In the absence of an extraordinary event in Ethiopian politics or international diplomacy, both of which appear unlikely in the current circumstances, battlefield developments will determine whether the western area of Tigray Regional State will remain under the control of the armed forces from Amhara Regional State supported by Federal military forces and Eritrea (particularly in the north and west), or whether the occupied areas of Tigray Regional State will return to the control of the Tigray government. If the belligerent parties cannot be persuaded or forced to commit to a ceasefire as a necessary step towards a negotiated settlement, it is unlikely that Ethiopia will survive in its present form and further suffering and bloodshed on a massive scale will almost certainly be unavoidable.
Both Amhara and Eritrea were quick to take advantage of the Federal government’s ‘law enforcement’ operation against the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) to occupy most of western, southern and northern Tigray, and available information suggests that they were deeply involved in the planning and preparation of the military invasion of Tigray. Given that the fiercely contested western part of the province, which has been occupied for eight months by armed forces from both Amhara and Eritrea, is Tigray Regional State’s only possible remaining point of interaction with the outside world (via Sudan) unless and until a negotiated end to hostilities can be achieved, it is of paramount strategic importance for the TDF that the area be recovered as soon as possible.
Maintaining territorial control over the disputed western areas is of equal importance to the Federal government, Eritrea and the Amhara Regional State government if they are to achieve what appears to be their principal objective, permanently occupying and annexing substantial portions of Tigrayan territory and eliminating the military capabilities and security forces of the TPLF (reconstituted as the Tigray Defence Forces or TDF). Both the ruling and major opposition political parties in Amhara have staked their pride and prestige on taking over the disputed territories, which they claim were unjustly allocated to Tigray Regional State when the extant Ethiopian Constitution was drafted and adopted during the early 1990s.
The three allies of convenience (the Federal government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Amhara and Eritrea) are hastily fortifying the western region of Tigray against the pending counter-attack. The destruction of all three major bridges crossing the Tekeze river in July shortly after the success of the TDF’s military counter-offensive became apparent suggests that the Amhara regional forces plan to use the natural barrier formed by the Tekeze river as a fortified frontier to secure their territorial claims.
All current indications suggest that the armed conflict in western Tigray in particular will be lengthy and extremely costly for all the parties involved, unless the means for resolving the territorial dispute can be returned to dialogue and negotiation (or arbitration by an impartial third party). Failure to do so would also have grave repercussions for the rest of Ethiopia, as the precedent for the use of brute force to resolve territorial disputes – of which there are many among the federation’s ten Regional States – will have been set, and the damage done may be irreversible.
Given the strong attachment the leadership and many of the people of both Regional States (Amhara and Tigray) profess for the contested areas in a time of resurgent ethnic nationalism throughout Ethiopia that has increasingly emphasized negative concepts and rhetoric, it appears that it will be a long and very costly conflict for both peoples, and for Ethiopia more generally, and if a negotiated settlement cannot be crafted it could end up being the final detonator for the disintegration of Ethiopia as a united country.
Notwithstanding the recent string of military victories and rapid territorial advances secured by the TDF over the last two months, in the western sector the Amhara appear to have the advantage in the medium to long term, given the massive military, logistical and technical support they have received from the Federal government led by prime minister Abiy Ahmed as well as from Eritrea, so that even if the TDF can re-establish territorial control over the contested areas to the west they will be hard-pressed to maintain a transport corridor and defend the area against future attacks.
Nonetheless, the currently favourable balance of forces (for the Amhara government) in this sector is built upon a fragile base and could be subject to abrupt and unpredictable changes in the future, either due to a shift in the correlation of forces within Ethiopia or beyond (particular in the neighbouring countries of Eritrea and Sudan).
