The Molla Asgedom Phenomenon: A Surprise or a Trend?


The return of the Tigrayan rebels to TPLF camp might be shocking to those who have been counting on them to serve as reliable allies. However for those who has followed recent development carefully, this event could hardly be surprising. In the last few years, particularly since Meles’ death, we have been witnessing re(unification) of Tigrayan forces and Molla Asgedom’s decision to abandon opposition politics and rejoin the mothership is part of this trend.
Those who were purged during 2001 have either officially rejoined ( eg. Bitew Belay), or become active supporters of the regime ( Gen. Tsadkan G/Tensai and Gen. Abebe Teklehaymanot) or have muted their criticism ( like Seeye Abreha who has quit politics and took up a UN job. Even Gebreu Asrat has reduced his opposition to infrequent soft criticism).
Those intellectuals and media personnels who were once fierce critiques are slowly returning to the mothership. Here we can mention Prof. Tekola Hagos who few years ago was writing weekly attacking the regime. The same is true for Dawit Kebede who was incarcerated and exiled for opposing the regime, yet suddenly gave up his asylum and have now become active defender of the regime. Dr. Aregawi Berhe, TPLF’s founding commander, who few years ago was a leading critic has been conspicuously silent.
Hence, Molla Asgedom is not the only Tigrean opposition figure who has realigned himself. Almost everyone is. The cause of his defection cannot be reduced to power greed as Arbegnoch Ginbot 7 (AG7) people would like us to believe or “realization of Shaebia’s evil intent” as the regime wanted to frame it. Its rather part of the ongoing re-grouping of Tigrayan politico-military and economic elite that we have been observing in recent years.

What is causing this re-grouping?

When an elite drawn from small minority ascends to power, the process of consolidation brings about two developments that are complementary and conflicting at the same time. On one hand, as they try to consolidate power by fending off potential rivals, they develop an exclusionist policy that leads them to accumulate disproportionately high wealth and power. On the other, such exclusionist policy leads to developments of resentment among excluded groups which would be expressed through generalized hostility towards the privileged group as whole.
These two developments enable the regime to increase internal cohesion. The control of huge resource among the minority elites allows them to spread it around hence reducing internal competition and conflict. More importantly the ever increasing hostility of elites of the “other” towards the privileged group in general creates sense of collective insecurity and solidarity making “sticking together” an inevitable reaction.
This is basically what has been happening in Ethiopian politics in the last two and half decades. Tigrayans who make up no more than 6% of the population have come to monopolize the meager wealth and power that country has. The TPLF regime has control over national resource that can be spread around the Tigrayan elite reducing competition and conflict among them. The repression and exclusion of the rest has led to ever intensification of vocal hostility towards Tigrayans. In such situation, even those Tigrayans who might not support the regime policy and are not attracted to wealth and power would have to join the mothership due to shared sense of existential threat to the collective.
In addition to this inevitable outcomes of minority domination, TPLF has adopted quite a clever strategy when it comes to dealing with Tigrayan dissidents. Whenever there is fallout they avoid measures that could cause irreparable wound. For example, following the 2001 breakup, although leaders of the losing faction were jailed, they were not subjected to the usual cruel treatment other opposition figures were put through. Siye Abraha and co. were never tortured. Their family were not made destitute (they remain in government housing and were financially compensated).
Even when we look at how the regime dealt with Molla Asgedom’s group, we can observe that despite being the most heavily armed group, it was never declared as terrorist group and the state media avoided the defamation campaign it conducts against other rebels. Such softer approach has made it easy to achieve the reconciliation project launched after Meles’ death.

Thus, it’s fair to say that already limited participation of Tigrayans in opposition politics is coming to an end. While their regrouping would surely increase Tigrayan unity, at the same time, it will intensify their alienation from the rest. This internal cohesion will help strengthen the regime in short term, but it will only exacerbated the underlying cause of their collective insecurity in the long run
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