The Zero-Sum Negotiation Games of the T-TPLF in Ethiopia By Prof Al. Mariam
Author’s Note: This July 4th, I “celebrate” my eleventh year of writing uninterrupted weekly Monday commentaries.
On July 4, 2006, I formally and publicly declared my engagement in human rights advocacy, particularly Ethiopian human rights advocacy. Tempus fugit (time flies)!
In a 7,860-word “manifesto” entitled, “Awakening Giant”, I explained why I decided to get involved in Ethiopia human rights advocacy and issued a plea to other Ethiopians to do the same. The “manifesto” was subtitled, “Can Ethiopians Living in America Make a Difference in their Homeland.”
In my “manifesto”, I declared the struggle for human rights in Ethiopia is a struggle to be won “not in battlefields soaked in blood and filled with corpses, but in the living hearts and thinking minds of men and women of goodwill.”
For the past eleven years, I have waged a struggle to win the hearts and minds of Ethiopians and people of good will throughout the world in my weekly Monday (and lately Thursdays and Fridays) commentaries (or as some affectionately call them “sermons”.)
I believe the struggle has been successful. The indisputable evidence of success is that the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF) was forced to declare a “state of emergency.” When a regime loses the battle for hearts and minds, it does one and only one thing: Declare a state of emergency and hide behind a fortress (which the T-TPLF calls “command post”) and run an open air prison in a police state.
Some may believe T-TPLF state of emergency rule in Ethiopia shows the apex of T-TPLF power, the ultimate manifestation of their exercise of complete control and authority.
I see the T-TPLF on its last legs.
I am reminded of a poignant remark Teddy Roosevelt in a speech (a worthwhile read) he gave on Labor Day in 1903: “The death-knell of the republic had rung as soon as the active power became lodged in the hands of those who sought, not to do justice to all citizens, rich and poor alike, but to stand for one special class and for its interests as opposed to the interests of others.” So it has rung for the T-TPLF.
I am blessed to have had the opportunity to fight for human rights, democracy, the rule of law and freedom in Ethiopia and elsewhere with nothing more than my pen (more accurately, my computer keyboard) every single week for the past eleven years.
I still believe Edward Bulwer-Lytton is right in his expression of poetic wisdom: “True, This! —/ Beneath the rule of men entirely great/ The pen is mightier than the sword…/ To paralyse the Caesars, and to strike/The loud earth breathless! -…/”
Shakespeare was also right speaking through Rosencrantz in Hamlet, “… many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose-quills and dare scarce come thither.”
I shall continue to heed Thomas Jefferson’s counsel (the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence) to Thomas Paine in 1796: “Go on doing with your pen what in other times was done with the sword.”
No, the humming bird does not tire trying to put out the forest fire with droplets of water in its beak. It is a labor of love. This hummingbird shall continue to hum every Monday, Tuesday…
“A luta continua, vitória é certa.” (“The struggle continues, victory is certain”.)
Negotiating with the T-TPLF?
Recently, the Voice of America (Amharic) reported “16 Ethiopian opposition political parties agreed to discuss the anti-terrorism and other proclamations and 13 other agenda points including communications, press and charities and civic organizations” with the ruling regime in Ethiopia. I commented on the alleged “negotiations” in my June 25 commentary, “The Cruel Political Jokes of the T-TPLF in Ethiopia”.
In this commentary, I aim to apply basic “game theory” concepts to explore the possibilities of a “negotiation” between the T-TPLF and “opposition party leaders” and examine the range of strategic “moves” in what are certainly to be guaranteed zero-sum negotiation games in favor of the T-TPLF. (A list of potential T-TPLF negotiation strategies is discussed herein.)
Social science scholars use “game theory” to understand (ir)rational behavior in decision-making. Game theory “is the science of strategic thinking” and logical decision-making, and a methodology useful in developing desirable outcomes or “solutions” to specific decision problems.
