The Twilight of Non-Violent Change in Ethiopia and the Slippery Ground of TPLF’s Power Strategy By Messay Kebede (PhD.)

The rationale for the TPLF’s current stepping up of repression, obviously triggered by the coming elections, is hard to comprehend. Ranging from constant harassments and severe beatings to torture and long-term imprisonments, the repression particularly targets journalists and young leaders of opposition parties. The fear of losing the elections is usually advanced as the main explanation for the heightened repression. This explanation presupposes that the TFLF is ready to abide by the verdict of the ballot boxes and step down if the majority is against it. Nothing is more remote than the TPLF peacefully handing power over to the opposition subsequent to an electoral defeat.

Let us therefore reformulate the explanation: The TPLF is not so much afraid of electoral defeat, which it has no intention of respecting, as of the implications of elections. It has been said again and again: elections have consequences, even when they are not democratic. In the case of Ethiopia, the possibility of protests and riots cannot be excluded, given the widespread unpopularity of the ruling party. Indeed, if the TPLF refuses to recognize the results of elections or engages in last minutes maneuvering to rig the results, it is sure to have, as shown in the 2005 elections, riots in its hands, especially in urban areas.

To squash the uprisings, the TPLF will have to engage in open and bloody confrontations with rioters in urban streets. It is this kind of confrontation that the TPLF wants to avoid at all costs because it exposes its true nature to the world, especially to Western governments whose support is dependent on Western public opinion. Moreover, this kind of open and wide confrontation seriously undermines, in the eyes of Ethiopians themselves, the legitimacy that the regime claims to have. Nothing unmasks more a democratic façade than a regime compelled to hunt down protesters in the streets the day after an election.

Hence the decision to heighten repression in order to escort the coming elections with an atmosphere of fear designed either to force some challenging parties to opt out of the competition or to cripple them enough so that they cease to appear as possible alternatives to the existing ruling elite. In addition to the general purpose of intimidating voters, fear has two functions: it paralyzes competing parties and deprives the country of credible alternatives, thus compelling voters to vote out of desperation. When voting is without alternative, what choice do people have but to renew the existing ruling party? Short of banning parties altogether, one way of maintaining legitimacy for the status quo is by preventing the rise of opposition parties showing some potential through a systematic repression.

The paradox, however, is that the more repression is successful, the greater becomes the likelihood of violent protests and riots. By both discouraging opposition parties and inculcating in the minds of people the futility of elections, repression removes any hope for a peaceful and democratic change. What is more, it convinces many people of the necessity of armed struggle and violent uprising to dislodge a regime increasingly perceived as dictatorial. In other words, the more the TPLF shows its utter unwillingness to tolerate the rise of challenging parties, the more it pushes the country toward violent confrontations. Be it noted that the reason why the TPLF is not banning rival political parties––which would be a more consistent move given its utterly undemocratic nature––is not only that such a decision will be ill received by Western governments, but also because the semblance of democratic competition keeps the mind of people away from the idea of violent and armed uprisings. So long as people believe that there is a possibility of changing government policy through electoral means, they will hang on to the hope, however remote the possibility may be.

That is why I ask the question: if repression only strengthens the probability of violent uprisings, then how is one to explain that the TPLF finds it feasible? After all, the assumption that the leaders of the TPLF are unaware of the danger of continued repression is hardly credible. My conjecture is that, though aware of the consequences of continued repression, the leaders of the TPLF have persuaded themselves that repression gives them the time they need to rally the support of the Ethiopian people.

The question is then to know why TPLF leaders believe that buying time is for them a way out.   The answer lies in the economic policy of the regime, which policy is presumed to require time to show concrete results. Once ordinary people start to feel the tangible benefits of the policy, they will willingly support the government, thereby removing the need for repressive means. What must be understood, according to these leaders, is that to launch Ethiopia into a sustained and rapid economic growth, deep structural changes are necessary. Unfortunately, such changes cannot but be disruptive, even negatively affecting the conditions of life of ordinary people. Such downsides, though temporary, cause frustration and unpopularity, which opposition parties use to galvanize the people against the government and the ruling party. As a true reformist party, the TPLF, so its leaders believe, is vulnerable to attacks by demagogues, populists, and revengeful parties.

