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The puzzling chess moves inside EPRDF – the fate of team Lema and team Gedu

By Kaleb
Tigrai Online, April 27, 2019

What’s Going On

Since 2016 Ethiopian politics has been the politics of chaos, the political disorder has reached its limit, the last 12 months have been a stress-test for Abiy admin and EPRDF coalition. It is difficult to understand what’s happening inside the political elites of EPRDF. I have the belief that EPRDF itself doesn’t seem to be clear on what’s happening to the country and to the front itself. One of the difficulties is loosening democratic centralism inside EPRDF, each front is playing its own game. For the last 27 years the strength of EPRDF has been its democratic centralism, they seem to forget that “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

It’s well known that some kind of secretive group within EPRDF has been emerged however they couldn’t able to disclose themselves baldly. The perplexing thing is we know who those individuals are however we don’t know their programs and vision to the country. Usually what happens is you found out the secret agenda, but you don’t know the proprietor of that hidden agenda, in this case it is the reverse. One thing is certain, the situation is unique, terrifying and the consequence will be far-reaching.

We have the so-called team Lema and team Gedu who are orchestrating the assignment, but we don’t know their ideology and strategy that unites those two groups. If they are contemplating to form a new political party, they need to make it clear and let the Ethiopian people know about their programs. If they are orchestrating to weaken one party (TPLF) which looks exactly that then the consequence will be beyond those two groups, it will be the beginning of the end, the “era of the princes” will be repeated all over again.

Winning a battle vs winning a war.

Everyone seems to have a clear idea that there is a big fight within EPRDF, at high level there are two groups inside EPRDF:

  1. Those that are interested to win a battle, but they don’t know they could lose the war.
  2. Those that are okay to lose the battle but interested to win the war.

So far each of them may have won and lost certain battles but at the end, a group with core value, uncompromising principle and greater strategy will win the war. The different chess moves that we see inside EPRDF is very difficult to understand. Naturally populist individuals are more interested to win battles, they are more interested to appease their supporters by winning short-sells however that may lead them to lose the overarching goal.

The uniting factor of team Lema and team Gedu is common enemy, TPLF. They don’t share core value and principle that unites both. Strategically ODP needs TPLF to succeed, nonetheless tactically they are focusing to beat TPLF. Thus, even though losing the war is at stake, team Lema and team Gedu will focus on winning battles.

On the contrary TPLF may seem losing the battle however it’s more likely than not they will win the war. They say, “a tree stands strong not by its fruits or branches, but by the depth of its roots”. Any group who has grassroot support, core values and guiding principles is likely to win the war.

TPLF’s retreat from federal government reminds me the “1989 Shire battle against Derg”. In 1988 Tigray was freed from Derg, however TPLF strategically withdraw most of Tigray towns and let Derg control it. Derg controlled most of Tigray towns without a single bullet. Derg assumed TPLF was done, game over and declared TPLF can’t recover from it. In July 1988 the 604th core entered Shire with no significant resistance. Seven months later what happened to Derg Red Army is left for historians and history books. Two years and three months later taking the battle of Shire as turning point, TPLF controlled Addis Ababa. The rest is history.

Thus, TPLF didn’t retreat from the center, they are in low profile. If you are blamed for 27 years you need some break and let the center sort out themselves their own fate.

Let’s see certain facts that can help us to understand who will win the fight within EPRDF. In the last 12 months TPLF has managed to accomplish the following: -


  1. Back to square one and improve the grassroot support. If you don’t have grassroot support, you are destined to fail.
  2. Back to guiding principles and core values.
  3. Have a position that is clear to the rest of the country, TPLF’s political ideology and economic ideology is crystal clear to everyone. Probably the only political force who has clear ideology.
  4. Stand strong for the constitution. TPLF have uncompromising stand on the constitution. Right or wrong it’s good to have a firm stand.
  5. Move slow and learn more about your adversary. This is one of the core values of TPLF. They collect information and study enough about their opponents, they study the different chess moves their opponents are going to make.
  6. TPLF able to keep its region peace and security. Make sure the region you govern is safe and secured. If you can’t govern your own region you can’t govern Ethiopia, period. This is one of the conditions to show the strength of each state governments. Let’s not fool ourselves, the bible says, “Whoever is faithful with very little will also be faithful with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much”.

