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Woyane Tigrai: Four Decades Old Redeemer of Ethiopia

By Berhane Kahsay
Tigrai Online January 4, 2015

Woyane Tigrai: Four Decades Old Redeemer of Ethiopia

TPLF has clocked forty years since its formation in Dedebit, Western Tigray, on 18 February 1975.  Seventeen years of the four decades had been consumed waging a costly armed struggle against a military government that came to an end in May 1991. Five hundred-thousand well equipped army and several large-scale military campaigns, each involving more than 100,000 troops, failed to defeat the rebellion that had the backing of a cross section of the Tigrian people. Furthermore, the front had to thwart a serious of challenges from EPRA, EDU, ELF and the deceptive Shabiya during the protracted struggle.

Immediately after the fall of the Derg, the TPLF and its affiliates established a transitional government that stretched from 1991-1995. Since then, four general elections have taken place and each time the current party in power received the electorate’s mandate. Woyane Tigray inherited a nation with empty coffers, and heading towards dissolution as a consequence of the presence of armed groups such as Oromo Liberation Front, Afar Liberation Front, Sidama Liberation Front, Western Somalia Liberation Font and Somali Abo Liberation Front fighting for cession. Seasoned and magnanimous leadership, however, stabilised the situation by inviting the movements to be part of the transitional administration, and the destructive civil war that had been boldly predicted by the vanquished never materialised.  

Since 1991, peace and stability have been prevalent in the country and its vibrant economy has been consistently growing by more than ten percent for the past twenty years. And the impressive development is anticipated to remain on course as the second phase of the Growth and Transformation Plan is envisaged to kick-off shortly. The country has also obtained $1billion needed to fund electricity, railway, sugar-industry projects, and to establish industrial zones in Dire Dawa & Hawassa by selling bonds to international investors. Other regions with industrial zones include Amhara, Oromia and Ethio-Somali, but it is a mystery as to why Tigrai has been left out from this important development that is attracting several heavy weight foreign investors. Hopefully, those concerned will address the issue as a matter of utmost urgency and include the home of Deki-Alula that paid the heaviest price in terms of material and human losses during the seventeen years struggle to remove a regime that charged for the bullets it used to gun-down peaceful demonstrators.           

The spectacular economic progress will be further boosted by the flow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) which has been steadily increasing for some time now; according to the report made public by the United Nations Conference on Trade & Development (UNCTAD) in June 2014, Ethiopia was the third largest beneficiary of FDI in Africa in 2013. The flow is certain to continue because of the availability of skilled labour force, stability, cheap labour and, modern and adequate infrastructures.

Another equally essential factor needed to maintain and improve the socio-economic transformation was the need to have a resolute, farsighted and intelligent leader with clear vision and objectives. The country was fortunate enough to have Meles Zenawi, who accumulated the necessary experience and attributes as a member of the TPLF, in charge of a very successful government that has made the nation prominent on the global stage. And it was also under his stewardship that Ethiopia has become the third largest non-oil producing economy in Sub-Sahara Africa.

In addition, the late Premier has secured a special place in the history of the country for being the first leader to give the go ahead for the construction of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam notwithstanding Egypt’s enduring objections to the fair distribution of the Nile Waters. The steadfast determination of the people and the ability of the country to finance the project have forced the Arab nation to the negotiating table and it appears that there is nothing in this world that can prevent the poverty busting project from being completed. However, utmost care must always be taken when dealing with Arab state whose sole and overriding aim is to preserve its own interest at any cost. The fact of the matter is that Ethiopia has the right to use part of the Nile Waters as she contributes 85% of it. It must be made clear to the Egyptians that the construction of the GERD is just the beginning not the end.   

Further achievements of the late Premier include diplomatically outwitting the contrabandist Esayass by succeeding in pulling the international community to his side despite the fact that The Hague Commission on Ethio-Eritrea border conflict ruled in his country’s favour. His skills also came into use when he successfully lobbied the international community to impose crippling sanctions on Eritrea for sponsoring terrorists.

The Eritrean dictator did his utmost to control the TPLF during and after the liberation struggle as he believed that he could extract concessions using his organisations military superiority. In the early 80’s, it forced thousands of TPLF fighters to occupy the position vacated by ELF in Sahel and saved the EPLF from total annihilation. Furthermore, Esayass prevented food convoys from passing through his domain at the height the devastating famine of the mid 80’s and caused the death of thousands of Tigrians.

At this stage the TPLF was more or less militarily as strong as the EPLF but no retaliatory measures were taken for the grossly criminal and inhumane act. Even after the liberation of Ethiopia, the Eritrean tyrant continued with his old habits, but this time around, he went one step further and came up with the most preposterous grand design of converting Eritrea into a ‘Tiger’ economy by expropriating Ethiopia’s wealth and resources. Overnight, the tiny newly independent nation became an exporter of coffee and sesame; it flooded Ethiopia with contraband garments, electronics and whisky making huge profits at the expense of indigenous businesses which went into liquidation.

As a result of Eritrea’s illegal activities, Ethiopia lost substantial amounts of revenues that would have been used to kick start the faltering economy left behind by the Derg. But in 1998, the TPLF plucked up the courage and started to put in place measures that were meant to bring to a halt Shabiya’s unlawful and detrimental economic pursuits as well as assassinations and kidnapping of opponents of the Eritrean leader. Many Ethiopians believe that Esayass may also have been involved in the murder of the great Tigrian hero Hayelom and the bombing of Addis ammunition depot in 1991 that killed 100 people and made 10,000 homeless.    

