Ethiopia Forums Food for thought The war in Tigray is being complicated by ideological ambitions

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      The war in Tigray is being complicated by the ideological ambitions of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed; Eritrean President Isayas  Afeworki’s thirst for vengeance; and the irredentist territorial claims of the Amhara branch of Prosperity Party.TPLF


      Hundreds killed and many more wounded in the raging fight between the Ethiopian military and regional forces in the northern state of Tigray. Tigray leaders on Monday appealed to the African Union to intervene and mediate between the warring parties as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed vowed to “wrap up” the operation “soon.” The United Nations is warning that the conflict could displace tens of thousands of people, including refugees and one million people who already rely on safety-net assistance.

      The conflict is already spilling into Ethiopia’s neighbors. Thousands of Ethiopians, including army soldiers, are fleeing to neighboring Sudan. Sudan has massed troops on its eastern border while Tigray leaders allege that Eritrean forces have joined the fight from Humera and Badme fronts.

      The immediate causes of the deepening conflict are complex and not straightforward. There are four major factors at play: power centralization, territorial irredentism, ideological and historical factors.

      A quest for total control  

      Prime Minister Abiy used the Oromo Protests to usurp power from the Tigrayan-dominated Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in April 2018. He then ignored all the demands of the protesters and has been busy consolidating personal power. He did this by dissolving the ruling parties of all regional states, except the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which governs the Tigray State. TPLF was the dominant party in the EPRDF. Abiy’s Prosperity Party (PP) now administers eight regional states and two federally managed cities.TPLF

      Abiy Ahmed’s centralizing tendencies and undemocratic practices had already cost him his Oromo base. He has either detained, co-opted, or systematically silenced major leaders of Oromo political parties, including key allies who facilitated his rise to power. As a result, the Abiy administration is now facing both non-violent and armed resistance in the Oromia state. As authorities ramp-up the war effort in Tigray, the internet, and telecom services have – once again – been cut in western Oromia, where the federal army has fought a low-level insurgency for more than a year.

      Abiy’s ultimate goal is to assert total control over the Tigray state. Toward that end, PP leaders and its social media troll army are calling for the total annihilation of TPLF once and for all. In the past two years, TPLF leaders have challenged Abiy’s efforts to monopolise power. Thwarted at every turn, Abiy is now trying to extend his hegemonic ambitions to Tigray through the use of force, including airstrikes. The House of Federation has already established a transitional government, accountable to central authorities, in the restive state.

      Tensions between TPLF and Abiy escalated in September after Tigrayan leaders held a regional election in defiance of the federal government’s decision to indefinitely postpone elections scheduled for August. Federal authorities dismissed the Tigray poll and its government as illegitimate, severing ties with it and suspending federal grants. Tigray leaders countered by refusing to cooperate with the Abiy government and recalling its members for the national parliament. Since then, both sides have been busy preparing for war.

      Amhara irredentism

      At the heart of the ongoing clash is also unresolved territorial claims. The Amhara nationalists have been projecting claims over territories drawn into the Tigray state in the 1990s. These disputed pockets include Welkait-Tegede and parts of Raya. Amhara nationalists have formed several committees (አስመላሽ ኮሚቴ) to facilitate the return of these “lost territories” to the Amhara state.

      Tigrayan nationalists refute these claims as an extension of what is commonly known as Neftegna imperialism. Neftegna is an imperial rule by Amharic speaking gun-holders, and a feudal political economy, in which no group is recognised to possess its own language, identity, land, and subnational administration in Ethiopia.

      Neftegna literally means bearers of the ‘neft’ or the gun. In our contemporary context, Neftegna refers to a repressive system that uses the barrel of the gun to impose its totalizing and homogenising ideology on the local population.

      It is clear that Amhara nationalists, especially leaders and members of the National Movement of Amhara (NaMA) and the Amhara branch of PP are backing “the war on Tigray” because of these irredentist claims. It is also no accident that an active war is being waged between Amhara (supported by the army) and Tigray special forces and militia along with the Welkait-Tegede districts.

      The territorial dispute also highlights the divergent goals of the ongoing military campaign. For the Amhara elite and dominant ruling class, it is all about regaining “lost territories” and subduing a formidable foe across its northern border. Amhara activists are gleefully reporting that parts of Welkait is now under their region’s control. For Abiy, the immediate goal is to reassert control and eliminate the last remaining challenge to his budding dictatorship. For now, the two sides are aligned around their mutual detest for the multinational federal arrangement.

      Ideological dimensions of the war

      The idea of creating “one indivisible Ethiopian nation” out of many nations using the Amharic language and Orthodox Christianity as common signifies started during the reign of Menelik II. It was intensified by the homogenisation policy of Emperor Haile Selassie and the “Ethiopia First” project of the Derg. This assimilationist policy ended in 1991 with the victory of TPLF and other nationalist liberation fronts. With the introduction of multinational federalism, national groups attained constitutional rights to self-government in 1995.