Game theory has been applied extensively to examine and understand the dynamics of negotiations aimed at conflict resolution in a process of bargaining and compromising. Thomas Schelling, an eminent game theorist, explained the essence of game theory (without the complex mathematical models) as it applies to negotiations: “Two or more individuals have choices to make, preferences regarding the outcomes, and some knowledge of the choices available to each other and of each other’s preferences. The outcome depends on the choices that both of them make … There is no independently ‘best’ choice that one can make; it depends on what the others do.”
I would argue Shelling’s definition would apply universally except in zero-sum games where there is a single optimal strategy. In a zero-sum game, one “person” will lose and one person will always win. The win (+1) added to the loss (-1) equals zero. In other words, one side wins everything, the other side loses everything and total loss for one = total gain for the other.
The aim of most negotiations is generally to maximize one’s gains and minimize the opponent’s. Individuals, groups, states and other entities negotiate for a variety of reasons: to resolve conflict, to gain advantage, to achieve amicable relations, to maintain peace and avoid war and so on. Successful negotiations often result when the parties operate on basic principles of fairness, good faith, trust, honesty, integrity, and a commitment to promote mutual benefit and satisfaction for a win-win outcome. But none of these parameters apply to zero-sum games.
The zero-sum election games of the T-TPLF
The T-TPLF claims it is in “negotiations”, “discussions”, “talks”, etc. with the opposition. Perhaps it is the “opposition leaders” who make such claims. For the T-TPLF, everything is a secret and words are used for the singular purpose of evasion and confusion.
For the purposes of this analysis, we shall assume the T-TPLF is in “negotiations” with the alleged “opposition leaders”. What does it mean to be in “negotiations” with the T-TPLF?
The T-TPLF has perfected the zero-sum game in Ethiopia over the past 26 years. Consider the following outcomes in the T-TPLF’s zero-sum election games.
In 2008, in “elections for regional parliaments, the EPRDF (the T-TPLF’s front organization) and its affiliates won 1,903 of 1,904 seats. In local and by-elections held in 2008, the EPRDF and its affiliates won all but four of 3.4 million contested seats.” The T-TPLF “won” every seat but one. The opposition lost every seat but one.
In May 2010, the T-TPLF “won” all the seats in “parliament” by 99.6 percent (but one). The opposition lost every seat but one.
In May 2015, the T-TPLF “won” 100% of the seats in “parliament”. The opposition lost every seats!!!
Such total and complete zero-sum electoral “victory” occurred in a country where there are 79 registered opposition political parties (players).
Such total and complete electoral “victory” occurred in a country where the real opposition party leaders are arrested on trumped up terrorism charges and languish in official and secret T-TPLF prisons without due process of law for years.
The zero-sum negotiation games of the T-TPLF
The T-TPLF has played the same zero-sum games in its “negotiations” with the opposition, political prisoners and the loaners and donors.
In August 2007, the T-TPLF’s late thugmaster Meles Zenawi “pardoned” 38 opposition political leaders to “give impetus to political negotiations in Ethiopia after more than two years’ crisis and stalemate.” In October of that year, “in spite of continuing negotiations between the government and the opposition , the political environment continued to deteriorate.” In that case, the T-TPLF had a double zero-sum game “win” in the negotiations: 1) by validating that the 38 railroaded leaders were actually criminals, and 2) by forcing them to “admit” crimes they never committed and “pardoning” them.
In 2009, the T-TPLF engaged in “negotiations” for the release of political prisoners, only after the political prisoners “had signed a paper admitting they tried to overthrow the government in an ‘unconstitutional’ manner.” Double zero-sum game win for the T-TPLF again.
In 2009, Zenawi led the African climate change negotiators to the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen and delivered a zero-sum ultimatum: Fork over $40 billion or we will “delegitimize you!” Zenawi blustered:
We will use our numbers to deligitimize any agreement that is not consistent with our minimal position… We are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threatens to be another rape of our continent. The key thing for me is that Africa be compensated for the damage caused by global warming. Many institutions have tried to quantify that and they have come up with different figures. The sort of median figure would be in the range of 40 billion USD a year.
Zenawi really believed he could shakedown and rip off $40 billion from Western countries in a carbon blood extortion scheme. Ahh!! Zenawi did not foresee the advent of Trump and the scrapping of the Paris Accords.