This sense of vulnerability explains why the late Meles has been so vocal against neoliberalism and in favor of the authoritarian and interventionist alternative of the developmental state. In the name of democracy, the liberal model destabilizes those ruling parties committed to real reforms by forcing them to compete against demagoguing political parties. Referring to Meles’s critique of liberal democracy, Tsehai Alemayehu writes: “electoral democracy is prone to frequent changes in government and hence to instability in the policy environment.”[1] The solution is a democratic system monitored by “a dominant party or dominant coalition democracy”[2] Put otherwise, yes to multipartism, but with the proviso that opposition parties are not allowed to become a menace to the dominant ruling party.

To understand the high vulnerability of ruling parties committed to structural changes, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that such changes must give full priority to big infrastructural projects. Speaking of the ideology inspiring the Ethiopian ruling elite, Daniel Teferra writes: “there has to be massive investment in modern infrastructure, such as, power plants, good roads, etc. Furthermore, the theory believes that to justify investment, all the infrastructural projects have to be carried out simultaneously.”[3] Since Ethiopia cannot afford to finance the projects, the required “massive investment . . .  has to be borrowed from outside sources.”[4]

The priority given to grand projects and structural changes inevitably works at the expense of the much needed but ranked secondary policy of improvement of the conditions of life of the working people and the elimination of poverty. It can even be directly hurtful by causing displacements, as in the case of the lease of vast lands for export purposes necessitated by the need to pay off external debts. All these downsides are unavoidable consequences of the effort to lay down the infrastructures for a real and sustainable economic takeoff. Unfortunately, they are politically poisonous for the ruling party, which then has no choice but to put a lid, in the name of progress and the common good, on the activities of opposition parties.

This justification of repression, that is, the belief that electoral changes would halt progress by empowering demagogues, populists, and revanchists is hardly new. It is a revamp of the Soviet style advocacy of the postponement of democracy until the working people reach a certain level of economic satisfaction and political awareness. Unlike the Soviet style formula, however, the version of Meles does not go to the extent of banning opposition political parties; it allows them to operate but under restricted conditions that practically blocks their ability to become serious contenders. The existing party must be the dominant party, not the only party. In addition to being indispensable to obtain generous Western investments, the existence of opposition parties is a safety valve necessary to reduce social tensions by opening outlets for a peaceful venting of grievances. Without this mechanism, the dislocations and hardships accompanying the implementation of structural changes would cause riots and undermine the smooth functioning of the developmental state.

So analyzed, it is almost impossible not to see the stumbling block of this program of political endurance, namely, the undeniable fact that the regime is devoid of the very means necessary to bring about economic progress with tangible benefits for the working people. What the TPLF needs is not more time, but urgent corrections and reforms, which it seems utterly unable to undertake.  My aim here is not to discuss whether the path of grandiose projects is feasible or not for economic growth and development; rather, it is point out the grave deficiencies blocking the implementation of the economic program and hence undermining the goal of the political survival of the TPLF.

Since the development strategy prioritizes big projects over the immediate concerns of the people, it does little to reduce the pressure of unemployment, especially on the young. Nor does it alleviate the rising rate of inflation, the consequence of which is that people have the distinct impression of a downward slide in their ability to satisfy their most urgent needs. Such drawbacks cannot but aggravate the frustration of people and put them in a state of virtual uprising that no governmental propaganda can overcome. This is to say that the whole system is at the mercy of an incident that can spread like bushfire.

More time would not reduce the problem for the simple reason that the regime produces incompetence at an alarming degree. For the economic program to work, it requires a devoted and professional cadre at all levels of the implementation. But the fulfillment of this condition is all the more questionable in light of the politicization of the entire educational system and the unabated deterioration of the quality of education, not to mention the massive exodus of educated and trained people. Such an educational system can only produce incompetent and self-serving people who advance their own interests through corruption and embezzlement, which seriously hamper the economic program. By the very fact that the system rejects the merit-based selective effect of free market and free political competition, it encourages a form of recruitment that proliferates clientelism, mostly of ethnic nature, and with it inefficiency, wastage, and unaccountability. To the extent that political patronage extends immunity, these behaviors find no means for correction and become endemic to the point of reaching absolute dysfunctionality.  In short, there appears a huge contradiction between the economic program and the human component that is supposed to materialize the program, leaving no other choice than a complete reliance of the regime on repression.

