With mounting protest against TPLF supremacy, what is the way out?
After nearly three decades of ethnic-based federal structure and political mobilization along ethnic lines which led to radicalized competing ethnic nationalism (ethno-supremacist tendency in some cases), Ethiopia is now plunged to what looks like an insurmountable ethnic violence which can degenerate to civil war, if unchecked.
Even in the face of worsening violence TPLF does not seem to have foresight and wisdom, as was the case in the past, to imagine impending danger for the country and even to the people it claims to represent. It is still pre-occupied with the task of regaining control and dominance over the country ironically through strategies and policies that created the existing problems.
This same party that pioneered ethnic-based politics, saw strategic advantage in manufactured and manageable ethnic conflict in the past as a means to maintain a hold on power. Even social relation within University campuses were ethicized by design as part of the strategy to manufacture manageable ethnic conflict. As it turns out, the strategy is backfiring and it proved to be incapable of controlling the unfolding violence through state structures.
Ethnic violence has now entered a stage of retaliatory killings. An innocent citizen could be killed for the simple reason of not being from the same ethnicity as the values of being from the same country has been undermined and destroyed by the ruling party.
Last month, fans of Gonder city and Bahir Dar city soccer teams were attacked in Tigray – where they traveled to cheer their respective teams. When Mekelle city fans showed up in Woldia for the December 3rd match against the host city which was rather perceived as a soccer match between two ethnic groups (Amhara and Tigre), what happened was unprecedented violence in the recent history of the city; one Mekelle fan was reportedly killed and business of Tigray in the city was attacked. What is said to have triggered the clash is ethnic slur from Mekelle fans against Amhara. Clearly, the attack on Mekelle city fans was also meant to be a payback for the attack on fans of Gonder and Bahir Dar cities.
In the ensuing days, commitment to retaliate ethnic killing was taken to a whole new level in Tigray. On December 10, an innocent student from Gojjam, Amhara region, was killed when he was thrown alive from students’ building by a group of radical Tigre students at Adigrat University. Some other students of Amhara and Oromo ethnicity were also attacked and killed, which the university administration denies.
What was the effect of Adigrat University killing? It catalyzed protests in many universities across the country, mainly in Amhara and Oromo regions of Ethiopia, apparently opposite to what it was intended to achieve. Worse than the protest, on December 12, two students of Tigray origin were killed at Wollega University in Oromo region of Ethiopia.
The following day, Federal government-sponsored massacre unfolded in Chelenko town where Fifteen civilian demonstrators were killed and fifteen others were injured, according to information from Oromo regional state which condemned the massacre and claimed that it was not informed that the Federal security authorities deployed forces in the region.
What caused Chelenko demonstration is the killing of a young man of Oromo ethnicity by special police from Somali-Ethiopia region -from which more than half a million Oromo speaking Ethiopians were displaced and at least fifty were killed a few months ago. For now, the regional administration in Somali-Ethiopia region is lurking in as an ally of TPLF but it is probable that the leadership has its own ethno-nationalist aspirations to pursue once the gradual weakening of the power center that is holding the state enters into collapse stage.
The ethnic conflicts and retaliations highlighted above are just the tips of the iceberg. What is ahead is worse unless checked in time by doing things differently. And if the worst comes, Ethiopians of Tigray origin are prone to be targets from different directions.
It is not understood that way but TPLF is Tigray’s worst enemy. The party has effectively created the perception in Tigray that the region has no future without it as if the sky will fall on Tigray if it is gone. The notion of ethnicity as an identity to die and kill for has become strong in Tigray as an image of ethnic identity that is invincible and superior to the rest of Ethiopians is created. For people in Tigray, with very rare exception, it is like the party itself has become a cause, probably tantamount to sacred faith, as it is perceived as a champion of Tigray that brought glory and wealth through sacrifice.
At the same time, it hard to imagine that Tigreans are oblivious to the fact that the 42 years old ethnic political organization tarnished the image of Tigray identity as well. Being Tigrean is likened to being a looter, thieve, selfish and indifferent to injustices that Ethiopians have been living on a daily basis for the last twenty seven years.
Despite still in control of the army, the TPLF has clearly lost control over the country. Ethiopia will not be the same again for it. Very soon, it could lose control over the army as well.
After over two months of meetings in Mekelle, the party did not come up with transparent and acceptable plans to resolve the problem in the country. One naive measure that TPLF pursuing is a policy of appeasement towards Eritrea in an apparent move to make ethnic political project appealing to Eritreans – a move that overlooked the fact that the political consciousness that the administration in Asmara created is the antithesis of what TPLF created and wants to sustain.
And if there is a desire to make Eritrea a friend again, what is the problem for TPLF to make peace with the rest of Ethiopians as well?
From allegedly leaked information, TPLF has a plan to turn around the opposition within the ruling coalition (EPRF) by carrying out large-scale purge and arrests of political leadership within OPDO and ANDM – which will most definitely complicate the problem as the political cost of doing so would be unaffordable both in the short and long run.
What TPLF rather should have done is confronting popular demands and address them head-on while paving way for much-needed change in terms of the political, institutional and administrative arrangement that will promote harmony and peace in the country. Tigray will not lose out of it. TPLF will only lose supremacist agenda and have representation proportional to its size which it should not see as a disaster.
TPLF should also convince itself that it cannot get away with Wolkait and Raya issues. It cannot get away with demands from Oromo region of Ethiopia.
The problems we see in University campuses has a lot to do with Tigray supremacy agenda and ethnic ideology; there is no question about that. Militarizing universities with the guise of protecting Tigrean students is not a durable solution either, needless to say. It will rather create further problems.
Right now what needs to be done is to immediately close universities and ensure that students are back to their home towns safely in the interest of avoiding further ethnic based conflict in university grounds. Likewise, ethnic-based soccer matches need to be suspended, at least in the short term.
More importantly, the regime should understand that no military solution will resolve the existing problem in the country. No moves to manufacture ethnic conflict between Amhara and Oromo will solve the conflict. Externalizing the multi-faceted problems that the TPLF itself created is not a solution either. Investing in spyware to mount surveillance on activists, abroad and at home, is not a solution too. What is needed now more than ever is to call for national dialogue to iron out ways of resolving the crisis.