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TPLF’s Strategy of Divide-and-Rule has Exhausted its Steam and Utility

by Nahome Freda

After twenty-five years of insidious and systemic usurpation, the TPLF, ruling in the name of the people of Tigray, has managed to bring the country’s politics and economy under its total control. It employed the age-old divide-and-rule technique and pitched one ethnic group against another while it tightened its grip on power and steal the country’s wealth. The TPLF’s domination is so pervasive and almost complete the party has become indistinguishable from the government. The TPLF has effectively transformed the latter into an instrument for subjugating the people and plundering their resources. The TPLF hardliners act not as temporary custodians of this great people and nation but as bandits ready to strangle their prey (including Tigrains) if their grip on power is seriously threatened. For all practical purposes, the TPLF has become a homegrown colonizer and an obstacle for a widely-shared aspiration for equality and freedom.

The TPLF War of Mass Distraction

The TPLF’s raison d’etre is now to maintain its privileged status as “more equal than others” at any cost. Any challenge to its repugnant rule is met with brute force. Since the beginning of the popular apprising last year, it has murdered in cold blood hundreds and arrested thousands, including women and minors. Ethiopia’s prisons are teeming with prisoners of conscious, the streets are awash with the bloods of its children, and homes filled with grieving mothers. Those that managed to escape are fleeing their country in pursuit of freedom. Because of its reprehensible actions, the TPLF has lost the legitimacy to rule. The TPLF and its supporters should realize that after years of docile slumber, the majority of Ethiopians have awakened with justified anger and determination to change their fate and the fate of their country for the better. From here on, there is no retreat without securing freedom.

What started last year as disparate regional governance complaints have quickly aligned and coalesced into a national demand for ending TPLF’s colonial-like rule. The people of Ethiopia have shredded TPLF’s curtain of fear and are reaching out to one another in spirit and action from Ambo to Gondar, from Baherdar to Dembidolo, from Konso to Afar, and from Gambela to Wollow. People from all corners have risen and are demanding their freedom. The TPLF response has been the usual. The people asked for an accountable and transparent government and they got showered with bullets and clobbered with batons. They demanded land rights and a ban on forceful incorporation and they were insulted terrorists and got murdered by sharpshooters. They demanded an end to segregationist polices and they were branded anti-peace elements and were either murdered or thrown into mass concentration camps. They demanded respect for constitutional rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly and they were mercilessly attacked. The TPLF has pushed the people to their limits. Their reservoir of patience has overflown with pain, anguish, and injustice. Hence their revolt!

The TPLF’s two-pronged Strategy  

To thwart the revolt, the TPLF has adopted a two-pronged strategy of scapegoating some expendable regional leaders and replacing them with thoroughly discredited and despised former cadres and splintering the growing Oromo-Amhara alliance by appeasing one over the other. It is a favored TPLF divide-and-conquer strategy of making a token of concession to one while isolating and crushing the other. Once the isolated group is crushed, the TPLF would train its vengeance on the one temporarily appeased with a token concession. The TPLF thinks it can crush one after the other and continue its dominance unchallenged. Here in rests the TPLF’s folly — its failure to accept that its divide-and-conquer strategy has exhausted its currency as a governing tactic. Besides it is an insult to the century-old and deeply ingrained sense of justice and fair play manifested in the culture and tradition of both people. At the practical level, both people recognize that one cannot live in peace while the other is attacked because their destinies are inseparably intertwined by geography and centuries of marriage, trade, religion, and culture. The two great people share deep moral bondage and aversion to injustice, which has been reignited by TPLF’s own evil miscalculations. Injustice against any Ethiopian is injustice against all. The cry for justice in Wollega echoes in Gondar and vise-a-versa. In so doing, the two great people are reasserting their noble culture and declaring who they are as people.