In default of an efficient and inclusive system, there goes away the ability of the country to pay off its debts. Since the fight against poverty has been postponed in favor of big projects, both clientelism and the inevitable proliferation of corruption and embezzlement concentrate wealth in the hands of the co-opted few.  Without a sustained growth of internal consumption and an export sector able to compete in international markets, the economic machine cannot yield enough revenues to settle the increasing debts of the country. As Seid Hassan and his co-writers stated in a recently posted article, “for a developing and landlocked country like Ethiopia which is trapped in a quagmire of mega projects while at the same time facing low capital formation due to its low productivity, low income and low savings. . . .  relying on weak export sector . . . ., the expected foreign exchange earnings capacity of the economy” cannot take the country out of “the vicious circles of debt.”[5]

As the economic expectations falter, the dependence of the regime on repressive violence increases. This is the stage reached by the TPLF right now: an all-out repression must not only be maintained, but it must also be the more tightened the more the promised economic benefits prove elusive. The one possibility that could stop this rapid slide into total repression would be to undertake reforms. But this is a path that is entirely closed, as shown by the fiasco of the short lived anti-corruption campaign. Those who are in control seem unwilling or unable to critically review some of Meles’s options. Nor does the regime possess the qualified personnel necessary to undertake a course correction. Moreover, the whole system is too corrupt and too trapped in its failings to be able to renew itself.

Again, only the path of increased and systematic repression is left. The purpose is no longer to buy time for economic growth, since the failure of expectations has plunged the country into a virtual state of uprising, but merely to survive politically, to retain state power by any means. This survival goal rests solely on one article of faith, namely, that repression will be enough to keep the people subdued. Accordingly, all attention must be given to the strengthening and expansion of the repressive forces. Notably, the major purpose of the economy must be to provide the financial means to strengthen the repressive power and satisfy its large staff, including the numerous members of the coalition of parties, the EPRDF, whose main function is to exercise a tight control over the entire society.  In so thinking, the leaders of the TPLF forget that the road of total repression digs their own grave: the strengthening of repression can only sound the knell of peaceful struggle in Ethiopia, thereby making violent uprisings inevitable. Repression may work when it yields some tangible results, not when it is all stick without any carrot.

[1] Tsehai Alemayehu, “The Ethiopian Developmental State: Requirements and Perquisites,” Journal of Business & Economics Research, vol.7, no. 8 (2009), p. 13.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Daniel Teferra, “Ethiopia: International Borrowing and Its Consequences,”  hhttp://www.ethiomedia.com…

[4] Ibid.

[5] Seid Hassan, Minga Negash, Tesfaye T. Lemma and Abu Girma Moges, “Is Ethiopia’s Sovereign Debt Sustainable?   http://www.pambazuka.net…

 

Messay Kebede is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dayton in Ohio. He taught philosophy at Addis Ababa University from 1976 to 1993. He also served as chair of the department of philosophy from 1980 to 1991.

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9 Responses to The Twilight of Non-Violent Change in Ethiopia and the Slippery Ground of TPLF’s Power Strategy By Messay Kebede (PhD.)

  1. daniel joseph Reply

    November 18, 2014 at 6:08 AM

    the amhara are more interested to be inpower rather than develop the country even if the ballot gives EHADEG the right to LEAD the country you will still complain

    • Concerned Reply

      November 22, 2014 at 2:03 PM

      The comments are narrow minded and ethnic based. Ethiopia is a multiehtnic country therefore this policy of ethnicity will certainly back fire.

  2. Dawit Getachew Reply

    November 18, 2014 at 8:40 AM

    This remark was made by the President of the united states of America from the white house. I quote —

    “Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing economy in the world.”

    President Obama

    • Concerned Reply

      November 22, 2014 at 2:04 PM

      Maybe fast today, but the if you have policies such as repression the so called fast growth can halt and slow down.

