On June 18, Ethiopians heard Prime Minster Abiy pronounce the plights of the people of Tigray when he addressed the parliament. Tigray, like many other regions, if not more, has been ravaged by lack of proper governance and corruption. The people have been complaining about this for many years. Currently, residents of the region, like their brothers and sisters in other regions, believe that change is around the corner. But, why didit take the country’s leaders and others so many years to rebuff the propaganda machine against the people and to publicly acknowledgethat Tigray too suffered from the same disease that inflicted the country? I am sure many people including the opposition knew that the people of Tigray were being accused of crimes they never perpetrated. The repercussions of the silence were detrimental. The negative propaganda that went unabated for the past 27 years culminated in the killing of innocent people and the looting of their properties.I believe the answer to the silence can be found in what the premieruttered about the relationship between TPLF and the people of Tigray.
Following the premier’s speech on the relationship between TPLF and the people of Tigray, social medias entertained intense exchanges of opinions. Some argued that TPLF and the people of Tigray are indeed one and the same, while others concurred with the Premier’s assertion. Any sensible person reading those comments would wonder what was going on in the minds of those people. How can one imagine that the whole 6 million or so people would have the same opinion and ideological stand? Is it even humanly possible? Of course, TPLF would like to think that it has the backing of the whole Tigrayans. It would also be difficult for the people of Tigray to completely write off the TPLF. They passed through thick and thin during the armed struggle, and when the rest of Ethiopia seemed to see Tigray as alien or traitor. So, looking at the circumstances and developments of the past 27 years, both sides seem to have valid arguments. Here are my reasons:
First, the people of Tigray had no option but to rally behind TPLF both during the Dergue’s time and after. At the beginning of the armed struggle, TPLF enjoyed popular support because the people believed in its cause. When the struggle picked momentum, Tigray was indiscriminately and deliberately targeted by the Dergue government leaving the people with no option but to stand in unison with the party. Together they made history.But, after the new constitution was enshrined and multiparty politics was allowed, TPLF became a party that competes for power based on merit just like any other. What hindered progress towards this reality was the subsequent political developments. On the one hand, TPLF dominated the region by deliberately “strangling” the political space. On the otherhand, political groups that saw TPLF as an enemy or a threat waged a proxy war by aiming their propaganda deliberately at the people of Tigray- the people of Tigray were accused of all the ills of the country – from the Eritrean cessation to every little action taken by the EPRDF. Tigrayans were even seen as traitors and “less Ethiopian.”Under the circumstances, what were the people supposed to do? I believe this corneredTigray and its people leaving no option but to stick with the only party that seemed to defend them. This undoubtedly gave the impression that TPLF and the Tigreans were the same.
Second, those who cannot see a difference between TPLF and the people of Tigray forget the historical reality of Ethiopian political landscape. If we go as back as the 1970s (1960S E.C.) student movement, we can clearly see the diversity of opinions among the Tigrayan students. They were not only active in all major partiesbut also occupied leadership positions in many political parties including the then popular political party EPRP and the Dergue. Even in Tigray, TPLF was not the only party that started the armed struggle; many among those who joined the armed struggle with TPLF left in subsequent years for reasons of political disagreements. Some remain strong opposition voices abroad and in the countrytoday. Opinions among the ordinary people are also not monochrome – far from it. The difference is that those who oppose the TPLF do so peacefully and based on facts, not based on hatred and resentment. When the popularity of TPLF went down significantly, especially since the past two elections, there was no strong and reliableopposition with appealing alternatives. The opposition was seen asviolentand lacked integrity. Therefore, what many tend to believe aboutthe relationship between TPLF and the people of Tigray iscircumstantial.
Third, the youth in Tigray region did not stage violent demonstrations like the “Keros” or “Fanos” elsewhere. For this reason, protesters and activists in other regions have blamed the Tigrayan youth for not standing out. This seems also, partly unwarranted. Activists are stillstrong, but their complaints and protests remained peaceful and directly aimed at the administration and the ruling party. Anyone who knows the region and follows the conversations on social media can obviously learn that the youth and the people have not been silent. They have taken the party and their administrators to the task and confronted corruption and injustice. They were outspoken about the way the people of the region were treated in other regions of the country; and the lack of peace with neighboring Eritrea. TPLF, as a result, recognized the challengesand subsequently vowed to curb them. The fact is that the people of Tigray, like any other, suffered from maladministration and the majority are yet to benefit from the system they themselves brought forth.
Currently, TPLF and the people of Tigray are not the same. To claim otherwise is like putting people of the region in just one box and this is not imaginable in a free society. It also implies that “no other political party is allowed in the region,” which does not encourage diversity of political opinions. Tigray, like other parts of the country, needs alternative parties in order to advance democratic processes. There still are diverse political views. That is why Tigray contributed to and welcomed the changes introduced by Dr. Abiy. But Tigray’s support is not a blank check – the people suggested caution when they thoughtsome decisions were rushed or when they felt not adequately consulted. This is healthy and should be encouraged. Does TPLF still enjoy a majority support in Tigray? May be. Does this mean the people and the party are one? Certainly not. However, the sense of isolation, finger pointing against Tigray, as a whole, and the propaganda of hatred – spearheaded by the opposition forced the Tigrayans to be on the defensive. Henceforth, there is only one way to change the current trend. All Ethiopians should seize the current opportunities to undo all wrongdoings of the past –from all corners of the political spectrum. Anyone who claims to love his/her country should say no to discrimination, isolation, and intimidation of any kind targeted at any segment of society, or creed. Lasting peace is only possible if we can condemn all ills irrespective of their sources.
June 23, 2018