The people of the HOA seek peaceful coexistence, while the superpowers stoke violent conflict

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Dark Clouds are Gathering over the Horn of Africa.

A confluence of global, regional, and local forces have come together to torpedo the nascent popular initiative towards peace in the Horn of Africa (HOA) region and democratic changes in the constituent States. 

The pursuit of global, regional, and local forces in quest of their parochial interests–without regard for the well-being and stability of the region–will have monumental consequences that will reverberate through the rest of the African states, the Middle East, and Europe.

Mitigating this impending catastrophe requires the goodwill of all stakeholders to look beyond their contending and conflicting interests and resolve their differences through understanding and collaboration rather than intimidation, marginalization, and force. Above all, they must engage the peoples of the region to be direct participants in determining their future.

HOA is the most conflict-ridden region in the world because it is the focal point of opposing global and regional interests. Colonialism and imperialism have arbitrarily set the structure and relationship of the states in the HOA. The people of the Horn of Africa have struggled under these arbitrary structures and been relegated into economically and politically unviable balkanized states.  Local elites have jockeyed for political power by being subservient to the superpowers’ interests. As a result, the peoples’ aspirations for development, social justice, and good governance have been trampled.

Three years ago, popular mass movements in Ethiopia and Sudan toppled corrupt, repressive, and incompetent regimes that had ruled these states for nearly thirty years.   These democratic popular uprisings that ousted the military dictator Al-Beshir in Sudan and the kleptocratic TPLF/EPRDF regime in Ethiopia included a vision for the Horn of Africa. In Addis, Asmara, and Khartoum, masses of people spontaneously came out to demonstrate for peace and unity in the region. The Same spirit reverberated in Somalia. For the first time in decades, proxy wars were muzzled, and Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia signed a formal agreement of cooperation. Dr. Abiy Ahmed presided over the power-sharing agreement between the popular Democratic forces for change and the military juntas of Sudan. Regional powers Saudi Arabia and UAE signed onto the peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea as sponsors. The Nobel Prize was awarded to Dr. Abiy for bringing peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

In my article hailing the peace initiative between Eritrea and Ethiopia as the Dawn of the New Era in the Horn of Africa, I affirmed that the main forces behind the peace initiative were the peoples’ direct participation in shaping their future. Now as a corollary, I would assert that the impediment to the peace initiative came from global and regional forces.1

In Sudan, the Democratic Revolution has been stalemated. The state is sliding into disintegration with internecine fights within the military junta, the persistent struggle of the people for change, and the economic meltdown.

As I write this article the military junta led by General Burhan has staged a coup d’etat and taken the civilian administration under Prime Minister Hamdok into custody.

 Sudanese demonstrating in the streets of Khartoum

The popular democratic forces for change, in a massive months-long campaign of demonstrations and civil disobedience, brought the Al-Beshir machine to a standstill.  The military brass ousted Al-Beshir and came into a tactical power-sharing with the insurrectionary popular forces. The two groups represented diametrically opposite interests and sections of the Sudanese society. The popular forces are democratic and secular, representing Sudanese diversity and aiming for integration in the Horn of Africa while the junta includes the remnants of Al-Beshir’s regime. 

Demonstrators one of Khartoum’s bridges

The junta sought to continue the policies of Al-Beshir–Islamic and Arab Centric dictatorship. When the military dictators could not crush the popular movement, they agreed to form a two-year transitional government made of the Coalition of the Democratic Forces and the military junta. At the end of the two-year transition in 2023, the people of Sudan are supposed to vote freely in a democratic election to choose the type of government they want.

The military junta is preemptively trying to subvert this democratic, peaceful transition by acting as de facto rulers. In this role, they have allied with Egypt and started a border conflict with Ethiopia. Sudan’s army belligerently annexed the disputed border area and displaced the Ethiopian farmers. Its aim is to fan nationalist fervor and distract from calls for democracy by instigating a state of war.  All of these actions have favored the military versus the civilians. The popular forces, not fooled, have reacted by intensifying civil disorder. 

Egypt’s interest in Sudan is clearly subversive. Egypt always treated Sudan as its dominion served by the Arabized elite and resented by the mass of the Sudanese people. Sudanese democratic forces are keenly against the hegemonistic role Egypt has played throughout Sudan’s history. At the present time, Egypt needs Sudan as its main ally to subvert Ethiopia’s effort to complete the Renaissance Dam. As a military dictatorship, the Al-Sisi regime in Egypt feels threatened by the democratic movement in Sudan.

The US has shifted its policy towards Sudan. The Trump Administration took Sudan off its list of state sponsors of terrorism. The Biden Administration is pursuing strong engagement with Sudan to counterbalance the incipient influence of Russia and China. But the million-dollar question is will the US side with the junta or the democratic forces? Will US policy abate or encourage Sudan’s belligerence towards Ethiopia? And to what end? US silence regarding the Sudans’ forceful annexation of the contested territory is very disturbing.

Ethiopia is in the throes of an existential crisis mainly due to the subversive Acts of the TPLF; zero-sum games by the power elites; aggressive opportunist takeover of disputed border area by Sudan; initiation of new proxy war by Sudan and Egypt; and a tectonic shift in the policy of the United States towards Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has been at such a historical juncture time and again. It has prevailed, and the present moment will not be different.

Ethiopian nationalism flourishes at times of external threat. In the present heightened external threat, Ethiopians are standing united together in spite of their internal differences. 

2

Abiy Ahmed, despite ferocious external pressure, has proven to be a resilient national leader. So far US intervention and threats of sanctions have garnered Dr. Abiy more popular support rather than undermining him. Ethiopia was able to carry a peaceful and credible election in this time of crisis. Notwithstanding the flurry of diplomatic offensives by Egypt and Sudan, Ethiopia has been able to complete the second phase of the Renaissance Dam successfully.

An offshoot of Democracy in real life in Ethiopia. Pride, decency, and peaceful self-determination of the people of Ethiopia.3

Descent of TPLF from the ruling party of Ethiopia into a terrorist band

The TPLF ruled Ethiopia for 27 years as an ethnic federation in name, but in reality, it was a throwback to the old colonial policy of divide and rule.  It partitioned Ethiopia into ethnic regions, put puppet administrators in place, and fostered rivalries and animosity between the ethnicities. While the local elites scrambled for crumbs, the TPLF plundered the federal state unchallenged for three decades. Dictators in Africa create ethnic divisions de facto, but the TPLF created ethnic divisions in Ethiopia by design to facilitate its unsustainable minority hegemony over Ethiopia. As a result, ethnic divisions and conflicts spread like cancer throughout Ethiopia. Its heinous policy didn’t save the TPLF from being overthrown, but it made rebuilding a harmonious Ethiopian state a nightmare.

The Tigray region has become a theater of war and devastation. The hapless Tigrayan masses are subjected to famine, rape, and displacement life in refugee camps. They are being used as cannon fodder in a savage war. The main architect and driving force of this destructive conflict is the TPLF. 

Well before it consolidated power at the helm of Ethiopia, the TPLF leadership clique formulated a fallback position that if it ever lost its preeminent position in Ethiopia, it would create an independent Tigray state. To this end, they surgically incorporated economically and strategically essential areas from the Amhara and Afar regions. This scheme included annexing the Eritrean highlands and its ports into the Grand Tigray state. Three years ago, when the TPLF was overthrown by the united youth movement of Ethiopia, it embarked on this grand illusion of declaring an independent Tigray state.

When the TPLF was ousted from power, its leader retreated to Mekele. They conducted a unilateral election where they claimed that they won 99 percent of the vote. After that, they started acting as a de facto independent state. By their own claim, they raised and trained a militia force of 250,000 strong. On November 3 2020, to gain modern military armaments, the Tigray militias under TPLF command raided the highly armed Northern Command of the Ethiopian National Defence  Forces(ENDF) stationed in Tigray. This preemptive military attack on the unsuspecting army division was so devastatingly brutal that the remaining battered forces chose to retreat to Eritrea rather than surrender to the TPLF.  As the Fort Sumter attack was the opening salvo of the American Civil War, so the infamous raid on the Northern Army Command in Tigray ignited the current devastating civil war in Ethiopia. The audacious raid concentrated 

60 to 80% of Ethiopia’s military sophisticated and modern armaments, including long-range missiles, in the hands of the TPLF and intoxicated them with a sense of invincibility. With these weapons, they lobbed scores of missiles into the cities of Gonder and Bherdar in the Amhara region. With the aim of escalating the conflict into a regional war, they also fired scores of missiles at Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. 

With the help of the Eritrean army and the Amhara militia, the reorganized and reinforced ENDF rolled back into the TPLF offensive. In four weeks, the TPLF was ousted from all the cities in Tigray including Mekele. Terming it a strategic shift to guerrilla warfare, the TPLF destroyed its own airports, bridges, and power sources and plundered its own people’s medical facilities, food stores, and fuel depots, and retreated to its old mountain gorges. In addition, it let loose over twelve thousand criminals from its prisons, issuing some of them guns and ammunition as well as Eritrean and Ethiopian army uniforms so they could blame their atrocities on the Eritrean and Ethiopian armies for propaganda purposes.

Paradoxically the TPLF gained from the aftermath of its military defeat. First, It framed the Ethiopian response as an offensive against the people of Tigray. This helped it to rally, at least temporarily, sections of the Tigray people. Second, it used its debacle to rally international sentiment by claiming ethnic genocide and ethnic cleansing. In this distortion of the facts, it was aided by an intentionally lopsided western media campaign. The United States and its Western allies put tremendous pressure on Dr. Abiy and Isais to withdraw their armies from Tigray, which they did.

The Ethiopian government, as a result of international pressure and the Tigray people’s resistance to its administration, declared a unilateral cease-fire and ordered the ENDF to withdraw from the Tigray region. Instead of using this opportunity to give the Tigrayan population a respite to rebuild their shattered livelihoods, claimed the Ethiopian government’s declaration of ceasefire and withdrawal from Tigray as proof of their military superiority. Their spokesperson, Getachew Reda, told Reuters by satellite phone, “Our forces are still in hot pursuit to the south, east. Our primary focus is to degrade enemy fighting capabilities … So if going to Amhara is what it takes, we will do it. If going to Eritrea is what it takes, we’ll do it.” They unleashed a deadly offensive in multiple prongs into the Amhara and Afar regions in a delusion of an easy victory.

TPLF’s offensive into Afar and Amhara region has been rebuffed by the determined resistance of the Afar nomads and Amhara peasants. The TPLF is now bogged down and responding with mass killing, pillaging, and destruction. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people in the Afar and Wollo region are dislocated, and millions are exposed to famine.

The TPLF leaders already should have been brought to justice for their plundering, mass killings, and incarceration and tortures of tens of thousands of Ethiopians under their thirty years of dictatorship. However, those crimes are nothing compared to the vicious genocide and scorched earth offensive they are conducting in the Afar and Amhara regions now.

Western Media has scantily reported these atrocities of the TPLF on innocent people. Paid pundits still spin the TPLF as an underdog fighting for the rights of the Tigray people. This is far from the truth. For thirty years while they plundered Ethiopia, the condition of the average Tigrayan in Tigray was no better than the fate of other peasants in the rest of Ethiopia, and in some circumstances, worse. More than a quarter of Tigryans lived on food aid handouts. Moreover, the TPLF ruled Tigray as their exclusive fiefdom, harshly suppressing dissent and preempting the rise of any alternative Tigrayan political force or class. 

Compare and contrast this to the situation In 1991. Then, as the TPLF marched in victory to Addis Ababa, they led a tattered peasant army fighting for its rights as well as the rights of the Ethiopian people. The peoples of Wollo, Begemder, and Gojjam, Afar, and Oromo facilitated their march to Addis Ababa to oust the fascist Derg. Now the present TPLF has descended on the same Amhara and Afar regions as invaders… The TPLF is acting as a marauding army burning villages and towns, slaughtering cattle, destroying farms, and looting grain depots, factories, banks, medical facilities, and even schools. Their advance has been met by stiff resistance of the people every mile of the way.  

Many writers use cancer analogies to describe the TPLF. The reason behind this analogy, as offensive as it may sound, is that as a result of their unfettered rule of Ethiopia for twenty-seven years, their evil influence has metastasized throughout Ethiopia’s military and civilian institutions as well as its political and civil organizations. Their shenanigans have shaped the mindset of the Ethiopian elite and the masses at large into a polarized web. In place of goodwill, trust, and tolerance, nihilism, rivalry, conspiracy, and greed have become the main engagement mode. The absence of a democratic platform made violent uprising the main choice.

A satellite image of a farming community near Agamsa town in Ethiopia’s Amhara region prior to and after it was systematically burned down by the TPLF forces. Courtesy of DX Open Network, a UK-based research and analysis organization.

The TPLF is no Boko Haram or Al-Shabab ragtag, semi-illiterate, xenophobic, armed band. Neither is the TPLF an organization of underdogs standing for the rights of the Tigrayan people. This is an organization of kleptocrats and merciless dictators who plundered the second largest country in Africa for thirty years.

It would not be an exaggeration to state that no political order in Ethiopia’s long history has been able to penetrate its stubbornly diverse societies the way the TPLF did. Their influence transcends Ethiopia. The billions of dollars they plundered and parked in foreign safe havens worldwide gives them leverage to buy lobbyists and influence public media. Their ties reach deep into the Biden administration. Susan Rice and Antony Blinken’s clique in the Biden administration have histories intertwined with the TPLF top leadership that disqualifies them from being fair architects of the US’s policy toward present-day Ethiopia.

Despite all of these advantages, the TPLF is a dying organization. Its slow death prolongs the suffering of all Ethiopians, including Tigryans. More than eighty percent of the top TPLF leadership has been killed, died of natural causes, or is in prison. The TPLF rally is floundering. Rank-and-file Tigrayans are questioning the objectives and costs of this uncertain war. The division between military and party and between party and different sectors of the Tigrayan public are being laundered openly in their social media.4

Above all, the reality of an “independent Tigray state” has proven to be an unrealistic pipe dream when its self-proclaimed leaders are pleading for food aid and services from the same Ethiopian forces it is claiming to be destroying.

TPLF is going to crumble. The economic calamity presented in Dr. Debretsion’s broadcast describes how the foundation is collapsing under the Tigrayan state.5 Its offensive into the Amhara and Afar territories is an act of desperation that cost Tigrayans many of their youth and their future. The demise of the TPLF is likely to come from within Tigray. 

TPLF children recruits6

The Abiy government’s tactical withdrawal from the Tigray region rather than being bogged in endless devastating pacification by force has exposed the true nature of the TPLF. Even though this decision has given the TPLF chance to resurge, It has muzzled those orchestrated allegations of massacres, genocides, plunder, and rape lobbed against the ENDF and ENF. The TPLF army is inflicting these atrocities in broad daylight on innocent  Amharas and Afaris. Why aren’t those champions of human rights not exposing these acts against humanity?

