PM Desalegn’s Salvo on the Threats of Ethnic Politics in Ethiopia

By Nahom M Freda
Hailemariam-speePrime Minster Hailemariam Desalegn’s unexpected statements regarding the negative impacts of ethnic politics and religious extremism at a meeting on the 2nd Growth and Transformation Plan was dramatic and earthshattering, for the simple reason that this is the first time ever the EPRDF echelon publicly admitted the dangers of ethnic politics. He also made comments about the dangers of religious extremism. (I will limit my comments to the former in this writing). Add to the PM’s earthshattering salvo the conviction with which he made his points and the reciprocal affirmation he received from his bigwig EPRDF comrades (the interspersed applause was sustained and boisterous), one can’t help but wonder if this is a cautious sign of changing times in Ethiopia. If not, the EPRDF is now on record of acknowledging the disastrous impacts of its ethnic politics. Regardless, I want to give the PM due credit, if not for the substance of his comments, for the conviction and emotion with which he delivered the message. I am saying this because it is unimaginable he will make such a profound statement out of his own volition and without the go-ahead from the true holders of power in Ethiopia – the TPLF politburo. While his comments might not have gone far enough to the extent of repudiating the cancerous ethnic politics from Ethiopia’s body politics, it nonetheless was unmistakable in its clarity – that after almost a quarter of century in power the TPLF is having second thoughts about divisive politics. The question is why now, how serious are they, and what are the next steps?
TPLF’s Endless Contradictions
To put this in perspectives, one needs to delve a bit into the history of the TPLF and examine its nature. Since its days in the bush, the TPLF unashamedly defied all historical records, and declared that Ethiopia is only 100-years old and embarked to remake the country in its contorted image by dividing the nation along linguistic kilils (euphemism for ethnic enclaves). A decade or so later, it claimed to have embarked on a renaissance – to restore the country’s centuries-old glory. Renaissance by definition is the “rebirth” of a nation, the very nation the TPLF capriciously reduced to 100-years of history just a few years past. Moreover, from day one it forged a narrative that didn’t differentiate between the good and bad in history and launched a wholesale condemnation and assault on Ethiopian history. It demonized potential allies who stood for equality in unity. The contempt and hatred the TPLF leaders harbor for the country they inherited blinded them into an irrational rampage and self-flogging that resulted in fostering suspicion and hatred among the many ethnic groups that make up the Ethiopian mosaic. By taking such a self-defeating and belligerent stand, the TPLF has not only repulsed potential allies but most importantly denied current generation of Ethiopians the opportunity to learn from history and build a better future and country. Rather than cultivating peace and harmony through positive and constructive messages while at the same time launching genuine legislative and programmatic remedies for addressing legitimate grievances, the TPLF erected walls among ethnic groups and infused the country with hate propaganda, widening rifts and severely curtailing cohesion and harmony between the various ethnic groups.
It is not an accident that after almost 25 years of hate mongering you now have a generation of Ethiopians who are as alien to each other as they are to foreigners. Without a forward looking national forgiveness and reconciliation strategy and a shared history built on interaction and common experience, ethnic groups are wider apart today than before, and as a result, the very fabric of the nation is withering away. You can’t cultivate suspicion and hate at the primary and secondary school levels and suddenly expect harmony to swell at the university level. Moreover, you can’t aspire to achieve peace, stability, and sustainable economic progress in such a poisonous environment. No amount of “renaissance” or “growth and transformation plan” would get you there. Any progress made in such a divisive environment can only be fleeting. First you need to shrink the yawning and ever-expanding gap among ethnic groups. In fact, if not corrected quickly, the divide and discord will eventually lead to assured conflict and disintegration. Ethiopians need to heed Obama’s July 26th message to Kenyans – “that a politics that is solely based on tribe and ethnicity is a politics that’s doomed to tear a country apart. It is a failure – a failure of imagination.”
