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Viewpoint: On TPLF, the Tigray Interim Administration, and Wedi Zenawi’s “Legacy”

Members of the Tigray Interim Administration attending Meles Zenawi’s commemoration in Mekelle, Tigray, on August 16/2023. Photo: Dimtsi Woyane

By Semhal Meles

Addis Abeba – In 2012, upon Meles Zenawi’s death, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) began an exceedingly tedious and failed attempt at building a cult of personality around his ‘legacy’. As is typically the case with such endeavors, it was designed to distract not just the general public, but also the Front’s own rank and file, from a volte-face in ideology, program, and policy amounting to a repudiation of its core principles.

There is no intrinsic reason why the EPRDF, and indeed, its only remnant (at least in name), the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), should be perpetually beholden to any given ideology, program, or policy, irrespective of the identity of its primary author. However, that this radical reorientation was conducted in clandestine fashion was problematic for a number of obvious procedural and ethical reasons, the consequences of which I will not elaborate in this short note. I will, instead, briefly highlight these, still denied, changes from a political economy perspective.

In the recently published book ‘Understanding Ethiopia’s Tigray War’ Sarah Vaughan outlines shifts in economic policy, writing: “The party’s focus had been on the transformation of agriculture at the micro-level of the peasant farmer economy as a motor of industrialization. Attention now shifted to the macro-level, in favor of the Bretton Woods preference for ‘islands of success’, with more and more emphasis placed on industrial parks.”

It is impossible to consider Meles’s political, economic, or even military thinking, his contributions (whatever one may make of them) to public life, independently of these elements and the interpretation of social justice that undergirded them.

Her charge is confirmed by Stephan Dercon (coincidentally assigned chief economist of Department for International Development – DFID- in 2012), a close political ally of Arkebe Oqubay’s, who neatly summarizes the cascading crises of the previous decade in the following manner:

“Technically, one of the best urban development plans Africa has seen, the Addis Abeba Master Plan (AAMP), triggered the political undoing of the EPRDF regime by means of widespread violence; the emergence of a reformist prime minister, Abiy Ahmed; and ultimately the ongoing conflict between the Addis Abeba government and the remainder of the TPLF in Tigray.”

Dercon’s insistence on the technical proficiency of the AAMP, even while asserting a casual relationship with the social and political upheaval it “triggered” — including but not limited to a “conflict” greater in scale than the war in Ukraine that has, to date, claimed over a million lives and is accompanied by genocide, the holding of six million civilians under siege, the weaponization of rape, aid, and food – reveals the shortcomings of technical proficiency considered in abstraction of historical, political, social, and institutional contexts. However in line with the “best geographic thinking” a given policy, (AAMP included) to the extent that it’s devised on the assumption of the existence of consolidated homogeneous national identities (as with the Bretton Woods preference for “islands of success”), it would have necessarily come into ‘friction’ with the governing structures of federal Ethiopia and a nation building trajectory informed by plurality.

It is impossible to consider Meles’s political, economic, or even military thinking, his contributions (whatever one may make of them) to public life, independently of these elements and the interpretation of social justice that undergirded them. Viewed in this light, the recent ‘remembrance’ ceremony held by the TPLF and the interim regional government can only be regarded as a continuation of the cynical scam that is the (now revitalized) ‘legacy’ discourse.

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It is my personal contention that neoliberalism, that is the Bretton Woods preference for ‘islands of success’, would equally ill serve the nation building process even within supposedly homogeneous Tigray. Still, Tigray’s gallant people are, at the very least, owed open, honest, and critical public debate on the way forward, free of the mendacious manipulation that has characterized talk of ‘Meles Zenawi’s legacy’ under Debretsion Gebremichael’s stewardship as both deputy chairman and chairman of the TPLF.

The dogged duplicity exemplified by the leadership of TPLF, is, to put it politely, unworthy of the sacrifices the people of Tigray have made, and continue to make, in search of securing their right to self determination, democracy, and release from conditions of abject poverty and indignity.

It is high time the party chairman and the rest of the leadership (of both party and government) stand on their own two (right wing) feet, come clean, and deliver for the people of Tigray. AS

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Editor’s Note: Semhal Meles is the daughter of Ethiopia’s late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

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