By Yene Gasha 09-25-18
TPLF is slated to hold its much-anticipated general congress shortly. In light of the turmoil across Ethiopia and the existential threat facing EPRDF, this year’s TPLF congress will need to be historic. I have a few thoughts.
For All Intents and Purposes TPLF Leaders Must Assume EPRDF Is Dead
For better or worse, the political landscape is changing at breakneck speed. And this change does not show any signs of slowing.
At present, EPRDF as we’ve come to know it appears to be on its deathbed. The democratic developmental state is all but dead. A merit-based military and security leadership is definitely dead. And, Ethiopia’s peace and security is under serious threat. What remains of EPRDF is an ethno-nationalistic conflagration that is eating the party and the federal system inside out. And, this was intentionally orchestrated by a segment inside EPRDF, with assistance from various diaspora agitators and Ethiopia’s outside adversaries.
So, the sooner TPLF leaders realize the current state of EPRDF, Ethiopian politics and Isaias Afewerki’s schemes, the better off they will be in organizing themselves for a new political order. Unfortunately, looking at recent public statements, they do not seem to want to accept or are refusing to face these realities. They are once again underestimating the forces at play here and appear to be misreading just how malignant the hidden agenda really is. Yet again, some leaders seem to be looking to Addis Ababa, instead of putting Tigray first.
Unfortunately, the malaise within EPRDF was preventable. As they say, if you don’t know your history, you’re bound to repeat it. This is of course exactly what happened to Tigray’s ruling elite some 140 years ago, following the death of Yohannes IV. Just like old times, a group within TPLF’s leadership became susceptible to the politics of self-interest, patronage and rent seeking – creating disunity from within. The leaders squabbled amongst themselves over power and influence. Several among them had the foolish desire to replace Meles as the next leader (mostly to advance their own agenda). They all got consumed with internal intrigue and personal enrichment. Meanwhile, the national agenda and democratic developmental roadmap was seriously neglected, leading directly to a paralysis within TPLF, EPRDF and by extension Ethiopia. This unfortunately, opened the door to the conditionthe nation finds itself in today.
In today’s environment, there is only one rule: hope for the best, but assume the worst. And, there is only one solution: strengthening the core, Tigray.
TPLF Must Fully Embrace its Tigrayan Identity, Culture and History
To rebuild a strong civilized Tigrayan society, TPLF must once and for all fully embrace Tigray’s five thousand years of history. And, the leadership must once and for all begin to look inward.
Identity and history are key ingredients for internal strength and cohesion. Tegaru should forgive centuries-old attempts at the appropriation of their history and culture (the latest being the fake controversy over the Ashenda festival). But, we should never forget. Tegaru should not concern themselves with fictional stories masquerading as Ethiopian history written by past rulers in their futile attempts at destroying Tigray and its people. We must simply look to the future and forge ahead.
Tegaru must accept the fact that they have always been the Jews of Africa. For millennia, Tigray was the founder and center of an ancient civilization. No ruler could claim the throne to the empire without the obligatory coronation at Axum Tsion. Not Gonder. Not Lalibela. Not Addis Ababa. Axum Tsion. Yet, like our Jewish brothers, Tegaru have faced unimaginable persecution at the hands of successive rulers for fear that Tegaru would rise up to reclaim their throne. This was the rationalization that led half of Tigray’s population to be sold to Italy and the other half relegated to unimaginable oppression, illiteracy and poverty within Ethiopia.
Tegaru have faced centuries of intermittent persecution, but have proven time and again that they cannot be broken. TPLF must embrace and tap into Tigray’s rich history to bring about an awakening and a much-needed renaissance across Tigray.
At this point, the people have thrown their full support behind Debretsion and TPLF. Debretsion is a highly effective manager who has also proven to be incorruptible despite decades of top national leadership. He is a trusted civil servant. And, many within and outside Ethiopia see him as a man of internal strength and leadership. As such, TPLF’s leadership team must fall behind his leadership. Conversely, he must first and foremost protect Tigray. He must think big and dream big. He must engineer Tigray’s renaissance. Anything short of this is unacceptable.
TPFL Must Immediately Work to Guarantee Tigray’s Peace and Security
Security threats in the Horn of Africa are deadly and unrelenting. Isaias Afwerki is surely hoping to cause mischief. And, it’s abundantly clear that Tigray is going it alone. Therefore, TPLF must set the goal of building Africa’s strongest defense force. There is no greater responsibility than to guarantee Tigray’s peace and security. And,Tigray’s security can only be guaranteed through internal strength. Ask Israel and our Jewish brothers how it’s done.
To be sure, TPLF is more than capable of accomplishing this task in no time, given that its legendary generals, colonels and other military leaders have recently “retired” from the military and are still young enough to lead the strongest security force in Africa. Think big. Act even bigger.
Tigray’s population is the same as that of Eritrea. Therefore, it is not farfetched to expect Tigray to have the capacity to build a strong defense apparatus. Let’s get it done.
TPLF Must Implement Proper Succession Program
The notion of appointing young, fresh leaders into the ranks of leadership is essential for the health of any organization. As such, TPFL’s leadership must bring energetic young leaders into its fold. But, the hyper focus on age and youth is worrisome.
Succession planning is a science.
Leaders should be selected based on their performance, leadership qualities, experience and integrity. At the end of the day, age is an arbitrary measure of effectiveness and success. Leadership assignments, in and of themselves, are not training grounds for leaders (young or otherwise). There are real life consequences to poor leadership. Any effective succession planning must therefore have a strong leadership training program from which young leaders can be elevated into leadership roles. TPLF must focus on this.