  3. stock picking Reply

    November 18, 2014 at 10:59 PM

    R.F. Culbertson has earned me more than other stock investors. More money than anyone else I know. He’s earned me millions – http://ethioforum.org

  4. Yemane T. Reply

    November 20, 2014 at 3:32 PM

    Eritreans were deported from Ethiopia for not paying taxes and abusing their power by borrowing money from banks without collateral. Another thing the TPLF did not like Eritreans for was their insult on Tigres on lack of cleanliness and hygeine. Eritreans were superior than other Ethiopians which created unequality and war that cost 100,000 people’s lives and disabled countless others.
    The creation of Nakfa currency and Badme were the tip of the iceberg of how much the Ethiopian survival was put in jeopardy due to Eritreans actions of insulting Tigrayans in public about their dirty slave like way of living living habits they were imposing on all.
    That is why I personally told Teddy to stop seeing his crooked Eritrean government sent girlfriend on many occasions because the TPLF soldiers were angry at her for complaining about their trash customs. Recently TPLF arrested Teddy Afro for not paying taxes. He even went to marry the Eritrean who is known for manipulating the Ethiopian financial system. More than 6,000 Eritreans had claimed asylum in Ethiopia in the past 37 days, double the rate seen in previous months, of 2014 Karin de Gruijl said. These Eritreans should be put to work to clean Ethiopia like they clean Eritrea and made it spotless like Asmara.
    Now I am hearing Ethiopia’s first lady with Eritrean origin Roman Tesfaye is paying more than $100,000 US Dolaars cash a year for her daughter Bitsit Hailemariam’s education at Columbia University in New York. .
    Bitsit graduated from the International Community High School of Addis Ababa last May 2014 . ICS costs more than $25,000 US dollars a year just for high school education in Addis Ababa , Ethiopia.
    Rather than spending an arm and a leg on their children,the unelected officials should spend money on life saving simple infrastructures of housing and sanitations protecting ethiopians from diseases like Ebola.

    https://icsaddis.edu.et/admissions/tuition-fees

    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-30128002
    No wonder Andargachew Tsige resigned from his job as Addis Ababa’s mayor under TPLF government.

  5. Assta Getu Reply

    November 21, 2014 at 1:56 PM

    I try not to be racist but sometimes I wonder if the psychological make up of the northerners is the main reason Ethiopia is plagued with inner wars preventing us from ever knowing peace.
    I sometimes hope they took Tigray along with Eritrea so we live a civilized not barbaric life. We need to remove arms and rehabilitate al war mongers . War mongers always will create ways to war. Nomatter what as long as they have access to arms they rob since they are cliptomanias. Some cultures encourage violence at all times.
    .

    Eritreans are emptying their country every day but does President Isaias care?

