Since I tested for Covid 19 days ago, I kinda got a writing block. I Will be out of isolation in about 2 days I hope my third test gives me good news. Today I tell a tale about the political capital of Africa that is in many ways in the dark and my experience with the virus will be another time.
Is Africa on fire, from the school kidnapping in Nigeria and the government paying the ransom, to the Coups in Mali, to assassination attempts of leaders in Madagascar and Mali, to the protests against the Monarch in Swaziland to the looting’s in South Africa as South Sudan marks 10 years of Independence but a clear failed state. Today I want to talk about the War in Ethiopia.
The last time I talked about Ethiopia I was trying to make sense of the changing Geo Politics of the Nile River. Then I tried to connect the Grand Renaissance Dam (GRD) to the war north of the country briefly and figuratively.
The war between Ethiopian Federal forces and the Tigray people’s Liberation Front (TPLF) started when Ethiopia was at the brink of war with Egypt and Sudan over the construction of the GRD. During Trump’s administration in Washington, they were efforts to have the 3 countries on the round table but the mediator the USA took the side of Egypt 100% which made the process unfair. Trump suggested Egypt blow up the GRD and Ethiopia went ahead to deploy air defense systems from China and Russia around the Dam. This whole dilemma reaches its peak in 2020 when the power dynamics in the horn of Africa had tipped.
Ethiopia is called the pride of Africa because it is one of the oldest nations in the world. It was not colonized and it’s a country with a rich history just like Iran or even China. From the late 1200s to 1974 it was an empire led by the Amhara people of the ethnic groups among the many that made up the empire. When the Empire ended after a coup led by the military that set up what was referred to as the Derge (a military council) in 1974 but was later led by Mengistu Haile Mariam from 1977 to 1991. It was a pure extension of the Soviet Union but on the African continent which explains the time, it was overthrown. The Derge was as brutal as the Imperial government it overthrew and murdered the emperor and 60 of his ex-officials and very many people during its rule.
During military rule in Ethiopia, many militias were formed and they started to fight the government but they were two outstanding ones. The Eritrea People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), these two groups were from North of the country and had access to the red sea which was strategic and key for them, to formulate coalitions by 1991 that saw Mengistu Haile Mariam leave the capital and fled to exile in Zimbabwe because of his friendship with Robert Mugabe and where he got popular or unpopular for “Operation Murambatsvina” in 2005 but that is a story for another day. When the war ended EPLF decided to declare independence creating Eritrea leaving TPLF as the dominant force in Ethiopia. Ethiopia then became a Federation with 10 regions led by a coalition of former rebel groups that was called the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) that was made up of the Amhara Democratic Party (ADP), Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), Southern Ethiopian people’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM) and led by the TPLF which represents 6% of the population.
From 1991-2018 TPLF dominated the EPRDF and out of the heads of the Ethnic Federation since then 2 out 3 were from the TPLF. The first was Meles Zenawi who led TPLF since 1988 to 2012 meaning he was the rebel leader and became officially the Prime Minister after the election of 1995. He died in Power and Hailemariam Desalegn replaced him from 2012 to 2018 when he resigned after the country was rocked by protests from the Oromo people since 2015. The Oromo are the Majority in population but were the most marginalized in the Politics of Ethiopia since the 1200s.
In 2018 ODP played its best moves on the chessboard and PhD Abiy Ahmed Ali became the first Oromo to lead the country with a tight power struggle within EPRDF mainly from TPLF and SEPDM. He turned the Ethiopian political scene upside down when he took office first by releasing political prisoners, he promoted freedom of the press, he appointed a former Political Prisoner to head the Human Rights Commission in the country. Then he signed a peace agreement with Eritrea which the TPLF had gone to war with in 1998 because of a borderline conflict. This earned him the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. In his many reforms, he took on powerful corrupt officials, and since for 30 years, the country was run by a small group of people from the TPLF they were victims of this operation causing political bad blood. He went ahead to sideline the EPRDF for a new coalition called the Prosperity Party. The TPLF had had enough of his reforms and they cut ties with the government joining the opposition.
