Hailemariam Desalegn’s season in hell may be over soon. So should Ethiopia’s from the TPLF jaws!

18 Feb

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

Lowest favorability

It is common knowledge Hailemariam Desalegn has been least appreciated in office as a national leader, especially his tenure as Ethiopia’s prime minister since September 16, 2012.

In a country where historically citizens have respected and followed wise and powerful leaders, to his misfortunate he could hardly demonstrate such qualities. In the circumstances, who he is and what he has have only attracted the TPLF leaders, who have hoped to realise their long-standing objectives for Ethiopia.

While this has opened the TPLF to unyielding suspicions, attested by its dominance of Ethiopia in the past 27 years, Ethiopians also happen to be gratified by their sustained but costly protests of the last three years in particular and prescience of their instincts about the Front being ‘the wolf in sheep-skin.’

To make matters worse, as prime minister Hailemariam exuded sense of comfort in parroting his predecessor Meles Zenawi in both his communications and gesticulations. To some this has made him a novice stage actor rather than a national leader. As it happens, this has turned off Ethiopians from the get go, with the repercussion the man ending up being portrayed as the TPLF poodle in the nation’s most powerful office.

Hailemariam in the PM Office, with Meles Zenawi as his operating software (ጠቅላላ ሚዲያ)

In a manner difficult to explain, the prime minister seemed to adapt himself to his situation and has continued to this day; some sympathisers of his referring to him as the man with hippo skin, given his indifference to what is being said behind him, some or most of it he must have heard.

Groping in the shadow of a person the nation has rejected

Thanks to the TPLF, Hailemariam’s misfortune has been to be seen a weakling, in the otherwise powerful office dictator Meles Zenawi had cobbled up for himself to feed his big ego and insatiable appetite for power. No doubt, that has made Meles Zenawi the most powerful, influential person in state power and the longest serving TPLF leader in the organisation’s entire history since its inception in 1976.

The secret is that Meles Zenawi had what it took: political base and capacity to generate ideas as well as inhumanity. In politics, he had craftily entrenched himself in the 1995 constitution. Meles’s move in mind from the presidency to prime ministership, Article 74 (1) especially was designed to solidify his positions as “the Chief Executive [of the State], the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, and the Commander-in-Chief of the national armed forces” and brute enforcer of the Leninist democratic centralism to keep everyone under his thumb.

With the grandeur these have reposed in him, every Ethiopian would recall Meles Zenawi had done everything he wanted under the Ethiopian skies with no accountability whatsoever.

His loss even a place in history, with his untimely death as God’s reprieve for Ethiopia, Meles used his powers to violate the human rights and freedoms of Ethiopians that the very same constitution that had empowered him has granted them. It is this twist that has now become the TPLF’s curse across Ethiopia, with which it likewise has also been badly hooked.

So desensitising has been the effect of absolute power the TPLF has consolidated in Ethiopia, for a third time now in two years and on the morrow of the resignation of its trusted ally and prime minister, the Front could show neither good sense or political sobriety. It just went onto its business of human rights violations, imposing on the nation yet again their martial law. As typically TPLFite, this express action is aimed at crushing the popular protests across the country, further ready to engage the Agazi, Tigrean protection force and the murders eliminating Ethiopian youths.

I am grateful the United States happens to be one of the leading nations expressing its strongest demarche against the TPLF violence using state machineries, especially such imposition at this point. Certainly, I am one of those that still urges the US to go beyond words, if it values the time-tested friendship of the Ethiopian people, whose children and husbands are getting killed on a daily basis.

If US experience in other countries is a guide, there is every reason for Ethiopians to expect of the United States to impose sanctions, at least, on some of the brute TPLF leaders. There is every justification for more concrete action, in the face of the latest martial law targeting fundamental human rights, the freedoms of assembly and expression of the Ethiopian people. It’s about time he US has moved beyond words; mere calling on the TPLF to rethink its latest unlawful measures is not sufficient.

