To get an idea of why the TPLF, which represents less than 6% of the population, has kept Ethiopia under continued repression, it is very significant to comprehend the tactics and techniques they have used and still use. And I will try in this paper to discuss some of them in the context of Ogaden region.
Article 39 of the constitution: This article distinctly stipulates that “Every nation, nationality or people in Ethiopia shall have the unrestricted right to self determination up to secession”. TPLF has used this article as a rallying point for the traditionally marginalised non-Amhara ethnic groups such as the Oromo and the Somalis. ONLF, which won the first and the only democratic election, held with a landslide victory, tried to capitalise on the provisions of this article and proposed a referendum to secede from Ethiopia but TPLF rejected the process. Many believe that ONLF’s initiative on this matter was injudicious and scantily measured. The article, however, still serves as a tool to marginalise the unionist Amhara, which constitutes 33 percent of the total population of Ethiopia, among other purposes.
Feud within communities and ethnic groups: One of the most prominent tactics that helped the minority TPLF regime to stay in power for this long is their “divide and rule policy”. In the case of Somali region, ONLF gave TPLF a golden opportunity when they alienated non-ogaden Somalis by appointing all cabinet positions to a single clan. TPLF abruptly helped the creation of thirteen marionette clan- based political organization in the region with seven of them having an indistinguishable acronym. Eventually, they formed the Ethiopian Somali Democratic League (ESDL) in Hurso camp near Diredawa town in the presence of the former transitional government prime minster, Tamerat Layne. As a part of this divide and rule scheme, TPLF had demoted and imprisoned top Ogaden leaders and promoted non-ogadens to run the regional administration. Even though, they-the non-ogaden leaders- bestowed their keen devotion and fidelity to TPLF, the manoeuvre for non-ogadens was not as successful as in Afar and Benshangul regions in Ethiopia. Hence, TPLF shifted its strategy and infiltrated into the opposition camp of Ogadens using huge amount of money and promise to give them the authority in the regional administration. During this same period, they persuaded the traditional leaders of the region (Sultan, Garad, and Ugas) to work as advisors at all levels of regional administration with an equivalent remuneration of cabinet members.
Derge regime as a TPLF’s performance evaluation benchmark: As the county had suffered by those autocratic and dictatorial regimes of the past, TPLF was seen as a relief in contrast with Derge regime. Thus, TPLF has worked very hard to keep the bloody, monstrous, ugly and repressive picture of the Derge in the mind of Ethiopian people. After nearly 20 years in power, the current regime still evaluates performance indicators in contrast with the past, and surprisingly enough, they don’t consider resource distribution, regional development disparities and the right of political participation as a benchmark for evaluation. This, however, has been well recognised by the majority of the Ethiopian, and it became one of the least effective tactics of TPLF.
Marxist-Lennist tools: TPLF’s socialistic ideology, which started as a Marxist Leninist League of Tigrai’s (MLLT,) helped them to apply the so called “the principle of democratic centralism”. In TPLF, you might discuss new issues, but once the decision is taken all members of the parties should have to abide by the decree. With the exception of the 2000 split within TPLF, it is really very difficult for anyone to detect if there is any political differences among TPLF members. From the top leader Meles to the lowest cadre member, they all convey the same message, and if you wonder, that is also another effective tactic of the TPLF regime to brainwash party members by using constant political training. For instance, all members of the party have an obligation to buy and read a political newspaper “woyane” once in a week. In comparison, internal division within ONLF or for that matter other opposition parties in Ethiopia like OLF and CUD can be easily detected.
TPLF also assigns a political cadre with undisputable authority to oversee all regional administrations. In our case, Mr. Tewolde is the real power broker behind the scene and he uses one of the TPLF widely known Albanian socialist ammunition-“Gemgema” (self critics) to keep the region politics in the context of TPLF policy. “Gemgema “is developed by the TPLF during their struggle time as a means to ensure accountably and decision-making in the TPLF army. It is usually conducted in a mass meeting format, and it is an effective strategy to keep other nation and nationalities in Ethiopia to be busy in criticizing each other and don’t get the time to think what TPLF is doing in Tigray Region and the rest of the country. Here is where TPLF caders exploit the opportunity to harass community members and political leaders by tagging them as an ONLF and Al-Itahad members or sympathizers.
Loyalist versus leaders: One major difference between the Derge and TPLF lies in how they select regional politicians and how they treat them afterwards. TPLF believes that loyalty overrides leadership qualities, and select candidates from a pool of, social rejecters, the less educated, and opportunists that can be controlled by their needs. Meles and other top TPLF leaders are on the record supporting this ideology. In a region where literacy rate is less than 10%, where poverty is rampant and the clannish mentality still plays significant role in life, TPLF still has so many to choose who are in a weaker position to engage in successful political manoeuvre against them.
War on terror: After the 2000 revolt within the TPLF leadership the political grip of the regime loosened a bit and reached its peak in 2005 national elections when unexpectedly the opposition’s parties won the election in most urban areas. However, a window of opportunity opened up after Islamist groups took over Somalia and the dying regime as the manner of the cold war tactic against communism, allies itself with US against war on terrorism. Here, Meles got the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. First, he got political and financial support in pretext of fighting terrorism, and second he got away with the Gambella genocide and election related civilian deaths. The global geopolitical situation can always bring unexpected opportunities, but the TPLF regime has optimally utilised the opportunity and tried to tag all opposition parties into US list and almost succeeded to add Al-itahad ,nevertheless the Americans have realised that this group does not have a public support nor base in Somali region.
By using these and other political tactics compounded by a firm control of the army and intelligence leadership, TPLF has created uncountable multi-million dollar business organisations in order to control the economy of the country. As a result Tigre region has become one of the most developed states in Ethiopia in terms of Basic social services, Infrastructure, Manufacturing (industrialization), Agriculture, Insurance and Banking. Some of these giant corporations and agencies include Federal, Endowment Fund for Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT), Relief Society of Tigrai (REST), Dedebit Bank, Wogugen Bank, Africa Insurance, Mibuot and Shoa Emneben and various factories.
In conclusion, all nations and nationalities of Ethiopia are fed up with the TPLF regime and the willingness to accept this despotic regime as a ruler has reached its lowest level since 1991. However, unless all opposition parties in Ethiopia organise themselves in a more credible and realistic manner, the political dynamics may remain the same for long time. TPLF regime makes little distinction between armed and unarmed opposition, and in my view, all opposition parties in Ethiopia might consider uniting themselves under one umbrella.