Sunday, July 11, 2021

Ethiopia's Future Hangs the Balance

by Elizabeth Kendal 

On 28 June, in what seemed to be an instantaneous and inexplicable reversal of fortunes, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – the Marxist organisation that dominated, terrorised and robbed Ethiopia for three decades – regained control of Mekelle (the Tigray capital). 

The TPLF’s boast, that it had routed the far superior Ethiopian military, is pure propaganda, nothing but a lie. 

Captives on parade.
Photo by Finbarr O'Reillyfor The New York Times

As it turns out, the TPLF entered Mekelle after the Ethiopian government announced a unilateral ceasefire having already withdrawn Tigray’s interim administration.

After being paraded through the streets, some 6000 captured Ethiopian troops were imprisoned in Tigray. 

In a 2 July Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA) President Gregory Copley explains: “Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali on June 28, 2021, called a unilateral ceasefire in military operations against the Tigré (Tigray) Popular Liberation Front (TPLF) forces in Tigré Region of Ethiopia. This allowed TPLF forces unfettered access to the regional capital, Mekelle, and the prospect that the region would once again attempt to seal itself of hermetically from the rest of Ethiopia. 

“It is believed that Dr Abiy gave in to immense pressure from the US government, which had threatened to propose – through the UN Security Council – an armed intervention in Ethiopia to stop an ‘humanitarian crisis’ in the region. The TPLF rejected the ceasefire, and said that it would continue to fight against Ethiopian Government forces, confident in its backing from the US. The TPLF also said that it would continue its war against the adjacent Amhara people…

“What is significant,” notes Copley, “is that there has been no independent verification of the claims of Ethiopian and Eritrean government atrocities against the Tigrean people.” 

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Caves to US Pressure on Tigré, Opening the Region to Major Instability
Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, by Gregory Copley, via Borkena, 2 July 2021

Pressure from US and EU Gives Wrong Signal: Violence Pays Off
By International Affairs Expert Simo-Pekka Parviainen (Finland), 7 July 2021 

Critically, as Stratfor (geopolitical intelligence) notes (1 July), the TPLF victory in Tigray “risks triggering more conflict elsewhere in the country [e.g. Oromia Region and Ogaden/Somali Region], placing both Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s political future and his economic reform plans in peril… 

“The conflict in Ethiopia will likely worsen over the coming months.” 

A Rebel Victory in Tigray Leaves Ethiopia’s Abiy in Hot Water,
Stratfor Worldview, 1 July 2021 (subscription) 


“Despite the TPLF’s quick seizure of Mekelle and the ENDF’s [Ethiopian National Defense Force’s] unilateral cease-fire, the conflict in Ethiopia will likely worsen over the coming months. The TPLF has said it will not stop its offensive operation until all ENDF and ENDF-allied forces can no longer threaten Tigray, including the forces from Ethiopia’s Amhara region and the troops from neighboring country Eritrea that both joined the ENDF during its November offensive. Eritrea and Amhara, however, are unlikely to accept a permanent re-entrenchment of the TPLF in Tigray. Eritrea views the TPLF as an existential threat, given its role in the two countries’ 1998-2000 conflict that took place along Eritrea’s border with Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Amhara nationalists had also hoped to use the TPLF’s decline to expand their influence within Ethiopia. The Amhara branch of Ethiopia’s ruling Prosperity Party has already said that the four former TPLF-controlled territories it seized after the November offensive will remain in Amhara, raising the risk for potential clashes in the future.”


To understand why “Eritrea and Amhara are unlikely to accept a permanent re-entrenchment of the TPLF in Tigray”; and why “Eritrea views the TPLF as an existential threat”; and why “the four former TPLF-controlled territories it seized after the November offensive will remain in Amhara” (ensuring conflict will continue); we need to understand something of history and ideology of the TPLF in Ethiopia. 

Tigray Conflict: Homework Not Done by Western Countries Has Led to Wrong Policy Action
Simo-Pekka Parviainen, 18 May 2021


In October 2016, Aleksandra W. Gadzala wrote concerning Ethiopia’s anti-government protests (which ran from 2015 to February 2018): 

“Ethiopia is made up of nine dominant ethnic groups and approximately eighty others. Historically, the Amhara people … were the country’s governing force. Emperor Haile Selassie, Emperor Menilek (1889–1913) before him, and Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Derg regime (1974–89) [a Marxist-Leninist military junta backed by the Soviet Union] after him were all Amhara. Each sought to establish a unified Ethiopia with Amharic as the official language and the Amhara culture as the foundation of Ethiopian identity. All other identities were to be eliminated – either by way of assimilation, or by force. In this the Derg [Amharic for Committee], was especially merciless. It perceived ethnic diversity as a threat to state unity; through its Red Terror campaign, it brutally slaughtered over five hundred thousand people – all, in its eyes, enemies of the Amhara state…