The problem is that because of its myopic and jaundiced view of Ethiopian history, the TPLF has been unable to construct and launch a fitting and responsive vision to address the myriad challenges of Ethiopia. This lack of vision is reflected in the inherent contradictions the TPLF finds itself time and again in governing the country. For example, it recently declared 100 percent election victory. How can you hold an election in a diverse and huge country such as Ethiopia and come out winning 100 percent? This defies elementary logic, decency, and self-respect. You can’t have it both ways. You either declare no elections and rule by fiat or conduct elections and accept the verdict of the people (no contradiction in both instances). Perhaps the best example of the TPLF’s inherent contradiction is demonstrated in its 1998-2000 war with Eritrea. In that unfortunate war, the TPLF sacrificed an estimated 70,000 Ethiopians and hundreds of millions of dollars and achieved a decisive victory over its foe, and later on negotiated a settlement that surrendered Ethiopia’s victory to its vanquished enemy. Sadly, no one has been held accountable for this disastrous outcome. One can make a long list of such contradictions in the modus operandi of the TPLF.
Another problem is the TPLF’s shortsighted and vengeful nature. For example, it fought tooth and nail to deny the erection of a commemorative statute for Ethiopia’s last monarch, Emperor Haile Selassie, along with Kwame Nkrumah’s in the premises of the new AU building in Addis Ababa. No doubt the king was a despot, but nonetheless, he was instrumental when it comes to the independence and unity of Africa. This fact cannot be denied. In fact, the emperor did the TPLF and future Ethiopians immense favor by bringing the AU to Addis Ababa and opening the door for membership at the United Nations. Africa wanted to honor this Ethiopian “father” of Africa, but the TPLF would have none of that. What the TPLF is not realizing is that by denying Haile Selassie his rightful place at the AU, it is also denying the historic contributions of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians of all ethnicities in defending themselves from colonial enslavement and their inspirational role in ushering freedom for millions of Africans the world over. The TPLF’s inability to liberate itself from hate and accept history “as is” causes it to muddle in constant and murky contradictions. On one side, it likes to enjoy the benefits and bask in the prestige of leading the country that is host to the AU, and on the other, it is vengeful that this was made possible by the works of elders it doesn’t identify with. Here again many more example can be given to demonstrate the TPLF’s vengeful nature. Such hatred is what shackles the TPLF to the past and constantly impedes it from playing a positive role in shaping a more tolerant, civilized and prosperous Ethiopia. More importantly, this ailment alienates it from the people and prevents it from enjoying wider acceptance. Given all this, it is safe to assume that the TPLF recognizes that there is no love lost between them and the people of Ethiopia.
One needs to also remember that the TPLF and its lackeys, after nearly 25 years of unaccountable leadership, have amassed considerable wealth and influence that they want to protect. But in an environment of ethnic disharmony, ethnic favoritism (discrimination), growing income inequality and poverty, and lack of freedom and liberty, sustaining the status quo is increasingly becoming difficult. Such is the state of the TPLF today that something has to change; otherwise the cancer of ethnic politics could have a Frankenstein ending, consuming its very creator, the TPLF. The dilemma for the TPLF is that how do you accept historical mistakes and reform the system without losing face and tarnishing the images of its grossly aggrandized late “visionary leader,” who is remembered as the chief architect of ethnic apartheid in Ethiopia?
Next Steps
Let there be no doubt that ethnic politics is an existential threat to all Ethiopians, including to the TPLF. Addressing the threat is going to be a daunting task that demands genuine courage and commitment and the involvement of all. However, it can’t be addressed in isolation and in the current moribund and undemocratic climate. Eliminating the cancer of ethnic politics requires going beyond the symptoms and conducting bold surgical interventions. In the PM’s remarks you can sense his agony to come up with plausible explanations for the ethnic discord prevailing in the country. He brazenly blames university teachers for poisoning their students with ethnic hatred. The fact of the matter is that ethnic politics is enshrined in the Ethiopian Constitution and given effect through various policy pronouncements, decisions, and actions, starting from the highest echelons of government. Accepting this fact is the starting point for any genuine reform, not scapegoating this or that sector of society.