Team Lema and team Gedu lack all the above six main factors that leads you to win a war (soft war). When you are a populist you are always interested to win a battle to appease your irrational supporters. Patience isn’t on the side of a populist individual. Incapability of acting can’t be considered as patience.

Regardless of our biasness toward TPLF past, they don’t play chess blindly, they discuss every detail, they try to learn a lot about their adversary, they try to put scientific approaches to resolve the challenges they encounter. Their 44 years of history shows that they are willing to lose certain battles, at the end they know that they can and will win the war.

Cabinet reshuffle

The recent cabinet reshuffle is like flipping a coin, which means the value remains the same. The reshuffle is more of about trust than substance, taking painkiller doesn’t help to get rid of the root cause. In politics if an individual has a certain mindset and hidden agenda that hidden agenda doesn’t change regardless of power reshuffle, the agenda remains the same.

The question is, do they have the capability to save the country from disintegration? I don’t think so, “you can't solve a problem with the same mind that created it”, the crisis we see today is due to incapability of AA admin. Blaming TPLF doesn’t hold water.

It has been more than 12 months since AA rise to power however he still doesn’t have political and economic ideology crystallized yet. Abiy is dancing between “developmental-state” and “economic liberalism”, “democratic centralism” and “Liberalism”, “ethnic federalism” vs “Unitary state”, “parliamentary vs presidential”. You can admire him however you want but the fact remains on the ground, he is incapable to lead.

Fundamentally team Lema and team Gedu are playing politics instead of governing, they are in trial-and-error mode. They are refusing to admit the extent of the crisis in the country. The country is in the verge of collapse, the military is divided, EPRDF is divided, ODP is divided, ADP is divided. Power without clear vision, ideology, unity and strong military is a recipe for failure. Generally, if you don’t have well thought out strategy reshuffling cabinets won’t change anything, it is simply tactical move. They are switching from plan A to plan B, now to plan C.

Their driving motive is “POWER and GREED”, fundamentally Abiy is a populist prime minister, his populist appeal has helped him to rise to power however it will not help him to govern the country.

Principally admitting their mistake sees it as endorsement of TPLF cause. Deeply they know that both Gedu and Lema don’t have grassroot support. If you observe the sentiment of the people in Oromia and Amhara region, OLF has grassroot support in Oromia. NAMA (National Movement of Amhara) has grassroot support in Amhara region.


What is going on with ADP (ANDM) game?

ADP’s game plan is conditioned on ODP failure and weak TPLF. ADP’s hope is, if ODP fails to unite the country then they are hopping they will get the power.

ADP doesn’t care about the crisis in the country as long as they find a way to rise to power, they are working closely with Isayas Afeworki to make their hopes fruitful. Their ambition is if they managed to control Menelik palace, they will control the military, so then they will immediately reshape the military accordingly. Note that they are preparing a force that can help them to do that, but it is more of a dream than making it reality.

To make it clear, the very reason why ADP is “cooperating” with ODP has to be for three reasons:

  1. To weaken TPLF
  2. If TPLF is weaken, they believe and hope ODP will fail at some point, so they will take the power.
  3. Even if ODP couldn’t fail they believe they can get rid of them (ODP) somehow. I guess they have some kind of magic.

The end goal seems ambitious, but ADP hopes that they will bring back Menelik vision “Ethiopia = Amhara” narrative, it is unrealistic thinking but that is exactly what they are hoping and planning.