UN food aid trucks hijacked to transport TPLF fighters7

Eritrea, the little country that could.

The aspiration for political-economic reform in Eritrea has been subsumed again by conflict in Ethiopia. For the two decades it was in power in Ethiopia, the TPLF, with the aid of the US,  used all its resources to try to choke Eritrea out of existence. This time Eritrea has been drawn into the Ethiopian conflict on the side of the legitimate government because the TPLF, in its death march, wants to take Eritrea with it to its grave. 

If TPLF had succeeded in breaking the back of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces(ENDF), as it had hoped to do with its preemptive attack on the well-armed Northern Division, its next target was Eritrea. That the heavily battered Ethiopian force decided to retreat fighting into Eritrea rather than surrender to the TPLF is a historical landmark in the realignment of forces in the region. 

The TPLF provocation of shooting missiles into Eritrea aimed to turn the Ethiopian civil war into a regional war to draw international intervention. Eritrea has no other choice than to stand with the Ethiopian government. Eritrea’s military intervention against the TPLF is not an invasion of Ethiopia, as some disingenuously want to spin it, but rather a legitimate act of self-defense. It is an alliance with the legitimate Ethiopian government against a subversive non-state force.

Eritrea’s military intervention was decisive in changing the course of the region’s history. The lengthy detailed interview given about the conduct of the war by the top TPLF general Gebretsadkan, an avowed anti-Eritrea zealot, is a testimony to the decisive role the Eritrean Defense forces played in turning the tide of the war.

.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19FXDJval8E

This tiny country, which world powers considered unfit to exist, proved to be a pivotal force that changed the political vector of the region.

US Ethiopian relations

The descent of US-Ethiopia relations from strategic allies to adversaries is a major destabilizing factor not only for Ethiopia but also for the whole region. It is the force that can push the region, already teetering at the edge of the cliff, down into the inferno.

What are the US policies that are egregiously anti-Ethiopia:

  1. Relations started growing tense when the Trump administration tried to play a mediator role between Ethiopia and Egypt over their long-running dispute over the Renaissance Dam. Instead of being a fair arbiter, the Trump administration took the side of Egypt and tried to force Ethiopia to sign a deal that was antithetical to its national interest. When Ethiopia refused to go along, the Trump administration directed the World Bank to suspend the $130 million aid package already earmarked for Ethiopia. This heavy-handed act was insensitive to Ethiopian national pride.
  2. The Biden Administration continued with anti-Ethiopia policies and actions.
    1. From the outset, it put the legitimate Ethiopian government of Dr. Abiy on equal footing with the TPLF, a non-state, armed, insurrectionist organization.
    2. It alleged that the Ethiopian government was the main perpetrator of the war even though it was clearly known that the TPLF initiated the conflict.
    3. It parroted TPLF propaganda accusing the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces of genocide and rape and of using famine as weapons without objective verification on the ground.
    4. It put immense unilateral pressure on Dr. Abiy’s government to agree to a ceasefire. When Dr. Abiy declared not only a unilateral ceasefire but also withdrew its forces from the Tigray region, the Biden administration failed to give acknowledgment and continued with threats of sanction and isolation. These actions emboldened the TPLF. 
    5. US President Joe Biden’s administration in May 2021 imposed wide-ranging sanctions on Ethiopia over the Tigray violence and urged the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and other multilateral lenders to halt their engagement with Ethiopia.8
  1. When Abiy’s government went ahead with the election, which had been postponed due to covid, the Biden administration publicly opposed it, alleging that lack of peace would make it impossible to conduct a peaceful and credible election. This Biden administration stance was an unprecedented direct intervention in the affairs of a sovereign state. Moreover, the view that an election should not be conducted under a civil war would make Abraham Lincoln turn in his grave. Yet, when the election was conducted peacefully and more cre dibly than any in the country’s history–and Dr. Abiy and his party won a landslide victory– the Biden administration failed to give acknowledgement.
  2. The Biden Administration recruited  Sudan and Kenya to put pressure on Ethiopia. However, when Sudan annexed disputed borderlands and drove out Ethiopian farmers who had been farming the area for decades, it failed to take a stand.
  3. The Biden administration took Ethiopia to the UN Security Council nine times, requesting sanctions and censure to no avail.
  4. It unleashed a highly orchestrated media campaign using uncorroborated allegations to turn public opinion against Ethiopia and Eritrea in a way that is reminiscent of US propaganda against Sadam and Gadafi before its military interventions.
  5. The Biden administration made it clear that more damaging punitive sanctions are underway and even threatened revocation of Ethiopia’s access to the US market through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) 

The Ethiopia and US alliance is over a century old. Particularly since the second world war, the US has been the main architect of Ethiopia’s bureaucracy, military, and modern education system. So the change in US and Ethiopian relations from friends to enemies has been perplexing. Many pundits have searched for reasons to explain this perplexing development. Some attribute it to:

  1. Using humanitarian intervention as a political tool
  2. Changes in the US global strategy
  3. The US destabilizing Ethiopia as a proxy war against China ascendance
  4. US preempting the rise of a united Horn of African confederation independent of US hegemony.
  5. Deep ties of Biden administration foreign policy officials with TPLF leaders.
  6. Policy blunder.

I believe the answer is all of the above. These factors are overlapping and intertwined.

What has been the nature of the relationship of the US to Ethiopia? A strategic alliance is a diplomatic euphemism to disguise the hegemony of a superpower and a weak and dependent client regime. The reliance on military and economic aid makes the client state do the bidding of the superpower. 

Emperor Haile Selassie’s regime was very dependent on economic and military aid from the US, while the US used the Emperor to rally the newly independent African states into its anti-communist camp. Strategically the US gained the important Kagnew military station in Eritrea for deep surveillance of Soviet communications. This relationship was symbiotic, but the US dictated the agenda. The US needed a weak vulnerable regime, and the emperor needed a willing and able patron. This dependence hindered the country from making reforms and progress to stand on its own feet. Moreover, the US unflinching support in the 60s and 70s to the Emperor alienated most of the country’s educated youth.

In 1974 the popular uprising led to a takeover by the military. This regime, the Derg, shifted its allegiance to the Soviet Union after the Carter administration withheld military aid to sanction the Derg’s atrocities. This Carter administration stance revived the positive attitude of most of Ethiopia’s elites towards the US; notwithstanding the US shifted its support to Said Barre military dictator who was waging an annexationist war against Ethiopia.

In 1991 the US facilitated the ascendance of the TPLF to power. The alliance between the self-proclaimed Marxist/Leninist/Enver Hoxha clique and the anti-communist US was based on the standard symbiotic consideration. The US needed a weak, dependent regime that would do its bidding. The TPLF needed a master to pave the way to power. Particularly after 9/11, the US declared fundamental Islam as its main global enemy. Hence the status of the TPLF regime was raised to a strategic ally. 

The US’s generous military aid, which helped the TPLF build one of the largest military forces in Africa, was considered payment for fighting America’s war against radical Islam while ignoring the fact that the same resources were being used to brutally suppress its own people. In the words of Alex de Waal, who was Meles’s confidant, the TPLF regime, was basically a “counter-terrorism rent-seeking state”9 As a vital US ally, the TPLF gained its ability to wield hard and soft power in the region. In particular, it effectively used this opportunity to choke its regional rival, the EPLF.

During the Trump presidency,  the US shifted its global strategy. “Great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of US national security,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis said in a January speech outlining the 2018 National Defense Strategy. “We face growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia are from each other.”10 

The EPRDF leadership failed to read the signal of the imminent US policy shifts,” says Mehari Taddele Maru, a Horn specialist. As a result, Mehari says, the EPRDF failed to prepare itself for the consequences. “For one thing, Ethiopia continued to accept enormous Chinese investments in infrastructure and to forge economic and diplomatic ties between the two countries – and hence became the unintended target of [the] US policy shift from war on terror to economic confrontation with China.11

Furthermore, the TPLF fell from grace in the US, as the mass youth uprising, spearheaded by Kero and Fano started in 2015, surged beyond its control.  So the US started seeing the TPLF as a liability rather than an asset. In February 2018 the figurehead prime minister Hailemariam Desslegn resigned because of an internal power struggle, leading to the regime’s paralysis.

Initially, the rise of Dr. Abiy Ahmed, a Pentecostal, neoliberal, and avowedly anti-communist populist star to power, was very enticing to the US. A week after the April 2, 2018 swearing-in of Abiy Ahmed as Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister, the US House of Representatives unanimously adopted a resolution known as HR 128 that was unusually outspoken for US public policy in its criticism of the TPLF government, calling it out for human rights violations:

Ethiopian elections in 2005 included violence, manipulation, and the detention of opposition members and were deemed neither free nor fair in 2010. Additionally, Ethiopian government forces used violence against minority ethnic group protests in 2015, and the government has imposed a state of emergency that restricts freedom of assembly, association, and expression, including blocking Internet access.

Why would the Biden administration give a lifeline to the terminally ill TPLF, a force which the U.S. Congress unanimously condemned for its conduct as the ruling party of Ethiopia? 

H-128 virtually pulled the rug out from under the TPLF.  Is it because the TPLF has suddenly reformed itself? On the contrary, the atrocities it has unleashed in the Amhara and Afar regions are a manifestation of its reckless and inhuman nature. The TPLF’s avowed goal is to dismantle Ethiopia just because they have no path to regaining control. Does the US share this objective, or is it merely seeking leverage against Abiy? If so, is that leverage worth the dangers of the collapse of the Ethiopian state? 

Humanitarian intervention used as a political tool.

The US has a moral obligation to stand against human rights abuse in any corner of the world. However, the UN charter limits its power to unilaterally and arbitrarily intervene in another sovereign state’s affairs. The international community judges the ground for its intervention whether it is to protect its geopolitical interest or protect human rights. In many instances, the US intervention is motivated by its self-interests rather than stopping humanitarian abuse. In such circumstances, to align domestic and international opinion to its action, it has developed what is known as a humanitarian intervention strategy. According to Geopolitics Press, the US and EU  have formed an operation called the Command and Control Fusion Center (C2FC).12

Because the C2FC is clandestine, verifying its existence or ascertaining its goals is difficult. One apparent product of the C2FC is the well orchestrated media campaign that has been disparaging Abiy’s government. Purported Horn of Africa experts and NGO media personalities have diligently created a negative picture of the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea. They have been pushing certain solutions that foster external forces’ interest at the cost of the interest of the two countries. Some solutions are meant to make the countries more unstable so that they will be perpetually weak and dependent. These solutions are fostered in the guise of scholarly research papers, books, and conferences.

Proxy war against China.

Ethiopia, with $13.5 billion in debt, is the second most indebted country in Africa to China. Though Ethiopia is heavily dependent on the US for armaments, it is more dependent on China for its economic development. When Abiy went to China for debt restructuring, the Trump administration was unhappy. Ever since Ethiopia has been at the center of the US-China power struggle in Africa.

The US is preempting the rise of a Horn of African union that would be independent of its hegemony. US policy is manifestly anti-independent nationalist leaders. Isaias Afeworki is an autocratic but deeply independent and nationalist figure. He is not anti-America per se, rather he is unwilling to kowtow to US policy in the region. The US felt rebuffed by this tiny state, in an otherwise strategic region, when Isaias opposed its policy on Somalia. President Isaias has been a target of ridicule by Western media. Eritrea has suffered stifling sanctions which crippled the country’s dream of creating a vibrant local economy. These sanctions have subjected the population to massive hardships and forced its youth into treacherous migration.

The sanctions were founded on a bogus allegation of Eritrea aiding Islamic terrorists in Somalia. This charge has been proven false. In 2006 the Islamic Courts routed the treacherous Somali warlords, which the US and the international community were fighting. For the first time in 16 years, law and order were within reach of the Somali people. However, the US opted for military intervention to oust the Islamic Courts, claiming they would pave the way to Islamic radicalism. It prodded the TPLF regime to invade Somalia. Meles was euphoric. But Isaias opposed the US/TPLF intervention on the grounds that the Somali people should decide their future and that the intervention would lead to a protracted war.  Developments on the ground in Somalia have vindicated Isais. The US/TPLF intervention destabilized Somalia even more and paved the way for the more radicalized Al-Shabaab. 

US policy on Eritrea was set on regime change not because Isaias was any more authoritarian than president Meles but rather because he was more nationalist. The hapless Eritrean people paid a high cost under US-imposed sanctions for president Isaias’ transgression of opposing US policy in Somalia.

Eritrea slipped out of the chokehold of sanctions and isolation and became a trendsetter in the region. Isais’s and Abiy’s alliance paved the way for this resurrection that frustrated US hegemony in the region. This historic rapprochement between the two states created a strong regional alliance. Somalia joined the alliance with Djibouti and Sudan hesitantly following. This coalition was perceived by subsequent US administrations as a threat to America’s interests in the region. In particular, the rising influence of China and Russia as well as increased activities of regional powers Egypt, Turkey, and the Gulf States, engendered a knee-jerk interventionist reaction in the Biden administration.

The Biden administration’s present actions appear to follow Suzan Rice’s moves against Eritrea when she was the US ambassador to the UN in the Obama administration: make bogus allegations of human rights abuses, orchestrate a smear campaign, and impose sanctions.  The US was successful in isolating Eritrea from its neighbors and creating a debilitating economic crisis, but these outcomes failed to achieve the desired regime change because the people persevered against all odds.

The Biden administration’s policy on Ethiopia has so far failed to get traction. The US has not been able to isolate Ethiopia from the rest of the African countries. The US has brought Ethiopia before the United Nations Security Council nine times for censure and sanctions yet has failed to get their desired resolution. It doesn’t have the full backing of even the EU. More importantly, its policy has offended Ethiopians from all walks of life.  It has even brought Ethiopians and Eritreans at home and in the diaspora together in a way previously unimaginable.

Policy blunder.

Like many Ethiopians and Eritreans in the diaspora who have adopted the US as their new home, I feel deeply saddened and perturbed because I find that the Biden administration policy is neither in the self-interest of the US nor that of the people of the region. The core architects of the Biden administration to the Horn of Africa–Susan Rice, Anthony Blinken, and Samantha Power–are acting more myopic and jingoistic than the neocons led By Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Bolton. Worse, they have failed to take lessons from disastrous US interventions in  Somalia, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan. 

Regarding the Libya experience, an article published by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School concluded:

The Intervention Backfired. NATO’s action magnified the conflict’s duration about sixfold and its death toll at least sevenfold, while also exacerbating human rights abuses, humanitarian suffering, Islamic radicalism, and weapons proliferation in Libya and its neighbors. If Libya was a “model intervention,” then it was a model of failure.13

Ethiopia is an anchor state in the Horn of Africa, and at the same time, it is the focal point of the regional crisis. As Ethiopia goes so goes the HOA. The newly appointed special envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, characterized the situation thusly: “Ethiopia has 110 million people. If the tensions in Ethiopia would result in a widespread civil conflict that goes beyond Tigray, Syria will look like child’s play by comparison.”14 As brutally correct as his assessment is, the million-dollar question remains, is United States policy in the region ameliorating or exacerbating this imminent danger?