The rivalry between Amhara and Tigray Regional States
Ever since the Amhara aristocracy lost their privileged position at the centre of the Ethiopian empire and State, beginning in the 1970s when the monarchy was overthrown and reinforced by the overthrow of the Derg regime in the early 1990s and the adoption of a new federal Constitution, Amhara youth have been regaled by the Amhara leadership and media with tales of Amhara’s former glory as the centre of the Abyssinian empire and complaints that the Amhara have been discriminated against by the (TPLF-dominated) Federal government since the early 1990s when the new constitutional arrangements and Regional State boundaries were established.
While there are many dimensions to the resentment felt by the Amhara political elite, two aspects are of particular significance in the most recent conflict with Tigray: the claim that substantial areas that rightfully belong to the Amhara were allocated to other Regional States in the 1990s, and the respective weight and influence accorded the Amhara political factions in the Federal government. In terms of the former aspect, a recently published in-depth analysis (The Tigray War & Regional Implications, Volume 1; pp 107-8) of the factors leading up to the conflict in Tigray comments of the territorial disputes between Amhara and Tigray Regional States:
“The Amhara regional government and its special forces have been heavily involved in the war in Tigray, and Amhara occupation and annexation of land in Western and Southern Tigray has hugely complicated the political landscape and brought international condemnation of a campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Tigrayans. As with so many other issues, there are two incompatible narratives of the Western Tigray land issue, and the establishment of new demographic facts on the ground in late 2020 pushed the achievement of a sustainable negotiated solution into the distance.
The Amhara regional government formally affirmed its intention to recover these areas in June 2020. For many Amhara nationalists, including members of PP [Prosperity Party] and NAMA [National Movement of Amhara], a key objective of the war has been the restitution of what they consider to be ‘ancestral’ lands in Tigray, and the restoration of the old border of the Tigray Province of the imperial and Dergue eras, along the Tekezze River. They see the administrative area historically named Tigray as coincident with the ‘rightful’ ethnic territory of Tigrayans, something the TPLF and Tigrayans reject. For others, the annexation of land in western and southern Tigray since November 2020 now raises particularly complex issues of ‘just resolution of conflict’ in the future.” LINK
Another recent analysis (“Amhara nationalism at the polls in Ethiopia”, 7 June 2021) of the latest conflict that has broken out between the Amhara and Tigray regions notes the triumphalism displayed by the Amhara political elite when it appeared that they had finally vanquished the TPLF after almost three decades of simmering resentment:
“Hundreds gathered on 2 March outside Mulualem Hall, the preferred venue for grand political and cultural events in Bahir Dar, the lakeside capital of Amhara, Ethiopia’s second-most populous regional state. Dozens of horsemen in colorful attire created an air of festivity; trumpets played; patriotic songs abounded. It was a celebration of the 125th anniversary of Ethiopia’s defeat of Italian colonizers at the Battle of Adwa.
Mulualem Hall is where the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), one quarter of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of regional parties that ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist from the early 1990s until its official demise in 2019 [when the ‘Prosperity Party’ was founded, and into which the ANDM was incorporated as a regional branch], habitually celebrated its formation every November and its ascent to power every May.
This was also where the opposition National Movement of Amhara (NaMA) held its first convention on 10 June 2018 in an event marked by an unapologetically ethno-nationalistic fervor.
On the podium in March stood a triumphant Agegnehu Teshager, the region’s president, only four months into the job. This year’s festivity is a very special one, Agegnehu told the cheering crowd, “Because we are celebrating it in the wake of the burial of our eternal enemy.” He was referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which had been the dominant force in Ethiopia’s politics for close to three decades…
“I congratulate you as we observe this day after burying the TPLF,” Agegnehu repeated.
When Agegnehu assumed the presidency, Tigray’s conflict was on its fourth day. And for the man who replaced one of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s closest allies, Temesgen Tiruneh, now heading the National Intelligence and Security Service, the first order of business was to lead the Amhara forces alongside the federal army and ensure the defeat of the TPLF.
