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TPLF’s Game of Poker Gone Wrong

TPLF Game of Poker Gone Wrong
PM Abiy’s Government had a huge appetite for peace but was met with brute force.

Any independent political analysts of the Horn of Africa worth their salt or for that matter anyone who is remotely interested in the politics of the Horn of Africa, would no doubt have noticed the great effort being exerted by the new American administration to revive the fortunes of the now defunct Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) — instigator of ethnic based politics in Ethiopia and the former ruling party of that country. This wish by the Biden administration to resurrect the fortunes of the TPLF and make it a relevant political force in Ethiopia and the region, not only flies against the current reality on the ground, but is a stark reminder of the paradoxical position that the Biden administration now seems to occupy, where on the one hand it claims to stand for human rights, while at the same time its embracing and trying to revive the TPLF — the Frankenstein of Ethiopian politics — who is the very antithesis of human rights and all that is good — as shown by its record of its 27 year rule of terror and human rights abuses in Ethiopia and the Horn.

What is more bewildering than the Biden administration supporting the TPLF and its desire to exhume the TPLF from the political grave in which it now lies in, is the TPLF’s decision to attack the Ethiopian Northern Command in the Tigray region on 4th November 2020 as Americans were going to the polls to vote for their next president.

By all accounts it was widely expected that Biden was going to be the next American President and it was also quite obvious to those who were aware of the past track records of the members of the Biden team, that the TPLF would regain the support of the White House that it had lost under President Trump. So the question is, why didn’t the TPLF wait another couple of months until Susan Rice, its fairy godmother, grasped the reins of power in America and granted it its wish of sitting at the table with PM Abiy of Ethiopia?

What made the TPLF launch an attack on the Ethiopian army in which hundreds of Ethiopian troops were killed in their sleep, with thousands detained and an even more greater number forced to flee across the very border that they were supposed to be protecting? What was the purpose of this unproved attack on Ethiopian Federal Army bases which had taken everyone by surprise and what the TPLF had referred to as an Anticipatory Self-Defence attack?

It is to be noted that since the TPLF had been ousted from power in April of 2018 and especially since Eritrea and Ethiopia had signed a peace deal on 9th July 2018 which had brought to an end 20 years of hostilities between the two countries, the TPLF had tried all it could to be a spanner in the works of the blossoming Eritrea and Ethiopia peace process. In addition, the TPLF had been involved in political shenanigans to frustrate the reform process of PM Abiy, while at the same time exploiting the new prime minster’s reluctance to use force to resolve political differences in trying to make him look weak and undermine his position.

The TPLF after barricading itself in its home region of Tigray in Ethiopia, had from April 2018 up until the very end in November 2020, worked very hard to recapture the power and influence it had lost so dramatically in Ethiopia.

In the course of the two and half years between April 2018 and November 2020, the TPLF had successfully manoeuvred itself into a position whereby Ethiopians from regions outside of the Tigray region, were beginning to think that Prime Minster Abiy had no authority over the areas controlled by the TPLF, making him in essence a lame duck leader in their eyes.

Amongst the many examples of the belligerence of the TPLF that can be cited are, its refusal to extradite the former Ethiopian Intelligence chief who was accused of gross Human Rights abuse. In an act that can only be described as the TPLF thumbing its nose at the Ethiopian leader, they appointed the former Intelligence chief as a security advisor to the regional government, despite a federal arrest warrant having been issued against him. The TPLF had held elections in direct defiance of the Ethiopian Federal Government and the Ethiopian Constitutional order, an act which was akin to throwing down the gauntlet to the Ethiopian leader. The TPLF had prevented the Ethiopian government from fulfilling its obligations of handing over territories awarded to Eritrea by the decision of the Eritrea, Ethiopia Border Commission on 13th April 2002 and whose acceptance predicated the peace agreement between the two countries.

Another arrow in the quiver of the TPLF was the fact that the Ethiopian government had decided to hold the 2020 elections postponed due to the Corona pandemic, in 2021. With the TPLF claiming to have already held elections and unwilling to have another election until 2025, had the TPLF not initiated its own downfall, the Ethiopian leader would have found himself in a very precarious position whereby he would have been forced to take action — action which would have inevitably led to violence and would have been hard to justify under the circumstances — to ensure that national elections would be held in territories controlled by the TPLF. In effect, the TPLF had the Ethiopian leader over a barrel, putting in jeopardy the very position of the Ethiopian leader and the country at large.

With Susan Rice, the ardent supporter of the TPLF, at the cusp of victory, her one foot in the American White house and poised to throw a life line to the TPLF, why did the TPLF throw caution to the wind and embark on a path of certain defeat?

The answer to this question and the reason behind all of TPLF’s miscalculation is, pure unadulterated greed. When one reviews the statements which had been coming out from the TPLF and its lackeys before November 2020, one gets the impression that the overwhelming message was that, in the event of a military confrontation with the Federal Government of Ethiopia — the TPLF was assured of certain victory. The delusion of the TPLF went as far as claiming that they would deny the Ethiopian leader the option to escape to a third country, that it was certain beyond any doubt that PM Abiy, the Ethiopian leader, would call upon the International Community to save him from the wrath of the TPLF, that any military action in the Tigray region would embroil the entire region in a fireball that would no doubt consume the whole of the Horn and beyond. Needless to say, none of these predictions materialised.

The truth of the matter is that, the TPLF emboldened by its own bravado, having mistaken PM Abiy’s willingness to resolve outstanding issues peacefully as a sign of impotence and above all, wrongly assuming that the Eritrean government’s decision to set aside outstanding territorial claims, including the symbolic town of Badme, for the time being and focus on strengthening the new found peace as a sign of weakness, decided to embark on its military folly.

The plan was simple, the TPLF was to start the conflict with the view of either quickly ousting PM Abiy and regain control of Ethiopia, or involve the Ethiopian government in a protracted campaign, at least until dear old Susan Rice arrives at the White House, whereby the new American administration would twist the arm of the Ethiopian government to force it to sit down and negotiate with the TPLF — against its better judgement.

Though this plan seemed to have been a stroke of genius on paper, like all other plans of the TPLF, it did not take into account that the Ethiopian people — especially the people of Tigray who would be directly affected by the start of hostilities — had no appetite for either a short or a protracted conflict, despite what the TPLF propaganda campaign had claimed. Without popular support, the TPLF’s military adventurism became a catastrophic debacle, ending up with the leadership of the TPLF either captured, killed or scattered in the remote mountains of the region.

The TPLF having had an unrealistic view of its own capabilities, in the end became the architect of its own downfall when it attacked the Ethiopian army and ended up being swept aside in just over two weeks, its ambition of holding out until the new American administration coming to its rescue, irrevocably dashed.

In the end the TPLF having raised the stakes so high, lost it all in a reckless gamble it took in the early hours of 4th November 2020.

Yafet Zerou

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