Tigrean Opposition to the TPLF

By Mesay Kebede

Prof. Mesay Kebede

Despite the TPLF’s view of itself as the model of representation of ethnic interests and well-being, the growth of disenchantment is perceptible in Tigray. The proof is that non-violent Tigrean opposition to the TPLF is no longer negligible. Despite a tight control and continuous harassments, the movement known as ARENA is stepping up its criticisms of the regime and its attempt to organize and mobilize a credible popular opposition. Though the movement is ethnic-based, it is ideologically quite distinct from the TPLF, since its program includes not only the achievement of genuine democracy, but also the “restoration of Ethiopian Sovereignty.” The latter goal indicates a movement that counters the TPLF’s vision of Ethiopia as a mere collection of sovereign nations and nationalities.
Another countering movement is the TPDM (Tigray People’s Democratic Movement), considered by many observers as one of the strongest—if not the strongest—armed groups fighting to topple the EPRDF government. Even though I personally do not have any information about the actual strength of the movement other than what I read online, I note that their political program describes a vision of Ethiopia that it is antithetical to that of the TPLF. Indeed, the program denounces the TPLF system because it is “narrowly based on clan and family orientations.” It adds that the system “has endangered the collaborative culture and the historic unity of the people of Ethiopia . . . in the name of self-determination.” Unsurprisingly, the program says, the TPLF policy has created a barrier of “hatred” between the people of Tigray and the people of the rest of Ethiopia, a situation obviously fraught with ominous consequences for Tigreans as well as for Ethiopia.
The importance of these movements comes from the fact that they correct an anomaly, the very one that changed Tigray, the birthplace and the constant supplier of the guardians of Ethiopiawinet, into an initiator and proponent of ethnonationalism and secessionist movements.  While the marginalization of Tigray under previous regimes by the hegemony of Amhara elite has understandably created resentment, the espousal of ethnonationalism and secessionism to the point of making Ethiopia landlocked directly contradicted the historic vocation of Tigray. The new path amounted to nothing less than the loss of its very soul. It is because many people were still counting on Tigray’s legacy of guardianship of Ethiopian unity that they welcomed the TPLF with open arms subsequent to the routing of the Derg’s army. The same reliance on Tigray’s traditional commitment to Ethiopian unity explains why the Derg was unable to convince people, despite repeated warnings, of the danger of a military victory of the TPLF.
We know when the turning point occurred: it was in the 60s and early 70s when a majority of Ethiopian educated elites turned against their own legacy and cultural identity through the instigation of the ideology of Marxism–Leninism. In one of my books, I describe the derailment as a “cultural dislocation,” one of its impacts being the measurement of revolutionary zeal by how far one is ready to deconstruct Ethiopia. When you add resentment against Amhara elite to the revolutionary zeal, you have a combination liable to produce estranged groups, the prototype of which is the late Meles Zenawi.

If people’s identity matters, then we should expect a retraction of the type that both renews and brings back the suppressed Tigrean commitment to Ethiopian unity. Is the opposition to the TPLF strong enough to change into a large movement of protest? It is hard to tell for the simple reason that many Tigreans, even though they are aware of TPLF’s derailment and its pernicious effects, are still apprehensive as to the future that awaits them if the TPLF is dislodged from power. The propaganda of the TPLF and its politics of fear have no doubt gotten into the head of many Tigrean elites, not to  mention those supporting the TPLF out of greed or political ambition.
Still, the existence of an opposition, however small it may be, that is willing to confront the TPLF on the issue of Ethiopian sovereignty forebodes a change of heart that can further expand provided that favorable conditions upholds it. All the more reason for expecting the expansion of opposition is, as pointed out by Professor Mesfin in a recent article, the realization by ordinary Tigreans that the promise of rapid and all-out economic development of Tigray is far from being fulfilled. The realization contains the understanding that justice and freedom are indivisible, that you cannot have them in one place and not in others. If the system is just and democratic, it is so for everybody; if it excludes other ethnic groups, you can be damn sure that Tigreans too will become victims. Once you erect the wall of special privileges, you have a system that serves the few to the detriment of the many, regardless of ethnic groups.


