Factbox: Debretsion Gebremichael, head of Ethiopia’s Tigrayan forces

Source: Reuters

The 57-year-old has cast the conflict as resistance to a push by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to centralise power, which the government denies, accusing his movement of revolt.

He is leading the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a former rebel movement that spearheaded the toppling of a Marxist dictatorship in 1991 before going on to dominate a coalition government until Abiy’s appointment in 2018.

Here are some facts on Debretsion and the three-week old conflict:


Debretsion joined the TPLF as a teenager and was sent to Italy to learn communications and technology.

He led the team behind “Dimtsi Woyane” (“Voice of the Revolution” in the Tigrinya language) radio around 1980, which the bush fighters used to connect with people as they endured aerial bombings, according to a 2018 book.

The radio broadcast propaganda, reports on the Marxist-Leninist rebel movement’s meetings, and programmes ranging from basic medicine to agriculture and literacy.

Debretsion and his colleagues carried portable equipment to avoid detection, moving it on donkeys and camels and hiding it in caves, academic Nicole Stremlau wrote in her book “Media, Conflict, and the State in Africa”.


After the TPLF took power in 1991, Debretsion obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Addis Ababa University. He entered high-level politics in 2005.

He chaired Ethio Telecom, the state telecoms monopoly, after serving as deputy director of the national intelligence agency – underscoring the agency’s grip on communications, Human Rights Watch noted in a 2014 report.

He also led a programme that rolled out government technology services and gave the state access to email accounts and personal information of civil servants, the rights watchdog said.

As communications and information technology minister and later as deputy prime minister, he signed agreements with Chinese companies ZTE and Huawei.


During the same period, he also chaired the state-run Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation and tried to modernise the creaking power sector that now serves 115 million people.

He oversaw the construction of hydropower dams, the biggest of which is the $4 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam under construction on the Blue Nile river. Both Egypt and Sudan fear the dam may limit their access to the Nile’s waters.

Debretsion was replaced as chair of the state power utility in late April 2018, shortly after Abiy took office.


Debretsion is known within his party, which elected him as chairman in 2017, as a shy workaholic. He cemented his position as the region’s leader when it decided to hold an election in September in defiance of the federal government, which postponed voting nationwide due to due to COVID-19.

The TPLF won more than 98% of the vote.

Abiy’s government declared the vote illegal and has set up a transitional administration in parts of Tigray taken by federal troops since Nov. 4.

Debretsion is on a list of TPLF leaders whom the government says must surrender or be captured before any negotiations to end the conflict can begin.

“We are people of principle and ready to die in defence of our right to administer our region,” Debretsion said in a text to Reuters this week.


The TPLF accuses Abiy, who is of mixed Oromo-Amharic parentage, of singling out high-level Tigrayan officials in a crackdown on past abuses and corruption. Abiy’s office denies that and says the prime minister has tried to work with the TPLF but was rebuffed.

“Youth of Tigray, be prepared for all eventualities,” local media quoted Debretsion as saying at an event in the Tigray regional capital Mekelle in December 2018, less than a year after Abiy took office.

Asked by Reuters what the comment meant, TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said Debretsion was not implying that conflict was inevitable but that “if push comes to shove, we don’t have to scramble for crash military training.”


  1. Tribal politics must die in Africa. Are there other ethnics living in Tigray? Do you have to become Tigrayan to live there. How do Somalia, Amharas, Oromos, Eritrean fit into this idiot see the residents who are not Tigrayan, and who do they want to be liberated from? He clearly prepared this terrorism. Rada is a gullible fool. Debretsion Gebremichael is appealing to tribalism to be a leader. He planned this and his days are numbered.

    1. I believe Debretsion is completely out of his mind.
      Abiy Ahmed, in the meantime, will not accept anything less than to kill or capture Debretsion. There is no winning scenario in this situation, at the end of the day, Ethiopian civilians will suffer in a great deal for a long time economically as well as morally.

    2. Tplf gunta once had cast our nation.Slaughtered it .sucked its blood.ate its flesh.Were scratching its bones.Ethiopia and its people were helplessely robbed.Many Tigreans robbed us since it was Tigrean Empire.Maybe, God saw our grievances and this change has come out of the blue.

  2. Hi, I think it’s unfair for the Ethiopian central government to single out Tigrayan officials as corrupt and punishing them. How can you unified a country when you dismissed police, military, and government officials from one ethnic group?

  3. The problem with Africa and Ethiopia in particular is that ,lack of strong centralised government aggravate by extractive political and economic institution which results into chaos,social unrest upheaval and activities of vircious circle

  4. When the armed forces turn their guns againist the people they are supposed to defend regardless of their ethnicrty then the leaders become worse than animals

  5. Tplf gunta once had cast our nation.Slaughtered it .sucked its blood.ate its flesh.Were scratching its bones.Ethiopia and its people were helplessely robbed.Many Tigreans robbed us since it was Tigrean Empire.Maybe, God saw our grievances and this change has come out of the blue.

  6. Abiy is a fool. He has power, guns and money. Why did he have to use the guns instead of everything working for him?Even if he wins the war, he will lose the great country Ethiopia as we know it. Why did anybody ever think of giving him the Nobel Peace Prize? Like awarding a degree certificate for passing one of a ten exam run. Nonsense. The world must not keep silent at this slaughter. AU, with HQ i in Addis imagine.

    1. Mr. Muyango, it seems to me your response is fueled by what you see on the media. Seek and learn how disastrous TPLF was to Ethiopia and the surrounding nations. TPLF has run its course and it is game over for them.

  7. If you targeted one ethnic and discriminate their leaders, so that is unlikely to misused the power ,I think debresion has Wright to defend his ppl, what abiye could do tomorrow i ogs that same agende, 35million Somali in horn Africa will never integrated Ethiopian facist and they are black colonialism,donot dream that .we will never accept so called abiye integration,all Somalis will fight this mad idea 35 million ppl Somalis population of African horn

  8. We never lose anything from Tplf, instead, this may be renaissance for all Ethiopian for the last 27 yearslong, I hope the next day’s will be a bright day Estifo

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