While rumours have been around about the TPLF wanting tougher martial law, renewable every half year, its imposition has dashed minute flickers of hope, fostered by the release in dribs and drabs since January 2018 of a small fraction of the 80-100 thousand estimated political prisoners in the country. With it also has gone down the drain the much-talked about prospect for an improved political environment for dialogue with all political groups in the country since the beginning of the New Year.

Voluntary resignation or ouster as cover for coup d’etat?

Be it clear that the Ethiopian perspective on Hailemariam’s resignation has been coloured over time by the profound hatred of Ethiopians primarily to the oppressor and total rejection of the TPLF on one side and the prime minister’s manifest spinelessness and servitude to the Front on the other. In a way, therefore, this has turned into a sword that has shown its ability to cut on both sides.

Accordingly, against what the prime minister has claimed to be a self-initiated voluntary resignation, “vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy” in Ethiopia, a shade of Ethiopian views sees it as dismissal by the TPLF, they believe, inconsequential regardless.

Adherents of Hailemariam’s ouster by the TPLF theory find it attractive, as they peer inside and see nothing else, as the most plausible explanation. While this writer also sympathises with that perspective, bearing in mind the TPLF has been besieged by all sides, its instincts have forced it to hold tight onto the fort by itself at all costs. These have included the removal of their ally thus far — the prime minister — without a slight to his contributions. That is why the Front immediately followed it by imposition of state of emergency.

This makes the TPLF measures a coup d’etat, as already some individuals have also pointed out. This may not be a factional action. It’s in fact a unifier of the different TPLF’s factions, since the members of the armed forces, the security and youth are worried the TPLF is losing power. If that finds more substance to back it up in the days and months ahead, this takeover of power can’t be any different from a true coup d’etat — a negotiated one at that. That must be the reason why the prime minister has agreed to campaign on the media, against the backdrop of echoes of mercenary cadres claiming his resignation is voluntary, to dawn a better future for the country.

The speed by which the TPLF also launched media campaign, political cadres/academics emerging on national television chiming the prime minister’s resignation would ‘enrich’ the build up of democracy in Ethiopia. This is all propaganda blitz, intended to disguise he was pushed out. The return for him is that he would live safely and comfortably at home or abroad. That’s why already on February 16 this writer had characterised his departure as none other than a coup:

No one can prevail working with the TPLF. That too is the fate Hailemariam Desalegn has suffered, perhaps having stayed longer than he should. In looking back at his actions in office, at times justifying the unjustifiable TPLF killings with revolting logic and words, he has lost credibility as much as his own ability to prevail.

If the past is to offer any hint about situations of this sort, fresh in my mind is an observational sentence from Prof Harold Marcus’ A History of Ethiopia (1994), insightfully discussing the eve of the 1974 revolution what had led to the downfall of Emperor Haileseslassie. As Ethiopia specialist, the professor notes:

“As long as Haile Sellassie provided strong leadership, the government functioned adequately, but his refusal to devolve real power did not permit Aklilu and others to become responsible policymakers. They remained the tools of an emperor increasingly dependent on the military for power.”

In other words, there is no room for both sides to exonerate themselves from their crimes against the Ethiopian people.

Finally, it is time the TPLF assumes all responsibilities for all those crimes committed against the people. For the TPLF, the driving force behind al this is its habitual underhandedness. It’s to be recalled that during its visit to Tigray, Ethiopia, in October 2010, a NATO Parliamentary delegation had instructively described the TPLF behaviour and manner of operation as “a kind of commando fashion rather than building up strong governance institutions”. A student of Ethiopia can afford to ignore this at his/her risk.

Uncharacteristically taking position

After the party conferences in Mekelle, the regional capital of Tigray, the TPLF dons agreed Ethiopia to release political prisoners. The rationale for this is not because they cared for the prisoners, nor their sanity restored.

The TPLF sought to buy with such actions the goodwill of Ethiopians to end their rebellion that is in its third year. Also the release of the political prisoners was to warm them up to incoming TPLF leadership, headed by none other than the notorious killer and hooligan Debretsion Gebremichael, the stink of whose reputation has often preceded him. He is a man whose heart is filled with hatred of Ethiopians; his solution to all the nation’s problems is singular: kill them all!

