphrase that almost amounted to a clarion call. Awate is saying እነሀ ሜዳ እነሀ ፈረስ: Come one, come all. Now that the open dialogue is declared, let’s proceed to the subject at hand.
TPLF already has had plenty of experience campaigning against perceived enemies before they become enemies. The term that is selected that characterizes the TPLF in its exceptional abilities in propaganda machination is garrulousness. while TPLF was very comfortable playing a role of this garrulous group that can pump-out fantastical lies, fabricate stories, and the like in short order that would stun enemies at once. Of course, the role of some Diaspora Eritreans, foreign entities, and majority Tigrayans in the propaganda campaign needs a separate treatment. For TPLF’s archenemy, EPLF that uses silence as its modus operandi in politics, in peace, and in war, however, the orchestrated and relentless onslaught of propaganda machination that was dispatched from the diaspora and from inside Tigray, PFDJ was a no match. The latter will be examined in the next installment. Suffice it to mention, however, that these two starkly opposite models have their advantages and disadvantages. To ease our way to the subject matter, let us go back, way back to World War II and count back to the present and the future. This will be a quick synopsis of the past to help us understand the present and conceivably toward a positive trajectory of the future in The Horn of Africa.
According to archives.gov, “When World War II ended in 1945, Europe lay in ruins: its cities were shattered; its economies were devastated; its people faced famine. In the two years after the war, the Soviet Union’s control of Eastern Europe and the vulnerability of Western European countries to Soviet expansionism heightened the sense of crisis.” Therefore, the U.S. hatched this elaborate plan intending a sphere of influence in Europe. The Economic Act (aka, Marshall Plan) was signed in 1948. Between 1948 – 1951 the U.S. Congress “appropriated $13.3 billion for European recovery. This aid provided much needed capital and materials that enabled Europeans to rebuild the continent’s economy.” In return for this investment, the U.S. had a monopoly over the Western Europe in terms of “markets for American goods” and services. The “Marshall Plan signaled an extension of the bipartisanship of World War II into the postwar years” effectively sealing Western Europe into the U.S. ‘s sphere of influence6.
Juxtapose the above to what the former Soviet Union was doing to get its share of sphere of influence; The former Soviet Union knew it was no match to the arsenal power of the U.S. Therefore, it came up with an elaborate scheme of subversive action by state actor that includes demoralization, destabilization, crisis fabrication process known as “active measures, political and psychological warfare.7” Effectively, this model was used by Ethiopia under Meles when the 1998-2000 broke out. Meles was clear eyed in how to subsume countries in The Horn of Africa to the extent it could into its sphere of influence without directly waging a conventional war of direct confrontation with Eritrea once Eritrea was weakened militarily as the war of 1998-2000 was meant to accomplish such a task. There is a solid argument that can be made here that that was the case, which would be addressed in the next installment. At any rate, the only way Ethiopia saw fit to do this was through its will to political power that weakened severely the rest of the countries in the Horn in general and Eritrea in particular. Thus, the end of the 1998-2000 war was followed by “a policy of “deter, isolate and defeat” and eventual “defeat [of] Eritrea which was successful in deterring and isolating Isaias’ international engagements via the UNSC sanctions” (Gebrewahid, p.113). This was Ethiopia’s military, political, and diplomatic strategy of the 18 years following the cessation of hostilities between the countries. Ethnic Federalism that was part and parcel of Ethiopia’s political identity under Meles, its implementation was actively sought in Somalia, for example, to tribally divide it. In Eritrea religiously, ethnically, and provincially making it acceptable to create political parties operating in Ethiopia, the 2011 huge political gatherings of the opposition in Awasa were part and parcel of Ethiopia’s attempt to create a Horn in the image of the new Ethiopia’s ethnic based federal government.