Studies have shown that a mix of diverse experiences, leadership quality, integrity and excellent track record are critical components for a successful leadership team. Therefore, at this critical juncture, participants of TPLF’s upcoming general congress should appoint central committee members in the following proportions:
· One-third of highly experienced, incorruptible leaders who are visionaries and reform-minded (these have to have deep experience in politics and leadership at the highest levels like Debretsion and Fetlework etc);
· One-third mid-career leaders who have meaningful amount of diverse job experience and extensive education with proven leadership and executive track record in other areas as well; and,
· One-third young but highly qualified leaders with new innovative ideas, fresh perspectives and a promising professional track record, with strong proven capacity for policy generation and implementation (and no they do not have to have PhDs).
A mix of these three profiles will give TPLF the best chance to renew itself and register quick results. By the way, gender diversity is also a critical component. TLPF, during the armed struggle, had gender parity in all roles (including key combat roles). It must continue to lead in this area.
Finally, when selecting the next set of leaders, the party should think about what is really important in today’s political landscape. TPLF’s new leadership must have the same vision for Tigray. Still, the leadership must have unity of purpose but not unity of ideas on how to bring its common vision to reality. Diversity of thoughts is critical. But once a decision is taken, everyone must fall in line. The leadership as a whole must be idea-driven, result-oriented and public-relations savvy. Above all, the new leaders have to have proven capacity to execute TPLF’s reform agenda.
TPLF Must Finally Take Public Relations Seriously
TPLF itself has already admitted that it has failed in the public relations arena. Its misguided policy of silence in the face of unfounded allegations against the party, party leaders and Tegaru in general has inflicted incalculable damage on the party and the people of Tigray. They say silence is a form of acceptance. What’s worse, in today’s social media driven world, fake news that is not given proper weight and immediate response from party leaders travels far and fast.
It’s fair for TPLF leaders to have worried about populist agendas eventually derailing their party from its core developmental agenda. And, given the current political dispensation at the national level, this concern was not unfounded. However, party leadership seems to have completely shunned all public relations efforts to its own detriment.
This must change.
The TPLF Central Committee must form a rapid-response public relations team with its own staff, and the authority to hire and fire international public relations firms that are directly accountable to TPLF’s Chairman and the Central Committee. This PR arm must immediately institute three critical changes:
1) Attention span among the public has been warped by social media and instant gratification. We live in an era of sound-bites. Therefore, to get through to the public, TPLF leaders must change their approach to media and PR entirely and must do it fast.
All TPLF and Tigray government leaders must give short, succinct answers when responding to the media or when presenting to the general public. Press briefings need to be short. No one has the time to listen to hours of discourse. The public relations team must provide (using international experts) deep presentation and public relations training to all TPFL officials from the very top all the way to the mid-level cadres. And I mean from the very top. Such expenditure will be well worth it in registering tangible results on behalf of the people of Tigray.
TPLF leaders must understand that this is not a luxury. Nor is it superficial. They have to meet the public where it is. . They have shown you where they are over the last three decades. They are showing it to you today. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. As long as one does not change his or her core principles, changing one’s approach and tactic is a must. Of course, we don’t need TPLF leaders to be fake. We don’t need them to be flash. We don’t need them to try too hard to please the public. But, we need them to be polished. We need them to be sharp. We need them to be savvy. We need them to be shrewd politicians. And, we need them to be short, succinct in their message delivery. The public doesn’t have the attention span for anything else.
2) Tigray’s leaders represent six million Tegaru on the world stage – a great people with thousands of years of history and civilization (granted Tegaru have fallen on hard times currently). There attire and their entire public presence must match the dignity of the great people they seek to represent. This is not superficial. Anyone who sees this recommendation as superficial is rejecting human psychology and is simply foolish. Haile Selassie I understood this and used it to great effect at home and on the world stage. If people do not follow you, you cannot lead. If you do not lead, you cannot implement any of your programs. A big part of why many of Ethiopians rejected TPLF and are giving PM Abiy their attention is due to this very issue.
Experts have found that only seven percent of communication is about the actual spoken words. The rest 93 percent of any message is conveyed through nonverbal cues like one’s appearance, attire, facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc. TPLF leaders must understand this simple science. This is not about them. This is about the audience. It’s about their ability to move and influence people. It is also about the proud people of Tigray that they seek to represent.
3) The PR team must track, analyze and provide rapid responses – debunking any fake news that puts the party or the people of Tigray in danger. Fake news must be confronted and responded to immediately. It’s nearly impossible to change public perception after the public has had time to assimilate false information fully. It is therefore critical that a response be given while the public is still forming its opinion and asking questions. Speed without sacrificing accuracy is paramount in today’s fast-moving world.
I hope TPLF leaders will finally internalize this message and carry themselves in a manner that dignifies the people of Tigray.
In conclusion, TPLF must harness the rich history and culture of the people of Tigray towards a national renaissance. The party should no longer downplay Tigray’s history or culture.
TPLF must guarantee Tigray’s peace and security by any means necessary. Each and every TPLF leader will be answerable for any lack of complete and decisive preparation in this area.
TPLF leaders must rebuild the party from top to bottom. This is a matter of survival. But, the rebuilding effort must be scientific.
Finally, TPLF must overhaul its public relations program. TPLF leaders’ physical appearance, attire, speech and statesmanship must match the dignity, history and culture of the people of Tigray. This is simply put human psychology.
I pray TPLF leaders rise to the occasion and show the world what Tegaru are made of.
God Bless Tegaru! God Bless Tigray!