In 2010, the T-TPLF released Birtukan Midekssa, the first female Ethiopian political party leader, after she “apologized for denying being granted a pardon in 2007” and “imploring the prime minister to grant her a second pardon for her to be able to see her aging mother and child.” How denying an apology can be a crime is beyond me, but it was a double zero-sum game win for the T-TPLF.
In 2010, the T-TPLF engaged donors in “negotiations” to allow them to send election observers. The European Union sent observers and Zenawi called their report “useless trash that deserves to be thrown in the garbage”. Zenawi’s T-TPLF declared it had “won” the 2010 zero-sum election by 99.6 percent.
In 2013, T-TPLF puppet prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Tedros (“Empty Suit”) Adhanom orchestrated an African Union treaty-cide unless the International Criminal Court (ICC) dismissed charges against criminals against humanity Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. In his “negotiations” with the ICC, Adhanom demandedthat “sitting Heads of State and Government should not be prosecuted while in office.”
Simply stated, either the ICC dismisses the cases against the two Kenyan criminals against humanity or Hailemariam and Adhanom will lead a mass walkout of the Rome Statute. There was no mass walkout but (as I correctly predicted a year in advance) and the ICC case against Kenyatta and Ruto was dismissed on manifestly dubious grounds.
Today, T-TPLF head honcho Debretsion says, “Ethnic federalism is equality. T-TPLF supremacy is nothing but a conspiracy. To say Tigreans are supreme (everywhere), that is not the reality. That is a zero. Zero.”
True. It is a zero. It’s all a zero-sum game for the T-TPLF.
Why is the T-TPLF “open” to “negotiations” in the middle of a “state of emergency”?
Why is the T-TPLF talking about “negotiations” with the “opposition” now? What is at stake for the T-TPLF in any “negotiations”? Why would the T-TPLF negotiate when it has all of the power? What is the incentive for the T-TPLF to negotiate?
It is interesting that the T-TPLF should seek “negotiations” at a time when the Ethiopian economy is in tatters and spiraling downward as the cost of living is skyrocketing, famine is consuming some 8 million people, various regions of the country are effectively outside of T-TPLF rule, internal divisions within the T-TPLF are becoming more pronounced, increasing numbers of the rank and file soldiers are going AWOL and so on.
It does not seem to make much sense for the T-TPLF running a “state of emergency” regime to engage with the opposition let alone “negotiate”. The T-TPLF arrests, jails, massacres, tortures and violates innocent citizens at will. The T-TPLF runs an absolute Stalinist police state in Ethiopia today. Stalinist police states never negotiate, at least with words. They negotiate with the chatter of AK-47s and Soviet-era 7.62 general-purpose PKMN machine guns.
That is how the T-TPLF negotiated with the Irrecha Festival crowd in October 2016 in the town of Bishoftu, some 45 miles southeast of the capital Addis Ababa. An estimated 800 plus people celebrating a religious festival were massacred by T-TPLF troops and twice that number severely injured during that event.
What does it mean to “negotiate” with the T-TPLF under a state of emergency?
Isn’t the very idea of “negotiating” with the T-TPLF simply laughable? It is like hyenas negotiating with antelopes about dinner. Total win for hyenas, total loss for antelopes.
In 1985, Nelson Mandela issued a statement from his prison cell explaining why he cannot negotiate with the hyena minority white apartheid regime: “I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free. Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts….” How can “opposition party leaders” under a black hyena apartheid regime ruling by a draconian “state of emergency” decree negotiate?
In its zero-sum game, the T-TPLF is putting on “negotiations” as mere political drama. It is a show staged for the loaners and donors. I believe it is a show staged for the Trump Administration and calculatedly aimed at blunting the legislative efforts currently underway in the U.S. House and Senate.
I believe there are a bunch of reasons why the T-TPLF is talking “negotiations”.