      For proponents of the old nation-building approach, the 1995 constitution was a “divide and rule” policy of the TPLF. They oppose language and cultural rights, as well as the restructuring of the Ethiopian state based on language. For example, the Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice (EZEMA) and PP both advocate for the usage of Amharic as a means of “strengthening” national unity.

      These anti-federalist forces condemn multinational federalism as “anti-unity” and have nicknamed it “ethnic-federalism.” They contend that TPLF is “the mother of all problems” facing Ethiopia. In particular, the fault TPLF for mobilising national and linguistic groups against “Ethiopianism.”

      For them, Ethiopia’s unity can only be achieved on the graves of TPLF. Abiy’s supporters mistakenly believe that the demise of the TPLF would weaken ethno-national identities and group rights (ethno-nationalism) in Ethiopia, thereby widening spaces for “Ethiopianism.” They profess that once TPLF is destroyed, the remaining ethno-national forces can be easily squashed.

      It should be crystal clear that the war in Tigray is an extension of Abiy’s ongoing ideological battle in Oromia, Sidama, Wolaita, and other areas in the South. He has already jailed or sidelined every formidable opponent in the Oromia state, where support for multinational federalism is near-unanimous. For now, Somali leaders are backing Abiy with the hope of increasing Somali’s influence and visibility in national politics. The Sidama are focused on setting up their new state. The Wolaita and the rest of statehood campaigners in the South are disenfranchised and subjected to arrest and intimidation.

      Afeworki’s vengeance 

      The other significant aspect of the military campaign in Tigray is the Eritrea factor. Eritrean and Tigrayan forces cooperated to overthrow the Derg regime in 1991. However, both forces emerged deadly rivals, leading to a costly border war between 1998 and 2000, which left nearly 100,000 dead on both sides. Though the real reason for the war was different, it was officially framed as a territorial dispute over Badme and Shiraro, which are now under the Tigray administration. After the active war ended, the Ethio-Eritrean conflict remained frozen for two decades with little prospect for peace.Isayas Afeworki

      Abiy made a surprise visit to Eritrea just three months after assuming power. Since then, President Isayas Afeworki and Abiy have had several exchanges of visits. As a soldier, Abiy was part of the Ethio-Eritrean war. Now close allies, the relationship between the two leaders and their deals remain a mystery. Fundamentally, it is impossible to bring peace between the two countries by excluding Tigrayans, who share a long border with Eritrea. This is also why no progress has been registered after the historic peace deal, much less the institutionalisation of the agreement for which Abiy won the Nobel Prize. Isayas sees the TPLF leaders as mortal enemies and a threat to his one-man regime.

      Tigray leaders allege that Ethiopian troops have defected to Eritrea and that Eritrean forces have joined the fight from the Humera front. It was only three weeks ago that Isayas visited the Ethiopian Air Force base in Bishoftu and was presumably briefed on the preparations for war.

      The Abiy-Isayas rapprochement has been criticised as a short-sighted personal relationship forged against a common enemy, TPLF. Isayas is eager to see TPLF’s downfall to fulfill his vengeance. There are also those who suspect Isayas might be conspiring toward the disintegration of Ethiopia to emerge as the sole powerful man in the Horn of Africa. Isayas fought for 30 years to get independence from what he calls the Amhara dominated Ethiopian state. He did not consider a federal option with Ethiopia and created an Eritrean state. This same man, who then preferred secession to the federation, is now hypocritically denouncing federalism in Ethiopia. Isayas now sees federalism both in Ethiopia and Somalia as an indirect threat to his own rule in Eritrea.


      The factors I have outlined above are complicating this unnecessary war. At the root of the current conflict is ideological and political differences over the future of the country. These issues cannot be settled through the use of force. No war has ever solved Ethiopia’s problem.

      To be clear, all criminals within the TPLF should be brought to justice for corruption and gross human rights violations over the past 27 years. But it should also be clear that TPLF was not alone in committing those crimes. PP leaders cannot absolve themselves of the abuses of EPRDF by simply changing their hat. Most importantly, this is not a law enforcement operation to bring about justice or accountability.

      Ethiopia needs an all-inclusive national dialogue and a unity government along with a roadmap for national elections. Any dialogue about the future of Ethiopia must be preceded by the release of all political prisoners. Criminals inside TPLF and PP should be dealt with through a transitional justice mechanism within the framework of that transition.

      In the meantime, Abiy should be advised to stop the wars he is fighting in Tigray, Oromia and other parts of the country against insurgents and peaceful protesters. The international community should scale up mediation efforts to avert an all-out civil war with consequences far beyond Ethiopia’s borders.