“Years of repression ultimately gave way to resentment of the Amhara and, by extension, the state. It also gave rise to what Ethiopian historian Gebru Tareke calls ‘dissent nationalism,’ and the emergence of ethno-nationalist groups like the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). For the TPLF, the state was an oppressive and colonizing force from which the country’s ethnicities had to be liberated. In 1975 the group waged what amounted to a secessionist struggle: its 1976 manifesto established ‘the first task of the national struggle will be the establishment of an independent democratic republic of Tigray.’ When in 1989 the TPLF, then already under the direction of Meles Zenawi, successfully overthrew the Derg and in 1991 merged with three other political factions to form the EPRDF [Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front], Ethiopia was subdivided into nine mostly ethnic regions, each with the right to independent lawmaking, executive, and judicial powers. Enshrined in Article 39.3 of the constitution is the right of all ethnicities to ‘self-government.’ 

Gadzala explains how the TPLF-dominated EPRDF government then proceeded – by way of violent repression – to centralise governance to the point that ethnic federalism became meaningless. “In this way,” writes Gadzala (2016), “decades of Amhara control have given way to decades of Tigray control. The presidential office, the parliament, central government ministries and agencies – including public enterprises – and financial institutions have since 1991 all been controlled by the TPLF. So too the military.” 

Ethiopia Opens a Pandora’s Box of Ethnic Tensions
By Aleksandra W. Gadzala, The National Interest, 12 Oct 2016.


In 1983, at the height of the Cold War, the US government of President Ronald Reagan issued National Security Directive 75, which summarised US policy towards the Soviet Union.  US policy was designed, “To contain and over time reverse Soviet expansionism by competing effectively on a sustained basis with the Soviet Union in all international arenas – particularly in the overall military balance and in geographical regions of priority concern to the United States. . .” while working towards “a more pluralistic political and economic system” within the Soviet Union.

At that time, Ethiopia was ruled by the Derg, a Marxist-Leninist military junta backed by the Soviet Union. In line with Directive 75, the US backed the Marxist-Leninist TPLF as it led the fight against the Soviet-backed Derg. To paraphrase the thinking of President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “They might be sons of bitches [in this case neither Fascists nor Islamists but Marxists], but they are our sons of bitches.” 

This mindset outlived the collapse of Communism in Europe and the break-up of the Soviet Union to continue into the War on Terror, proving that the US is as capable as any Great Power of unprincipled pragmatism in pursuit of geostrategic and economic interests. 

Despite US backing, the TPLF was still little more than a separatist guerrilla force from an ethnic minority fighting against a Soviet-backed military junta. In 1989, fortunes reversed as communism collapsed in Europe. In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed and the TPLF-led Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) – comprising the TPLF, the Amhara Democratic Party, the Oromo Democratic Party, and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement – took control of Ethiopia. 

A 2004 paper by Matthew McCracken brings to light “the hidden agenda of Ethiopia’s central government” [i.e. the US-backed TPLF-dominated EPRDF]. 

McCracken explains how the TPLF abused its power to further its illegitimate aims: diverting aid to Tigray in order to enrich the state, and using Ethiopian soldiers to fight a war against Eritrea on its behalf in an attempt to expand the borders of Tigray.

Abusing Self-Determination and Democracy: How the TPLF Is Looting Ethiopia
By Matthew J. McCracken 
Case Western Reserve University, Journal of International Law, Vol 36, issue 1, 2004. (40 pages)

Excerpts from the introduction:

“After Eritrean and Tigrayan rebels overthrew Ethiopia’s socialist-military government in 1991, members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (or ‘TPLF’) reorganized into a new political party known as the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (or ‘EPRDF’) and assumed control of Ethiopia’s central government. After 100 years of domination by the Amhara tribe, Ethiopia’s new government, led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, claimed to usher in a new era of political openness.

“This so-called ‘Revolutionary Era’ produced many significant political changes…

“When Ethiopia’s Constitution was ratified in 1994, it established Ethiopia as a federal republic, and embraced the principle of self-determination through democratic rule… the Constitution granted all ‘Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ in Ethiopia the unconditional right to secede from the nation. To Ethiopian minorities and observers in the international community, the country seemed poised for democratic reform that would end decades of oppression.

“However, soon after the new Constitution was ratified, some legal scholars criticized its provision that allows regions within Ethiopia to secede. According to these scholars, the provision, articulated in Article 39, creates an unworkable form of central government by making it too easy for the country to break apart. Under Article 39, all a region needs to exercise its right of secession is a referendum passed by a two-thirds majority of its regional parliament and a separate referendum passed by a simple majority of the national parliament.

