By Matthew J. McCracken
Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law
In brief, the new theory is this: the TPLF-dominated EPRDF intentionally included Article 39 in Ethiopia’s 1994 Constitution so that the Tigray region could loot Ethiopia of its resources, use the Ethiopian military to expand the borders of Tigray, and then secede from Ethiopia. Underlying this theory is the widely held opinion that the TPLF and EPRDF are not independent organizations, but symbiotic.
The evidence supporting this theory comes from several sources. Most importantly, the TPLF put its intentions in writing in the organization’s manifesto known as the “Republic of Greater Tigrai.”’14 Drafted by TPLF leaders in 1976, the manifesto sets forth an elaborate plan for the liberation of Tigray from Ethiopian rule.’ 5 The plan involves two main steps: 1) redemarcating Tigray’s borders to expand the region’s borders within Ethiopia, and 2) acquiring coastal lands within Eritrea and seceding as an independent nation.
The EPRDF has taken several actions that seem to adhere to the plans set forth in the TPLF manifesto since it took over Ethiopia’s central government in 1991. For example, the TPLF/EPRDF has dramatically developed the Tigray region since they came to power. Before the 1991 Revolution, Tigray was territorially limited and economically underdeveloped.
Since the Revolution, in addition to trying to acquire Badme from Eritrea (discussed below), Tigray has successfully annexed fertile lands from the neighboring regions of Wollo and Gondar within Ethiopia. 18 When compared with other Ethiopian provinces, Tigray has
experienced disproportionate economic growth and development since 1991. Soon after coming to power, the EPRDF established the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (or “EFFORT”) with a considerable amount of Ethiopian capital.19 Through the EFFORT program, the TPLF/EPRDF has diverted large quantities of government resources and international aid to Tigray.20 As a result, Tigray has experienced radical commercial growth while other regions of Ethiopia have stagnated.
More evidence supporting this theory comes from the recent border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The dispute perfectly comports with the TPLF manifesto when one considers what could have happened if Ethiopia had won. The Tigray region has always had one major weakness: it is landlocked.22 When Eritrea seceded in 1992, it took all of Ethiopia’s access to the Red Sea with it.23 If Ethiopia had succeeded in annexing the
Eritrean region of Burie during the recent border dispute, it would have cut off Eritrea’s access to its port city of Assab. 4 Located in the southernmost region of Eritrea,25 Assab would have once again given Ethiopia access to the Red Sea. In addition, according to the 1976 manifesto, Assab borders certain Ethiopian lands within the borders of “Greater Tigrai., 26 Thus, annexing Assab from Eritrea would have allowed the TPLF to “liberate”
regions of “Greater Tigrai” and gain access to the Red Sea in accordance with the manifesto.
Finally, Ethiopia’s 1994 Constitution also conforms to the 1976 TPLF manifesto by giving Tigray a “legal” means for secession from Ethiopia. One might argue that by granting the right to secede to all “Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples” the TPLF limited its ability to exploit other regions of Ethiopia. After all, if other regions felt they were being exploited by the EPRDF, they would probably secede themselves.
However, as this article will make clear, other regions of Ethiopia have tried to secede under Article 39, and the TPLF/EPRDF has used violence and underhanded politics in order to undermine them.27 In particular, the EPRDF has repeatedly suppressed calls for independence by members of the Oromo tribe and Ethio-Somalis living in the Ogaden.
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