Under the first element of the TPLF’s strategy, some unlucky regional leaders are likely to be thrown under the bus and sacrificed, which is likely to fuel further resentment and aggravate the already strained intra-EPRDF relations. Without the support of its satellite parties, the TPLF’s tenuous hold on the strings of power is going to slip further and sooner or later break loose. The TPLF and its supporters should realize that the majority of Ethiopians can no longer tolerate the pain, humiliation, and degradation of living under a system of deception, darkness, and hopelessness foisted on them by a narrow-minded internal colonizer. The people will no longer be cowed or tricked by divide-and-rule treachery into submission. Their struggle is transforming into a national struggle for liberation and can only be answered through a genuine and fundamental change that ushers freedom and equality for all.

The Tragedy of Contemporary Ethiopian Political History

The biggest tragedy of contemporary Ethiopian political history is perhaps the ascendance of a hardline and radical minority ethnic group to national power and its introduction of ethnic politics as a constitutionally sanctioned governing model for the multiethnic country. The system was introduced with the sinister aim of ensuring the dominance of the TPLF at the expense of all other ethnicities. At this late stage, no one is buying the TPLF’s claim that all ethnicities have equal say in the Ethiopian government and that “theirs” is just one among many co-equals. But in truth, the EPRDF is nothing but a facade masquerading as a coalition of co-equals. Look around at who wields key political, military, security, economic and financial decision-making power in the country and the breadth and depth of TPLF’s dominance becomes supremely clear. In today’s Ethiopia, the people have come to perceive the TPLF as an internal colonizer and their degraded second-class citizen status humiliating and unacceptable. As a result, the TPLF has become an abomination and an object of derision for most Ethiopians. The solidifying alliance among Ethiopians, particularly the Ormos and the Amharas, stems from recognizing this common humiliation and a deepening desire to end it. They are yearning for leaders who can stand shoulder-to-shoulder and bring freedom and dignity for all people.

It took sometime but in the end the TPLF’s short sighted policy of divide-and-rule has boomeranged on no one but the source of the evil itself. They are debunking the TPLF by its own standard and saying to it — how come you hold the lion’s share of political and economic power, even though you claim to represent only six percent of the population? They are asking — how come the OPDO and ANDEM, who in combination claim to represent close to 70 percent of the population, are subservient to the TPLF? Be this as it may be, Ethiopia’s traumatic experience of the past twenty-five years has amply demonstrated the fundamental shortcomings of this system for fairly and justly governing diverse Ethiopia. Such a system is an abomination and if forcefully implemented straightforward will, inter alia, put ethnic minorities of which there is no shortage in Ethiopia (close to 80) in perpetual disadvantage. In the short-term, there is no argument that this skewed strategy has enabled Tigray to handsomely benefit at the expense of all other regions, fueling hatred and resentment against fellow Tigraians. Clearly, this does not bode well for Tigraians or for that matter any ethnic group. Hence, the argument that the TPLF didn’t have the long-term interests of the people of Tigray (or other minorities) at heart when it ill-conceived and forcefully imposed ethnic politics on the country. Thanks to the TPLF, the multiplicity of ethnic liberation fronts is astounding and is a latent threat for the peaceful co-existence of all. That is why the larger cause of our struggle should be to liberate the TPLF and its ilk from hate politics.

The second tragedy I believe is the TPLF becoming a prisoner of its own hardline stance and becoming incapable of extracting itself out of the toxic politics of hate. The TPLF, led by hardliners stuck in time and thinking like the leaders of the former Soviet Union, has become an ossified organization. We know what finally happened to the unreformed leaders of the USSR and their empire. The same fate awaits the TPLF and its hardline leaders. Despite enjoying twenty-five years of unrivaled national political and economic power, the TPLF never managed to reconstruct itself as a national party and appeal to the majority of Ethiopians. Instead, the insular and insecure TPLF leaders chose to hide behind deceptive ethnic politics to sustain their grip on power at the expense of the long-term interest of all Ethiopians.

There is no better example of the TPLF’s sad status as a prisoner of its own hateful politics than its leaders’ decision to maintain the exclusionist and secessionist name of the organization a quarter century into national power. It boggles the mind from what subjugation the TPLF intends to ‘liberate’ itself from, while it remains at the apex of political and economic power in the country. I believe herein lies the TPLF’s Achilles heel and the genesis of its demise long in the making. One would assume that after staying in power for so long and experiencing firsthand the greatness of the people and the country they lead, the TPLF leaders would adopt a more conciliatory tone to the country’s past and present and the people they happen to govern. Alas, it is easier for the leopard to change its skin color than for the hardliners in the TPLF to change their toxic and hateful nature.