Conclusion

The United States of America and the European Union, not Yugoslavia, should be the model for conflict-ridden Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa at large. In the present global economy, the struggle towards a larger union is the only goal worth the sacrifice. 

Citing the Yugoslavia example, some pundits speculate dismantling Ethiopia may be the only way to achieve peace, but this kind of dismemberment of Ethiopia is neither feasible nor desirable. In Yugoslavia’s case, the component states were economically developed enough to stand as independent states, albeit as satellites of the EU. None of the fragments of Ethiopia has the infrastructure or economic resources to stand separately as a viable state. The fragmentation of Ethiopia could only lead to the unfortunate Somalia paradigm where Ethiopia and the whole HOA becomes a theater of warlords incessantly fighting for turf at a great human cost, where every able body would either end up being cannon fodder or choose exodus. 

America’s bloody Civil War, where the forces of the Union triumphed over the Secessionists, created today’s superpower. 

Americans were able to resolve their internal situation fundamentally because there was no external intervention. In the present age, internal conflicts are elevated into an existential crisis because global and regional powers try to a superimposed solution without involving the people affected and with disregard to their fundamental interests. Two decades of international efforts, worth of billions of dollars and thousands of lives, to reconstruct the Somali State is a monumental failure.

The thesis and antithesis of the present-day conflict in the HOA are between the masses of the people of the region yearning for peace, unity, and cooperation to fight their main enemies– poverty and the lack of basic necessities on the one hand, and on the other, the myopic local power-hungry elites who foment civil wars and ethnic conflicts in the hope of gaining or hanging on to power. 

There is no inherent conflict of interest between the different ethnic groups who have cohabitated in the region for millennia. Throughout this time, there were no conflicts of interest that they have not been able to resolve. Now, however, the power elites’ rivalries have made these conflicts perpetual and intrinsically more bloody and destructive. 

Moreover, the myopic local power-hungry elites have prepared the stage for intervention of regional and global forces. Unfortunately, due to the weakness and underdevelopment of local forces, the global and regional forces have the upper hand in determining the outcome of these conflicts. However, the global and regional forces should be aware that their choice has a serious consequence to the region and the global order.

The popular support Dr. Abiy and Isaias enjoy is a mandate for regional peace, cooperation, and integration. All external forces should use their influence to empower and strengthen these movements. In particular, the US, with its economic and military power and legacy of goodwill in the region, should not feel threatened by this movement. On the contrary, it should nourish it because the fruits of peaceful cooperation and harmony between peoples will benefit humanity.

With goodwill to all and malice to none!

Endnotes

1. https://ecadforum.com/2019/02/01/the-dawn-of-a-new-era-in-the-horn-of-africa/

2. https://ecadforum.com/2019/02/01/the-dawn-of-a-new-era-in-the-horn-of-africa/ 

3. https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-p7VM26zSAz0/YRMYVbtENbI/AAAAAAAADd0/4vN1Mgq0dR8o7LGR7nANjxxn8T2GKh2wACLcBGAsYHQ/s0/2021-08-09_ethiopia-war-tigray-control-map_passport-party.png

4.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RUA96YTxcU

5.  .https://youtu.be/OZi7TKErpfQ?t=376e

6. https://www.blackstarnews.com/global-politics/africa/the-tplf-attack-on-ethiopia-contains-the-accumulated-evil-of

7.  https://youtu.be/_xUQmDHe5xI

8. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/09/17/statement-by-president-joseph-r-biden-jr-on-the-executive-order-regarding-the-crisis-in-ethiopia/

9.  De Waal, Alex, The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War and the Business of Power 1st Edition(The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War and the Business of Power 1st Edition, Polity, October 12, 2015.

10. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2018/01/19/mattis-calls-for-urgent-change-to-counter-russia-and-china-in-new- 

11.  https://newafricanmagazine.com/17754/

12. https://www.geopolitics.press/from-basma-to-ethiopia-how-c2fc-is-using-lethal-journalism-to-conduct-information-warfare-and-lawfare-against-ethiopia/s

13.  “A Model Humanitarian Intervention? Reassessing NATO’s Libya Campaign.” https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/lessons-libya-how-not-interven14. https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/04/26/u-s-africa-envoy-ethiopia-crisis-tigray-jeffrey-feltman-biden-diplomacy-horn-of-africa/

The Dawn of a New Era in the Horn of Africa, Arrested Development

  • A confluence of local, regional, and international forces created a unique opportunity for peace and fraternity in this conflict-ridden region.
  • The leaders of the respective countries capitalized on this opportunity with a popular peace initiative. Even Goulet of Djibouti was brought into the fold dragging his feet.
  • The popular movement for peace and harmony in the Horn of Africa unleashed a struggle to overthrow thirty years of authoritarian rule in the respective states.
  • Once the initiative moved from the public streets into the corridors of the power elites,however, it stalled and is now in danger of being subverted.
  • One force that was overthrown by the popular uprising in Ethiopia, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), is actively subverting peace in the region.
  • In spite of this setback, the dawn of a new era of peace in the Horn Of Africa is only arrested, not derailed.

What a difference two years make in the turbulent Horn of Africa (HOA). A Confluence of local, regional, and international forces created a unique opportunity for peace and fraternity in this conflict-ridden region. It was acclaimed by many pundits, including myself, as the dawn of a new era in the Horn of Africa[1]. The peace movement was an essential part of the spontaneous popular uprising that swept authoritarian regimes that dominated the states in HOA for thirty years. The Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) dominated EPRDF was overthrown in Ethiopia by a mass uprising of Ethiopian youth (Kero, Fano, etc.). Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s group, which was part of the Oromo faction of the EPRDF, ascended to power promising democratic changes. In Sudan, President Bashir’s military regime was overthrown by a secular democratic uprising of trade unions, professional organizations, and progressive political parties. A tense power-sharing government representing the grass-root movement and remnants of the military junta is in power. In Eritrea, the struggle for democracy and economic progress has been subsumed under the Eritrean and Ethiopian conflict.

Dr. Abiy Ahemd’s peace initiative to resolve the festering conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia was accepted by Isaias Afewerki, president of Eritrea. The people of both states hailed the initiative with great jubilation and fanfare. In a dramatic move, the border between the two countries was opened, air and land transportation was resumed, and telephone service was connected. Long separated families and friends were reunited, crying and dancing in the streets and on the airport tarmacs as if to demonstrate to the world their bitter predicament and longing for peace had ended with normalization of relations.

The outpouring of support of the people for peace motivated the leaders of the respective countries to capitalize on the popular initiative. Abiy and Isais became buddies with back to back state visits, Mohamed Abdullahe Fermaajo, president of Somalia, joined the party. Even Omar al-Beshir of Sudan–before his overthrow–jumped on the bandwagon. Goulet of Djibouti dragged his feet but was brought into the fold. Saudi Arabia and the UAE anointed themselves as peace facilitators. Even President Trump unabashedly insinuated that he should have won the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Dr. Abiy for bringing peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia[2].

But once the popular peace movement moved from the public streets into the corridors of the power elites, it stalled. The subversion mirrored the predicament of the internal struggle for change in the respective states. The fierce power struggle between the different elite groups hijacked the agenda for peace. For generations war has ravaged this region. It has shaped the psyche of the elites.

Trying to resolve differences through violence has become the main strategy of the elites, whether in power or opposition. Shoot first negotiate later has become the axiom in this region. Peace, for which the people yearn, has often been trampled under the boots of warriors. That is why some fear that this two year old peace in the HOA would just be a lull before another tempest.

The Ethiopian FrontEthiopia is the anchor state of the Horn of Africa. With its 110 million population it is the 500-pound gorilla in the region. Moreover, all of the states in HOA share borders, long histories, ethnicities, and deep political and economic interests with it. As Ethiopia goes, the whole of HOA goes. And Ethiopia is a very fragile state with layers of antithetical currents and forces.

Two years ago when the mass uprising of Ethiopian youth unseated the TPLF from power, a loud carillon for peace rang in Ethiopia, and it reverberated throughout the HOA. Dr. Abiy took a bold measure to create peace with Eritrea by accepting unconditionally the Paris Peace Accord. He normalized the tense relations with Somalia and Sudan. His efforts were criticized by political analysts as foolhardy and by his opponents as misguided. However, his actions gained him huge political support, not only among the people of Ethiopia but throughout the Horn of Africa as well. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his effort.

The Tigray people’s Liberation Front (TPLF)​. ​The TPLF is the main force trying to derail the current drive to peace in the HOA. The TPLF initiated every step in the escalation of the conflict. The party’s declaration, its spokesmen’s statements, filled with bravado and epithets, followed by its actions have made its oversized role in the subversion unequivocally clear[3].

The ascendance of Abiy Ahmed to power, on the back of the youth uprising, was the demise of the TPLF dictatorship. The TPLF ruled and plundered Ethiopia for three decades. It viewed peace with Eritrea, its archenemy, as an alliance directed against itself. So it decided to derail it.

For 27 years the TPLF ruled Ethiopia under a sham Ethnic Federation. It was a sham Federation because in practice it was neither federal nor democratic. It was an absolute dictatorship of a kleptocrat clique from one ethnic minority. Tigray’s constitute less than 6% of Ethiopia’s population. Yet, they were able to maintain their unsustainable rule by actively fanning inter-ethnic division rivalry and conflicts among the rest of Ethiopia’s groups and between Ethiopia and Eritrea as well.

Whereas in many African countries dictators trigger inter-ethnic conflicts by default, the TPLF created inter-ethnic conflicts by design. It promulgated inter-ethnic division and rivalries into its constitution as a buffer against inter-ethnic alliances that might challenge its dictatorship. The country was divided into arbitrary ethnic enclaves; only ethnic-based political organizations were tolerated, and all kinds of ethnic grievances were fanned by the media and educational institutions. After three decades of their kleptocratic rule, the people of Ethiopia had enough. Their shenanigans and repressions could not stop the wave of the popular uprising from unseating them. When Abiy’s government came to power, the TPLF mobilized their vast resources and networks which they had built over three decades to destabilize him and regain power. That game failed miserably.

Then the TPLF leaders retreated to Mekele, the capital of the Tigray region. From there they tried to create the conditions for triggering their “plan B,” which is to create an independent Tigray state. The right for secession, “article 39,” was enshrined in the constitution by none other than themselves. They started acting as rulers of a ​de facto independent Tigray state. They countered every one of Abiy’s measures and bypassed him to make direct contact with foreign states and international organizations.

When the federal parliament postponed the national election due to the coronavirus epidemic, the TPLF, in defiance, held a unilateral election in the Tigray region where it claimed to have won 98% of the vote. With this election, the TPLF hoped to gain legitimacy and leverage its dealings with international entities as representatives of an independent state. It was to no avail. The federal government declared the election “null and void.”

When their sham election and their posturings as an independent state failed to get any international attention, the TPLF kleptocrats were ready to escalate the conflict to a dangerous level. By provoking an all-out war with the fFederal government and drawing Eritrea into the war, they aimed to create a humanitarian and political crisis of such magnitude that it would force international intervention. The TPLF leadership had not devised such a dastardly plan by accident. It had been preparing for this occasion for a long time. It had amassed a well-trained and well-armed military and militia forces (by its own statement over 250,000 strong). Furthermore, it had built networks within the federal army and many regions to carry out a coordinated act of sabotage[4].

On November 4th, the Tigray Regional Security Forces launched a surprise attack on the headquarters of the Northern Command of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) stationed in Mekelle, Tigray’s regional capital. TheTPLF claimed this act as a ‘“pre-emptive strike’” in ‘“self-defense”[5]. As confirmed by information from multiple sources, the TPLF has inflicted heavy casualties in this most important division of the federal army. ​On 5 November 2020, Dr. Debretsion Gebremichael, Chairman of the TPLF and acting president of Tigray region, claimed that members of the Ethiopian Military’s Northern Command had joined and some were forced to surrender to the Tigrayan forces with their large-scale heavy armaments[6].

This is a typical tactic that the TPLF has used time and again against contending forces such as the Tigray Liberation Force (TLF) and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) in the late 70s, and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) in 1998: pretend to pursue peaceful negotiations and, when the enemy is not suspecting, unleash a blitzkrieg.

This act of the TPLF is not a mere escalation of the crisis; it has launched it to a level where a peacefully negotiated resolution becomes rather impossible. Abiy characterized the attack as a ​“Treason that will never be forgotten.” ​Subsequently, he declared a military offensive to restore “the rule of law and central government authority” and bring the perpetrators to justice. A state of emergency in the region was declared for six months following this attack. Electricity, telephone, and internet services in Tigray were shut down by the federal authorities. The Tigray Regional Administration swore to retaliate against civil and military infrastructure in any part of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

November 5th, the Ethiopian Air Force started bombing areas near Mekelle to destroy arm depots, missiles, and anti-aircraft radars that had fallen into the hands of the TPLF. It started a multi-pronged counter-offensive to dislodge the TPLF. November 10th, the Ethiopian Defense Force liberated the strategic Humora area and its airport, cutting the TPLF’s only access to the outside world. From the North, Zlambesa and Shiraro have been retaken by the ENDF. From the South, the Raya region and the strategic town of Alamata, which is less than 160klm South of Mekelle, has fallen into the hands of federal forces. Tens of thousands of refugees are flocking to Sudan. Gruesome massacres of civilians in the Tigray region have been committed by the retreating TPLF forces. The incident of the massacre at Mai Kadra was confirmed by Amnesty International[7].

November 13th, the TPLF shot a score of missiles at Baherdar and Gondar in the Amhara region inflicting minor damages to one of the airports. It also launched three missiles to Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea. The latter is a serious escalation on the part of the TPLF, a sinister act of provocation aimed at drawing Eritrea into the conflict. So far their sinister objective has not been realized[8]. Eritrea hasn’t taken the bait. Country after country, including the US–its erstwhile supporter–have condemned the TPLF’S provocation unequivocally. The Sudan government has closed its border adjoining Tigray.

On November 20th, the Ethiopian military and civilian spokesmen announced that they have taken Aksum, Adwa, and Adigrat–important strategic towns in Tigray. Dr Debretsion has confirmed this fact with a spin. According to him, letting these towns fall is merely a tactical maneuver on their part. However, it is wise never to underestimate the TPLF.

eer

The opportunity for a peaceful negotiated resolution of the conflict has become dim if not impossible. The TPLF is trying to escalate the conflict to a regional level, hoping for international intervention. On the other hand, Abiy Ahmed has ruled out any international intervention, claiming that this conflict is an “internal law enforcement issue” and that the perpetrators have to be brought to justice. The outcome of this conflict will be determined on the battlefield. Does Abiy Ahmed have the consolidated military force to knock out TPLF at least out of Mekelle and degrade its military capacity significantly in the shortest possible time? Or can the TPLF drag the war for a long time, escalating its effort to draw Eritrea into active involvement. In either case, serious damage to the stability of Ethiopia and the hapless HOA has been inflicted. The question is when is it going to end and at what cost?