Within weeks, Amhara forces managed to control disputed districts in western and southern Tigray. They erected billboards declaring the places that belong to the Amhara region and appointed transitional administrators. “We fought to retake the identity that was stripped off from us. We didn’t go there looking for land,” Agegnehu, a former head of the region’s peace and security office, said in late December. “It’s a question of justice.” …
Amhara nationalism’s problem with the TPLF has essentially been two-fold. First is the issue of disputed land along the Amhara-Tigray border that many Amhara nationalists believe was forcefully appropriated into Tigray by the TPLF in the 1990s and the identity of the people living in those areas. These disputed areas include Wolkait, Tegede, Humera, and Telemt in the west and Raya in the east…
In subsequent weeks [following the invasion of Tigray last November by Amhara, Federal government and Eritrean military forces], tens of thousands of Tegaru fled their homes in these areas and sought shelter in central Tigrayan towns like Shire; they accused Amhara forces of violently driving them out. The Amhara regional government has said it’s now administering the areas and A-PP [Amhara-Prosperity Party] officials seem to want to capitalize on the ‘return’ of these disputed areas to garner support. “They were taken by force,” regional spokesperson Gizachew Muluneh said assertively in mid-March, “now they have been returned by force.” Second, proponents of Amhara nationalism accuse the TPLF of crafting a system of governance in which the Amhara are cast as the historic villains who oppressed other ethnic groups and forced them into involuntary assimilation. This inaccurate historical analysis, Amhara nationalists argue, has been used to justify attacks against the Amhara…” LINK
One of the main reasons identified as contributing to the rise of ‘Amhara nationalism’ was a growing sense of political and economic marginalization and oppression of Amhara people during the years of TPLF-dominated EPRDF rule in Ethiopia. At the same time, the population has been rapidly increasing, resulting in the current demographic whereby youths who have been brought up in a context of widespread poverty and deprivation comprise the bulk of the population, at the same time being subjected to education and a constant barrage of propaganda heavily promoted by regional political and economic elites pushing the negative forms of ethnic nationalism (emphasizing resentment of and hostility towards other nationalities).
“The other reason [for the resurgence of ‘Amhara nationalism’] is an inspiration from Oromo nationalism which … [in 2015], with the instrument of ethnic mobilization, was able to express defiance against the government. It was, at one level, a reaction to the more developed Tigrayan nationalism that had brought the TPLF to power and, with it, the current political order. It was also a reaction to EPRDF-propagated discourse against ‘the neftegna’— often meaning the Amhara.
The EPRDF often said the term neftegna [‘riflemen’] represented an imperial system of governance in which aristocrats ruled over nations and nationalities through the barrel of the gun, and not the wider Amhara public. But many Amhara nationalists see [it as a calculated insult of all Amhara people and claim that] TPLF’s targeting of their group went as far as tampering with census results, and in the process shrinking the population of the community by more than two million [in order to diminish what was considered to be their rightful share of land and power]…” LINK
The resurgence and redefining of the core elements and objectives of Amhara nationalism gained momentum during and in the aftermath of the mass protests against the Federal government which broke out during 2014-2015, first in Oromia before spreading to Amhara and other regions. Ominously, both for the youth of Amhara who are being urged to sacrifice their lives for the cause of ‘Amhara nationalism’ as well as for the rest of Ethiopia, the dominant factions within the Amhara leadership also covet numerous other areas that were assigned to neighbouring Regional States during the delineation of the respective federal territories, particularly in Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz, raising the possibility that if the current invasion and occupation by Amhara security forces and militias of areas within Tigray Regional State is successful this will encourage more attempts to take over contested areas in other regions (or resolve other political disputes) by brute force.
The Oromo factor – developments in Oromia Regional State
A similar process of resurgent and increasingly negative ‘ethnic nationalism’ emphasizing resentment of and hostility against the peoples of neighbouring Regional States has been taking place in many other Regional States and sub-regional zones and communities. The related development in Oromia is also of particular consequence for the entire country, as the Oromo constitute almost 40% of the total population and the role of Oromo social and political movements, as well as developments in the province more generally, have been of major importance in determining the course and nature of political change in the country since 2014.
