RaiNews24 Italian News Broadcaster, Channel 48 Digital Television.
Ethiopia, six strong explosions in the Eritrean capital of Asmara. Yesterday, the Ethiopian premier, Abiy Ahmed, announced that federal forces have taken control of Mek’ele, the capital of Tigray.
Six explosions were recorded in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, in the night. The US State Department reported this on Twitter. “Six explosions occurred in Asmara at 22.13 on November 28”, reads the tweet of the US department. Forces from the Tigray region, which are fighting the Ethiopian regular army, had previously fired rockets at neighboring Eritrea. The State Department called on US citizens to “remain aware of the ongoing conflict situation in the Ethiopian region of Tigray”. Yesterday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that federal forces have taken control of Mek’ele, the capital of Tigray. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a political party whose military wing launched an offensive against the government on November 4, announced its withdrawal from the city. The TPLF looks to Eritrea as an enemy, due to its good relations with Ahmed.
RaiNews24 Italian News Broadcaster, Channel 48 Digital Television.
The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has ordered the federal army to launch the “final offensive” against the separatist forces of the autonomous region of Tigray, where an armed conflict has been going on for weeks. “The army – declared the premier, Nobel Peace Prize 2019 – has received the order to launch the final phase” on the capital Mekele (Macallè) of the offensive launched on November 4 against the Tigrinya rebel armed forces headed by the Front of liberation of the people of Tigrè (Tpfl). “Everything will be done – Abiy assures on his Facebook profile – to protect civilians” and “so that the city of Mekele does not suffer serious damage”. The capital Macalle ‘is already surrounded and “in a few days” the conflict with the Tigray rebels will be concluded: this is how today the Ambassador of Ethiopia in Italy, Zenebu Tadesse Woldetsadik, convinced that the Addis army Ababa is trying to protect civilians “as much as possible”. According to the diplomat, “most of the localities” that were under the control of the Tigrinya People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have been taken over by federal forces. “The advance has already lasted two weeks – says Zenebu – only because there has been attention in order to reduce the number of civilian victims as much as possible”. During the interview, the ambassador makes an appeal to Italy and the international community. “They must support the Ethiopian government which is committed to restoring respect for law and order after an army base is attacked within the national territory, an intolerable fact”. Zenebu says that the perpetrator of the episode was claimed by “unconscious elements” of the TPLF, who then went so far as to bomb Eritrea. “We thank Asmara who has remained calm so far” adds the ambassador. “Ethiopia remains committed to protecting civilians and restoring order by operating selectively and respectfully for the people of Tigray”. The United Nations has called for a truce to be agreed to allow the creation of humanitarian corridors to and from Tigray. As a result of the fighting, again according to the UN, since 4 November at least 30,000 people have fled crossing the border of Ethiopia with Sudan.
RaiNews24 Italian News Broadcaster, Channel 48 Digital Television.
Ethiopia: at least 600 dead from the massacre in Tigray. The victims were all farmers.
This was reported by the Ethiopian Commission for Human Rights, which in a report accuses an informal militia of young Tigrayans and security forces loyal to local authorities of being the authors of the “carnage” against seasonal workers of other ethnic groups.
At least 600 died in the November 9 massacre in Mai Kadra, in Tigrè, the region of Ethiopia where Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military offensive earlier this month against the Tigrinya rebel leaders. This was denounced by the Ethiopian Commission for Human Rights, which in a report accuses an informal militia of young Tigers and the security forces loyal to the local authorities of being the authors of the “carnage” against non-Tigrinya seasonal farmers. The massacre took place in the city of Mai-Kadra during the conflict between the Ethiopian federal government and the Tigrè People’s Liberation Front – a local government party – and was immediately denounced by Amnesty International, which had reported “probably hundreds of people stabbed or shot to death”. Today Ehrc gave a more detailed account, accusing the Tigray youth group known as “Samri” of targeting non-Tigrinya seasonal workers working on sesame and millet crops in the area. The perpetrators “killed hundreds of people, beating them with batons – sticks, stabbing them with machetes and strangling them with ropes. They then ransacked and destroyed the properties”, as the report states, adding that the massacre “could be one of the crimes. against humanity and war crimes”. The report also says, citing eyewitnesses and members of the committee formed for the burial of the victims, “that the estimated number of 600 people is likely to be higher”, but remains undefined.
RaiNews24 Italian News Broadcaster, Channel 48 Digital Television.
The Ethiopian Commission for Human Rights said that other clashes would take place in other areas.
The number of victims could rise. The Ethiopian Commission for Human Rights (EHRC) denounced him and told the attack on the bus in Ethiopia, where at least 34 people died. A commando of armed men stopped the bus in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, in western Ethiopia. Killed 34 people in cold blood. The Commission also denounced “other similar attacks” in other parts of the area. The attackers have not yet been identified. The violence in the Benishangul-Gumuz region is entirely inter-ethnic and, according to the EHRC, opposes ethnic Gumuz militias to the Amhara and the Agew who live in Tetelek. The Ethiopian Commission for Human Rights speaks of an almost unstoppable ethnic violence that affects mainly civilians and appeals to the federal state to make its presence felt by sending armed forces and that work in close coordination with the judicial authorities. On the part of the federal government of Addis Ababa “we need a redefinition of the regional security policy that finally puts an end to these attacks”, reads the document of the Commission for Human Rights. Ethiopian premier, Ahmed Abiy, accused Sudan of training and protecting terrorists, but ruled out that there was any link between the massacre and the ongoing conflict in the autonomous region of Tigray. And due to the conflict in the autonomous region of Tigray, some 25,000 civilians have fled to neighboring Sudan. The Sudanese agency Suna writes, adding that UN agencies such as UNHCR are working hard to provide support to refugees. The Sudanese news agency Suna reports that “The number of Ethiopian refugees who have poured into the Sudanese states of Gadaref and Kassala since Saturday is 24,944”. To cope with the exodus, Sudan has announced the reopening of the Um Raquba refugee camp, used in the 1980’s to accommodate the Ethiopians who fled the very serious famine that claimed over a million victims.
RaiNews24 Italian News Broadcaster, Channel 48 Digital Television.
Rockets launched from the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray landed last night on Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. This was reported by diplomatic sources. This is a further worrying sign that the ongoing internal conflict in Ethiopia between the central government and the Tigray authorities could involve neighboring countries. The sources did not specify how many rockets were launched, if they hit their targets and if they caused damage. The leader of the dissident northern Ethiopian region of Tigray claims the launch of rockets against the airport of the Eritrean capital, Asmara. “Ethiopian forces are also using the airport of Asmara” to take off the vehicles used in the raids against the Tigray region, Debretsion Gebremichael told AFP, thus stating that this makes the airport a “legitimate target”, for the launch of rockets in fact. Military operations ordered by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Tigray have been underway since 4 November last year in Ethiopia, a dramatic escalation of tensions which for years have seen the authorities of Addis Ababa opposed and the leaders of the party that governs this northern province of the country, the Front for the liberation of the Tigray people (Tplf). It is estimated that hundreds of people have already lost their lives in the clashes, while thousands of civilians have been forced to flee their homes to head for Sudan. Tigray borders with Eritrea and the TPLF is a bitter enemy of the Asmara government, which it accuses of militarily supporting Addis Ababa. On Friday, Getachew Reda, a senior TPLF official, had threatened “missile attacks” against Asmara and the Eritrean port city of Massawa. The TPLF dominated the Ethiopian political scene for three decades, and during that time Ethiopia fought a bloody war against Eritrea. Abiy, who ascended to power in 2018, instead initiated a policy of rapprochement with Asmara, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.
RaiNews24 Italian News Broadcaster, Channel 48 Digital Television.
Crisis in Ethiopia, government denounces rocket launch from Tigray. Serious humanitarian crisis Since 4 November the federal government of Ethiopia has launched a military offensive against the forces of the Tplf.
The federal government of Ethiopia has accused forces loyal to the government of the autonomous region of Tigray of having fired rockets at night on the neighboring region of Amhara, causing “extensive damage” to the airport facilities of the cities of Gondar and Bahir Dar. Tigray forces claimed responsibility for the rocket launch and threatened to attack infrastructure in neighboring Eritrea, accused of helping Addis Ababa. “The missiles” hit the “military areas” of the Bahir Dar and Gondar airports on Friday evening, Tigray Central Command spokesman Getachew Reda told regional television, also threatening to attack the infrastructure of Asmara, the capital of Eritrea or Massawa, Eritrean port on the Red Sea. The military offensive Since 4 November the federal government of Ethiopia has launched a military offensive against the forces of the Tplf (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) which governs the region in the north of the country. It had to be “a short and targeted action”, so said Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Nobel Peace Prize winner, who accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front of attacking two federal military bases, an accusation denied by the Tlpf. The conflict comes after months of tensions between Addis Ababa and Tigrinya leaders, who organized local elections last September despite the central government’s ban due to the pandemic. The outcome of the vote reconfirmed a large majority in the Tlpf party. Yesterday the Ethiopian premier appointed Mulu Nega as the new interim governor for the northern region of Tigray. Shortly before, with a resolution, Parliament had decided to establish a provisional administration after having waived the parliamentary immunity of the previous governor, Debretsion Gebremichael – elected head of the region in September – and other members of the TPLF. The Addis Ababa government has also issued arrest warrants against the main political and military leaders of Tigray.
Amnesty: “Frightening massacre”.
“After analyzing photographs, videos and satellite images and speaking with eyewitnesses, Amnesty International is able to confirm that a frightening massacre of civilians took place in the city on the night of November 9-10 of Mai-Kadra, in the state of Tigray. Numerous dozens, but probably hundreds of civilians, mostly day workers, were stabbed or stabbed to death in the context of the military offensive launched on November 4 by the Addis Ababa government against the Popular Front of liberation of Tigray (Tplf)”. Amnesty International stresses that “the exact extent of the massacre is still uncertain due to the total blockade of communications. The Amhara state government news agency reported about 500 dead. A local source who is collaborating with Amnesty International to ascertaining the identity of the victims stated that most had Ahmara identity documents. “Amnesty International is not yet able to confirm who the perpetrators of the massacre are but has spoken with eyewitnesses who called into question forces loyal to the TPLF, including the Tigray Special Police, who allegedly attacked the population of Mai-Kadra afterwards. having been defeated by the federal armed forces. According to what was reconstructed by the human rights organization, on November 9 the federal armed forces and the Amhara Special Force launched an offensive against the Tigray Special Police, after which they camped overnight outside Mai-Kadra. In the morning they entered the city again and discovered the massacre. The Front has denied any responsibility.
UN: “War crimes”.
In Ethiopia, civilians are paying the price for the ongoing military offensive. They find themselves between the anvil of federal forces deployed by the Addis Ababa government and the hammer of the military loyal to the ruling party in the dissident state. The UN warns of “possible war crimes” perpetrated in the northern region of Ethiopia and calls for the opening of an independent investigation to identify responsibility for the killing of numerous civilians, denounced by Amnesty International. “The details of the alleged massacre have not yet been fully verified. If it is confirmed that it was deliberately carried out by one of the parties involved in the current clashes, these killings of civilians will obviously be equated with war crimes”, reads a note issued by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet. In calling for the opening of an independent and complete investigation, the UN official stresses that the priority is to “stop the fighting and prevent other atrocities from being committed”. Bachelet then renewed his appeal to the two parties involved in the armed confrontation to “to start a serious dialogue to resolve the primary differences, since in this situation there will be no winner”. On the ground the situation is further deteriorating, with a crescendo of ground clashes and a strengthening of aerial bombardments by government forces. Residents in Tigre ‘have been totally isolated for days: the blackout of communications, the blockade of roads and airspace were joined by frequent cuts in the essential supply of water and electricity, as well as shortages of fuel and flour. especially in the capital of Makalle’. “There is a risk that the situation becomes totally uncontrollable, causing heavy losses in human lives, destruction and massive displacements of civilians within Ethiopia and beyond the borders”, Bachelet warned.
Who is Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Nobel Peace Prize 2019.
The Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed is now at the center of a conflict, that in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray, which threatens to destroy many of the hopes raised by his come to power. Abiy Ahmed has decided to resolve the political clash with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPFL) in a military way, but the fear is that the crisis will turn into an inter-ethnic conflict and trigger a destabilization of the region. Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Prize for making peace with neighboring Eritrea in the summer of 2018, just a few months after coming to power, putting an end to a conflict waged between 1998 and 2000, which never ended. formally concluded. Young and charismatic, in a continent where many countries are ruled by old autocrats, 44-year-old Abiy Ahmed initially aroused great enthusiasm in Ethiopia and the Ethiopian diaspora, a veritable “Abiymania” with many wearing T-shirts with his face on it. Her personal story was in itself a symbol of change: Abiy Ahmed is the first Oromo head of government, a widespread ethnicity in Ethiopia that has always felt discriminated against politically, ethnically and culturally. But Ahmed did not want to be only a symbol of the Oromo redemption, but of unity among the various ethnic groups that make up the country. Born in Agaro, in the Oromia region, Ahmed comes from a mixed family of Christians and Muslims. He entered the army and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was later the founder and director of the government’s cybersecurity agency, in a country where the authorities exercise strict control over the internet. After becoming Minister of Science and Technology, Ahmed was also the leader of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (Opdo), one of the four ethnic parties of the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Revolutionary Front (Ersdf) in power. Chosen in parliament after the resignation of his predecessor Hailemariam Desalegn, Abiy Ahmed took office on April 2, 2018, promising to open “a new chapter” in the country’s history. It began with the release of thousands of political prisoners and the closure of the Maekelawi prison, a symbol of years of repression. Then he unblocked 264 sites and blogs linked to the opposition. Her government, which has initiated several economic reforms, includes several female ministers. For the first time, a woman became president, Sahle-Work Zewde. There was no shortage of new episodes of ethnic violence, while Abiy Ahmed has escaped more than one military attempt to overthrow or kill him. Political election promises have been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The Tigray crisis.
The Tigray crisis stems from the political clash with the TPFL, which has long been the hegemonic party within the Ersdf. The Tigrinya Front has felt repeatedly targeted by the reforms of the new premier, who meanwhile has created his own political group, the Prosperity Party. In September, the TPFL was reconfirmed to the regional government of Tigray after elections that took place in September, despite the central government having ordered the postponement of any electoral competition. Now the clash has turned military, with the risk of political rivalry turning into inter-ethnic conflict. Humanitarian crisis The war is causing a humanitarian crisis, with thousands of internally displaced and fleeing into neighboring Sudan. Furthermore, the interruption of telecommunications in the Tigray region does not make it possible to independently verify the conflicting statements made by the two warring parties. According to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, since the outbreak of violence in early November, more than 14,500 minors, women and men have fled to Sudan for safety, overloading the current capacity to provide assistance. Meanwhile, services aimed at the 96,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray have suffered serious disruptions and, according to witnesses, increasing numbers of Ethiopian citizens are allegedly forced to flee within the region.
