The American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was long aware that the basic long-term goal of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that had been fighting against Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Marxist regime in the 70 and 80’s was to supplant Amhara domination with Tigrean hegemony, according to previously unpublished records.
A top secret CIA memo, dating to 4 November 1983, states that the TPLF’s goals have never been clear, yet citing a Tigrean spokesperson wrote, “the Front would like to see the government of Ethiopia established a civilian-led federation, providing for the full and equal participation of the various nationalities in the country. Failing this, he stated that the TPLF would like to acquire either a strong measure of autonomy or full independence for the province. We believe, however that the basic long-term goal of supplanting Amhara domination with Tigrean hegemony,” it reads.
The memo prepared by CIA’s Horn of Africa Branch, Office of African and Latin American Analysis, made it clear that the TPLF, launched by a small group of university students calling for national autonomy for their northern province of Tigray in 1975, had taken advantage of Addis Ababa’s preoccupation with the rebellion in neighbouring Eritrean province to expand its military operations significantly since 1980. “Despite its gains in the past three years, the TPLF clearly lacks the strength to achieve victory militarily,” the report predicted.
The TPLF would later join with other forces to form the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front that took power in Addis Ababa in 1991. The Tigreans who represent six percent of the Ethiopian population had always vied with the Amhara, the larger ethnic group and historically one of the most politically and economically powerful groups within the country for power in the Ethiopia state.
“Since the late 1970’s the TPLF had sought economic and military assistance from several Arab states- especially Saudi Arabia- and the West. The movement’s Marxist reputation and predominantly Christian membership have effectively deterred Arab support, and there has been little support from Western nations unwilling to jeopardize relations with Addis Ababa. As result, the TPLF has been forced to rely on arms captured from the Ethiopians or those provided by such sources as Sudan and the larger, more self-sufficient EPLF, which has large stock of captured equipment and the capability both to produce some light armaments and repair damaged weapons and vehicles,” according to the memo.