Ethiopia’s Tigray War: PM Abiy, Afwerki, and Amhara Elites, Three Allies with different objectives.
by Asad Aliweyd
The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) that ruled the country for almost three decades with an iron fist has committed horrific human rights abuses. EPRDF is the ruling party which consisted of four major ethnic groups (Tigre, Amhara, Oromo and Sothern nations) who were the main beneficiaries of the party. The EPRDF-led government made improvements in health, education, roads and other state and local infrastructures for those ethnic membership areas. However, the other regions such as the Somali, Afar, Harari, and Sidamo were purposefully left behind in major developmental projects. The inherent political system of EPRDF has significantly and intentionally discriminated the four aforementioned minority communities. EPRDF afforded these minorities no representative voice at the table where decisions are made, so they have been treated as second-class citizens in the country.
For the long period of TPLF-EPRDF led government’s tyranny, subjugation, and crackdown for the opposition groups, Ethiopia faced a two-year period of civil unrest and demonstrations. For the first time, the Oromo and Amhara elites, political and civil leaders came together to change the system. They have organized a well-coordinated campaign nicknamed “Oromara” both in the diaspora and in the country with the aim of ousting the TPLF-led coalition and its then prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn. But, this newly-formed political alliance never agreed any political framework after ousting the TPLF.
The godfather of the QEERO movement Jawar Mohamed, a creative, young and well respected individual leader, and Bekela Gerba whom I know personally, were aiming a free Ethiopia where every ethnic group can enjoy their culture, language, freedom of expression, and have a democratic system of government that will ultimately end oppression and political monopoly in the country. On the other hand, the Amhara opposition leaders such as Eskinder, and Dr. Berhanu Nega who are both diehard pan Amhara nationalist were aspiring the return of Neftanya system- Haile Selassie and Menelik era system of supremacy.
Key challenges to Abiy:
The political transition and the roadmap from dictatorship into a more open multi-party democracy system of government promised by the prime minister Abiy Ahmed faced significant impediments. Abiy Ahmed have three major obstacles that he would be able to maneuver with ingenuity, but he failed to do so miserably. The Oromo people has experiences over 160 years of a long history of oppression, land-grabbing, and enslaving by Abyssinians particularly, the Amhara. Oromo political, academic and civil leaders including then regional president Lemma Mergesa openly opposed pm. Abiy’s appeasing Amhara and his advocacy of bringing back the old one ethnic and one language domination of the country. Jawar Mohamed, Baqale Gerba, the entire Oromo elites and the Qeero leadership fall out of the pm. Abiy’s boat. Soon, Abiy who is a half Oromo and half Amhara seek help from his mother’s side-the Amhara. They have supported with whole lot of conditions that started the arrest and killings of the Oromo elites.
Abiy and Afewerki’s Political Common Denominator:
The Tigre People Liberation Front (TPLF) has successfully withdrawn its resources and manpower to its region. Soon after the retreat, pm. Abiy made a significant peace treaty with Eretria. Eretria president Isaias Afewerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed have mutual interests when it comes to the TPLF and its leaders. Eretria believed that they have suffered huge loss in the 1988-2000 border war between the countries. Afterward, for over two decades Eretria was in isolation due to the TPLF’s political and economic influences in the Horn Africa. Their political common denominator was their isolation and they destroy the TPLF and its core leadership once and for all. In addition, the Amhara vs. Tigray history of animosity starting from Tigray Tedros and Amhara king Menelik era has surfaced and energize ethnic Amhara’s to go after Tigray people specially those who live around their disputed border regions.
Tigray regional leaders and its population were caught up in the middle of three groups that have divergent motivations. Pm Abiy sought that weakening and isolating TPLF would help his dream of becoming the de facto ruler of the country. TPLF was the last major organized opposition to his rule, so bringing it to their knees in whatever it costs was his goal. On the other hand, Amahara elites including deputy pm Demeke Mekonnen Hassen had different objective in this war. Their goal was to reclaim the disputed fertile towns and villages between the two regions. In addition, Eretria was looking a revenge against not only TPLF leaders but the entire Tigray population.
After these (Abiy, Afawerki and Amahara Elites) trio pact, TPLF leaders who have dominated the region’s political and security institutions have learned that war is indeed coming to their region. Then, they have organized a lone election without the blessing of the federal government. Soon after the elections, the situation got out of hand and the preparations for war were shown on TVs.
Unanticipated of the Tigray war.
Everyone who has a basic knowledge about the region has predicted that TPLF will lose the first phase in a conventional-style war against the two countries’ armies plus the Amhara regional special forces. However, experts warned that this would be a protracted conflict, and the human and economic consequences will be enormous. PM Abiy wanted a quick operation that he wanted to remove the TPLF leaders out of the power, install interim administration, and then ask Eretria and Amhara forces leave Tigray quietly. All of his plans were doomed because of his irrational analysis of the historical prospective of the northern Abyssinians.
The animosity and hatred between Eritreans and Tigrayans weren’t only government to government but also people to people. The 1988 war between Ethiopia and Eretria killed more Eretrians than their 30 years of freedom struggle. Almost every housed of Eritreans has lost someone in the war. Thus, Eritreans are in the war for the sole purpose of revenge killing that doesn’t distinguish civilians from the TPLF fighters. That is, lootings and destruction of the properties by the Eritreans became the daily way of life.
Similarly, International organizations, United States government, and EU are all declared that Amhara regional militia and Eritrean forces are operating systematically ethnic cleansing in Tigray. Now, the war crime documentations were collected and prepared by the International human rights organizations. Also, powerful countries including the United States and European Union have called what is going on in Tigray as active genocide and ethnic cleansing.
What is next In Ethiopia?
The war plan went from law-and-order operation as the federal government claimed into a full-scale ethnic cleansing. PM Abiy once declared in front of his handclapped parliament that there wasn’t a single civilian casualty in the war. Speaking at the chamber, Abiy Ahmed appeared as someone who really is in control of what is happening on the ground. However, the fact was the opposite of his claims. He wasn’t commanding the Eritrean forces or Amhara Militias whose main objective of the war was to revenge from past animosity between them and the TPLF. Rape, killings, looting and destruction of property was at peak when he declared the victory and said no civilian casualty at the war!
No winner in this war?
The war was avoidable, but both sides — the TPLF and the federal government — seem their advantage is to engage the war. TPLF who have ruled the country for almost thirty years has committed serious crimes against humanity, so their objective was to drag Abiy Ahmed, the noble peace prize winner into a civil war. On the other hand, Abiy’s goal was to neutralize TPLF once and for all. He has succeeded to dimmish their power, kick them out of the Tigray cities and towns and degrade their ability to come back for at least in the coming years.
Consequently, the war became what international and regional organizations called genocide and active ethnic cleansing. The federal government, Eretria and Amhara militia committed crimes against humanity that gave TPLF an international political space where they are victims of genocide, and Abiy and his supporters are indeed facing criminal infestations for the war. Thus, TPLF and PM Abiy Ahmed are the losers of the war. Afewerki and Amhara militias are winners because they have both have forcefully grasped the disputed land between the Tigray and Eritrea as well as Tigray and Amhara regional states.
Author: Asad Khalif Aliweyd, Ph.D candidate in Management And Public Service