The Africa Report.
AFRICA’S. HIDDEN WAR.
Article to study written and published by:
V. P. Selassie, African security analyst.
It is almost three weeks since a large-scale war started in the Tigray region of Ethiopia involving a multitude of internal actors and external military players. That this is happening in a country where the African Union (AU) is rooted, with its overarching slogan “silencing the guns in Africa’, is puzzling, to say the least.
Who are the players? On the one hand, we have a broad coalition of the Ethiopian Federal Defense Forces led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a myriad of armed groups from the Amhara region, smaller contributions of militias from the other regional states and more than 10 divisions of the Eritrean regular army supported by militarised drones supplied by the United Arab Emirates.
And on the other side are Tigray’s regional military units albeit relatively organised and experienced. There are also unconfirmed reports of the participation of two brigades from Southern Somalia, part of the units believed to have been trained in Eritrea, as part of the coalition against Tigray.
This is arguably, Africa’s hidden world war. The inventory of the warring forces points to the presence of profound ideological and security issues with regional and continental implications.
Defining the war in Ethiopia.
The current war is essentially ideological both from the inside and the outside. The first is related to how the Ethiopian state, by extension the African state, has to be defined.
The war in Ethiopia is essentially between multinational federalist forces and those who espouse a unitary and centralised approach to governance and state building.
The latter is being supported by Eritrea partly because the force on the other side which is considered to be the most ideological and highly organised but also the last trench for multinational forces in Ethiopia, the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) is viewed as a mortal enemy by Asmara.
Beyond elements of score settling for what happened in the last war (of 1998-200), Eritrea’s President Issayas Aferwerki rightly assumes the TPLF is the major obstacle which stands in the way of his regional ambitions.
This explains the connection to Prime Minister Abiy of Ethiopia who desperately looks for support to neutralize a major protagonist on the domestic front.
UAE – US – China…
The UAE leaders with clear regional interests and preferences for coercive diplomacy in the Horn, and beyond, favour strong leaders and short-term stability imposed by strong security states. And with the US’s transactional foreign policy under President Trump, any regime or a coalition of states, no matter how petty or monstrous, can find a protector.
But the US has other clear political interests as well. The changing of the guard in Ethiopia in early 2018 was considered as an opening for disrupting Chinese advance in Africa.
The TPLF has been blamed for having strong political relations with Beijing and becoming a leading proponent of a new path for development, policy sovereignty and a developmental state paradigm in Africa’s economic and international relations.
Indeed, the successes of such a policy can be seen in the fast transformation of Ethiopia’s socio-economic context. The track records of the EPRDF-led government in Ethiopia shows a different kind of political economy reinforcing theories of anti-intervention, dependency theory, and world systems which provided critiques of the state in the developing world and its relations to the developed West.
It is more than mere happenstance that the ideological undercurrents are multi-pronged netting a mix of geopolitics and economics.
For Washington, it was a relief when the TPLF lost power and influence after protests but ultimately through internal party elections and parliamentary horse-trading.
It is no secret that US diplomats have been active in the events surrounding the appointment of Abiy Ahmed as a prime minister. Then there is Washington’s age old economic liberalisation syndrome. Top diplomats of the current US Administration are busy shooting down every effort to end the war through mediation often claiming that they expect Abiy Ahmed to celebrate a military victory within days.
Top diplomats of the current US Administration are busy shooting down every effort to end the war through mediation often claiming that they expect Abiy Ahmed to celebrate a military victory within days.
US policy makers have always been counting on Abiy Ahmed to initiate a privatization spree and they are not going to abandon him when he is in the midst of a major war. The Americans claim, rightly so, to have embedded themselves in the current Ethiopian government’s policy processes. They have tried to do the same in Sudan and Somalia with different degrees of success.
This partly explains why top diplomats of the current US Administration are busy shooting down every effort to end the war through mediation often claiming that they expect Abiy Ahmed to celebrate a military victory within days.
After indirectly inviting such a large-scale destruction and the loss of human lives, the US diplomats suggest the conflict could bring the country back to normal.
What is happening in Ethiopia demonstrates, once again, that ideological and political problems are expected (at least on the part of the current US Administration and its allies in the Gulf and the region) to be changed by force and that this will be accepted internationally as a fait accompli.
That is where the danger lies. But we don’t know what is happening on the ground right now. We don’t know the combat readiness, fuel and ammunition supplies, communications, and morale of the Tigray forces.
“The complete uselessness of Africa and the African Union”.
The events unfolding in the Ethiopian Tigray conflict demand closer attention by the global community. The growing human suffering amid atrocities in which cities and residences are systematically destroyed by combined Ethiopian and Eritrean forces seem to go unnoticed.
The much graver matter is however the complete uselessness of Africa and the African Union.
Events in Tigray have shown that there is hardly any limit to the brutality that can be employed in the service of a geopolitical goal; indeed, that brutality against a civilian population is an effective instrument of national and regional policy.
The much graver matter is however the complete uselessness of Africa and the African Union. The more so because the unspeakable brutality that we are witnessing in the Tigray conflict is not simply the byproduct of mindless revenge war; it has all the undercurrents of an existential war about the visions of the state in the Horn.
To the extent that it is an ideological war it cannot be totally delinked from the appurtenances of state-society relations elsewhere in Africa.
Unlike in the rest of the continent where the colonial geopolitical legacy was accepted as the lesser evil, it was widely rejected in the Horn, unleashing manifold struggles over territory, boundaries, identity and power that continue unresolved to this day.
Misguided nation-building undermined state formation.
One had to do more than assume it is simply an accident, that alone in Africa, the TPLF led EPRDF explicitly rejected the European modelled nation-state.
There are historical and structural reasons for this. Suffice to argue that there are only three countries in such a situation: Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Ethiopia where you have ethnic groups (even nations) which are not tribes. And nations always want to have states.
The fact that Ethiopia is unique in Africa doesn’t mean that the crisis will be limited within its borders. The regional distribution of power on the ground and entry of external actors means that the endgame will reverberate across the sub-region and beyond.
This is not the first time that Africa has failed to seize the chances to act and recognise the dangers that arose from the continuation of this war which could end up in the disintegration and violent reorganisation of states in the sub-region.
Still, there are a few other things that can be said after three weeks of this war: about its causes, its course, and even its consequences. But one thing is self-evident.
The AU is watching this almost from the sidelines, an evidence of its hopelessness in the face of external and non-African forces causing havoc even on its doorstep.
The acquiescence of the AU Commission to the Government of Ethiopia’s ultimatum on 11 November 2020, to sack, within 72 hours, an Ethiopian staff member who was deemed disloyal to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government, confirmed in the minds of many Africans that the AU was fast losing its credibility as a neutral arbiter and a defender of very norms and values contained in its Constitutive Act.
What is more, Africans who fondly imagine and celebrate the AU as a normative actor are humiliated by the inability of the continental organization to prevent violence and ethnic profiling. They voice serious concerns on this crisis which has all the hallmarks of a prelude to genocide.
Many do not quite understand the gravity of the humanitarian implications of our failure to intercede decisively. If we did, we would have intervened long ago.
Of course, there is nothing new in this. It only shows all the more clearly that Africa has not succeeded in commanding the moral courage or establishing the structures and processes capable of upholding its founding documents, the rule of law, of protecting human rights and resolving conflicts peacefully.
Undeniably, these are large statements, but arguably, they are justified. What has happened to the AU over the last few weeks demonstrates, once again, that the regional organisation can be gagged into silence by coercive diplomacy from boisterous African and non-African governments.
The Africa Report.
Article to study written and published by:
Alemayehu Fentaw Weldemariam, Lawyer, theorist, conflict analyst, and public intellectual.
The Ethiopian conflict in its Tigray region continues to intensify with Tigrayans fleeing into bordering Eritrea and Sudan. But as the fighting gathers more steam, will repercussions be felt among its regional neighbours?
While Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration has strengthened its ties with Eritrea following the 2018 peace agreement, the TPLF fired missiles at the Eritrean capital Asmara on 14 November.
This demonstrated the conflict’s potential for wider regional destabilisation. It also speaks to the ongoing animosity between the TPLF and Eritrea which dates back to the war they fought against each other from 1998 to 2000.
TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael justified the missile attack by claiming his forces had been fighting 16 divisions of the Eritrean army since the beginning of the conflict. Allegations that were denied by both PM Abiy Ahmed and President Issayas Afeworki.
However, Asmara’s silence following the attack by the TPLF came as a surprise. Any official Eritrean support to Ethiopia would be “really bad for Abiy because it makes him look like he needs the Eritreans to control his own territory”, says Jason Mosley, a research associate at Oxford University’s African Studies Centre.
It could also invite other regional or global powers into the conflict. In this regard, Eritrea is an advantageous ally for Ethiopia, since it controls the northern border with Tigray.
The only other border is to the west, facing Sudan. It also hosts a major UAE military base in Assab. Getachew Reda, senior TPLF official accused PM Abiy of “enlisting the support of UAE drones based in Assab […]”.
While there is potential for military escalation, the fighting is mainly forcing people to flee. This includes Eritrean refugees currently in UNHCR camps in Tigray as well as Ethiopian residents.
The number of civilians seeking refuge in Sudan as a result of the conflict was estimated at 27 000 by the UN at the beginning of this week.
In support of Abiy and also for its own stability, Sudan has closed parts of its border with Tigray and stationed troops near Kassala. The country’s economic situation is already making internal peace difficult to achieve, notes David Kiwuwa of International Studies as the University of Nottingham.
Its eastern region has been volatile for several years and was rocked by pro-independence demonstrations in October. The human and potential weapons influx to this region could be a challenge to the fragile and freshly established Sudanese government.
Khartoum’s foreign policy has also significantly shifted under the new administration from an alliance with Iran, Turkey and Qatar to one with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the US. A choice it has to justify to its people when it is also hosting a Turkish military base and a Russian naval base is in the works.
Closer relations are envisioned with the US after being removed from its “state sponsors of terror” list and ultimately economic advantages once the sanctions are also lifted.
But with its northern neighbour Egypt, relations are more ambiguous. The “Nile’s Eagles-1” joint military exercise on 15 November was a new step in the Egypt-Sudan rapport. While it could influence Ethiopia’s position regarding the GERD (Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam), Sudan’s government also has to maintain a tight balancing act. One reason is its border conflict with Egypt in the Halayeb triangle, an issue that has to be resolved if ties are to be strengthened.
There has also been mention of Sudan taking advantage of the war to reignite its border dispute with Ethiopia in the Fashqa triangle. Given the apparent Eritrea-Ethiopia alliance, it is highly unlikely Sudan would risk being at war with two countries. Rather, Sudan has offered to mediate between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF. Similar calls for negotiation have come from Uganda, the AU and the UN.
Offers the Ethiopian government has refused.
Impact on regional issues.
The TPLF has continuously contested PM Abiy’s legitimacy, including GERD negotiations with Egypt and Sudan. Perhaps seeking an alliance with foreign powers would be another way to oppose him.
A lasting conflict in Ethiopia would highly affect itsties with Egypt with regards to the GERD. Trump’s defeat means the loss of a significant ally for Egypt. It’s unlikely that the future US administration under Joe Biden would speak of Cairo bombing the dam as was seen under Trump.
In the absence of international support, Ethiopia’s negotiating strategy is to keep the GERD dispute at the African Union level where it has a better chance. A position Sudan supports. However, the situation could get tricky in the coming months as the DRC, an Egyptian ally, will chair the AU starting February.
The war also impacts Ethiopia’s peacekeeping missions in South Sudan and Somalia. Ethiopia has withdrawn 600 soldiers from Somalia since the start of the conflict. Kenya is expected to withdraw as well, come 2021 – an election year for Somalia.
Furthermore, the continuous militarisation of the horn region and the arrival of new players such as China, the UAE and Turkey could present a risk of proxy-confrontations. “The focus on joint efforts to promote regional security is currently being superseded by external military deployments to the Horn that are driven by geopolitical, commercial and military competition, often with negative effects for regional stability”, says Neil John Melin, Director of the Programme on Armed Conflict and Conflict Management at SIPIRI.
Ethiopia’s neutrality towards all present foreign powers in the horn has perhaps helped it to keep the war an internal issue.
“We understand the position of the Ethiopian government and the value of the law enforcement operation. We hope for a quick resolution as it could drag in the region and has humanitarian consequences”, Meron Elias, a researcher for the Horn of Africa Project at the International Crisis Group “tells The Africa Report. But PM Abiy has also promised “the final critical act” is due to take place “in the coming days”.
One can only hope it ends soon with a lasting solution for the people of the horn.
The Africa Report.
Article to study written and published by: Loza Seleshie and Quentin Velluet.
Foreign investors are queuing up to invest in Ethiopia’s telecoms sector, which will soon bid adieu to the state monopoly. However, the rules of the road are not yet clear, and conflict in the north may put things on hold.
The privatisation of the Ethiopian state’s monopoly on the telecoms sector – the last on the continent – is crucial to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s liberalisation agenda and to attracting foreign investment as the country opens up. The government is preparing to sell a 45% stake in Ethio Telecom to investors and to issue two new telecoms licences, even as the current war against the Tigray region continues.
“It is 40% to all interested bidders and 5% will be dedicated to Ethiopians. The 55% will remain with the government of Ethiopia”, an advisor to the minister of finance told Reuters. It should occur within the next nine months hope officials, though analysts have been more cautious, given that the war in the north has seen swathes of the national communications network silenced.
If the privatisation is successful, it should lead to billions of dollars of investment in the sector, a rapid drop in prices and competition to deliver speedy internet and other services.
With a population of 109.2 million and increasing needs in information and communications technology (ICT), the country represents a huge and growing market for potential investors. The number of mobile users alone rose by 7.2 million, or 18%, between January 2019 and 2020, bringing the total to 46.8 million.
There is a largely untapped market, a willing government and big demand, so what could go wrong? A civil conflict that sets the northern Tigray region against the centre is certainly not the noise that investors like.
In addition, there has been policy fluctuation. Confusion ensued after recent reports from news outlets announcing the barring of foreign companies from participating in the infrastructure side of the telecoms market.
When the liberalisation was announced, foreign operators including Orange, Vodacom, Safaricom and MTN, and telecom infrastructure companies like Helios Towers expressed interest. Ethio Telecom has been adamantly opposed to the latter’s potential entry into the market and was ultimately supported on this by the Ethiopian government.
