By Gemechu Aba Biya
During its twenty-seven-year stay in power, the TPLF used to tell us that if it were removed from power, Ethiopia would fall into a political crisis from which it will never recover. Meles Zenawi, Mesfin Seyoum, Sebhat Negga, and the other TPLF bigwigs warned us that if the TPLF loses power, Ethiopia will become another Rwanda. They bragged about how the Ethiopian people should be grateful for being ruled by such a farsighted political party. We ought to be appreciative.
It has now been more than a year since the TPLF was ousted from power and the sky hasn’t fallen. None of the TPLF’s dire predictions have materialized although the TPLF has tried everything to ensure that is the case. The TPLF, it has been alleged, was behind the assassination attempt on the Prime Minster on June 23, 2018, the killing of the chief engineer of the Great Renaissance Dam, and the recent killing of General Saere Mekonnen, whom it considers a traitor because he renounced ethnic politics.
The TPLF reportedly provides the finances, the arms, and the instigators for most of the ethnic conflicts that are taking pace in Ethiopia today. It is exploiting the lawlessness in the country created by the ineptitude of the Abiy government. Yes, Ethiopia faces political problems, in large part because of the TPLF’s sabotage, but the country hasn’t turned into a Rwanda, thanks to the wisdom of the Ethiopian people.
The TPLF and its supporters exaggerate the political problems in Ethiopia. For example, Assefa Fiseha, The Director of the Institute of Federalism at Addis Ababa University, claims that there’s so much political turmoil in in Ethiopia that the only means of transportation between Addis Ababa and the other cities is by air. This is patently false.
Absent large-scale political crisis in Ethiopia that will enable the TPLF to come to power through the back door, it is now pushing for secession by advocating independence for all ethnic groups in Ethiopia that will later form an ethnic confederation. There is an Ethiopian proverb that aptly describes the TPLF’s current position: “A donkey says let there be no grass after I die”. This translates into a TPLF slogan: “unless we rule, let Ethiopia ruin”. The TPLF is using its intellectual heavyweights to advance separation by promoting the creation of separate ethnic states as a solution to the political impasse in Ethiopia. One such individual is Medhane Tadesse , a professor of contemporary history at King’s College, who is energetically promoting the establishment of ethnic states in Ethiopia.
The scheme to use ethnic states
In a presentation at a conference held at Mekele University on July 6, he makes wild, ahistorical, and unsubstantiated claims to advance the TPLF’s political agenda. He asserts that the process of state formation in Ethiopia is identical to the state formation that took place in 19th century Europe, as opposed to the state formation that happened in the 20th century in the rest of Africa. He concludes that since the great European empires of the 19th century, such as the Austro-Hungarian empire, were unable to accommodate the national aspirations of their various constituent ethnic groups, the empires had to disintegrate into the various ethnic states. Similarly, because Ethiopia has been unable to successfully address the national question despite the various efforts to address the issue from the 1960s onwards, the only solution to the ongoing political problem is to create ethnic states.
He lists several historical events in Ethiopia and Europe that he inaccurately maintains are substantively the same. He goes on to blame Ethiopia for the political quagmire in the Horn of Africa, Somalia’s failed state and the civil war in Southern Sudan. He asks, rather gravely, how do we explain the presence of so many “national liberation fronts” in Ethiopia, other than the burning desire to establish ethnic states? When proposing the ethnic-state-solution for Ethiopia, he admonishes us that “we should deal with what we have rather than what we wish”, with a grandiose professorial stance. He denounces the Amhara-Oromo alliance that toppled the TPLF rule. He calls for a council of Killil presidents to rule Ethiopia. However, howHhis presentation, replete with pomposity that may have impressed some of the semiliterate TPLF cadres and extremist ethnic nationalists in the audience, lacks substance.
Lets us examine each of the claims he makes to support the separation of Tigray. The problem with his argument is that there is no relationship between his separatist ploy and his blustery declarations. The historical parallel he attempts to draw between Ethiopia and Europe is widely off the mark. The collapse of the European empires in the 19th century was due to the development of capitalism in Europe, but whether one calls the Ethiopian state of the 19th century an empire or not, its economy was certainly not capitalist.