Granted the PM urged dialogue on the symptoms of ethnic politics and the need to arrive at a consensus among his colleagues. However, this at best is a halfhearted and deficient response to the humongous problem facing the country. Ethiopia is where it is now after sustained propaganda, misguided decisions and actions made by those in power for nearly the past 25 years. It will take time, effort and resources to reverse the damage already inflicted. Let there be no doubt however that it can be accomplished. But we have to be cognizant that addressing the threat takes nothing short of a structural reform. There are proven reconciliation models from South Africa to Ireland that can be adopted to fit the Ethiopian situation. Whatever model you choose (or make your own), at minimum there are three crucial steps you have to take for genuine reconciliation to take place: taking stock of the harm to human life, property, and national interest that took place as a direct result of the government’s ethnic policy to date; identifying the perpetrators and the victims of the policies; and facilitating dialogue and eventual acceptance and forgiveness between the offenders and the aggrieved. Crucial to this undertaking is an independent and impartial judiciary and law enforcement and a vibrant free press and civil society to carefully usher the country through the painful but necessary cathartic process.
Is the TPLF prepared to allow this to happen and be part of the process? Can we be optimistic and say that PM Hailemariam has taken the first bold step in hinting the need for a solution? Time will tell, but Ethiopians, particularly the youth need to sustain the pressure on the government for genuine reform. There is no question that mitigating and eventually eliminating the insidious threat of ethnic politics is this generation’s ultimate calling in our country’s centuries-old quest to form a fair and equitable system. It is this generation’s historic calling to devise a more promising and brighter future based on love and respect for each other and individual freedom and liberty for all. They should break artificial barriers hoisted by visionless agents of hate and reach out to each other, as their future is inextricably intertwined by blood, destiny and centuries of history, good and bad. The Future is indeed in our collective hands!
God Bless Ethiopia and Ethiopians!
Nahom M Freda


  1. I am amazed by this foolish analysis. It seems to me that we fell to TPLF tricks time after time. Do you really believe that the TPLF leaders would ever throw away their ethnic policy? They this to engage us in useless conversation like this. There will no be any reconciliation in Ethiopia. Those who committed the most heinous crime in the history of our mother land has to pay the price. Please stop comparing the current rulers that occupies our country to South African apartheid regime. The crime committed and is being committed by Woyane is the same us Nazi Germany. Those who committed those crimes were tried in Nuremburg and the same should happen to Woyane leaders.

  2. Sounds you just landed for Mars. How about the 20 plus years of persecutions, humiliations and demonizing of “narrow nationalists” the likes of “OLF” ONLF” “SPLF”…. good venting though

  3. History tells us that the peoples of Ethiopia in general and the people of Tigrai in particular have a history of outsmarting the rest. This was further enhanced during the previous seventeen years of armed struggle in which T.P.L.F has played a leading and historic role in institutionalizing superiority and in making it a culture in the Tigrayan Society.
    I do believe that since its inception and in the process henceforth, T.P.L.F. has clearly understood the People of Tigrai’s aspiration for dignity, equality, justice; liberty and development, and thus T.P.L.F’s political goals and objectives of the armed struggle era didn’t come out of notion; but they were developed and refined through a process of continuous and participatory discussions at all levels of the front’s organs.
    Besides to the overall guiding principles of the front, T.P.L.F’s Military Doctrine; which was based and guided by the front’s political ideology; has also served as a point of embarkation in the process of institutionalizing the culture of bravery and selflessness among the fighters.
    As being witnessed by the leaders themselves (for details, you may visit,T.P.L.F’s Military Doctrine was developed through a rigorous research; which followed and took into consideration of the following major underlying principles:
    Identifying the Guiding Ideology. First and foremost, T.P.L.F’s leadership had come into consensus that the Military Doctrine should emanate from and be guided by the front’s political ideology.