It is, however, unclear how long the “home team” will be able to affect regulation in the face of opposition from the Ethiopian Communications Agency (ECA), the sector’s new regulator. Having invested massively in infrastructure, Ethio Telecom fears the competition if all aspects of the sector are liberalised. Following a meeting with key stakeholders in the sector on 7 September, Abiy confirmed plans to go ahead with the opening-up process.
Leasing of infrastructure.
The new draft licensing directive from the ECA sets out plans for the lease of the existing infrastructure to the newly licensed operators, and in the long term would create the possibility for the operators to build their own. This could be an important source of revenue for Ethio Telecom, especially in the first few years, while operators set up their infrastructure.
ECA director Balcha Reba told reporters that there should be several access options for new entrants: “sharing from existing infrastructure, having a tower company (infraco/ third party) providing infrastructure, an infrastructure-sharing agreement between the new entrants, […] or building your own infrastructure”.
He also cautioned that there might be “technical limitations” as “existing masts may not have been designed to cater to the additional load”. The government is currently assessing Ethio Telecom’s infrastructure capacity with the help of the consultants at Deloitte. The ECA’s upcoming directives are expected to clarify the way forward.
A source close to Ethio Telecom tells The Africa Report the parastatal is upgrading its infrastructure and implementing reforms to prepare for competition. The company has split its network infrastructure into five and has separated its technical department from its service departments for greater efficiency. Things seem to be looking up, with a 34% increase in profits announced for the first six months of the 2019 budget year. This could be the driving force behind the new tariff cuts on internet and voice calls.
It is not yet clear which companies will bid for the Ethio Telecom stake. However, “the infrastructure projects currently under way are using Chinese-manufactured technology, including from Huawei. We should let the operators bring compatible material, especially in the context of the US sanctions on Huawei”, the source said.
Ethiopian telecoms specialist Terrefe Ras-Work argues that the privatisation “timing is off”. “We first need economic and political stability. […] If we are selling because of debt, let’s at least do it at a better time”. Covid-19 and the country’s debt are slowing economic growth and elections scheduled for October have since been postponed.
Alexander Demissie, the founding director of the China Africa Advisory, points out that “it is too late [to delay the liberalisation]. Ethio Telecom has borrowed $3.1bn from China to build its infrastructure and has only paid a small portion”.
No cash cow.
Consultant Fentaw Abitew issued a warning to potential investors in Ethio Telecom, saying “There is a myth – and it is a myth – that Ethio Telecom is a cash cow providing positive annual revenue”. She went on to say that, despite the Chinese loan for infrastructure, “services have remained terrible’.
The 12 expressions of interest that the government received by June for the two new licences included those from the Global Partnership for Ethiopia (a consortium composed of Vodafone, Vodacom and Safaricom), the Emirati company Etisalat, Madagascar’s Axian, South Africa’s MTN, France’s Orange, Saudi Telecom Company, South Africa’s Telkom and Zimbabwe-based Liquid Telecom. So far it is the heavyweights – Vodafone and partners, Etisalat, MTN, Orange and Saudi Telcom – who are seen as having the best chance of winning.
They, and those that will bid for a stake in Ethio Telecom, will be watching eagerly as the battles over the future of the sector are fought out by the different players in the administration and telecoms ecosystem.
The Africa Report.
Article to study written and published by: Morris Kiruga.
The deadline to surrender before Ethiopia bombards the northern city of Mekelle from the air is just hours away.
Failing a surrender, the Ethiopian military says it will bombard the regional capital, a city with a population of half a million people.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed rejected today growing international demands for dialogue or a halt to the deadly fighting in the northern Tigray region. He referred to such as calls as “interference”, adding his country will handle the conflict on its own as the 72-hour surrender expires today at 16:30 GMT.
In the same statement issued today 25 November, he asked the international community “to refrain from any unwelcome and unlawful acts of interference” in the ongoing conflict. This follows concerted efforts by the African Union, which is headquartered in Ethiopia’s capital, to bring the two sides to the table.
Diplomatic efforts ahead of ultimatum.
In mid-November, the AU Chair, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, appointed three special envoys to mediate the conflict. The panel consists of three ex-presidents: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, Joachim Chissano of Mozambique, and Kgalema Motlanthe, one of Ramaphosa’s predecessors in South Africa.
Meanwhile, PM Abiy sent his Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen on a regional shuttle diplomacy covering Kampala, Kinshasa, Nairobi, and Kigali. Former foreign minister and now National Security Advisor Gedu Andargachew showed up in Khartoum and Djibouti City, as Addis Ababa seeks to explain itself to its neighbours.
One of the fears behind the concerted efforts at diplomacy is that the conflict could spread into other places in Ethiopia and beyond.
In the three weeks since Addis Ababa begun its military onslaught on Tigray, the latter’s ruling TPLF has claimed responsibility for several rocket attacks on Bahir Dar and Gondar, two major cities in Amhara, and Asmara, the capital of its nemesis, neighbouring Eritrea.
On Tuesday 24 November, the UN Security Council held a meeting to discuss the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia. Part of the urgency of the meeting was the looming deadline of a 72-hour ultimatum for unconditional surrender issued by PM Abiy Ahmed on Sunday 22 November.
“We are people of principle and ready to die in defence of our right to administer our region”.
In what he called the “final and third phase” of the military onslaught, the Ethiopian leader said federal forces were closing in on Mekelle, the capital of Tigray. “Like terrorist groups we have seen in some countries that do not care about the people or the country, they have taken Mekelle city hostage and are treating it as a war zone rather than the home that it is for many innocent Ethiopians”, he said in the statement.
“He doesn’t understand who we are”, said TPLF leader, Debretsion Gebremichael. “We are people of principle and ready to die in defence of our right to administer our region”.
Point of no return.
With the expiry of the 72-hour ultimatum to the TPLF to surrender due today, Ethiopia’s federal government is set to begin its assault on Mekelle this week. Analysts, regional watchers and human rights defenders have warned against the collective punishment and human rights violations of attacking a capital city of half a million people, but PM Abiy is now too deep in to retreat.
While the battle for Mekelle city might be short or drawn out, the real dangers lie in the scars and human carnage the entire conflict will leave in Ethiopia, as well as the damage it will do to Abiy’s reformist credentials.
EHRC report confirms massacre in Mai Kadra.
Meanwhile, while the clock has been ticking during the 72 hours, a preliminary report released on 24 November confirms reports of a massacre in Mai Kadra.
At least 600 people were killed in a single night of ethnic cleansing in the ongoing conflict between the Ethiopian federal government and Tigray’s regional government.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) confirmed reports of the widespread massacre in Mai Kadra, a rural town of between 40,000 to 45,000 people in the Western Zone of Tigray Region. The attack began on the afternoon of 9 November and lasted until the wee hours of the next morning.
The EHRC report provides further details on the targeted massacre of male seasonal labourers, many from the neighbouring Amhara region, by a Tigrayan militia group. The night-long massacre was first reported by Amnesty International on 12 November.
According to the EHRC, an informal Tigrayan militia group called Samri “killed hundreds of people, beating them with batons/sticks, stabbing them with knives, machetes and hatchets and strangling them with ropes. They also looted and destroyed properties”.
Eye witnesses told the government-affiliated human rights body that all exit points from the city had been closed by local security forces in the days prior to the attacks.
Then, at 3:00pm on 9 November, the ethnic cleansing begun with the summary execution of an Amhara man called Abiy Tsegaye in front of his family. “[…] The group of perpetrators forced Abiy Tsegaye out of his house and had him shot in front of his family by a local militia and former colleague called Shambel Kahsay, before throwing his body into the raging fire that engulfed their house”, says the report.
Since the conflict between Addis Ababa and Mekelle begun on 4 November, both sides have accused each other of human rights violations.
With communication between Tigray and the world shut and access tightly controlled, news filtering out of the conflict region indicates that thousands have died in the fighting so far.
At least 40, 000 Ethiopians have sought refuge in Eastern Sudan, in addition to tens of thousands who have been internally displaced.
The EHRC report was briefly mentioned in PM Abiy’s statement on Wednesday 25 November as mounting evidence of “crimes against humanity and war crimes” by the TPLF and its militias.
The Africa Report.
“Abiy Ahmed had to punish those seeking to break up Ethiopia”. – Djibouti President.
Article to study written and published by: François Soudan.
The deadly conflict between Ethiopia’s federal government and Tigrayan rebels continues to intensify, especially after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed issued a warning on Sunday to surrender within 72 hours. But despite international calls for a cease in action, many regional neighbours, including the small state of Djibouti, are supporting the PM’s stance.
With less than five months to go before the presidential election, Djibouti’s head of state takes stock of his efforts to tackle economic and social issues, internal opposition, a war in Ethiopia and the country’s relations with China, France and the United States.
The virus quietly arrived in Djibouti one evening in mid-March 2020, aboard a Spanish military plane that had taken off from Seville. Eight months later, the silent killer continues to lurk in spite of the health authorities” swift implementation of the “three Ts” (test, trace and treat), with 8% of the country’s population tested to date, i.e., the highest rate in the region.
Though the government of this city-state with 1 million residents has taken an optimistic view of the future – it forecasts a return to growth in 2021 – the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic is weighing heavily on its economy, which was in full swing before it ground to a halt. The Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway line, one of the country’s essential arteries, is running on a reduced schedule, while the stately hotel located in the continent’s largest free zone, just a few kilometres away from the capital, remains hopelessly empty.
But according to Aboubaker Omar Hadi, president of the Djibouti Ports & Free Zones Authority and one of Ismaïl Omar Guelleh’s closest associates, “It’s merely a setback, our fundamentals are strong”.
“Fundamentals”? The former French colony is ideally located along the world’s second-busiest shipping route, a gateway to trade with a wide swath of Africa, backed by a market of 400 million people. Its strategic geographic location is also a coveted spot for foreign military bases. Lastly, it also has political stability going for it: contrary to what happens elsewhere, Djibouti’s elections aren’t highly tense affairs.
These advantages – combined with a government that the opposition calls authoritarian and which, it’s true, prioritises development and the fight against endemic poverty and unemployment over the expansion of freedoms – explain the unshakeable calm of President Guelleh, 73, who has been running the country since 1999.
Although he still refuses to say as much, no one in Djibouti has any doubt that the leader, who welcomed one of our reporters at the presidential palace for a long interview, will stand for re-election next April. He is the clear favourite, as if the exercise were a one-horse race.
Among the numerous Djibouti hub development projects you have launched in recent months in spite of the pandemic, ranging from the new Damerjog oil terminal to the capital’s business district, not to mention the ship maintenance yard, one in particular has attracted a lot of attention: the road corridor connecting the Port of Tadjoura to northern Ethiopia. Are you looking to gain a competitive edge over Eritrea’s Port of Massawa, which underwent a major renovation after the thaw in relations between Addis Ababa and Asmara?
Ismaïl Omar Guelleh: In the long run, yes, we always need to be a few steps ahead. But competition between Djibouti and Eritrea isn’t imminent: connecting Massawa via a modern railway line requires extremely costly and complex rehabilitation, upgrading and construction works given the region’s hilly topography.
Another competitor, one that poses a greater short-term challenge, is the Port of Berbera in Somaliland, in which your former partner, the Emirati company DP World, plans to invest massively.
Massively? I haven’t heard anything of the sort so far, other than project proposals. DP World excels at creating buzz, but then, in the end, nothing happens. You don’t even see the slightest crane in the sky. We are paid to know.
On that note, how is the commercial dispute between Djibouti and DP World, which you sidelined from managing the Port of Doraleh two years back, going?
The court proceedings are still under way in London and will perhaps begin soon in the United States. These people who stubbornly refuse to sit down and have a discussion with us aren’t interested in money. They’re too rich for that. What they want is for their old monopoly status to be fully reinstated. Their attitude stems from a desire to wield geopolitical control over all the region’s ports. But Djibouti isn’t just another square on a chessboard: we will not go back to the way things were.
In mid-September, you launched the Djibouti Sovereign Fund, which will be funded to the tune of $1.5bn over the next decade and whose sole shareholder is the government. Usually, sovereign wealth funds are the prerogative of rich countries. What is the point of the fund?
“We don’t have oil, but we have ideas”: do you remember that French saying from the 1970’s? Well, that’s us, too. I asked Lionel Zinsou and Donald Kaberuka to conduct a feasibility study, one that draws on successful sovereign wealth funds, such as those created by Senegal and Singapore.
What we want to do is free ourselves somewhat from conventional debt-driven growth models, pool our domestic resources to create a leverage effect, attract new financing, promote business and job creation, and, lastly, increase our overall wealth.
The Djibouti Sovereign Fund is up and running now. The implementing decrees have been signed. The team is in place and headed by a former Senegalese official specialising in these matters, whom I poached from President Macky Sall with his authorisation. This fund, which I directly oversee, belongs to Djibouti and the Djiboutian people.
The debt Djibouti owes China has for a long time been seen as excessive. Is this still the case today?
Our “Chinese debt” is much lower than what some have said. It amounts to $450m, compared with Ethiopia’s $16bn and Kenya’s $20bn. We have worked really hard on debt restructuring and servicing. The company managing the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway line, which is the main source of this debt, will be privatised, with Ethiopia and Djibouti retaining ownership of the infrastructure.
Is the railway line profitable?
To make a profit, it needs to reach a frequency of 10 trains a day as soon as possible. That’s our aim. For the time being, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing a rate of two to three trains a day.
Youth employment and inclusive growth are the main challenges facing your country, which has a structural poverty rate that encompasses almost 40% of the population. How are you addressing these challenges?
We are constantly working to implement a wide range of measures in the areas of affordable housing, health, education and professional training. The share of the population suffering from what is called “multidimensional poverty” has decreased by more than 15% over the past eight years, especially in rural areas. GDP per capita, which indicates the purchasing power of Djiboutians, has risen by 10% over the same period.
These statistics are encouraging, but we’re not there yet. Our goal is to triple per capita income within 15 years. Social well-being needs to increase in line with our economic growth.
Are you starting to see the beginnings of a middle class?
“Beginnings” is the right word. The cost of living here is high, mostly due to the cost of energy, which is why there are a growing number of wind and solar energy projects.
Ethiopia is a key economic partner for Djibouti. Since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took power in 2018, this country of 110 million people is caught between centrifugal forces that threaten its unity. Are you concerned about the situation?
Of course. From the days of the Ethiopian Empire through Meles Zenawi’s leadership, not to mention Mengistu Haile Mariam’s dictatorship, “togetherness” has always been the exception, not the rule, in the country. One group has always dominated another. Ahmed, whose intentions were good, tried to change that. He’s a born optimist, both a politician, military man and very devout evangelical Christian.
But he is coming up against heavy resistance, particularly in the Tigray region, where the population lives under the rule of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front [TPLF]. So, the situation is difficult. That said, our personal and bilateral relations are good.