Second, while it’s true that some empires in Europe dissolved, some have turned into multi-ethnic states. The Russian federation is an excellent example. Even after the European empires collapsed, the resulting states have become multiethnic states. In Romania, there are different ethnic groups, Romanians, Germans, Hungarians, Russians, Ukrainians, and others. Indeed, almost all of the countries in the word today are multiethnic states, contrary to the wishes of Medhane.
If we were to follow Medhane’s solution to the political problems facing Africa, the continent will have to be divided into thousands of ethnic states. His own Killil Tigray itself will have to be further divided into Amhara, Irob, Kunama, Saho, and Tigray ethnic states. This is an impossible dream to achieve. The overwhelming existence of multiethnic states in Europe and elsewhere contradicts his claim. He fails to follow his own advice of distinguishing between political reality and what he desires.
He also makes numerous inaccurate historical comparisons between Ethiopia and Europe. He asserts that the 1848 revolution in France is the same as the 1974 military take over in Ethiopia. First, this example is inconsistent with his main hypothesis that the European empires broke up into ethnic states. In 1848, France was not an empire. He erroneously refers to the 1848 revolution as the Jacobian Revolution, the French Revolution, which took place in 1789. It is a minor point, but strange that a history professor confuses the two revolutions.
Second, his assertion conflates appearance with substance. The revolution in France was an uprising of the working class to protect its rights against the constitutional monarchy, whereas in Ethiopia it was a military take over led by the Derg that introduced the political and economic changes. Medhane, despite his heroic attempt to search for stories that justify the TPLF’s separatist scheme, is too muddled to see beyond superficial similarities of historical events in Ethiopia and Europe.
Meles is no Lenin
He boldly claims that the assumption of power by the TPLF in 1991 is identical to the 1917 revolution in Russia. Nothing can be farther from the truth. To say that the ascendance of the TPLF to power is the same as the Russian revolution is like saying an ant is an elephant. In case Medhane had forgotten, the Russian revolution was led by the Bolshevik Party, a Marxist internationalist party that was dedicated to fighting for the interests of workers and peasants, while the TPLF is a narrow minded, exclusionary, backward looking ethnic party dedicated to establishing a separate ethnic Tigray Republic. The leader of the Bolshevik party was Vladimir Lenin; that of the TPLF, Meles Zenawi.
The contrast between the two gentlemen couldn’t be greater. Lenin was a Marxist intellectual giant, Meles was is a minnow ethnic nationalist operative. Lenin defended the interests of his country, Meles betrayed his country. Lenin was a patriot who laid down the economic foundation for the great transformation of the Soviet Union, Meles was a traitor who sold Ethiopia’s territory to the Sudan and turned Ethiopia into a landlocked country. Lenin tried to promote national unity, Meles planted ethnic time bombs to destroy Ethiopia. Should I say any further?
Medhane doesn’t explain as to how and why Ethiopia is the source of the political problems in Somalia and Southern Sudan. He simply asserts it. Since he fails to provide any explanation, he may as well blame Ethiopia for the crisis in Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen. Why not?
His views on Ethiopia have obviously evolved since the TPLF lost power. Two years ago, Medhane was arguing that given the presence of foreign powers in the Red Sea area, Ethiopia should play the leading role in stabilizing the region. Now, he disingenuously argues that Ethiopia has historically been the source of all political problems in the Horn. What has changed? How is it possible for a country that he deemed to be a source of stability two years ago has magically transformed into being a source of instability? The only thing that has changed is that the TPLF no longer rules Ethiopia. He may have also lost his remuneration as an adviser to the EPRDF government. The TPLF’s loss of power has transformed the attitude of Medhane and the other supporters of the TPLF towards Ethiopia.
His inconsistency reflects the love-hate mind-set the TPLF harbors towards Ethiopia. When the TPLF was in power, it adored Ethiopia. We all remember how the TPLF was telling us that under its rule, Ethiopia was rising, that Ethiopia was achieving its past glory, that Ethiopia was on its path to its great renaissance, and so on. When the TPLF is out of power, it hates Ethiopia. Ethiopia has reverted to being a penal colony that incarcerates ethnic groups, the source of all evil that must be destroyed. This is precisely the attitude that Medhane’s argument reflects.
