By Haile Yibrah
I have been closely following the power struggle which has been waged on the open between the Interim Tigray Government (ITG) and the TPLF, i.e. different factions of the TPLF. Some wouldn’t agree with this description. In any case we have noted that the TPLF leadership summoned its cadres from the whole of Tigray for a meeting. Sensing danger or what the outcome would be to his power the President of the ITG ordered his security apparatus to prevent the meeting. To justify his action, he appeared on TV-screen and tried to explain why the meeting was unnecessary, that there was not enough reason to call a meeting in the middle of a night or that it was untimely because it was a harvest time etc. I consider this type of reasoning as a propaganda gimmick, which is an insult to our intelligence. It was unprecedented move by the President against his own party, to say the least. TPLF will be the first party to be forbidden to hold a meeting by its own man for the first time in its history. I don’t know what TPLF members may have felt when they were hindered to go into the meeting Hall, which was built by their blood, bones and flesh. Forbidding party meeting is not uncommon. All dictators practice it against their opponents. But to see a president nominated by a party to go against his own party and forbid it to convene its members to a meeting is something new. The question is what is the reason or who is behind?
To start with I want to make it clear that I don’t have any relation whatsoever with the TPLF, except that I am concerned with issues that concern Tigray. My comments are solely based on matters of principle. There is no question that government and party activities should be separated. It is also acceptable and legitimate to demand that the TPLF be accountable for whatever wrongs it did as a party and as a government during its tenure. We all agree that change in governance has to come in Tigray. However, this doesn’t mean, that party functionaries can’t hold public offices. They have all the right like any citizen to work in any public office. It is also clear that it needs to make reforms and adapt itself to the current situation if it wants to stay relevant in the political landscape of Tigray in the future. It shouldn’t also expect to be treated as before as time has changed. It is time that the TPLF accept equal treatment like any other party in Tigray. Having said these, I don’t want to see it liquidated or dissolved with the help of external forces, especially our mortal enemies. If it should happen, it should be at the ballot box. Otherwise, it is its members who have the right to dissolve it.
Before commenting on the present crisis, let me put the known facts, accepted principles and norms as practiced in a democratic system of governance (if we of course adhere to the principles of democracy as practiced in the West). The ITG is established as a result of the Pretoria Agreement between the Ethiopian federal government and the TPLF (even though many contradictory narratives have been told in the aftermath of the agreement). The TPLF, after several months of wrangling proposed Getachew Reda to lead the ITG and Abiy Ahmed subsequently approved the proposal and officially nominated him to the position and the ITG was officially established. This means it is the TPLF who technically, after a due proceeds, nominated Getachew Reda to the post. Practically he is chosen to implement the wishes of his party. It is also known that the TPLF has 51% of the portfolios in the cabinet, which technically means it leads the ITG from behind and can propose his removal at any time when it loses confidence in him (not forgetting that it is Abiy who will have the final say). It can also withdraw its members from the cabinet and force its collapse if it deems that the cabinet is inefficient. So far there is nothing wrong if it follows these principles, no matter why. This is a normal practice in countries that follow parliamentary governing system. Why the TPLF wanted to have the meeting is another matter as long as they did it in the right way, no need for speculation.
The relation between the ITG and the TPLF leadership have been going sour for some time as the rumors go. The reasons for dispute are not clear. Getachew has been complaining that there are dark forces who hinder him from conducting his duties diligently with out naming or shaming the alleged forces of reaction
The precursor to the present crisis is Getachew’s removal of government officials of some zones with out proper clarification. Of course he has the right to appoint or dismiss any official to/from any post. But in doing so he must also follow due process. Here, it is not clear how these officials were appointed to their respective positions in the first place and why they are now fired. Following this episode, it is rumored the TPLF leadership summoned its members to a meeting. The reason for calling the meeting is not known. When the meeting was to start Getachew intervened and decided to forbid the meeting with motivation that there was no reason to call a meeting ’’in the middle of night’’ and ’’during a harvest time’’ , when party cadres/officials should help farmers to gather their harvests instead. He mobilized security agents and blocked party members from entering to the meeting Hall, although they later were allowed to get into the meeting Hall.
Now let us Analise if Getachew’s motive hold water.
There are several questions to be asked.
1) does Getachew has the right to prevent meetings or public demonstrations? Is it his duty? What does the Ethiopian law say about holding meetings and demonstrations? The answer to the first and second questions is, it is not the duty of a president to deal with such matters. Such issues are the prerogative of the local government, in this case the Mekele Municipality would be the responsible authority to deal with the issue. As far as I understand the only thing authorities demand from organizations/parties who want to hold demonstrations or conduct meetings is information in advance. The other issue to be raised is: did the TPLF inform the Mekele Municipality administration about the planned meeting in advance? If not the Mekele Municipality office might have differed the time or venue considering security or other relevant reasons. But even that would only be temporary. Legally it wouldn’t have any right to totally rob the meeting. All in all, Getachew and Co. have no right to allow or forbid any meeting or demonstration if there was democracy in Tigray.