      Ethiopia Autonomous Media


        The besieged capital of the embattled Tigray region

        Ethiopia’s government is again warning residents of the besieged capital of the embattled Tigray region as the clock ticks on a 72-hour ultimatum before a military assault, saying “anything can happen.”

        Senior official Redwan Hussein told reporters Monday that the Tigray regional leaders are “hiding out in a densely populated city; the slightest strike would end up losing lives.”

        Human rights groups and others were alarmed over the weekend when Ethiopia’s military warned civilians in the Tigray capital, Mekele, that there would be “no mercy” if they don’t “save themselves” before the offensive to flush out defiant regional leaders. Amnesty International warns that deliberately attacking civilians and civilian objects “is prohibited under international humanitarian law and constitutes war crimes.”

        Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister, issued a 72-hour ultimatum Sunday for the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, to surrender.

        Redwan said that Mekele, a city of around 500,000 people, is now encircled at a distance of about 50 kilometers (30 miles), and with rougher terrain left behind “what remains is the plain land, easier for tanks.”

        He added, “by providing a brute fact, it is letting people to understand the reality and make the right choice.” Ethiopia’s government is urging Mekele residents to separate themselves from the TPLF leaders in time.

        Ethiopia’s government again rejected international pleas for dialogue with the TPLF leaders, regarding them as criminals on the run.

        The heavily-armed TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s ruling coalition for more than a quarter century before Abiy came to power and introduced sweeping political reforms and sidelined TPLF officials. Now, each government sees the other as illegal, with the TPLF objecting to the delay of national elections because of the COVID-19 pandemic and Abiy’s government infuriated by the Tigray region defiantly holding its own vote in September.

        Civilians are caught in the middle of what some experts have described as a conflict akin to an inter-state war. The TPLF alone has been estimated to have a quarter-million fighters.

        “I can tell you that we remain extremely concerned about the safety of civilians in the Tigray region, especially the more than half a million people – including more than 200 aid workers – who remain in Mekele following information that fighting might move into the city in the coming hours,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

        He also called for “free, safe and unhindered humanitarian access” to the Tigray region, which remains almost completely sealed off from the world with communications severed, roads blocked and airports closed.

        A humanitarian disaster is unfolding both inside and outside the Tigray region. Food, fuel and medical and other supplies are running desperately low in the Tigray region and the U.N. says around 2 million people there urgently need aid.

        Meanwhile, nearly 40,000 Ethiopians have now fled into Sudan to escape the fighting, severely burdening local communities in the remote region as humanitarians struggle to hurry food and shelter to the area.

        Ethiopia Autonomous Media


          #Ethiopia government tells 500,000 citizens & 200 aid workers in #Tigray region’s main city of #Mekelle that “anything can happen” as army rapidly approaches with tanks & artillery, having pledged to “show no mercy” to those who haven’t “saved themselves”

          Replying to@GerrySimpsonHRW
          TPLF is Terrorists. Hope you know how TPLF is against Ethiopians and the people of Tigray. See the Rockets news in BahirDar, Gondar and Asmera. Please be fair.

          Sarah Terry
          One doesn’t have to be a TPLF supporter or blind to history to see the massive problems with the ongoing war, humanitarian crisis and ethnic cleansing of Tegaru not to mention the future fallout.

          Replying to@GerrySimpsonHRW
          TPLF is not only political party, its a multi-million, if not billion, dollar financial conglomerate that used public office, historical grievances and ethnic differences as its business model to enrich itself.

          In essence, ethnic Federalism that it created meant to bring equalities in culture,language&political position amongst over 90 ethiopian ethnic groups. But in practice in its 30 yrs of reign in power it managed to create Minority Ethnic(Tigrean)dominance in economy politics of Ethiopia.

           ዞላ (Zola)
           Replying to@GerrySimpsonHRW
          No matter how you want to miss interpret what has been said, ENDF will be victorious and Tigray will be free from the criminals. ENDF is a professional army that takes every precautions to prevent civilian casualties. God willing, Ethiopia will prevails.

           Mattewos Berhane
           Replying to@GerrySimpsonHRW
          Mekelle is my home town and home for more than half-million population. It is very sad to be a military target.

           Replying to@GerrySimpsonHRW
          Very good. Our army is 150,000 strong. We going to pick the feathers of the TPLF criminals out one by one. Game over Junta.

          Replying to@TheKush10
          the war is for Abiy who declared himself as the 7th king in the 21st century.

          Yohannes** STOP THE WAR**
           Replying to@GerrySimpsonHRW
          I do hope that @WHNSC
          have seen enough death and destruction now and will act immediately. Most of the officers are disgruntled former members of the Derg Regime. These are the same officers who brutalised Ethiopia for 17. They have a personal vendetta against Tigray.

           Hanna Jonathan
          Replying to@GerrySimpsonHRW
          Imagine Warnings the people while every communication is blocked. 