The Eritrean FrontEritrea is an unfortunate state.​It has suffered from the curse of its strategic location. It is a revolving door of colonialist, imperialist, and annexationists. Over the centuries, Egyptians,Turks, Italians, British, Ethiopians, the US, and the Soviets have left their imprint not only on the topography of the country but also on the psyche of the people as well. Eritreans fought for thirty years in a bitter and devastating war to gain their independence. In 1998-2000 they fought a savage border war with Ethiopia. Inter alia, the war was triggered by a power struggle within the TPLF leadership. They suffered for two decades under UN-imposed unjust sanctions and isolation, masterminded by the TPLF, and sponsored by the US. So far, their dream to one day create a vibrant democracy and flourishing economy has been out of reach.

The most intractable conflict, which has destabilized the whole of HOA for two decades, was the conflict between the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ/EPLF), the ruling party in Eritrea, and the TPLF. The TPLF invested most of its political resources to isolate Eritrea. It fostered any Eritrean opposition force that knocked at its door to wage a proxy war against Eritrea. Their avowed goal was to bring down Isais Afewreki’s government.

Likewise, Eritrea supported and harbored scores of Ethiopian forces waging armed struggles against the TPLF. The PFDJ maneuvered and solicited the aid of regional forces to break out of the chokehold imposed by Ethiopia and the US. Abiy Ahmed, soon after he came to power, April 2nd, 1918, unilaterally abrogated the TPLF imposed “‘no peace no war policy.” The peace initiative was embraced by President Isaias and hailed by the people of Eritrea.

The TPLF regarded this development not as progress to peace and harmony in the region but rather as an unholy alliance between their arch enemies to marginalize them. Once the TPLF leadership retreated to Mekele and consolidated their hold on the Tigray region, they engaged in a multi-pronged effort to sabotage the peace progress. The TPLF leadership was divided regarding its tactics and strategies against Eritrea. One group led by Generals Gebretsadekan and Abbebe T. Haimanote, veteran leaders of the 1998/2000 war, pushed openly for outright invasion of Eritrea on the assumption that Eritrea is weak and too isolated to defend itself[10]. The other tactic, pushed by the old guard of the party, preferred sabotaging the process procedurally. In particular, blocking the border demarcation, which is a key aspect of the peace agreement, was central. Since Tigray state borders Eritrea and since they are the ​de factorulers of Tigray, they claimed that the negotiation should be between the TPLF and the PFDJ representing Tigray and Eritrea respectively. They actively got engaged with the Eritrean opposition in an attempt to destabilize the PFDJ. The Eritrean opposition became very active after the Ethiopia-Eritrea border was opened. After opening the border with big fanfare and expectations, Eritrea closed it abruptly.

The restraint Eritrea has shown not to be drawn into the current conflict–even after being attacked by missiles launched by the TPLF from Tigray–has garnered applause from the International Community. Even the US, which used to harbor a hostile attitude

against Eritrea for not kowtowing to its HOA policy, had a strong statement of praise for Eritrea’s government stance[11].

For the last two years, the Asmara Peace Accord, signed by President Isaias and Prime minister Dr Abiy, has been effectively blocked by the TPLF from implementation. Isaias and Abiy showed fortitude and foresight. They kept the peace effort from being derailed by intensifying the diplomatic and political relationship between their two states. An amazing testimony to the degree of confidence and trust developed between these two states happened when the TPLF opened a surprise attack on the Northern Command of Ethiopian forces. The Command–which was caught unprepared by the attack–chose to fight its way out, and a good portion retreated with its heavy armaments to Eritrea rather than surrender to the TPLF[12].

The Sudan Front.The coalition government in power is based on tenuous power-sharing between the Islamist military brass on one hand and the secular democratic mass organizations and progressive political parties on the other. The generals lean toward Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and the United States to alleviate Sudan’s dire economic situation. Lifting the designation of state sponsors of terrorism and the economic sanctions imposed by the United States is their key objective. Meanwhile, the opposition forces are for a Sudan free of external hegemony and maintaining a strong alliance within HOA states. That it was Abiy Ahmed and not Al-Sisi who chaired negotiations between the Generals and the opposition to form a power-sharing government in Sudan speaks volumes. Sudan’s wavering between Egypt’s and Ethiopia’s position regarding the Renaissance Dam is a reflection of the internal dynamic of power between the generals vs the United Front. The intense diplomatic shuttle and rapprochement between Ethiopia, the Sudan, and Eritrea shows that the arch of the alliance is shifting towards HOA.

The Somalia Front.Somalia is beset by internal divisions and conflicts. Notwithstanding years of International economic and military support, the internationally recognized Somali government has not been able to stand on its own feet. Somaliland, in spite of decades of stable independent existence, it has failed to gain official recognition.

Somalia’s internal problems have often overflowed into the rest of the HOA states. The revanchist Greater Somalia Movement, which had threatened to destabilize Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya, has dissipated. The threat of Al-Shabaab, the radical Islamic movement, by and large, has been contained inside Somalia.

In the past, Ethiopia was entangled in a couple of interstate wars and proxy wars with Somalia. Now it has developed a peaceful and friendly relationship. Ethiopia is involved in a peacekeeping mission fighting against Al-Shabaab alongside Somali forces. Dr. Abiy Ahmed is actively working to mediate the differences between the Somali and the Somaliland governments. A vibrant diplomatic relationship between Abiy Ahmed, Isaais and Muhamed Abdulah Farmajo is manifested not only by the frequent working visits of high officials but the frequent meeting of the leaders as well.

Conclusion

The dawn of a new era in Horn Of Africa is arrested but not derailed. The struggle for peace is part and parcel of the people’s struggle for their freedom, for their empowerment and their economic well-being in each state and the HOA region in general. Less than half a decade ago, the HOA was the most conflict-ridden region in the world.The aspirations and struggles of the people have often been hijacked by the incessant power struggle of the elites. In particular, the ruling elites’ penchant to settle every political issue through violent repression and the opposition elites’ propensity to raise every political issue to the level of violent uprisings and protracted wars have been great obstacles for peace and progress.

This is nowhere more evident than In Ethiopia, a state which should be the anchor of peace, harmony and progress in the HOA. The uncompromising, violent and incessant struggle between the power elites has become its existential threat. The role of the TPLF as a ruling party and now as an opposition force is abominable. Their role as spoilers to peace and coexistence in the HOA is unparalleled by any other force in the region. Their hubris and avarice led to their demise. But the impact of their action on the poor peoples of Tigray, Ethiopia and the HOA is horrific. The sooner and more decisively the TPLF is defeated in this war they started, the better the chances for peace and cooperation in the HOA.

The proof that dawn of peace and harmony in the HOA is still bright is reflected in the utter failure of the TPLF’s tactics and strategies. During the TPLF reign over Ethiopia, the linchpin of its foreign policy was to isolate Eritrea. It went an unimaginable distance to create a rift between Ethiopia and Eritrea. As desperados, holed in Tigray for the last two years, they tried to drive the wedge between Eritrea and Ethiopia deeper. In this they have failed miserably. When the TPLF militia and special forces encircled the Northern Command of the Ethiopian Defence force, the Division chose to desperately fight its way to retreat to Eritrea rather than join the TPLF forces.

The TPLF counted on using Sudan as its outlet to the outside world but, while the Sudanese government opened its border to Tigray refugees fleeing the war, it closed the border to the TPLF forces. It was Isaias and the PFDJ which were successfully engaged in active diplomacy with the Sudan coalition government to contain the war from escalating into a regional conflict.

Ethiopia is in an existential struggle for its existence, but it has met these challenges in the past and successfully pulled itself from the brink. What is needed is the vision and wisdom, not to be carried by the euphoria of victory to arrogance nor be drowned by defeat into nihilism.

It is a long way for peace and harmony to reign fully in the Horn Of Africa. But it is rising over the horizon. Any band of fools can start wars but it requires the effort of millions of people and a few generations to establish peace. Winning wars is easy but winning peace requires great effort.

Footnotes

[1]​https://www.tesfanews.net/eritrea-ethiopia-new-era-horn-africa/​.

[2]​https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/trump-takes-partial-credit-for-ethiopian-prime-minist)ers-nobel-peace-prize-thats-news-to-ethiopians/2020/01/10/e94383 be-33b7-11ea-91fd-82d4e04a3fac_story.html​.

[3]​https://youtu.be/wkxym1a0Vjc​.

[4]​https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fDNtY9tr7M&feature=emb_title​.

[5]​https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/ethiopias-tigray-region-bombs-airports-as-conflict-spreads/2020/11/14/2b9311c2-266e-11eb-9c4a-0dc6242c4814_story. html​.

[6]​https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-54805088​.

[7]​https://web.archive.org/web/20201119083406/https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/new s/2020/11/ethiopia-investigation-reveals-evidence-that-scores-of-civilians-were-ki lled-in-massacre-in-tigray-state/​.

[8]​https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ethiopia-conflict/in-escalation-of-ethiopia-war-tigra y-leader-says-his-forces-fired-rockets-at-eritrea-idUSKBN27V05M​.

[9]​https://youtu.be/sw_JTqV8Ffc?t=21​.

[10]​http://www.tigraionline.com/articles/general-tsadkan-interview.html​.

[11]​https://www.state.gov/the-united-states-condemns-the-attack-on-eritrea-by-the-tigra y-peoples-liberation-front​/.

[12]​https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1MEZ7VIlqA​.

Tariku Debretsion is an independent writer and activist for peace and fraternity of Horn of Africa living in Austin Texas debretsion@gmail.com

https://www.ethiopoint.com/the-dawn-of-a-new-era-in-the-horn-of-africa/

Why Ethiopia and Eritrea Should Hail Dr. Abiy’s Peace Initiative

Ethiopia Eritrea Relation: from Where? To Where?

The euphoric jubilation in the streets of Asmara and Addis Ababa that we have witnessed in the last few weeks is the Eritrean and Ethiopian peoples’ affirmation and celebration of the peace overtures made by Dr Abiy. The stoic Ethiopian and Eritrean people, young and old, men and women, dancing and singing unabashedly in the streets and public spaces are expressing their strong longing for peaceful and fraternal relations—a longing which they have not been able to express in public for the last 20 years. It is a genuine endorsement of the commitment of the two leaders—Abiy, an articulate, visionary vanguard of the new generation, and Isaias, a defiant old revolutionary—to lead them out of the quagmire. Abiy rose up from the mass upheaval of the Ethiopian youth struggle against TPLF/EPRDF dominated corruption, political machinations, disintegration and hopelessness to lead a peaceful yet fundamental revolution. Isaias represents the indomitable spirit of the Eritrean struggle for liberation, still standing against all odds.

Within a few weeks, in a miraculous shift, despair and pessimism have given way to hope. This hope found articulation in a rising young political maverick, Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed. His message of peace and unity, medemer, has swept Ethiopian and Eritrean communities at home and in diaspora. The swift actions taken by both sides to normalize relations after two decades of the no war no peace regime has created an emotional human drama: the celebrations welcoming Abiy to Asmara and Isaias to Addis, long separated family members dancing in tears on the tarmacs of airports, and even people calling random numbers across the border to express love and good will. The scene has mesmerized even the international media and international public at large which is used to seeing frequent atrocities in this region. What just a few weeks ago seemed like an insurmountable wall of hate and acrimony between Eritrea and Ethiopia has dissipated as if it had been a mirage.

Yet despite the overflow of joy we should not forget the bitter cost paid during the twenty long years it took us to get here. Nor should we forget that this is only the beginning of a long hard journey. To see through the fog into brighter future we must reexamine our path through our dark history with contrition. As Maya Angelou said, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

The Horn of Africa is one of the most conflict-ridden regions in the world. The Ethio-Eritrea conflict that has continued unabated for three quarter of a century, bleeds directly or indirectly into all the violent intrastate and interstate conflicts raging across the Horn of Africa. The thirty-year devastating war for independence [1960 – 1991], the 1998 -2000 border war and the eighteen years of “no war no peace” that has succeeded it have been the inexhaustible fuel that has been feeding the inferno consuming this region. The cost of this conflict is mind numbing. Hundreds of thousands have died. Millions have been forced into abject refugee life. Villages have been razed to the ground, fragile ecosystem scorched, farm lands strewn by land mines rendered uncultivable, infrastructures deliberately destroyed. Billions of dollars have been spent in military endeavors while the people die en masse from famine and suffer from lack of basic human necessities. Pulled by this conflict into an abyss, both states are at the bottom of the ladder in social, political and economic development scales.

TPLF is the main architect of the sinister “no war no peace” regime.

Meles and his compadres were skillful tacticians but unfortunately poor strategists. This is not due to lack of intelligence but rather to their tenuous hold on state power in Ethiopia. A political faction which hailed from a marginalized ethnic minority, which had been playing second fiddle to EPLF for most part of its existence, was suddenly catapulted to a dominant position in the Ethiopian state. They consolidated their chokehold on the Ethiopian state with the departure of Eritrea and the EPLF. TPLF inherited the bounty of the Ethiopian empire, while EPLF had to deal with a war-torn weary state. The former comrades in arms turned into deadly rivals. The US cast the deciding vote when it picked TPLF as its strategic ally in the Horn of Africa.

Once EPLF departed, the interparty rivalry turned into an intraparty duel between the Meles Zenawi faction and the Seye Abraha and Gebru Assrat faction. Seye and Gebru’s faction hoped to catapult themselves into dominance by waving the banner of defending Ethiopia’s sovereignty against alleged Eritrean domination and rallying the “Greater Ethiopia nationalists” who were deeply saddened by Eritrea’s succession and the loss of Massawa and Assab ports. Gebru in his book dubiously titled “Sovereignty and Democracy” (Signature Book Printing Press 2014) self-flagellated for supposedly being misled and indoctrinated into denying the “true history of Ethiopia and Eritrea.” This is not withstanding that he had been one of the founders of TPLF and a senior member of the central committee and had fought side by side with the ELF in support of Eritrea’s independence. Gebru’s numerous speeches and writings epitomize the deep-rooted legacy of political deception of TPLF and the essence of its divide and rule policy in both provoking the war and playing the victim.

EPLF arrogantly took the bait when it responded by sending its armed forces to the conflict zone to confront the TPLF militias. The wounded Ethiopian national pride roared to life. Gebru and Seye reached the apex of political power while the lives of a million poor Ethiopians and Eritreans was turned upside down. A journalist characterized the war as “two bold men fighting over a comb.” The Amharic saying “kit gelbo ras tkenanbo’” (“Bearing your ass to cover your head”) expresses even better the idiocy of two states who could not feed their people recklessly expend so much on a war to defend national pride.

