The Horn of Africa on the Horns of Dilemma
Aynalem Sebhatu 12-25-20
We live in strange times. How does anyone comprehend the action of a leader of country inviting foreign armies to kill, bomb, rape and loot his own citizens? The legitimate government of Tigray is leading its people from the rural part of Tigray while the outlaws are ravaging around the urban areas. In a moment of crisis, the complexity of the war in Tigray is a reminder that the Tigrayans are at a turning point in their history, where we need a novel mode of thinking moving forward.
Ethiopia is rightly considered to be the pillar of the Horn of Africa’s peace and stability. Unfortunately, Ethiopia is swimming back to its darkest past of the Derg era erasing the hard-won rights of nations and nationalities and the economic expansion of the last 30 years. Over everything in the Horn of Africa hangs a spectre of inter and intra state conflicts. Increasingly people are running short on patience and their reservations are running deeper and deeper. So much goes for Abiy Ahmed’s PhD in conflict resolutions and his Nobel Peace Prize.
Due to Abiy’s delusional aspirations of becoming a king of Ethiopia and beyond, the Horn of Africa is in a downward spiral towards a conflict-ridden turmoil. He has no coherent ideology to speak off and to explain whatever he does and say. He seems to wake up every morning to stick his index finger up in the air to determine which way the political wind is blowing. He has no conviction in his bones and he is simply put as a sycophant and a charlatan. His naivete has no boundary and his insatiable power steered the Horn of Africa into a horn of dilemmas again.
Abiy is backed by the Amhara chauvinists, the unhinged dictator of Eritrea and the UAE. Their tactical support of Abiy is mainly motivated by their desire in exacting revenge on their perceived enemies. The Amhara chauvinists resented the fact that the TPLF was the main driving force behind the dethroning of their century old political power in 1991. The Eritrean dictator (and his generals) have been huffing and puffing against the TPLF since his defeat during the Ethio-Eritrea war of 1998. The leaders of the UAE are in search of competitive ports which might economically eclipse the port of Djibouti. The ports that are seriously considered by the Emiratis are Eritrean ports and the port of Assab comes to the mind when we think of the Tigray crisis.
It is to be noted that Djibouti seized the container terminal of Doraleh port in 2018 which was under the management of Dubai Ports World (DP World). The government of Djibouti was not happy that the UAE established a competitive port in Berbera, Somaliland. The Emiratis action was seen as hostile to Djibouti’s monopoly on Ethiopian imports. But this part of the narrative does not explain why the UAE participated in the war theatre of Tigray by sending its drones, arming the Eritrean dictator and financing Abiy Ahmed.
Beyond breaking the monopoly of power of Djibouti’s Ethiopian imports, the larger vision of the Emiratis (including the Saudis) is that securing their oil exports and their maritime trade activities in the Red Sea in case of a Persian Gulf crisis with Iran. This security vision includes pushing Islamists away from centers of political power in the region. This Emiratis vision captures the aspirations and imaginations of Isaias Afwerki and Abiy Ahmed and both participated in the initiation ceremonies in Abu Dhabi 2018. The Ethiopian people, the Eritrean people and the international community at large were duped to believe that this was about making peace. We now realized that was a mockery of peace at the highest order and Tigrayans are paying a hefty price for it.
The Emiratis and Saudis vision of security is based on the identification and cultivation of strong men with strong armies oiled by transactional politics. Given this criteria, it should not be surprising Isaias and Abiy are well qualified to join as subcontractors of the Emiratis vision. It also should not be surprising that the security apparatus and the military of the two countries might merge to strengthen this vision. Potentially the collaboration of the two armies might lead to deployment of the armies to hot spots of the region, such as Yemen and Somalia. This is not a far-fetched scenario. Under the payment of the Saudis and the Emirates, Sudanese soldiers have participated in Yemen and Libya.