    Eritrea is the most closed and repressive country in Africa, routinely denying access to the international media. No foreign journalists are based in the country and there is no independent local press. However, in a rare and courageous breach of the wall of silence, members of the internal opposition spoke to the Guardian and Radio France International last weekend.
    Since independence from Ethiopia in 1993 Eritrea has been ruled by as a one-party state by President Isaias Afewerki, who brooks no opposition.
    Two members of the Eritrean resistance, speaking via a secure connection, described conditions inside the country. “Essentials like water, electricity or petrol have disappeared,” they said. Food is so expensive that even middle-class families find it difficult to find enough to eat.
    They said tension in the capital, Asmara, is high, with reports of trucks filled with Ethiopian “mercenaries” – from the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM), known locally as Demhit, which Eritrea supports – ringing the city. The last round of compulsory military service failed, with only around 50 of the expected 400 conscripts reporting for duty. “We think it is highly likely that Demhit will carry out a door to door sweep to round up recruits,” said Sami (not his real name).
    The TPDM, drawn from the ethnic group that now rules Ethiopia, has been given sanctuary, arms and training by Afewerki. Eritrea and Ethiopia have a long-standing border dispute, which has resulted in tens of thousands of troops confronting one another in the bleak, mountainous border region. Supporting Demhit is Eritrea’s means of maintaining pressure on the Ethiopian government.
    A UN report published this month estimated that some 20,000 TPDM fighters are based in Eritrea, bolstering the president’s security. The report described them as having “a dual function as an Ethiopian armed opposition group and a protector of the Afewerki regime. Its fighters, who are from the same ethnic group as Afewerki, are seen to be personally loyal to him, unlike the defence forces whose loyalties have been questioned by the president in recent years.”
    Since a failed army mutiny against the Eritrean regime in January 2013, the TPDM has become central to Afewerki’s survival. This reliance on foreign forces is deeply resented by the Eritrean population. “They demanded the identity documents of a friend of mine and I,” Sami said. “When this happened earlier this year there was a riot. People really hate them.”
    Despite the intense security, the resistance is finding new ways of getting its message across. The group, which began over two years ago, started by helping organise phone calls from the diaspora abroad to Eritreans back home.
    The resistance told the Guardian how it evaded tight security to put up posters protesting against conscription. “We lay on the streets, pretending to be homeless people,” said Sami. “It was freezing cold, but the security officials walked right over us. When they had gone we could put up our posters.
    A smuggled video of “Freedom Friday”, now on YouTube, shows people in Asmara crowding round to read the posters.
    Sami described the growing contempt for the regime. “In coffee bars you hear people talking – even high-ranking officials complain openly about the regime.” The government led the struggle for Eritrean independence, and for years relied on its legitimacy to demand the population’s support. “The movement was treated like a religion then, like the Bible or the Koran, and followed unquestioningly,” said Sami’s colleague, Temasgen. “Slowly, this has fallen away – and now it is gone.”
    Both men know the risk they are taking in speaking to the international media. “I am willing to pay with my life,” Sami declared. “In history I would rather be remembered as someone who made the ultimate sacrifice rather than just sit and complain to my neighbours.”
    They appealed for international pressure to be maintained on Afewerki: “Listen to our agony. We thank you for giving shelter to Eritrean refugees abroad, but if you are a decision-maker we beg you to keep up the pressure on the Eritrean regime.”
    The opposition’s growing confidence and the fragility of the regime comes at a time when discussions are taking place about relaxing the sanctions against the Eritrean government. There are suggestions that the European Union is thinking about a new approach towards Asmara, and offering aid worth €200m (£158m) as a carrot for improved human rights.
    Previous attempts by the former EU development commissioner Louis Michel to negotiate the release of the Swedish journalist Dawit Isaak in return for aid resulted in empty promises. Neither Dawit nor other political prisoners were freed. Instead, repression intensified, resulting in an exodus of refugees, who find their way across the Sahara and the Mediterranean to arrive at Calais in their hundreds.

    http://martinplaut.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/eritrea-which-security-forces-is-the-regime-relying-on/

