The process of establishing the Interim Regional Administration (IRA) of Tigray began formally in mid-January during a meeting of the Central Committee of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the Central Command, and the Military Command leaders. In one of the following meetings a controversial Establishing Committee led by Tigray Defence Forces Commander, General Tadesse Worede, was formed. The leader of the committee made more than a couple of trips to Addis Ababa. On Friday, March 17, 2023, the process reached another major milestone with the election of Getachew Reda in a meeting attended by 41 members of the Central Committee of the TPLF and chaired by Dr. Debretsion Gebremichael. The election took place in a meeting that started at 9 am and ended at 9 pm local time. Getachew Reda received just below 44% of the votes, leading Dr. Fisseha Haftetsion, who was the candidate of the Executive Committee of the TPLF, by less than 2% of the votes.
It is important to note that despite public confusion, Getachew Reda was elected as the leader of the IRA, not as the Chair of the TPLF, which will remain held by Dr. Debrestion Gebremichael.
Getachew Reda has confirmed to UMD Media that his appointment as the IRA head is approved by Addis Ababa.
For some, Getachew Reda’s election as the head of the IRA is significant because he will be the first non-combatant of the 17 years of armed struggle to lead Tigray, albeit as an interim head. Interestingly, he was not nominated by the Executive Committee of the TPLF, to which he belongs, along with four TPLF veterans, Dr. Debretsion Gebremichael, Fetlework Gebregziabher, Alem Gebrewahid, and Getachew Assefa.
Among other things, the way Getachew Reda was nominated could pose both a challenge and an opportunity. UMD Media has sought the opinions of Tigrayan political leaders and individuals who are active in the socio-political sphere of Tigray regarding the opportunities and challenges associated with Getachew Reda’s election, and below is what we have received.
Dr. Tsegazeab Kahsu Assefa
Leader of opposition party, the National Congress of Great Tigray
Getachew Reda’s appointment as the interim leader of Tigray presents several opportunities for the region. Firstly, his family roots and constituency give him a deep understanding of the region’s needs and challenges. Secondly, as a young leader, he represents the aspirations of the Tigrayan youth. Thirdly, his proven track record as a fighter could help him garner the necessary support from the Tigray Defence Forces. Fourthly, his acceptance by the diplomatic community and potentially by Ethiopians, including Abiy, could open avenues for peaceful negotiations. Finally, his excellent communication and personal attributes is an advantage.
However, the challenges he faces cannot be ignored. Firstly, the establishment could tie him up with organizational bureaucracy, making it difficult for him to implement his vision. Secondly, Tigray’s bargaining power is at its lowest, which could lead to his frustration. Thirdly, maintaining Tigray’s territorial integrity and resolving related issues is a daunting task. Finally, the issue of genocide and accountability is a significant challenge that requires careful attention and consideration.
Other opposition parties
UMD Media approached the leader of Salsay Weyane Tigray (SAWET), Hayalu Godefay, the SAWET’s Foreign Affairs Head, Hailu Kebede, and Tigray Independence Party’s Political Affairs Director, Mahari Yohans, for their input, which they declined.
Mr. Getachew is among the few intellectuals who have broken into the TPLF leadership hierarchy. Although he has not exercised actual power under the TPLF, he has constructed a unique identity that has made him famous beyond the TPLF circle.
Starting with opportunities that come with his election to lead the IRA, I believe he has a good understanding of global, Horn of Africa, and Gulf, as well as local political developments. He is very clever and articulate in argument and narrative settings, and his admirers see him as a “Sanitizer” who can destroy and chase enemies with his words. He is also perceived to be humble, democratic, kind, selfless, and uniquely friendly and approachable, which is instrumental in mobilizing the public, particularly the youth, for development, peace, democracy, and good governance.
However, there are serious challenges that arise from Mr. Getachew’s election. First, it is not clear whether TPLF CC elected Mr. Getachew Reda to be the president of the IRA without changing the leadership in the TPLF. While he has been in the TPLF leadership hierarchy for over six years, he has never exercised real power proportional to his measure and rank. Alem Gebrewahid, Fetlework Gebregziabher, Dr. Debretsion Gebremichael, and maybe/maybe not Getachew Assefa, were and, I believe, still are the powerhouse. Electing Mr. Getachew Reda as the president of the IRA without changing the TPLF leadership would be pointless.
Another challenge is the TPLF’s political tradition, in which the party trumps nearly every government and public affair. Whatever the government does is what the party wants to do. In other words, the government serves the party without limit, even to the extent of breaking laws that establish the government. Therefore, it is tricky to see how Mr. Getachew will break this tradition and put the government in its proper place while putting a limit on party influence.
Mr. Getachew’s personality poses another challenge. His words could be lethal to enemies, as his admirers acclaim, but they could also bring futile and disastrous consequences to his friends. Like many TPLF members, he is naive and often miscalculates the capacity and positions of other actors. He also lacks good leadership credentials and does not seem to have the desire, commitment, and discipline to run the office responsibly. As someone who has worked with him and regularly followed his work, I know that he spends most of his time outside of real work out of the office, leaving a huge room for spoilers to do whatever they want in his absence.
