TPLF: The Dog That Can no Longer Bark

JANUARY 24, 2014 |

For Barking Out Loud. “Fighting Shaebia (Eritrea) is a prerequisite to our developmental democracy” – Bereket Simon

By Amanuel Biedemariam,

On January 15, 2014, Ethiopian Satelite Television, ESAT reported that the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRDF) conducted an internal organizational evaluation.

ESAT quoted former Ethiopia’s Information Minister and the new advisor to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalgen, Bereket Simon,

Before we replaced Revolutionary Democracy with Developmental Democracy, the Front has been divided into three groups. One group of the leadership had argued that our problem was internal and that we needed to first check that, while the other group held-that our problem was Shabia/Eritrea and that we needed to fight them first, but the third position which said that after fighting Shabia/Eritrea, we should then look at our internal problems had become the winning idea.”

According to the statement, the EPRDF is no longer a Revolutionary Democracy. It is now Developmental Democracy (whatever that means). To determine that, the group was divided into three camps, but the final outcome was to fight “Shaebia/Eritrea” as a primary focus and address their issues later.

The one prerequisite to development and progress for any nation is when there is  peace. When a nation ensures relative peace, then that becomes a foundation for progress. The decision by the EPRDF to “Fight Shaebia/Eritrea” as a prerequisite to their developmental democracy is simply absurd, laughable, and dangerous at the same time.

After 15 years of hostilities that started with a border war and morphed into the current so-called No-War No-Peace strategy, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF/EPRDF) decided to continue on the same path, albeit with a dressed-up name.

At what cost? Who paid for it initially? Who has been responsible for the last 15 years? The TPLF evaluation did not entertain peace with Eritrea; does that mean they have no intention to make peace with Eritrea ever?

Furthermore, on what grounds does Ethiopia’s current regime, the TPLF/EPRDF, try to continue the path of hostility? What is the ultimate goal? How will Eritrea deal with the intransigent TPLF? And ultimately, what constituency of Ethiopia will support this intransigence?

Moreover, how did Ethiopia do without peace with Eritrea? Could it have been done better? How have the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea fared? Is the past 15 years a model by which two neighboring countries should conduct their affairs for the future? Who pays for all these? Who paid for the past?

The key question is, why did Bereket Simon come out and make these absurd statements? Moreover, when many, particularly the US, are talking peace for the first time in over 15 years, why did Bereket Simon roll out this war agenda? The questions are endless.

The answer to all these questions is found in one astute Eritrean political figure’s statement a while back. When asked to respond about outrageous, repeated statements by the TPLF against Eritrea, he answered,

“When a dog barks uncontrollably disturbing the peace, the best option is to talk to the owners of the dog.”

There are three key reasons why Bereket Simon decided to come out to declare the continuation of the hostilities:

1) The current chatter that the US is on the verge of re-establishing ties with Eritrea is a concern, and they are crying for some attention. They want to make sure that the US does not abandon them. Ambassador David Shinn’s comment that we will not have relations with Eritrea at the expense of our essential ally Ethiopia is designed to do just that; allay concerns. That, however, is not working because the reaction to Ambassador Shinn has been very harsh.

2) Improved Eritrea-US relations are a serious concern for the pocketbooks of the minority regime. Ethiopia has provided boots for the West that funds its military. In turn, the TPLF controls its army with billions in funding from the West, specifically the US, by using it as an incentive. Assignments reward those who are loyal to peacekeeping missions for lucrative pay. That means there is a security dimension to it because the funds pacify multi-ethnic military that could turn on them.

3) Peace is the greatest threat to the very existence of the TPLF/EPRDF. Therefore, they must perpetuate these conflicts, particularly with Eritrea. The TPLF is using the border issue to control the people of Ethiopia to continue the No-Peace No-War agenda indefinitely.

Time the Enemy

The TPLF/EPRDF has run out of time. There have been tremendous regional and global changes that have led to change in attitude and approach in dealing with the region’s countries. The strategy to subdue Eritrea failed. On the contrary, all economic signals indicate that Eritrea is forging ahead independently.

The US waited for over a decade to bring regime change in Eritrea using Ethiopia and failed.

China’s influence in the region is forcing changes in US-Africa policy. The changes of Western Geo-Strategic shift away from the Middle East to Asia play a factor. Military and other budget cuts in the US will undoubtedly affect changes. In addition, the death of Meles Zenawi and the power transition that ensued has created a precarious power-sharing leadership arrangement that generated a great deal of uncertainty.

Moreover, countries in the region are working for their interests diligently. Governments in the area, particularly Egypt, Sudan, and Eritrea, are important for many reasons.

The Key

The US holds the key to Eritrea – Ethiopia future relations simply because Ethiopia, as a client state and dependent on the US for political, diplomatic, economic, food, and military support/aid, is amenable to US demands. Thus, when and if the US decides it is in the best interest of the US for the TPLF to create peace with Eritrea, then there will be no choice left but to acquiesce to US demands. That is the reality.

The question remains, why will Eritrea negotiate? There is no point in negotiating after Eritrea paid with the lives of 20,000 Eritreans and many more wounded.

It does not make sense to negotiate with the TPLF after it displaced millions of people and after decades of hostility that impacted families. Eritrea paid the price with precious blood. Hence, why on earth will the people of Eritrea throw a lifeline to the TPLF? Will they?

That means the neck of the TPLF is on the table. The US is at a critical point where they have to choose whether to save Ethiopia or the TPLF. When an organization with no constituency and, according to Bereket Simon, not clear about the nation’s future direction decide to place their fate on hostilities with a neighboring country Eritrea, the US has a lot to worry about.  When the perception remains Bereket Simon is the key figure rendering Prime Minister Hailmariam Desalegne as a figurehead, the US has a lot to worry about. Is TPLF/EPRDF Ethiopia?

These are some sticky points. Ambassador David Shinn tried to address these problems, but no takers. He said,

Although the United States might decide to try again to improve relations with Eritrea, it will not do so at the expense of its ties with Ethiopia.

The statement means Ethiopia, not TPLF/EPRDF. The US is aware of these complexities. The US, at this stage, is desperate to save Ethiopia because the current states of affairs are unsustainable.

Ambassador Hank Cohen’s approach is commendable. He is trying to thread a thin line to save a nation from the embedded ethnic-political system that can spell disaster with long-term consequences for the region and US long-term interests.

Eritrea, therefore, holds the key.

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