Crisis inside the TPLF regime
Meles Zenawi purges rivals
By ER Staff
April - June 2001
In late March, the rumor that was widely circulating about an internal power struggle in the ruling Tigray
People Liberation Front (TPLF) was confirmed when the losing side led by former defense minister Siye Abraha walked out of a meeting and later issued a public statement. From the Siye group's statement we learned that 12 of the 30 central committee members have been summarily dismissed by Meles Zenawi and his supporters, who are called the "Palace Group" by the dissidents. Some of them have also been put under house arrest. As a result, TPLF, the dominant party in the ruling EPRDF coalition government, is now divided into two factions, 15 against 12.
What led to the division in the TPLF seems to be criticisms of Meles Zenawi's policies, including his handling of the conflict with Issayas Afeworki's regime in Eritrea, access to the Red Sea ports, and corruption. According to the dissidents, Prime Minister Meles, who is half Eritrean, has a soft stand on Issayas Afeworki's Eritrean regime, which, they say, caused the devastating war. They also protest his stand on the issue of access to the Red Sea coast.
The Meles faction responded by making accusations of its own. On March 23, Meles publicly accused the dissidents of endangering the political system and the TPLF itself by engaging in shady business dealings.
The twelve TPLF members who were dismissed by Meles are: Tewolde Woldemariam, deputy chairman of the TPLF; Siye Abraha, former defense minister; Abay Tsehay, former TPLF secretary-general and currently adviser to the prime minister; Gebru Asrat, president of Tigray Regional State, Aregash Adane, deputy president of Tigray Regional State; Alemseged Gebreamlak, head of EPRDF political affairs; Bitew Belay, head of regional state issues; Hasan Shifa, former police commissioner; Awalom Wolde, former Ethiopian ambassador to Eritrea; Solomon Tesfaye; Abraha Kahsay; Gebremeskel Hailu, Central Committee members.
Later on, one of the dismissed members, Hasan Shifa, who is ill and being treated at the Armed Forces Hospital in Addis Abeba, changed his mind and joined the "Palace Groups." The TPLF media said that he repented his mistakes through self-criticism.
The group on the side of the prime minister is consisted of 15 of TPLF Central Committee's 30 members, including the Internal Affairs Minister, Kinfe Gebremedhin, and the Foreign Minister, Seyoum Mesfin.
The differences erupted during the 26th TPLF anniversary in Mekele. After the Mekele meeting, from which the dissidents walked out, Meles sent an open letter to Gebru Asrat, Aregash Adane, Siye Abraha and Abay Tsehaye dismissing them from the TPLF politburo.
The Meles side also "coerced" the Tigray National Assembly to hold an emergency meeting in Mekele and remove Ato Gebru Asrat, the President of the Tigray region, and Ato Gebremeskel Hailu from the Executive Committee of the Assembly. The meeting was held on April 9.
When the differences between the TPLF members emerged, Neway Gebreab, economic adviser to the Prime Minister, made attempts to mediate and urged both factions to resolve their differences through dialogue. Several groups, including priests who traveled from the Tigray region, also tried to mediate, with no avail.
As Meles solidified his position, he became increasingly defiant. When asked if the dissidents can present their position at the TPLF General Assembly, he replied that they can present their rotten (YBKT) idea. He also changed the palace guards, and ordered the dismissed members to return their government houses, cars and other properties.
Tigrean communities in the U.S. and Europe have issued statements condemning the Meles faction for dismissing the 12 dissidents. A group named International Committee of Tigreans for Democracy (ICTD), in its March 24 statement, said that it "expresses its unwavering support for and solidarity with the people of Tigray, in particular, and the Ethiopian people, in general, in the fight to bring the culprit to the rule of law and face the multiple charges of treason awaiting him and his gang members."
The following are statements distributed by both factions:
Position of the 12 dissidents in the TPLF
Source: The Reporter
The division in TPLF's Central Committee has now plunged the party into a state of chaos. The Committee is sharply divided into two big groups and, according to the rules of our party, two-thirds of the member of the central committee should be present in any meeting to make any decision. This implies that both groups cannot consider themselves as a Central Committee at the moment. The "palace- group," which is making decisions as a Central Committee of TPLF is, by doing so, violating the rules and regulations of our party.
The decisions given by this group are leading the party into dangerous disintegration. What's more, the group is disseminating misleading information to hide the cause of the division to the public. It is trying to tarnish the name of the individuals who are espousing a right cause and trying to kill their worthy aim. It is high time that the causes of the friction and how it grew to such a level be informed to the public in a lucid fashion. The aim of this declaration is to expose the truth to the public.
