The TPLF Should Stop Digging
By: Asgede Hagos
October 18, 2003

I don't remember who it was who said it but the advice that "when you find yourself in a hole, you should stop digging" is a good one and the TPLF leadership, from the prime minister on down, should heed it.

The historic missteps, miscalculations and missed opportunities since it unleashed all its military, political, economic and diplomatic arsenal against Eritrea and Eritreans are astounding. Every time some thing opened up promising peace, the TPLF made sure it did not happen. Its calculation: the best way for this badly weakened minority regime, with virtually no social base in the center, to stay in power and ward off the opposition at home is to be guided by the logic of war and maintain a climate of no-war, no-peace. However, this gambit is putting the minority regime deeper and deeper into the proverbial hole and its obstructionist tactics are accelerating its descent, threatening to drag everyone around it to come along for the downward ride. The law of unintended consequences is fully at work here.

Let us look, for example, at its latest gamble in which the TPLF leadership stirs its sworn enemies-the ultra nationalists who see themselves as the only legitimate heirs to Mengistu and Haile Selassie-to come out and demonstrate, especially abroad, to show the international community that "the people" don't accept the Hague ruling on the border, and also as a way of pressuring Eritrea for a dialogue on an issue the entire world says and Ethiopia signed to be "final and binding." However, the TPLF and the prime minister himself ended up being the primary targets of the demonstrations. These groups, like the TPLF, have been trying to milk the demarcation issue politically. They are all trying to sell "peace" in the open market to extract whatever they can from the international community. No matter what the prime minister or the TPLF does, these groups will see the demarcation issue as a convenient weapon against the minority government in Addis Ababa. However, though they are still smarting about the Red Sea-about which they grew up hearing so much untruth--deep inside they know they don't have a snowball's chance in hell to re-colonize Eritrea. Ethiopia's annexation of Eritrea came with the Cold War and ended with the Cold War.

The law of untended consequences also provides stark lessons for the ultra nationalists. Though their wars against Eritrea and Eritreans the last four decades have been fought in the name of "Ethiopian unity," it looks every engagement has taken the empire closer and closer towards disintegration. Today, the fragmentation is such that none of the armed groups in Ethiopia is trying to keep the country together. This also applies to the TPLF whose primary agenda has always been Tigray and not Ethiopia, though lately it has been portraying itself as the savior of this troubled nation.

The most recent flurry of letters and statements from Addis Ababa denigrating the work of the Hague Boundary Commission designed to delay or derail the demarcation process, also seems to have had the exact opposite effect. Meles, in one stroke, blew the very cover he has been working so hard to hide his intransigence on the demarcation from the international community which has been trying to help solve the border conflict with Eritrea peacefully and legally. As a result, all he has gotten from his latest gambit is worldwide condemnation and rejection. The world also has managed to take a peek into the true nature not only of the prime minister, but also of the entire TPLF leadership.

Furthermore, when we strip away all the veils that the TPLF has been using to cover up the real reason or reasons behind the "border war," there is no question that it was launched and fought for Tigray, for Greater Tigray, at the expense of Eritrea and Eritreans. But, let us look at Tigray today, compared to the pre-war years of the mid 1990s, when it was a growing economic, political, and even diplomatic hub, reversing a century of decline in the hands of successive Amhara rulers. It was viewed as a center, if not as the center, of power in the country. However, today, as a result of the "border war," which created deep divisions within the leadership and the rest of Tigrayans, and loss of an ally in Eritrea, that fleeting shine seems to have gone at least for now, and the subregion's place in the Ethiopian polity is diminished significantly. Its economy is in a state of paralysis. One of Meles' latest ploys with regards to the border ruling may be to extract more assistance from the international community for Tigray, but it is not likely to reverse the decline of the region as a force to reckon within Ethiopia. The dream of Greater Tigray is as blurry today as when the TPLF launched its armed struggle nearly three decades ago.

The TPLF also continues to believe that public relations can change reality. We saw this in its incessant portrayal of Eritrea as the aggressor in the border conflict, and in its attempt to cover up its defeat in the Hague ruling on April 13, 2002. What we are seeing today with regards to Badme is part of an established pattern of diplomatic and political culture: if you repeat a lie long enough, it would turn into reality. However, as the Boundary Commission said in it latest statement regarding the issue, even the maps that Ethiopia submitted as evidence show Badme on the Eritrean side. It looks reality has come down with vengeance and the world, which the TPLF almost fooled on these and tens of other issues, has finally come to see the truth.

It is reassuring to know that no amount of public relations can hide the truth-forever.