The Mindset of the TPLF: Forget School, You’ll Think What We Want You to Think
A GUEST ARTICLE from a Source for “A Morally Bankrupt Institution”: How the UN is Betraying Ethiopia
A couple of days ago, I published on Medium a story with multiple sources over how senior UN officials are lying, threatening and harassing Ethiopian aid workers and colluding with the TPLF. One of the sources works in the education cluster of the international aid initiative in Tigray. This person, frustrated and appalled over what’s going on, prepared a long letter originally intended to be sent to the federal government on how the TPLF is still able to instill a climate of fear in the region and psychologically manipulate innocent Tigrayans. This is connected to the revelations over the UN’s interference in national exams.
But this individual knows even more than what can fit into that article, and I thought their insights were worth passing along in a separate piece. They chose to share that letter with me in addition to their interview comments, and I have cut this material for length and given what would be called a very “light” edit in terms of style, syntax, etc. so that I can preserve this person’s voice.
These are their words, not mine. Their views are their own.
For all the Western journos who keep claiming, “I’ve been on the ground, I’ve seen the truth!” here is the perspective of an Ethiopian who lives and works in Tigray; and who lived and worked there long before the conflict began. You didn’t find them. You didn’t talk to them. It makes one wonder if you even bothered to look.
And I consider their voice and their observations far more authentic than yours.
The greatest achievement of the TPLF is arguably having control over every aspect of life it ruled for so long. The TPLF since its inception deliberately incorporated a web of security apparatus within every community it ruled that allowed it to act quickly and with deadly force. It did not tolerate any form of dissent.
That is why a high school deputy principal and veteran teacher could openly proclaim that he would rather kill his five-year-old daughter than allow her to go to kindergarten classes — to show his loyalty to TPLF. Keep in mind, this is in the aftermath of November. His explanation is that he cannot accept a world without the TPLF.
This shows he would do anything to make sure that the daily activity of the people never returns to normal in his area. His declared mission is to make Tigray Hell on Earth until it prevails. This is a phenomenon currently growing in some corners.
It is truly sad and delusional. Nothing on the ground supports the return of the TPLF. Therefore, these wishful thinkers are destroying the lives of many innocent people for a lost cause. Children are suffering because they cannot get fundamental service like education. And their parents are afraid to send them to school. They are sometimes afraid to go to work themselves. They are afraid the TPLF will return at any moment and punish them for betraying their cause.
More importantly, most people live in fear because they see the TPLF political operatives still working in public service in their local communities. The government has called 100 percent of the civil servants to return to work. These people have history in the community. They are known to be enforcers of the TPLF agenda.
It is an open secret that most civil servants are TPLF operatives and sympathizers. Everyone knows even a low-level job in the civil service requires total loyalty to the TPLF. This means TPLF. This is particularly true in field of education. That is where the TPLF lived and breathed.
Therefore the TPLF network is untouched and empowered to rebel as time goes by. The TPLF operatives have not yet been fully investigated for their roles in the past government. They were not even asked about their role in the attack on the defense forces before they could return to work. Some of them returned from the battlefields and started to work at their desks.
People who had active roles in mobilizing communities for the war are back in business. They are collecting their pay checks from the government while rebelling in their office by not doing any work. They even complain about the members of the defense forces and incite hostility against them. They openly talk about wanting to chase away the defense forces from the region.
The unbelievable thing about the defense forces is that they are protecting communities in which TPLF operatives remain, individuals who hoped to kill them in their sleep. Now they are trying to fight them through propaganda, misinformation and public incitement using their civil servant roles in the government.
The TPLF operatives openly talk about false atrocities and fictional criminal acts committed by the defense forces. They try to ridicule the soldiers that are patrolling the streets. Simultaneously they talk about how their TPLF super warriors are killings thousands and thousands of the defense forces every day. They talk about how many are being slaughtered like sheep on the battlefields because of their lack of experience. In their minds it is only a matter of time before TPLF fighters finish all the defense forces in the region and return to power.
When events or forums are organized for discussions regarding government business such as reopening schools, the TPLF operatives are the first to talk. They start out with demanding Eritreans forces must leave every town in Tigray where they are constantly committing war crimes. They proclaim that the Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers are raping women and pillaging communities. The sad thing is that they know full well what they are saying has no truth to it. It is just their political strategy to create chaos and open the possibilities for the TPLF to return.
If a concerned parent says schools should reopen at some point, the TPLF operatives will start to shout down the parent. They send a clear message to the parent that the safety of any child will not be guaranteed. They threaten anyone that is thinking about restarting school in any part of the region including Mekelle. This is how they are able to block the school reopening effort for the past three months.
Every time the education bureau tries to start the school reopening process, they start shouting and screaming about how they are in constant fear for their lives. However, the real reason that they do not want schools to reopen is because they consider it as a sign of the region returning to normalcy without TPLF. They want to show that only TPLF can bring law and order in the region and no one else.