The T-TPLF talks about “negotiations” with the “opposition” to stall real change and use it as a ploy to buy time. For instance, they want more time to “buy off” “Oromos” and destroy the alleged “Oromo-Amhara” alliance against their rule. The Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) saw right through the recent T-TPLF shenanigans when it declared in a statement : “Without addressing the long-awaited demand and legitimate grievances of the Oromo people regarding the precarious and problematic status of Addis Ababa, the document appears rather intended to sow the seeds of discord, suspicion and intercommunal mistrust by exploiting the apprehension of various stakeholders on the future of Addis Ababa.” The ODF urged, “Say NO to the divide and rule tactics designed to weaken your resolve. Say Never to all attempts at putting one against another. The only way forward is to stand firm and fight in unison to end this brutal dictatorship.”
The T-TPLF wants to buy more time to divide the “Amhara” opposition and wage a war of attrition against their resistance to T-TPLF rule.
The T-TPLF aims to hoodwink the loaners and donors into giving them more money and the word “negotiation: perks up the ears of the loaners and donors.
The T-TPLF wants to project a public relations image of being reasonable and amicable. They want to put on a kinder and gentler face and conceal their blood-soaked hands in a white glove.
The T-TPLF, in their infinitely diabolical way, also aim to neutralize and delegitimize the already weakened opposition and publicly make them their lackeys. What opposition leader would have any credibility in the eyes of the people negotiating with the T-TPLF? “Opposition leaders” negotiating with the T-TPL is like antelope leaders negotiating with hyenas about what (who) to have for dinner.
As I argued in my 2009 commentary, “The Raw Machismo of Dictatorship”, for the T-TPLF negotiation means playing a “zero-sum game”. They win all the time, everybody else loses every time. More bluntly, the T-TPLF negotiating strategy is, Might makes right. Alternatively, it is “My way or the highway… or jail!” No more questions.
The T-TPLF will negotiate in earnest only and only if two conditions are met: 1) They will remain the only dominant political and economic force in the country. 2) They are so concerned and fearful about losing political power that they want to use negotiations to buy time to re-establish their political and economic supremacy.
Stated simply, the T-TPLF has one and only one overriding rational interest in any negotiations: Remain in power in much the same way as they are now. For one more day. One more week. One more month. One more year. One more decade…
Negotiating with the T-TPLF
The most important point to keep in mind about the “opposition” with whom the T-TPLF is negotiating with is the fact that they are handpicked and extremely vetted by the T-TPLF. These “opposition leaders” are the handmaiden of the the T-TPLF just like the fake EPRDF coalition, the front organization for the T-TPLF. They are “opposition leaders” created of the T-TPLF, by the T-TPLF, for the T-TPLF to negotiate with. They are the second re-invention of the EPRDF. They are fake opposition leaders. They know it. The people of Ethiopia know it. Above all, the T-TPLF knows it.
The real opposition party leaders are languishing in T-TPLF jails.
What is there for the fake “opposition leaders” to negotiate? They say they have “13 agenda items including the anti-terrorism law”.
The T-TPLF has openly declared it will never negotiate the issue of political prisoners because there are none in Ethiopia, as I discussed in my commentary last week. Additionally, there will be no negotiations on real power sharing and human rights accountability.
For the T-TPLF to agree to negotiate the issue of political prisoners tantamount to giving up everything.
Political prisoners are the tip of the iceberg of T-TPLF dictatorial rule and kangaroo justice system. To admit the existence of political prisoners is to a public confession of the non-existence of the rule of law. It is an admission of massive human rights violations, bad governance, corruption, etc.
That is why the T-TPLF guys go ape_ _ _t at the mere mention of the phrase “political prisoners”. Political prisoners represent the essence, the deep core of what is wrong with the T-TPLF.
Political prisoners are the 800-pound gorillas in the negotiating room. Any negotiations that does not start with the acknowledgment and release of the tens of thousands of political prisoners is just window dressing. Better yet, it’s horse_ _ _t!