    The Need for an In-depth Scientific Study and Analysis. The leadership had also decided that the Military Doctrine be developed based on an in-depth and scientific research in which both internal and external environments should be scanned, analyzed and interpreted and aligned in-line with the local objective realities.
    The Establishment of a Core Study Team. T.P.L.F’s leadership has established a core study team comprising of political bureau members of the front. The team was responsible to undertake and lead a research focusing on the global geo-political situation (the cold war era) and the global economic order of that time, to review revolutions and armed struggles in different parts of the world (including China, Asia and Latin America), to study the Ethiopian socio-political and socio-economic situation, to undertake extensive assessments of the military government’s (Dergue’s) strengths and weaknesses in terms of personnel combat capacity, armament, military infrastructures; military strategies and tactics etc; to launch deep study and analysis of the situation in Tigrai: including on how the armed struggle could be economically supported on a sustainably basis; how to further enhance the People of Tigray’s support to the armed struggle, studies for the development of different military strategies and tactics for different geographic locations etc.
    Generating Research Outcome and Reviewing It: Once the core team finalized its research and come-up with its recommendation report; it was thoroughly discussed at all levels i.e.; among the political bureau members, central committee members, among army commanders and the fighters. Viable comments and suggestions were incorporated and the final workable document was generated. Thus, the approach was both sides (top-down and down-top)
    Capacity Building. Once the final version of the Military Doctrine Document was generated; training and orientation was organized at different levels of the army. This enabled for all members for the combatant members (army commanders and fighters) to have a clear and common understanding on the doctrine’s principles and on the implementation principles.
    Development of Plans, Strategies and Tactics. Based on the overall Military Doctrine, army commanders in consultation with their team were to develop an operation plan including localized military strategies and tactics to attack an enemy in specific area. These localized military tactics and strategies were also communicated and consulted with the top leadership. When the need arises specific operation based trainings were given to all the fighters in the attacking team. Agazi Operation could be taken as an example.
    Implementation of the Strategies and Tactics. Operations were led by army commanders with a closer follow-up by the top leadership. Very fast decisions and corrective measures were taken at all levels while operations were underway.
    Monitoring & Evaluations (Gimgema). The system has put in place clear duties and responsibilities of each individual and group at different organizational level of the front with a corresponding clear authority and accountability. This has enabled to undertake objective, unbiased, participatory and transparent evaluations. Thus, irrespective of the outcome of a specific operation, critical evaluations were undertaken at different levels after the end of each operation and sometimes during operations by army commanders with the involvement of the fighters and by the top leadership. Even the most successful operations were critically evaluated to serve as a benchmark for future undertakings; which were vital for subsequent operations and were really fruitful. Moreover, such evaluations among others were considered as a major input for promoting competent and committed fighters and army commanders to a higher level position. Both competence and commitment to the front’s objectives were the prime criteria for promotion and for assuming a leadership position; which were vital for the front to achieve its armed struggle objectives.
    Continuous Improvement. The doctrine was not static; and has been enriched through time from previous practical experiences.
    The Big Lesson Learned. T.P.L.F’s armed struggle in general has proved that nothing is impossible. This is one of the important lessons that the generation of the armed struggle has learned.
    The armed struggle’s Military Doctrine is still servicing as a benchmark of our country’s defense policy and strategy. Similarly, the current T.P.L.F leadership could use the principles of Developmental State in the development of Region based Development Doctrine that fits the objective realities in Tigrai.
    In a nutshell, the above principles (1-9) are the principles being used in modern day management. They are the guiding principles of strategic management; which could be adopted in fighting and mitigating poverty. However, for these principles to be effective there is a need for assigning competent leaders at all levels of the region’s administration who are free of corruption and nepotism and who are committed to address our people’s aspiration for dignity, equality, justice; liberty and development.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.