Explaining the “liberation fronts”
Medhane asks, “how do we explain the presence of so many liberation fronts in Ethiopia in the 1970s, if not for the determination to establish ethnic states”? The answer is simple. For strategic and tactical reasons, the struggle for Eritrea’s independence created a number of “liberation fronts” both inside Eritrea and in the rest of Ethiopia, including the TPLF. The desire for independence has never been the goal of Ethiopia’s various ethnic groups. Independence may have been the objective of some narrow-minded leaders. Some enterprising politicians also called for independence of their ethnic groups to enhance their bargaining position with the central government, as recently admitted by Obo Lencho Letta. Some politicians foresaw the demand for political independence as a way of enriching themselves. The rags to riches stories of people like Abay Tsehaye, Mesfin Seoum, and Sebhat Nega, to name just a few, illustrates that motive. These are the reasons, no need to pontificate.
More significantly, the TPLF and Medhane have been telling us the national question has been successfully resolved by the EPRDF. If that is indeed the case, if the ethnic question has been adequately resolved with the creation of ethnic enclaves, why is it necessary to create ethnic states now? The Abiy government, whatever its weaknesses maybe, has not re-introduced “the national oppression of Tigrayans”; Oromos have not colonized Tigryans. Medhane’s call for the creation of independent ethnic states is inconsistent with his previous statements and the TPLF’s repeated claim that it has successfully resolved the national question. A problem that has been resolved needs no new solution.
A false premise
Medhane implores with us that we should deal with what we have and not what we wish. For him, what we have is the demand for independent ethnic states by the different ethnic groups and what we wish is national unity advanced by a few unnamed politicians (dare I say the dreadful Amharas?). He doesn’t provide any evidence to substantiate his claim. He just states his secessionist aspiration. Contrary to his assertion, most of the separatist movements, such as the various factions of the OLF, the ONF, and the other political groups have in fact renounced secession and are openly advocating national unity. There may be a small number of TPLF cadres who are frustrated about losing political power and are agitating for secession.
Second, even if certain political parties are dedicated to independences, it doesn’t mean that the other political forces should fatalistically accede to the demand. Medhane’s fatalistic attitude stifles action by political actors that are opposed to secession. Third, political reality, if it is undesirable, can be changed for something better willfully. In general, fatalism prohibits political action for desirable political objectives. Again, his professorial appeal to distinguish between “what is and what should be” is all smoke and mirrors; it is another shaky pretext to support Tigrayan secession. The truth is that support for secession in Ethiopia has never been lower than it is today in the last 50 years. That is the reality, not my wish.
He doesn’t follow his own sermon. He preaches that we should analyze the objective reality, but then emotionally denounces the alliance between the Amhara and Oromo people that overthrew the TPLF dictatorship. He calls it “racist, boastful, and fleeting”, while the alliance of “federalist forces”, the unity of like-minded extremist ethnic nationalists that he tries to create for the dissolution of Ethiopia is obviously the opposite. Denunciation is not analysis. Neither is exhortation.
To destroy Ethiopia, the TPLF frantically needs the collaboration of other extremist ethnic nationalists, just as it needed the collaboration, facilitation, and partnership of other political groups to come to and stay in power. To gain the support of extremist ethnic nationalists, the TPLF is now advancing “a loose federation” or “an ethnic confederation” under the guise of solving the political situation in Ethiopia. But it is evident that the TPLF cares little about the well being of the other ethnic groups in Ethiopia as it had been oppressing and exploiting them for the last twenty-seven years; yet, it covets to use them for its own separatist plan. It realizes that if it were to declare independence on its own, an independent Tigray is economically unfeasible. For an economically viable Tigray Republic, the TPLF needs mini, weak, fragmented ethnic states. Such states can easily be economically exploited and politically dominated, the TPLF dreams.
It is unlikely that the Ethiopian government would allow for such an arrangement or the Ethiopian people, including the Tigrayan people, would accept the dissolution of Ethiopia, despite the flirtation with the idea by extremist Oromo nationalists like the intellectually bankrupt and attention-seeking Hezkiel Gabissa.
What the TPLF fails to understand is that the Ethiopian people are exhausted from its threats of separation. Ever since it lost power, the TPLF has been menacing the Ethiopian people with separating Tigray by issuing more than 20 statements, communiques, and press releases. The threats, the extortions, and the blackmailing must stop. Many Ethiopians are willing to say bonne voyage so that Ethiopia will at last have the peace it deserves to get on with the business of addressing poverty, disease, and illiteracy. Bonne chance!