On 4 November, Ahmed launched a military offensive against the Tigray forces. Was war the only solution?
Let’s try to put ourselves in Ahmed’s shoes. Ethiopia is faced with a major problem: a political organisation known as the TPLF is stripping its federal authority and has structured itself so as to bring the central government to its knees.
Ethiopia’s prime minister has two options to choose from: one, he can negotiate with Tigray’s government, with each party separate and on an equal footing. This can only lead to the partition of Ethiopia, as it will set a precedent under which other regional groups will be able to assert their own secessionist claims. Two, he can restore law and order at the federal level, and punish those seeking to break up the country.
I think Ahmed has taken the second route, which will allow the population to elect their own leaders. That’s why he moved to replace the regional administration and dissolved Tigray’s parliament. It’s clear that as a country that shares its borders with Ethiopia and could thus be impacted by the conflict, Djibouti has one single wish: that peace be restored.
Al-Shabaab, a terrorist group that holds sway in Somalia, is considered al-Qaida’s best organised and most active arm in the world. How is it that this militia continues to pose such a threat, despite the presence of a military mission of 22,000 men – including a contingent from Djibouti – and numerous US drone strikes?
We haven’t yet managed to eliminate the leaders of this terrorist group. But we must, because Al-Shabaab has expanded its influence to the criminal economy, to the extent that it has become a sort of mafia. In the Port of Mogadishu, few containers escape their control: they tax, racketeer, traffic and, more than anything else, corrupt many important figures. They use refugee camps as a recruitment channel, offering young unemployed people food while also indoctrinating, training and arming them.
Legislative elections are scheduled to be held in Somalia in 2021. I fear we will end up with a parliament indirectly controlled by Al-Shabaab because they’ll have bought the support of some of the MPs. The risk that this group poses for the entire region has never been greater.
And Djibouti, with its foreign military bases, is a choice target for these terrorists, who have previously attacked Kenya and Uganda…
Yes, that’s clear. They attacked us in 2014. But we’re extremely vigilant, and our intelligence and security agencies are always on high alert.
What gives us the upper hand is that these extremists have virtually no ties to our population: when they try to infiltrate our communities, they are quickly spotted. Also, to get to Djibouti, they have to slip through the net of the Puntland and Somaliland police forces.
Why has the restoration of diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea still not had the slightest positive effect on your relationship with Eritrea’s president, Issayas Afeworki?
I met with Issayas in Jeddah in September 2018, but neither the Saudi’s mediation team nor Ahmed’s efforts produced a “peace of the braves”. This is despite the fact that I took the step of releasing 19 Eritrean prisoners of war, which Asmara didn’t want, it seems.
The only explanation I see for this stonewalling is a psychological one: Issayas is unyielding and resentful, and we won’t repeat the exercise. The former Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, had warned me: “Once you’re mad at him, he never forgets”.
Several Arab Muslim countries – Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates – have announced they are normalising relations with Israel. Will Djibouti follow suit?
No, because the conditions aren’t ripe. We neither have a problem with the Jews as a people nor the Israelis as a nation. Some of them even come to Djibouti on business with their passport, and Djibouti’s citizens have been able to travel to Israel for 25 years now.
However, we take issue with the Israeli government because they’re denying Palestinians their inalienable rights. All we ask that the government do is make one gesture of peace, and we will make 10 in return. But I’m afraid they’ll never do that.
The US has raised concerns about your relations with China on several occasions. It has even been reported that an American general suggested that Beijing had “purchased” the Port of Djibouti. Have these suspicions been cleared up?
They were totally baseless, but I’m not sure they’ve gone away. For instance, we don’t understand why the $25m loan the World Bank promised us in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has taken so long to materialise. The president of the World Bank, David Malpass, is a US citizen. Is there a causal connection? I wonder.
And yet you agreed to let the US army occupy the largest foreign military base in Djibouti. Don’t these kinds of activities sometimes encroach on your sovereignty?
We see to it that that doesn’t happen, but it’s not always easy. In 2013, we allowed the United States to use the French military’s Chabelley Airfield, located some 10 kilometres from Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport, as a base for their unmanned aircraft. Since then, the base has become exclusively reserved for the US military.
No one can get in, neither us nor the French. It’s a problem we need to sort out.
You’ve often complained that France doesn’t show much interest in Djibouti, including economically speaking. Has that changed since French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit in March 2019?
Not really, unfortunately. In East Africa, the French only seem interested in Kenya and Ethiopia, with mixed results. Of course, the French electric utility company Engie is investing in Djibouti’s solar and wind power sector, and a delegation from MEDEF [a French business confederation] plans to pay us a visit in January. That’s better than nothing.
But I think that Paris should realise that Djibouti is more than just a strategic geographic location. Djibouti also has a position in the global economy. Others have come to this realisation, and an increasing number of young Djiboutians speak English, which is the language of business in our corner of the world.
Djibouti forcefully pushed to get a seat as a non-permanent member on the UN Security Council but was pipped at the post by Kenya last June. How did you feel about that?
We felt it was unfair and that the African Union had failed us, as they weren’t able to handle the problem. Kenya forced its way through, with the complicity of some Southern African countries, by casting aside every best practice. Nairobi spent a lot of money to get that seat. However, we did manage to prevent our rival from securing a majority and we’ve learned our lesson for next time. You can rest assured that we’ll try again.
Why are you so adamant about putting Djibouti on the world stage? You’ve opened close to 50 embassies, which is a substantial number for a small country of 1 million residents.
Because that’s the only way for us to avoid getting swallowed up in the melting pot of globalisation!
Thirty years ago, Djibouti was only on the map for the former colonial power. Today, we’re on the cusp of becoming a global hub. It’s a matter of political will.
Six months back, a Djiboutian air force pilot named Fouad Youssouf Ali was extradited from Ethiopia. He has been detained in Djibouti ever since, and his fate has troubled some members of the public as well as human rights activists, who consider him a political prisoner. When will he be tried?
He’ll be tried, but justice takes time here, just as in France. As for the rest, this person isn’t a prisoner of conscience. He’s a former air force lieutenant and deserter who tried to fly a plane to reach Eritrea, meaning hostile territory, but ultimately fled to Ethiopia. Can you name a single other country that wouldn’t have charged such a person under the same circumstances?
His prison conditions have sparked concern in Djibouti and Ali Sabieh, the city he’s from. Could the conflict between the Issa and Afar clans, which caused so much harm to the country at the beginning of the 1990s, rear its head again?
Over the past 20 or so years, we have made every effort to strengthen our sense of national unity and to instil a spirit of citizenship. There have never been more interclan marriages between the Issas and Afars than there are today. If there’s one point we are perfectly at ease with, it’s that one.
Why does Djibouti still not have any private, independent media outlets?
Because it’s expensive, quite simply, and the market is small. A few projects are under way in the digital sphere, but the financing capabilities in this area are nowhere near those of Somalia, where tribal solidarity is fully intact.
An online media outlet close to the opposition, “La voix de Djibouti” [The Voice of Djibouti], regularly complains that its journalists are harassed by the police. Isn’t such a practice counter to the principle of freedom of expression enshrined in Djibouti’s constitution?
That media outlet isn’t close to the opposition; it’s an opposition website based in Brussels, Belgium. The correspondents you are talking about aren’t registered journalists, but instead nobodies – some of whom are barely literate – presenting themselves as such. For that matter, we haven’t jailed anyone.
You’re confronted with a determined opposition, whose leaders are divided, including when it comes to their methods of action. Do you benefit from that?
I think it’s too bad. Every democracy needs an opposition that believes in discussion, comparing policies and the country’s future. Our opposition can be summed up by the slogan “Me or chaos”. Whether it’s Daher Ahmed Farah, Abdourahman Mohamed Guelleh or Adan Mohamed Abdou, none of them abide by the rules for forming a party. A party isn’t just some group you register with a founder and 10 or so members that never holds a convention. But we prefer to look the other way.
This state of things came about because the Islamist faction of this coalition, MoDeL [Movement for Democracy and Freedom] – the local chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood – used religion as a mobilising force. We have taken the necessary measures to reduce its impact. The coalition’s main leaders have left Djibouti for Turkey and Canada, where they have nothing other than Facebook to try to indoctrinate followers.
As for sermons, their content is strictly regulated and comes under the exclusive remit of the Ministry of Muslim Affairs. Sermons are sent to each mosque by email, and imams can’t add a single word to them during Friday prayers. I think the French authorities would do well to follow in our footsteps in this regard. It’s the only way to prevent extremism from thriving.
But there isn’t just the main weekly prayer. What about the other sermons?
In Djibouti, imams and muezzins are civil servants paid by the state. If they let a person use their platform to glorify violence and jihad and utter slogans and insults, they’ll be held accountable for it and immediately punished. In this sense, you could say that we have them by the strings. But there’s less and less of a need for us to do this because our religious leaders are increasingly better trained and educated. They realise that true Islam is about knowledge and tolerance.
The presidential election is scheduled to take place in April 2021. Will you stand for a fifth term?
I can’t state my position on that matter at this time. We have to let the country and administration do what they have to do. I’ll make an announcement very shortly, inshallah.
As you must know, no one in Djibouti has any doubt about your stance on that point…
Really? Well, give me a bit of time to answer.
The Africa Report.
WHAT’S IN A PEACE PRIZE?
Article to study written and published by:
Alemayehu Fentaw Weldemariam, Lawyer, theorist, conflict analyst, and public intellectual.
When news broke last October that Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had won the Nobel Peace Prize, Ethiopians were somewhat divided. As could be gleaned from headlines, some must also have been ambivalent. Amid these diverse reactions, the strangest were those that tried to defend the award by equating it with national pride. Can the Nobel Peace Prize really serve as a source of national pride for Ethiopians?
This piece is published in partnership with “Ethiopia Insight”.
“National pride is to countries what self-respect is to individuals: a necessary condition for self-improvement. Too much national pride can produce bellicosity…but insufficient national pride makes energetic and effective debate about national policy unlikely”. – Richard Rorty.
“If you stare for long into an abyss, the abyss stares back into you”. – Friedrich Nietzsche.
We have many things to be proud of from our long history of statehood, including the stellar victory against European colonialism at the Battle of Adwa in 1896. But this Scandinavian decoration is not one of them. Along with the Bretton Woods institutions” multi-billion dollar largesse, this is a desperate attempt to prop-up a flailing leader on whom the West pins its hope of transplanting liberal democracy onto a complex polity caught between modernity and tradition. The award offers no legitimacy to rule Ethiopia; that has to be earned.
Abiy, the West’s new “democratic” buddy – just like Meles, Isaias and Rwanda and Uganda’s budding autocrats were in the 1990s – was awarded last year’s Nobel for his efforts to bring peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea. He is touted as a peacemaker abroad and a liberal reformer at home. However, his peacemaking and leadership lack diplomatic skill and statecraft. Rather, they are embedded in his charismatic persona, devoid of any higher principle. His liberalism is reminiscent of the liberalism of Dostoevsky’s Demons, the liberalism of aimlessness.
With respect to the initial rapprochement with Eritrea, Abiy succeeded where his predecessors failed because he and President Isaias Afewerki share a common enemy: the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Isaias” last political ambition is to outlive the TPLF the way he survived his nemesis Meles Zenawi. But nobody has yet explained how to peacefully remove the TPLF from power in Tigray at the behest of its enemies. Abiy wants us to believe that the key to lasting peace with Eritrea is with TPLF. It isn’t, and that is understood by Tigrayans, many of whom side with the TPLF despite their dissatisfaction at what its long rule has delivered in the region. If the Nobel bauble is to mean anything, Abiy would have to mend his ties with TPLF and also detoxify relations between Tigrayan and Amhara elites – and so far there is little sign of that.
The Great Northern Rift aside, in Abiy’s Ethiopia, all kinds of other deadly fault lines have resurfaced as an always shaky post-1991 political settlement has collapsed. This has been fuelled by the spread of hate speech and propaganda on mainstream and social media by irresponsible government officials, social media activists, and journalists. Members of different ethnic groups have been attacked across the country by a wide variety of assailants.
Sidama and Wolayta. Guji Oromo and Gedeo. Gumuz and Oromo. Amhara and Gumuz. Oromo and Dorze. Killing methods have included stoning and lynching. Mob justice has at times replaced the rule of law and anarchy has almost become the new normal in some locations. There have been political assassinations, and inter-ethnic conflicts test the integrity of the security services, as regional special forces have at times vied with each other. The country is awash with small arms and rising prices show demand is high for more weaponry.
We have lynched a man in Shashemene, stoned a church student and doctoral researchers to death. We have burned churches in Jigjiga, mosques in Mota, and people to death in Dire Dawa. University students are being killed by fellow students from other ethnic groups on campus. If vigilante youth groups that catapulted the prime minister to power are left unchecked, the problems they have caused could get out of control.
Ethiopian politics, unlike the West, are not organised along a left–right spectrum,defined by economic issues where the left demand more equality and the right greater freedom.
The problem is that the Qeerroo, Fano, Ejeeto and similar groups cannot be kept in check unless all political leaders, including the Prime Minister, eschew the politics of resentment that exploits the fears of people who feel that their identity or way of life is disrespected – or keep implying that “minority Tigrayan rule” was somehow responsible for each and every problem in Ethiopia.
Ethiopian politics, unlike the West, are not organised along a left–right spectrum defined by economic issues where the left demand more equality and the right greater freedom. Dictated by unfortunate historical circumstances, our brittle politics are organised according to identity: ethnic groups demand recognition, self-rule in regional affairs, and shared rule at the federal level. This is however, susceptible to populist ethno-nationalism, and that is just what Abiy and allies first nurtured to achieve power, but then failed to address once in office.
One of the problems with a politics that revolves around identity is that a desire for equal recognition can easily slide into demands for recognition of a group’s perceived superiority. Right now, there is an ascendant majoritarianism combined with violent populism amid a recklessly managed transition. This is striking fear into minorities, allowing even talk of secession to reenter the Tigrayan nationalist discourse.
Meanwhile, Oromo and Amhara nationalisms are on steroids, vying to outcompete each other. They are at each other’s throats over the status of Addis Ababa. The result of the recent turmoil and decades of mismanagement is that Ethiopia under Abiy is now a multinational federation threatening to implode. Superficial Western accolades and domestic adulation for the “reformist leader” will not prevent it going the way of Yugoslavia, unless sincere efforts are made to belatedly hold free and fair elections according to the constitutional schedule, to safeguard self-determination rights, and, somehow, restore the rule of law.
