It’s never too late to act in Ethiopia and the Horn
After being embroiled in all-out war against apart of itself, troubles could be just compounding for Ethiopia afresh. Being bogged down in an aimless war that turned costly and endless, as critical observers expected and warned against, all of its actors could be worse for it in the short run with no certainty on whether the situation will improve in the medium term. If not arrested in time, any further fissures and belligerent miscalculations could cause Ethiopia’s implosion with far reaching consequences for the Horn of Africa region and beyond.
Multi-peoples’ states with underlying fissures of deep rooted divisions and unresolved grievances faces existential threats from their inequitable composition and undemocratic malgovernance. Ethiopia’s internationalized conflict in Tigray is a manifestation of multi-interests, multilayered micro conflicts collapsed and existing into one.
Each of the myriad of micro-conflicts would expose itself or be exposed at an inopportune opportune time within the multi phases of the multiple-faced Ethiopian conflict that only had its trigger in Tigray but with its causes all across Ethiopia and all around its international borders.
Likely scenarios for Ethiopia could follow and would have to be broken down along the conflict’s domestic and international fault lines.
For instance, that the rout (for TPLF) and tactical retreat or withdrawal (for prosperity party) will likely introduce a new dimension, and definitely a new phase, to the conflict for all its visible and invisible actors as follows:
What seems to be a victory — and it is, in some way— could actually be the start of a new conflict. This conflict could come in the form of continuation of supremacy contest and/or emergence of new sub-interests that could fuel intra-Tigray conflict.
With the uniting force of external enemy abating for Tigray, forces that were hitherto outward-looking could leap into an introspective journey that can set Tigray against itself in renewed supremacy contestations for authority, access and control over scarce resources— humanitarian aid and regional.
The occurrence of this scenario is bound to affect Tigray’s military and political projections against its external enemies, which include but not limited to PP (Abiy and Amhara) and Afewerki.
The routing or withdrawal of ENDF for whatever tactical or other reason, depending on where one stands in the conflict, could mean a regrouped and resurgent Tigray with a destabilizing ability that could reverberate beyond the Amhara regions and zones contiguous to it. This scenario rings true especially if the conflict drags on unmanaged, including if no amicable solution is reached on the two Peoples’ disputed territory.
And if and when the sufficiently stressed Ethiopia’s center fails to hold, fermentation would even be more, making the unraveling of the conflict more devastating than it has been. This prospect could then feed onto the Amhara’s on and off unresolved conflicts with other peoples’ and nations, i.e. the Oromos or some within the Southern peoples.
Prime Minister Abiy is already facing a negative narrative of defeat from his Tigray military adventurism. The international powers have given his war experimentation more than enough chance. His coming down with a cross between failure and defeat, eight months of showing his worst of conflict later, Abiy has only himself to blame for his failures. And everyone else has only him to blame for all the adverse consequences of the conflict that he had the single most power and opportunity to avert of control.
Now that the rights sensitive world, the US in particular, is awoke to the atrocities, egregious human right abuses and the result humanitarian crisis in Tigray, Abiy’s options for continued use of violence to tilt the balance is hardly to go without consequences. As with defeat comes blame games that can widen existing cracks, PP-Abiy should brace for the prospect for implosion not only within his party ranks but for Ethiopia as well.
What a merciful mother treated mercilessly. As a badly handled contraption of multi-nations state kept together through centuries old systemic acts of willful repression, Ethiopia’s implosion has always been a matter of when and not if.
Successive Ethiopian regimes have taken world powers support for it as a quasi-strategic regional ally for granted. This is so given the fact that none, including Abiy who exhibited some early signs of transformative leadership, has purposely set out in addressing Ethiopia’s deeply rooted fractures to heal it, unite it within its diversity and harness its potential for greatness beyond its militarized regional hegemony.
The world should unite to save Ethiopia from itself and from themselves as its implosion could be far reaching to engulf regions geographically far removed.
Tripartite regional [dis]integration
In retrospect, the tripartite regional (regime— makes more sense to call it as such) economic integration agreement of Afewerki, Abiy and Farmaajo was to derail existing relations for new ones. Founded on shortsighted foundations, the new bloc was soon exposed for its unholiness.
Abiy rode on the shoulders of Afewerki and Farmaajo’s ceremonial utility, both with existing grudges as fuel, to gang against an out of form and aging TPLF. Rallied on retribution and devoid of reason, the trio’s trepidation-al alliance turned to be heralding the region from the recovery path to probable paths of disintegration and ruin.
Routed from major urban centers in Somalia a decade ago, Al Shabaab is expected to continue its sitting pretty, minimal cost but disruptive posture in the region. Predictably, as has been the trend, neither observers nor al Shabaab itself anticipate any disturbances, let alone existential threats, to Al Shabaab from regional upheavals playing out in Ethiopia.
Never have AMISOM-ENDF and ENDF-bilateral ever mounted any offensive operations of strategic significance against al Shabaab. This is despite al-Shabaab severally inflicting high casualties on ENDF in road ambushes and FOB attacks. In almost all instances, ENDF acted defensively and stayed back to count its loses and lick its wounds.
