Analyses Deng Vanang Ethiopia South Sudan

Rebel Tigray: A Test Case of Militant Federalism


By Deng Vanang,

Nov 09, 2020(Nyamilepedia) — In May 1991 the American backed Ethiopian Marxist rebel coalition better known as EPRDF rushed into capital Addis Ababa to fill in the vacuum hastily left by another Marxist Col. Mengistu Haile Maraim. Immediately upon arrival captured and put on trial in the world’s renowned Ethiopian budding nationalism.

members of the Tigray People Liberation Front at their headquarters at Mekelle, Tigray Region, Ethiopia(Photo credit: courtesy image/Nyamilepedia)
members of the Tigray People Liberation Front at their headquarters at Mekelle, Tigray Region, Ethiopia(Photo credit: courtesy image/Nyamilepedia)

Ethnicized regions were then cajoled into the first largest conference of the House of Nationalities ever in history and introduced to the new order of federalist governance, laced with the right to self-determination for every region, a choreographed open window of an opportunity for an easier future secession of Tigray by TPLF that controlled Addis.

The whole nation was unwittingly glued on TV sets keenly watching the unfolding big set up by the Tigrayan elite to divide and rule Ethiopia for a long haul.

Fellow Ethiopians showing signs of good leadership in their midst like the first House of nationalities Conference’s master of ceremony, transitional Prime Minister and atheist from 2nd largest Amhara ethnic group, Ato Tamrat Layne Admassu suddenly got served with corruption’s trumped up charges. And made to waste his precious youthful life behind iron bars of ‘’Alem Bikini’’ for 12 good years, until released from the cage where he saw the light to freedom in Atlanta, United States he is now a devoted Baptist Minister. But thanked his jailers in return, the Tigrayan former comrades-in-arm for sparing his dear life.

TPLF, the strongest pillar of EPRDF, went on to amass resources and power-based institutions with all key security apparatus and rich public corporations topping the jewels of its state capture from which it built sophisticated paramilitary police and militias currently defending a besieged Tigray.

Late Prime Minister Ato Meles Zinawi, then transitional President who overstretched his mandate in a gunboat democracy till death do him part in 2012 was among other globe-trotting young and successful African leaders of late 1980s – 1990s ushered to a high league table lecturing good governance to old and discarded African tyrants by the West.

The biggest neatly wrapped deception of 30 years was to be unpacked on Wednesday 4th of November when Ethiopia’s blaring sound of rocket shells over Tigray announced the region’s renegade status.

That followed years of well founded fears over an inevitable conflict courtesy of the country’s troubling ethnic federalism resulting from an increasing feeling of ethnic marginalization of majority lots by a tiny ethnic Tigry that enjoys privileges of more thriving and modernizing Ethiopia they successfully helped achieve.

4th November was just the tipping point of a build up to today’s violent scene out of which analysts are grappling to make some common sense as was long predicted in early 1990s by its own stockpile of critics and opponents.

Particularly among them is Ato Thowath Pal Chay, once Col. Mengistu’s right hand man and former rebel leader now in Addis Ababa enjoying largesse brought forth by Abiy’s more alienating socio-political and economic reforms.

Which on the contrary Tigrayans see as a vendetta to be fought with heart and soul for they threaten their more obvious economic plunder and neck-deep political stranglehold.

Agreeing with both Abiy’s proponents and critics, him declaring war on Tigray region is rightfully inevitable, though untimely for coming too early, especially at a time influential sections of the society including Tigray still question his legitimacy as the national leader.

Weighing heavily against him further is both Egyptian possible influence behind Tigray’s intransigence and invasion over GERD, an infrastructural project in recent years greatly uplifted by the dwindling ‘’Ethiopia Tikdem’’ or nationalism and sense of pride.

Abiy could only delay and not avoid confrontation with TPLF that is so ethnically inclined and vindictively predetermined to make Tigray region independent of the larger Ethiopia.

In the war he has so much to be worried about than TPLF as the heavier burden of history lies on his weighed down shoulders than on TPLF’s, lest he will be judged harshly as the only Ethiopian leader from whose hands Ethiopia irreversibly plunges off the cliff.

His declared war if not arrested at its early stage or won decisively by him at a shorter span of time, will conspiratorially escalate internally and draw in predators externally, with an imminent backlash of rolling back unprecedented 30 years’ economic miracle.

Opening up once closed feudal Empire and soon to be middle income country to negative external influences envying its rise as regional powerhouse both politically and economically, is another reality Abiy must prepare to guard against.

Weathering economic gains aside, the conflict will in due course weaken already razor thin national unity, with the risk of total disintegration whether the federal government or Tigray regional government goes homestretch with final victory.

Whatever the final victory whether by federal authority or regional renegade shall remain repugnant, as whoever fights part of himself, also invariably incurs its collateral damages.

The fight comparable to the Biafra war between Nigerian federal defense forces and Ibos dominated secessionist Eastern region in 1966 – 1970 clearly puts to test rising quest for federalism in Africa, as growing kleptocratic despotism in the centers boldly spurs spirit of ethnic nationalism resulting in self-determination on the peripheries.

Internally, a stronger resistance by a powerful autonomous Tigray enclave to federal forces, will reignite a latent quest for self-determination as harbored by populous Oromia from which Abiy hails in the Centre, Afar and Ogaden regions in the Northeast and East respectively.

Externally, regions secretly, but fearfully eyeing right to self-determination shall be emboldened to envisage a replication to the chagrin of AU’s long-held policy objecting recognition of newly emerging states from the ashes of post-colonial liabilities in Africa.

Eritrea in 1993 and South Sudan in 2011 only stand out to be counted as independent states in defiance of such policy that turns endless secessionist revolts hopeless rather than hopeful, while its perpetrator, AU does nothing to correct grievances forcing them to nurse separatist ambitions.

Biafra in Nigeria East, Polisario in Morocco, MFDC in Senegal, Tuaregs in Mali and Niger, Somaliland and English speaking Amazonia in Cameroon still jostle on the wings of a possible future secession from what they regard as the oppressive wholes.

Tigray likely awakening those sleepy separatist movements shall by itself pose as a leeway to roll back onto the debating table the viability of rising federalism question in Africa, with anti-federalism’s proponents citing it as a bad test case of federalism gaining traction.

Den Vanang is UDRM/A’s Secretary-General and member of SSOMA’s Leadership Council. He is reachable at:dvanang@gmail.com.

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