When dreams of easy military victory dissipated and the realization of unsustainable losses on both sides set in, the war crept into a stalemate. The two states were cajoled by the international community into resolving their violent conflict through binding arbitration. On December 12, 2000, Eritrea and Ethiopia signed the Algiers Peace Agreement. The Agreement mandated an Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) to delimit and demarcate the border “based on pertinent colonial treaties (1900, 1902, and 1908) and applicable international law.” On April 13, 2002, The Eritrea – Ethiopia Boundary Commission in a 135-page unanimous ruling, rendered its final and binding delimitation decision. Within hours, Ethiopia accepted the ruling, declaring it “fair and appropriate,” hoping Eritrea would not accept and hence stand out as intransigent. But Eritrea fully accepted the Ruling and demanded its implementation. A month later the TPLF regime reversed its position and reneged on its obligation. If Ethiopia had accepted and implemented this ruling at that time, today instead of talking about boundary demarcation, we would have been talking about more fundamental political and economic integrations between the two states.

If military victory had been attainable, Gebru and Seye, the main drivers of the war, would have remained at the helm and Meles would have been in exile or worse eliminated. The Stalemate in the savagely fought war enabled Melese zenawe to bounce back into power while Tseye and Gebru faction was purged from TPLF. Melese Instead of taking the Algiers’s accord to peacefully resolve this abominable war chose to continue it under the “no war no peace” regime. The underpinning of Meles’ “no war no peace” regime was based on the calculation that, since military victory is unattainable, he would ignore the agreement and continue with a tense military standoff without direct engagement. Ethiopia, with a hundred million population and larger resources, would be able to withstand the cost of indefinite military mobilization, while Eritrea, with a five million population and war-torn economy, would crumble. To that end he reneged on the ruling by setting conditions which would practically annul the Algiers Agreement, hence, the “no peace no war” regime came into de-facto existence. Meles’s calculations failed to take into consideration the two most important factors: the determination of the Eritrean people to persevere hardship to preserve their hard-fought independence and the burden of underdevelopment, poverty and political vulnerabilities protracted military mobilization would create on Ethiopia.

Though the UN, AU and the US were guarantors to the Algiers Agreement, they were either unwilling or unable to put pressure on Ethiopia to honor the legal and binding ruling. To make matters worse, the US and Eritrea become at a loggerhead because Eritrea would not bend to US policy in the region. Meles scored a tactical victory over Isaias. Ethiopia gained military and economic advantages as the US’s strategical ally, while Eritrea suffered isolation, sanctions and economic hardships. However, both sides lost because the “no war no peace” policy made the rift between these fraternal peoples much wider and deeper and it arrested social economic and political development the people on both sides direly needed.

Rise of amazing consensus in support of the peace overture.

TPLF’s choke hold on the Ethiopian state’s apparatus has been shattered by the popular mass uprising that has swept the country in the last three years. TEAM Abiy/Lema of OPDO became the dominant group in the EPRDF coalition. As a result, one of the main pillars of the TPLF’s policies–“no war no peace”–is being replaced by a new initiative for peace. On June 13, 2018, EPRDF Executive Committee under Dr Abiy voted 27 to 0 to accept the Algiers Peace Accord and implement the EEBC ruling without preconditions–16 years after the adjudication. Dr Abiy’s passionate speeches extolling peace, love and reconciliation has fired the long-subdued spirit of the people on both sides of the border.

Two weeks later, President Isaias came out in strong support of Dr. Abiy’s initiative. Amazingly he declared that he would send a peace delegation to Addis Ababa. For the two regimes, world renowned for their stubbornness and belligerence, to be willing to deal directly with each other without intermediary is a sea change. Both regimes have come to realize that their future existence as states depends on resolving their intractable conflicts peacefully and legally. Abiy’s initiative and Isaias’s unprecedented response resonates with the will and aspiration of both Eritrean and Ethiopian people to live side by side peacefully and fraternally.

Meanwhile, TPLF is hopelessly replaying its old tired game of political deception and divide to rule. Instead of endorsing this peace initiative and being part of the reconciliation, it is trying to derail it. In its hastily assembled central committee meeting of the TPLF held in Mekele a few days after the EPRDF EC declaration, it came out with a dubious statement[1]. On the one hand, it declared supports for the EPRDF EC decision, while on the other hand it condemned it for being hasty and lacking consultation. This despite the fact that TPLF is fully represented in the EPRDF EC and its representatives voted for the resolution. This is the usual two-faced political maneuver that TPLF pulls whenever it is in crisis.

The Ethiopian oppositions groups have wholeheartedly endorsed Abiy’s call. The only exception are some diehard nationalists who are pushing to reclaim Assab by force or/and political pressure. They reject the peace overture because they fear accepting the Algiers Agreement legitimizes the existing boundary[2]. For many of these individuals, even after twenty-seven years, accepting Eritrea as an independent state is hard to swallow. Proponents of this line used to be a dominant faction of the opposition, particularly in diaspora, however, its ranks have withered away. Most people realize that it is not lack of ports, rather it is the lack of peace and good governance which is the existential treat to Ethiopia. The Ethiopia and Eritrea border has been resolved according to international law. Assab and Massawa should no longer be a cause for endless devastating conflict. Instead they should be economic focal points that bring together the two countries in a prosperous and enduring economic alliance.

On the Eritrean side, supporters and opponents of the regime alike, the support for the peace overture is unanimous. However, ambiguity prevails on the side of highly fractured opposition because some fear that peace would strengthen Isais’s dictatorship[3]. This is a rather circular argument because it was the state of war which have been used as grounds to curtail civil liberty in Eritrea. The Eritrean people have persevered through economic hardship and tolerated deferment of their emancipation to preserve their hard-won independence. It is one of the main reasons why the opposition organizations failed to gain a meaningful following in the country. The Eritrean opposition, which is obsessed about splitting into factions on major and minor issues, should humble itself and learn the lesson that striving for unity, medemer, peace and reconciliation is a potent force for change. Peace is not going to solve all the mindboggling problems that beset Eritrean and Ethiopian societies but it is a fundamental requisite.

Missed opportunities to peacefully and holistically resolve the Ethio-Eritrea conflict

    • 1952-1962 Federation presented Ethiopia with great opportunity: outlets to the sea, Eritrea’s modern infrastructure and Eritrean skilled labor. For the fractured and contentious Eritrean elites, between dismemberment or outright annexation, the Federation was a palatable choice. Instead of transforming Ethiopia into a constitutional monarchy by using the Eritrean liberal democratic constitution as inspiration, Haile Selassie made the arrogant and short-sighted decision to revoke the federation and reduce Eritrea into a province in his feudal empire. This unleashed a strong Eritrean nationalist rebellion and consequently an armed struggle. His response, backed with US military largesse, was mass incarceration of Eritrean youth, torture, exile and elimination of the nascent Eritrean intelligentsia. When the rebellion progressed to full-fledged armed struggle, he responded with a scorched earth policy. The cost for Ethiopia and Eritrea in term of lost opportunities in economic, political and social development is staggering. The cost Emperor Haile Selassie had to pay for his hubris was an ignominious death in the uprising of which the Eritrean struggle was a very important factor.
    • 1974 Ethiopian uprising for economic democratic revolution was subverted by the derge’s coup. The response of the fascistic derge to the Eritrean struggle was dumb, arrogant, inhumane and utterly devastating. Backed with an unprecedent degree of military aid and direct involvement of the defunct Soviet Union, it aspired to annihilate the Eritrean resistance once and for all. However, the end result was its own demise at the hands of EPLF and TPLF. Again, the economic devastation, political degeneration and institutional disintegration of a protracted war led to famine, human misery and suffering of biblical magnitude.
    • 1993 Eritreans in a United Nation sponsored referendum voted for their independence and Ethiopia magnanimously accepted. Eritrea became a full-fledged member state of AU and UN. It was a glorious moment. The wounds of Africa’s longest armed conflict were healing fast. Peace dividends flourished. The prestige of the two counties and their leaders sky rocketed. The economic advantages of the people’s mobility between the two states reached a high mark. But the fast pace of change and economic growth engendered a petty rivalry between the ascending power elites. The bright hope and promise of the reconstructing economies was sadly dashed when rivalry between the groups escalated to a savage senseless interstate war.
    • 1998 – 2000 border war. Although it lasted only two years, the psychological and economic devastation was greater than what had proceeded it. 100,000 Eritrean and Ethiopian youths were sacrificed, over two million people on both sides were dislocated, and infrastructure and farms and industries were deliberately destroyed.
    • 2000 – 2018 No peace no war regime. The last 18 years could be characterized as a period of paralysis, stagnation and disintegration of both states albeit to a different degree and consequence. The political and economic isolation of Eritrea spearheaded by the TPLF, with the aid of the US, was aimed at bringing down the EPLF regime. Until a few months ago, blog sites were filled with self-fulfilling prophesies about the eminent collapse of Eritrea and the triumph of Ethiopia. The reality proved to the contrary. It is the PFDJ which is standing while TPLF’s power base has collapsed dramatically.
    • 2018 Will Abye’s peace overtures be another missed opportunity? Neither the two countries nor the region can afford another failure. Failure would be devastating. We count on the genuine mass support expressed unequivocally by the Ethiopians and Eritreans people in the last few weeks to be the guarantor for its success. In my long period of political involvement in this region, I have witnessed only a few periods of popular euphoria and unanimity of such magnitude.

Tigray is a bridge not a wedge between Ethiopia and Eritrea

The People of Tigray are the major victims of TPLF’s divide and rule policy. It has put them at loggerheads with Eritreans to the north, the Amhara to the west and south and the Afar to the east. It is a deliberate policy, sometimes dubbed as “plan B,” to make Tigray a perpetual bastion of TPLF. The objective goal of this tactic is to make the Tigray people feel vulnerable, hence, the servile support base for TPLF. The Tigrayan intelligentsia should have been able to see through these shenanigans and exposed them long time ago. Yet sadly, particularly many in the diaspora, they are being manipulated to kowtow to this abominable policy in the name of Tigray nationalism and pride.

Who has suffered more from this long drawn out conflict than the poor Tigrayans and Eritreans? Which ethnicity or region has paid more in human sacrifice, suffered more dislocation than these hapless cousins? Whose fragile farmland has been ruined by tanks and infested with mines like theirs? Whose economic potential has been more arrested? Who lived for decades under the threat of calamitous war as they have? Shouldn’t the border towns of Tigray and Eritrea be centers of thriving trade rather than sad military outposts? Who is to blame? What is to be gained? Why weren’t the people of Tigray in the forefront petitioning their leaders to end the “no war no peace” regime? Even now TPLF is trying to mischaracterize this malaise as defending Tigrayan interests.

The current love fest between Ethiopia and Eritrea is the death knell to TPLF hegemony. It is a total rejection and repudiation of their divide and rule legacy. Their posturing as defenders of Ethiopia’s sovereignty against hapless Eritrea and peacekeeper between the feuding ethnic groups of Ethiopia has been swept away by the popular tsunami that that has engulfed Ethiopia. The Ethio-Eritrea love train is the shining beacon of hope. TPLF leadershi,p instead of hopping on this love train of reconciliation and peace, are plotting to derail it. Their plans and tactics are a replay of the maneuvers that led to the 1998 border war–pretend to accept the peace process while throwing a monkey wrench into it. This time very few are duped.

The chameleon role being played by Dr. Debretsion, TPLF’s party chairman, epitomizes this stance. In his June 22nd interview, he outlined the game plan which can be summarized as: 1. We accept the EPRDF executive committee stand to unconditionally accept and implement the Algiers resolution, yet we condemn it because it is done without consultation, 2. We call for an “extended” EPRDF meeting to discuss the matter with hope of torpedoing the resolution by bringing more allies, 3. Bademe is Tigray’s issue not a national issue, TPLF, as representative of the people of Tigray, should be the leading negotiator. 4. It is a border issue; no it is sovereignty issue, 5. TPLF accepts unconditionally the Algiers’s Agreement, no we stand by the repudiated ‘five points for renegotiation’. Dr. Debretsion even went so far as saying that the Algiers Agreement is null and void. As for the party, TPLF started organizing demonstrations against the peace overtures and then made a 180-degree turn by organizing a big rally at Mekele Stadium allegedly, inter alia, to express support for peace with Eritrea. This flipflopping simply reflects the pathetic situation the one-time master of deception TPLF finds itself in today.

For TPLF peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea is not about border issue or defending the interest of the people of Tigray, rather, it is about desperately hanging to power and convincing its shocked supporters that it is still relevant. Yet it is doing it the negative way. Instead of absolving itself from its predatory role in a true substantive way, it has chosen to replay its failed tricks which doesn’t even impress its ardent supporters. TPLF leadership is down but not out. They cannot ever dominate Ethiopia’s politics the way they did before, but they can surely play a disruptive role. Anyone who underestimates TPLF leadership does so at his own peril.

The main force that could effectively deal with TPLF is the people of Tigray. People of Tigray, the TPLF’s leadership policy of divide and rule is your liability. They have gained like bandits, which they are, but you are left with the liability. Their gain has come at a great lose to you today and your offspring tomorrow. It is time to see the reality with wide open eyes and take your place on the side of those who stand for lasting peace, justice and fraternity and work for common good. Choose among your bright and honorable youth to represent you in this crucial juncture of history.

Likewise, the wholesale castigation by some Eritrean and Ethiopian elites of the Tigray population for the evils perpetrated by TPLF leadership policies and actions is wrong headed as it creates an obstacle to unite all the stakeholders for peace.

Conclusion: The people of Ethiopia and Eritrea are the sole guarantors of lasting peace

I am seventy years old. I was born into Eritrean nationalism and matured in the Ethiopian struggle for social justice. I was born, grew, struggled and exiled in this tangled web of conflict. It has affected the whole of my life and most importantly my psyche. I am not an exception. My generation on both sides of the border is similarly affected. In a paper I presented to 5th Annual Ethiopian & Eritrean Friendship Forum Conference Presented by UCLA’s Habesha Student Association April 17th, 2013, I wrote. “The conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia is mainly rooted in the common psyche of the power elites rather than the existence of objective irreconcilable differences. The elites of Ethiopia and Eritrea share a common psyche because they share a common culture and tradition. The common psychic traits of the two power elite groups are hurt pride, beleaguered nationalism and zero-sum mentality. Eritreans and Ethiopians are one people. Sadly, and paradoxically, their common history, culture and psyche, instead of being the foundation of their unity, have become an artificial barrier between them. Particularly Eritreans and Ethiopians in their late 50s and 60s, who are the main actors in this sad drama, are deeply scarred and traumatized by the development of this conflict. Like two chess players who follow the same strategy, they have cornered themselves into a stalemate.”