In the unlikely event that the happenings in Ethiopia would necessitate ENDF redeployment from Somalia, it’s almost certain that al-Shabaab will fill the voids so left before the deserters’ camp fires dies out or their left-over foods go stale under the scorching sun. That sorry state of Somalia’s dependence on external forces for its security foreshadows the fatefulness and impracticability for timely implementation of the Somalia Transition Plan.
The only legacy that ENDF left would be its interference on Somalia’s transitional politics by putting its guns on the scale for certain favorable actors. Such is what enabled all currently outgoing federal MPs from Southwest to get their seats against their opponents. It’s the same intervention that ironically ousted Sharif Hassan, supplanted Lafta Gareen and Mukhtar Robow has been in political incarceration.
Since its well known that ENDF has no business in fighting al Shabaab in Somalia, unless acting defensively as earlier explained, Farmaajo will be the loser for it in case of its withdrawal. His Gedo project will go up in flames, as a direct consequence, giving advantage to Jubbaland administration and al Shabaab as net gainers.
Farmaajo’s political stock will dwindle in value in Southwest if there will be no ENDF-AMISOM to disadvantage his opponents. Farmaajo’s much planed for and anticipated Eritrean and their Somali recruits project to shore up political fortunes, mostly in Jubbaland, is gone with the wind. He’s reaping sour political fallouts as returns for the Eritrean-recruitsgate.
If nothing is done to turn things around on the scam that now bears all the hallmarks of a hostage crisis before the elections, there is the likelihood that Farmaajo could be locked out of the presidential race— or lose even if he runs on account of the scandal.
Under Farmaajo, Somalia failed to take advantage of the upheavals in Ethiopian to cover good grounds in reconciliation, consensus building on the its peace and state building processes and goals. Though unlikely, a Farmaajo reelection under a bogged down Abiy could most likely end in premature term much like Abdullahi Yusuf (may his soul rest in peace).
And as with the first last Ethiopian upheaval, Somalia is unlikely to take any strategic advantage of the current one. This means Ethiopia could sort itself and before long deploy another Col. Gabre in still weakling Somalia to dog whistle its hopeless leadership and herd them like camels.
Ethiopia’s upheaval that propelled Abiy to power at the ruinous expense of TPLF had IGAD’s feathers plucked, rendering it impotent against Somalia. The Horn of Africa’s three-leader alliance had the net effect of depriving IGAD of its leverage, especially on Somalia.
Having experienced unfair share of IGAD’s alienation and chastisement as Meles Zenawi Ethiopia’s political pawn, Afewerki has seized a payback moment in Tigray and is relishing every bit of it. The Irony is Afewerki is using Zenawi’s substantive replacement and anti-TPLF bulldog to do his bidding against as reparation against both IGAD and Tigray.
If as a consequence of the beating he is reportedly receiving in terms of loses in Tigray Abiy abates in his belligerence and is blunted to near submissiveness, IGAD stands to get back its lost groove. It would have its job cut for it in mediating the crisis in Ethiopia.
There is a lot of undercurrent about the conflict in Tigray and how its transforming that is hidden to the “naked eye.” Determined to seize back US standing on the international arena, especially on two of its three Ds- (diplomacy and development) based foreign policy, Biden’s administration remains actively engaged at high levels on Ethiopia.
There is no doubting the US sanctions against perpetrators on both sides of the conflict had huge part to play in the “sudden” turn of events. Strong and unequivocal high-level public messages have been streaming to both sides, but mostly as a deterrence to Ethiopia’s military and political leadership and its allies in the Tigray conflict.
The US public messaging about TPLF, Eritrea, and ENDF and allied forces/militia leaves nothing to imagination about the severity of its direct and private messaging to the target leaders.
While it would be naive to think that parties could be herded to agreement that they are unprepared for, the US’ weighing in with sanctions and threat of some more, the parties knowing that their non-compliance comes with consequences will go a long way in not aggravating, if not improving the humanitarian situation in Tigray.
TPLF barking against the ceasefire at the most inappropriate time of the conflict aside, with US involvement, it’s safe to assume that all parties would be bound in observance of the unilateral ceasefire. The US could as well ban anything more than defensive maneuvers from the parties and, if need be, establish and enforce a no-fly zone over Tigray.
The GERD climbers
We shall leave it for you to write something about this aspect of the conflict in Tigray, internationalizing it, and how the success and failure of the ceasefire could unravel the issues, actors and interests imbuing into and fueling the conflict (Zero Mrks).
Horn of Africa Region and MENA Region
If not mitigated at this level, the conflict in Tigray and many other conflict systems already at varied levels of activity and trigger, the state of Ethiopia risks an implosion. Such could be a never before seen implosion whose rapture will reverberate across regions contiguous to the Horn, including the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions and as far as Europe.
The humanitarian, refugees, immigrants and security crisis that an imploded Ethiopia produces will scale new records. Al-Shabaab and its variant offshoots will find a renewed lifeline to lurch into from a readily plowed fertile ecosystem for growth of extremism. Rife with inter- and intra- peoples and communal conflicts, Ethiopia implosion could easily open the lid on religious (inter-denomination and inter-faith) conflicts. Such will be, beyond nightmarish, a hellish outcome of an Ethiopian implosion with its potential to be highly contagious to engulf the entire region.