The humanitarian tragedy already crosses borders: 27,000 Ethiopians have crossed the border into Sudan in two weeks, the largest influx in 20 years.
The Tigray Popular Liberation Front of Ethiopia (TPLF), the political party in the northern Tigray region fighting against the central government, has accepted to fire rockets at Asmara, the capital of neighboring Eritrea. What we are seeing in Ethiopia could be the last gasps of an empire – similar to the dissolution of the former Soviet Union – for about 115 million people. So … how did we get here?
On November 4, while the world was busy with the US elections, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Nobel Peace Prize For his role In trying to resolve the conflict with Eritrea, he declared war on the TPLF, launching a military offensive in response to what he claims was an attack in the Northern Command, the most powerful division of the Ethiopian army. This dramatic climb represents a great gamble on Abiy’s part.
Ethiopia is a complex mosaic of ethnic groups, even – to use figures from the 2007 census: Oromo (34%), Amhara (27%), Somalis (6.2%) and Tigray (6%). For most of the 20th century, the country was ruled by an Amhara-dominated monarchy. After almost two decades of cruel military dictatorship, a new Coalition government he came to power in 1991. The government oversaw a federal system, although critics saw this federalism as a fig leaf, behind which the Tigray minority dominated affairs. Abiy – who is it half Oromo, half Amhara – came to power in 2018, promising to hold elections in 2020. His liberal philosophy involved commitments to the privatization of the industry, the release of some political prisoners (lately, the jails have been filled again), and it came packaged in a very messianic aura ambitious. The honeymoon period is over.
Abiy’s relationship with his TPLF partners deteriorated, and Tigrayan leaders either withdrew to Tigray or were asked to take a supporting role in a coalition they had previously dominated. The relationship finally fell apart when Abiy announced plans to dissolve the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition and replace it with his own Prosperity party, a new political vehicle in which the TPLF refused to participate.
These tensions had been simmering for some time, but reached a boiling point following Abiy’s decision to postpone the scheduled general elections due to the coronavirus pandemic. Determined to assert their own authority, the TPLF leaders went ahead with an election in Tigray, disobeying Abiy’s instructions. Lawmakers responded by removing the TPLF from the federal government budget.
To be clear: Abiy inherited this problem, he did not create it, but his management made it worse. It started by demonizing the TPLF and vocation their leaders “Yeken Jiboch” or “day hyenas”. Since he came to power, it has become dangerous for an Ahmara person to even live in Oromia, to give a sense of the fragility that envelops the country.
The war between Abiy and the TPLF is particularly dangerous for three reasons. First, Ethiopia is plagued by vicious sectarianism throughout the country. There’s a persistent violence of insurgents in Wollega, Benishangul, the Somali and Oromia regions. As such, the conflict runs the risk of overwhelming the state. Second, Abiy will probably not win a decisive victory, as the TPLF has considerable military capabilities and is used to prolonged armed fighting, having come of age by waging a guerrilla war against the United States. Derg dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s. Third, Ethiopia’s constitution recognizes the right of ethnic communities to campaign for political autonomy, and secession is a constant topic of conversation in areas such as Tigray, the Somali region, and Oromia. .
Abiy is telling Ethiopians and the world that what is happening is a brief law and order operation, which will end with the surrender or arrest of the top TPLF leaders. But even if he succeeds in capturing some of the TPLF leaders, there will be a new generation that will take his place. Few believe that the Tigrayans will ever accept second-class status again.
The conflict is more likely to escalate into a full-blown civil war if the army fragments. African political history reveals the central role that the military – and its loyalties – play in political stability. There are already reports from Tigrayan officers leaving the official Ethiopian army and join the TPLF.
What we are witnessing is a tragedy, make no mistake. The political integrity of Africa second most populous nation it is at stake, as are the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of ordinary people, divided from one another by the dangers and false consolations of ethnic absolutism.
• Yohannes Woldemariam is an academic specialized in the Horn of Africa
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.