Gebru speaks

Year: 2014
Place of publication: US
Price: 150 birr

Reviewed by: Neamin Ashenafi

This year marks the 40th year anniversary of the establishment of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Since its establishment, the party has passed through a lot of challenges and problems coming from within and outside of the party in its long endeavor to end the 17-year rule of the military junta – Derg.

Eventually, TPLF with other groups in the armed struggle formed the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and overthrew the Derg, and took power in 1991. After that, the front has enjoyed a relatively stable time until the outbreak of the Ethio–Eritrean war in 1998.

The war, which took place from May 1998 to June 2000, in addition to claiming the lives of many Ethiopians and Eritreans, also caused the much-talked-about split within the TPLF. The split also resulted in senior members of the party withdrawing from their party positions once and for all, due to differences over the Ethio-Eritrean war and other political issues of the time.

Gebru Asrat was among those who withdrew from the party back then; he was the former president of the Tigray Regional State (1991–2001), one of the top leaders of the party and an executive committee member for both the TPLF and the EPRDF.

Gebru was born in Mekele, capital of the Tigray Regional State, and attended Atse Yohannes High School and the former Haile Selassie I University. At the height of the Ethiopian student movement and onwards, he joined the armed struggle to overthrow the military regime .

Gebru left TPLF and EPRDF in the early 2000s, and after the split he went on to establish Arena Tigray, the first alternative political party to TPLF in Tigray. And Gebru became its chairman in 2007 at which time Arena Tigray merged with other opposition parties in Ethiopia to form the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum (Medrek).

Recently, Gebru has published a new book entitled “Lualawinet Ena Democracy Be Ethiopia”, which is translated to English as “Sovereignty and Democracy in Ethiopia”, in the US. Currently, the book is also available in local bookstores.

The book, which is published in Ethiopia has 417 pages, six main parts and a number of sub-parts. It begins its narrative by giving a long account of the Ethiopian history, how TPLF was established and what its challenges was, its disintegration during the early years of the struggle , the administration after taking power and until the outbreak of the war with Eritrea, the difference among the members of TPLF on the issue of the war and sovereignty and its consequent split, and how he and his peer high ranking officials withdrew and so on.

So far, among those that left the party after the split, the likes of Seeye Abraha, the former defense minister and Yeubmar Asfaw (wife of Gebru) have published books on a similar subject. However, this book by Gebru appears to be well-written and probably the best in describing what were the major differences between the two groups in TPLF and also about claims regarding so many issues related to the culture of the party and the ideals that the late PM Meles Zenawi has stood for.

As it is mentioned in the preface of the book, the major reason behind publishing this book is to balance the publications which came to the market claiming to describe the history of TPLF which Gebru calls books sponsored by “public enterprises” and written by ghost writers to highlight and glorify the role of individual leaders of the party during the armed struggle days and after the victory in 1991.

To justify his arguments, the author states, “the book was written to give a different account of events than the one portrayed by books which already exist in the market and attempt to narrate the history of the party”. He predicts the readers of this book will be able to review and understand what he calls the pro-Meles propaganda messages which discredited members of the party which left after the split.

In addition to this, the author also argues that another purpose of writing this book is to rewrite and straighten the distorted view of the historical developments in the TPLF in particular and the history of the country in general. It is also to get across his own reflections of the effects of the Algiers Agreement signed in 2000 on the sovereignty of Ethiopia.

The author, in the first part of the book goes back studying and narrating the history of Ethiopia to assert that Eritrea was part of Ethiopia and states that with the exception of its occupation by Italy during the colonial days, the country is a legitimate part of Ethiopia.

To justify his claims and narrations, the author argues that in 1989 Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia signed an agreement with the Italians that states Italy would return Eritrea to Ethiopia when it relinquishes its claims in the country. Therefore, according to the author’s view, in 1952, the United Nations purposely made Eritrea a protectorate of Ethiopia so that Ethiopia would be entitled to full access to the Red Sea.

And at the same time, he also talks about TPLF’s outlook towards the issue of Eritrea and argues that the TPLF had a clear and solid belief that Eritrea was a part of Ethiopia and believes that the independence of Eritrea was made possible not by deliberation with the ruling military regime but through the barrels of the gun.

Actually, the author makes it clear that, had he finished his book before the death of Prime Minister Meles, he would have been very happy to entertain a debate with the late PM on the various allegations that the author had made regarding the TPLF/EPRDF.

The author also says that he would be more than happy to see the ideas portrayed in his book invite other concerned Ethiopians to enter into a constructive dialogue; so that the book could be used as a framework to bring new dimensions in the discourse regarding the issue.

The book also narrates and give highlights on some of the controversial issues that had arose within the TPLF and the insecure relationship that existed between the TPLF and the other armed organizations that were struggling in Ethiopia to overthrow the military regime.

The part where the book discusses the bloody war between the two neighboring countries looks to be well-narrated and it depicts how the late PM and his group had skillfully influenced the division that existed between the two groups and stopped the advancing Ethiopian military to Asmara.

All in all, the book tries to bring in a different narrative than what has been publicized previously and the author also expresses his deep apologies for the loss of lives throughout the book. Through it is very difficult to conclude which group was right and which was wrong, this book definitely opens the issue up for discussion and the subject for further dialogues in the future.

In this regard, many members of the party whether currently holding public office or those who has withdraw from the party might be inspired by some of the issues of the book and start to share their personal account of the split and other unknown stories of the party. And this might just be is the single most strength of the book.

Source: The Reporter Ethiopia

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