    Eritrea: which security force is the regime relying on?
    Martin Plaut / 30/10/2013
    A Mercenary Army: Isaias Afwerki’s Last Stand
    Source: Gedab News October 30, 2013
    The Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM, known by its Tigrinya accornym De.M.H.T.) is one of half a dozen Ethiopian opposition groups stationed in Eritrea whose mission statement appears to have changed from bringing change to Ethiopia to fighting change in Eritrea by being President Isaias Afwerki’s last enforcement unit.
    Over the weekend, TPDM was dispatched to Asmara to conduct routine roundup of Eritrean youth who have to be mobilized for military enlistment. In previous dispatches, only TPDM members with passable Eritrean Tigrinya accents were recruited to conduct the roundup. In this patricular mission, there appears to have been a breakdown and TPDM members with noticeable Tigrayan accents were roaming the Merkato neighborhood of Asmara and asking for “metawekia” and “mewasawesi“–Ethiopian words for “moving permit”– whose Eritrean version is “tessera” and “menkesakesi” respectively.
    In the ensuing altercation among Asmara residents and TPDM, shots were fired near Hamasien Restaurant.
    A TPDM soldier who was wounded by stone-throwing Eritreans was treated in Orota Hospital. When asked for his identification, he disclosed that he is an Ethiopian national and gave his address as Alla (near Dekemhare) and gave the name of his Eritrean handler.
    Since the incident, the Isaias Afwerki regime has gone on full information-management campaign:
    1. The area of the conflict was repeatedly visited by Brigadier General Teklai Kifle ( “Manjus”) and his deputy, Brigadier General Fitzum “wedi Memher.” Both manage, among other things, the Ethiopian opposition based in Eritrea, and both are intensely loyal to President Isaias Afwerki.
    2. Eritrean security officials locked down schools to inform them that those who conducted the round-up campaigns were Eritreans and the rumors that they are TPDM soldiers are not true;
    3. In the neighborhood “zoba” (local administration) units, meetings were called with Asmara residents to tell them that those who conducted the roundup are actually members of Eritrea’s “525″ commando unit.
    Background
    TPDM along with the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front (ARDUF) and Ginbot Sebat (May 7th movement) all have received a base and training in Eritrea for nearly a decade.
    On December 2009 (resolution 1907), and again in December 2011 (resolution 2023) the United Nations empowered a group (Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group) to monitor and report on Eritrea’s destabilizing activities in the Horn, particularly in Somalia and Ethiopia, and specifically forbade Eritrea to host opposition groups of neighboring countries.
    Since then, many of the Eritrea-based Ethiopian opposition groups have either gone underground or have been severely weakened by Ethiopian security officials.
    The one exception to this has been TPDM, which is now rumored to be Africa’s largest guerrilla force.
    The “guerrila” force is a misnomer because it has been 4 years since it attempted any military campaigns against Ethiopia and is now essentially an Eritrea-based Ethiopian group with an Eritrea-based mission:
    1. Its base used to be at Harena, in the Eritrea-Ethiopia-Sudan border (Southwest Eritrea), near Humera, Ethiopia. It has been moved to Alla, near Dekemhare. This happened after Ethiopia’s March and April 2012 forray into Eritrea, where it conducted two raids and destroyed the bases of TPDM. Now, the organization moves around Dekemhare, Mai Aini and Asmera–far from its alleged military targets: Ethiopian soldiers.
    The move is also due to the Monitoring Group’s expose: officially, the Eritrean regime’s position is that there is “no evidence” that it hosts Ethiopian opposition groups. Unofficially, it wants to assure its followers that it has managed to train a large Ethiopian guerilla forces capable of delivering what it has promised its supporters (and the Ethiopian opposition) for 12 years: the removal of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), or “Weyane”, the core of Ethiopia’s ruling coalition, from power.
    2. Almost all of the revenues generated from Bisha Mining were used to train, arm, equip, headquarter and maintain TPDM. There is stark difference between the living conditions of TPDM and that of Eritrea’s regular army, the Eritrean Defense Forces. In meetings EDF officers had with Isaias Afwerki in Sawa last year, the Eritrean president repeatedly warned that EDF should not expect any change in its living conditions as revenues from Bisha Mining have already been appropriated.
    3. As a fighting force, the Eritrean Defense Forces are practically non-existent. EDF has been hallowed up by desertion by the thousands and what remains is a demoralized force and powerless officers focused more on self-enrichment than military cohesion.
    4. The “people’s army” which was set up by Isaias Afwerki as an alternative to EDF is incapable of being his line of defense: they are the parents and grandparents of the youth they are ordered to “round up”–now considered a mortal threat–and they would not be capable of it: with little or no military training, they are not capable of doing anything more than protecting passive assets (banks, government buildings) and they are not part of any contingency plan to control crowds.
    5. It appears that De.M.H.T. is Isaias Afwerki’s last line of defense, the same model that was used in Libya, Mali and Central African Republic: bringing foreign power with no hesitation of pulling the trigger against local citizenry. However, the incident of last weekend appears to have been a miscalculation–the ground was not prepared to psychologically orient the people that “Tigrayans are our brothers”–and now, the security apparatus– Wedi Kassa, Simon Gebredengel, Tesfaldet Habteselasse, Manjus and Wedi Memher–is in full damage control mode.
    Eritrean resistance steps up pressure on President Isaias Afewerki
    By Martin Plaut, The Guardian
    October 30, 2014

    Eritreans are emptying their country every day but does President Isaias care?

