The long drawn out meeting of the TPLF in Meqelle had many wondering if it was going to spell lasting disaster for the party’s leadership or even to the party itself. It was not entirely surprising as speculation was rife about an impending division among the ranks of the TPLF Central Committee. As it turned out, the bitter division that was rumoured to have stalked the TPLF leadership was more imagined than real.
While the social media was awash with all kinds of speculations, I would focus on the ones profusely entertained by this publication, which was understandably part of the rumour mill often churning out, as it has, Op-Ed pieces as well as ‘leaked stories’. Both purport to share with readers all there was to know about the intimate details of the deliberations – rightly described as a marathon meeting by one contributor to this newspaper.
While one can take issue with the validity of the speculative explanations – in the most part – about the exceptionally long time the meeting had to endure, my focus here is not to offer a detailed analysis of every issue discussed over the course of six weeks. But again, I believe some of the bizarre claims made about what the Central Committee meeting was supposed to have deliberated on deserve to be taken stock of. I am therefore writing this as a modest attempt to shed light on some aspects of the TPLF meeting. By way of sparing readers some of the unwarranted conclusions pushed by people who, while claiming to know all there is to know about the meeting, are nonetheless hell-bent on misrepresenting the facts and painting alternative reality, I would touch upon a thing or two about the most important issues discussed.
As someone who was part of the whole exercise, I think I am far better placed to set the record straight.
Particularly outrageous in this regard was a piece conveniently headlined, “The Old Guard Shadows the TPLF’s Leadership Meeting in Meqelle” [Volume 18, Number 917, November 26, 2017]. The author, who preferred his name to be withheld, betrays a tone that seems to suggest that she claims to have had a front-seat view of the whole drama that unfolded over the course of the weeks-long deliberations by the Central Committee. Despite the know-it-all tone that permeates the piece, however, the litany of allegations and rather categorical remarks are distortions and misrepresentations at best or downright fabrications at worst.
Mine is not, however, a line-by-line rebuttal of the laundry list of distortions and misrepresentations in this piece but a modest attempt to highlight the most central of the agenda items – and by far the culprit responsible for prolonging the meeting. A word or two on some of the factual inaccuracies are well in order though.
To mention but few, the writer seems to suggest that the “Old-Guards” took their cue, as it were, to hijack the TPLF process upon learning of Abadula Gemeda’s intended resignation. Whatever the merits of this development in its right, the bogus claim the writer makes belies the fact that the TPLF Central Committee meeting had already been going on, if memory serves me right, for a little over a week when the rumour about the Honorable House Speaker’s intended resignation began to surface.
The meeting had to be briefly interrupted for the opening of the joint session of parliament. The writer also wonders how the “Old Guard” found their way – or forced their way is more like – into the Central Committee meeting in spite of, as the writer seems to argue, intense opposition from the latter. The reality, however, was that, far from being fiercely opposed by the active Central Committee, as the writer all too liberally alleges – their participation was overwhelmingly sanctioned, in fact demanded, – by the only body with the legitimate authority to say “Yes” or “No” to anything that
concerns the party – namely, the Central Committee. There was no one – not even a single individual – who begged to differ as far as their participation was concerned.
Despite the writer’s innuendos and hyperbolic claims, none of the discussion did in any way feature any debate on the merits or otherwise of Revolutionary Democratic or Developemntalist ideals of the ruling party. Nor was there any mention of the need for making an exception to party orthodoxy.
And not least of all, the writer makes wild speculation as to why the “Old Guard” acted the way they did – because of their almost visceral knee-jerk fear that their plots to come out of their neoliberal closets would be frustrated by the genuine exponents of party orthodoxy. Or as the writer puts it, the “Old Guard” feared that a popular and assertive Azeb Mesfin would return the party to Revolutionary Democracy and Developmentalism and away from neoliberal attack underwritten by the former.
I cannot say if there indeed was a popularity contest between and among our comrades. But one thing I can say with almost mathematical certainty is none of us inside the process did see the need for or the prospect of a miraculous deliverance from neo-liberalism come next Congress, courtesy of one well-intentioned individual; not at least from our side of the seat anyway. As far as the Central Committee as a body went, there appeared to be little, if any, doubt as to who was the real repository of orthodoxy, however ill-defined that was.
In this case, there was a consensus that the party’s ideals are to be preserved only by the active leadership as a body, not by an individual, whatever their popularity – real or imagined.
I cannot speak for the many TPLF leaders – veteran and active – whose names are mentioned in the piece published in this newspaper. But as someone who had a front-seat view of the entire process, literally, I did not see any signs of schism within the leadership on account of strict adherence to or departure from party orthodoxy. For among other things, vowing strict adherence to or wanton abandon of EPRDF’s ideals both run counter to the very nature of the party over decades of its existence.
That said, let me now turn my attention to what in fact was the most crucial topic of far-reaching political ramification that was taken up by the Central Committee. While a detailed postmortem of the meeting could and should be done in greater detail soon, I confine myself here to a brief factual sketch of what I believe was the most consequential agenda item throughout the marathon meeting.
The meeting and the substantive discussions and subsequent evaluation mainly revolved around a document that detailed at length the ills that the party leadership had long suffered and the reason why it had miserably failed to adequately address the demands of the public in the areas of good governance, democratisation and socio-economic transformation. The document laid bare the exceptionally reactionary tendency within the leadership in general and the Executive Committee in particular – which almost everyone in the Central Committee agreed was the weakest link in TPLF’s leadership hierarchy.
It was agreed almost by all and sundry that the leadership was overly complacent; lacked a sense of commitment and service to the public; spent the better part of its tenure fighting over spoils and benefits as well as entertaining and pursuing petty parochial interests, and what not, all the while having all but abandoned the cause of the people. And the leadership was also blamed for its tendency to do everything in its power to aggrandise and ensconce itself as a parasitic ruling class at the expense of the very social base for whose interest and on whose behalf it has long taken the mantle of power.
This, in ordinary parlance, was a textbook example of betrayal of the Revolutionary Democratic ideals of the party – pure and simple.
To the extent that there was anything that resembled a heated debate over a point of difference, it had little or nothing to do with who among the leadership, in fact, was the custodian of the progressive values of the EPRDF as enshrined in the works of the late Meles Zenawi. The real debate and resistance – that immediately fizzled out because it was vehemently opposed by the great majority – was between those who believed that all was bed of roses despite the public’s outcry, on the one hand; and those who took the scathing critiques contained in the document at heart and admitted to having inadvertently betrayed their social base – peasants, workers, poor urbanites – on the other.
In a way, the short-lived difference, if it can be called as such, was between complacency, on the one hand, and genuine desire to reclaim one’s progressive ideals and responsibility, on the other. Only by taking the bull by the horn could the leadership replenish whatever is left of its saving grace in the eyes of the people.
This, of course, helped save the day.
What transpired after weeks of fierce debate was that almost all in the leadership admitted to having betrayed their people and took it upon themselves to renew their commitment to the people’s cause. Few had difficulty seeing anything wrong with entertaining debilitating complacency, preferring – as they have long done – to congratulate themselves on incremental outcomes and mediocre results no matter how worse their people have it.
Far from being a question of who was a real Revolutionary Democrat or otherwise, this, in a nutshell, is a contest between reactionary and progressive politics at its incipient stage. The reorganisation of the leadership at the Executive Committee level was a mere function of this dichotomy. The real and demanding work of transformation is of course ahead of us, and the new Executive Committee will have to prove its calibre.
The rest, as they say, is history.
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