T-TPLF negotiating strategy in its zero-sum game against the “opposition”
I believe the T-TPLF will use following strategies in one form or another in its zero-sum negotiations game with the opposition:
1) Negotiate from a position of strength and you will have no reason to negotiate and you are guaranteed victory every time. The T-TPLF controls and owns everything: the political process, the economy, the civil service and the military. The opposition inside the country have have nothing, literally nothing. How can people who have nothing negotiate with people who have everything? How can antelopes negotiate with hyenas about the dinner menu?
2) Negotiations are essentially elaborate public relations games. That means window dressing negotiations and going through the motions of negotiations. The T-TPLF’s cardinal negotiation strategy and rule is: Negotiate without negotiating and bargain without bargaining. In other words, pretend to be negotiating and bargaining with the opposition, but in the end make suckers out of them.
3) Avoid real negotiations at all costs, but engage in make-believe negotiations. Negotiation is a game of attrition and a process of wearing down the opponent to the point where s/he walks away giving you an opportunity to lay blame on them. The reason for this is simple. Negotiations are a slippery slope. Any concessions to the opposition will only open the floodgates to other concessions. If the T-TPLF negotiates and makes any concessions, even small ones, it will only encourage the “opposition” to demand more. If the T-TPLF gives in to one of the “13 agenda items”, the opposition will press for demand number two and three and so on. Where will it stop? It is all or nothing. Therefore, the T-TPLF will NEVER engage in real negotiations, only make-believe ones.
4) Negotiations should be used to bait and trap the opposition. The T-TPLF’s history of negotiations shows that it likes to use a prolonged process of enticing, delaying and stringing along the opposition until the moment the trap is sprung on them. For the T-TPLF negotiating with the “opposition” is like someone baiting a mousetrap with cheese to catch mice. The T-TPLF will put out all sorts of cheesy promises, commitments, assurances, etc., to attract the opposition to the “negotiating table” only to slam shut the trap on them in the end.
5) In negotiations, just as in ordinary politics, use ethnic politics, sectarianism, regionalism, etc. to divide and conquer the “opposition” negotiators. Consequently, the T-TPLF will throw crumbs to the various opposition leaders just to watch them fight and tear each other up. It is like the master throwing a bone to a bunch of hungry dogs. The dogs will kill each other to get a piece of the bone. That is how the T-TPLF sees the “opposition” negotiating with it.
6) Negotiations are weapons of mass public distraction and confusion. By talking “negotiations”, the T-TPLF hopes to create an atmosphere of hope and optimism of a negotiated settlement of disputes and lifting of the state of emergency. The T-TPLF hopes it can hoodwink the people into believing that this time it is for real. The T-TPLF will make the hard choices and make things right. That was exactly the promise the hyenas made to the antelopes before inviting them to dinner in their den.
7) Negotiations are for suckers (fools). I have said it for years that the T-TPLF slicksters believe they can outsmart, outmaneuver, out-trick and out-finesse their opposition any day of the week. The T-TPLF guys think of the “opposition leaders” as a bunch of cowards, fools and idiots. Susan Rice captured the essential attitude of the T-TPLF leaders in her eulogy of Meles in 2012 when she said Meles “liked to call” his opposition “fools, or “idiots”. The T-TPLF guys believe that they are negotiating with fools and idiots when they sit down with the opposition for their make-believe negotiations.
8) Negotiation is a competitive blood sport. For the T-TPLF, that means take the easy way first to bring pressure on the opposition to negotiate a deal. If the “opposition” wants to play hardball, offer them rewards, money, jobs, business opportunities. If that does not work, threaten or slam them in jail for violating the “anti-terrorism law”.
9) The purpose of negotiation is to cut down your opponent, not to cut a deal. That is the essence of the T-TPLF’s zero-sum game. The late Zenawi once said of the opposition, “We will crush them with our full force; they will all vegetate like Birtukan (Midekssa) in jail forever.” The T-TPLF will crush anyone who is foolish enough to sit down and negotiate with them.
10) In negotiations, use them and lose them. The T-TPLF will use and lose the “opposition” negotiators as soon as it feels the “opposition” has served their purposes and more comfortable in their grip on power.