Mikhail Gorbachev too won the Nobel Peace Prize on the eve of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. But, arguably, the gravest threat to Ethiopia is not actually dissolution, but a widening level of atrocities, even perhaps expanding to genocide. As Scott Straus painstakingly laid out in The Order of Genocide, three main factors made the specter of genocide a reality in Rwanda: civil war, which made ordinary citizens fear for their security and provided a rationale for mobilization; state penetration deep into the periphery that made mobilisation of rural populations possible; and pre-existing ethnic cleavages that made it possible for the Hutu to accept hard-liners” call for lethal action.
War played by far the most important role, as it opened a Pandora’s Box of “security dilemmas”, which include a series of conflict related dynamics. William Zartman notes that “Genocide[s].. do not break out unannounced; they are preceded and prepared by identity conflicts that escalate into targeted mass killing…such conflict does not generally stem from an aggressive action, but a pathologically defensive reaction against a perceived existential threat.
Instigators of identity conflict feel themselves targeted, ultimately for extermination, by another identity group who they feel must be defeated and ultimately exterminated, and so, in a security dilemma, they themselves target the perceived threateners for extermination”. Zartman emphasizes these dynamics make it easy for political entrepreneurs to “sell this fear to their client public to gain support”. And these dynamics, these security dilemmas are becoming visible in Ethiopia.
The 2014 Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes of the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect also identifies armed conflict as the first common risk factor to all atrocity crimes, including genocide. It states that “If armed conflict is a violent way of dealing with problems, it is clear that the risk of atrocity crimes acutely increases during these periods”.
In Abiy’s Ethiopia, an armed conflict is currently raging between the Oromo Liberation Army, the armed, and nominally autonomous, wing of OLF, and the military in the Wellega and Guji areas of Oromia. The military have had to be deployed in a number of other areas to prevent an escalation of violence, including taking a key role in managing security across the entire Southern Nations.
A number of the other criteria subsumed under Risk Factor One of the Framework of Analysis could apply to Ethiopia generally, including security crisis, humanitarian crisis, political instability, growing nationalist, armed or radical opposition movements, economic instability caused by acute poverty, mass unemployment or deep horizontal inequalities, social instability caused by resistance to or mass protests against State authority or policies, social instability caused by exclusion or tensions based on identity issues, their perception or extremist forms. Other Risk Factors identified by the Framework also appear to have relevance. Violations of civil and political rights as well as severe restrictions of economic, social and cultural rights, are often linked to patterns of discrimination:
“Societies that have a history of violence and serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law or or atrocity crimes, or where these are currently taking place, can be more prone to further atrocity crimes. As history has demonstrated, atrocity crimes in general and genocide in particular are preceded by less widespreed or systematic serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. These are tipically violations of civil and political rights, but they may include also severe restrictions to economic, social and cultural rights, often linked to patterns of discrimination or exclusionn of protected groups, populations or individuals. This risk factor is also relevant where the legacies of past atrocity crimes have not been adequately addressed through individual criminal accountability, reparation, truth-seeking and reconciliation processes, as well as comprehensive reform measuresin the security and judicial sectors. A society in this situation is more likely to resort again to violence as a form of addressing problems”.
The reports of Tigrayan civil servants in Addis Ababa being removed is therefore worrying. Ethiopia came through 17 years of civil war, it experienced the Red Terror, classified as a politicide or a genocide against a political group. There have been atrocities in the Somali region during past confrontations with the Ogaden National Liberation Front and more recently in fighting between Oromo and Somali factions.
There is a robust legal framework of adequate protection of individual and group rights in place, in theory, but Abiy Ahmed has eviscerated the National Intelligence and Security Service along with other federal institutions that were tasked with security in the federal and regional governments, including the Ministry of Federal Affairs. He has given its replacement, the Ministry of Peace, the very ambitious task of overseeing all federal security institutions. The result has been a significant reduction in the government’s capacity to prevent crimes:
“The risk of atrocity can be increased by a State’s lack of capacity to prevent these crimes. A State protects it population through the stablishment of frameworks and institutions that are guided by rules of law and good governance of principles.However, when such structures are inadequate or do not exist, the ability of the State to prevent atrocity crimes is significant diminished. As a consequence, populations are left vulnerable to violence to respond to real of perceived threats. This is even more the case in a situation of armed conflict, when it is paramount that those resorting to the use of force are fully aware of and respect the rules that aim to protect populations from such force, and have the necessary force means to do so. The weakness of State structures will not necessarily be a cause af atrocity crimes, but it undoubtedly decreases the level of protection and, when analysed in conjunction with other risk factors, increases the probability of atrocity crimes”.
The Framework covers the motives or incentives and the capacity to commit atrocity crimes, the absence of mitigating factors, and enabling circumstances or preparatory actions, and triggering factors. It argues there is no specific motive or incentive that will automatically lead to atrocity crimes, but some are more likely to, especially those that are based on exclusionary ideology, and the construction of identities in terms of “us” and “them”.
The motives of the inter-ethnic conflicts, be it Guji and Gedeo or Oromo and non-Oromo Addis Ababa residents, all-too-often relate to economic and cultural exclusionary ideologies. The historical, political, economic or even cultural environment under which such ideologies develop are also relevant. The enabling circumstances are seen as a major key to the commission of atrocity crimes; and there are some clear current examples visible in Ethiopia. Similarly, the activities of the government to try and deal with problems, once they have reached this point, are also a major factor:
Risk Factor 8 is particularly relevant. It notes the risk of the commission of atrocity crimes can significantly increase if any of a number of triggering factors are present: Sudden deployment of security forces or commencement of armed hostilities, abrupt or irregular regime changes, transfers of power, or changes in political power of groups, attacks against the life, physical integrity, liberty or security of leaders, prominent individuals or members of opposing groups. (One only has to recall the June 2019 assassinations of the military’s chief of staff and the president of Amhara Region as well as the killings of several officials in Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz regions).
It also underlined the importance of other serious acts of violence, such as terrorist attacks, religious events or real or perceived acts of religious intolerance or disrespect. (Examples in Ethiopia might include the burning of churches in Jigjiga and mosques in Motta). Then there are acts of incitement or hate propaganda targeting particular groups or individuals, census, elections, pivotal activities related to those processes, or measures that destabilise them, sudden changes that affect the economy or the workforce, including as a result of financial crises (economic liberalisation measures may produce a worsening financial crisis), and acts related to accountability processes, particularly when perceived as unfair. (These might include selective arrests of OLF sympathisers and National Movement of Amhara activists post-June 22, or the prosecutions of Tigrayan securocrats, military officers, and investors on corruption and human rights violation charges).
Risk Factor 9 covers genocide and “intergroup tensions or patterns of discrimination against protected groups”. It sums up the nature of genocide accurately. The circumstances around the coming to power of Abiy and events since have brought to the fore a number of pre-existing tensions. These are likely to heat up in the run up to the elections and may end up triggering identity-based conflicts leading to post-election atrocities. Inter-ethnic relations in the country are already fraught: Afar-Somali, Anuak-Nuer, Somali-Oromo, Oromo-Amhara, Oromo-Gumuz, Oromo Guji-Gedeo, Oromo-Harari, Sidama-Wolayta, Amhara-Tigray, Amhara-Gumuz, Amhara-Qemant.
In Ethiopia, there are plenty of possible conflict triggers. One could be the deadlocked boundary dispute between Tigray and Amhara. A skirmish between special forces or militia of the two states could escalate into a conflict that would require federal intervention, further stressing any cracks within the armed forces.
Risk Factor 10 suggests one of the legal elements of the definition of the crime of genocide involves “signs of an intent to destroy in whole or in part a protected group”.
It says that intent can be ascertained from “official documents, political manifests, media records, or any other documentation through which a direct intent, or incitement, to target a protected group is revealed, or can be inferred in a way that the implicit message could reasonably lead to acts of destruction against that group. Another flashpoint could be electoral disputes over Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, or any other mixed city between civic nationalists and ethno-nationalists. And a weakened state and fragmented political landscape means that civil war could catalyse various bouts of ethnic cleansing – as we have already witnessed in various parts of Ethiopia. This poses the threat of descending into genocide, if the worst come to the worst.
The potential for mass violence necessitates an immediate response by the authorities to stop the situation spiralling out of control. But there is also a pressing need for longer-term remedies so that in the future Ethiopia does not drift once more into these dangerous waters.
One view of Ethiopia today is that mob action all-too-often takes the place not only of law enforcement, but also of legislative discussion and civic debate. U.S. educator John Dewey saw a “public” coalescing when citizens develop a shared interest in solving problems and then legislating to find a compromise solution. By contrast, Ethiopians appear to have become the “crowd” described by sociologist Robert Park, with their willingness and wherewithal to make political deliberation all but disappeared. Just take the issue of Addis Ababa, with the dispute over its administrative status now being played out in the streets and social media; not in the legislature or courts.
So, what is the way out of this nightmarish predicament?
American philosopher Richard Rorty’s concern about national consciousness were that while “emotional involvement with one’s country – feelings of intense shame or of glowing pride aroused by various parts of its history, and by various present-day national policies – is necessary if political deliberation is to be imaginative and productive. Such deliberation will probably not occur unless pride outweighs shame”. Ethiopians have no short supply of national pride, but we also suffer from resentment in interactions with our fellow countrymen that stem from our history.
The legacy of the victory at Adwa is ambiguous. A great victory over colonialism but also marking the onset of Menelik II’s conquest of Southern Ethiopia and the treaty that established an Italian colony in Eritrea, which used to be the most northern province of Ethiopia. It managed to provoke resentment amid the peoples of both the South and the North of the country.
The depth of this can be gleaned from Ivo Strecker and Jean Lydall’s edited volume, The Perils of Face, which includes “Berimba’s Resistance” in which Baldambe recounts the life and times of his father, an eminent Hamer elder, Berimba whose memory of Menelik II’s conquest of the Hamer country is bitterly resentful. Donald Donham and Wendy James” magisterial volume on history and social anthropology, the Southern Marches of Imperial Ethiopia, underlines the same point.
In the preface to the first edition, Wendy James writes: “Without the contributions of Ethiopia’s southern peoples, whose sweat and blood go unrecorded in “Ethiopianist” annals, the Battle of Adwa in 1896 might not have been won and Menelik II might not have gone on to build his empire. Ethiopia might never have played the part it did in modern political arena, nor might it have become, as it did, an international symbol of African statehood and civilisation”.
There are many things in Ethiopia’s past, many features of Ethiopian social institutions, and many aspects of Ethiopian self-understanding that are cause for national shame. We suffer from the politics of memory. A Hamer resents Menelik’s conquest, subjugation by an Amhara, as do Tigrayans, who double-down on Menelik’s division of the Tigrigna-speaking people north and south of River Mereb. Present-day Amhara and Oromo elites resent what they call 27 years of TPLF rule. This is Ethiopia’s version of the Politics of Resentment.
Pan-Ethiopian nationalists indulge in a simple-minded celebration of Ethiopia’s supposedly glorious past, while ethno-nationalists overly indulge in past agonies. Applying a Nietzschean conceptual framework, Ethiopian nationalists need a healthy dose of Ethiopia’s critical history while ethno-nationalists need a similar dose of its monumental history. Until our national shame is overcome, or at least balanced, by a modified national pride, we will not be able to resume democratic discussion on first order questions. It is therefore imperative for all of us to strive to create a political environment free of resentment and populism, and one that is conducive to genuine and mature political deliberation.
It is clear that the premature and superficial assessment of the Nobel Committee provides no answer for Ethiopians” problems, problems that need Ethiopian solutions. Prime Minister Abiy’s legacy will not be determined by whether or not he won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. It will be determined by the avoidance of mass atrocities and whether Ethiopians assess that when Abiy leaves office he leaves behind a more stable, prosperous, and democratic federation for Ethiopia’s diverse communities.
Alas, so far, there seems to be little sign that he will be able to gain that elusive and truly priceless prize – and furthermore, we have by no means yet averted the risk of crimes against humanity.
The Africa Report.
URGENT INTERVENTION NEEDED.
Article to study written and published by: Ahmed Soliman, Researcher on the Horn of Africa with the Africa Programme at Chatham House, with a focus on the politics of Somalia, the Sudans, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
A simmering feud between Ethiopia’s Federal Government and leaders in the Tigray region has escalated into armed confrontation which threatens to turn into a civil war, with long-term repercussions for stability across the Horn of Africa region. Urgent intervention is needed to reduce tensions and commit both parties to a cease-fire and negotiations.
Ethiopia stands on the precipice of a devastating internal conflict less than three years after the emergence of a new leader in Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali – a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2019 – and the evolution of a political transition that promised so much in terms of institutional reforms, inclusivity and freedoms. The possibility of civil war not only calls into question the unity of Africa’s second most populous nation, but threatens any possibility of the Horn of Africa and Red Sea region moving beyond decades of cyclical conflict towards stability and integration.
Intensified military action was justified by the prime minister as a response to armed provocation and perceived intransigence from leaders in Tigray, a region in Ethiopia’s north-eastern highlands which is home to seven million of Ethiopia’s 110-million population.
Relations have been fraught for some time, particularly since the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)’s departure from Ethiopia’s ruling coalition in 2019. Both parties have worked hard to delegitimize the other short of open armed conflict in recent months. The postponement of national elections in August due to COVID-19 complicated the crisis, with the lack of inclusivity and consultation around the process resented in Tigray.
This resulted in the TPLF holding a unilateral and unconstitutional election and refusing to recognise the Federal Government’s legitimacy. In turn, the prime minister denounced the Tigray elections, cut ties with the regional administration and withheld federal budget subsidies, accusing the TPLF of stoking violence across the country.
Escalation of conflict in Tigray.
Clashes began on 4 November, with government claims of an ambush by regional forces on the federal Northern Command base near Tigray’s capital Mekelle. In truth, preparations for a larger confrontation were already underway, with federal troops amassing on Tigray’s borders and the government swiftly imposing a six-month state of emergency in the region.
The House of Federation also approved a resolution to replace the TPLF with an interim administration. Amidst a connectivity blackout in Tigray, Prime Minister Abiy has largely controlled the narrative around developments, asserting that the military action being taken by the sovereign government to extract the rebellious TPLF is a law enforcement measure.
The situation is rapidly evolving with federal airstrikes on alleged artillery installations, much of the early fighting concentrated in Western Tigray close to Sudan and Eritrea and the number of reported casualties rising. There are conflicting accounts on the status of the Northern Command, with the TPLF claiming that it has allied itself with the regional government.
Prime Minister Abiy may be calculating that an incisive and intense military offensive will pressure Tigray’s leaders into a climb-down, in order to avoid a full-scale conflict and the undoubted heavy losses that would incur, thus giving Addis Ababa the upper hand in subsequent negotiations.
A more worrying scenario is the Federal Government following-up on its intent to remove the TPLF from Mekelle. Given the TPLF’s military history, organisational sophistication and firepower, this is a frightening prospect. More than half of Ethiopia’s armed forces and armaments are located in Tigray, with much of the country’s military equipment in TPLF hands. Even if Prime Minister Abiy wins the initial battle it would be much more difficult for him to win a protracted and punishing war, or the support needed from the majority of Tigrayans.
