The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) emerged as an incongruous liberation in the mid-1970s. Theirs was a befuddled agenda that oscillated between demanding independence for Tigray Province to opposing ethnic discrimination and achieving equality for all Ethiopians.
By the late 1980s, TPLF had created alliances with other armed opposition movements like the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), and also enjoyed military support from the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). The resulting coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) deposed Mengistu Hailemariam’s military government in 1991, which was then heavily defeated in Eritrea.
The TPLF went ahead to rule Ethiopia – using the EPRDF as a nominal umbrella – for 30 years, despite being an unpopular minority that made up just 6% of the country’s population. Their disastrous policies contributed to their lack of popularity with the rest of the country.
To cement their iron grip amid their resentment, the TPLF employed decadent tactics for their survival: they muzzled any critical voices and committed what Human Rights Watch termed “crimes against humanity on unimaginable scale.” Interestingly, during that time, the International Community continued to unconditionally bankroll the regime, which only served to embolden the TPLF’s heinous regime.
In early 2016, several ethnic groups, including the Amhara and Oromo, demonstrated against the TPLF-dominated government in open defiance of the regime. Top on the demonstrators’ agenda were claims that the other ethnic groups were being marginalized by the Tigray-controlled government. These demonstrations ultimately culminated in the departure of TPLF from power, despite numerous efforts to quickly change the situation, including six assassination attempts on Abiy Ahmed, the current prime minister.
In 2017, TPLF officials retreated to their backyard to re-strategize, having transferred enormous military hardware to their bases, according to government sources. They also looted state coffers en masse to the tune of $30 billion and taking hundreds of metric tons of gold from the country’s gold reserves with the help of a neighboring country.
The TPLF launched an offensive against the Ethiopian government in November 2020. Suffering heavy casualties after their miscalculated assault, the TPLF are reviving themselves. The TPLF recently claimed they had captured hundreds of Ethiopian military personnel, whom they paraded through their capital Mekelle as a show of force in a bid to demoralize the Ethiopian army and conceal significant loss on their parts.
Reports indicate that most of the alleged prisoners of war are Tigrayan members of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) who joined the TPLF last year. A security expert this author spoke to wondered why TPLF failed to display the weapons and other military hardware they confiscated from the Ethiopian military personnel. Farah Maalim, a former deputy speaker in Kenya’s 9th Parliament who now closely follows regional geopolitics, observes that the TPLF has perfected the art of misinformation, aided by public relations firms masquerading as consultancy firms, funded by foreign interests.
A spent cartridge
The truth is that no amount of propaganda can bring the TPLF back to its former glory in Ethiopia – a senior political commentator refers to them as a spent cartridge. All of the other biggest federal member states, particularly Amhara, Oromo, and Somali, are determined to the TPLF’s political demise having suffered at their hands for three decades. On this count alone, the TPLF already lacks the numbers to become or be seen as a popular movement amongst the people.
The TPLF thrived on marginalizing other regions, including annexing part of Amhara. The TPLF also perpetrated crimes against humanity. Abdi Mohamoud Omar, former Somali state president is on record admitting that his government carried out murders on its own people at the behest of the TPLF. What’s more, the TPLF made so many enemies during its reign and is essentially isolated: it invaded Somalia, attempted to annex Eritrea, subjugated Djibouti at will, was responsible for insecurity in the upper eastern region of Kenya and setting up a militia in Moyale, which carried out extrajudicial killings in neighboring countries.
Former prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, now a prolific writer, once a TPLF supporter, notes in one of his op-eds that one of the TPLF’s tricks will be to “manipulate the international community.” Desalegn has also criticized the international community’s approach to the Ethiopian conflict, claiming that the IC’s support is premised on the concept of moral equivalency that causes foreign countries “to adopt a false balance and a mentality of both-sidesism” without question.
Prime Minister Abiy commands the respect and admiration of his regional peers. He stands heads and shoulders above the TPLF. It is time that effort and attention is dimmed on the TPLF and focused on the bigger picture – the Ethiopian nation.
The author is an analyst with Southlink Consultants