Political Observation - The Unfolding Events in Ethiopia

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Political Observation - The Unfolding Events in Ethiopia

The fallouts of the struggle that erupted on 5 November following a clash between the Prime Minister and Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) continue to cast their shadow on the political scene in Ethiopia, aggravating in the process its convolution and ambiguity. At the beginning of the month TPLF announced that its operatives had reached the region of Kemise, which is 325 kilometres north of the capital Addis Ababa, where they joined the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and posed a threat to the capital Addis Ababa and terrified Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who declared a state of emergency and called on the veterans to rejoin the army to defend his regime.

In fact, Abiy Ahmed, the first official from the Oromo ethnicity, would not have acceded to power in Ethiopia, which is crowded with various ethnicities, had it not been for the support of the US and the influence she has gained among the Ethiopian political forces since she decided to back the “freedom movements” in their struggle against European colonialism in Africa. America provided Abiy Ahmed with a regional standing and helped him win the Nobel Prize soon after he acceded to power. America attached great importance to Ethiopia; she backed her in striking the military pockets in Eritrea, then contributed to ending the rift between them. Ethiopia represents a significant importance in the Horn of Africa, which hosts several foreign military bases, the largest of which is the French military base in Djibouti.

This has turned Ethiopia into a central state and a defensive wall in the face of those military bases crowding the eastern African coastline close to the strategic oil supply route in Bab al-Mandab. Ethiopia has also turned into a tool policing the region, entrenching the American influence and weakening the covetous international forces.

However, power-hungry Abiy Ahmed turned on his rivals in the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, which he then dissolved, oppressed its leaders, and turned it into the “Prosperity” party. He then purged the authority from the old guards who represented the deep state among the various ethnicities, the army, and political parties. His undertakings, which were viewed by his opponents as treason, upset the balance of power among the ethnicities and led to the rebellion of the TPLF. On 4 November 2020, Abiy Ahmed dispatched the army to Tigray to eliminate the authorities of the region emanating from the TPLF, which he accused of attacking some military bases. He declared his victory on 28 February but by June 2021, not only had the TPLF operatives succeeded in recapturing most of the Tigray regions, but also extended their surge to the adjacent regions of Afar and Amhara.

Events on the ground intensified in favour of the Prime Minister’s opponents, with the TPLF operatives making significant advances in the province of Amhara and controlling several major cities north of the capital, such as Disi, Kombolcha, Kemise, and Ataye, while the Oromo Liberation Army advanced from the east and the west. This led to a transformation in the political scene and a change in the international standpoints.

Due to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s stubbornness and his failure to take into account the guidelines of US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman and because he gave him, as well as the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development Samantha Power, the cold shoulder, in addition to rejecting international mediation and America’s instructions that President Joe Biden mentioned during his speech of 18 September, and persisting in the military solution which threatened to divide Ethiopia and subvert the Horn of Africa, America turned a blind eye to the advance of the opposing forces and Twitter and Facebook blocked his posts in which he called on the masses to fight and bury the TPLF. Moreover, America sponsored a press conference in Washington held by nine Ethiopian groups which declared their determination to dissolve the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed either by force or through negotiations; they also announced their intention to form a transitional government. America has also threatened the Ethiopian regime with economic sanctions due to the crimes and human rights violations it has perpetrated. A senior US administration official told CNN that the Biden administration was preparing to issue sanctions pursuant to an executive decree signed by the President on 1 September stipulating imposing wide-ranging sanctions against those implicated in perpetrating massacres during the current conflict. Another US official said “we inform the Ethiopian government that there is still time to avert or reverse these measures if urgent actions were taken.”

All this was designed to exert pressure on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and to compel him to return back to square one, negotiate with his rivals, share power with them, or either resign or be ousted. This led to the retraction expressed by Abiy Ahmed through his acceptance of the African mediation and in his statements in which he hinted at his readiness to sacrifice for the sake of Ethiopia and slammed those who let him down by saying: “we have faced tribulations and obstacles, and this has made us stronger…. Our allies are more than those who turned on us.” This was his reaction to the opposing forces who had formed a coalition they called “The United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces” (UFEFCF), and whose representative Berhane Gebre-Christos said upon concluding the coalition in Washington that the aim of the UFEFCF was to “topple the regime” of Abiy Ahmed.

Although the name of the coalition includes the option of division since it refers to the confederalist feature within its name, but it aims in the first instance to contain the crisis, generate a domestic solution for it, and prevent it from escalating domestically and internationally.

This is what US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wanted when he called for a ceasefire and immediate peace negotiations without any preconditions. This was the very US standpoint expressed by former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when the crisis erupted; he telephoned Abiy Ahmed and expressed America’s concern over the continued fighting and its fallouts and dangers. The same standpoint was also reiterated on 10 November by Commissioner of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, who said the events in Ethiopia would impact the Horn of Africa, and the fragmentation of Ethiopia became a looming danger which may lead to further refugee operations. This explains the US standpoint towards Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and the solutions and messages conveyed to him by US Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman, as well as the UN Security Council resolution that called for an immediate end to the fighting in Ethiopia and for initiating the negotiations on a permanent ceasefire between the warring parties, and preparing the grounds for a comprehensive Ethiopian dialogue in order to generate the foundations of peace and stability throughout the whole country.

This confirms that the issue is domestic, and a natural outcome generated by the governmental structuring carried out by the Ethiopian Prime Minister. We can deduce that America’s presence in the events was evident and she has succeeded in making the opposition rush to Washington, containing all the warring parties, and controlling their penchant for civil war which could ignite the ethnic struggle in the Horn of Africa, especially that the TPLF has laid claims in Eritrea to lands inhabited by ethnic tribes linked to Tigray. She has also succeeded in placing the struggle on the tracks of the political process whose omens were reflected in the TPLF’s welcoming of the decision of President Biden, to which it referred as a step in the right direction, adding that it was not averse to initiating a dialogue to settle the struggle. Its omens were also reflected in the visit of the African Union’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, namely former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. The political solution is what America has been seeking to curb the covetous designs of the warring factions who could compel her to execute the option of confederation, and separate the province of Tigray in the north, thus generating an immediate solution to this type of struggle which has been ignited by the excessive military undertakings of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, which have aggravated the crisis and evoked the displeasure of the US.

13 Rabi’ al-Thani 1443h

18 November 2021