The components of the Pretoria administration, commonly known as the Tigray Interim Regional Authority, were gathered together by Tadesse Werede, one of its two Vice President Generals. The gathering discussed the initial findings of an ongoing investigation by the security ‘cluster’ (which he oversees) into the salt, fuel, metals, and aid industries. All attendees agreed that the results draw an accurate if conservative sketch of what has become the defining feature of Tigray’s economic activity; illicit transaction. All also agreed that economic conditions as they exist are causing a rapid decline in trust between the people of Tigray and the institutions of law, order, and governance.
The detrimental impact of declining trust on the routine function of state and society was expressed through revelatory anecdotal experiences shared by participants representing every organ charged with law and order. What this means for the every day lives of ordinary Tigrayan’s is vividly illustrated by the brutal murder of Zewdu Haftu and concomitant investigation. As criminality is allowed to prosper, the peoples confidence that their rights will be vindicated by the judicial system is waning. What is at stake, the gathered tell us, is Tigrays continued existence as a cohesive political unit and law abiding society.
The Pretoria administrations other General Vice President, Tsadkan Gebretensae, provided a critique appropriated from TPLF’s own 2017 analysis of capture by ‘networks’, describing the issue as ‘structural’ and ‘systemic’, insisting the cause was ‘political’. It is unclear how useful a political rather than a political economy analysis could be given any ‘systemic’ or ’structural’ solution would necessarily take into account the structure of and systems (both domestic and foreign) underpinning the market.
In other words, any genuine concern with the democratisation of Tigray would have to seriously consider the material betterment of, amongst other demographics, armed, trained, unemployed youth with combat experience and little to lose. The only planned economic intervention made public by TIRA so far, Sur Construction PLC’s (a state policy tool) haste to overcome ‘market failure’ in the supply of luxury housing (in an economy supporting starvation related deaths) is a reflection of the Tigrayan states social priorities. It also fundamentally speaks to the kinds of ‘structural solutions’ the elite (formerly known as the ruling class) are after; the developmental state is well, it’s now in the business of constructing money laundering machines for living in.
The loss of trust in political processes and institutions is also visible in the opposition parties change of strategic engagement. All, with the exception of Aregawi Berhe’s Tigray Democratic Party (TDP) and Siye Abraha et als Arena Tigray for Democracy and Sovereignty (ARENA), actively took part in the regional election and the resistance to the genocide it triggered. That is, Tigray Independence Party (TIP), Salsa Woyane, and Baytona participated in the political institutions and processes that governed Tigrayan society until the siege, when they started to call for an extra constitutional transitional government on the grounds that the constitution had failed.
In the post Pretoria period, the TIP and Salsay Woyane boycotted their proposed seats in the Tigray Interim Administration cabinet as an act of protest and have since, along with Baytona, focused on mobilising (legitimate) urban discontent (including that of demobilised TDF) to foster civic disobedience in towns and cities. The oppositions call to “take politics out of the town hall and into the streets” and the security infrastructures decision to meet the streets with violence signals a shift in the avenues the Tigrayan political set use to settle political contestation.
Less well known happenings such as one shared by Fisseha ‘Manjus’ Kidane of a confrontation between members of the security infrastructure and armed farmers in Mekhoni make their own insinuations. Patterns of protests as have been known since Tigray’s formal institutionalisation as an autonomous entity in 1994 have morphed. The kind of mutual trust necessary for rural communities to shield the political and military set, at great personal risk and with such tenacity as to return them to their urban comforts, has significantly eroded. Should Abiy have a temperamental day, the political set will have nowhere to hide. Should the peoples aspirations fail to be addressed, serious challenges to the state’s monopoly on violence may yet emerge from the countryside.
Although the gathering was ostensibly held to discuss the detrimental impacts of an economy driven almost entirely by illicit activity, the televised event had a quality of announcement about it; fall in line, the new sheriff is in town.
It’s difficult not to interpret the gathering as a unified effort by the top branch of government (despite frequent pronouncements of the guilt of TPLF, TDF, and TIRA leadership in the theft being described) to publicly intimidate its lowest unit of public administration, the supposedly mutinying Woreda. Whatever the Woreda’s sins, entering a war underprepared, adopting libertarianism in the face of a war time economy under a siege, concomitant entrenchment of illicit markets, sowing political distrust through an opaque negotiation process etc, are well above the Woreda pay grade.
The acrimony between the TPLF’s Executive Committee and what its critics describe as the TPLF led TIRA has never been subtle. If, as Reda claims, discord at the Executive Committee is ‘trickling down’ to the Woreda level, it’s unclear why he would be punching down at trickles. Reda’s competitive selection first to the Executive Committee, and then, as its ‘presidential nominee’ were both achieved through acts of Central Committee rebellion. His career is evidence that contestation within TPLF can be competitive, deliver an upset, and discipline the highest of its decision making organs.
If Reda was able to use the CC to win the party’s nomination for the Presidency, it would follow that similar steps could be taken with regards to governance and policy. However inadequate, TPLF has established protocols, processes, and norms for the settlement of political differences and transfer of power widely known not only to its rank and file but its constituency as a whole. One of many reasons why the military wing of government should refrain from interfering in established political processes is that they have no known systems of accountability or dispute resolution mechanisms of their own.