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Alex De Waal: Herculean Task to Resuscitate the TPLF

By: Bana Negusse

This week, Foreign Policy (FP) featured an article entitled, “From Pariah to Kingmaker”, authored by Alex de Waal (3 March, 2021).

The piece is less concerned with delving into an objective and academic discourse of the ongoing situation in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia than whitewashing decades of TPLF crimes and scapegoating Eritrea.  Evidently, the author remains immersed in a herculean task of somehow resuscitating whatever remains of the TPLF.

As it is almost invariably the case with news reporting and analysis on the conflict in northern Ethiopia these days, the article is replete with appalling misinformation, glaring contradictions, and presumptions, as well as, substantial oversights. To highlight a few: the international sanctions against Eritrea were imposed in 2009 (not 2007) while the Constitution, developed through a two-year-long drafting process, was adopted by an 862-member Constituent Assembly in late 1997.

Although existential issues of preserving sovereignty and territorial integrity affected the subsequent tempo and pace of Eritrea’s political process of nation-building, the country’s considerable achievements in health, education, and social sectors have undoubtedly helped to ensure tangible progress in the quality of life for millions of Eritreans who are today free from hunger, disease, and ignorance.

The author’s references to migration and economic stagnation are hypocritical and myopic, overlooking the foreign-instigated “strategic depopulation” campaigns and the harsh impact of illegal sanctions.

Moreover, the author makes various disparaging presumptions on Eritrea’s military capacity while simultaneously insinuating, as well as lamenting,  its pivotal role in the region. Unsurprisingly, he also refers to alleged Eritrean crimes in Tigray, vicious allegations which are utterly false and maliciously fabricated for ulterior political ends.

Somehow, the author claims that Eritrean troops are exacerbating the conflict between Ethiopia and Sudan, despite the key fact that Eritrean officials have actually been engaging in shuttle diplomacy and stressing calm and patience to both sides. Notably, both Ethiopian and Sudanese officials have expressed appreciation to Eritrea for its positive role.

As one skims through the article, it is quite remarkable to see how Eritrea, a country that the author spent years portraying and describing as a “feeble, poor, failed state, with a weak, unmotivated, crumbling military”, is styled as pulling the strings and controlling the Horn of Africa – something that even the richest, most powerful countries in the world, have been unable to manage.

The discourse on the humanitarian situation in the Tigray Region that the author dwells on is again woefully off track.  True, the poor farmers and civilian population in the region are victims of the reckless crimes of the TPLF clique.  All necessary humanitarian support should therefore be marshaled and delivered to those in dire need with the requisite urgency.  This is a task that the Ethiopian government is shouldering earnestly.  And as underlined in the government’s latest report, there is much foot-dragging by the international community in terms of actual and concrete assistance albeit vociferous leap-service and pontification.

But grave as this is, the humanitarian crisis cannot eclipse the high crimes and culpability of the TPLF clique which fomented the unprecedented crisis in the first place. The author’s convoluted aim is to conflate the two categorically different issues in order to downplay and gloss over the TPLF’s crimes.

Let us recall that after being swept from power in 2018 largely as a result of years of mass popular protests across the country, TPLF officials remained unbowed and unrepentant – even proud – of their cruel past, constantly boasting that their rule represented a “golden era” and raising themselves up to be the embodiments of greatness and nobility. Since 2018, the TPLF also worked to scuttle the positive developments and sincere efforts for lasting peace, stability, and security in Ethiopia and the surrounding region.

The TPLF doggedly sought to stymie any efforts at reform and positive change. Feeling marginalized, as well as deeply bitter and resentful about its loss of power and control over looted state resources, the TPLF retreated from Addis Ababa to its base in Tigray. From there, it worked to promote conflict, tension, and chaos; hoping that the resultant instability and insecurity would prevent and roll back the reforms underway and ultimately topple the Federal Government. This would allow the clique to sneak back to power to restore its former dominance.

Over the past several years, the TPLF was actively preparing for war, stockpiling weapons, and training militias – using funds that were actually meant for the development of the country. In the past two years in particular, it stoked tensions and dangerously ratcheted up violent, extremist, and hateful speech.

Then, on 3 November 2020, the TPLF, hoping to salvage its lost power, launched a massive military attack on Ethiopia’s Northern Command. Contrary to the image of a simple uprising that the author tries to convey, the objective was to totally neutralize the Northern Command, overthrow the Ethiopian government, and subsequently march on to Asmara to carry out its long avowed “regime change” agenda. (It also wanted to redraw the boundaries of Tigray Region in Ethiopia,  and the international border with Eritrea.)

Of course, the recent FP article is hardly surprising since the author, a self-described long-time close friend and key confidante of the high-level TPLF leadership, has spent decades working to portray the group in the best light while vilifying Eritrea. In the past few months, he has even continued to praise TPLF officials, ignoring the considerable blood on their hands and whitewashing their long history of serious crimes and grave atrocities.

However, although the author may understandably be deeply hurt and dismayed by the TPLF’s precipitous fall from power, it does not allow him the right to disseminate misinformation and overlook the indelible facts that underpin the prevailing situation.




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