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Is the Tigrai People’s Liberation Front a Communist Party?  A Brief Review

Professor Desta, Asayehgn

Since the oust of the brutal socialist military dictatorship from power in 1991, a large portion of the Ethiopian people have desired and dreamed living in a democratic system of government rather than a communist-dominated government. The Ethiopian people wished their country’s democratic system would entertain 1) free and fair elections; 2) active participation of the Ethiopian citizens in politics and civic life; 3) protection of the human rights; and 4) the existence of rule of law, in which the laws and procedures of the country apply equally to all citizens (See for example, Stanford University, 2004).

The Ethiopian elites redefined the transitional Ethiopia’s political and social structure. Starting with the formation of the Ethiopian Constitution in 1994, the Ethiopian government was forced to cope with new realities and to seek its own path toward the formation of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. 

Over twenty-five years later, Ethiopia has yet to implement the democratic ideals listed above. In his article, ”Let us not make a mistake: The TPLF is first and foremost a Communist Party,” author Teshome Beyene Berhe warns us that, though never officially acknowledged, the Tigrain People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has been preaching and practicing communism ever since its inception. The primary principles of communism followed by the TPLF included 1) democratic centralism; 2) the use of iron discipline as the unshakable rule of the game; 3) consensus decision making processes; and 4) denouncement and subversion of rival political parties (November 25, 2017).

Using Teshome’s argument, the purpose of this paper is to briefly review the Tigrai People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) Conference held in Mekelle.  More specifically, the article attempts to review whether the procedures of the 35-day TPLF conference validate Teshome’s argument that the TPLF 1) adheres to the mottos of democratic centralism, and 2) uses iron discipline to execute the party’s decisions.  

   Democratic centralism

Based on information provided by the propaganda machine of the Ethiopian ruling class, most outsiders might think that the Ethiopian People’s Ruling Democratic Front (EPRDF) attempts to purport a dialectical combination of democracy (encouraging free and open discussion) and centralism (ensuring party unity and discipline) to rule the country while transitioning to democracy. In other words, when juxtaposed with the outside world, the EPRDF might give the impression that though Ethiopia is currently ruled by a monolithic party, it is using a synergy between democratic and centralism to charter Ethiopia’s course to democracy.

However, as Teshome argues, the TPLF does not seem to be transitioning to democracy and is not exercising what it propagates to the outside world. Teshome argues that, particularly in Tigrai Region, the TPLF hardly tolerates dissention. The TPLF generally requires decisions made at the upper echelon of the leadership, without any deviation, to be implemented into action at the lowest level of the region’s administrative structure. Whatever central party members decide, every level of administration is supposed to implement it without any change.    

 

A study of the recent “35-days Conference,” which ran from October through the beginning of December 2017, in Mekelle, Tigrai Region, reveals that, though the people of Tigrai are supposed to be sovereign with the highest form of political authority, except by the 45 nominal elected members, the worede people were not allowed to evaluate their representatives at the central committee level. Instead of giving the worede people control over their elected representative, the TPLF’s ardently communist members acted arbitrarily either to oust some members from the Federal Politburo or temporally suspend others from the TPLF Central Committee.

In other words, instead of considering the needs of the local population, the TPLF made decisions based on communistic guidelines. The ‘old guard’ and certain party-selected local representatives were given the discretionary power to make immediate decisions. However, if the TPLF Party seriously applied the 2011 Federal constitutional amendment that granted self-rule to local units (woredes), it would have produced effective bargaining for civic society and assured checks and balances (Desta, 2017).

Iron Discipline rules the Game  

The guiding principle of communism is party discipline. Given that the TPLF is the only monolithic party, it bases the guiding organizational nature of its democratic centralist party on rigorous discipline, criticism, and self-criticism of party members. As Teshome rightly argues, the Tigrai communist party “…invokes and enforces iron disciplines. Members must toe the line and respect party lines rules and procedures...”

To dismantle Ethiopia’s despotic military rule, the TPLF relied upon rigorous party discipline to achieve power. At this juncture, observers must ask why the TPLF continues to insist upon communism and holding the people of Tigrai prisoners of an outdated system when other regions in Ethiopia try so hard to embrace democracy.  

At every sub-district (woreda) level in Tigrai, residents have little meaningful power to select their representatives. Meanwhile, local people have no rights to elect representatives willing to hear to their needs and suggestions. For example, during the last election in 2015, some federal members of parliament never even visited their local districts to share their future agendas. Adding insult to injury, some nominal candidates never bothered to hear their constituencies’ concerns. Furthermore, other political rival party members were denounced and threatened by the cadres of the ruling party not to assemble freely and voice their agendas.  In the recent thirty-five-day conference in Mekele, Tigrai, the same members of the ‘old guard’ were chosen to maintain the status quo instead of fighting to make substantial improvements.

Conclusion  

While battling the Military Junta or the Derg in Ethiopia for more than seventeen years, the TPLF might have effectively used its communistic ideologies to create the illusion that the TPLF had unlimited appetite for membership and power in order to acquire supporters.  After the country had emerged from communist military misrule, however, it should be crystal clear that the absorbing capacity of the TPLF is extremely limited.  As a result, though the country has educated many of its people, the new progressive generation has failed to cross the bridge and reignite Ethiopia’s modus operandi. Instead, the communist ‘old guard’ of the TPLF Party remain in power—and others not officially in power control the Tigrai Region’s electoral process.

Those narrow ideologies unquestionably linked to Ethiopia’s institutional failure can no longer excuse themselves by claiming they once liberated the Ethiopia’s downtrodden masses from the brutal military rule. Now that a number of formerly socialist countries have abandoned communism, why do the TPLF members continue to place the Tigrai’s destiny in the hands of an outdated and deadly communist ideology?  

Instead, let local self-government flourish under representative democracy so the Tigrai people can live peacefully, without oppression or fear. For too long, the Tigrai Region has been governed in the interest of the few. Finally, the outspoken, Teshome has challenged the system and sounded the trumpet, and it will take the combined strengths of all Tigraians to make substantial changes.

The recent “35 day’s conference,” held in Makele, was a mockery that achieved no fundamental change. Without consulting the people of Tigrai, officials from the same group have been given new huts. The TPLF Party has had its own way for far too long, and a culture of political cronyism and favoritism has prevailed for over twenty-five years. The people of Tigrai have allowed a few powerful individuals to rise above the law to and enforce their poisonous ideologies—but the time for change has come.

 

References:

Desta, A. (2017). Re-thinking Ethiopia’s Ethnic Federalism.  Saarbruken, Germany:Lambert  Academic Publishing. 

Stanford University, (2004). What is Democracy? “What is Democracy?”. Available at http://web.stanford.edu/--Idiamond/iraq/whatisdemocracy012004.htm.

Teshome B. Berhe (November 25, 2017). “Let us not make a mistake: The TPLF is first and formemost a Communist Party.” Aigaforum. Available at http://aigaforum.com/article 2017/TPLF-a communist-party.htm.