  1. Mesay does not tell people that he was isapa at AAU and that he was terrorizing everyone in the university. People did not talk when he around; they abruptly stop talking when he shows up at the lounges. He even brutally punished junior staff in the department of philosophy for openly opposing Derg’s policy. He had them suspended from the university. (Mesay, do you remember them? If you don’t, they are Pele Darota and Ambaye whose last name I forgot.) He has been a lead organizer, Capo, of the summer tehadiso program for university teachers. He stayed in that position until the downfall of the Derg. Now, he is unashamedly criticizing Derg. Jib bemaywuqut ager qurbet antifulign yilal yibalaal. Ye dil atbiya arbagna!

    • Yes, I too remember him terrorizing non-isapa faculty at AAU. Out of fear, no one talked to him and he had no friends. He used to walk and go to lounges alone. When I see his picture on the scree starring, I feel scared to death as if he still has power to hurt me. When I see into his eyes I still read ኢሠፖ. Please take away that picture.

  2. I love reading Prof Messay’s and Temesgen Desalegn’s articles; very educational, unbiased, and thought through. Thank you TD and Prof.

  3. I agree with you professor in the most cases. I followed TPDM online and listened to their Tigrigna songs. I must tell you that I felt joining them. Because everything they do is Ethiopian. However, since they are supported by the enemy of Ethiopia (shaebia), I doubt they are free to express/do their heart felt Ethiopianism. That is a big question. My point is that Shaebia helped (almost created) TPLF in return they got signature of Meles to secession from Ethiopia without considering to any Ethiopian interest. Meles permitted Shaebia to loot Ethiopian resource and money for whole 7 years. Somaliland declared independence for 23 years, but not recognized. Thus, when Shaebia is helping any Ethiopian opposition, What are they getting in return?

  4. Professor Messay Kebede did not take Egypt’s money.
    I have more respect for Professor Messay Kebede he is much smarter than Egypt’s banda ( Alemayhue Gebremariam), unlike Messay Kebede, Alemayhue Almariam had sold Ethiopias interest (Objected the hydro dam project) and called it “the White Elephant” sided with Egypt.

  5. Back in the early 90s, I used to read TPDM’s series of pamphlets and timely communiques in which I came across strange terminology “amharanization” (you know what it implies) their ideologue was a old man by the name of Dr, Zewde whom I had met through a friend who happened to be a member of the group. I don’t suppose TPDM was active in the armed struggle back then but it had an office in the Sudan. What I remember about this faction is that its program was no different than the TPLF i.e. seceding Tigrai from the rest of Ethiopia was its main agenda. Most importantly, this group was notoriously known for its hatred of the ethnic Amhara hence the term “amharanization” TPDM was purposely omitted by TPLF from participating in the transitional government do to the fact that its political stature was insignificant. Even now that it has been revived and militarily equipped by the Eritrean regime to the point of being capable of waging war against the Ethiopian regime, I don’t see it as any thing more than instrumental that the Eritrean regime holds as a bargaining-chip in order to settle its political and territorial dispute with the TPLF. Inside Eritrea though, according to credible eyewitness accounts, this group has been tasked by Isayas Afeworki to detain new recruits and also track draft dodgers in the streets of Asmara and other cities respectively. As to the opposition group Arena, I believe this is the only group engaged in active political resistance inside the stronghold of TPLF, Tigrai and what it is doing in the face of constant harrassment threat by the TPLF is highly encouraging. But I think it should reinvent itself by getting rid of the old guards, such as the group’s chairman Gebru Asrat who gave away Eritrea and our ports.

    • I differ to your account regarding TPDM. They never denied their Ethiopianess. A big different than TPLF, but since they are under Shaebia I doubt what they can accomplish.

  6. the professor said he has no proof about how big or small this group is or even whether it exists or not. how can he write such a report about a group he is not sure about.
    to me it is all too inflated. this group has never engaged tigre people liberation front in the battle field and scored any victories to its name but they keep graduating ‘fighters’ .