The first reason why the president wanted to prevent the meeting was because there was no reason to call a meeting in “the middle of a night’’. It shouldn’t have been his concern at what time a party calls a meeting, in the middle of the day or the night. It is the prerogative of the party at what time it conducts its duties. If the president was serious, he would have checked first if his party followed party bylaw on calling ordinary and emergency meetings, i.e. if procedures were properly followed or not as a member and then complain to party Control Commission if that was not the case rather than appealing to peoples’ sensitivities. If procedure is not respected the Control Commission would intervene and prevent the convention of the meeting until the leadership fulfills the procedure according to the bylaws. When I am writing this, I am aware that The TPLF leadership is not known to respect its own bylaws. It is not thus surprising to see that Getachew doesn’t respect the bylaw of the party. All of his predecessors have been violating their own rules during their lifetime.
His second reason that it was called untimely, because the cadres have to participate in collecting harvests is also invalid. All invited cadres couldn’t have been public employees. Even public employees have democratic right to participate in any meeting they find it necessary. The president may take disciplinary action against those who deviate from working hours or against those who disobey government regulations. But he doesn’t have right to prevent a meeting because public officials will participate in it rather than helping farmers in harvesting. What he is talking is only nonsense to say the least.
I have tried to show the fallacy in the president’s argument to justify his actions. So, he must have the courage to tell us what the real reason is behind is and why he feared it. There shouldn’t be any confusion here: Getachew is elected by the party, and he is obliged to respect and follow the collective leadership, irrespective what the reasons may be, whether he likes it or not, unless he is rebelling against it. In that case he should resign from his post gracefully. If he chooses to stay in power against all odds, it will be by the support of Abiy or other illegal forces (may be the generals). In that case se he will be labeled as Abiy’s marionette. Personally, I don’t want to see him in such a situation until otherwise is proved.
I have noted in the social media people arguing for or against the conflicting parties. There are those in the camp of the opposition or those who hate the TPLF because of their own reasons applaud the action of the president. I respect their views. But they must also be aware that the president shall not hesitate to take such harsh measures against them as well next time. He is showing a clear tendency to potential dictatorship. The supporters of the TPLF must also be aware that they cannot continue to do business as usual, i.e. as they have been doing before. Time has changed, people are demanding change, and they should be transparent in their dealings, and they shouldn’t fear accountability. They shouldn’t seek special privileges. All should be equal before the law.
By now it is clear that the actions taken by the president will not solve the crisis. It will worsen it instead. What right minded people should demand at this crucial time is that the leadership of the TPLF must sort out its internal problems through democratic means and in a transparent manner. If they want they can seek consultation, Tigray have many seasoned academicians, elders, civic societies, etc.. The destiny of the people of Tigray shouldn’t be decided by a handful of individuals.
Our biggest pitfall is our in ability to focus on our priority. First should come first. Today we have more than 40 % of Tigray territory under enemy forces, more than 2 million IDPs. We have the issue of investigations of crimes committed on our people and demand for accountability. We don’t have any representation in the government. Instead of bickering among ourselves because of petty issues we should demand the full implementation of the Pretoria agreement. We must demand the ITG explain to the people and the world what it has done so far or not and why. The way it has been doing so far is not good enough. People have the right to know. The TPLF must also come forward explain why it has been mute until now.
At last let me share my worries and concerns. I am afraid that external forces are in the play to divide us. Our enemies know that when Tigrians are united no one can break us. Therefore, considering the predicament Tigray and the people of Tigray find themselves now, our enemies are trying to use stick and carrot approaches to divide our leaders. This is not the first time they are using this tricks. Let us go back to our recent history and remember what happend during Menelik II, emperor Haileselassie and under EPRDF in 1993.
Emperor Menlik II made Tigrian nobles Ras Hagos and Ras Alula to fight each other, both of them died in the same battle. There was a fight between other notables as well as a result of Menelik’s trickery. Under Emperor Haileselassie the Weyane uprising in Southern Tigray was put down with the help of Degasmach Gebrehiwot Meshesha and Degesmach Abay Kass of Adwa.
In 1993, when dispute arose within the TPLF, the Amara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the amara branch of the EPRDF sided with one of the TPLF factions against the other and the TPLF was weakened that it was not able to repair itself up to now.
Considering all what we hear from some of our top leaders and the way they present the situation, i.e. as if the people of Tigray doesn’t have any alternative other than accepting the status quo which exist today, I am afraid what happened before can be repeated again. We shouldn’t allow that to happen. We should take our unity very seriously. Otherwise our enemies will make us sleep another hundred years. We would be naive if we expect any solution from Addis Ababa. Let us wake up on time.
What we should fight for is a first and foremost promulgation of just laws, democratic and transparent system of governance, where there is check and balance and where public figures are treated equally like any citizen and where people feel safe to do their own daily businesses rather than applauding for one faction or shouting at another. It is only then that we will start to build a healthy society.
Note: This contribution is not in defense of the TPLF, but in defense of justice and fairness. The aim is also to show how contradictions can be solved through democratic and transparent means following rules and regulations.