    Eritrea is the most closed and repressive country in Africa, routinely denying access to the international media. No foreign journalists are based in the country and there is no independent local press. However, in a rare and courageous breach of the wall of silence, members of the internal opposition spoke to the Guardian and Radio France International last weekend.
    Since independence from Ethiopia in 1993 Eritrea has been ruled by as a one-party state by President Isaias Afewerki, who brooks no opposition.

    Two members of the Eritrean resistance, speaking via a secure connection, described conditions inside the country. “Essentials like water, electricity or petrol have disappeared,” they said. Food is so expensive that even middle-class families find it difficult to find enough to eat.

    They said tension in the capital, Asmara, is high, with reports of trucks filled with Ethiopian “mercenaries” – from the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM), known locally as Demhit, which Eritrea supports – ringing the city. The last round of compulsory military service failed, with only around 50 of the expected 400 conscripts reporting for duty. “We think it is highly likely that Demhit will carry out a door to door sweep to round up recruits,” said Sami (not his real name).

    The TPDM, drawn from the ethnic group that now rules Ethiopia, has been given sanctuary, arms and training by Afewerki. Eritrea and Ethiopia have a long-standing border dispute, which has resulted in tens of thousands of troops confronting one another in the bleak, mountainous border region. Supporting Demhit is Eritrea’s means of maintaining pressure on the Ethiopian government.

    A UN report published this month estimated that some 20,000 TPDM fighters are based in Eritrea, bolstering the president’s security. The report described them as having “a dual function as an Ethiopian armed opposition group and a protector of the Afewerki regime. Its fighters, who are from the same ethnic group as Afewerki, are seen to be personally loyal to him, unlike the defence forces whose loyalties have been questioned by the president in recent years.”

    Since a failed army mutiny against the Eritrean regime in January 2013, the TPDM has become central to Afewerki’s survival. This reliance on foreign forces is deeply resented by the Eritrean population. “They demanded the identity documents of a friend of mine and I,” Sami said. “When this happened earlier this year there was a riot. People really hate them.”

    Despite the intense security, the resistance is finding new ways of getting its message across. The group, which began over two years ago, started by helping organise phone calls from the diaspora abroad to Eritreans back home.

    The resistance told the Guardian how it evaded tight security to put up posters protesting against conscription. “We lay on the streets, pretending to be homeless people,” said Sami. “It was freezing cold, but the security officials walked right over us. When they had gone we could put up our posters.

    A smuggled video of “Freedom Friday”, now on YouTube, shows people in Asmara crowding round to read the posters.

    Sami described the growing contempt for the regime. “In coffee bars you hear people talking – even high-ranking officials complain openly about the regime.” The government led the struggle for Eritrean independence, and for years relied on its legitimacy to demand the population’s support. “The movement was treated like a religion then, like the Bible or the Koran, and followed unquestioningly,” said Sami’s colleague, Temasgen. “Slowly, this has fallen away – and now it is gone.”

    Both men know the risk they are taking in speaking to the international media. “I am willing to pay with my life,” Sami declared. “In history I would rather be remembered as someone who made the ultimate sacrifice rather than just sit and complain to my neighbours.”

    They appealed for international pressure to be maintained on Afewerki: “Listen to our agony. We thank you for giving shelter to Eritrean refugees abroad, but if you are a decision-maker we beg you to keep up the pressure on the Eritrean regime.”

    The opposition’s growing confidence and the fragility of the regime comes at a time when discussions are taking place about relaxing the sanctions against the Eritrean government. There are suggestions that the European Union is thinking about a new approach towards Asmara, and offering aid worth €200m (£158m) as a carrot for improved human rights.

    Previous attempts by the former EU development commissioner Louis Michel to negotiate the release of the Swedish journalist Dawit Isaak in return for aid resulted in empty promises. Neither Dawit nor other political prisoners were freed. Instead, repression intensified, resulting in an exodus of refugees, who find their way across the Sahara and the Mediterranean to arrive at Calais in their hundreds.