  7. @ MR. AMARE,
    I did read the article titled Dam! the White Elephant by Pro Almariam Gebremariam, …..indeed, it is shameful that he ended up and became Arab’s/ Egypt’s house nigger just for money.
    Pro Alemariam should have titled his article “selling out Ethiopia” instead.

  8. My fellow Ethiopians
    please do not be misled by Messay- We know hi as a terrorist at Addis Ababa Univ.
    These are the people whose “self importance” has not died. These are the most dangerous people who have robbed the dignity and integrity as well as unity of our people. He has the right to drop but we need to be very cautious of such barbaric and meangless messages.

  9. Prof. Mesay,
    Please get off the back of Amaras. You and your cohorts were at the forefront of waging war on Ethiopian nationalism and what we see is the result of your contribtuion to the destruction. Like any other ethnic groups, the Amharas were poor during so called “Amhara hegemony” the politically correct vocabulary that you and others use to condemn all Amharas when infact the imperial regimes had more non Amhara civil servants taken for Amharas. Enough is enough!

    • there was no ethnic based politics before that tended and openly acted baiasedly towards a specific minority ethnic group like this time.If you say yes there was one, let me for the sake of the argument agree and assume that it was an amhara one ( but was not as history has it ) under which one was Ethiopia and Ethiopians better off ? what does the exodus of the young generation out of the country which is taking place almost each day tell us ? what is happenning to the Ethiopians living in different pats of the country out of their place of birth ? was this the Ethiopia we had ? you idiot stinky tigres and their servant gallas tell me you gutless bullshit. The people of Ethiopia is suffreing unprecedentedly. This is the bold truth. When it comes to the gallas, is n`t it the amhara who civilised you and protected you from the british and italian colonialists ? had it not been for the amhara’s protection, you would have become a bearer of the coach of the british colonialists like your kenian counterpart, however, you mindless idiot do not have the brain power to be able to realise this fact. i advise you instead to worship the amharas rather than opening your foul mouth everywhere against them.come to your senses and stop cleaning the nasty socks and shoes of the tigre masters of you

  10. Prof. Mesay
    Why are the extremist amhara in the diaspora continuosly accusing the Tigrayans of not participating in the oppostition movement when the fact that the professor had no courage to admit is that
    ” there are more Tigrayans carrying rifles against TPLF as there are Amharans. The Extremist amhara groups enjoy “Akaki zeraf” on demonstrations in Europe and the USA.

  11. Dear Professor Essay,
    I would like to appreciate what you are doing to share your political insights to us who are always puzzled by the dire situation of the country we so desperately loved and cherished. Please keep continue to share with us your perspectives on current political issues in the country. You are an inspiration to those educated elites who chose to keep silent and decide not to use their talents to expose the repressive regime and its cohorts in the country.
    With regard to those who oppose you, I would say please ignore them. They do not know what they are talking about. May be one day they will understand your message. I still admire you for your contribution to the country you love. Let me share with you one joke I heard years ago about you. It was told by students in arat kilo campus who dislike philosophy course, and who did not like the grades you gave them. They said what you allegedly told them as, I quote, ” A to marx, B to lenin, C to dr. messy, and D to an outstanding student, and F to the rest.” I heard that you were one of the best teachers of philosophy.
    Keep up sharing your wisdom with us.
    Ethiopia Shall Rise
    God bless Ethiopia!

  12. As a young boy l used to hear a lot about you. You were the chairman of the Philosophy Dep’t & the WPE basic commitee secretary at 6 kilo. You were the lead Cadre forcing staff members to go to GDR, RUSSIA etc (Bekele) when they oppose that you even conspired with Abiye Kifle to jail them (Wondyfraw).All l remember is that the best were punished & were denied western scholarship(Wondyfraw,Pele, Setargrew,Mindaralew).
    Nepotism was rampant (you sent Meseret to Cananada in place of Wondyfraw).
    For me you were Derg’s face at 6Kilo the equivalent of Ali Mussa.
    lf you have the gut get the apology of Wondyfraw and his friends!
    other wise you have no moral ground to talk on such big issues ! because of what you did with that little position!

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