Haile Tessema, Jan. 2019
“The mad dog of the Middle East” was a nickname the late U.S. President Ronald Reagan gave to the late Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi. Yet, recognizing how Gadhafi at least had built the country’s infrastructure, and socioeconomically empowered his people, there is no shortage of opinions that disagree with that label, especially now that Libya is in shambles following its dictator’s eternal departure.
However, if there’s anyone who deserves that title, it would be Issaias Afeworki of Eritrea as the indisputably a Mad Dog of the Horn, if not the entire Africa. In a just world, Issaias would not be a leader of a country, but rather a resident of a mental asylum to get the help he desperately needs, while serving as a case study on why his type of people get a big kick out of killing, destruction and mayhem.
Issaias ruined his once promising country with a coastline, tourism attraction as well as industrialization potential by waging and engaging his people in war with all neighboring countries one after another. He subjected his young and productive citizens to indefinite military service or, alternatively, mass migration on foot as well as by sea under dangerous circumstances. As a result, the country’s demography almost entirely now consists of small children, middle-age and senior citizens.
So, a mad dog like Issaias who is known for biting everyone shouldn’t have been allowed to hold onto power. And it’s not his surviving skills alone that enabled him to stay the course. Rather, it’s the timidity and indecisiveness of political opponents in his country as well as unwise and shortsighted political leadership in neighboring and Middle Eastern countries that prolonged the grumpy old man’s political lifespan.
To that end, one of the greatest sins of TPLF/EPRDF, particularly its late leader Meles Zenawi, is the abrupt ending of the war against the Shabia Government, hence allowing the mad dog to continue spreading political as well as socioeconomic rabies nationally, regionally and beyond.
Nonetheless, what the Meles-led EPRDF recklessly neglected to secure on the warfront achieved it in the political and diplomatic arena by isolating the Eritrean leader, thus depriving him of the power to wage war, which is the only skill he is equipped of to attain his dream of becoming a regional political heavyweight.
Yet, instead of capitalizing and building on the years of political victory registered on the Eritrean leader, thereby compelling him to come to the peace table, two inept Ethiopian leaders – the incumbent Abiy Ahmed and his predecessor Hailemariam Desalegn – kowtowed to the Eritrean leader (the former in his wishful thinking and the current by going out of his way to crawl on his knees, and bow at Issaias’ Asmara altar).
Now, the big question is, why is Abiy doing this? One of the best answers I have seen so far – which I very much share – is, what the prominent Oromo Rights activist Tsegaye Ararsa came up with today on a different yet fairly related matter: “His [PM Abiy's] ignorance of the issues”.
Indeed, as a rookie politician – and not a very bright one and highly sentimental at that – Abiy is caving in to the idea from special interests that having the Region of Tigrai cornered, isolated and besieged would strengthen his government, and enable him to stay in power as long as he wants.
To that effect, while he has secured the support of Demeke Mekonen, Gedu Andargachew and their party ADP/ANDM internally, the political and military leaders in the Amhara Region know full well that they just cannot invade Tigrai; come out alive, and happily live ever after.
Subsequently, making an unholy alliance with Issaias aimed to humiliate Tigrai, and bring its people to submission is seen as Abiy Ahmed’s best bet. On his part, Issaias couldn’t turn down that kind of offer because; for one thing – as someone who lived all his life in armed conflict – he sees war as the only solution to all his problems. For another, he welcomes this as a new opportunity to score points on the two-decades-old grudge he holds against TPLF over Badme, and the eventual depriving him of a dream to become a regional leader.
All said and done, however, were it not for Abiy’s being inept and short-sighted, what it should be abundantly clear to him is, forcing Tigrai to submission – with or without Issaias’ help – would be impossible to materialize come hell or high water.
On the other hand, if his objective is beyond staying in power by any means unnecessary, thus he happens to be on a mission and commission to bring Ethiopia to demise as some suspect, Abiy indeed has the right ally in the Mad Dog of the Horn.