We are hypnotized by the allure of intrigue, brinkmanship and elusive victory. It is hard to find many examples in human history of people who have fought so ferociously and paid so dearly in life and social development for so little like Ethiopians and Eritreans. We have lost so much in war when we could have gained abundantly in peace.

I was resigned to dying without seeing the bright days of peace and harmony between these fraternal people. That is why I feel elated when I hear a call for peace from a much younger generation reverberate in these hapless conflict-ridden communities. It is humbling to witness such unanimity in our communities on such fundamental issues. The people have spoken loudly, clearly and unequivocally that they want to coexist in peace and fraternity, to strive and surmount all difficulties and obstacles together. They have rejected the divide and rule message of TPLF.

The first stage of demolition is finished. The second stage of constructive engagement are the big challenges ahead: demarcating the border, setting policies and laws to facilitate cooperation and sharing of resources. These matters have always been the domain of the intelligentsia and power elites, played out in boardrooms out of public sight. Would the power elites proscribe their parochial interest over the interests of the people? Would they obsess over their hidden agendas and dubious ideologies or follow the will and spirit of the people? There is a strong alignment of interests and aspirations between the people and their leaders at this moment as manifested in the streets and public meetings. It should be consolidated by widening the democratic platform, by cultivating transparency, by empowering people and making their interests and well-being paramount.

It is a rare historical opportunity when rival social and political forces align to foster peace and harmony, particularly in our region. The US has also shifted its wrong-headed policy, regional forces like Saudi Arabia and UEA are amazingly helping build bridges, leaders of both countries share kinetic energy to overhaul the reign of debilitating conflict and the people are impatient for the dawn of a new era. We should all unite, “endemere,” to augment this rare historical opportunity.

It is a universal fact that though political leaders initiate change, it takes a social force to make it real. We all must engage to make this spirit of love, peace and good will endure and flourish. We should stand to those forces who try to pull us back into the quagmire of the past. Particularly my message to my generation–the conflict generation—is this: we need to introspect and to meditate to bury the legacy of schizophrenia and xenophobia and support the new generation as it embarks on a brighter future. I hope the last years of my life will be spent writing about the flourishing of peace, the unfolding of fraternity, the strong embrace of harmony and above all, writing about the triumph over poverty and human misery.

Peace and Fraternity to Ethiopian and Eritrean people!

  1. http://www.aigaforum.com/documents/tplf-statement-on-current-issues-amharic-061318.pdf
  2. https://ethiomedia.com/2018/07/19/ethiopians-reject-government-peace-offer-to-eritrea/
  3. http://awate.com/major-dawit-invites-dr-abiys-addition-class/

The Dawn of a New Era in the Horn of Africa

Within a few months of signing a peace and cooperation agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea in Asmara on July 7, 2018, things are changing at a staggering speed. Telecommunication between the two countries have quickly resumed. Ethiopians and Eritreans at the border jumped at the opportunity to visit and trade with each other without even waiting for formal structures to be put in place. The soldiers of the two states climbed out of their trenches to celebrate the New Year by dancing together, with the jubilant local people and the heads of the two states joining them. Ethiopia’s commercial ships have docked in Massawa after twenty years of absence and been loaded with zinc from Eritrean mines to be transported to China. The heads of states of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia visiting each other’s state capitals were greeted with genuine public euphoria. Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti signed agreements for regional peace and cooperation. Ethiopia and Somalia appealed to the UN to lift its infamous sanctions on Eritrea. On November 14, 2018, The UN lifted the unjust sanctions which had reduced Eritreans to lives of agony and desperation.

For the first time in many centuries, local forces and local interests became the driving forces, as opposed to the dictates of superpowers and regional hegemons. This is why the process has been amazingly fast, more substantive and hopefully more enduring. The crucial initiative was undertaken by the young, dynamic prime minister of Ethiopia, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, who had the courage and foresight to dismantle the ”no war no peace” policy of the TPLF regime. The change was sealed when Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afewerki, accepted Abiy’s peace overture. In particular, Isaias’s decision to directly engage Ethiopia without any need for intermediary was a novel diplomatic move which sped up the peace process. Abiy demonstrated his diplomatic acumen by bringing together the presidents of Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea to sign onto the regional peace and cooperation agreement.

Many pundits and political analysts ascribe the dynamics of this change to global forces: changes in US policy, the rise of China’s influence in the region, the resurgence of Russia or competition between the Gulf states Saudi Arabia and the UAE vs Turkey, Qatar and Iran. But these are concomitant factors rather than the leading causes. The main factor has been a nascent surge for peace and cooperation which has been the desperate yearning of the hapless people of the region for ages, but which has now found articulation and design in the actions of their leaders.

Colonialism carved the Horn of Africa (HOA) region into fragmented states. In the post-colonial era, the efforts of these fragmented states to sort out their mutilated existence and define their relationships often devolved into incessant violent conflicts. Many forms of competing national ideologies were hailed that then faded. Scores of devastating intra-state wars were fought. Proxy wars were fanned by superpowers, by regional powers and by local states. The net results: Somalia a failed state, Ethiopia on the edge, Eritrea in paralysis and Sudan in fragmentation. And the whole region of HOA became one of the most conflict-ridden regions in the world. This in turn paved the way for world powers to dictate the political future of the region without leaving room for input from the people of the region. Imagine, if you can, the rise of Emperor Haile Selassie into an absolute monarch without the military largesse of the US, or Siad Barre’s brutal dictatorship or Mingustu Hailemariam’s atrocities, without the Soviet’s massive military support and logistics. Even the TPLF’s domination was facilitated by US military and economic support. De Wall, Prime minister Meles’s confidant. characterized the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) dominated Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) regime, basically as a “counter-Terrorism rent-seeking state”[i]. The US’s generous military aid, which helped the TPLF/EPRDF to build one of the largest military forces in Africa, was considered payment for fighting America’s war against radical Islam—ignoring the fact that the same resources were used to brutally suppress its own people.

The nascent transformation currently unfolding is an antithesis of these phenomena. The elites of the region have come to the realization that divided they become peons of global and regional hegemons and united they stand strong to shape their destiny. Nationalist ideologies, focused on pushing one state’s parochial interests at the cost of a neighboring state, have not benefited their states in meaningful ways. It has only made them a dumping ground of obsolete military wares.

Even when external forces intervene with good intentions but without giving the leading role to local people and local forces, their actions end up leading to quagmires. The global effort to reconstitute the failed Somali state the fragmentation of the Sudan and South Sudan, the failed mediation between Eritrea and Ethiopia speak volumes.

The Abiy Factor

The landmark in the current political scenario of the Horn of Africa happened on April 2nd, 2018, when the EPRDF elected Dr. Abiy to be the prime minister of Ethiopia. His rise, which represented the ascendance of the Oromo People Democratic Organization (OPDO currently ODP) from junior partner in the TPLF-dominated EPRDF into the dominant party in the fragile alliance, is dubbed by some as a “silent coup d’ete.” But it represents more significant and fundamental changes in the political orientation and alliances locally and regionally. It came as a result of three years of resistance and protest by the Ethiopian youth, which paralyzed the TPLF-dominated EPRDF.

For the last twenty years, the perpetuation of a ”no war no peace” policy between Ethiopia and Eritrea was the cornerstone of the TPLF’s foreign policy. It was aimed at isolating Eritrea economically and politically with the intention of bringing down Isaias Afewerki’ s government through external pressure. With the aid of the US, it effected immense economic and political hardship on Eritrea. This policy came also at a major cost to Ethiopia. The TPLF, instead of marshaling its economic and political resources to solve Ethiopia’s daunting underdevelopment and poverty, was fixated on bringing down Isaias’s People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ). It made itself totally dependent on Djibouti ports for its exports and imports. Djibouti leveraged its opportunity to extort Ethiopia of its direly needed hard currency. The proxy war it initiated was countered by Eritrea’s quid pro quo. Due to complex political problems, Ethiopia was vulnerable. This misguided policy of the TPLF, along with its misgoverning and corruption, triggered its downfall. The first domino piece to fall was its infamous no war no peace policy. This in turn triggered a cascade of changes.Read Aloud:   The Smart Way for Ethiopians (By Muluken Gebeyew)

The TPLF as well as some political analysts—even some noted one—characterized Abiy’s rapprochement with Eritrea as a hasty act. On the contrary, this was a thoroughly calculated move on the part of Dr Abiy. He manifested his deep understanding of the geopolitical dynamics of the region in a long and thoughtful interview ten months before he became prime minister[ii].

To briefly summarize: He described how the Horn of Africa (HOA) is a conglomerate of major religions and ethnicities which are fighting for resources, power and influence; how these have made HOA states the instruments of proxy wars by global and regional powers; how interstate and intrastate conflicts are intractable problems; how the monopolar power of the US is shifting into a multipolar world with the rise of China competing for economic and political influence; how regional powers, Saudi Arabia, UE and Egypt on the one hand and Turkey Qatar and Iran on the other hand are competing to carve spheres of influence in the region; how Ethiopia’s size and central location makes it the locus of influence; and how peace and cooperation between the states is essential not only for economic development but also to protect the region’s interests in the global political and economic sphere.

That was why soon after Dr. Abiy took power, he embarked on a shuttle diplomacy to Somalia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Sudan. His critics characterized this shuttle diplomacy as foolhardy or fear of facing major domestic issues. On the contrary, these well-orchestrated strategic moves have netted him international stature, as well as unmatched popularity in the hearts of the people of the region. This stature and popularity translated into big political capital to push his reform agenda at home. Particularly his move to normalize Ethiopia’s relation with Eritrea had a flare of a genius. By directly appealing to the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea, expressing their sentiment for peaceful coexistence and cooperation in the languages they cherish, he unleashed a ground swell of popular euphoria, ”a love fest.”

These grand historical steps go beyond raising the spirit and optimism of the people. They represent concrete measures to untangle the intractable problems that have beset the region.

What did Ethiopia gain from peace with Eritrea? It gained access to Assab and Massawa, which will reduce its overall dependence on Djibouti and which will better serve the needs of northern and central Ethiopia. It will eliminate the massive expenditure of human and capital resources on an unnecessary military standoff.  Peace with Eritrea facilitated peace within Ethiopia. Eritrea became a bridge for peace between Abiy’s government and half a dozen armed organizations which had been for decades engaged in violent struggles against the previous Ethiopian regimes. Furthermore, fanning broader Horn of Africa consciousness has the effect of countering the dive into narrower and narrower parochial ethnic and clan alliances of both the political elites and the masses. It boosted immensely the country’s stature in the global arena. Foreign aid and investment are gushing forth.

The Isaias Factor

President Isaias is a controversial figure. For some Eritreans he is a hero who led the Eritrean struggle to independence and still guides it to stand against forces which are trying to roll it back. For some Eritreans he is a ruthless dictator who has subverted their aspirations for democracy. For some Ethiopians Isais is the enemy who is responsible for the secession of Eritrea.  According to them, he is an enemy who wants Ethiopia to disintegrate. On the opposite side, some Ethiopians see in him an ally against the TPLF and an ally in the struggle for democratic changes and unity of the country. Distinguished opposition leaders, such as professor Mesfin Woldemarion[iii] and Major Dawit have publicly affirmed this point of view[iv]. As a leader of a protracted and violent conflict that spanned nearly half a century, he is an amalgam of all the above elements. Someone’s hero is another’s villain. Yet he is an indispensable ally to lead the region from the quagmire of conflicts.

Ethiopia, Eritrea, as well as the whole HOA region, could hope for no better leader in the aftermath of the bloody divorce. He has a strong awareness of the historical, political, economic, cultural and strategical interdependence of Eritrea and Ethiopia. He has ad-infinitum reiterated his strong vision of two independent states with a strong economic, political and strategic alliance. He accepted the UN sponsored referendum as a peace bridge with Ethiopia. After Eritrea’s independence, he was actively working towards a strong economic and political relationship with Ethiopia and the rest of the HOA states. He has spoken at length against the ethnic-based federalism constructed by the TPLF. Because Eritrea has a similar ethnic and religious composition as Ethiopia, ethnic-based federalism is not only a menace to Ethiopia, but also a detriment to Eritrea too. His unequivocal endorsement of Abiy’s peace overture created a dynamic synergy between them. This dynamic synergy between the two leaders epitomizes the spirit of the two fraternal peoples. The hero’s welcome accorded to president Isaias by the Ethiopian people is a personal vindication and a tribute to his principled stands during the low and high moments in the two states’ history.

Eritrea won its independence after thirty years of war with a very little moral or material support from the international community. Eritrea’s independence was mainly a result of a devastating armed struggle and bitter sacrifices. When it gained its independence, it was greeted by its neighbors as a bellicose newcomer. Two decades of economic and political isolation, orchestrated by the TPLF and the US, dimmed Eritrea’s bright hopes. This created among Eritreans a feeling of a beleaguered state. Eritreans, defiantly but with a sense of resignation, persevered the UN sanctions and isolation, the economic hardships and the deferment of their hopes for a vibrant democratic state. Others braved arduous journeys, through forbidding deserts and across treacherous seas, to seek a better life in another place. The Eritrean reality is shrouded by the sadness of its enormous sacrifices and graced by its indomitable spirit to stand for its rights as a nation.

Isaias didn’t create the beleaguered state. He turned it into an impregnable fortress. A target of regime change policy, by the might of the US and cunning diplomacy of TPLF, he had no other choice but to fight on to break loose from this deadly chokehold. He gave this David vs Goliath fight his brand and flare. What he lacked in diplomatic tact, he made up for with his resilience. In the end he won, and Eritrea triumphed against external impositions.Read Aloud:   Foreign Policy Diary – Arab Coalition Expands Into The Horn Of Africa – Good Reporting!

What did Eritrea gain from peace with Ethiopia? It will reduce the heavy toll the Eritrean people have had to bear to defend their country. The economic engagement is highly beneficial to both countries. The freeze in economic relations between the two countries was imposed on Eritrea by the TPLF regime. With Dr. Abiy as the prime minister of Ethiopia, it has overcome its isolation. Instead of being treated like a pariah state, it has become a hub of top-level diplomatic traffic. It gained a reprieve from the well-orchestrated campaign of defamation and the endless self-fulfilling prophesies of its imminent demise in the international media. Tourism from Ethiopia and from all corners of the globe is rising. The PFDJ would be advised to take a lesson from Abyi’s administration about how to use this peace as a selling factor to woo international aid and investment.

Now that peace is flourishing in HOA, will the fortress Eritrean state be transformed into a flourishing democratic state? Will president Isais use the tremendous political capital he has gained to lead the democratic transformation? Will he take his triumph as vindication and take measures to heal Eritrea’s internal rifts?

If genuine change is initiated from within the ruling circle, change can come peacefully with less sacrifices. If President Isais and the PFDJ fail to take the initiative, then change will come from outside, from dissidents inside and outside country by force. That would be a destructive step into the abyss. Yet change is inevitable one way or the other.

