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Unlocking TPLF’s secrecy: A historical memoir

 Ethiopian observer staff  

To borrow some from George Orwell. "If you had asked me why I joined the militia I should have answered: |To fight against fascism,'" Orwell wrote in Homage to Catalonia in 1938. "...And if you had asked me what I was fighting for, I should have answered: |Common decency.'"


I had the opportunity to attend a meeting organized to have the author Asgede Gebre Selassie Michael, a founding member of TPLF, address Ethiopians from the Seattle area on December 4, 2010.  Thus, my report is that of an observer. Ato Asgede served in the TPLF holding different positions throughout the 17 years struggle against the military government of the Derg. He was mainly responsible for military training and logistics. He had the unique the opportunity to write detail accounts of TPLF political and military escapades. Asgede is a gifted and sensitive writer; his books reveal the subtle intrigues of TPLF leadership as well as the indomitable spirit of gallant fighters of TPLF. As a brave fighter hardened with hardships, he spoke with honesty, empathy, and a dazzling knowledge of how TPLF evolved and shaped our Ethiopia. Asgede further stated ground breaking truth with clarity to one of the most complicated issues of an organization of our time. He was not only a man of action but a man of reflections. Difference over leadership and direction always threaten the survival and viability of the organization. The marginalization of key figures like Suhul and the rise of Marxist Leninist League of Tigray (MLLT) were a test of testament. According to Asgede the demands of the 1978 opposition first the appointment and promotion must be based on merit rather than loyalty and regionalism and nepotism. Second the democratic rights of individual rights constitutional provision. Intolerance by the leadership of dissent within its ranks was swift, members of cadres and peasants were jailed for their perceived opposition to the leadership.

The fact that impressed me the most was his confidence and detail accounts of specifics events as if such events happened yesterday. He has written three books called Gahdi part one, part two and part three historical journey of TPLF military and the history of the rank and file inner political circle and the unfortunate uneven relationship and political fiasco of EPLF (Shabia). I found him to be humble, truthful and a caring person for those who have lost their precious lives in dismantling the brutal regime of Mengestu. As fearless former fighter he spoke with passion, and fearlessness and anchored his statements on irrefutable facts in order to straighten the distortions of the history of the true real history makers and the martyrs and the people who made it possible for the TPLF to triumph in the midst of webs of lies and Machiavellian intrigues within the TPLF hierarchy.  From the outset the TPLF political journey was plugged with secrecy, suspicion, nepotism alienation of the educated and relaying on peasants to solicit loyalty.  From the outset TPLF political philosophy divides the society as enemy and friends to further marginalize the class division. The undemocratic nature of TPLF was inherent at its inception. In 1979 the TPLF held a leadership review at its first congress and three years letter eighteen more members were added to the seven Central Committee.

The three volume Books by Asgede are historical memoir of a person driven to preserve the history makers in its original forms without the leap serves to the present and former TPLF leaders. As Asgede puts it eloquently what compelled him to write is only to rescue history and demolish the myth of personality cult of individuals as if they were the only movers and shakers of history. He gives credit to the ordinary people and the mobilization effort of TPLF formation. When asked why he decides to write those books, he was honest and sincere and told the audience he has been contemplating for many years and need to organize his notes. When the first volume came out it angered some powerful political individuals and they started throwing their salvo of character assignation against the author. They were not able to refute the facts that were written but to twist and distort the semantics. In particular, the myth of EPLF’s contribution and service to the struggle that was grossly exaggerated and delivered with arrogance. By contrast the silence of TPLF leadership in the devaluation of TPLF heroin/heroes by EPLF is countered with facts by Asgede’s correction of such false records and further he debunked the claim by EPLF and the TPLF Leaders that the Eritrean issue was a colonial question.

The EPLF leadership bravado was totally confined to digging trenches in its desperate defense of its Sahel base during the Derg's 1982 Red Star Campaign. The EPLF total number of fighters of less than 7000 thousand including wounded fighters. They were to be saved by the fearless gallant fighters of TPLF of 65,000 thousand fighters at different times from being totally annihilated by the Derg. TPLF lost 15,800 thousand fighters and in thousands wounded defending EPLF from total destruction. Truth should be told and the bravery of our sisters/ brothers martyrdom should be known. They should not be thrown like a rag to elevate the empty ego of a rogue regime in Asmara and the misguided leaders of the TPLF. The struggle that was waged by many political organizations was universal in its forms and contents. The first volume Gahadi contains the complicated bond between TPLF and EPLF (Shabia) that Asgede classified as “a master and servant” interaction. The second volume describes the creation of TPLF and build up military strength from 1967- mid 1977 Ethiopian calendar based on truthful historical account. The third part discusses the origins, build up and development of TPLF military strength from 1977-1990 E.C. Indeed, it was obvious from his speech that Asgede feels deeply about Ethiopia and Ethiopians. I found him to be a humble and caring person, unlike the propaganda smear by his detractors. He touched many issues during question and answer session and the author concluded his remarks that it is possible to take a path of peaceful struggle amidst turbulent and heavy-hand of Meles Zenawi Regime’s effort to subdue the growing opposition forces.

Thus, his one-man mission to meet with fellow Ethiopians in his travels had attracted many thousands in North America, in particularly Washington DC, Minnesota, Boston and Seattle.  The three volume books are treasures of our past and present history. It is a “must read” by individuals and educators to study the complicated web of intrigues and the blind support of a regime in Asmara at the expense of Ethiopians. Aggression undeterred towards Eritreia is creating an uncertainty that breeds conflict. How long such blind eye that robs our history and territorial integrity continued to hunt us? Without reading the three volumes it is difficult to understand or imagine the geo-political scenario that engulfed us for over fifty years.

The Ethiopian people want honest account of what happened to their sons/daughters. Unless the truth be told, wounded hearts won't heal. No matter how many detractors attempt to bury history, the fallen brothers/sisters deed will be a living legacy. I quote William Blake “When I tell any truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those that do”. Asgede opened a new chapter by writing three books as an individual and we hope many will follow his footsteps to preserve the real history.There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting”. Buddha