In the end, all “opposition” negotiators will be crushed by the T-TPLF. If they are lucky enough to walk away, they will do so empty-handed, heads hanging down and cursing themselves, “What damn fools we have been!” In the end, whatever make-believe deal is cut with the T-TPLF at “negotiations”, it will not amount to a hill of beans. It will not be worth the paper it is written on.
My answer to the “opposition” negotiating with the T-TPLF shall come in the memorable words of Forrest Gump: “Stupid is as stupid does.”
Unsolicited advice to any “opposition” negotiators: Understand the T-TPLF’s zero-think and zero-sum gamesmanship and then just have fun
Anyone (opposition parties, donors, loaners, etc.) interested in “negotiating” with the T-TPLF must understand a few truths.
First the T-TPLF does not believe in a non zero-sum game in negotiations. They must win 100 percent of the time, just like they “won” the 2015 “elections” by 100 percent. That is because they perceive their opposition, the larger society, the donors and loaners as their enemies while sitting and plotting in their echo chamber of intrigue. They see compromising and give and take as a fatal weaknesses.
Second, the T-TPLF does not believe in a “win-win” strategy in which each side can gain some and lose some while minimizing losses and maximizing gains through a process of good faith bargaining, negotiation, compromise and conciliation. Negotiation for the T-TPLF is about one-upmanship. It is about hoodwinking and crushing the opposition.
Third, the T-TPLF practice zero-think. They see anyone else winning in any matter small or big (political or economic) as a devastating loss to them. They have a mindset of losers with a deeply ingrained conviction in their collective psyche that political opponents committed to democratic principles are mortal enemies, not merely political competitors.
Fourth, for those who suffer zero-think mindset, negotiations and competitive elections are not part of the natural order of things in politics. Democratic politics of “you win some, lose some” is completely alien to them. The fact remains that as long as the T-TPLF prisoners of doubt and despair remain trapped in their echo chambers of intrigue chained to a zero-sum mindset of fear and loathing, there can be no real negotiations or political change; only missed opportunities.
Ironically, only losers play zero-sum games.
What is there to negotiate?
The T-TPLF has already stated there will be no negotiation on political prisoners, real power sharing leading to free and fair elections and human rights accountability.
That leaves only one item for negotiations: Negotiate an exit strategy for the T-TPLF ensuring a peaceful transfer of power without the politics of vengeance and revenge.
Of course, the T-TPLF will never negotiate a peaceful transition. That is because they believe they are untouchable; they believe they can use ethnic politics to keep the people divided and weak; they believe they can stay in power by making Ethiopia the killing fields of the 21st century.
The Proverb goes, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling.” They said the Titanic cruise ship was unsinkable. When it hit an iceberg under the surface, it went down. The Titanic T-TPLF will also go down.
Only a Faustian bargain to be gained in a T-TPLF negotiation
My views on negotiations and bargaining with the T-TPLF are well-known.
In my 2009 commentary, “Loan Sharking Ethiopia’s Future!”, I warned, “Don’t make a pact with the devil!” I expounded on that theme in my August 2016 commentary, “Ethiopia: Beyond the Politics of Hate”.
The T-TPLF is willing, able and ready to make a Faustian deal with anyone, at any time and in any place! Goethe’s Dr. Faust made a pact with the Devil, exchanging his soul for wealth, success, worldly pleasures and power.
The T-TPLF is an equal opportunity Devil. The T-TPLF will promise and deliver wealth, success, worldly pleasures and power to anyone, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, religion, etc., who is prepared to sell his soul. The T-TPLF does not give a damn who you are and will make a deal with you at any cost provided, in the end, it gets your soul.
As Zenawi liked to say, loyalty to the T-TPLF is far more important to the T-TPLF than ethnicity, religion, education, work experience or anything else. Loyalty to the T-TPLF is the Devil’s litmus test.
As to the T-TPLF’s new and improved 2017 “negotiations” with the “opposition”, I say it is just the old Faustian scam with the Devil.
My advice to any “opposition negotiators” is, “The devil is in the T-TPLF details…”
NO NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE T-TPLF UNTIL ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS ARE RELEASED.
posted by Gheremew Araghaw