  6. Concerned Reply

    November 22, 2014 at 2:10 PM

    A very well written and researched article by Dr. Messay Kebede. The article covers very important points for the future of Ethiopia. It is however, doubtful if those in power are open to learn and make the necessary positive changes for the country. Unfortunately, it seems that what really is important for them is hanging on to power and making it absolute. This is the result of taking power by the barrel of the gun and not the ballot.

  7. Tsegai Berhe Reply

    November 23, 2014 at 7:11 PM

    .

    It is rather baffling TPLF’s crimes
    are all around us but yet barrage of books, articles and news pieces are
    written and bogus institutions and Medias created to make the fairytale TPLF
    led regime looks real and acceptable. HERE IS SAN FRANCISCO , CALIFORNIA USA

    I see countless TPLF tourists DINING AT MY RESTAURANT WHILE THEY ARE INTOWN visiting

    THEIR CONTACT PERSON HERE http://WWW.HAILEGIRMA.COM CERTIFIED ACCOUNTANTS HANDLING THEIR

    finances for purchasing commercial properties spending millions of dollars cash .

    http://WWW.HAILEGIRMA.COM GOT REGULAR TPLF CLIENTS he serves as accountants.

    Whether they do it because they believe
    TPLF is a legitimate entity or simply to take advantage of the chaos it was
    empowered to create to divide-exploit the people and the nation is not clear.
    But one thing is abundantly clear for all; Ethiopians are under occupation of a
    confused mercenary like ethnic regime led by TPLF. If institutions, including
    Medias can’t see this reality, either they are as bogus as the fairytale regime
    –tangled up with their own petty interest or part-and-partial of TPLF willingly
    conspiring to commit crimes.
    .

    A strange phenomenon is happening
    with Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF). It appears the inevitable identity
    crisis of to be-or-not-to-be a Tigray Chiefdom it claimed to fight for or a
    Federal bandit it turned out to be in Nations and Nationality it created and
    occupied is coming home to roost. That is not all; it still agonizing whether
    to stick with the Marxism ideology it was baptized to control and brutalize the
    population or the crony capitalism it adapted along the way to extort and robe
    the people and the nation.

    Intoxicated by political power and daylight
    robbery its enablers afforded it, it is having difficulty to choose between the
    empty bravado it pumps up its juveniles in the imaginary ethnic ‘Tigray’ people
    it liberated (use and abuse) in an imaginary Region (open air prison) and the
    Nations and Nationalities of Ethiopia it crafted to divide and exploit as a
    make-believe Federal government.

    To make matter worst, the
    self-professed ‘Tigray’ liberators turn bandits actually believe they duped
    Ethiopians and the world –telling their fairytale over-and-over again with
    crafty propaganda—aimlessly drifting away from reality to believe it
    themselves. In fact, it is amazing how many fairytale story tellers mushroomed
    in the last decade alone around the fairytale regime in order to sustain its
    rule and unprecedented corruption.

    It all started in one unfaithful day
    four decades ago when a half-dozen Ethiopian `juvenile armed with Marxist books
    sat around a table in a tearoom in Addis Ababa and decided to start a
    revolution to ‘free’ the ‘oppressed people’ of Ethiopia from ‘Feudalism’ as
    many of their contemporaries did. With too many ‘revolutionaries’ competing to
    free the same people in the name of the same ideology, the sorry juveniles with
    too much time on their hand figured out the only chance they got in the
    competition was to curved out an imaginary ethnic group called Tigray and made
    their newly minted identity a rallying cause for liberation-leaving the rest of
    the ‘oppressed people’ Ethiopia behind.

    ‘Imaginary ethnic group to liberate
    out of the way, they had to come up with an imaginary territory to match their
    newly minted identity and began drawing and redrawing territories to fit a
    fairytale history out of their back pockets. Short of the Fascist Italian
    occupied territory their Arabs led ‘Eritrean’ Liberation Front comrades
    declared their own, they started slicing and dicing wherever their juveniles
    mind took them to curve out a territory called Tigray and became a fairytale
    Liberation Front and found out they were conspiring in a territory they declared
    an enemy they no longer belong. Read more… http://ethio.ecadforum.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/The-tale-of-TPLF.pdf

    .

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