If you have been watching the headlines on our sidebar of the What Others are Writing Section the last couple weeks you have noticed a bunch of them discussing Ethiopia and the Tigray region there. So, what is going on? This post will take several articles from the sidebar, condense them into a single post and hopefully shed some light on the conflict there. Be sure to head over to the Homepage and check out other candidates for our Featured Article.
The other two articles that come in for honorable mention are: Analysis: A History of Targeted Killings Attributed to the Mossad – Long War Journal, and French fishermen fear for post-Brexit future – DW. Several of the last National Security Assessments have mentioned that disputes over raw materials could lead to conflict which is nothing new, but it is interesting to see these disputes hitting the headlines more often. Maybe I’m just noticing them more? Tuesday is usually our biggest day in regards to headlines, so, if you haven’t already done so, head over to the front page to check out some others and keep tabs on other happenings from around the world.
Why This is Important
Regional instability leads to power vacuums that can be exploited by non-state actors and terrorists. Instability in Ethiopia could lead to greater regional instability and threaten other geographically significant areas like the Gulf of Aden and the Sahel Area of Africa which both U.S. and other Allied nations are currently conducting operations combating terrorism.
Explainer: Why is Ethiopia fighting one of its regions? – Africa News
Are mediation efforts possible in Ethiopia? – Africa News
Ethiopia’s civil war is spreading outside its borders – The Economist
Rockets From Ethiopia’s Tigray Region Hit Eritrea Capital: Diplomats – International Business Times
Ethnic federalism is not the reason Ethiopia is disintegrating – Tigray Online
Ethiopia is a federation of states that are divided into ethno-linguistically administrated regions. There are 9 or 10 (depending on your source) regional states and two cities that have that have some level of autonomy. The regions are not based on geography but on ethnicity and language. Tigray is the northern-most region. According to Tigray Online (probably not a neutral source):
Ethnic federalism is not the reason Ethiopia is fragmenting, but the greed of elite Amharas and the incompetent prime minister…
The Ethiopian government is structured in nine regional states based on ethnic, linguistic, geographic amalgamation. The implementation of the federal structure gave the people of Ethiopia the power to be an active participant in decision making, safe guarding their interests, the right to own land and other resources, plan and map out their own political affairs within the Ethiopian federal system…
Some analysts blame the Ethiopian federal system and constitution for the political unrest in Ethiopia in the past four or five years and now. Exclusively Ethiopian Amhara elites and activists are completely certain the Ethiopian federal system is harmful to their interests. The main reason behind Amhara opposition to the new structuring, they claim they were not represented when the federal system was adapted. That is not entirely correct because there were many Amhara intellectuals and political groups and individuals when the new constitution was created.
What Is This Dispute About?
The Ethiopian Government has labeled Tigray a rebellious region which has seen their unrest increase since a national election was postponed due to the corona virus. It really all boils down to politics and power. From Africa News:
The clashes are the result of months of political tensions pitting the federal government headed by PM Abiy Ahmed against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the governing party in Tigray state.
The appointment of Abiy Ahmed, an ethnic Oromo as Prime Minister of Ethiopia in 2018 upset the political status quo in Addis Ababa…
But Abiy’s subsequent reform campaign blamed the Tigrays for past rights abuses and corruption.
Claims of past rights abuses has been a common tactic when a new party takes power. Sometimes the claims are legitimate other times the claims are purely for power. I do not know which is the case here but this explanation from DW might provide some insight:
The TPLF’s resentment stems from a sense of being sidelined by Abiy’s government when he formed a new coalition government — known as the Prosperity Party — which excluded the TPLF. Abiy’s overtures to Eritrea are also seen as a betrayal.
The fighting has escalated to the point where the Ethiopian Prime Minister has given the Tigray region an ultimatum. From the AP:
Ethiopia’s prime minister on Tuesday declared “the final and crucial” military operation will launch in the coming days against the government of the country’s rebellious northern Tigray region.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in a social media post said a three-day deadline given to the Tigray region’s leaders and special forces “has expired today.”
Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, continues to reject international pleas for dialogue and de-escalation in the two-week conflict in the Horn of Africa that has spilled into neighboring Eritrea and sent more than 27,000 frightened Ethiopian refugees pouring into Sudan.
The AP article provides an excellent timeline of events that helps frame the conflict. Basically, it has gone from Nobel Peace Prize to Civil War in approximately 18 months. You really should follow that link because this fighting has turned deadly. From DW:
Deadly fighting between Ethiopian federal forces and the regional government of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has already claimed hundreds of military and civilian lives, according to the scarce reports coming from the region…
Meanwhile, Ethiopia’s defense minister, Dr Kenna Yadeta, remained bullish about the government’s ability to quickly end the violence.
“All the TPLF’s actions testify to their high level of frustration. They have no more strength, capability and time to intensify wars in the region. The Tigray junta has only a very short time left to be captured,” according to Kenna Yadeta, who was appointed defense minister in August 2020 as part of a major — and controversial — cabinet reshuffle by Ahmed.
The instability in Ethiopia threatens the entire Horn of Africa, a region that is already wracked by terrorism and has seen deployments for the U.S. and other allied nations combating al Shabab and ISIS related elements. Further instability will only aid the terrorists as resources will be drawn away from that fight. From DW:
The Ethiopian government’s armed conflict in semi-autonomous Tigray threatens the future of federalism in the country. With violence spilling into Eritrea, there’s a potential for a security vacuum in the Horn of Africa.
The Ethiopian Government believes victory is close but it will come at a cost. More from DW:
The victory may come at a severe cost to stability in the Horn of Africa, though.
To win it, there is a danger that the federal government’s focus on Tigray could weaken its involvement in backing the government in Ethiopia’s western neighbor, Somalia, against al-Shabab militants.
Ethiopia has already withdrawn about 600 soldiers from Somalia’s western border. However they were not part of the African Union’s Mission in Somalia (Amisom), which Ethiopia also supports…
Also complicating the Ethiopian government’s conflict with the TPLF is the involvement of Ethiopia’s northern neighbor, Eritrea, which borders Tigray.
Over the weekend, multiple rockets — fired from Ethiopia’s Tigray region — hit the Eritrean capital, Asmara.
The TPLF’s leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, said his troops fought Eritrean forces “on several fronts” for the past few days. He accused Eritrea of providing military support to the Ethiopian government and sending troops across the border, allegations that Eritrea denied.
The threat of instability is not limited to Eritrea and Somalia either. Back to our article from the AP:
Alarmed African neighbors including Uganda and Kenya are calling for a peaceful resolution, but Abiy’s government regards the Tigray regional government as illegal after it defiantly held a local election in September. The Tigray regional government objects to the postponement of national elections until next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and considers Abiy’s federal government illegal, saying its mandate has expired.
Prospects for a Peaceful Resolution
Doubtful. From Africa News:
Negotiations could be complicated. The 2019 Nobel peace prize winner Abiy Ahmed had said talks cannot begin until the northern TPLF is fully disarmed.
This was a very quick overview of the conflict that probably deserves a dissertation level commitment. Ethiopian stability is undoubtedly important to the greater region and the continuing war on terror. Al Shabab, an affiliate of al Qaeda and ISIS are both active there and would like nothing more than more than an ineffective central government and civil war that they can exploit for their own gains.