What is interesting is, ODP elites know that ADP has different goal, at the same time ADP elites know that ODP has Oromo-led Ethiopia ambition, thus they are prioritizing to weaken TPLF first and then they will fight to each other according to their respective plans. Having this grand plan in mind they also know that in order to weaken TPLF they have to appease Isayas Afeworki without disappointing Ethiopian people at large. So many deceptions, exploitation and conspiration which could lead to treason. What’s happening in Ethiopia politics is pure Machiavellianism.

EPRDF isn’t monolithic party, it is a coalition of different fronts, thus from get-go those coalitions had different interests, some of them had opposite interests however since TPLF had the upper hand they were able to work together at least for 27 years. Now they (ODP and ADP) assumed that they can achieve their respective interests if they weaken TPLF. What they didn’t realize is that ODP and ADP has two opposite philosophies that can’t be reconcile with each other, they can’t even agree on the national flag. But what they are assuming is one can beat the other as long as TPLF is beaten. ADP assumes that it is easier to beat ODP if TPLF is crushed, at the same time ODP is assuming that it is easier to beat ADP if TPLF is crushed. Thus, the marriage between ODP and ADP isn’t based on mutual strategic interest, rather it is based on their ill individual interest. At the end the Ethiopian people will suffer badly.

 Oromo elite politics and Amhara elite politics:

To have a better prediction whether team Lema and team Gedu will succeed or not let’s understand their respective political history first. As you all know team Lema is mainly Oromia constituency and team Gedu is mainly Amhara constituency. If we are able to understand the political narrative of those two teams, we can have rational conclusion whether they are going to succeed or not.

My hypothesis is they are destined to fail. In the Gospel of Matthew 12:25, “And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand”. I don’t see anything that unites those two groups, thus they are destined to fail.

Note that when I say Oromo or Amhara politics, I am speaking the elites not the ordinary people. Right or wrong the elites frame the talking points and they assume it will fulfill the interest of their constituency and themselves.


 Oromo politics:

  • Their politics is inspired by Geda system. The nature of their politics is democratic.
  • Historically it is expansionist at the same time separatist ideology. Note that Oromos and Amhara elites are both expansionists, the difference is who cries louder. The last 27 years because of the federal arrangement in Ethiopia the “secession” agenda is fading away.
  • They have Oromo-led Ethiopia interest.
  • Majority of Oromo elites believe in multicultural federalism, or ethnic federalism, nevertheless there are few who have unitary system fondness, PM Abiy is good example.
  • Even though most Oromia elites unite on the idea of Oromo nationalism, they don’t have a political and economic ideology that can unite all the different factions of Oromo (Harar Oromo, Arsi Oromo, Wolega Oromo) etc.
  • Political and economic ideology isn’t well-framed. Take ODP and OLF, they don’t have a common ground to cooperate. Some ODP elites don’t support ethnic federalism, on the contrary OLF and other Oromo based political parties have strong support for ethnic federalism.

Even though Oromia has many educated elites however their politics isn’t crystalized yet. Not having crystalized agenda will be a challenge to lead Ethiopia at large, good example is AA and team Lema, so far, they are not able to lead Ethiopia. Note that I am not indicating Oromo elites can’t lead, but this is to show that their politics isn’t well-framed yet. If their politics has been well-framed we wouldn’t be where we are today. Americans say, “you campaign in poetry but govern in prose”.

  • If we take ODP, it is a “head without body”, they don’t have grassroot support, the grassroot support is mainly sympathetic to OLF cause.
  • On the contrary OLF is “body without head”, most Oromo people support OLF struggle. As we all know Oromo politics originally has been organized by OLF, however OLF through the years its organizational unity has been declining, now they don’t have strong organizational structure and political ideology to unite most Oromo elites.