The strong division in TPLF's Central Committee cropped up when the peace plan regarding the Ethio-Eritrean conflict was put on the table. There was a debate on whether to accept this peace proposal which was drafted by US and OAU. The committee was then divided sharply into two groups. The strong division was a result of two previous frictions in the TPLF politburo. It is, therefore, important to examine the difference that arose in the politburo.
When Sha'bia invaded Hanish, a Yemeni island, two fundamental concerns were raised in the politburo. The first was that if Sha'bia invaded Yemen which helped it during the struggle against the Derg, what guarantee did we have against invasion by this group? The other concern was that since Sha'bia was acting hostile to its neighbor, our military pact with this group was putting us in a great danger. Since we didn't want that, there was a call for the rethinking of the deal.
Both points provoked major controversies in the politburo. The palace-group contended that since Sha'bia knew its interests well-enough, it wouldn't be tempted to invade our country. The group further said that Hanish was an Eritrean territory and Sha'bia didn't invade it. Although we didn't arrive at a satisfactory agreement on the issue, we decided to re-examine our military pact with Sha'bia.
The next focal point of controversy in the politburo was whether or not Sha'bia would commit aggression against Ethiopia. This was at the time when the relationship between the two countries was deteriorating following Eritrea's decision to print its own currency. The Eritrean government had launched a campaign against Ethiopia. It was telling its people that Ethiopia had an intention to choke Eritrea economically. There were also military training and mobilization near the border between the two countries.
It was at this time that the prospect of being invaded by Sha'bia and the need for preparation to contain it was raised in the politburo.
The politburo members debated on the issue. It was decided 5 to 4 that Sha'bia wouldn't commit aggression against Ethiopia. Four members of the palace group were part of the group which voted that Sha'bia wouldn't attempt to invade Ethiopia. After this, the invasion happened. That caused tension in the politburo. It was with such a tension still existent that the Central Committee was divided on the Technical Arrangement to implement the peace proposal.
The technicalities didn't have any stipulation which clearly state from which Ethiopian territory Sha'bia would be leaving. It said that our militia couldn't return to our territories armed. It also took away some of powers of the civilian administration there. It trounced our sovereign right of expelling aliens. Due to all these, the technicalities were not an instrument that would protect over sovereignty.
The Central Committee disagreed on the issue. The disagreement resulted in the creation of two camps. One of the groups was advocating that we had to accept the technical arrangement. The other was adamant that the arrangement should be rejected. The justification of the former was that if we failed to accept the proposal, economic sanction would be imposed on us. Thirteen of the "palace-group" voted to accept the proposal.
The contention of the second group was that the proposal didn't sufficiently safeguard our sovereignty. Since the bulwark of our program was to decide our fate, the group argued that we shouldn't accept the proposal for fear of international pressure. The group further asserted that if an international pressure was exerted against Ethiopia, it would put the country into chaos and this was not something the US liked to see. The fear, therefore, was nebulous. The idea was supported by 17 of the TPLF Central Committee members.
The difference led to the strong division in the Central Committee and particularly, in the politburo. The central committee decided to send the issue to the politburo for discussion. But before the discussion was completed, the war was wrapped up in Ethiopia's favor with great patriotism of Ethiopians and the effort of EPRDF. Since the leadership thought that the problem of knuckling down enemies that came with the peace proposal would hurt the effort to reverse the aggression, it handled the issue with great care and responsibility.
It was agreed that the problem that cropped up in the leadership was to be examined after thorough preparation. In January 2001, the discussion started.
We debated on a single issue for a month. Rather than reflecting their view during the discussion, some members began disseminating false information and rumor mongering outside the meeting room and at dinner parties and receptions. When the discussion was kicked off, there was an understanding that the gap would be bridged and the meeting would end up in good spirit. It didn't happen.
The group which was, fearing pressure from imperialist countries, advocating the acceptance of a peace proposal that didn't respect our sovereignty engaged itself in defaming the other group. It accused the group, which rejected the proposal of corruption and pursing anti-democratic objectives.
The January meeting and the defamation were the result of this. The first issue was then decided on by a 15 to 13 vote. Instead of bridging the difference, the division widened the gap. The Central Committee was divided into groups which didn't listen to and understand each other.
The meeting highlighted an ineluctable fact. The goals and aspirations, the aims of our organization we longed for many years and fought for were being relegated to secondary importance and substituted by new ideas. Some liberal ideas which were to the right of the ideology of our party and some which reflected a feeling of surrender were also advocated during the meeting.
