The recent resumption of the war in northern Ethiopia is testament to the TPLF’s inability to live in peace. True to its terrorist nature, its brand relevance depends on actively destabilizing the region. Otherwise, the organization cannot survive. It must achieve full victory over its enemies or wither in oblivion. Hence why it struggled to find its footing in the African Union-led negotiated peace process. Unlike more democratic organizations, TPLF does not know how to cut its losses and find amicable ways to secure its interests. On the one hand it put forth unproductive preconditions and went the distance to disparage the AU as an organization and Olusegun Obasanjo as chief mediator.
Indeed conflict, divisiveness and propaganda are the hallmarks of TPLF, its craft, carefully honed over decades. On the other hand, negotiations, democracy, and bargaining are loathed among its rank. Recent pandemonium among its base in the diaspora when a negotiated peace became even a faint possibility is testament to this sad reality. Despite the tremendous suffering wrought by the war, voices among its leadership to end the crisis and bring a peaceful resolution were few and far between. However genuine or not, recent push by members of the international community for a negotiated settlement was destined to fail. One party is just not cut out for this.
For one thing, it faces serious and rising credibility challenges from its power base. Peace time will only embolden these sentiments from within. Moreover, the longer the lull in fighting lasts, the more challenges it will incur for its handling of the war, the tremendous losses thereof, and the ability to provide basic services. For a regime that had ruled Ethiopia for 27 years prior, and accumulated significant wealth during that time, these are all legitimate questions it is not prepared to answer. So, between the rock and the hard place, TPLF leaders believe they have an outlet, and its called war.
To continue the war of course means to continue suffering, but TPLF leaders do not look at it that way. The conclusion from their cynical calculation is of that of relevance. Recent statements made in Tigrigna reveal that much. “If we sit and negotiate, the world will forget about us, and still we’ll have limited gains, but if we engage in fighting, we will be relevant to those wanting to support us”, said one commentator. This of course does not consider the offal suffering that will be brough on by war. But it is a glimpse into the mind of the desperado. It also reveals a second key point. Remaining “relevant for those wanting to support us” means one thing. It implies readiness and willingness to become proxy for foreign actors interested in subverting the region for no reason, other than remaining relevant. A truly wicked view.
Certainly, despite its recent setbacks, TPLF could have cut its losses and gained some level of accommodation at the AU-led negotiating table. Even at this late stage, given the government of Ethiopia’s desire to conclude the war and move on to other critical national priorities, there was and still is a genuine opportunity to get a deal. However, this requires nimbleness and a reality check. It requires a changing of the guard in terms of leadership for the TPLF. If the organization truly cared about ending the misery of war, it could have chosen a path towards a negotiated peace, but it did not for all the reason mentioned here and more.