Interview with Sebhat Nega on the 16th anniversary of TPLF on May 28, 2007

Woyane Radio Our questions would revolve around Eritrea, and the solidarity of the struggle of the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea. So my first question is how do you explain TPLF's stand on the question of Eritrea from the beginning to the present time?
Sebhat Nega: That the question of Eritrea has been a democratic and just one was a hot topic and a subject of intense discussion among university students [in pre-1974 Ethiopia]. The issue of 'nations and nationalities' was also one of the many political questions being discussed at length.
Some of them used to say the Question of Eritrea should be seen in the light of the question of other nations and nationalities in Ethiopia.
Eritrean students at [Haile-Selassie I University] were split in two: one group supporting that Eritrea's question is no different from any other “nation and nationalities” in the country. On the part of Tigrian students, there were different groups under various names. The larger group of all these was the "Association of Progressive Tigrians" (Mahber Ghesghestee Tegaru). This group had a wider and deeper appreciation of the challenges in the country. Members used to discuss time and again, asking themselves: "Which one is a more pressing problem: resolving the problem of nations and nationalities or the class struggle issue?"
The group had a mature understanding that the issue of class struggle could be solved if the issue of the right of nations and nationalities is resolved first. This group [which includes Sebhat] considered that the “Eritrean question” was no ordinary question, and shouldn't be seen in light of the question of nations and nationalities of Ethiopia. The Eritrea question was born out of colonialism. The interest of the Eritrean people has also been an interest for independence. Since the Eritrean question reflects the interest of the Eritrean people, it was a just and democratic one.
This was the stand we took after conducting scientific explanations. Given the serious political situation in the country, to take such a stand on Eritrea was indeed very tough. It would bring ostracization by the rest. But we didn't want to gamble on the truth that the Eritrean question was a colonial question, a just demand of the Eritrean people for independence.
Therefore, we took the right stand on Eritrea. Not only that. An arduous struggle was conducted to establish as fact that the question of Eritrea was a democratic one. There was a strong opposition to this approach. There was an opposition even among Eritreans; there were Eritreans who did not accept the 'independence' issue of Eritrea. We campaigned heavily so as to persuade the doubting Eritreans. We wrote extensively about Eritrea, and its legitimate demand for independence. Since the issue was very difficult, we exerted tremendous efforts within and outside of the country and more than any other Eritrean political organization that Eritrea must break away from Ethiopia - and achieve independence.
Therefore, the Eritrean issue is what we have paid for dearly, what we have campaigned for vigorously, what we have exerted tremendous efforts for, that made it our solid policy. We've written extensively. We've lectured extensively. We have left no stone unturned to isolate the question of Eritrea from any Ethiopian problems. The question of Ethiopia's nations and nationalities was easy, simple to understand because most were affected by it. The question of Eritrea was different. It was different to understand it; it was difficult to make others understand it. For TPLF, which was struggling to stand on its feet on an Ethiopian soil, to promote such decisive policy on Eritrea was very difficult. In doing so, we convinced the Ethiopian people. Wherever we moved (as TPLF rebels), to persuade the society to accept Eritrea as a colonial question, was the most challenging of all political problems that TPLF set out to accomplish. Nothing comes closer to the price we paid to promote the Eritrean question as a just demand for independence.
WOYANE RADIO - There is a widespread resentment in the society that TPLF wrote, campaigned, took a firm stand, in short, TPLF fought for Eritrean independence more than any other Eritrean group to the extent that TPLF looked like an Eritrean organization. What was the motive, the cause, and eventual goal of taking such a huge risk? Second, at a time when TPLF was fighting for the independence of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki's EPLF was swaying to work with the Derg government. EPLF had mediation talks with the Derg. How do you see that?
Sebhat Nega- We achieved political maturity long before the start of the armed struggle. If you ask who created TPLF it is the political conditions in Tigray that created it. It was a response, a reaction to the conditions in Tigray. We internalized the demand of the people for democratic governance long before the start of the armed struggle. Therefore, the democratic behavior, the democratic culture was already created when TPLF was launched. And democracy has no borders. If you have a democratic platform for your people, you don't deny democracy to other people. Therefore, the overriding need for the reign of democratic governance was one of the reasons that paved the way for the struggle waged to resolve the Eritrean question in a just and democratic manner.
