July 15, 2021
Throughout history, Ethiopians have fought with external enemies numerous times but also frequently with each other. Even after the birth of modern Ethiopia, war, insurrection, and rebellion has continued. This infighting has drained the nation’s resources and withheld it from development and progress. Not long ago, Ethiopia hosted one of the bloodiest civil wars in history. The military spending during in the 1970s and 1980s drained the national budget and left Ethiopians to crawl into the poverty trap.
It seems like we have learned nothing from our recent violent and shameful history. Since 2016, Ethiopians have been bogged down with further internal conflicts. In fact, recurring violence and instability seems to be an enduring characteristic of the second most populous African nation.
In an environment in which war is regular business, it is certainly Ethiopia that is losing, and its citizens suffering. The recent conflict in Tigray between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is the latest recurrence.
Although both sides may claim that they have won the battle, none have won the war. They only complicated the conflict’s dynamics. The conflict in northern Ethiopia has opened the gate wide open for foreign powers’ interference. What happens in the Horn of Africa is not only on the radar of regional players, but also on superpowers. Close to 10Pct of the global trade passes through the Suez Canal located on the northern end of the Red Sea. Due to its global significance, interest in the area expands beyond its long shorelines to the Horn of Africa. Already, a multitude of foreign nations have established military bases in Djibouti.
Recent moves initiated by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) to unite East African countries such as Eritrea and Somalia have alarmed superpowers which have a vested interest in the region. The actions of giants are primarily driven by the motive to protect their own national interest. Almost all countries in the Horn are already in a volatile situation. So, active interference from outside powers will be toxin for these fragile states. Looking at what happened to Yemen, a nation caught in the theater of intrusion by foreign nations since 2015, is enough to indicate what could happen if we continue to allow superpowers to meddle in the affairs of Ethiopia.
The conflict in Tigray also has the potential to change and reshape dynamics regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. On top of involving indirectly to protect their national interest, Egypt and Sudan have invited superpowers and regional players to pressurize Ethiopia. The more Ethiopia becomes unstable, the stronger the influence of superpowers will be.
A lot is at stake. Not only to stop this catastrophic war and end the suffering, but also to save the entire nation, a solution must be sought and found sooner than later. Due to sanctions and pressure from superpowers, as well as difficult local dynamics of the war, the federal government recently declared a ceasefire and withdrew its forces from Tigray. The government also expressed its intentions for discussions two weeks ago. However, the war is not yet over.
Since the path of an extended and bitter struggle will be enormously costly for the entire nation, it is only through dialogue and reconciliation that both the federal government and TPLF can achieve sustainable peace. Narrowing differences in this manner does not mean the acquittal of those from both sides who have committed crimes against humanity. In fact, accountability is the necessary price to pay for the mistakes committed during the conflict.
There are many actors with divergent objectives involved in the conflict, making it hard to find agreement. Yet, experiences of African countries including Rwanda and South Africa tells that dialogue and reconciliation could happen in Ethiopia’s context. Recently, the 6th national election was held with numerous exceptions including Tigray. Giving the same opportunity of electing the representatives they consider worthy and legitimate is not only a courtesy both sides owe to the people in Tigray but it is also their obligation.