The consequences of growing instability spread far beyond Tigray.
Hundreds, if not thousands, have been killed in the past three months in incidents of identity-based violence in Oromia, Benishangul, and the Southern region. Vast areas in Western Ethiopia are under the control of Oromo militants.
Many believe the conflict with Tigray is being used partly to deflect public attention from the government’s inability to stop this recurrent violence. Public trust has been eroded by the exploitation of tragedy for political gain by different groups, including the government’s inability to present credible evidence of its accusations against the TPLF and other political opponents in the federalist camp (like prominent Oromo Jawhar Mohammed), and the limited respect for due process and decisions taken by the courts.
The involvement of Amhara militia and special forces in the fighting in Tigray alongside the federal army will exacerbate the historical competition between Amhara and Tigray elites and tensions between their ethnic communities. This could hasten the fracture the armed forces along ethnic lines.
Worries about the intimidation and harassment of Tigrayans in the military and civil service were acknowledged by the prime minister – but he also reshuffled senior officials to consolidate the Oromo-Amhara alliance within his administration and reinforce support for the Tigray operation, which risks further alienating Tigrayans. The government must do all it can to prevent the ethnicization of conflict from spilling out of control and exacerbating instability across the country, which could result in further fragmentation.
The crisis also risks seriously destabilising the entire Horn of Africa, a region still feeling the aftershocks of the 1998-2000 Ethiopia-Eritrea war, which killed up to to 100,000 people and led to a regional proxy war that lasted for two decades. Tigray borders Eritrea (see above map) and the TPLF was at the forefront of the fighting, cementing an enmity between Tigrayan and Eritrean leaders that continues today.
The 2018 peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea – which won Abiy his Nobel Prize – has only been partially implemented without the inclusion and support of Tigray. TPLF officials accuse the prime minister and Eritrean president of collaborating to destabilise Tigray and tarnish the legacy and successes of the TPLF dominated era.
Sudan shares a border with northern Ethiopia and is experiencing its own delicate transition. Elites within its civilian-military government have links with Addis Ababa, Mekelle and Asmara. Sudan partly closed its eastern border and deployed troops to the region following discussions between Lt-General Abdel Al-Fattah Al-Burhan and Prime Minister Abiy, and there are indications that Tigray has established a corridor to import weapons and supplies through Sudan.
Sudan’s Prime Minister, chair of the regional bloc IGAD, has also tried to convince his counterpart to stabilise the situation. A prolonged conflict could lead to hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to Eastern Sudan, a region already experiencing significant inter-communal turbulence. As well as Ethiopians, there are almost 100,000 Eritreans living in refugee camps in Tigray. Such flows could strain Sudan’s transition and exacerbate existing tensions between Sudanese and Ethiopian communities along the border.
Ethiopia is also one of the largest contributors to peace-keeping missions with thousands of troops across the Horn, including in Somalia. Reports indicate that Ethiopia has already begun removing its non-AMISOM troops from Somalia, which could weaken support for Somali forces and provide opportunities for al-Shabaab to retake territory and implement attacks, especially during the upcoming Somalia elections.
The need to prioritise dialogue.
From a regional security and diplomatic perspective, Ethiopia is too big to fail. Prime Minister Abiy has so far allayed considerable international concern, but the UN, AU and EU should ramp up coordinated diplomatic efforts and demands for an immediate cessation of hostilities – as should the US and UK – two of Ethiopia’s largest bilateral donors.
A strong message from president-elect Biden, with bipartisan backing, would be influential and begin to reverse the damage done to US-Ethiopia relations under President Trump. International actors need to be clear that there will be meaningful accountability for attacks on civilians and push for the establishment of a humanitarian corridor.
Both sides need to pull back from the abyss and moderate their extreme demands to secure a truce. South Africa’s ANC and the Chinese Communist Party could potentially play a bridging role to help narrow differences towards reaching a negotiated settlement. The UN and AU should also appoint an envoy to Ethiopia, preferably a respected senior African statesperson, to oversee a cease-fire and facilitate a locally initiated and genuinely inclusive mediation.
Discussions would seek to overcome the constitutional dispute that partly sparked the conflict, reach consensus on the role and responsibilities of political forces moving forward, as well as agreement on the election modalities and timetable. In the current climate, there is little possibility of holding peaceful, let alone free and fair elections in 2021.
History has shown that Ethiopia’s problems cannot be resolved by through bloodshed – a civil war would be unwinnable. Only the commitment to inclusive dialogue, consensus-building and reconciliation can give Ethiopia a chance of progress.
The Africa Report.
EYES ON THE PRIZE.
Article to study written and published by: Morris Kiruga, East Africa Editor of The Africa Report.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Nobel Peace Prize, while deserved, may have been premature.
Abiy was announced on 11 October as the 100th winner of the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize, making him the fourth African leader to win the prize while in office.
The other African leaders to be awarded the prize while in office were Anwar Sadat (1978), F.W. de Klerk (1993) and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2011). It also makes Abiy Ahmed the first African from the Horn to win the prize, and the second from the Eastern end of Africa, after Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai.
The Nobel committee awarded the prize to him mainly “for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea”.
Just a day later, Ethiopian police banned a planned protest at Meskel Square in the capital, Addis Ababa.
The rally, organised by the Baladera Council, a civic group associated with journalist Eskinder Nega, was supposed to be a protest against Oromo politicians and nationalists who claim ownership over the capital city. Abiy is an Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.
It was also to highlight five other issues, including the council’s members who have been arrested in several regions.
It is not the first time Eskinder, who was released in February 2018 after serving seven years of an 18-year prison sentence, has been forced to call off press conferences and meetings this year for “security reasons’. The government has blocked his press conferences that sought to highlight problems with the administration and nationalism in the capital, but also to open his own media house.
In a statement, the council said that “[the] government’s unlawful restraint has proven to undermine democracy and justice”, while also claiming that the government had closed roads and arrested several members of the organisation.
Was it too soon?
Such events within Ethiopia will now attract even more attention, as Abiy looks to solve some of the country’s many problems, while trying to encourage peace in the region.
The Nobel was awarded because of the steps Abiy took to end a long-running dispute with neighbouring Eritrea. Ethiopia fought a war with Eritrea between May 1998 and June 2000, with border disputes before and since.
Since he became Ethiopia’s prime minister in April 2018, Abiy has worked not only to fix his country’s problems and conflict with Eritrea, but also to become the consummate peacemaker in the region.
He has worked to make peace between Somalia and Kenya, and more recently in Sudan, after protests brought down the long reign of Omar el-Beshir.
He has also proven adept at balancing multiple international interests in the Horn of Africa.
After a headline-grabbing summit with Eritrea in mid-2018 and resumption of flights and communications lines between the two neighbours, the peace deal faced what initially seemed like teething problems.
For instance, all land border crossings were shut down by the end of the year, and most, if not all, are still closed.
One reason for this is that a significant part of the border with Eritrea is the Tigray Region, dominated by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Abiy’s rise to power last year marked the end of TPLF’s dominance of the ruling party and the country’s politics.
Another is that Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki is unlikely to feel the same enthusiasm for the deal as his Ethiopian counterpart, since it would mean not only allowing Eritreans more freedom of travel but could also destabilise Asmara.
Some critics fear that the Nobel committee did not learn from its own mistake of awarding former US President Barrack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.
Geir Lundestad, who served as the Nobel committee’s secretary for 25 years, later wrote that Obama failed to live up to expectations.
“Even many of Obama’s supporters believed that the prize was a mistake”, he wrote in Peace Secretary (2015). “In that sense the committee didn’t achieve what it had hoped for”.
Yale Sterling Professor of English and author of American Breakdown, David Bromwich recently argued that Obama “was given the prize in the hope that he would do something to deserve it”.
A closer parallel is perhaps with South Korea’s former president Kim Dae-Jung, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000. The Nobel committee included Dae-Jung’s reconciliation efforts with North Korea as a major reason for the award, saying that his visit to the hermit nation gave “hope that the Cold War will also come to an end in Korea”.
Kim was later criticised for “buying” the prize, after the successive government established that his administration had paid North Korea in a cash-for-summit deal.
Similarly, the Nobel committee’s press release on Abiy’s wins says that “The Norwegian Nobel Committee hopes that the Nobel Peace Prize will strengthen Prime Minister Abiy in his important work for peace and reconciliation”.
But might it limit his ability to manoeuvre in peace negotiations with Asmara?
“The award could, eventually, even torpedo those peace efforts, if the Eritrean leadership felt put under pressure to an even greater extent than before. The grumpy autocrat from Asmara, who ruthlessly keeps his own people in chains so he can remain in power, is unlikely to enjoy being snubbed under the eyes of the world by a charismatic politician half his age”, Ludger Schadomsky, the head of DW’s Amharic desk, wrote in an op-ed.
Another problem for Abiy is that some in Ethiopia feel that the Eritrea deal is a personal, instead of national, initiative. “The foreign office was not in the loop…We learned of it from the Eritrean media, on Facebook and Twitter”, an unnamed official told Reuters recently, referring to Abiy’s July visit to Asmara.
Domestic challenges abide.
Since ascending to power in mid-2018, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister has shown himself as the consummate peacemaker in the region, but the bigger problems are at home, where he has to deal with a regional referendum in November, a potentially divisive census and Ethiopia’s first properly competitive general elections in more than a decade – in addition to a host of other challenges.
While his first big win was to release political prisoners, he has launched his own wave of arrests, targeting not just corrupt officials of previous governments but also elements trying to undo his own rule.
He has also been criticised for not responding effectively to escalating attacks on houses of worship, as well as to ethnic conflicts and assassinations of high-profile individuals.
While Abiy’s fast-paced reforms have shaken the preceding balance in Ethiopia and her neighbours, awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize this early seems a little hasty, especially as there are still many likely scenarios in which they could fail.
While the Nobel committee’s hope is “to strengthen him”, it may also have handed him a poisoned chalice.
The Africa Report.
Article to study written and published by: Bereket Eshetu Messele, Lecturer at Bahir Dar University’s School of Law and also a licensed lawyer who provides advocacy services as well as represents clients in federal and regional courts.
Placing similar groups into multiple states could be the most promising way forward for Ethiopia’s troubled Southern Nations region.
This article is published as part of our partnership with Ethiopia Insight. Find the original here.
For more than two decades, the question of statehood formation has been raised by identity-based zones in the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples” Regional State (SNNPRS).
In particular, the issue proliferated after the collapse of the authority of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and the arrival of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018. Consequently, the question has been raised by the Wolayta, Keffa, Gurage, Gamo, Gofa, and Sidama ethnic groups.
Given this political context and the House of Federation’s approval this week of the zonal councils of Dawro, Bench Sheko, Sheka, West Omo and Keffa’s request to form a single region, it is important to assess this new approach to regional statehood in Ethiopia.
During Ethiopia’s last transition, the SNNPRS was formed by merging five districts following regional council elections in 1992. Furthermore, as a region of more than 56 “nationalities, it is one of the largest in Ethiopia, accounting for more than 10% of the country’s area and almost a fifth of the population.
Until Sidama established its own region, SNNPRS was divided into 13 zones, 133 and 3,512 kebeles. While the Sidama are the largest ethnic group in the region, each ethnicity is the majority in its administrative zone in terms of number, and there are also minorities.
Given the prevalence of statehood requests, a team was established by the now-defunct Southern Ethiopian People Democratic Movement (SEPDM) to conduct a “scientific study” on how to handle several claims for regional statehood. After seven months, the team presented its findings and the following options to the SEPDM executive committee:
Proceed with the existing region without any change, or;
Except for the Sidama, organise the remaining “nations, nationalities and peoples” into one region, or;
Not entertain questions of region formation for some time.
Nevertheless, there was not widespread acceptance of any of the above recommended solutions. Given this lack of consensus, another option is actively being considered.
The idea is to re-organise the SNNPRS into four regions, including Sidama, and one Special Zone. This option emerged after the December 2019 establishment of Prosperity Party and is mainly propagated by the national peace ambassadors or Yeselam Ambasaderoch Committee (a committee established under the Office of the Prime Minster to investigate the autonomy demands).
The Committee, the Prime Minister, and the House of Federation (HoF) have subsequently held discussions with representatives from SNNPRS zones and weredas on the issue. As a result, the Committee indicated that there is an agreement to re-organise SNNPRS into four regions and one Special Zone.
Based on the settlement patterns and the consent of the people concerned, this agreement is ready to be submitted to the HoF. The upper house of parliament is expected to reply within 30 days of its acceptance. The suggested regions, one of which has been accepted already, are:
Damotic/Omotic Region: Gamo, Gofa, Konso, South Omo, Derashe, Burji, Amaro, Wolayta, Basketo;
Northern and Central Region: Hadiya, Kembata, Tembaro, Silte, Gurage, Yem, Alaba;
South West Region: Keffa, Sheka, Bench Sheko, Dawro, West Omo and Konta;
Sidama Region: Sidama, Gedeo.
While Gedeo is to become a Special Zone, it has not been not decided which region it will be part of. Gedeo Special Zone would then have the rights to use its language and approve budgets, while still being governed by regional laws. Alternatively, the Committee recommended the formation of a new region that encompasses Gedeo Special Zone, and the Burji and Amaro people’s administrative districts. Nonetheless, such an option does not appear to be accepted by the people.
So far the Wolayta members of SNNPRS State Council have strongly opposed the organisation of the Wolayta under the Omotic Region as they want their own region like the Sidama. Equally, other members of the Omotic Region like the Gamo, Gofa have shown dissatisfaction. As a result, the Prime Minister and members of the Peace Ambassadors Committee have recently gone to the area to discuss and seek solutions.
On the other hand, on 30 September, the zonal councils of Keffa, Sheka, Bench Sheko, Dawro, West Omo including with Konta Special Woreda have unanimously agreed to integrate in to a single region. With the HoF recently approving this approach and requesting the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia to conduct a referendum, this new region will probably be called the South West Region.
The Ethiopian federation contains constitutional provisions that grant autonomy upon request. While the regional states of Amhara, Oromia, Tigray, Afar and Somalia have dominant nationality groups, the others are multi-ethnic. For example, Benishangul-Gumuz has Berta, Shinasha, Gumuz, Mao and Komo nationalities. Gambella has Nuer, Anuak and Mezenger, and Harari has Oromo, Amhara and Gurage. However, the case of the SNNPRS is peculiar, as the region contains so many groups.
