Ethiopia: Prognosis on the Logic of the Tigrian Armed Struggle (1975—1991)


Photo: Meles Zenawi and wife Azeb Mesfin during the armed struggle

By Habtamu Alebachew
Jan. 28, 2013

1. Prelude
Under present circumstances in Ethiopia, I feel that we have to broaden the scope and extents of the discussion on the Tigrian armed struggle (1975-1991). Liked or not, this event has already become one integral part of our history as Ethiopians. We, Ethiopians, have never been in same situations before and after 1991. It is trite but true that the Tigrian armed struggle was never a picnic for either the Tigrian nation or the Ethiopian state. As a perfect civil war, it involved tens of thousands of causalities and bodily injuries on both sides of the counter (Mekalih Tigray, 2011). Since 1991, the war continued but with a different form—from bullets to words. Nowadays, with the noisy havoc of these emotional schisms receding faster and faster because of dialectical changes in agenda—from stability to structural peace, I feel that we get respite to discuss our issues with sober minds.

To begin with, any war has two interrelated dimensions—logic and grammar (Claussis, 1910). For Clauissis, the very cause that breeds the war and the very distant goal that the war is set to achieve fall within the category of its logic. This part of the war is the function of ideologues, top political leaders and decision makers. Whereas, that part of the war concerned with how one army could defeat the enemy is its grammar. The grammar is more of the function of military commanders and generals. The first dimension, logic of war is the focus of this paper with regard to the Tigray armed struggle. This enquiry is extremely important in Tigray’s case for the following two major justifications.

Firstly, the armed struggle by the Tigray nation escaped the epistemological concern and coverage of modern political science and political sociology. The modern social science fields of the western academic tradition are products of the special Euro-American sociocultural and socio-economic structures. Social conflicts across the mainstream western society lost their ethno-linguistic foundations because of rapid urbanization and industrialization. The emergence of the Westphalia model of the modern state in 1648 in Europe coupled with the emergence of monetarist capital, wide national market, secular politics, individualism and the expansion of the impersonal state apparatus, all at the expenses of religion, ethno-nationalism and regionalism, became the established structure. As Karl Marx (F.H. Hensley, 1973) pointed out, class distinction grew to be the major form and source of social contradictions. This has remained to be the main essence of the western epistemology until recently. Thus, most of advanced knowledge about conflicts originating in the west was not adequate to explain such conflicts like the Tigrian armed struggle in the pre-capitalist society of Ethiopia.

Secondly, for the above reason, there appeared so far no squarely fitting social science theory that one could easily apply to the study of the Tigrian armed struggle. Some researchers, Aregawi Berhe (2008), one of the first organizers of TPLF, for example, used such an approach like ‘instrumentalism’. Nonetheless, while this approach helps to explain the ontology in the grammar of the Tigrian armed struggle in large measure, it scarcely helps to study it in relation to the larger socio-cultural structures of the Ethiopian state-the logic. Moreover, while instrumentalism discusses the cultural side of the armed struggle, it fails to cover the aspect of class conflicts—the Tigrian peasant revolution. On this score, Gebru Tarke (1991) went more ahead with his approach, class/economic antagonism. This helps him to explain the Tigray armed struggle from socio-economic angles. Nevertheless, the approach, on the other hand, denied him a chance at establishing a casual plurality between class contradiction and nationality question—ethno-linguistic identity and social conflict.

This theoretical limitation, in its turn, poses logical challenges, the very crux of the matter in this paper.

2. The Crux of the Matter
The logical challenge adversely affects researchers on three aspects of the Tigray armed struggle—the genesis, the progress, and its triumphant culmination. The genesis question raises the difficult enquiry into why the Tigray nation and Tigray nationalism became the origination spot of the anti-Derg armed struggle. It is a common problem to observe inconsistencies, confusions and logical fallacies in the search for the right methodology to meet this question. Aregawi Berhe, Solomon Enaquy (2010), etc, for example, search for the genesis of the armed struggle either from the national-class oppressions of the Tigray nation or the harshness and brutalities of central governments in Addis Ababa. Of course, this fits the arguments of what scholars call the ‘grievance’ theory of conflict but never the logic of the armed struggle–why in Tigray, first?

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Ethiopia Prognosis on the Logic of the Tigrian Armed Struggle – 1975 to 1991