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A Referendum: TPLF’s worst nightmare

by Berhanu Aberra

The recent interview on CNN by Debretsion Gebremichael, head of the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF), exposed the political vacuum in which the TPLF operates in.

In the interview Debretsion was unable to put forward a single clear political aim for his group and a coherent rationale for the misguided military action that the TPLF had launched in June of 2021 when the Ethiopian government had announced a unilateral cease fire.

Debretsion, much like the group he leads, is full of contradictions. It was not so long ago that those placed high up in the TPLF were mocking the very notion of having a negotiated ceasefire because — believing to have the upper hand — they considered the war to have been over and there was no Ethiopian government to negotiate with.

Now that the rag tag Tigray fighters have been driven — at least what has been left of them — deep into their home region of Tigray, Debretsion and others want to dress their resounding defeat by Ethiopian forces as some sort of ‘strategic withdrawal’: being at pains to explain that the pace of their military campaign had outpaced that of their diplomatic and political efforts, whatever that means.

When Debretsion — head of an organisation that claims to want to liberate Tigray — was asked about holding a referendum and the possibility of establishing an independent Tigray, he began to stutter and mumble about how the Ethiopian constitution had a provision for such an eventuality and that the process was a long winded one, seemingly implying that the TPLF despite its recent empty bravado does not see its future — at least immediate — outside of the Ethiopia.

However, the TPLF is now facing a dilemma of its own making. In 2018 if Ethiopians had been asked to entertain the notion of Tigray breaking away, there is no doubt that they would have rejected the idea point blank.

But, as news of the atrocities committed by the TPLF forces in the Amhara and Afar region, as pictures of the wilful and wanton destruction of the livestock and property by the TPLF emerge, and as Ethiopians become fed up with the never ending antics of the TPLF, understandably attitudes in Ethiopia seem to have shifted.

When no other than the Mayor of Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian Capital, said on TV that if the TPLF had wanted independence,  they  need not have waged war on Ethiopia as what they wanted could have been achieved peacefully through the Ethiopian constitution — which the TPLF itself wrote.

Since November 2020 when the TPLF declared war on Ethiopia, there has been a great deal of bloodshed and the TPLF has committed unspeakable acts of terror on Ethiopians living in the neighbouring regions: all in the name of the Tigrayan people — destroying bridges in the literal and figurative sense. The TPLF at this point has managed to isolate the people of Tigray from the rest of Ethiopia and is in essence holding them ransom.

For there to be peace in Ethiopia, the time has come for the people of Tigray to show where they stand — against the people of Ethiopia with the TPLF or against the TPLF with the people of Ethiopia.

For the real people of Tigray, those suffering under the TPLF in Tigray, to have their voices heard, they must be given an opportunity to vote in a referendum.

If in a referendum they vote to leave Ethiopia, then they will be absolving the rest of Ethiopians of the responsibility to rebuild their region and their lives which have been destroyed by the TPLF’s war. In essence, they will be voting for a clean break.

If on the other hand, common sense prevails, and the people vote to remain in Ethiopia, then they will be expressing their willingness to live with other Ethiopians in peace and harmony for the common good of all. They will be declaring the end of the TPLF’s false claim that Tigrayans are a superior breed of people — the patently false claim of Tigray having a different and glorious past to that of others, has been the root cause of all the strife and war in the region

Therefore, any outcome of a referendum in Tigray will prove detrimental to the TPLF. If the people vote yes, then the TPLF will be faced with the unenviable task of administrating Tigray — a land with insufficient resources to speak of which is surrounded by Eritrea and Ethiopia: two nations that the TPLF has committed unforgivable crimes against and antagonise.

If the Tigray people vote to remain with Ethiopia, it will be a vote to remove the TPLF from the politics of Tigray.

There can be no doubt that the possibility of a referendum in Tigray is looming on the horizon, and as the panicked expression on Debrestsion will testify, it is not an option which the TPLF would like to entertain.

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