Since the introduction of the federal system in 1995, there have been frequent questions for region-formation by SNNPRS groups and also regular and deadly conflicts in the region. There are several factors that brought this about. One is the failure to find an administrative structure that works for the multiple SNNPRS groups. The current re-structuring will create multicultural regions, even if there is no dominant group, which may reduce conflict, and the claim for independent regions, at least for a while, in most zones.
Another positive aspect of this new arrangement is that it will address some of the administrative problems that stem from the current arrangement. Given that federalism seeks to devolve public administration, if the geographical distance between the government and the people grows, the more difficult it is for the people to make their voices heard, and for rulers to understand their needs, aspirations, and priorities.
Federalism helps to resolve this problem, as it enables substantive powers to be exercised at the regional or sub-regional levels, giving people greater opportunities to exercise democratic control over public administration, resource utilisation, policy adoption and law enforcement. For instance, it takes more than three days to go to the regional seat of Hawassa from the most peripheral weredas of Sheka and Bench Sheko zones.
Furthermore, by lumping all ethnic groups together, the existing arrangement does not adequately manage demographic factors, settlement patterns, languages and the consent of the population during region formation, as enshrined under article 46(2) of the federal constitution. In contrast, re-structuring the region into four regions (as recommended by the Committee) will create cluster of communities that have a similar way of life and settlement pattern.
For instance, if we look at the proposed South West Region, while the languages spoken by the Keffa and Sheka people are very similar except for pronunciation, the two languages (Dawrigna) spoken by the Dawro/Konta people also share words with similar meanings.
The federal constitution states that “All sovereign power resides in the Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples of Ethiopia”. In this light, Article 39 grants nations, nationalities and peoples the right to self-determination including secession. At the same time, it further entitles every group the right to establish their own region under Article 47(2). Hence we can imagine 56 regions springing out of the fragmenting SNNPRS. Such extreme fragmentation would further complicate the political, economic, and social state of the southern part of the federation.
Another challenge that the region could face is the issue of minorities. For instance, in the proposed South West Region, which encompasses the major ethnic groups of Keffa, Sheka, Bench, Sheko, and Dawro, there are the Menja people, a minority related to the Keffa.
While federalism can provide minorities a certain level of recognition and autonomy, it can also expose them to discrimination and oppression. This is particularly the case if these minority groups were not part of the deliberations that established new arrangements, as their interests may not be represented.
It is important to also note that, since the idea to restructure the SNNPRS was tabled, there has been competition for the capital city of regional states. This struggle could potentially become a major obstacle to the process.
Finally, the fact that there could be more than four regions could pose a challenge to effective public administration, as the new regional governments may lack the requisite human and financial resources. This risks overburdening weak newly established institutions with demands that they cannot meet and so could cause disappointment, mistrust, and discontent among the public.
Article to study written and published by: Tom Gardner, in Hawassa.
Ethiopia’s ongoing liberalisation and ethnic federalism are creating a combustible situation as ethnic groups seek more autonomy on economic, political and security matters.
By the end of 2019, barring an upset, Sidama will be Ethiopia’s tenth semi-autonomous state. A referendum on statehood, which should have taken place in July, is now scheduled for November.
Leaders of the country’s fifth-largest ethnic group are energetically preparing for the enhanced autonomy statehood will bring. Work has begun on a constitution. Billboards have been erected, welcoming visitors to the would-be state as they enter Hawassa, its putative capital.
The result of the vote, assuming it happens, is a foregone conclusion.
The “Sidama question” is a headache for prime minister Abiy Ahmed and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government. Scores were killed in July following the referendum’s delay, with protesters confronting security forces and angry mobs chasing non-Sidama from their homes. The status of Hawassa is contested, and many minorities are worried about their future there.
Meanwhile, the Sidama peoples” quest for statehood has prompted at least 10 other ethnic groups in the south to follow suit, likely precipitating the break-up of the multi-ethnic and volatile Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples” Region (SNNPR).
“Our country is sliding down”, says Admasu, a resident of Hawassa and ethnic Wolayta, whose home was destroyed by a Sidama gang when violence broke out in June 2018. He plans to leave the city after the referendum: “There is no rule of law, no peace and security. Everything is stuck”.
The south is just one of many hotspots on Ethiopia’s federal map, almost all of which intensified in the wake of Abiy’s appointment and the “big bang” liberalisation he set in motion last year.
This inconsistent and at times chaotic process has consisted, principally, of the release of political prisoners and the return of others from exile; the decriminalising of opposition parties; the unmuzzling of media and revision of draconian laws; improved relations with neighbouring Eritrea; and a package of liberal market reforms.
But as the state loosened its grip and free speech blossomed, various conflicts escalated. Nearly 3 million people were internally displaced in 2018 (see map), more than anywhere else in the world. Tensions between states, especially the three most powerful – Oromia, Amhara and Tigray – worsened as relations in the EPRDF soured. This June there was, according to the government, a regional coup attempt in Amhara, and on the same night the head of the federal army was killed in Addis Ababa.
When Abiy took power, the main tasks were thought to be democratisation and reducing the outsized influence of the EPRDF’s historically dominant Tigrayan wing, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Both were key demands of the protest movement that forced then-prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn to resign – paving the way for Abiy’s Oromo faction, the Oromo Democratic Party (then the Oromo Peoples” Democratic Organisation), to take the helm of the coalition. But now, with national elections due next year, the challenge has become a more existential one: holding the country together and preventing further fragmentation.
For the most pessimistic observers, it means averting a bloody Yugoslavia-style break-up.
The comparison is not too far-fetched. Ethiopia, like Yugoslavia (and the Soviet Union, which also disintegrated in the early 1990’s), is an ethno-federation in which semi-autonomous states are organised along ethnic lines. The constitution, introduced in 1995, recalls Yugoslavia’s of 1974 by giving each of Ethiopia’s more than 80 ethnic groups the right to form its own state or secede.
The crisis prompted by the statehood claims of southern groups like the Sidama echoes the start of Yugoslavia’s crisis in 1981, when Kosovo protesters demanded the province be upgraded to a republic. Many of Kosovo’s Albanians felt aggrieved that they were more numerous than at least three other groups that had their own national republics – something with which many among the Sidama (who number around 5m) would no doubt sympathise.
There are other parallels. Like Ethiopia, Yugoslavia was for decades dominated by a single party – or coalition – known as the League of Communists, held together by one man, President Josip Broz Tito. When Tito died in 1980, the party collapsed into factionalism and competing ethno-nationalisms.
As the centre weakened the republics increasingly acted like independent states, raising their own armies and promoting their own economies by defying central wage and price mandates, and engaging in trade wars.
Old historical grievances, papered over by Tito and the myth of Yugoslav nationhood, were revisited and exploited by nationalist politicians as tools to mobilise voters. Elections in the republics were followed by secessions, and the unravelling of the federation. This led, almost inexorably, to war and ethnic cleansing.
Since the death of Meles Zenawi, the TPLF strongman who dominated Ethiopian politics from 1991 to 2012, the EPRDF has increasingly come to resemble the post-Tito League, which ultimately fell apart entirely in 1990 when the Slovene delegation walked out of the party congress. As journalist Tamerat Negera argues: “There is no EPRDF anymore. It exists in name only”.
Ideological disputes as well as personal animosities are paralysing an organisation once renowned for its rigid, if sometimes brutal, discipline. Internal EPRDF battles increasingly burst into public view, such as in July when the TPLF issued a highly provocative statement about its sister party in Amhara, the Amhara Democratic Party (ADP), demanding it take responsibility for the events which led to the alleged coup attempt.
A break-up of SNNPR, meanwhile, would likely mean disintegration of the EPRDF’s southern wing, the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement, further complicating the politics of a coalition which ostensibly relies on consensus.
As in Yugoslavia, alleged historical injustices are stimuli for nationalist mobilisation. Almost immediately after Abiy came to power armed youth in Oromia’s West Guji zone began chasing ethnic Gedeos from land they claimed was historically theirs.
Over the next few months hundreds of thousands were evicted. Oromo nationalists have also staked claims to parts of Amhara, as well as Addis Ababa, on the basis of what they argue are historic ownership rights.
Sidama nationalists such as Million Tumato, the leader of the Sidama Liberation Movement, say ethnic statehood is a means to escape “colonial occupation”. Meanwhile, in Amhara, a new nationalist party, the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA), has won popular support with its promises to defend Amharas from outside threats – and to regain territories which they argue were stolen when the federal map was drawn in the early 1990s.
Florian Bieber, an expert on Yugoslavia at the University of Graz, Austria, sees rhetoric of this kind as especially dangerous: “The risk of ethno-federal systems is that they encourage this … they produce a dynamic which is always about finding leaders who represent sub-national groups, whose main legitimacy comes from antagonism, and which is framed as self-protection”.
The risks of fragmentation are aggravated by the expanded autonomy of the most powerful states, all of which are equipped with their own regional security forces. This is most pronounced in Tigray, where TPLF leaders have decamped since Abiy ejected most of them from high office. No longer kingpins in Addis Ababa and with some in its ranks wanted on corruption and human rights charges, the TPLF has focused on building up the region’s police and militia, and developing its economy.
Most controversially, it has refused to hand over the former national intelligence chief, Getachew Assefa, to federal police, leading to a stand-off. The waning of central authority this represents also resembles Yugoslavia: by 1990 even Serbia, which formally supported the status quo, had passed a new constitution which placed republic law above federal law.
“The problem is the regions are not only asserting their constitutional powers but they are going beyond them”, says Yonatan Fessha, a constitutional lawyer. “And you don’t get the impression that the federal government is asserting its own powers where it should”.
The shifting balance of power between regions and the centre is apparent in economics, too. Getachew Teklemariam, a former government adviser, says that regional capitals are seeing much more investment, as ethnic elites in Tigray and Amhara in particular redirect capital towards their home states: “There is a change in the nexus between the federal government and the regions – and this is benefiting the regions like no economic incentive would’ve done”.
He adds that regional investment bureaus have grown more powerful in decision-making, especially with regard to land allocation. “If you are a foreign investor, you need to be much more convincing at the regional level than before”, he says.
A particularly striking example of this dynamic came in August 2017 when the Oromia government refused to provide land after the federal investment commission had signed a deal with a Chinese manufacturer. More recently, Tigray has taken the step of reviving its own investment bureau, and set up a new institute for policy research.
Many see greater regional autonomy in economic policy-making as a good thing, should it allow states to experiment and develop strategies more attuned to local needs. “So long as the federal government uses its authority to avoid a race to the bottom, then it’s positive”, says Fiseha Haftetsion Gebresilassie of the Tigray Institute of Policy Studies.
A more balanced distribution of investment might also help diffuse political tensions.
But few are sanguine when it comes to security, which is already highly devolved and now resembles an arms race. Each village, or “kebele’, chairman heads a militia consisting of, on average, 50 armed men. Each region commands its own police, including thousands or even tens of thousands of constitutionally dubious “special police” equipped with combat weaponry.
The June “coup” attempt in Amhara was reportedly precipitated by efforts to clip the wings of the region’s special police, which its then-security chief, retired Brig. Gen. Asaminew Tsige, was rapidly expanding – apparently in response to parallel developments in Oromia and Tigray.
“Under the constitution regional states are supposed to have police forces just to maintain law and order – nothing more than that. The special forces are much more than that. They are readied for combat”, says Zemelak Ayele, director of Addis Ababa University’s Centre for Federalism and Governance Studies.
In a recent interview Mustafa Omer, the acting president of Ethiopia’s Somali Region, concurred: “One of the biggest mistakes made along the way [was] creating autonomous security structures in the regions. No country can survive that”.
The question of legitimacy.
For much of the past year Abiy appeared helpless, barely speaking about ethnic violence in public while appearing more focused on regional diplomacy than events back home. But, more recently, faint outlines of a strategy have begun to emerge. First, elections – which many thought would be delayed or even postponed indefinitely – seem likely to happen next year.
There is, at least inside the EPRDF, reportedly some consensus that a postponement would risk more instability, even if preparations by the electoral board – headed by oppositionist Birtukan Mideksa – remain behind schedule.
After May 2020, Abiy and the EPRDF will have no constitutional right to govern, meaning that at the heart of this calculation lies the question of legitimacy. Many in the ruling coalition are also acutely aware that elections in 2015, in which the EPRDF won every seat in parliament, were almost universally considered a sham. Added to this is the fact that since coming to power in 1991 the EPRDF has controlled all tiers of government.
The protest movement that catapulted Abiy into office was propelled at one level by this profound democratic deficit, and for political tensions to stand any chance of diminishing the EPRDF will have to relinquish some of its monopoly.
A free contest next year would open the door for opposition parties to take at least some seats in parliament and possibly government offices. In Oromia, factions of the formerly outlawed Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) – allied with other nationalist opposition – might see substantial gains, providing it is permitted to formally register as a party.
Similarly, in Amhara, the National Movement of Amhara should take a large chunk of votes from the ADP, assuming it is allowed to campaign freely. And in urban areas pan-Ethiopianist parties could win control of city councils, in particular Addis Ababa.
Abiy’s second gambit is to merge the coalition into a single national party. This is an idea which dates back several years and was originally favoured by Meles before his death as a means to dilute the power of ethnicity in politics.
Since Abiy took over it has been revived as a solution to fragmentation and as a tool to improve his own electoral prospects. One senior EPRDF official says he expects it to be finalised before the election. “[The party] will certainly be different from the EPRDF, ” he says, without further elaboration. According to some recent reports it will be named the Ethiopian Prosperity Party.
But, significantly, it is unlikely the TPLF will sign on. “The greater chance is [the TPLF] will choose not to be part of the new party”, says the insider. TPLF sceptics see in the proposal a ruse to cement the dominance of the ODP. In August it invited parties committed to the preservation of ethnic federalism to join it in a new coalition of so-called “federalist forces’.
All this suggests the election will be the least predictable vote Ethiopia has ever held. But it is still unlikely to be an entirely free or fair contest, and indeed the renewed commitment to holding elections has been accompanied by a return to some of the strong-arm tactics favoured by Abiy’s predecessors.
Hundreds were arrested, seemingly indiscriminately, in the aftermath of events in Sidama in July and in Amhara in June.
Amhara activists claim that around 300 Amharas were imprisoned following the alleged coup attempt and several are to be charged under the draconian anti-terror law Abiy had criticised and promised to reform.
The government has resorted to internet shutdowns and has sent the federal military into several regions in the past year. Even in Oromia, Abiy’s supposed base, opposition parties complain of harassment and arbitrary arrests. In a recent address Abiy declared that he was ready to confront lawlessness “not with a pen, but with a Kalashnikov”.
Added to this are signs the ruling party plans to limit electoral competition by striking pacts with certain opponents. In early October Abiy’s ODP signed a deal with the OLF and the Oromo Federalist Congress, another opposition party, in which nominally they agreed to work together in the interests of the Oromo people. The details were not made public but it likely means the parties will stand aside for each other in certain districts.
