Sadaasa/November 20, 2013 · Gadaa.com
Now and then I check some of the Diaspora owned and operated Ethiopian websites. I happened to be browsing the Ethiopian Review the other day, when I came across an eye-catching headline — “Ethiopia’s Shrinking Prime Minister.” Citing its sources, the online magazine declares, ”The two TPLF factions are appearing to be close to resolving their differences and turning their attention to getting back the prime minister’s position from their puppet, Hailemariam Desalegn.” It goes on describing the factions: who each faction was promoting, and how they reached a compromise on a fellow named Tewodros Hagos. Everything the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) wanted you to know, was communicated in the first paragraph. The rest of the article contains the obligatory bashing of Hailemariam Dessalegn as a puppet with no power whatsoever, and the usual condemnation of the TPLF and its bigwigs, particularly its recently deceased leader, Meles Zenawi, whom the online magazine colorfully described as a Khat-addicted dictator.
Whereas the reader is led to believe, based on the chosen title, that this is about the current Ethiopian Premiere, the story is unmistakably a trial balloon disseminated by the TPLF. The imagined or real factions of the ruling clique in Ethiopia notwithstanding, the core of the TPLF, via this carefully crafted scoop, is trying to gauge the reactions to the information of some of the members of the satellite organizations making up the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front, the general public and the opposition, possibly in partial collusion with, or at the very least with advanced notices to some of its sponsors in the West. Let me explain.
There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the minority clique is determined to appropriate as much political power as it can, for as long as it is feasible. Getting back the position of prime minster for one of its own, by installing Adhanom or Hagos, is thus a prize it would pursue as a top priority to the extent it is attainable. How easily the ruling clique is going to be able to wrest this position from an outsider, even a weak one such as Haile-Mariam Dessalegn, could prove to be a delicate matter, and depends on how the stakeholders in the Ethiopian political landscape are going to react to the possible development. Hence, the TPLF is leaking this well crafted “news” well ahead of the 2015 elections, to check how it is going to be received by the aforementioned parties.
It is clear that the TPLF’s accessory organizations pose no direct or imminent threat to their maker’s hegemony at the moment. However, it is plausible that certain elements within these satellite organizations might either naively believe that the EPRDF is a political partnership of equals, or just be daring enough to claim that it is their turn to assume the position, giving rise to an unwelcome political feud within the ruling “coalition.” The Tigrean elites have no desire or inclination to relinquish this key post to an Oromo or Amhara for the foreseeable future. With a tight leash on, a weak southerner like the current office holder may be tolerated for a season, but the coming to prominence of particularly an Oromo, who is competent enough to be entrusted with the levers of power, might doom the TPLF’s national project, potentially disrupting the gravy train to which the group’s honchos are now well accustomed. The trial balloon would thus serve as a way to identify, and eventually neutralize, independent minded individuals and groups within the so-called Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) and the Amhara Nation Democratic Movement (ANDM) – who might have aspirations to rise to the powerful position.
The TPLF knows that the general public has very limited appetite and energy for challenging its tyranny. It is also well aware that the opposition – whether based in the Diaspora or in the homeland – is not yet powerful enough to pause an imminent threat to its misrule. However, since its power base is dangerously narrow, it cannot afford not to use any tricks in its playbook in order to prolong its dominance. One of the ploys it has been using, and will continue to do, includes a slick propaganda that effectively elevates in people’s collective consciousness that the tyrants from Tigray are simply cut above the rest. This insidious, even if readily falsifiable, spin has unfortunately worked like a charm on the general public to a certain extent, as witnessed during the extended burial ceremony of Meles Zenawi, who, despite his abysmal records on human rights and mixed legacy on other fronts, was incessantly portrayed as the paragon of virtue and the savior of Ethiopia – with the intention of planting in the unsuspecting mind the idea that a TPLF boss (read: a Tigrean) brings unique leadership qualities to the table. By signaling that another TPLF guru is being groomed for the powerful position, the organization is thus conditioning the public to get ready for the reestablishment of the natural order of things – the planned reinstatement of a Tigrean to his “rightful place.” The regime’s hope is that, by the time Hagos or Adhanom is installed, the public will have digested the news, making unanticipated reactions to the coronation much less likely.
I am of the opinion that the powerful nations with vested interests in the Horn of Africa might have advanced notice of TPLF’s machinations. It is also possible that some might be registering a halfhearted opposition to the potential reinstatement of another TPLF strongman to the most powerful position, based on a well-founded fear that it may cause instability in the fragile Horn region. They may, however, be willing to evaluate how this information is going to be received by the various stakeholders in the Ethiopian polity, as long as they are able to maintain plausible deniability should it backfire in unexpected ways. Unfortunately for the plurality in the country, the scheme just might demonstrate, once again, that that the path of least resistance is the preferred way in the land of the TPLF in the short run.
So, why would the editor of the Ethiopian Review, the vociferous critic of the TPLF, work as an indirect conduit for this well orchestrated design? Vanity might be an issue here, but I don’t know.
* Malkaa Guutuu can be reached at email@example.com.