“Most of the scholars who have criticized Article 39 assume that its inclusion in the 1994 Constitution came about as a compromise between the EPRDF and other regional representatives. Under this assumption, the EPRDF reluctantly included Article 39 in the Constitution in order to appease regional calls for self-determination rights by minority populations who were inspired by Eritrea’s secession in 1993. In other words, the EPRDF needed to include Article 39 in order to garner support from Ethiopia’s regional governments and preserve the country's national integrity.

“However, recent developments have demonstrated that this assumption is probably incorrect. A new theory regarding the EPRDF’s purpose behind Article 39 is quietly gaining acceptance in Ethiopian and international circles. Although this theory is highly speculative, it is also potentially illuminating and explosive. It has all the hallmarks of a grand conspiracy theory: it implicates the highest levels of the Ethiopian [TPLF-dominated EPRDF] government; it involves a far-reaching plan with long-term goals; and it involves the use of violence and under-handed politics in order to perpetrate a fraud on the Ethiopian people and the international community. Worst of all, it is probably correct.

“In brief, the new theory is this: the TPLF-dominated EPRDF intentionally included Article 39 in Ethiopia’s 1994 Constitution so that the Tigray region could loot Ethiopia of its resources, use the Ethiopian military to expand the borders of Tigray, and then secede from Ethiopia. Underlying this theory is the widely held opinion that the TPLF and EPRDF are not independent organizations, but symbiotic.

“The evidence supporting this theory comes from several sources. Most importantly, the TPLF put its intentions in writing in the organization’s manifesto known as the ‘Republic of Greater Tigrai’. Drafted by TPLF leaders in 1976, the manifesto sets forth an elaborate plan for the liberation of Tigray from Ethiopian rule. The plan involves two main steps: 1) re-demarcating Tigray’s borders to expand the region’s borders within Ethiopia, and 2) acquiring coastal lands within Eritrea [reaching all the way to the Red Sea] and seceding as an independent nation…”

Having written the right to self-governance and even secession into the constitution, the TPLF-dominated EPRDF then used every repressive and violent means in its arsenal to frustrate that right, while never surrendering its own vision of an independence Republic of Greater Tigray. “It seems likely,” writes McCracken, “that the TPLF/EPRDF, like the Derg before it, never had any intention of allowing other regions [e.g. Oromia Region or Ogaden/Somali Region] to secede from Ethiopia…” 

Rather, it seems the TPLF’s plan was always enrichment, enlargement, and then secession by way of Article 39. 

McCracken writes: “In addition to diverting money from the rest of Ethiopia to Tigray, international aid organizations suspect that the TPLF has also misappropriated donated monies. Since overthrowing the socialist Derg, the ostensibly-democratic EPRDF has been able to secure large amounts of aid from Western nations such as the United States. According to the international advocacy group Human Rights Watch (or ‘HRW’), Western nations have poured in funding to help the country develop, but turned a blind eye to human rights violations … not wishing to jeopardize Ethiopia’s cooperation in fighting terrorism.”

In 2010 a BBC investigation found  that the TPLF had indeed misappropriated donated monies, and that “Millions of dollars in Western aid for victims of the Ethiopian famine of 1984-85 was siphoned off by rebels to buy weapons.”

This begs the question; “Does the TPLF actually care about Tigreans?” 


The Ethiopian government has been accused of engineering famine and using food as a weapon. It is a horrendous accusation, one the government firmly denies, rejecting the claims as “baseless and politically motivated”. 

In November 2020, when the TPLF triggered this war by massacring hundreds of ethnic Amhara soldiers and then civilians in Mai-Kadra (Mycadra), western Tigray state, Tigreans were struggling to deal with the region’s worst locust plague in 25 years. That famine was already closing in on Tigray before the TPLF started the war shows just how much the TPLF cares for Tigreans (about as much as Hamas cares for Palestinians)! 

What's more, Copley notes, “there has been no independent verification of the claims of Ethiopian and Eritrean government atrocities against the Tigrean population”.

