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The Tigray and Eritrean Peoples Liberation Fronts: a History of Tensions and Pragmatism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 November 2008

Extract

The Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), and by extension the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the multi-ethnic coalition that it established and still dominates, is frequently considered to be a creation of, and beholden to, the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF). From this perspective the foreign loyalties of the TPLF made it an unsuitable, if not illegitimate, movement to lead the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) in 1991, and since 1995, the newly created Federal Democratic Republic. By way of contrast, this article attempts to demonstrate that the developing relationship between the TPLF and the EPLF during the course of their respective revolutionary struggles has been far more problematic and beset with tensions than critics are either aware of, or acknowledge, and that an understanding of their nature casts light on present and possible future differences between the respective regimes of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

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Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1996

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References

1 See Young, John, ‘Peasants and Revolution in Ethiopia: Tigray, 1974–1989’, Ph.D. dissertation, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, 09 1994. Funding for this research was received from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada during 1992–1994.Google Scholar

2 Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), Woyeen, 21 02 1979.Google Scholar

3 See, for example, TPLF, Revolt, First Year (1975?), 7, p. 29, and 8, p. 26.Google Scholar

4 According to the New Statesmen (London), 28 05 1982, p. 15, as many as 4,000 TPLF fighters were sent to the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF), but my informants believe this figure to be too high.Google Scholar

5 Interview with Tsegaye Berhe, TPLF vice-chairman, Tigray region, Mekelle, 11 April 1993.

6 Beisel, Dieter, Reise ins Land der Rebellen: Tigray—eine afrikanische Zukunft (Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1989), p. 59.Google Scholar

7 Interview with Gebru Asrat and Abey Tsheye, Addis Ababa, 9 January 1996.

8 Andreas, Peter, ‘Politics and Liberation: the Eritrean struggle, 1961–86’, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Aarhus, Denmark, 1987, p. 67.Google Scholar

9 Interview with Yemane Kidane, Ministry of Defence, Addis Ababa, 1 December 1992.

10 Interview with Father Mahoney, Keven, Adigrat Catholic Seminary, 4 03 1993.Google Scholar

11 Interview with Colonel Asaminew Bedane, POW camp, Western Tigray, 5 May 1988. He found the EPLF's strategy and tactics to be superior to those of the TPLF, but the latter more terrifying in combat because of its ability to launch surprise attacks and the courage of its fighters.

12 EPLF, Adulis, 1, 9, 03 1985, p. 7.Google Scholar See also, de Waal, Alex, Evil Days: 30 years of war and famine in Ethiopia (New York, Human Rights Watch, 1991), p. 311.Google Scholar

13 Information based on my visit in May 1988 to the POW camp in western Tigray, where some 4,000 Derg soldiers were being held by the TPLF.Google Scholar

14 De Waal, op. cit. p. 309.

15 ‘EPLF Political Report and NDP’, adopted at the Second and Unity Congress of the EPLF and the ELF—Central Leadership, 16 03 1987, p. 152.Google Scholar

16 Andreas, op. cit. p. 93.

17 ‘On Our Differences with the EPLF’, in People's Voice, Special Issue, 1986, p. 7.Google Scholar

18 ‘A Great Leap Forward’, in Ibid. p. 6.

19 Adulis, 05 1985, p. 5.Google Scholar

20 Ibid. pp. 6–7.

21 ‘A Great Leap Forward’, loc. cit. p. 7.

22 Markakis, John, National and Class Conflict in the Horn of Africa (Cambridge, 1987), p. 225.Google Scholar

23 ‘A Great Leap Forward’, loc. cit. p. 7.

24 Interview with Tamrat Layne, Mihanse, Tigray, 2 May 1988. He became Ethiopia's Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister in 1995.

25 For example, the Association of Eritrean Students and Women in North America broke from the EPLF in August 1978 in opposition to the Front's policy with regard to the Soviet Union. See Connell, Dan, Against All Odds: a chronicle of the Eritrean revolution (Trenton, NJ, 1994), p. 169.Google Scholar

26 ‘A Great Leap Forward’, loc. cit. p. 8.

27 Interview with Meles Zenzawi, Dejene, 29 April 1988. He became Ethiopia's Prime Minister in 1995.

28 Adulis, may 1985, p. 8.Google Scholar

29 ‘EPLF Political Report and NDP’, March 1987, pp. 148–9.

30 At a conference in early 1990 a DMLE delegation led by its vice-chairman, Salah Ayay, met with a delegation from the TPLF led by two Politburo members, Seyum Musa and Awalom Wolde, and reached agreement on a set of principles. DMLE and TPLF Joint Statement, 24–31 Janvary 1990.

31 Meles Zenawi, op. cit.

32 Interview with Sebhat Nega, Wolkait, 27 April 1988.

33 People's Voice, May 1988, p. 8.Google Scholar

34 ‘EPLF and TPLF Joint Statement’, in Ibid. pp. 16–17.

35 In the aforementioned DMLE—TPLF Joint Statement 17 months later, the two parties agreed in January 1990 to condemn the Soviet Union, but pointedly omitted any reference to the United States.

29
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