The TPLF factor

TPLF’s policy towards Eritrea and towards the rest of the ethnic groups in Ethiopia are two sides of the same divide and rule policy. It was the political foundation of a narrow clique’s domination. The TPLF intentionally fostered and manipulated ethnic conflicts to prolong its tenuous hold on power. It wove historical conflicts into its foreign and internal policies. It fomented ethnic conflicts in its political propaganda. It amalgamated ethnic fissures into its institutional and organizational structures, and it even enshrined it in its constitution.

The Ethiopian people, particularly the youth fed-up with TPLF’s shenanigans, revolted. Through mass demonstrations and civil disobedience that lasted for three years, they paralyzed the EPRDF rule. Finally, the TPLF lost its dominant position in the EPRDF. Abiy and team Lemma ascended to power. One of the first bold actions they took was to dismantle the no war no peace policy with Eritrea, which they did by accepting unconditionally the Algiers peace accord which had been frozen by the TPLF for 18 years. This act heralded peace not only between Eritrea and Ethiopia, but also in the whole HOA region.

The TPLF’s institutional hold has been dramatically dismantled. They are no longer in a position to dictate policy in Ethiopia. Their only means of hindering the progress is sabotage.

The party and Tigray people are severely divided. The old guard, who are in their 60’s and 70s, who have amassed wealth by plundering Ethiopia and now have nowhere to turn, have retreated to Tigray kellile. The young party leaders are full of fury and bewilderment, and their tactics are frantic adaptations to day-to-day changing circumstances. The Tigray peasantry, which has paid dearly to bring changes in Ethiopia, which had been ignored and neglected when things were going well for the TPLF leadership, is now asked to be the TPLF’s fallback. The educated urban Tigrayans feel beleaguered and their cosmopolitan life style threatened.

The old guard, which feels especially threatened by the peaceful rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, try to impede the progress by spreading fear and xenophobia and by inciting acts of sabotage. In early January 2019, they incited youngsters, women and children to roadblock Ethiopian armed forces who were withdrawing from the border with Eritrea per the two countries peace agreement. [v]

Chief of Staff Let. Gen. Berhanu Jula characterized the incidence and the military’s response as f0llows:

There is an entity that has been employing fear and concern as a strategy. There is a force that is using the people as a cover to bring about instability. They are not many, and I am sure they will be exposed. Until then, we will not do anything that will bring us to a collision course with the people. We better feel bad rather than making the people feel bad.

The people of Tigray are closely tied, historically, culturally and linguistically, with Eritrea. They are close cousins with Tigrinya, the major ethnic in Eritrea. Many Tigrayan elites have supported and fought alongside Eritreans. They were inspired to organize and fight for their rights too. EPLF and TPLF had a united front for seventeen years. Despite frequent internal frictions, it was the longest lasting and most successful united front in Ethiopian as well as Eritrean history. Their united struggle was the paramount force that shattered the derge’s regime. Sadly, as a result of subsequent power struggles, they ended up unleashing the devastating 1998-2000 border war and two decades of mischief to undermine each other. Yet, despite the past devastating wars, the deportations and the economic hardships they have both lived under, the peoples’ affinity to each other–particularly, their desire to live in peace with each other, mend their broken lives and make up for lost time–has been unequivocally demonstrated. This peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea is a product of their enduring yearning for peace and fraternity.

Ethiopian and Eritrean elites should beware not to fall into the TPLF old guard trap by lumping the TPLF with the Tigray people. Other Ethiopians and Eritreans should sincerely understand and sympathize with the fact that the people of Tigray are the victims not the perpetrators of evil. Dr Debretsion[N1]  in his recent televised speech admonished the hot-headed Tigrayan for trying to block the federal force’s movements and the taunting of Ato Gedu Adnargachew, president of Amhara killele. He further gave information about lengthy rapprochements and dialogs between the Eritrean and Tigray killele officials at different levels in his effort to quell the preposterous propaganda fomented by the TPLF’s old guard, that the peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea is in an alliance to attack Tigray. This sharp contradictory political line within the TPLF is a manifestation of a deep-seated division. [vi]Read Aloud:   Zehabesha Breaking News February 11, 2018

All those Tigrayans, who support the changes, which, by the way, are the vast majority, should be encouraged to be part of the peace movement.  Bringing all positive forces under the big tent will make the movement strong and enduring. On the other hand, trying to score ephemeral victories or futile vendettas will be counterproductive.

In the same manner that Eritrea facilitated the rapprochement between Ginbot7, ONG, ONLF and the EPRDF, it should try to bring into the fold all peace-loving factions in Tigray. Opening the border wide open, not imposing new restrictions, is the path forward.

Conclusion: All factors in balance

Yet, even though a fresh invigorating wind of change is lifting our spirits, there are shuddering cold counter developments consciously working to subvert the movement while others, in pursuit of their own parochial interests, are inadvertently playing a negative role. The situation calls for vigilance.

In Ethiopia this great democratic transition is progressing on a fragile landscape. There was already one assassination attempt on Dr Abiy and one failed coup attempt so far. A couple of million people are internally displaced as a result of fratricidal conflicts. Armed bands are staking their claims and uprooting members of other ethnic groups that have lived in harmony for several generations. They are burning houses, looting businesses, robbing banks and blocking roads. Some are using the mass media to incite vulnerable youth by fabricating and spreading rumors. All of these actions are pushing Ethiopia to the edge. If Ethiopia implodes, it will be the end of the peace movement. As Ethiopia goes, so will the whole region.

However, these ominous treats cannot dim the epochal revolutionary changes the country is undergoing. The depth and breadth of the political and social discussions and the civility of the public participating in the discourse represents the soul searching of a nation. The freedom of the media and the tolerance of those in authority makes those dark times under the previous regimes feel ages away. The Abiy/Lemma team is guiding Ethiopia, so far successfully, with patience, restraint and appeal to the peoples’ commonsense. Some with good intentions have urged Dr Abiy to take draconian measures to assert authority, but authoritarianism is not the answer. It is exactly why the people of Ethiopia have rebelled against three despotic and corrupt authoritarian regimes.

The Eritrean community support for peace with Ethiopia is unequivocally strong. Their hope is not only for peaceful and fraternal existence with their neighbors but, very importantly, for the emancipation of their own society too. That is the unfinished chapter of their long arduous struggle. Now that peace has flourished in the neighborhood, the ‘fortress state’ must be transformed into a flourishing democratic state where people as individuals, as communities and as a nation could take control of their destiny.

In Eritrea, some of the opposition groups and individuals have become frantic. Standing against any initiative taken by the government, positive or negative, is the primordial and instinctive response of the diehard oppositions. Their media is filled with articles and analysis which try to cast doubts on the whole movement. That is tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bath water. The peace movement is not about President Isais or PFDJ rule; it is much larger. It raises existential questions about the survival and the future of the Eritrean state. It is about creating the essential environment to bring the kind of changes all segments of Eritrean society can accept. The peace movement requires the united support of all political factions, both the elites in power as well as in opposition. Acts such as the assassination attempt last December on General Sebhat Eframe, a top government official, are counterproductive[vii]. And equally, any measure by the authorities to tighten their hold will be futile. It would only increase the pressure rather than defusing it.

There is some legitimate unease about the peace process among common Eritreans, even among diehard government supporters. Its source is lack of transparency on the part of the Eritrean government. Eritreans depend for information about the details of the agreements and deals between the two states on second-hand and third-hand sources of information, i.e., on Ethiopian and international media rather than on their own government. The extent and degree of the public discussions and participation in this matter in the Ethiopian political arena, as compared to the Eritrea arena, is day and night. Lack of open discussions and participation by the general public has the effect of reducing the people of Eritrea into distant onlookers on matters so dear and close to their lives.

President Isaias and PFDJ should take this opportunity to loosen their iron grip and encourage the people’s participation through open forum discussions and open media. The people should be encouraged to express freely their support and even their opposition, if they have any. People in authority should be accessible to clarify all questions directly and in a timely fashion. There is no discernable explanation why such wildly popular public developments should be shrouded in secrecy. The Eritrean government should facilitate local and regional conferences of the people. It should welcome Eritreans in diaspora to participate, regardless of their political affiliations.

Since last June tremendous progress has been achieved. Hope has flourished. The driving force is the peoples’ yearning for peaceful coexistence and fraternal cooperation.

It is the product of their struggle to define their destiny.

It is a deep ground swell of democratic movement.

It is intertwined with their struggles to create just, sustainable societies and states.

It is a movement that arches from the local to the regional.

It is a counter-movement from the parochial divisive mindset to a global and inclusive consciousness.

Peace and fraternity to the people of Horn of Africa region!

This is Part I. Part II will deal with Somalia, Djibouti and the Sudan and South Sudan and Part III will deal with the role of global and regional powers.


[i][i] The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War and the Business of Power 1st Edition

by Alex de Waal

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9nDRxHtL3

[iii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bzp21zjA85k

[iv]http://ethioforum.org/the-way-forward-for-ethiopia-and-eritrea-by-dawit-woldegiorgis/

[v] https://www.zena365.com/watch.php?vid=ed16d0645

[vi] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCwYiO9xI9w

[vii] https://twitter.com/AmbassadorEstif/status/1078902506892144641

The US policy towards the Horn of Africa: Is it abating or aiding the spread of terrorism

By making the war against terrorism the cornerstone of its policy towards the Horn of Africa, the Bush administration is ignoring the fundamental issues that have beset this region with conflict and human tragedy. By superimposing the war on terrorism on local existential conflicts, the Bush administration is elevating them into global crisis. By allying lopsidedly with Ethiopian government, the Bush administration has alienated Eritreans, Somalis and dissident forces in Ethiopia and, hence, broadened the anti-American sentiment in the region. Regional instability is cause and the spread of terrorism symptom of the crisis. If the U.S. acts as an independent arbiter cognizant of the fundamental issues of local and regional conflicts, it has a chance to positively influence the developments in the region.

The Horn of Africa is a region of strategic interest. It is a bridge between Africa and South East Asia. It lies along a busy shipping route that is an important oil corridor for the whole world. About a half dozen states and over one hundred million people live in close proximity. Development in this region would have a ripple effect on East, Central and North Africa as well as the Arabian Peninsula.

During the Cold War, the Horn of Africa was a scene of proxy war between the superpowers. The superpowers’ strategic interests overrode the needs and aspirations of the people in the region. Issues of governance and economic development were relegated to the back burner, while ruthless authoritarian leaders such as Haile Selassie and Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia and Siad Barre of Somalia reigned supreme with the aid of the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Thus, the states comprising this region slid into poverty, famine and incessant conflicts.

In the post Cold War era, the situation in the region deteriorated so much that alleviating the human tragedy—the plight of millions of people trapped in abject poverty, famine, displacement, disease, internecine civil and interstate wars—became a focus of global concern. International involvement, though inspired by good intentions, lacked resolve. The United Nation´s failed intervention in the early 1990s to rescue starving Somali people from warlords in Somalia, the abandoned Peace Mission to Eritrea and Ethiopia 2002 to 2008, and the failure to motivate the government in Ethiopia to abide by the 2005 election and facilitate the transition to democratically elected government are highlights of the inadequacy of international diplomacy.

After 9/11, the United States’ interest in the Horn of Africa became heightened. Since Somalia was a failed state with armed warlords and thugs in free reign, the US grew concerned that Somalia would be a training and a staging ground for al-Qaida. The Bush administration alleged that some of the armed factions within the Union of Islamic Courts were allied with and aided by al-Qaida. It also alleged that individuals involved with the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were harbored in Somalia. However, the question is, when the US looks at complex issues that affect the stability of the whole region through a narrow and simplistic prism, will it be abating or aiding the spread of terrorism?

What are the main factors that have led to regional instability? First, there is the endless factional war in Somalia. Second, there is the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Third, there is the lack of democratic governance in all the involved states. These problems are so intertwined, that one cannot be solved without addressing the others.

Factional war in Somalia

Somalia has existed for 17 years without any functional government. Somalia is a failed state. In 1991, the military dictator Siad Barre was overthrown by armed factions, which were organized according to clans. The factions fought each other viciously while the country descended into anarchy. In 1991, a breakaway entity, the Somaliland Republic, proclaimed its independence. Since then several clans have set up their own mini-states in Puntland and Jubaland. In the south the warlords continued to fight each other savagely for control of territories. Meanwhile, the anarchy and drought led to tragic famine that cost the lives of 300,000 Somalis. Millions more were forced into squalid refugee camps both inside and outside the country. This turmoil led the UN and US to send military forces to aid in the relief effort by bringing law and order. This brought the international forces in direct conflict with the warlords. However, after the infamous Mogadishu incident in October 1993 where 18 Americans were killed fighting Somali warlord Aideed, the US ended its direct involvement in Somalia.

The United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNSOM) continued its effort to create a national reconciliation government. After a decade of fruitless effort, in August 2004, a Transitional Federal Government (TFG) with Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed as its president was formed. The new government, however, spent its first year operating out of Kenya because Somalia remained too violent and unstable. The TFG is made of rival elements openly fighting for personal power. It lacks a social base and popular mandate. It has no political organization or administrative structure. The forces that hold it together are international community resolve to create a recognizable state organ in Somalia and the Ethiopian government’s desire to see a power amenable to its interests. Eventually, on February 2006 it settled in the provincial town of Baidoa, where it could count on Ethiopia´s protection against local insurgents.

At the beginning the US was not involved with UNSOM’s state building efforts. It was focused on countering the insurgence of Islamist militias with possible ties to al-Qaida. Islamist movements in Somalia go back to the early 1990s. They did not augment into a force until 2000 when Islamic clerics and business people formed what is known as the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) to fight against the warlords. In late 2005, the US became concerned about the rise of the Islamist movement with possible links to al-Qaida. It encouraged a group of warlords in Mogadishu to join in resistance against the Islamic militias. Around February 2006, the warlords formed the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism but, despite monetary support from the United States, they were defeated by the Islamists by June 2006. This engagement was more characteristic of gang turf warfare and drive-by shootings than organized forces fighting for control. UIC, having successfully ousted rival warlords from Mogadishu, declared Islamic rule. Mogadishu was at peace for the first time in sixteen years. When the UIC marched towards Bideo to oust the TFG, Ethiopia threatened to intervene. The UIC declared jihad against Ethiopia. The US State Department had tried for some time to persuade Ethiopia not to provoke a conflict in Somalia but began to change its policy in late 2006.

The shift came when Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer began voicing concerns about al-Qaida, linking the Islamic courts to terrorists. “The problem is that the Council of Islamic Courts is led by extreme radicals right now, not the group of moderates that we all hoped would emerge,” Frazer said on Dec. 14, 2006 ibidhttp://www.pbs.org/newshour/indepth_coverage/africa/somalia/usinvolvement.htmlIn

In December 2006, the Ethiopian army, with support from the US, routed the UIC and occupied Mogadishu. The US provided logistic, air support and diplomatic cover for Ethiopia´s invasion of Somalia. This was a major change in the US´s policy and its alignment with the divergent actors in the region.