Therefore, TPLF was an organization that had an excellent understanding of the Eritrean question, the conditions of the Eritrean people. TPLF didn't take the Eritrean demand as an ordinary question of independence alone. Eritrean groups, on the other hand, took the Eritrean question as the question of independence alone. They focused only on how to achieve independence. They never thought about post-independence Eritrea. Therefore, their program was only of 'independence.' On the other hand, TPLF was worrying about whether the Eritrean rebel groups - ELF (Jebha) and EPLF (Shaebia) - had any thoughts about post- independence Eritrean conditions. They had nothing. For this reason, TPLF was reminding them of the challenges awaiting them after they break-away. To persuade such a group with a fragmented view of independence was difficult. In fact, we never believed that the Eritrean group would - beyond its mercenary program - go and fight for independence to the end. And apparently, ELF gave in; knelt down. Close to the final hours, they had started talking to the Derg, before it abandoned the struggle wholly.
Shaebia (EPLF) was also showing signs of compromising on the independence of the Eritrean people. The power-sharing deal EPLF held with the Derg in an East German city and under the mediation of the East German government was evidence of Shaebia kneeling down to Derg. There were also other EPLF-Derg talks after the defection of Dawit Wolde-Giorgis.* Shaebia was also trying to give in to Derg during the foiled 1989 army generals coup led by General Bulti in Asmara and Generals Fanta [Belai] and Merid Negussie in Addis Ababa. The plan was to replace Mengistu with somebody else, and Shaebia would get its share. After the coup, Shaebia sent a message to us [TPLF]. Shaebia told us to make a swift decision and welcome a delegate of the coup leaders that was coming to meet with us via Adi Quala, Eritrea.
Our response was clear: TPLF knows no compromise with the Derg. The goal of our struggle is to bring about a total change of the system. TPLF might have considered negotiation had the coup been led by soldiers other than high-ranking army officers. Even at that level, we never believed a coup would change the system. Therefore, we turned down Shaebia's request to accept the plea of the coup. Our decision was - much to the dismay of Shaebia - announced on our Radio. Therefore, that was another occasion Shaebia had also considered a power-sharing arrangement with the Derg. The danger of this deal was not only aimed at sabotaging the interest of the Eritrean people for independence. It was also a move aimed at destroying the aspirations of the Ethiopian people for a democratic governance.
Based on these facts, we had written that Shaebia is a treasonous group and can betray the struggle of the Eritrean people any time. In principle, we recognized Shaebia was a strong national force, but its treacherous behavior deprives it the credibility of being reliable and trustworthy. It was not. The coup had also a huge political danger for Ethiopia. The Ethiopian people were never fond of General X or General Y. Our struggle was to create the equality based on unity of the people. On the Eritrean side, meanwhile, there was a book written by Eritreans which said the struggle of the Eritrean people for independence would never be successful because the struggle for independence is not a just demand. The cover of the book depicts an AK-47 rifle placed up side down. However, we (TPLF) published about 200 or 300 books and reversed the position of the AK-47 rifle from the bottom up. The book was titled: "The struggle of the Eritrean people would never be placed up side down."
Therefore, in all fairness, all Eritrean groups wouldn't add up to the efficiency, clear policy stands and the huge sacrifice paid by TPLF to anchor the independence of Eritrea.
We were suspicious that EPLF would betray the Eritrean struggle for independence. Meles said - given the wavering stand of EPLF - that we may face the danger of betrayal on the part of EPLF. It is at that time that Meles wrote the book: "The Eritrean struggle: From where to where?"The book became a thorn in the flesh of Shaebia but a source of courage for the Eritrean people. Everybody knows this. Shaebia members know it. The enemy knows it.

This doesn't mean Shaebia didn't fight for Eritrean independence. Afterall, Shaebia was a strong national force, i.e. militarily. It was a well-organized group with a strong army. Politically speaking, however, we never ruled out that Shaebia was a weak, submissive force that could one day give in to the enemy. We've stated this time and again. We were fearful that Shaebia would surrender but that fear was dispelled because we took measures that would block Shaebia from surrendering to the enemy. Despite showing signs of surrender, however, Shaebia managed to finish the journey to independence. All said, even at the present time, there is no force on Earth that would fight for the independence of Eritrea more than the EPRDF-led government of Ethiopia. Our firm principle on the independence of Eritrea is not what we withdraw when we feel angry, and endorse when we feel good about Eritrea. On our part, we believe the people of Eritrea know very well - except a few members of the Shaebia leadership - that the EPRDF-led government of Ethiopia is the one and only force that would defend the independence of Eritrea. In short, the Eritrean people are very well aware of the fact that no force matches the power of the EPRDF-led government to defend and support the independence of Eritrea.
"Suppose let's say Eritrea comes under invasion by an outside force. I've no doubt the EPRDF government would, along with the Eritrean people, fight against the enemy of Eritrea," Sebhat concluded.

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