By Berhane Kahsay, Oct. 12, 2012
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has secured a unique and incomparable place in the history of Ethiopia. It took seventeen hard and arduous years to defeat a formidable enemy which had a huge army that was equipped with the latest weapons money could buy. The Cuban and Russian military advisers who served the Derg were not a match to the TPLF military commanders and they were unceremoniously chased out of Ethiopia with their tails between their legs. It was the beginning of the end for the Derg when it abandoned Tigray as a result of the sustained and relentless pounding it received from the gallant fighters of the TPLF. In other words, the TPLF severely weakened the enemy and then finished off the job with its partners in May 1991.
More significant than the Derg’s demise was the arrival of an opportune moment to deal with 100 years of Amhara misrule and this has been achieved by empowering the various regions to manage their own affairs. It is a pity that the composition of the bureaucracy in the capital does not still reflect the ethnic mix of the country but it has been moderately nullified and is no longer as highly politicised as it was during the 2005 general elections. At that time it became a constituent for the proponents of ‘’monolithic Ethiopia’’ who attempted to violently overthrow the government of the day.
It was not only the Derg that the TPLF had to contend with; the ELF, EDU, and EPRP underestimated the budding organisation as the Derg did and they were routed one by one never to reappear again. If the latter two organisations had succeeded with what they set out to achieve, Ethiopia would have descended into perpetual conflicts leading to its fracture along ethnic lines. The massive investments in agriculture, rail network, hydro-energy, education, infrastructure, health and the two decade long sustained double-digit economic growth that has transformed the lives millions of Ethiopians would not have been feasible. Now millions of the youth are contributing their fair share to the renaissance of Ethiopia and are no more used as cannon fodders which used to happen prior to 1991. They seem to have inherited the steely determination, commitment and perseverance of the TPLF that started an armed struggle with a handful of people and weapons, and defeated the largest army in black Africa. Today the ‘we can do’ mindset has become very prevalent in Ethiopia, and on daily basis we see successful youths who made it to the top through sheer grit and hard work. The story of ‘from rags to riches’ is no more a novelty.
History repeated itself when as recent as 1998, the EPLF invaded parts of Northern Ethiopia, and the previous TPLF military commanders turned Generals such as Samora, Seare, Wedi Werede etal severely defeated Esayass’s huge army in just two years. Emperor Haileselassie and Mengistu failed to beat the EPLF and the fighting went on for three decades and lead to their ejection from power. The invincibility and military prowess of the EPLF that was cultivated over the years had been totally smashed to pieces and it is unlikely that the EPLF will ever recover and mount another war at this moment or in the foreseeable future.
Leader of what is left of the EPLF is currently running a failed state exclusively reliant on 2% ‘blackmail’ tax and contrabands. His people are now troding over each other to leave their country for Ethiopia and Sudan under the hail of bullets. The grand plan to turn Eritrea into the’ Singapore of East Africa’ on the back of Ethiopia has come to a complete halt. Now the effort is to make Eritrea as viable as the semi-autonomous state of Puntland but this is going to take a great deal of time and patience. In any case Ethiopia has now been made safe from an organisation that caused so much bloodshed for numerous years during the reigns of the previous rulers, by the creation of a formidable and well drilled army in tune with modern warfare.
Over 70,000 of the brightest and selfless children of Tigray gave their precious life at their prime for freedom, justice, democracy and equality. Ethiopia is now performing exceptionally well and tremendous achievements have been registered especially in education where there are over thirty full-fledged universities in various regions producing skilled manpower needed to maintain the renaissance of the country. In a short span of time, Ethiopia has become a potent force to be reckoned with in Africa and globally. The TPLF leadership has successfully transferred power to the new generation of the EPRDF in a peaceful and planned manner. And this occasion will be remembered as a milestone in the annals of history as it laid down a firm foundation for the handover of power from one to another without resorting to the customary spilling of copious blood. Pretty sure these developments and the decision by the late TPLF leader, Meles Zenawi , to construct a huge dam on the edge of Abay at a cost of billions of birr would make the martyrs beam with utter happiness in their unmarked graves which are scattered in four corners of the country.