In my opinion, the challenges outweigh the opportunities. However, there are possibilities to overcome or at least reduce the challenges mentioned above. First, he must know that he cannot run the office without putting a clear limit or demarcation on the influence of the TPLF on government business. Second, and most importantly, he must be able to rework the IRA process and composition and find a level playing field to include opposition parties and other stakeholders in the IRA. This would be a tough test as the opposition has made strong statements challenging both the process and composition of the IRA, regardless of who comes out of the TPLF to lead the IRA. Finally, he must know that Tigray does not have time and cannot wait until the rubber hits the road. Mr. Getachew needs to reinvent himself and be determined to show the character to lead the IRA, not just for the sake of a successful term, but given the difficult challenges that Tigray faces.
The opportunity for Mr. Getachew Reda is that he is relatable to the young generation and might be able to break the messy internal political networks that hampered Tigray for decades. He is also a well-spoken person so he shouldn’t have a problem articulating Tigray’s position if he chooses to.
His challenges are multifaceted. First, he is already imbibed with the TPLF’s decayed political ideology. Therefore, he is going to have a hard time convincing people he is in fact an agent of change. Second, our people expect real change really fast and their patience is running out. Empty promises won’t cut it this time. And I am afraid he might not be able to deliver the expected change. Third, the many gaffes he previously made might prove to be his undoing when it comes to Tigray’s external affairs.
The full implementation of the peace deal will present significant challenges for him, particularly with regards to maintaining the territorial integrity of Tigray and ensuring justice and accountability for the war crimes committed. Domestically, he will face critical challenges such as a decayed political structure, corruption, lack of transparency and accountability, as well as lawlessness and poverty that have plagued the country over the past two years. As this is a transitional stage, it is imperative to ensure that all stakeholders and parties are engaged in a meaningful and inclusive government formation process, as failure to do so could lead to further distrust and disengagement, ultimately crippling the social, economic, and political landscape. Nonetheless, the youth’s enormous potential, the community’s readiness for change and a better future, and the growing culture of opposition parties provide fertile ground for any changes that his leadership may aspire to achieve.
It seems that Getachew Reda may be accepted by all parties involved in the Pretoria agreement, including the US, offering an opportunity to establish a stable government and break the cycle of trial and error. With Getachew’s leadership, we may finally see the release of budgets and the resumption of services. He could use this momentum to address important issues such as territorial integrity, political dialogue, and accountability.
However, challenges remain. The TPLF is divided, and some may view Getachew as an externally imposed choice, further deepening the rift between factions. Additionally, the process of establishing the IRA was problematic and may pose challenges to achieving stable internal politics in Tigrai. Bringing opposition groups and other stakeholders into the system is another obstacle that needs to be addressed.
The appointment of Getachew Reda as IRA head of Tigray has caused grievances due to the sidelining of opposition parties that have fought alongside against the Tigray Genocide, and who rightfully should have been included in the IRA. Moving forward, Getachew must be careful in how he presents himself, as he has previously enjoyed populism which can cultivate a cult-like following and ultimately destroy communities. It is crucial to engage women in leadership, peacebuilding, and ensuring justice and accountability, particularly given the atrocities that women and girls in Tigray have endured. Proper mechanisms must be in place to facilitate their involvement in these critical areas.
Getachew Reda has an opportunity to make Tigrayans have faith in politicians. My sense is nobody now really believes the TPLF has the ability or desire to turn things around. He will have done extraordinarily well if he managed to change that sense of apathy.
The challenges are straightforward: dealing with bad faith actors in Addis, keeping TPLFites not entirely happy with the new development on board, engaging opposition parties in Tigray in good faith and generally changing the politics in Tigray from one of doom and gloom to a vibrant and positive one, and, finally, the main one in his job description — devising a pathway for Tigray to get out of the quagmire it is in.
After the news of Getachew Reda’s appointment as the interim leader of Tigray, there appears to be a unifying force that has brought Tigrayans in the diaspora and Tigray together, giving hope for a better future. There is a glimpse of hope that justice and peace may be achieved under his leadership. In addition to completing a Master of Law at Alabama University in the United States, Getachew Reda is known for being a human rights advocate and is highly proficient in understanding art, music, theatre, history, and more. His artistic nature is admirable and explains why he is bold and willing to take risks on important matters. If he is provided with a non-hostile environment and surrounded by competent individuals who are loyal to the cause of serving the people and given the freedom to perform, Tigray could not only achieve justice but also secure a future of everlasting peace. However, there is a concern that his coaching and mentoring mindset may clash with the leadership in Tigray who are used to a more authoritarian style of leadership. Additionally, he may not receive support from those who do not appreciate the power of individual mindsets. Nevertheless, it is heartening to see a brave, young, and charismatic leader given the chance to bring hope to the people who have been victims of the world’s worst crisis in modern history.