There were also liberal ideas on democracy and on the role of peasants. The aims of the party which were pursued with so much price were put into ditches.
Those of us (12 members of the Central Committee) who thought that the spirit and movement in and out of the meeting room were not beneficial to our people presented a petition which encapsulated two basic points. The first called for the stopping of this unimportant meeting and the convention of a general meeting which would make the party and the people decision-makers. We further suggested the establishment of an organizational committee which represented both groups equally. The second suggestion was for the establishment of a committee which would investigate corruption and other anti-revolutionary behaviors. We argued that every member of the Central Committee should be investigated by this committee and a report be presented for to general assembly for a final decision. We thought this would curb the use of corruption as a political weapon and correct any member who may have indulged in corruption.
After four hours of discussion the "palace-group," which included 15 or 16 Central Committee members rejected our proposal. They were not willing for the convocation of a general assembly to look into the issue. They had been using corruption as a political weapon but when they were asked for the establishment of a committee which would investigate this, they refused.
After this discussion, the meeting was adjourned for the next day. It was decided that we should consult each other during the time given. No consultation was made. Furthermore, our suggestion for the discussion of the proposal first by a smaller organ was again rejected. This was not the end of the story. In clear violation of the party's rule pertaining to quorum which required 20 of the 30 members to be present to convene a meeting, 15 or 16 of them met to make decisions in the name of the Central Committee. One of those decisions was the suspension of the Central Committee members who lodged a petition with the committee to convene a general meeting. This decision clearly violated the rules and regulations of the party. After we learned this, we wrote a complaint to the party's Audit Commission which was entrusted with a power to look into such matters and give a decision. The commission decided that the party's rule was violated and the decision given was anti-democratic. The "palace-group" refused to accept the decision of the Audit Commission and continued with its decisions. This elevated the problem to a dangerous level. This anti-democratic group which didn't have any respect for rule of law continued to give its draconian decisions although it preached rule of law and democracy. It continued defaming the 12 Central Committee members who said that the decision of the Audit Committee was right. The members who were working in the central government and EPRDF offices were prohibited from entering their offices. This illegal decision was made without a notification to other EPRDF member parties. This decision not only put the leadership into trouble but also reflected that it had rendered meaningless the banners it raised. This shortly was an account of the growth of our difference.
The difference in ideology and direction
One of the party's differences with other political forces stemmed from its ideology and direction which was beneficial to the oppressed masses. We fought and defeated the Derg with the rear guard support of our people because we had aims that were accepted by the people. The change which was made after the downfall of the Derg was achieved because we were able to get the support of people. When right goals are distorted, the people would suffer. It also jeopardizes the right and benefits of the people that are hard won. Those right and benefits will not be realized in future as well. Imperialism and parasitism will be the rule of the day. The fate of the people will be determined by these enemies of people. The "palace-group" has started to espouse ideas which would eliminate revolutionary and socialist views. These wrong ideas could change our party into a liberal and parasitic group. It would kill our party's anti-imperialism sentiment and make it a tool of imperialism. It would dash the hope of our people to realize their rights and benefits. It would also be a big hurdle for a fast and efficient economic development. Although there are many differences between the right ideas and the distorted ones, here are some.
(a) The difference on sovereignty
One of the aims of our party is to safeguard the sovereignty of our people. If a state or people couldn't determine its own fate, it cannot venture on a path that is beneficial to it. A country which makes key decisions due to imperialist pressure cannot be said to have liberty.
Our main difference with the "palace-group" lies on sovereignty. The group, pushed by Sha'bia's views, harbored a view which contravenes the aim of the party. Even though the peace proposal didn't protect our sovereignty, advocating for its acceptance showed that the group couldn't staunchly defend its views. It exposed that the group thought that external powers should decide our fate. Forgetting the people who stood up to protect the sovereignty of their country and saying that countries like USA should make a decision for us is a treacherous surrender.
(b) The difference on imperialism and economic objectives
Imperialism is and has been our enemy. According to the tenets of our party, the relationship between us and imperialist powers should be based on struggle. The palace group had come up with an idea that revises this view. It gives lip-service to the anti-imperialist struggles. When it is asked what kind of relationship should we have with imperialists, it says it should, in some cases be a partnership and in other cases a struggle. This is an idea which advocates surrender.