The departed TPLF leader also fought tooth and nail with the late dictator of Libya to make sure the headquarters of the African Union (AU) remained in Addis for good, and now the AU has a magnificent building courtesy of the People’s Republic of China. His diplomatic skills further came into use when he successfully negotiated the repatriation of the Axum Obelisk from Rome to its rightful origin. Greece, a member of the European Union, has been relentlessly campaigning for the return of the Elgin Marble from Britain for a number of years but to no avail ; and yet, ‘little ‘Ethiopia managed to bring back a statue of great historical significance to its birth place thanks to the hard work of the late Premier.
Beneficiaries of the current federal system that came into effect in the early 90s will also be hugely appreciative of the TPLF’s legacy. For instance, in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and peoples (SNNP) alone there are over 56 ethnic groups with a population of 15,760,743 managing their own affairs. These people were treated as second class citizens in their own country by all rulers prior to 1991. They were not even fit to appear in court as witnesses, and their languages were derided and compared to that of birds. Most, if not all, were completely ignored and were left to fend for themselves for a considerable period. Some were not able to do so and were on the verge of extinction due to hunger and endemic curable diseases as happened to the indigenous Tasmanians in Australia. This has now been stemmed in the nick of time and the probability of recurrence of such a shameful episode is very remote indeed.
At this juncture the various ethnic groups are treated fairly and equally, and are able to use their distinct languages, cultures, beliefs and traditions freely and with pride. They do have a stake in today’s Ethiopia, and are no longer solely designated as destinations for Western tourists. Schools and health centres are available within the various parts of SNNP and their locations from the main road have been cut from days to few hours so that they can take their produce to where the market is without too much difficulty. Access to electricity and potable water is on the increase and demand is on the up as a result of the continuous growth in disposable incomes. Agricultural extension graduates are in every locality to assist in modern farming in order to increase productivity. These days it is very common indeed to witness the Somalis, SNNP, Afar, Harari and others drape the Ethiopian flag around their shoulders with utmost pride. This is the result of federalism that was conceived by the TPLF during the armed struggle and implemented soon after the elimination of the junta that nearly brought about the dissolution of the country.
Article 39 of the 1994 Ethiopian constitution also had its genesis in the formidable mountains of Tigray. Its inclusion has dealt a severe blow to those secessionists such as the OLF and ONLF who have been working with the enemies of Ethiopia to fragment the country. These organisations have now split into various neutered factions primarily due to the lack of support from their respective people who are quite happy with the current federal system. Consequently the disparate groups have been left with no option but to abandon the armed struggle and queue up to negotiate with the Ethiopian government, and register as legal parties to compete in the periodic elections. Article 39 has kept the composure of the country and there would be no takers for this piece of the constitution so long as wealth is fairly distributed and equality of nations and nationalities is scrupulously adhered to.
Peripheral reasons that may have brought the near demise of what is left of the ONLF and OLF include the lack of entry via Somali as a result of the expansion of the areas controlled by the Transitional government, and the inability of the Eritrean dictator to bankroll them as he is no longer able to make money from illegal activities and Al-Shebab assisted piracy. At a stroke the OLF, ONLF, EPLF and Al-Shebab have been sorted out, and it is now pretty obvious to everyone why the genius late leader of the TPLF insisted on sending the Ethiopian Defence Force into Somalia.
The TPLF has by and large managed to achieve all its objectives but the journey from Dedebit to the Metropolis has been extremely tough and pyrrhic. What is now required is a major overhaul of the organisation in order to make it modern and relevant so that it can face complex and difficult challenges ahead with gusto. It is high time that rejuvenation of the iconic TPLF is instigated as a matter of utmost urgency otherwise its longevity could be doubtful. Failure to act would be tantamount to betrayal of our martyrs who saved Ethiopia from a savage junta that nearly caused the complete collapse of the country.