In Ethiopia, the United States developed an ally in the region that could act as a boots-on-the-ground force and be used to gather intelligence without sending U.S. Troops Ethiopia benefited from the counterterrorism training and loans to buy military equipment. ibid

Ethiopian and US intervention in Somalia, however—far from bringing down radical elements in the Islamic movement—created opportunity for the radicals to broaden and impassion their followers and consolidate their military forces. The invasion was initially successful and swift. The UIC was routed. The TFG and Ethiopian forces not only occupied the capitol Mogadishu but chased the fleeing UIC as far south as the Kenyan border, while the US air force—taking off from its military base in Djibouti—strafed the core UIC leadership. Kenya closed its border, while the US patrolled the sea to keep the UIC leadership from escaping.

Ala Iraq, however, invading a country has proved a much easier affair than pacifying it. Ethiopian occupying forces have met with united and fierce resistance. UIC´s armed wing, al-Shabab, regrouped and started staging guerilla warfare both inside Mogadishu and across the southern Somalia. The impact of this warfare on the Somali population has been outrageous. The recent reports of Amnesty International on the situation are damning.

Amnesty International has documented ongoing human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict in Somalia, including unlawful killings, rape, arbitrary detention, and attacks on civilians and civilian property. Some 6,000 civilians are estimated to have been killed in Mogadishu and across southern and central Somalia in 2007. Over 600,000 are reported to have been displaced in 2007, and a further 50,000 so far this year, joining some 400,000 already displaced from previous periods, for a total of over one million internally displaced persons in southern and central Somalia today. In addition, an estimated 335,000 refugees fled Somalia in 2007, seeking safety in other countries. On February 14, 2008 UNICEF announced that some 90,000 children could die in the next few months if the international community doesn’t increase funding for nutrition, water and sanitation programs in Somalia. Our findings from November and December included testimony and other information reporting frequent incidents of rape and pillaging by the TFG, a recent surge in violent abuses by Ethiopian armed forces in Somalia, and the targeting of Somali journalists and human rights defenders by all parties to the conflict. House to house searches and raids in neighborhoods around Mogadishu were carried out by both TFG and Ethiopian forces, as were violent abuses against individuals and groups on the streets. http://HORN OF AFRICACentering Human Rights in U_S_ Policy on Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.htm

After the fall of Kismayo, a major seaport in the southern Somalia, on August 22, 2008, the momentum has decisively turned in favor of al-Shabaab. Many towns have fallen into their hands without resistance from TFG forces. They have gained control of most of southern Somalia. The Ethiopian government has declared it will withdraw its forces unilaterally. This, however, remains to be seen.

Some see Ethiopia’s threat to leave as a bluff to elicit funds from western countries afraid of al-Shabab entrenching itself in southern Somalia. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7760271.stm

With the withdrawal of the Ethiopia, the fall of Mogadishu and the demise of TFG looks eminent.

Will the UIC splinter into violent factions in the Somali tradition? Will it unite Somalia and bring peace and relief to its hapless people? Or will it pursue futile jihad? The UIC itself is an amorphous group. There is a rift between the leadership who have received shelter abroad in Eritrea and Djibouti and the militants who have staged the armed resistance against the TFG and Ethiopian forces inside Somalia. The former created an organization which they called the Alliance for Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS). ARS was split into Asmara and Djibouti wings. The latter is in negotiations with TFG for power sharing while the former is opposed.

Only real or perceived external intervention has proven a rallying force to unite Somalis after their long fractured existence. Left alone, Somalis splinter like amoeba as soon as a significant mass is attained. What better enemy than Ethiopia, their historical rival, to unite them? They have fought major wars in the past few decades. The main setback for the TFG has been its alliance with and dependence on Ethiopia. The US openly backing Ethiopia´s invasion has created all the trappings for jihad. That was the intention of UIC in declaring jihad against Ethiopia. Ethiopia and the US walked right into this trap.

What is the motive for Ethiopia´s reckless invasion of Somalia?

Meles Zenawi is an astute political strategist. As a former guerrilla leader, he would not barge into this land mine unless there is a very enticing payoff for his actions. The argument given by Ethiopia for its invasion is that the UIC constitutes a threat to Ethiopia. However, Ethiopia can strategically and sustainably defend itself from within its own borders without shouldering the responsibility of an occupation. As poor as Ethiopia is, playing an occupying role makes no sense at all.

The only plausible explanation, therefore, is that the Ethiopian government is trying to deflect the US and the Western countries’ concerns about its human rights abuses within its borders and entice the US to be its uncritical ally in its conflict with Eritrea. In this it has greatly succeeded.

When in 2007 the Human Rights Watch report came out highlighting egregious human rights abuses by the Ethiopian government, particularly in the Ogaden region—an area inhabited by ethnic Somali—the Bush Administration and the Congress had opposite responses. (see http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2007/07/03/ethiopia-crackdown-east-punishes-civilians.) Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer tried to explain that security interests with Ethiopia overrode human rights concerns,

I know that we have a sustained, common, vital national security interest with Ethiopia as well as with the other countries in the region…We also of course have a very good relationship with Ethiopia so we don´t have to discuss our concerns in the public, http://www.pulitzercenter.org/openitem.cfm?id=390

On the other hand, members of House of Representative came out expressing their concern about the human rights abuses and the need to put sanctions on Ethiopia. The Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act was approved by voice vote in the House of Representatives.

It would bar U.S. non-humanitarian, security and other assistance, with the exception of peacekeeping and counter-terrorism operations, and impose a visa ban on Ethiopian officials involved in lethal force or accused of gross human rights violations.….However, the White House, which considers Ethiopia an ally in the fight against terrorism, has opposed the legislation despite a provision giving the president authority to ignore the ban on assistance. http://www.voanews.com/english/archive/2007-10/2007-10-02-

Both Ethiopia and Eritrea were so vigorously courting the US that they were two of only five African states to be listed in “The Coalition of the Willing” (the list of countries the Bush administration fashioned in March 2003 to demonstrate international support for its invasion of Iraq). In this competition to be the US’s darling, Ethiopia won. It is reaping handsome rewards and an elevated status as a strategic ally against terrorism. Ethiopia nets about half a billion dollar in economic and military aid from the US every year.

The US´s fall out with Eritrea.

One development that has aggravated the Somali factional war and turned it into epicenter of regional conflict is that Somalia has become a stage for proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Since Ethiopia is trying to put the TFG in power in Somalia, Eritrea supports the UIC as a counterbalance—despite how little they have in common. This has led the Bush Administration to threaten to add Eritrea to the list of “States Sponsoring Terrorism.” While Eritrea characterizes the UIC as a Somali organization representing Somali interests, the US regards it as a terrorist organization. While the Bush Administration has not acted on its threat so far, it has taken harsh measures such as suspending economic aid and imposing a unilateral arms embargo on Eritrea. Eritrea´s government has shown its defiance by issuing crass, undiplomatic condemnations.

In 1998, Ethiopia and Eritrea fought for two years a savage war, which cost the lives of over 100,000 people, displaced millions of civilians and destroyed infrastructures on both sides. Only the concerted action of the international community was able to force these two belligerent states to cease their campaign of destruction and come to the negotiating table. In 2000, the US was able to convince both sides to agree to a binding arbitration. The US, the European Union, the African Union and Algeria are signatory to what is known as the Algiers Agreement. The UN put a seven thousand strong peace keeping force, known as UN Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE) in a demilitarized zone between the two countries. When the Boundary Commission accorded the dusty town of Bademe to Eritrea in April 2002, however, Ethiopia reneged on its agreement to accept the ruling. For the last six years a precarious standoff has existed between the two states. The Boundary Commission was unable to carry out the actual demarcation on the ground and disbanded itself before creating anything more than a virtual demarcation.

Eritrea was exasperated by the international community, particularly the US’s, lack of response to Ethiopia´s defiance. In 2002, the US was not interested in pressing Ethiopia to accept the ruling of the Boundary Commission. It was busy building a strategic alliance with Ethiopia to combat Islamists in Somalia. Eritrea started throwing up roadblocks against the UNMEE as a way to force the issue into the spotlight. In 2008, the UN Security Council disbanded UNMEE, even though its own assessment concluded that the two states had amassed over 200, 000 soldiers in trenches separated by only by few hundred yards and that full scale warfare between the two military forces was an eminent danger.

It is not hard to surmise that the second war between Ethiopia and Eritrea will be more devastating than the first. Both have one of the largest and best equipped and well trained armies in Africa south of the Sahara Desert. Protracted war will lead to anarchy. One or both states will end up being a failed state, which will create fertile ground for terrorists local as well as global. The resultant human tragedy and instability will make the current Somali situation seem like a minor problem.

With sanctions, the UN and the US could apply enough leverage to pressure the belligerent governments to settle their border issue peacefully and save the region any more human tragedy and anarchy. Instead of being an independent arbiter between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the U.S. became a party to the conflict by allying with Ethiopia. The US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, was one of the earliest to call for the disbandment of UNMEE. The UN abandonment of the peace mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea is irresponsible, an abandonment of its mandate to protect innocent civilians from the ravages of wars.

The US stance towards Eritrea not only alienates Eritreans who support the current government, but also those who are opposed to it. The US policy is viewed by Eritreans as undermining their hard won independence. Eritreans remember the US’s silence during the thirty years Eritreans fought for their independence, not to mention the period under Emperor Haile Selassie, when the US armed and trained the Ethiopian government forces which were implementing a scorched earth policy on Eritrean villages. The last outcome the US would wish to see is that its policy driving Eritrea into another breeding ground of terrorism.

Issue of Peace and Governance in the region and the US stance.

Lack of peace is the fundamental problem of the region. Lack of peace has robbed the people of the ability to cultivate their land and feed themselve. Year after year, millions of people in Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea are ravaged by famine and dependent on international aid. Many people in Somalia and in the Ogaden section of Ethiopia cannot even get international aid because violent conflict.

Next to peace, the issue of governance is most important. The region is in violent turmoil over which forms of governance are most compatible with the reality of its different peoples. The governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea are spending billions of dollars to maintain their constant state of war—billions that could be better spent on feeding their famine stricken people, caring for their malnourished children, buying medicine to keep their people from suffering and dying from treatable diseases and epidemics, and developing their resources to improve the lives of their citizens. These governments use this state of incessant conflict to justify their authoritarian rule, to suspend human rights and to avoid accountability. These policies, however, bring them in conflict with their own constituency; their inner core is crumbling; their opponents are growing stronger and, unfortunately, more militant. The US should be wary of forming strategic alliances with these governments. To do so is to be guilty by association.

The US must stand above the fray. It must declare that respect for human rights and human welfare a major factor of its foreign policy—that it will work with any government that respects these principles and will distance itself from any government that violates them. It should make its policy clear to the people in power as well as to the common man on the street. The US should not be caught apologizing for or excusing its association. Amnesty International has expressed this concern forcefully.

Amnesty International is deeply concerned by widespread egregious human rights violations being perpetrated against civilians throughout the Horn of Africa. Ending current violations and preventing future violations in Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea is perhaps one of the greatest challenges of our time, requiring immediate action and long-term planning, attention to domestic conditions within the context of a regional perspective. Each set of country concerns must be considered independently. As with Ethiopian government repression of its domestic opposition, journalists and human rights defenders, and the humanitarian crisis in the Somali region (known as the Ogaden). In Eritrea an authoritarian government maintains a stranglehold on freedom of expression, freedom of religion and press freedom, while detaining thousands of dissidents, many in the harshest conditions. In Somalia a transitional government without popular mandate has not only failed to protect over one million displaced civilians, but has failed to hold its own troops accountable for violations against them. Compounding these challenges is the intervention of Ethiopian forces in Somalia, and recent threats of renewed conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea along their disputed border. Further compounding these challenges is a flawed U.S. foreign policy which has placed short-sighted counter-terror concerns at the forefront of U.S. involvement in the region, while human rights and humanitarian concerns are routinely pushed aside. G:HORN OF AFRICACentering Human Rights in U_S_ Policy on Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.htm

In conclusion

The Bush’s Administration’s policy towards the Horn of Africa has been narrowly proscribed. It has been preoccupied with fighting terrorism. The War on Terror has been high on saber rattling and low on intelligent strategy. War is an epidemic in the Horn of Africa. Declaring war on terrorism in this region has been like throwing fuel on a wild fire. The US´s stance on Somalia has made things worse rather than better. The Human Rights Watch 2008 extensive report on the Somalia crisis succinctly summarized it:

There is strong evidence that US policies in Somalia have aggravated the very concerns about terrorism they seek to address. Because of Washington´s unreserved backing of Ethiopia´s military intervention in Somalia, many Somalis see the United States as complicit in the military occupation of their country and in the atrocities they have suffered at the hands of ENDF forces…The aftermath of US airstrikes have left a more lasting impression in the minds of many Somalis than US funding for humanitarian assistance http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/12/08/so-much-fear-

US efforts to combat global terrorism are legitimate. But the US’s role in world politics is too big to be driven by a single issue. The US should affirm in an unequivocal terms that respect for human rights, peace and social justice are the pillars of its policy in the Horn of Africa. This course is the best long-term strategy for eliminating support for terrorism in the region.

The US should help Ethiopia untangle itself from Somalia. Ethiopia should immediately and unconditionally withdraw its forces from Somalia. So long as Ethiopia is bogged down in Somalia, the struggle between Somalis to define their state cannot be resolved. Instead, radical elements will continue to inflame sentiments of jihad.

Regarding the simmering conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the US should press for a peaceful, binding resolution based on prior agreements and commitments. Ethiopia should accept the ruling of the Border Commission and allow the demarcation of the border, while Eritrea should accept diplomatic norms and refrain from actions that further destabilize the region. Both states will initially resist the pressure but, since they are dependent on aid, they will not resist for long.

Answers to the intractable problems of the Region should not be imposed from outside, however well intended; rather, they should grow organically within the Region. The UN´s effort to impose the TFG on the Somali anarchy showed the shortcomings of external top down solutions. Whether Somalia should have a government that is clan based or a modern state structure, unitary or federal, Islamic or secular should be freely determined by Somali people.

The US should strive to create broad alliances with forces within the countries and between the countries, Eritrea and al-Shabab, Ethiopia and TFG, Arab nations and African nations, the EU and the UN, opposition forces in the countries and in Diasporas. All should participate in finding solutions to the problems afflicting the Region.

The Obama Administration needs to address and rectify the US policy in the Horn of Africa with ultimate speed and sense of urgency because the situation in the Region is changing dramatically fast. As a neutral arbiter standing above the turmoil that has engulfed the region, The US can be a moderating force, a beacon for peace and democracy—instead of being a partisan to the conflicts and a part of the problem.