In 2020 Ethiopia was supposed to have elections but because of the pandemic they did postpone the vote to 2021 but the TPLF decided to hold elections in the Tigray Region and they won by 98%. Two major political parties in the Tigray Region didn’t take part in the elections. They had defied the central government that was pretty much undoing their 30 years dirty legacy. On November 4th everything took the worst turn when the TPLF military wing decided to attack positions of the government forces. Now the TPLF had been in power for 3 decades it’s only logical that they informed their allies for example the United States and they did have a backchannel with European Union about the military move. When the TPLF was in power it used to do the police work for the United States in the Horn of Africa including invading Somalia as one of the examples.
The TPLF used its old connection to seize the opportunity to start a war with Ethiopia when the country was facing Egypt and Sudan. For TPLF the issue of the Nile seemed like a good opening to make a comeback to the Ethiopian political scene. The war that has been raging in Ethiopia is the Old guard fighting the New guard. The peace agreement between Eritrea came to play when the Eritrean army joined the war on the side of the Ethiopian forces. For Eritrea, it was a chance to revenge on the TPLF and it’s claimed they did very well. Eritrea also made sure all refuge camps that resulted from the 1998 war were destroyed and people were forced to return to their country. It’s like Aby had envisioned the war.
It’s estimated that since November over 50,000 people have died and about 60,000 have fled to Sudan. Now when the refugee crisis in Sudan happened Sudan cooled down on the Nile war rhetoric. It’s like the plan had backfired since weapons and other military supplies come from their end of the border. The human rights commission alongside the United Nations in Ethiopia has said the Ethiopian army did carry out gross war violations in the Tigray region. How many African Counties have such a human rights body? That is how special the New Prime Minister had set his country. According to Amnesty International, both sides have carried out acts that amount to war crimes, the use of rape as a war weapon, a blockade of humanitarian aid is happening in the Tigray region. The United States has decided to take the side of the rebels who are now a terrorist organization officially in Ethiopia.
For a while, the Ethiopian defense force did take the capital of the TPLF Mekele then Prime Minister declared a cease-fire so that the people can make use of the rains to avoid food shortages. The TPLF has rejected the ceasefire and is currently on the offensive fighting with forces from the neighboring region setting a stage for ethnic crashes. When the Prime Minister withdrew from the region he said the Federal troops were preparing for a national standoff probably against Egyptian and Sudanese attack because this was just before the second filling of the GRD would happen. It’s not clear if it was a coordinated withdrawal after backdoor talks or the army has suffered significant losses. Ethiopia is believed to have one of the strongest militaries on the continent, but again for 30 years, the military was dominated by the TPLF.
To the world whoever controls Ethiopia Geo Politically doesn’t control the horn Africa but also the Red Sea trading corridor. That is why the United Nations Security Council was all over the conflict but Ethiopia has stood its ground and claimed it’s an internal issue. The United States has placed sanctions on Ethiopia but they are careful not to play into the hands of China. The UAE did offer drone support earlier in the conflict all show how many actors are interested in Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian constitution allows and provides the steps for a region to break off, now TPLF has not yet officially talked about independence. Many believe it would not even survive as a state because of its hostile neighbors. It’s also not clear if the TPLF has the real support of the people it claims to represent because even if they were in power for 30 years they didn’t develop the region much. They have some of the poorest people in Ethiopia. If Tigray did break off then the remaining 9 federal states can follow and it can spread across the continent so the International community is not supporting that course of action.
The election happened and Abiy Ahmed Ali’s Prosperity Party was Victorious, this gives him legitimacy to forge a peaceful path for Ethiopia. It’s believed if Ethiopia is peaceful Africa is relatively peaceful. The TPLF misses being in power and they have to negotiate their way back because war will not get them what they so much crave. For the Western world, they should stop pretending to care about Africa because it’s clear they are up to their Imperialism traits burning everything down in the process.
Watch out for a clubhouse session with a guest from Ethiopia, I will post the details on my socials.