It was the long overdue economic measures taken by Ethiopia including the introduction of dollars in trade transactions between the two countries that went a long way in preventing Shabiya from pillaging Ethiopia’s resources. This historical and decisive action that stopped the looting forced Esayass to trigger the so called ‘Badme’ war that caused the deaths and displacements of hundreds and thousands of Tigrians as well as other Ethiopians. There is no doubt that if a resolute action had been taken by the Polite-Bureau members of the TPLF before the conclusions of the armed struggle, Shabiya’s activities in Ethiopia after the removal of the junta would have been totally different. Certainly, the Eritrean dictator would not have retaliated for fear of creating an opportunity for the Derg to cause serious and irrevocable damages to the two movements.   

The second fatal error committed by the TPLF was failure to establish a strong defence force immediately after the liberation of Ethiopia as this would have stopped Shabiya, led by criminals and whisky smugglers, from its blatant plundering spree for fear of stern military measures. Would the costly ‘border’ conflict of 1998 and the sad split within the TPLF have taken place under these circumstances?   

But for many Tigrians the ‘’border’’ war was simply a God send. After years of mistreatment and unspeakable humiliations, it was the perfect opportunity for the Ethiopian people in general and the Tigrians in particular to settle old painful scores. Shabiya’s army which was a thorn on previous Ethiopian governments’ side was utterly defeated and made toothless in just two years. The myth of Shabiya’s invincibility had been shattered for good and at present it cannot even cope with Djibouti’s military challenges, and is begging Qatar to come to its aid. Eritrea is now isolated, on its knees and economically bankrupt. Life has become unbearable for millions of its citizens and thousands are fleeing their country on daily basis as a result of the absence of respect for human rights, failure of law and order, and lack of basic necessities. We now have Esayass firmly pinned to the floor and there should not be any let-up until we see the last of our sworn enemy. The man who set out to build a nation by stealing resources from Ethiopia is done for good.       

Another formidable enemy that has been conquered since the coming of the TPLF and its associates was the persistent famine that had been bedevilling the country for a considerable period. In the early 80’s alone, nearly a million people had died from starvation and millions more were made destitute. The situation was so bad, the BBC reporter Michael Burke described it as ‘’a biblical famine in the 20th century.’’ But sheer determination, hard-work and perseverance reversed the humiliating trend completely, and today, famine is hardly a possibility in any part of the nation. Consequently, Ethiopia is no more synonymous with hunger and ghastly images of malnourished children; the proud nation has risen from the ashes to become one of the fastest growing economies of the world.

Even in the event of a draught, the country can draw from its grain reserves to feed people in affected areas. According to the UN’s World Food Programme, a budget of 13 billion birr has been put aside for the construction of further silos as part of the plan to boost food reserves. At present, Ethiopia has emergency grain store of 460,000 metric tonnes which can feed seven million people for six months, and the country is aiming to increase this to three million which will be sufficient enough to feed 40 million people for half a year.

To put it in context-- in 1991, the population of Ethiopia was nearly 50 million, and in just twenty-three years this has gone up to 90 million. It is with 40 million additional mouths to feed, which is equivalent to the population of Sudan, that famine has been eliminated from the country for good. It is high time that Oxford Dictionary publishers should do the honourable thing and cease citing Ethiopia as an example of famine. Instead, they ought to follow the examples of the international media, World Bank and the IMF who routinely mention  the new Ethiopia as the world’s economic success story and a hub for multinational investors such Heineken, H&M, Diageo to name but a few.

The TPLF which was established 40 years ago not only has succeeded in saving the worn torn and dejected nation from a total collapse, but it has also positioned the ‘African tiger’ to become a middle income country by 2025 where the per-capita gross national income is expected to be between $1,036 and $4,085. Ethiopia’s current economic stature has made her a significant player in the diplomatic and political fields in the continent and beyond.

The late Premier Meles participated in climate change conferences and numerous G-8 and G-20 summits held in various parts of the world representing the whole of Africa. He also contributed a great deal in stabilising conflict hot-spot parts of Africa such as Somalia, Liberia, Burundi, Darfur and South Sudan. Al-Shebab, which created so much havoc in Somalia for years has now been marginalised and is no longer as potent as it used to be. The terror group has been engaged in murdering innocent people in Uganda and more so in Kenya by planting explosives for their involvements in peace keep mission in Somalia. But so far nothing of the sort has occurred in Ethiopia, the arch enemy of Al-Shebab, thanks to the impeccable work of the modern intelligence services established by the TPLF and its partners.

Surely, what has been attained in Ethiopia today would not have been remotely possible without the TPLF’s intense and arduous struggle that resulted in the removal of a totalitarian regime costing 70,000 lives. Meles Zenawi, who was the leader of the TPLF for the last seven years of the struggle, guided the organisation to victory over an enemy that had the largest army in black Africa. Liberation movements in other parts of Africa such as FRELIMO of Mozambique, MPLA of Angola and ZANU of Zimbabwe have not been as successful as the TPLF in terms of propelling their nation onto the world stage and in achieving the socio-economic transformation of their citizens after emancipation. It would not be an overstatement to state that the TPLF ranks among the best and most successful liberation fronts that existed in Africa.

But it is unfortunate that the late Premier failed to reform and revitalise the formidable organisation by attracting nationalist ‘civilian’ technocrats into the leadership of the movement/party. It is also unfortunate that the complete history of the TPLF has not been recorded when most of the ageing leaders are still alive but Gebru Asrat’s recent book is a very good start. The rest should emulate him as they owe it to our martyrs who gave their lives for democracy, justice and equality. Many happy returns to the 40 year old TPLF and best wishes with its unflinching determination to take the nation to next level of economic development and, to ensure peace and stability by mercilessly dealing with traitors working for foreign enemies.

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