Even when they are educated about the dangers of children staying at home away from school for extended periods of time, they say they know, but they do not care. Their political agenda is more important than the development of their children. Their operatives demanded that private school teachers be paid by the interim government some 40 million ETB. They can make this kind of unreasonable demand because they feel that they know the political landscape in the region. Schools could be closed for another full year and they couldn’t care less.
When a delegation from the federal Ministry of Education came to visit one elementary school for general assessment of the reality on the ground, the few teachers who were in the school premises abruptly dispersed before being seen. They all went in different directions. The scene was incredible to watch — they ran from the compound like their lives were in some imminent danger. That is because even being seen with people known to be from the federal government or people who speak Amharic can make a person suspect in the community. The level of fear they display of the TPLF operatives is beyond comprehension.
The phenomenon is similar to a widow who fears her dead husband and continues to obey his abusive rules. Even though she knows there is no way her husband can return from the dead, the nightmare continues until she is able to get some professional help.
Loyal supporters can sometimes admit the soldiers did not deserve to be killed by their own brothers and sisters in their own country like they are some enemy forces. Nonetheless, their years and years of trainings that the TPLF is always right blocks them from using their own mind. They are made to believe it is dangerous for them and their family to entertain facts other than what the TPLF presents.
Every opportunity is used to tell fictional heroic war stories of the TPLF fighters. For instance, if someone from a different world came to visit Tigray during the TPLF reign in the past three decades, that person would believe the TPLF’s version of its war with the Derg. All TV and radio stations would talk about the TPLF’s armed struggle. All the songs are war songs and would be played over and over again. The people were always in the struggle mindset. They were told again and again that they were heroes for singlehandedly bringing down the Derg regime. They were just the best fighters in the whole world.
They were even told that they could disarm an army general with their bare hands or a stone. TPLF children could also capture a soldier without any military training because they were so brave and indispensable. People from other ethnicities in Ethiopia were so weak compared to their superior abilities and heroism. Their psychological makeup is unbreakable and unique. The other Ethiopians fear war and would not know how to fight without the TPLF fighters’ encouragement and support. TPLF fighters could not miss if they shoot, and all TPLF generals are tactical masterminds. This belief is not held by just the ordinary people. It is held by people who are college professors and distinguished academicians that teach in the universities and colleges across the region.
These people genuinely believe that they are some chosen race that have innate political and warfare abilities. They even claim that the TPLF’s security capabilities are better than the First World security agencies. They claim TPLF leaders’ give advice to international security agencies on their latest spying techniques and intelligences operations.
This is important to know how the TPLF is aggrandized in the minds of the people. That is why any activity that the TPLF does not approve — even on its deathbed — can face extreme challenge. The party was built to be effective even in its own dying gasps.
That has made them feel they are still in power. They are starting to develop the feeling everyone around them and in the interim government is a TPLF supporter or a sympathizer or just scared of them. Some even operate as if the TPLF is still in power. So, managing a reputation is an important survival skill. Each person is expected to be extremely loyal. However, loyalty alone is not sufficient. The individual must also be vocally and practically intolerant of any other party or independent thinking.
If a Tigrigna-speaking person chooses to speak in Amharic in a public setting, that person is taken as a traitor. That is the case even if it is accidental. Speaking in Amharic has become a taboo. Amharic is the language of the enemy. Even the Tigrigna must be pure. It has to sound in a certain way and not include any Amharic words to be accepted by the TPLF operatives.
Therefore disloyalty can only be erased through overt acts of support to the TPLF. Generally speaking, in Ethiopia, the collective benefit is more important than the individual. When it comes to the TPLF, it has exploited this angle in a particular way. The TPLF has morphed to be more important than the livelihood of the individual, the family unit and even the collective benefit of the society. Everyone fears everyone. The operatives roam the streets and the office hallways observing who may be working with the enemy.
The unofficial plan is to show to imagined international supporters that Tigray is in a political turmoil. The operatives want the world to believe that every person is resisting and opposing the activities of the interim government at every step of the way. Active resistance is vastly taking hold and sooner or later the TPLF will come riding the wave of the resistance. And the loyal people who are orchestrating the resistance from the inside will be rewarded with political power in the TPLF government just like in 1983. Working for the TPLF from the inside was always a big thing.
But the loyalty to TPLF is not always rooted in ideology or politics — it is rather rooted in fear. And fear has a long history which predates the party’s ascension to power. In the TPLF circles everyone knows your thinking. This is similarly observed in organized criminal enterprises. Notorious criminal organization control their operatives’ thoughts and actions.
The only difference with the TPLF is that it was at one point a political powerhouse that ruled a regional government with constitutional mandate.