Fire in Ethiopia: Before It Gets Too Late

Since it started on November 4, the crisis in Ethiopia has claimed numerous lives and is plunging the country in the direction of a large-scale civil war witnessed in Rwanda in the nineties. Scores and hundreds of civilians have been massacred. Thousands have crossed over to Sudan to seek refuge consequent on the fight between the Central Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The fight has continued to rage on as both sides try to garner sympathizers in their favour. The crisis is said to have ensued following the order of airstrikes and ground offensive by the prime minister of Ethiopia, Mr. Abiy Ahmed, against Tigray’s rulers. The attack on Tigray is in view of the regional elections held in September which the central government said it did not authorize. But reports show that the feud goes as far back as 2018 when the TPFL, which has been the dominant political party for decades, lost its major influence following Mr. Abiy’s position as prime minister. Upon assumption into office, the prime minister berated the previous government as corrupt, and removed some key TPFL figures from the central government.

The feud between the duo grew especially with Abiy’s political reforms. The prime minister accused some TPLF leaders of acting in ways opposed to his government, and his moves to reform Ethiopia. His decision to merge the ethnically based parties that formed the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRDF) coalition and set up the Prosperity Party (PP) added to the tension that was growing within Tigrayan quarters. The last straw that broke the carmel’s back was Tigray’s decision to hold its own elections in September which the Abiy-led government perceived was an unprecedented act of defiance. The situation was further compounded following the attack and seizing of a military base in the regional capital, Mekelle. The prime minister accused Tigrayan forces of the attack, alleging that army officers were murdered in cold blood. Debretsion Gebremichael, the Tigrayan leader, however denied the allegations insisting that they were concocted stories by the Abiy-led government to justify the coordinated attacks by the Ethiopian Special Forces. The Tigrayan leadership maintained that Abiy is only bent on centralizing power away from the regions which enjoy a significant level of autonomy under the constitution. He stressed that since the Ethiopian government had declared war on them, they will resist every effort; all of which can be seen in the attacks and counter-attacks between the warring factions.

The implications of the crisis in Ethiopia cut across East Africa, the Middle East and Europe. It stretches from the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict in the Caucasus, civil wars in Syria and Libya, and the mounting tension in the Eastern Mediterranean. The crises could increase the flow of Eritrean migrants to Europe who already form a significant portion of Africans seeking better opportunities there. It would also affect the peace treaty with neighboring Eritrea; allowing the Eritrean leader, Isaias Afwerki, take advantage of the dispute to solidify his regional ambitions.

Nevertheless, Ethiopia has been a source of hope for the continent with an economy that grew at nearly 10 per cent a year for roughly two decades. Its outstanding record of economic growth and home-grown development has inspired the entire continent of Africa. The crisis in Ethiopia therefore has a lot of implications for not only the future of the country but Africa at large. As the United-Nations General Secetary explained, “the stability of Ethiopia is important for the entire horn of Africa region” given that it has the second largest population in Africa, after Nigeria, and the fastest growing economy in the region. Concerted efforts should therefore be made to abate the crises. The different organizations within the region, Organization of African Union (OAU) in particular, should engage necessary stakeholders to see that the crisis rocking Ethiopia comes to an end before it is too late. The United Nations should also intervene and take necessary actions to see that the series of human rights violations illustrated in the killings of innocent civilians is forestalled.

Nelson Okoh

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