American scholar says TPLF domination poses threats to Ethiopia

By Abebe Gellaw / October 23, 2011
Washington DC (ESAT News)--Renowned American Professor Theodore Vestal, who has been keenly studying and following Ethiopian affairs since the early 1960s, said that the domination of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) poses a threat to greater Ethiopia. Prof Vestal also indicated that the government may implode if the current conditions get worse and the people say enough is enough.

In an interview with the Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT), Vestal, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Oklahoma State University, underlined that domination and hegemony by a single minority group within the government and other aspects of national life ultimately poses a serious problem.

“If it is the best of all possible worlds, one would hope that there would be a greater Ethiopia with popular participation by people from all parts of the country. But the TPLF followed the regiment, ideas and the philosophy of Marxism in setting up their government,” he explained.

He pointed out that a secret document made public in early 1990s revealed that the TPLF agenda of “winnning” the first and all succeeding elections, widely discredited as stage-managed. The professor noted that such a decision played havoc with democratic ideals and meaningful elections ever since.

Professor Vestal served as an election observer in 1992 where there were incidences of the regime’s agents interfering in the “democratic process” using intimidation and harassment. “They were harassing members of opposition parties, sometimes invading the party headquarters and scaring the people.” He said that he was able to witness how people were distressed and frightened when the police came in and took away files. He said that such a pattern has continued to the present day under various guises and similar tactics.

According to Professor Vestal, it is very difficult to have a level playing field where all the political parties who want to take part in the political process can express dissenting political views and criticize the government without fear of persecution.

Asked to comment on Zenawi’s insistence that he is building a democratic system, Prof. Vestal said that Zenawi has been saying that ever since he came to power. “One wonders if it needs to take so long ago at such a slow pace. But the critics continue to say that he could change things radically by opening up elections, democratic processes, and by not abusing human rights. Instead we have reports of hidden prisons, the arrest and sometimes torture and detention of people. That should not have any part in a democratic political system. Until such practices come to an end, I don’t see true democracy coming to fruition in Ethiopia,” he said.

Professor Vetal also pointed out that ethnic federalism tends to divide the people rather than uniting them as a multi-ethnic nation. He also expressed skepticism that TPLF’s domination cannot be reversed through elections so long as the elections continue to be rigged.

“When differences of language and culture becomes more significant than citizenship in a country, I think there are built-in problems that might result. We have seen some of these problems in some other countries when ethnic differences have been taken to an extreme with disastrous results,” he stated.

Prof. Vestal further pointed out that though the Ethiopian state has been held together, ethnic federalism has not accomplished as much as the government’s claims. “Ultimately the problem lies with the control of the TPLF group, which tends to have its cadres out working in the offices of the lower government officials. Let us say that there is a governor in a province, he probably has a TPLF shadow who is following what he does and telling the governor that he cannot make that kind of decision,” he said. He also added that federalism in Ethiopia is not under the control of the people but the TPLF.

The professor, who has been promoting his new book, The Lion of Judah in the New World, noted that Emperor Haile Selassie, who was deposed in the 1974 Ethiopian revolution, was progressive in his early years despite the fact that his modernization was not as fast as the educated elite were demanding. “He was maintaining a delicate balance between the feudal lords, the old aristocracy, and the Ethiopian church on the one hand and the young Western educated elite on the other hand,” he said.