Rather, continues Copley, “The TPLF has, with some of the estimated $30-billion stolen from Ethiopian funds (and much of that coming from US direct and covert aid during the US Barack Obama-Joe Biden Administration), engaged in a major, professional information warfare campaign against the Abiy Government which replaced the Marxist TPLF Government. This has been assisted by the reality that the TPLF retained great friendships in Washington, DC, as a result of the [Dec 2009] deal which the former TPLF Meles Zenawi Government did with Washington to train and equip the TPLF’s private, 30,000-man army in exchange for US use of Ethiopian air basing, particularly at Arba Minch, in Southern Ethiopia.” (emphasis mine)

Indeed, the US Air Force invested tens of millions of dollars to upgrade the Arba Minch Airport runway and build an annex where it housed a fleet of Reaper drones which it used in the battle against al-Shabaab in Somalia between 2011-2016

But for the US to have the Meles/TPLF-led EPRDF regime as an ally in the War on Terror it had to turn a blind eye to endemic corruption and gross human rights abuses. For while the US was fighting actual terrorists, the TPLF-dominated EPRDF was using its anti-terror laws to crack down on political dissent, incarcerating thousands political prisoners, many of whom were severely tortured. 

Copley continues: “Senior TPLF officials – many of whom were given US passports by the Obama Administration – boast often of their friendship with senior US officials, but particularly with Dr Susan Rice, the former National Security Advisor to the Obama-Biden White House (July 1, 2013 to January 20, 2017). During her tenure as National Security Advisor, Dr Rice’s deputy was Antony Blinken, now the US Secretary of State in the Joe Biden Administration. But Dr Rice, who is currently Director of the Domestic Policy Council which reports to Pres. Biden, had a long history of engagement with the TPLF, particularly dating from her years as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the William Clinton Administration, and as Ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013... Now, the same team of Obama-Clinton officials are back in power in Washington, DC.”


This might seem like a lot of information and a lot of background, but it really is important. For a narrative is being promulgated, and disseminated by Western politicians and mainstream media that is essentially an inversion of the truth. What’s more, this narrative – that PM Abiy is essentially a genocidal war criminal against whom the heroic TPLF must fight to liberate its oppressed people – can only take Ethiopia and the whole Horn of Africa into a place of unparalleled catastrophe; something one would assume is not in the West’s interests!  

On 29 October 2020, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) released a report by its Senior Study Group on Peace and Security in the Red Sea Arena. The report notes that political transitions in Sudan and Ethiopia have “set the region on a transformative new trajectory toward reform and stability”. However, it warns that state failure “would send a tidal wave of instability across Africa and the Middle East” (page 4).  

“Given their populations of approximately 45 million and 105 million, Sudan and Ethiopia are respectively more than two times and six times the size of pre-war Syria. Fragmentation of either country would be the largest state collapse in modern history, likely leading to mass inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflict; a dangerous vulnerability to exploitation by extremists [code for Islamic jihadists]; an acceleration of illicit trafficking, including of arms; as well as a humanitarian and security crisis at the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East on a scale that would overshadow the existing conflicts in South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen” (page 10). 

Excerpt from McCracken’s conclusion (2004)

“It remains to be seen whether or not the TPLF will ever be able to realize the goals set forth in the ‘Republic of Greater Tigrai’. It is possible that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the other TPLF members remaining in Ethiopia’s central government have given up on ever asserting Tigray’s independence following Ethiopia’s failure to gain access to the Red Sea.

“The international community, led by the United States, has chosen to ignore [numerous questions] in the case of Ethiopia. Perhaps the United States is too concerned with preserving Ethiopia as an ally in the ‘war on terror’ to question the legitimacy of [EPRDF-ruled] Ethiopia’s ‘democracy’. By blindly aiding Ethiopia [i.e. the EPRDF] and the TPLF, the United States risks creating a populous in Ethiopia rich with anti-American sentiment. The secession of Tigray would only provoke more anger and ultimately create the potential for more terror directed at American interests. The world cannot afford to ignore the hidden agenda of the TPLF any longer.” 

In concluding his strategic analysis (2 July 2021), Copley wonders: 

Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed

 “… will the Government in Addis Ababa awaken to the reality that its chosen ally, the United States (for which it abandoned the Meles Government’s support for the People’s Republic of China), has, in fact, abandoned it. And would Dr Abiy, with that realization, resume attacks on the TPLF, regardless of US pressure? At that point, it seems likely that the US would do what US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has already threatened to do: to seek United Nations Security Council approval for an international military intervention into Ethiopia on ‘peacekeeping’ grounds, much as the same US team attempted to do (eventually getting some NATO support) in Yugoslavia during the 1990s?”

Ethiopia's future hangs in the balance.


Helpful Background: 

Ethiopia-Eritrea: Reforms and Resistance
by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 25 June 2018

Ethiopia-Eritrea: rapprochement achieved; now for implementation.
The silver cloud (of peace) has a dark lining (the TPLF).
by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 23 July 2018

Slaughter in Oromia: The Battle for Ethiopia Heats Up
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 14 June 2020

Ethiopia: Collapse Would Trigger Christian Crisis
by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, 18 Nov 2020

Ethiopia: Pivotal Elections; Church Massacre
by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, 17 March 2021 


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).