          Replying to@GerrySimpsonHRW
          TPLF clique ruled ethiopia for 27 yrs even though Tigray represent 6% of population. Ethiopians finally had enough of minority rule, but TPLF will not let go. They use Tigray youth as recruit for their army to threaten the federal govt but cry human rights when the govt responds.

          Replying to@GerrySimpsonHRW
          The government is committing a war crime in the name of law and order he is only been in the office for two years he has already started a war he is not even elected as prime minister but still, he does this ethnic-based attack in Tigray and Addis Ababa.

          ተadesse H.
          Replying to@GerrySimpsonHRW
          My interpretation for “no mercy“ is possibly about the fierce response against those who chose to fight, as the military tankers roll on the streets of Mekelle. The experience from other big cities under control should indicate the same story repeating.

          Ethiopia Autonomous Media


            Dictators never fail to appreciate each other

            They are committing genocide on Tigray people.Dictators never fail to appreciate each other.  Have destroyed yemen. Now, it’s ethiopian turn.They are committing genocide on Tigray people.But, UN and African Union are unable to stop this 21 century genocide happening in Tigray, Ethiopia. The UAE drones are bombing civilians.

            Ethiopia Autonomous Media


              Abiy Ahmed

              People have begun to understand Abiy Ahmed only since War on Tigray but he by his very nature was born anti-democracy, anti-human rights, blood lust. He was a chief spy, killer before 2018. butchered 10s of 1000s since 2018, directly assassinated 10s of high profile people.

              Ethiopia Autonomous Media


                Tigrayan forces have destroyed an Ethiopian army division

                Tigrayan forces said on Tuesday they had destroyed an Ethiopian army division in battles to control the northern region where a three-week-old war has killed hundreds and spread global alarm.

                Tents belonging to Ethiopian refugees fleeing from the ongoing fighting in Tigray region, are seen at the Um-Rakoba camp, on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in the Al-Qadarif state, Sudan 
                The federal government denied that and said many Tigrayan soldiers were surrendering in line with a 72-hour ultimatum before a threatened attack on the regional capital Mekelle.

                Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s troops launched an offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) local government on Nov. 4 and say they are closing in on Mekelle in a final push to win the conflict.

                But the battle-hardened TPLF say their troops are keeping the federal army at bay and scoring some big victories.

                Their spokesman Getachew Reda told Tigray TV a prestigious army unit – which he termed the 21st mechanised division – had been “completely destroyed” in an assault at Raya-Wahirat led by a former commander of that unit now fighting for the TPLF.

                Billene Seyoum, the prime minister’s spokeswoman, told Reuters that was not true.

                Reuters has been unable to verify statements made by either side since phone and internet connections to Tigray are down and access to the area is strictly controlled.

                Hundreds have died, tens of thousands of refugees have fled to Sudan and there is widespread destruction and uprooting of people from homes, security and aid sources say.

                The conflict has spread to Eritrea, where the TPLF has fired rockets, and also affected Somalia where Ethiopia has disarmed several hundred Tigrayans in a peacekeeping force fighting al Qaeda-linked militants.

                ‘TRAGIC CONFLICT’

                The United States, which regards Ethiopia as a powerful ally in a turbulent region, became the latest nation to call for peace, saying it supported African Union (AU) mediation efforts “to end this tragic conflict now.”

                Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for ending a standoff with Eritrea, has said he will not negotiate with the TPLF though he does plan to receive AU envoys.

                He has given Tigrayan forces until Wednesday to surrender or face an assault on the highland city of Mekelle, home to about half a million people.

                A government taskforce said large numbers of Tigrayan militia and special forces had surrendered and it asked others still with the TPLF to disarm wherever they were.

                TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael has disputed the government version that Mekelle is encircled at a roughly 50km (31 mile) distance and told Reuters the ultimatum, which ends on Wednesday, was a cover for government forces to regroup after defeats.

                The U.S. embassy in Eritrea’s capital Asmara, where TPLF rockets have fallen near the airport, issued an alert saying it had reports that neighbourhood wardens advised residents to remain indoors at the instruction of local officials.

                “All U.S. Citizens in Asmara are advised to continue to exercise caution, remain in their homes, and conduct only essential travel until further notice,” the embassy said.

                France also expressed concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation, condemned “ethnic violence” and called for protection of civilians.

                Abiy, whose parents are from the larger Oromo and Amhara groups, denies any ethnic overtones to his offensive against the TPLF, saying he is pursuing criminals who have revolted against the federal government and ambushed a military base.

                The TPLF says he wants to subdue Tigray to amass more personal power. Since taking office in 2018, the prime minister has removed many Tigrayans from positions in government and the security forces and arrested some on charges of corruption and human rights abuses, even though he was their former military comrade and coalition partner.