Similar so-called “elite bargains” may occur in other regions before election day, reducing the chances of electoral violence and most likely ensuring Abiy himself remains prime minister.
There are several dark spots on the horizon, of which the possible exit of the TPLF from the coalition is but one. The response to delaying the Sidama referendum shows how dangerous it could be if further volatility compels the government to postpone the election, though others contend that holding a messy election with an unpredictable outcome would be worse.
Similarly, any efforts to revise the constitution – Abiy has hinted he would like to introduce an elected presidency, and others are keen to scrap some of its most controversial ethnic provisions – could spark a backlash.
Alemayehu Woldemariam, a constitutional lawyer, argues: “As to the fear that Ethiopia might go the way of Yugoslavia, yes it’s highly improbable, but not impossible. And the factors that might make it possible are: one, not holding the elections as scheduled and two, any attempt to erode or abridge the right of self-determination”.
Meanwhile, from an opposing camp, the prominent activist and journalist Eskinder Nega worries the catalyst for rupture will come if Abiy’s ODP emulates the TPLF by building a “system clearly dominated by Oromo elites”.
“If this happens then, in the long-term, break-up is a real possibility”, he says.
But it remains an unlikely scenario for a country with a far longer experience of nationhood than any of the former communist federations. Serious secessionism is a minority pursuit, even in Tigray where a vocal group of young activists increasingly champion it.
More likely, suggests historian Shiferaw Bekele, is simply “continuous, debilitating crisis”. He likens the current predicament to the so-called “era of princes’, between the 18th and 19th centuries, when warring fiefdoms engaged in a perpetual struggle for supremacy: “At that time there was a central authority, but it was weak and unable to stop the cycle”.
But he is optimistic that the threat of disintegration will eventually force today’s elites to negotiate a new settlement. “One of this country’s virtues is respect for the state. […] When they come to the negotiating table, and the spectre [of breakdown] is in front of everyone, they will do what they can to stop it”.
Article to study written and published by: Zola Moges.
As Amhara nationalism emerges, it should not adopt the same divisive tactics as Ethiopia’s other competing ethno-nationalisms.
In Ethiopia’s ever-changing political landscape, one recent phenomenon has been the emergence of Amhara nationalism. Compared to other substate nationalisms, namely, Oromo, Tigrayan, Somali and Sidama, it’s a latecomer.
This was not because Amhara people suffered from social, political, and economic subjugation less than others but Amhara identity as we know it today was only constructed in response to a target of repression, with the rise of Derg.
The Derg is often portrayed as a continuation of an old “pro-Amhara” imperial system, but its documented history shows that Amharas were among the primary victims of its brutality. In his prison memoir, titled The Tripping Stone, written in the Derg’s dungeons, the first President of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, Taffara Deguefe, noted what seemed to be a policy of discrimination against Amhara:
«The only “minorities” who are scorned are the hopeless Amhara for their past privileges. They have to pay for it now in lost jobs and positions for their hateful identification to a past now seen as distasteful to the military junta».
Such policies increased after the Ethiopian Peoples” Revolutionary Demcoratic Front seized power in 1991.
The dominant segment, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, had identified the Amhara as its “eternal enemy” at the start of its armed struggle, and after 1991 turned this party manifesto into government policy, implementing it in earnest, using state structures and instruments of violence.
Amhara people were subject to forced disappearance, displacement, arbitrary killings and humiliation. Building on Derg’s accusation of past Amhara privilege, TPLF worked to depict Amhara as the “outlaws”, “oppressors”, and “enemies” of other “nations and nationalities” to successfully marginalize and exclude them from the economic windfalls of political power.
Now, by any objective standard, an average farmer in Amhara region stands at least as poor as an average farmer in any of the other allegedly oppressed regions.
The birth of Amhara nationalism.
The sustained policy of oppression gradually sowed the seeds of victimhood, alienation, discrimination, and a resentment which finally inspired Amhara nationalism.
Its origin dates back to the early 1990s, but it only took its current shape two years ago with the establishment of the National Movement of Amhara (NaMA). Ironically, TPLF and Oromo ethno-nationalist forces welcomed this development, with many proclaiming succcess in longstanding efforts to force “Amharas to embrace their Amharaness”; the latter saw it as the dawn of a new political scene allowing for renegotiation of the existing federation. Others, concerned by the dangers of ethnic nationalism, expressed their fear that this would intensify an already polarized political climate and lead to disintegration.
While Amhara nationalism has had an impact on the political consciousness of the youth and articulated common interests, it is still characterised by a lack of ideological clarity, and a dependable institutional bulwark, a cohesive social base or even, as opposition politician Yilikal Getinet has pointed out, a centre of gravity.
Some of these problems arise from the size of Amhara population and the Amhara region’s diverse ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic composition, making collective action a real and unavoidable problem.
Historically, public consciousness has been based on sub-regions, (Gojjam, Gondar, Shewa, or Wollo), or even smaller zones or districts. Anything larger has been Ethiopian national identity.
Amhara identity, in its current form, is a recent introduction and forced self-appropriation, caused by an existential threat and alienation. The younger generation has adopted its “Amharaness’; but most ordinary people are yet to fully embrace it, not least because of the lack of any effectively articulated ideological foundation or priorities and the absence of any “tailor-made” solutions to the challenges facing them.
Unfortunately, Ethiopia’s population seem not to have reached the stage where individual merit receive higher premium than membership to a particular group. This has made nationalism a very potent weapon to claim and secure political and economic power.
Tarnishing Amhara nationalism is therefore hypocritical as well as counterproductive. Rather, it needs to develop to withstand competing forces and preserve the interests of Amhara people in national political disputes. This will enable Amhara people to play their role in building a new Ethiopia founded on rule of law, equality and freedom. The makers and breakers of Amhara nationalism should thus come out of the delusion of self-efficacy and (re)consider its content and future trajectory.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau said “…every people has, or must have, a [national] character, if it lacks one, we must start by endowing it one”. Most nationalist movements in one way or the other follow the same logic, but one of the congenital defects of Amhara nationalism has been its attempt to replicate the 50-year-old Tigrayan or Oromo nationalism model and a failure to pave its own road, one that reflects the realities of the Amhara people and Amhara region.
The latter two movements are “mature’, in terms of endowing their people a national character, shaped by a nationalist psyche, founded on a too readily accepted sense of victimhood and politics of resentment. This has made their respective constituencies view their circumstances as the fault of others, not the product of broad historical social, economic, and political forces.
In contrast, let alone Amhara nationalism, as indicated, Amhara identity is only a recent occurrence to many Amhara people.
While the region is also home to various other micro-nations, its people are also spread across the whole of Ethiopia. Amharic being a widely spoken language, the Amhara, unlike Oromo and Tigrayans, also do not have their own media that, in the words of Carol Skalnik Leff, “ [is] insulated by language barriers from alternative viewpoints” allowing them to maintain a private “segregated intellectual universe”.
The failure of Amhara nationalism to acknowledge these and other strategic vulnerabilities means its actors have often appeared oblivious to their own aims.
One intrinsic marker of many nationalist movements is the willingness to sacrifice private desires for the greater collective interest.
Individuals who are considered complacent towards the “enemy’, those who do not assertively speak [the] truth to power, without fear or favor, are made outcasts or even ruthlessly expelled. Amhara nationalism is also suffering from this: creating a “hierarchy of Amharaness’; its propagators often question the integrity and “genetic quality” of other fellow Amhara with different political views, particularly, those currently in power. They do not seem to understand that politics based on hierarchical blood authenticity is an affront to one’s being, dangerous and self-destructive.
There could not be a better example for this than the Bahir Dar incident of 22 June 2019 that lead to the death of high regional officials, who were comrades-in-blood as well as in purpose.
For the record, most, if not, all of the current leaders of the region are no less Amhara than any one of us. Our knowledge, understanding, education and choice of ways to deal with the problems of the Amhara people may differ but there is no evidence to show that their loyalty or love to their people is less than our own. We can question their competence but we should not deny that they are brothers sprung from the same family.
Nationalist ideology is often driven by sinisterly construed and caricatured “facts” and engineered “truths’. Amhara nationalism also, in its bid to beat the record of Oromo and Tigrayan nationalisms, is sometimes seen as reluctant to accept conspicuous truths. It does often tend to rely more on demagoguery, conspiracy theory and self-serving conjecture, in a rather similar fashion to Ethiopia’s general political culture, where facts are often deliberately ignored, ridiculed or dismissed.
Suggestions to rebuild it on knowledge rather than visceral emotions are consistently rejected, as inappropriate attempts to be rational in an irrational world. This has emboldened the incapable and uplifted the most ignorant by deterring most erudite Amharas from supporting it. As a result, Amhara nationalism still lacks widespread elite consensus or critical elite mass support.
Amhara nationalism also inherited another defining feature of Ethiopian politics: adoption of suspicion towards compatriots holding dissenting opinions. The result has been greater engagement in fault-finding and accusations than finding a common ground. Yet, it is hardly possible for Amhara nationalism to achieve its desired objective if the motive of all individuals holding opposing views is constantly questioned. Differences are natural, even in a family, and they will always exist. What matters most is not their existence but the way we approach and deal with them.
Path to redemption.
Understanding the problems of the current state of Amhara nationalism is crucial to finding solutions, and here are some general directions which I think will not only help rectify the serious constraints of the movement but also improve the political culture of Amhara region and beyond.
For Amhara nationalism to make a meaningful contribution, it needs to clearly set out its main objectives and have a proper ideological fulcrum. Its ideologues should articulate the interests of the Amhara people, identify structural threats, ideologies or groups friendly or inimical to those interests and flesh out different means of countering them both in the short- and long-term.
For example, the country’s constitution, the existing federal system, which gives ownership over specific regions while making Amharas strangers in their own country; some political groups seeking to eliminate Amhara and anything Amhara under the pretext of “multinational federalism’, etc. pose structural, legal and survival challenges to Amharas. These are complex problems that require Amharas to design sober-headed strategies beyond recurring emotional reactions to the problems” frequent manifestations and occurrences.
In this context, it is crucial that Amhara nationalism is alive to the strategic vulnerabilities of the Amhara people in the larger Ethiopian polity and the specific realities of Amhara region; it should be pragmatic and its modes of engagement customized. Amhara’s psyche, realities and threats are different from those of other groups. Victimhood may be a common sprouting ground for most nationalist movements, but an alternative foundation anchored in pride and collective self-esteem is also available.
In this regard, the Amhara people have a long history of independence, state culture and government, amazing and colourful traditions, civilization and wonderful societal values such as kindness and honesty, gallant spirit and fear of God. Amhara nationalism should cultivate and exploit these. Amhara nationalism should thus be revisited and rebuilt on pride, popular self-esteem and the mythos of love rather than hatred and resentment.
Most nationalist movements often fall prey to emotion, and this has also been true for Amhara nationalism. However, it is time for its main proponents to fight against the temptation to fall for short-lived emotional satisfaction and, instead, work through knowledge and well-thought-out strategies that consider both the bigger picture and the long-term interests of the Amhara.
The bigger picture here is Ethiopia. Amhara people have never fallen short in their love for Ethiopia.
As many observers have testified, the Amhara people are a symbol of patriotism, bravery and part of the core Ethiopian national identity and soul. The continuity and prosperity of Ethiopia is also in the Amhara people’s enduring interest.
Amhara nationalism does not need to be hostile to the Ethiopian State and it is important to guard the movement from individuals whose blend of ignorance and arrogance feeds false narratives about Amhara people, created by their enemies.
Facts and a knowledge-based approach to deal with issues, constant curiosity, flexibility and stoicism should be the guiding tenets of Amhara nationalism. These are insurances against our inevitable failings as we claim our dignity and ensure our safety as one people.
Furthermore, no political movement succeeds without being rooted in public consciousness of a critical mass of the population. In this vein, Amhara nationalism can hardly be considered as something embedded in the minds and hearts of the Amhara people. Creating public consciousness requires time and resources – but it is a necessity. The critical mass must be made conscious of its existential threats, socio-economic challenges and the urgency of addressing them. This requires a great deal of work at the grassroots, and must start now.
We should also realise that Amhara people’s long-term interests cannot be maintained unless Amharas settle their internal sub-national differences and form a unity of purpose. It is only internal cohesion that provides a permanent guarantee for Amhara survival, peace and prosperity. For this, we should remember that our common destiny is inextricably intertwined; while legitimately challenging them, we should accept that those fellow-Amhara in positions of power are our own brothers and no matter how we want to disregard them, they are our given facts and we should find a common ground to work with them.
We need to be open for diversity of ideas and compromise, multiculturalism, and, at all times, appreciate and act upon facts. Our suspicious tendency towards differing views should not allow us to reject obvious truths or good ideas. In the fight against ideological and existential enemies, we should arm ourselves with weapons of clarity of thought and perseverance.
Amhara nationalism should further fight against politics of reaction.
In an environment characterised by competing nationalisms, agendas are fabricated and regularly disseminated in efforts to achieve narrative dominance, Amhara nationalism should neither fall into the trap of agenda-setting of others nor should it be an ideology of reaction. No matter what opponents say, Amhara nationalists should always control their actions, knowing what and when to say and act.
The best way to preserve the interests of the Amhara people is not to engage in politics of reaction but in “best-modelling” of oneself. If Amhara elites can join hands in developing their region, they can set up themselves and their region as an example of prosperity, and an avatar of democracy and multiculturalism and will be able to positively influence the future path of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. We should promote democracy at the local level, modernize government institutions and transform our economy, education and societal culture.
The future is a world of communication and innovation. As such, we should establish academic institutions which offer innovative solutions to our chronic problems and produce a generation of polyglots who speak multiple foreign and local languages–soft weapons, more potent than AK-47’s, but effective in preserving the long-term interests of Amhara people.
This must go along with a proper “selling” strategy. So far, we have failed in this regard badly. Amhara people are often accused of being “assimilationist” and “anti-federalism/multiculturalism’. In fact, however, no other region in Ethiopia than Amhara the regional state more fully respects multiculturalism or federalism and the right to self-administration of ethnic minorities. This is a fact and should be systematically and persistently used to counter those sinister and false accusations.
Finally, one of George Orwell’s most scathing criticism against nationalism was: “There is no crime that cannot be condoned when our side commits it”.
This should never have any place in Amhara region or among Amharas. What is wrong is wrong. It should be condemned at all times, regardless of who does it or against whom it is done. Anchoring Amhara nationalism in the ideals of what is correct, just and proper – rejecting resentment, victimhood and wrong conduct – is the only thing that matches the popular psyche and collective soul of the Amhara people.
Anything less will not only be injudicious, but also self-destructive.