The OLA – TDF Coalition: The Right Strategy?

The OLA – TDF Coalition: The Right Strategy ?

By Bedassa Tadesse (PhD), Aug 13, 2021


Recent news about a coalition between TDF (Tigray Defense Forces) and the OLA (Oromo Liberation Army) may have bewildered many, especially the Oromo public. Given the history of the game played by the TPLF and OLF in the early 1990s, which led to the encampment of OLF fighters, followed by the ousting of the OLF from the transitional government, and paved the way for the TPLF to rule Ethiopia for more than 25 years, it is natural for the very idea of coalition between OLA and TDF to be bewildering/concerning.

It is true that mistrust may lead to long lasting political violence; however, as antagonists understand their opponents strengths and weaknesses, a possibility for an eventual reduction of hostilities may also arise. Believing that the agreement between OLA and TDF came about as a result of the two groups understanding of each others strengths, and their destiny, we can sum up the coalition in formation and its expected outcomes using what economists call Game Theory- a framework for analyzing strategic interactions between players, firms, or nations (i.e., the study of strategic interactions between players, and their decision making). Keep in mind, I am not arguing or against the idea.

For any player (example, OLA) the key to its decision making is understanding its opponent’s (say, TDF) point of view (move), and its likely responses to any action the OLA may take while the game (during/after ousting Abiy Ahmed’s government) is in progress.

The OLA- TDF Game

In game theory, a game is defined as a situation in which players make strategic decisions that take into account each others’ actions and responses.

Players (OLA and TDF) have a Payoff- the value associated with a possible outcome of a game that is to be played. The outcome of the game depends on the strategies selected by the players. I must assume that both OLA and TDF leaders have a clear idea of the outcome of the game they are about to play.

Each player is expected to have a strategy – a rule or plan of action for playing the game. There are different strategies (weak, dominant, and optimal). An optimal strategy is one that provides the best payoff for a player in a game ( i.e., a strategy that maximizes the player’s expected payoff).

The game that is to be played can be of two types: cooperative game- one in which participants can negotiate binding contracts that allow them to plan joint strategies, and noncooperative game – a game in which negotiation and enforcement of binding contracts are not possible.

In noncooperative games, individual players take actions, and the outcome of the game is described by the action taken by each player, along with the payoff that each player achieves.

Cooperative games are different. The outcome of such a game is specified by which players join the cooperative group, and the joint action taken by the group ( OLA and TDF, in our case).

While I have no idea as to what plan of action OLA leaders have worked out, and whether the strategy they have chosen in cooperating with the TDF is weak or dominant, I would like to believe that they have devised an optimal strategy- one that maximizes their expected payoff ( i.e., the best they can do against an opponent of TDF’s strength).

Thus, instead of blubbering about the very idea of coalition between the OLA and TDF, we (the Oromo public) should hope that OLA leaders a) have exhaustively determined the tactical options available to them, b) know the possible outcomes of the game, c) have identified all strategic moves they may make, and their respective outcomes, and d) have articulated and negotiated binding constraints for the cooperative game they might play.

Hora Bula

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