The above is the anchor, the foreground, and the background that would enhance and frame our understanding on the recent civil war in Ethiopia in general and the TPLF/EPRDF’s two decades of elaborate warfare scheme that was supposed to bring the demise of the current regime in Eritrea. Alas, it ended up demising the TPLF instead. In other words, TPLF/EPRDF was able to use the former Soviet Union’s “active measures” as its model to bring Eritrea and Eritreans slowly and softly to their knees, politically speaking without a conventional war. The best definition of active measures comes from the book titled, “The Soviet Intelligence Officer’s Handbook” as “agent operational measures aimed at exerting useful influence on aspects of the political life of a target country which are of interest, its foreign policy, the solution of international problems misleading the adversary, undermining and weakening his positions, the disruption of hostile plans, and the achievement of other aims.8” The 27 years grip hold of power by TPLF in Ethiopia contains replete instances of political coercions, political imprisonments, disappearances, extrajudicial killings, massacres, and invasion of the neighboring sovereign nations.
The demoralization of Eritreans abroad did fabricate the crisis but could not have the desired effect of destabilization inside Eritrea as was the purpose and the intention of TPLF. Silence being the MO of Eritrea’s leadership, nobody seemed to know the power of the arsenal it had at its disposal. Certainly, TPLF didn’t know what was being accumulated in the 18 years that it felt it had Eritrea garrisoned. The only way to find out was after the conclusion of the war. As the recent singer lamented, “ትፈልጦ ኢኻ ኩናት ናየ እምሮ9”. Of course, the political and psychological warfare that TPLF waged against Eritreans abroad has worked in creating not only a weakened opposition to face the regime but opposition groups who could not agree on any propositions that they pen without being fractured and metastasized into several organizations. Apparently, not inside Eritrea. The demise of TPLF by the civil war, however, has given a renewed hope to the Eritrean government which we see now receiving its due political and diplomatic attention gathering from the State visit invitation it has had from China and now in Russia at the penning of this article. Eritreans abroad, too, now seem to have found their footing with those who clearly see the benefit of aligning with TPLF staying put in one corner and those who have yet to figure out how to oppose Eritrea the victor separating themselves from the regime while maintaining their allegiance to the territorial integrity, sovereignty of Eritrea and personal sovereignty of all Eritreans within Eritrean proper. Meanwhile, the people of Tigray and their leaders find themselves much as Europeans did in the aftermath of the conclusion of WWII. Hope they navigate out of this for a better course than a path of war. There can be a path to peace and wealth if they can make that heroic choice now and stay away from the destructive leaders they have chosen that led them to the civil war, the outcome of which has been nothing but a ruined Tigray.
2. Lovise Aalen , Kjetil Tronvoll, The 2008 Ethiopian local elections: The return of electoral authoritarianism, African Affairs, Volume 108, Issue 430, January 2009, Pages 111–120, https://doi.org/10.1093/afraf/adn066
3. Merera Gudina (2011) Elections and democratization in Ethiopia, 1991–2010, Journal of Eastern African Studies, 5:4, 664-680,DOI: 10.1080/17531055.2011.642524
4. J. Abbink, Discomfiture of democracy? The 2005 election crisis in Ethiopia and its aftermath, African Affairs, Volume 105, Issue 419, April 2006, Pages 173–199, https://doi.org/10.1093/afraf/adi122
5. Ethiopia: Ethnic Federalism and Its Discontents Crisis Group Africa Report N°153, 4 September 2009
6. Act of April 3, 1948, European Recovery Act [Marshall Plan]; Enrolled Acts and Resolutions of Congress, 1789-1996; General Records of the United States Government; Record Group 11; National Archives. https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/marshall-plan#:~:text=For%20the%20United%20States%2C%20the,II%20into%20the%20postwar%20years.
7. Perin, S. (2019/2020) “Active Soviet Measures” during the Cold War (thesis).pdf. http://hdl.handle.net/10579/19258
8. Cordry, H. V. (2002). Review of [Mitrokhin, Vasily, ed. KGB Lexicon: The Soviet Intelligence Officer’s Handbook. London: Frank Cass, 2002.] Journal of Conflict Studies, 22(2), 172–173.