By: – Fitsum Gebre, Dawit K. Zigta and Dereje T Asefa

Election of Getachew Reda

Getachew Reda, the leader of the TPLF team who signed the Cessation of hostility agreement (CoHA) in Pretoria was elected and approved as the president of the interim administration of Tigray (IRAT) on 23 March 2023. His nomination by the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) was approved by the Prime Minister of Ethiopia after the visit of the US secretary state, Anthony Blinken. The process of nomination in Tigray was viewed as undemocratic as other stakeholders, such as alternative parties, CSOs, minority groups, etc. were not included in the committee responsible for formulation of the IRAT. The committee reserved the presidential position for TPLF, which seems also was seconded by the regime in Addis. Getachew was elected by the majority vote of the central committee of TPLF, with just a one vote margin. The regime in Addis has been mentioned in dictating Getachew’s presidency. This might be indicative that the regional autonomy of Tigray is compromised as the federal government has started directing what happens in Tigray as it has been doing in other regional states of Ethiopia. Tigray’s interests and constitutional rights might not be secured unless the Abiy regime gets something in return.

Nevertheless, Getachew’s presidency has been accepted by the wide spectrum of the Tigrayan society, which might be explained by his service at the forefront of resistance of the people of Tigray against genocidal forces, his pragmatic and charismatic approaches and inter-generational appeal. He is relatively young among the TPLFs leadership and a lawyer with an international acceptance.  

A hope of a new chapter in Tigray

His election, which he himself called it a “new chapter”, can be perceived as golden opportunity for Tigray. In his press conference on 25 March 2023, the president outlined securing the start of a normal day to day life, ensuring the security of Tigray, creating a lasting peace, restoring the constitutional order and territorial integrity of Tigray, resettling internally displaced Tigrayans, ensuring accountability for the atrocity crimes committed, and rehabilitation of Tigray as the prioritized tasks. He called neighbors, primarily Amhara and Eritrea, to withdraw from annexed areas and has asked the regime in Addis to step up its effort to protect the sovereignty of Ethiopia. He extended his call to the international community to support peace, condemn atrocity crimes and to provide adequate support to ensure accountability.

Separating government and a party

Getachew expressed also his determination to introduce the required transformation in the political landscape of Tigray by being accommodating and open to alternative ideas which indicates his willingness to entertain people’s needs and aspirations. Reciting their previous call for inclusive government, Salsay Weyane Tigray (SAWET) and Tigray independence party (TIP), have expressed their readiness to work with Getachew given that he takes the practical measures for inclusiveness, ensuring territorial integrity and accountability. He is expected to take the necessary measures to engage the alternative parties and all capable Tigrayans to be a part of his interim administration. His open statement as to separating the role of a political party and the government is laudable and viewed as a starting point for Tigray’s political transformation.

It is important to recall that TPLF has been dictating its own terms by disregarding the desires and aspirations of the people. TPLF has consistently opposed suggestions of democratization and formation of an all-inclusive administration. Before the election and approval of Getachew as the president, TPLF has repeatedly attempted to establish an exclusive IRAT with a complete dominance. These repeated attempts have been encountered by fierce resistance from the Tigrayan society, which Getachew should consider seriously and respond to the people’s demand for a genuine inclusive political landscape.

Internal and external challenges expected

However, hardliners within TPLF might translate Getachew’s intention to accommodate as a threat to TPLF’s existence and hegemony in Tigray. Some of them were said to be engaged in “personal assassination” rhetoric when his presidency for IRAT was announced. A day after his nomination, wounded and disabled members of Tigray Defence Forces (TDF), who demonstrated in the streets of Mekelle for better health care and living conditions were tear gassed by TPLF security machinery. These incidences are attempts of downplaying his presidency from the very beginning and signalize the challenges he might encounter internally against his quest to redefine the relationship between Tigray’s government and a political party.

The House of Representatives (parliament) of Ethiopia ended the legislation that put TPLF on the list of terrorist forces, as part of the Pretoria agreement. The decision was not welcomed by the actors involved in the genocidal war and unitary political parties in the parliament. Challenges are expected from the invading forces of Amhara and Eritrea who still are committing atrocity crimes in southern, western, northern and northeastern parts of Tigray. Hence, Getachew’s call for the federal government of Ethiopia to step up for its responsibility stated in the CoHA, is commendable and must be supported by Tigrayans and the international community. The welcome of his presidency from the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, during the release of US Human Rights Report 2022, could be considered as a political capital that he can use for a smooth transition and securing accountability for the atrocity crimes committed too.

                                                All eyes are on Getachew!

Tigrayans all over the world agree that internal cohesion is a necessity for securing the vital interests of Tigray and believe this could be realized if the IRAT is genuinely all-inclusive. A new era of democracy that ensures normalcy, secures lasting peace, fights for accountability, and engages every capable Tigrayan is the expectation among Tigrayans. It is not TPLF as such but Getachew, who has now got the mandate and responsibility to define the IRAT and who to involve. He must then be bold enough to create an all-inclusive IRAT that secures him all the support he needs for the democratization process and the establishment of institutional mechanism of check and balance in Tigray.

It is a testing period for Getachew. Some promising news are coming out from his engagements with the federal government. News of the potential release of Tigray’s regional budget for 2015, releases of TPLF politicians, former Tigrayan ENDF officers and civilians from prisons are motivating. The dialogues with leaders of other regional states, such as Oromia, are appreciable, but it should be done in a way that the dialogue with one will not be perceived as a threat to the political elites of other regional states. Such initiatives should primarily focus on securing the vital interests of the people of Tigray and need to be performed without affecting the emotional well-beingness of the victimized people of Tigray.

“All eyes are on Getachew!!!”- Will he be then instrumental to transform the political landscape of Tigray as the president of Interim Regional Administration of Tigray (IRAT)?

His success as a transformative leader primarily depends on his determination to deal with the challenges that he encounters from Tigrayan stakeholders. He should be accommodative enough to bring Tigrayans together and realize the implementation of the difficult tasks of IRAT he highlighted at his first press statement. The dialogue with Tigrayan business communities in Addis Ababa is a good sign, but should be expanded to the stakeholders in Tigray. He should also have a strategy to create an internal cohesion in his party, realizing that more than half of the central committee of TPLF have voted against his presidency. Transforming the political landscape of Tigray might be challenging without transforming his own party. TPLF has resources and strong network that extends from a region level to municipalities and the lowest administrative unit which might be used against his transformative measures that Tigrayans aspire.

Any failure to form an accommodative and all-inclusive IRAT will have a divisive effect on the majority of Tigrayans, who now are standing still and waiting with optimism to back him up. Getachew should not follow the usual dictatorial and divisive leadership that we witnessed for years. It is time to bring all Tigrayans together to secure the vital interests of Tigray and neutralize the potential risk of the establishment of a new hegemonic power of the federal government over the people of Tigray.

  • Fitsum Gebre, (PhD) is an economist and researcher in international research organization.
  • Dawit K. Zigta, (M.Sc) – is an Environmental Engineer, former Lecturer Mekelle University and leader of the Union of Tigrayans in Europe
  • Dereje T Asefa, (PhD), is a Senior advisor for Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) and leader of the Cooperation platform for Tigrayan-Norwegians