The economic roadmap of the Emirates vision for Ethiopia and Eritrea is a project based in Assab. If you will, I will call it the Assab-Based Prosperity (PBP). This will potentially counterbalance the Chinese gateway to the Horn of Africa and it opens an easier access corridor to future food supplies from the fertile lands of East Africa. Of course, all these are dreams based on strong men and their strong armies. It has nothing to do with the political will of the people of the Horn. Therefore, the Emirates vision is incompatible with the aspirations of the people of the Horn of Africa for building democratic institutions and sustainable development based on justice and equality.
There were more than enough warning signs of this pity man and what Abiy’s delusional aspirations are. No one seemed to heed this warning. For example, among his terrible mistakes, he dismantled the federal regional governments one by one (i.e., Oromia, Somalia, Sidama, and now Tigray) with impunity—not just a constitutional disaster but a strategic one, too. Many Ethiopians died and are dying in the fighting for their rights and thousands are in prisons across the country. Given these horrible situations, the Amhara elites, the Oromo members of the Prosperity Party members, and sadly most of the Ethiopian journalists saw no way of adjusting their analysis to the realities on the ground. How sad the communal search for truth is lost somewhere in the chauvinistic attitude of the Amhara elites and their social media spin-doctors. How disappointing it is to commit to the "healing power" of Abiy Ahmed and Isaias rather than to the critical reflection of facts and reality. Nor do they believe that Abiy and the Eritrean dictator did humanity a disservice by violently acting out dictatorial delusions across towns and villages of Tigray. Either they had reached a condition of human and political loss of sensation, or they were falsely perceived to have an ability they did not have.
The second blunder was the Abiy regime’s open invitations of the Amhara Fano, the Eritrean army and the UEA’s drones into the war in Tigray. This is not only a moral disaster but a historic one at many levels. This devastating war is driven by revengeful men and women blinded by a curtain of hate towards Tigrayans. A closer look of the six weeks war indicates that the Abiy army, the Isaias army and the Amhara Fano sponsored all the atrocious human rights violations; including rape, extraordinary killings, bombing in towns and villages, disappearances and incarcerations, taken against innocent Tigrayans. Now Abiy, Isaias and the Amhara chauvinists are determined to see all Tigrayans starved to death.
No one with a good frame of mind will think inviting the Eritrean dictator, into the internal affairs of Ethiopia, is an act of someone who cares about the sovereignty of Ethiopia nor the wellbeing of Tigrayans. That is why most Tigrayans are dumbfounded by the deafening silence of most Ethiopians while Tigrayans are slaughtered in the name of “law enforcement operations.” In fact, a significant number of Ethiopians are cheerleading the war crimes committed inside and outside Tigray.
Ethiopia and Eritrea are nations where all the people are at the mercy of Abiy and Isaias. It is now conceivable that we could have a reign of terror in the entire Horn of Africa. While no prophet of gloom, we think we should notice carefully one instance of what Isaias and Abiy could do in exporting their delusional dictatorial acts to the heart of the people of Horn of Africa and beyond. At this stage of Their game "the sword cares not who wields it, nor whose blood it sheds."
With the dismantling of the TPLF, politicians in Ethiopia and around the world may dare to believe that, at last, ethnic federalism can be defeated. Ethiopia may have a chance to return to the unitary state to the happiness of the Amhara chauvinists. But only a chance. Even if it is done, the sustainability of the unitary state will depend on how the coalition of nations and nationalities horse-trading plays out. This will lead to chaos and running the central government to fail in addressing the country's economic and democratic transitions if not paralyzing the entire country.
The obvious fix for all these unimaginable suffering of people will be to expose Abiy Ahmed, Isaias Afeworki, and the Amhara chauvinists for who they are and to defeat them at their own game. That is to take the war into the belly of these beasts by striking them harder. Unless these lords of human sufferings see that their senseless aspirations and aggression carry a cost, there cannot be sustainable peace for the region. Every 30 years of achievable progress will be erased and there is no guarantee of development. It is unfortunate and heartbreaking to even fathom thinking the Tigrayans, the Oromos, the Woliytas, the Sidamas, the Eritreans and many others will be paying the ultimate sacrifices again.
Tigray will prevail!
Eternal glory to our martyrs!