The more the TPLF hardliners amassed power and wealth the more they became greedy, arrogant, Machiavellian, and murderous. Gradually, this became unbearable even to some docile TPLF viceroys who govern the various regions on the latter’s behalf. The recent actions/inaction of the ANDEM and the OPDM, especially at middle and lower management levels, vis-à-vis protestors speaks volumes where these key constituents stand on the issue of equitable governance. Their increasing defiance against the TPLF and/or their overt/covert sympathy for demonstrators has left the bully completely necked and isolated. If the TPLF’s dominance continues unabated, it won’t be too long before non-TPLF members of the EPRDF openly join the protestors and turn their fury against their boss. The ever expanding and deepening anger fueling the turmoil engulfing the country is thus the result of this blind and distractive arrogance. No wonder, except a dwindling number of sycophantic supporters likely to be implicated with crime in the future, the majority of Ethiopians have long parted ways with the TPLF.

The third tragedy I believe rests in the silence (worse the strong support) of most Tigraian elites both inside and outside the country in the face of a homegrown colonialization by a group organized in the name of the great people of Tigray. What does it take for these influencers to see the glaring injustice and the coming calamity for our country and people and do the right thing?  It is especially disheartening to see the majority of those living and enjoying minority protections in Western democracies remain silent.

The TPLF has proven beyond a shadow of doubt that it has become a risk and liability to the majority of Ethiopians, particularly Tigraians. Thanks to the TPLF, Tigraians now live with a sense of siege (sometimes purposely fanned by the TPLF) in various parts of their own country. If indeed the TPLF had the interest of the minority people of Tigray at heart, it would have fought for a multiparty democratic system that recognizes and protects the rights of all minorities based on the universal principles of individual and equal rights for all citizens. Sadly, many influential Tigraian elites in and outside the country have chosen to turn blind to the pain and anguish of their fellow citizens. History will judge them harshly for their failure to raise their voices when it maters the most as they did to end similar repressive regimes in recent Ethiopian history.

The TPLF and its Future

The TPLF’s survival in some form as a viable political contender in Ethiopian politics moving forward rests on key conciliatory steps it must urgently take and on seeking a negotiated settlement. These include: releasing without precondition the political leaders and their supporters it has arrested, launching an independent and credible investigation into the killings, beatings and arrests of peaceful protestors, opening up the political space for the opposition to function without harassment and intimidation, and creating a conducive environment for the media and civil society to operate freely in the country. The question is: does the TPLF, even at this late stage has the will to do so? Sadly, the TPLF’s two-pronged strategy of scapegoating some regional leaders and temporarily appeasing one group over another is not going to remedy anything. In fact, it will make things worse.

The currency of TPLF’s divide-and-rule system has exhausted its steam and utility. Ending this retrograde and nefarious system has become a rallying point among the disenfranchised majority. The demands of the Oromo and the Amhara have now converged into a national agenda for the removal of the TPLF from power. Fortunately, the level of cooperation between the two has attained qualitative leap and maturity since the apprising started last year. In the long-run, the country will benefit from peace and development dividends from this growing cooperation and collaboration. Leaders from both sides should be commended for their wise decisions so far and are encouraged never to succumb to TPLF’s machinations. While the ground is shifting rapidly under their feet, the hardliners in the TPLF are dancing to the same old and tired tune of divide-and-rule at their own peril. A negotiated settlement is, more than anything else, in the interest of those untainted with crime and their supporters who have handsomely benefited from the system. Such a settlement would perhaps allow them to protect and retain some influence. As history has repeatedly shown, no governmental power can win a sustained and unified confrontation against its own people. The stronger the unity of taught and action among the opposition the stronger their ability to sustain collective pressure on TPLF and quicken its demise.

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