August 19, 2021
Dear Senator Coons,
I am specifically addressing my concerns and what needs to be known to your office and the government of the United States, because I am convinced, from my observation of your words, conduct and actions in the Senate, that you are a man of great integrity and willingness to hear the “other side”. And, more to the point, because you have been a special envoy to Prime Minister Abiy.
I would like to let you know that the US is about to lose the great faith and affection Ethiopians always reserved for America because of the way the Biden administration is handling the war in Ethiopia. Put quite simply, America is trying to side with a party, the TPLF, which has a dismal history of tribalism, kleptocracy, corruption, political persecution and assassination. This would have been seen as a cynical move on the part of America if there were any benefit in her choice to side with the TPLF. The truth is that America, in this case, is doing herself a huge disfavor: not only the siding with the TPLF demonstrates her tone-deafness, but makes one wonder on what kind of information is the US acting. Let me clearly state what the TPLF stands for and what it has stood for since its inception in the mid-seventies. Let these facts inform your policy towards it.
1. The TPLF was founded to pursue the independence of Tigray. It was, and remains essentially a Stalinist/Maoist party which embraced, late in its rule over Ethiopia, the economic system called “the developmental state” when it clearly saw the bankruptcy of the communist economic system. In effect, it followed the Russian and Chinese models. Just like them, it continued to maintain its Stalinist/Maoist party structure that continues to inform its method of governance.
2. In 1987, when the TPLF realized that Tigray could never become a viable state because of its total lack of resources, it decided to coopt the other liberation fronts (the OLF & others) to march to the Capital Addis Ababa to oust the inept Derg regime, headed by Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. While it always wanted to present itself as just “another” member party of the coalition of parties known as the EPRDF, it was absolutely clear to every Ethiopian from the very beginning that the TPLF was the unchallenged power, the boss of the coalition. It remained so until it lost the intra-party election in April 2018.
3. During its 27 years of rule from 1991 to 2018, the TPLF, which invariably hid behind the EPRDF façade, governed Ethiopia with an iron fist and with total unaccountability. First, it pursued a politics of divide and rule by specifically reviving the traditional animus existing between the Amhara and Oromo people, the two largest ethnicities in Ethiopia. The objective was clear: as long as it fanned and revived the ethnic animus between these two, it was able to maintain power, since as a representative of a minority ethnicity, it could have never maintained power if the two had decided to coexist peacefully, or even reach a certain détente. Thus, by design, the TPLF constructed and encouraged a form of ethnocratic federalism whereby each region (or Killil) had the constitutional right to secede. I want to reiterate that this was not done because Ethiopians demanded it, but because it guaranteed the continuance in power of the TPLF and the privileged position of the people it represented, the Tigreans.
4. When it was ousted from power in April of 2018, it quickly withdrew its support of the government of Abiy Ahmed and its top cadre and retreated to Tigray. While the TPLF claims that this was caused by differences of view with the Prime Minister and the direction the country was about to take, the true reasons have been as clear as day light to the Ethiopian people. The TPLF very much dreaded the idea that its members were about to stand trial for all the crimes they had perpetrated during their nearly three decades of at the helm. In other words, it did not want any accountability for the 27 years of extreme corruption, kleptocracy, mass incarceration, political persecution and assassinations, etc…Its top cadre retreated to Mekele essentially to avoid accountability, re-group, re-organize and form a violent opposition to the federal government of Ethiopia. What the TPLF has failed to understand is that no Ethiopian, at least outside of Tigray, wishes its resurgence, let alone its retaking power by any means, violent or peaceful. As things stand today in Ethiopia, the overwhelming majority of Ethiopians want the TPLF to disappear from the political landscape of the country for good!