Unfortunately, every wing of the TPLF having it’s eyes on its share of the spoils has resulted in factional divisions. By the new year, the mafia bosses had already entered their season of visible squabbles. This has incapacitated the TPLF from becoming an instrument of leadership of the country. In the absence of unifying leadership, each faction of the TPLF has its eyes on the spoils, i.e., what Ethiopia is all about for the Front members, they could hardly agree on any forward looking agenda for Ethiopia.

Even the agreement on prisoner release was pulled back, which Hailemariam Desalegn enthusiastically announced to the world: (a) political prisoners would be released; and (b) the infamous Maekelawi, political prisoners’ torture chamber, would be converted into museum. It is within hours of this glad-tidings the very same day, BBC on January 4 reported denial by the Ethiopian government“imprisoned politicians will be pardoned.”

As is always the case, the TPLF political operatives and bloggers appeared with their shameful habits of being wordsmiths. They claimed there hardly was any mention of political prisoners. The prime minister’s aides claimed he was misquoted. TPLF cadres also were all over with their denials claiming Ethiopia — a political order in denial — had not spoken about ‘political prisoners’.

There were also TPLFites expressing resentments: “Ethiopia’s pardon for prisoners have become so generous that cop killers might be roaming in the streets in the coming days.”

From proximity, the situation must have horrified Hailemariam Desalegn. He must have reached the conclusion that staying any further on his post could become more dangerous for him. While not resolved to effect break with the TPLF, it is very likely that he might have pushed the prisoners release issue beyond the TPLF dons could tolerate. In that regard, the effective strike strategies that had paralysed most of Ethiopia must have created coincidence between his interest in this and the Oromo Qeerro actions that have left the TPLF without any option other than releasing the political prisoners.

It is possible that in these final days, Hailemariam might have decided to loosen his ties with the TPLF, spurred by the fractures within the TPLF that has worsened after the Mekele central committee meetings. This has come against the backdrop of internal energisation within the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO). Notwithstanding the TPLF repressions, this has also helped Ethiopians to become more hopeful about the end they want to see coming.

The dilemma now is that the country finds itself at dangerous crossroads. This could tip to the point of no return, given the anger within the nation, unless remedial actions actions are promptly instituted. Unstoppable it is because it is the rise of a patient nation, the wrath of its people seeking justice through their own means. To date, no national institutions or foreign allies of the killers have been willing to offer Ethiopians a helping hand, especially to stop the murderers!


This is the time the TPLF opened its eyes and looked around the fire burning in its direction to end its repression. Ethiopians have now resigned to do their part to withstand the killers by every means of self-defence. That is the inherent right of every citizen, nation or group, in response to the criminal killings by an arrogant power!

No Ethiopian benefits from violence of any sorts, irrespective of its source. To avoid its conflagration, it is essential the TPLF regime takes confidence-building actions, as appropriate, along the following lines:

    a. The state of emergency just imposed by the council of ministers must immediately be called off.

    b. No citizen should be arrested without due process, as per the law of the land. The TPLF must give effect to this as urgently as possible

    c. The Agazi TPLF defence force must be withdrawn from all cities and towns. TPLF must be re-educated that the duty of soldiers is to defend the country’s territorial integrity not to terrorise population centres.

    d. Police force must be in operation in all cities and towns to ensure public safety and protect private and public properties.

    e. Special security committee must be established within the council of ministers to advise government on security issues and measures.

    f. On the recommendation of the council of ministers, parliament must repeal the anti-terrorism law of 2009 as urgently and expeditiously.

    g. All remaining political prisoners, with no exceptions, must be released within the next ten days.

    h. The TPLF regime must submit to the nation its proposed political solutions and concrete measures to parliament within two weeks, including how it intends to implement them.

Failure on the part of the regime to positively respond to these requests should compel citizens to utilise their networks to intensify their protests, including all other appropriate defence measures to protect themselves, their families and their nation’s integrity!

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