The party had a belief that we should develop a policy which increased the liberty of the country and our self-determination. Based on this point, it had a view that a state should have a major role in the economy. We should formulate policies that are beneficial to our country and the people without the interference of another party. Imperialism opposes policies which increase the liberty of our country. It opposes the key role of a state in the economy. It tries to make us decide our destiny without violating its interests. When its interests are contravened, this enemy applies pressure on us to get our policies changed. Our party believed that the masses would benefit only when there is a just and fair distribution of economic resources. Imperialism opposes this. Imperialism denounces fair economic distribution and supports the accumulation of wealth by a small group of persons. This is against our aim.
Resolution by the EPRDF's Emergency Council Meeting on the Crisis in the TPLF Central Committee
It is to be remembered that the Executive Committee of the EPRDF had decided that all EPRDF member organizations must review their individual and collective activities for the past ten years before the convening of the Forth EPRDF Congress. After such review has been completed prior to proceeding to the said congress, the work of harmonizing positions at the level of EPRDF will be undertaken. Based on these decisions the central committee organs of both TPLF and APDM had convened and began consultations. The other constituent organizations are also preparing the ground for such activities. APDM's central committee meeting is proceeding without any problems, while the TPLF's central committee meeting, after one month of consultation, was interrupted because a minority group of the central committee has walked out of the meeting.
We were deeply concerned by the problem created in the central committee of the TPLF as it is a matter that directly concern us all. Since the eruption of the crises, all EPRDF member organizations have been continuing their effort to contribute for the resolution of the crisis. Despite the serious implications of the crisis, through the effort of TPLF cadres and other EPRDF organizations a democratic and institutionalized solution has been achieved.
The emergency meeting of the EPRDF Council has reviewed the crises created in the central committee of the TPLF in detail after receiving TPLF's chairman's report together with the opinion of those members of the dissenting group who were present at our meeting. We have also received representatives of the TPLF cadres who had met in Tigray and Addis Abeba and they have briefed us on the positions taken at these meetings. Based on these information and consultations our council has discussed for three days and has reached the following resolutions.
1. Our organizational rules clearly recognizes that the TPLF has the organizational independence to resolve its own internal problems. The EPRDF Council accepts and respects such decisions. We also recognize the right of TPLF to change its representatives in the Executive Committee and Council of EPRDF at any time.
2. In principle we condemn the minority group in the TPLF central committee that has walked out of the meetings and democratic dialogue. The council has also reached agreement that the violation of the principle that a minority must respect and accept the decisions of the majority must not be violated. We also believe that the violation of this principle constitutes the core of the crises in the TPLF. As EPRDF it is our core principle that violating democratic centralism principle will create disharmony and disrupt unity of purpose in our organization. As such we condemn such violations as unconstructive and anti democratic.
3. The council condemns the group that has walked out of the TPLF central committee meeting and thereby avoiding all legal and democratic forums that could help to resolve differences. Not only did they walk out of TPLF cadre meetings, they also walked out of EPRDF's council meeting despite the fact that they have been told to be present at the meeting to express freely their differences and what they perceive to be wrong measures in the TPLF central committee. The EPRDF council regrets but nevertheless strongly condemns such action of repeatedly avoiding democratic forums as it can not be justified under any grounds.
4. After the creation of the problem, various illegal and destructive activities directed to disband not only the TPLF but also attempts to create discord within EPRDF has been undertaken. The council calls for the immediate suspension of such activities. The council especially calls upon the minority group's racist and divisive activities and rumor mongering to cease immediately and call upon all EPRDF member organizations to struggle firmly against such activities. The EPRDF council reaffirms that there will not be any EPRDF organization that will be involved in illegal and divisive activities that will shake our unity and determination.
5. The EPRDF council supports both the TPLF cadre meetings and TPLF central committee's decisions. TPLF central committee has decided to convene the TPLF congress after concluding its current meeting according to the set agenda. It has also resolved to accept the now barred members of the central committee if the group corrects their mistaken direction and self-criticize themselves. In this regard all sisterly organizations of EPRDF affirm that they will continue to exert the necessary constructive effort and assistance.
6. The barred members of TPLF central committee should immediately hand over all EPRDF property they had access to as a result of being officials of EPRDF. The council has decided that no gap should occur in the organizational and propaganda work of the organization. The EPRDF council has decided that the Executive Committee of the EPRDF should continue its regular work uninterrupted.
7. This decision should be made available to the barred members of the TPLF central committee. It is to be remembered that we had planned to inform the public the result of our 10 years review of our activities. Nevertheless the current situation requires us to address the public. Therefore the EPRDF council has decided that the organization should issue public statements on the current situation and all EPRDF member organizations should undertake the task of explaining to the public all related issues and decisions.
March 22, 20001