5. The TPLF is not struggling today for Tigray’s independence, but to fight its way back to power over Ethiopia. It has set in motion its formidable propaganda machine, and has won virtually the hearts and minds of journalists, politicians, diplomats and academicians in the West. It has been able to regain the trust of its people because of its unmatched devious propaganda. It has successfully depicted itself as the victim of an unjust war while the government of Abiy has been portrayed as the villain for defending and attempting to maintain the integrity of the country. If the TPLF were really for Tigray’s autonomy, what business does it have invading other Killils (regions)? What can’t it set in motion its constitutional right for Tigray to secede from Ethiopia? What is really happening is that the TPLF has already planted a vast number of its cadre at every level, and in every sector of the federal government of Ethiopia that will continue to do its bidding. And if the occasion arises, to wrest power from the legitimately installed PM.
6. The accusation of genocide and ethnic cleansing by the TPLF and its supporters against Ethiopia is as shameful as it is a total fabrication. Yes, there have been widespread abuses and gratuitous violence in the war. Unfortunately, this is in the nature of all wars. Ironically, however, it was the TPLF that has actually tried its hand at “cleansing” the village of Maicadra of its Amhara residents. But it failed. In truth, it would have resumed its “PolPotian” campaign if it were not for some unbiased reporting, the intervention of the Amhara militia and the federal troupes.
The recent accusation that the government of Ethiopia is in the process of mass-incarcerating or even eliminating Tigreans resident in Ethiopia is a lie that the TPLF is spreading around to always put in a bad light the government of Ethiopia. The truth is that an estimated 700 thousand to a Million Tigreans live in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government would be in the absurd position of persecuting its own people if indeed it did so. The fact, however, is far more prosaic: The government has only gone against the TPLF members and cadre that continue to undermine the efforts of war of the federal government while still employed by it! The mendacious propaganda that intimates that the Prime Minister and his government are rounding up Tigreans and throwing them in makeshift concentration camps is not only a cruel lie, but also a dangerous one. It was Debretsion, the current head of the TPLF, who, upon his triumphal return to Mekele, asked: “How can you (the Ethiopian Defense Force) expect to fight against the TPLF, when half of the Military is still part of the TPLF?” Is PM Abiy then wrong in ridding his army and bureaucracy of TPLF sleeper cells?
7. The TPLF has always negotiated in bad faith. It only negotiates when it is cornered. This is widely known to anyone who has studied its behavior. Its intention is not to arrive at a genuine compromise or solution, but to buy enough time to regroup and fight another day. Its only goal is unchallenged power. Beware, I say to the new crew for Africa in the State Department!
8. The government of Ethiopia never wanted a war. It was clearly drawn into it. It could not have not responded in kind when TPLF attacked the Northern Ethiopian force. This war was started by the TPLF. Let us not forget this. If the TPLF had legitimate reason to complain about the status of Tigray, it could have brought suit again the federal government. It did not. It chose to start a war because it did not want any accountability and it resented being removed from power. Most of all it wanted to render the country ungovernable and in the process march to the Capital. That was its miscalculation, because the Ethiopian people have never rejected a party so completely and unequivocally. What is heart-rending is that the TPLF is pushing the rest of Ethiopia to reject not only the TPLF, but even the people it represents. This is how callous and unscrupulous this party is!
9. The greatest favor the West and its sensationalist media can do for Ethiopia is to tell the truth and not act as the megaphone for the TPLF. What the US government can do is to base its foreign policy on facts and not on hearsay, or worse yet, based on the suggestions made by previous US officials, lobbyists, and academics who had personal friendships with the top cadres of the TPLF. I do not want to name names, but I can tell you who they are if you wish.
10. If America continues to side with the TPLF’s agenda, it will bear the historic responsibility of having endorsed and abetted a civil war in Ethiopia that can only end with Ethiopia becoming another failed state (not Yugoslavia as some have maintained) and the region being unstable for decades to come.
It is these points I wanted you to consider and reflect upon because they constitute what the majority of Ethiopians hold as the truth. I have never written to any elected official in my life, but given the gravity of the situation, I could no longer remain silent. I hope the US Senate or its designated committee will consider these points if the US government is to pursue an informed and fair policy towards Ethiopia.
[i] This is an edited version of the letter.