TPLF: Demise of a Kleptocratic Clique

TPLF: Demise of a Kleptocratic Clique
By: Sara Tesfay

Eritrea Profile


On 4 November 2020, the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) Northern Command headquarters in Mekelle and throughout Tigray Region came under a meticulously planned, massive, and pre-emptive attack from the armed forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The TPLF has also infiltrated and co-opted senior officers and soldiers within the Northern Command affiliated to it on the basis of ethnicity.

The TPLF had cut roads and communications, creating a very confused, dangerous and terrifying atmosphere for both the people of Tigray and the Ethiopian troops stationed in the region. The Ethiopian government launched an operation with the objectives of restoring the rule of law and in order to contain and reverse this unprecedented act of national betrayal and sedition.

On 24 November 2020 Lesley Wroughton of the Washington Post reported the following:

“…Hundreds of people in a town in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region were stabbed, strangled and hacked to death in an apparent ethnically based attack that may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes…at least 600 people were killed in the town of Mai Kadra in western Tigray on Nov. 9 when local youths known as Samri, aided by the then-local administration, went door to door killing those they identified as from the minority Amhara and Wolkait ethnic groups…The killings took place throughout the night of Nov. 9 as security forces of the region’s ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, were retreating from the advance of federal government troops…”

These two incidents are the most recent attacks by the TPLF whose history of violence against Ethiopians and the region as a whole span over 27 years. Yet, and despite these glaring and repetitive acts of mayhem and regional destabilization, the international community chose to look the other way; emboldening the TPLF clique to violate international law, renege on its international commitments in respect to Eritrea, and commit heinous crimes in Ethiopia and elsewhere in the region with impunity. The Gambela, Ogaden, and Oromia genocides, the ethnic conflicts in the Somalia region which left over 2 million internally displaced, are some of its inexcusable excesses that should have elicited outrage and condemnation.

The TPLF clique also extended its violence into Eritrea in 1998 where it launched a vicious expansionist war of invasion and occupation. The war entailed the loss of over 150,000 lives and inculcated huge economic devastation in both countries. In 2006, it launched a war of invasion and occupation against Somalia. In both cases, the international community scrambled to provide the lawless regime a “mask of respectability”. Dubbed as a “staunch US ally in the Global War on Terror (GWT)”, it was, in reality, a bona fide domestic and regional outfit that incubated terror and mayhem in its own country and the Horn of Africa region as a whole. The international community refused to take any punitive action against this violent and lawless entity.

Just months before the TPLF regime was removed from power in 2018, Alexander Cooley, John Heathershaw, and JC. Sharman authored an article, “The Rise of Kleptocracy: Laundering Cash, Whitewashing Reputations”. One would have thought they were writing about the kleptocratic TPLF regime in Ethiopia. They wrote:

“…normalization of “everyday kleptocracy” depends heavily on transnational professional intermediaries: Western public-relations agents, lobbyists, and lawyers help to recast kleptocrats as internationally respected business people and philanthropic cosmopolitans. The resulting web of relationships makes up a “transnational uncivil society,” which bends global-governance institutions to work in its favor…state institutions are set up to allow elites and their families to systematically loot while protecting these elites politically…”

Everything they wrote resonates with Ethiopians and other citizens in the region who have written extensively about TPLFs excesses, only to be ignored by the powers to be. Reading the latest headlines and the emergence of western academics, NGOs, media, and even government officials in defense of the TPLF regime comes as no surprise. They have all done so in the past. They are the “professional intermediaries who were there for the last 27 years to construct a “mask of respectability” to this outfit.

But on the ground, where it matters, the Ethiopian people revolted and removed the TPLF from power. But, instead of accepting the people’s wishes, it decided to launch an attack against the people, with the hopes that its tantrums will be heard by its handlers and surrogates. The “blitzkrieg” that it unleashed on November 3 on the EDF’s Northern Command has ended in a humiliating military debacle forcing its remnants to take to the hills and mountains of the Tigray Region. , it’s Still, its supporters and enablers continue to plead and cajole the international community to come to its rescue once again.

Alexander Cooley, John Heathershaw, and JC. Sharman wrote:

“…Kleptocrats do not just transform their polities in order systematically control economic activity and plunder natural-resource wealth; they also cultivate extensive networks of transnational actors and institutions to assist in camouflaging their financial flows and polishing their reputations… kleptocrats tend to use the agents, services, and institutions of globalization not only to safeguard their assets, but also to maintain a high-profile status…The intermediaries hired by kleptocrats—including bankers, real estate brokers, accountants, lawyers, wealth managers, and public-relations agents…”

The billions stolen from Ethiopia’s national coffers have been put into action in a futile attempt to polish TPLF’s reputation. So it is not surprising to see its backers coming out of the woodworks to eulogize the defunct TPLF clique and lobby on its behalf. The flurry of reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others is also not surprising as the idea is to divert and distract attention away from the TPLF’s international crimes…and hide their own complicity in its 27-year reign of terror in the Horn region.

The TPLF has used force and violence against the people, destroyed property in violation of Ethiopia’s laws to intimidate and coerce. It has issued threats to create confusion and fear amongst the Tigrayans, who are led to believe the government is powerless to prevent the impending bloodshed. It has used its international supporters and surrogates to carry out widespread misinformation and disinformation campaigns to garner sympathy for its ill-advised adventures. Today, it is crying foul as it finds itself in yet another self-created quagmire.

Today, the TPLF has been stripped naked. All Ethiopians understand the threat posed by the TPLF clique, including most of the people in the Tigray region who have been held as human shields in its reckless military acts.

Finally, the coordinated and deliberately confusing attacks on Eritrea are nothing new or surprising. Eritrea and its leadership have been viciously attacked by the kleptocratic TPLF and its handlers and surrogates for the last 27 years.

It is high time for the international community to call a spade a spade and come to terms with the costly missteps of the past. Creating ruses and attempting to clothe the TPLF clique in respectable garb will not work this time around. The rule of law will prevail over the law of the jungle!