 Amhara politics:

  • Their politics is inspired by Solomonic dynasty.
  • They use Ethiopian orthodox church as a political tool. Solomonic dynasty is clear evidence for that.
  • They use “Ethiopia” as a political cover to run their political narrative. They equate Amhara and Ethiopia as one and the same.
  • Their political narrative is based on false narrative (Kibre Negest as example). In order to get legitimacy, they invented a story to claim that they are Axumite and Israelite descendants. In general Solomon dynasty more or less is Amhara elite’s narrative, even though there were very few from Tigray who were beneficiary of it but primarily it was Amhara elites account. Until this day there is no historical evidence to support their claim. “Truth will set you free”.
  • The center of their political ideology originates from unitary system. They have this fantasy “One nation, One religion, One language and One culture” mentality. The difficulty is most Ethiopians are not interested the idea of unitary system. I hear that some of Amhara elites have moved from unitary to federalism but still they don’t have clarity on it, their activists and elites are not consistent with the detail of the talking points.
  • They are inclined to economic liberalism however significant number of their constituency doesn’t really unite on this idea, considerable number of Amhara elites prefer developmental state with some modification.
  • They have expansionist mentality. They have this attitude to claim more territory from every direction. If they can use what they have they can feed not only their region but also the rest of Africa but somehow, they are stuck on expansionist mindset. This will be the primary challenge for them to lead Ethiopia.
  • Self-reliance isn’t part of their political culture. They are very dependent on others or outside forces. This is one of the difficulties with Amhara politics, they don’t stand by themselves. I can give you various obvious examples (Kibre Negest, Menelik seek help from Italy, help of Eritrean elites to weaken Tigray, help of Oromo to weaken TPLF), etc. Note that conspiring is different from cooperating.
  • Even though Solomonic dynasty became the bases of their political narrative, it didn’t leave any civilization signature in 700 years of its reign, it couldn’t able to inspire to higher level of thinking. Note that Lalibela is Agew people signature, Geda system is Oromo people signature, the rest of Ethiopia civilization is Axumite based. I haven’t seen or heard any civilization signature from Solomonic dynasty, please let me know if I have missed one.
  • Their elites are very self-important, they demonize others, but they consider themselves as true Ethiopians. I never understood what that means. My guess is by saying (Ethiopia = Amhara) they are trying to equate Ethiopian civilization with Amhara elites but that is very dangerous and deceitful.
  • They don’t correct mistakes, they have self-righteousness mindset. They don’t condemn wrong doings of the past unequivocally.
  • Amhara elites see Menelik as their hero, but Oromo elites see Menelik the opposite.


So, how do you reconcile the above two political narratives? You can bring hundreds of excuses, those narratives are two parallel interests, either you must compromise from your core value or you need a strong bridge to connect those two narratives, that bridge must come from North political culture. If anyone believes those two narratives can stand by themselves, it is deceitful.

Team Lema is envisioning to have Oromo-led federal system however since they are trying to appease the Amhara unitary camp they are losing their base. They still don’t have a roadmap what Ethiopia will look like when their ideology gets implemented.

So far, they managed to have a well-crafted slogan, “Ethiopia suse new, Ethiopianess is addictive”, other than that I don’t see a plan to build strong nation. To build strong nation you need to have a strong leader who have compelling vision for the country. That compelling vision needs to be realistic based on present situation and forward looking. That strong leader should have strong grassroot support accompanied by inclusive programs and vision.

In conclusion, the tactical alliance between ODP and ADP isn’t long lasting, the driving motive is to beat TPLF, however if they succeeded (90% impossible) the consequence will be a collapse of a nation, war and disintegration of the country beyond repair. To unite Oromo politics and Amhara politics without Tigray politics is delusional. Forget TPLF, Tigray has to be the orchestrating factor in order to unite Oromia politics and Amhara politics. The drama we see today (team Lema and team Gedu) is just political disingenuous. I always say, in “politics and war” population size is just a number, what matters is the value, principle and political influence you can play. Because you have big number it doesn’t guarantee you to bring democracy. Democracy is a value not a number.


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