Eritrean Opposition and Ethiopia’s Fast-Changing Politics
By Mahmud Saleh
Ethiopia’s political situation is deteriorating by the day. All indications reveal that EPRDF, the ruling party in Ethiopia is in crisis. Intra-party crisis (in fights) and external pressure (mass uprising) have shaken the grip of the EPRDF/TPLF, an organization that once seemed invincible. Grievances of marginalized communities have been seething for years, albeit disconnected and less organized. However, now, the resistance has coalesced into a national storm engulfing the nation. Local demands based on the mismanagement of their land resources, identity issues, and rights of proper political representation have now matured into a national political demand that TPLF must shrink to its actual size.
The current wave of popular resistance has indeed effected some changes. The PM was forced to announced his resignation, the government was pressured to release thousands of prisoners; government officials acted in an uncoordinated manner, sometimes contradicting each other; a state of emergency was re-imposed, Ethiopian mass and their leaders/activists have been emboldened by the gains they registered; they are more coordinated and more unified, and the events keep unraveling.
Instead of taking corrective measures at its earliest stages, the junta kept characterizing the mass uprising as activities instigated by “foreign forces,” implicating Eritrea and Egypt. It dismissed critics of its misguided policies and labeled peaceful activists as sellouts and terrorists. Ethiopian prison industry sprawled throughout the country housing civil right activists who wanted to use available constitutional tools. In a country where the TPLF is the author of the constitution, the implementer, and the interpreter, there was no chance for the peaceful activists to defend themselves. International condemnations have met deaf ears mainly because the USA views Ethiopia as an anchor country for its hegemony in the region.
Now that the mass uprising has reached a critical point, the factions making EPRDF are trading the blame. EPRDF is made up of four partners of differing weights, and TPLF has always been the dominant partner. Many Ethiopians describe EPRDF as TPLF’s Trojan horse, because, as an ethnic group that represented only 6% of the Ethiopian population, it used EPRDF as a cover to subdue Ethiopia. TPLF’s most prominent mistake was its reluctance to Ethiopianize itself. It failed to transform itself from a regional player to a national government that welcomes inclusiveness based on fair representation.
To the eyes of most Ethiopians, EPRDF is just a synonym to TPLF. To them, the government is not Ethiopian but TPLF, commonly known as Wayane, an organization that still operates based on its old mindset, as its unchanged name suggests- Tigray People’s Liberation Front. The army, security apparatus, the legislative branch (which is controlled 100% by EPRDF/TPLF), and the court system are referenced to by Ethiopian commoners as Wayane instruments. Greed blinded TPLF to morph into a national political organ that resembles Ethiopia’s diverse political and ethnic landscape.
Thanks to TPLF’s sinister motive, it introduced ethnic federalism to cut Ethiopia into parts of its size to rule it unchallenged. It has become clever in copying European style of divide and conquer. Despite its diverse ethnic composition (over 80 ethnic groups), Ethiopians have lived in harmony. All of the ethnic groups are proud of their Ethiopianness. The only entity that had an uneasiness with Ethiopianness is the current junta. Accordingly, TPLF and its supporters are positioning to manipulate the current upheaval to their benefit; they are characterizing the current democratic demands of Ethiopians as ethnic cleansing targeting Tigrians while at the same time keep inciting ethnic conflicts among non-Tigrian communities.
The victims of all these mayhem are poor Tigrians who have been targeted by some hooligans simply because of their ethnic affiliation. An Ethiopian friend explained that those hooligans don’t represent the theme of the uprising. He continued, “Tigrians’ identity and their future are inseparable from other Ethiopians, but they have to take the lead in condemning TPLF’s predatory policies because they are TPLF’s power-base.”
Indeed, Tigrians owe it to their martyrs. Unfortunately, the government seems to have not learned from the past. It still blames the crisis on maladministration. Nonetheless, the voices from the streets are ahead of issues of capacity and corruption. They are calling for fundamental political and constitutional changes and the end to TPLF dominance. Unless the government takes genuine and fundamental measures, quickly and orderly, for its own sake (highly unlikely), the situation could spiral down to chaos. And that is going to be unchartered territory for Ethiopia for the current confrontations could easily be manipulated by warriors.
A longtime Ethiopian friend summarized what ought to be done. He says the appropriate response would be for the regime to sit down with the opposition for paving a peaceful transitioning to meaningful democratic governance. But the government resorted to using the military, declaring a state of emergency. This is not done haphazardly. The TPLF controls the military and security apparatus, and there are plenty of indicators that elements in the military and security forces were pushing for the effective takeover of the state under the guise of national security imperatives.
Also, it is evident that the state of emergency is re-introduced to consolidate the overtaking of state powers and resources by the TPLF and those few around it who amassed wealth and prestige through its predatory policies. Therefore, in its real sense, this is a phase where Wayane is naked down to its true colors, reasserting state power using the same legal instruments it had implanted: the constitution, weak coalition, and military and security agencies that have been controlled by its cadres. As to where the situation is heading is anyone’s guess.
But how does Eritrean opposition square in the current struggle in Ethiopia? Does it stick with the forces of status quo or shift to the forces of change? Does it readjust its positions in tune with those who fight for fundamental human rights, inclusive political process and fair representation in Ethiopia or continues standing with the regime that is fighting back people’s demands brutally? If they choose to stick to the TPLF that has become anti-change and anti-inclusive politics, how does that reconcile with their prescribed mission that they stand for democratic change? Would not it be natural for them to align with the forces that are fighting for democratic change in Ethiopia? Part two will discuss the above questions.
ሰላም ለኢትዮጵያ ህዝቦች
By Mahmud Saleh
Note: this article was published on Meskerem.net, Assenna.com, and Snitna.com in February 2018. This was the first of what was supposed to be a series of three parts but the situation in Ethiopia and Ethio-Eritrean rapid process of normalization brought a paradigm shift on how we assess the relationship between the Eritrean opposition and Ethiopia. My plan was to how a liability Wayane was and now that point is self-evident needing no more explanation.