Since the new Constitution was adopted – and particularly since the mass protests that commenced during the period following the change of leadership in the Federal government leadership in 2012 after twenty years of continuity – the youth of Oromia have been brought up with stories of how their people have been constantly exploited and oppressed by ruthless overlords, first by the Amhara (particularly during the expansion of the Abyssinian empire during the 1800s and 1900s) and then by the Federal government (dominated by the TPLF) from the early 1990s. Violent oppression of the massive social protests from 2014 to 2018 only served to confirm and reinforce the stories of historic oppression and ongoing political and economic marginalization of the Oromo people.
The mass social mobilization and protests that started in earnest in 2014 eventually subsided after the EPRDF made substantial concessions and reforms in 2018. The TPLF voluntarily relinquished its dominant position in the political coalition that ruled the Federal government and most key positions were transferred to people from other groups and regions, including the key position of prime minister which was assumed by Abiy Ahmed following an agreement between the main Oromo and Amhara factions of the ruling coalition.
Following these political developments during 2018 the state of permanent protest and tension was calmed and the protestors and major opposition groups were largely satisfied with the course the factions controlling the Federal government had adopted. In the Oromia region, the exiled leaders of an outlawed insurgent group, the Oromo Liberation Front, returned to Ethiopia in September 2018 on the understanding they could continue to promote and campaign for Oromo rights and greater autonomy within the Ethiopian federation through peaceful and democratic means.
However, notwithstanding the reforms and concessions that had been made during 2018, political and social tensions soon began to increase once again in both key regions. In Amhara, both the ruling political party and the main opposition groups continued to push vehement negative ‘ethnic nationalist’ discourse, demanding a stronger role in the Federal government for Amhara factions, the expansion of Amhara borders – by force if necessary – to reclaim disputed areas allocated to other Regional States by the federal constitution, and stronger measures to protect ethnic Amhara communities living in other regions.
In Oromia, although the new prime minister is of Oromo ethnicity (the first time a native of the Oromia region has risen to the leadership of the Federal government), many groups were not satisfied that their demands for a greater role in the Federal government were being met, and the demands for greater regional autonomy continued (along with concerns over the welfare and security of ethnic Oromo communities in other regions). As social discontent and criticism of the new Federal government of prime minister Abiy grew, the Federal government reverted to oppressive measures to silence critics and neutralize political opposition leaders and groups. An armed faction of the OLF (the OLA, Oromo Liberation Army) refused to surrender their weapons, and amidst mutual recriminations between senior personalities in the respective factions and the Federal government the disagreements widened and resulted in the faction that refused to surrender its weapons returning to armed insurgency to pursue its primary demand of greater autonomy for Oromia, and if necessary secession. LINK
The neutralization and fragmentation of political opposition and all organized forms of social mobilization in Oromia was also achieved by co-opting some members and organizers of the most influential social movements, the success of which was greatly facilitated by rivalry and personal disputes that arose between several of the key leaders and factions that had organized and sustained the earlier uprising. LINK There are some indications that similar methods (generously rewarding unquestioning obedience to the leadership and marginalizing or punishing critics and dissenters) are widely used by the ruling Prosperity Party to consolidate their rule in other regions as well. LINK
Throughout 2019 there were ongoing reports of more frequent and more intense disputes, violent clashes and massacres being committed in both major provinces and elsewhere, including in some cases what appear to be organized campaigns of ‘ethnic cleansing’ as a ruthless means to end unresolved territorial and resource disputes in some areas. As the situation steadily deteriorated in both provinces, there were further major shocks to the political and security situation: in 2019, the regional president of Amhara and several of his senior officials were assassinated (the Federal government claimed to have killed the main intellectual author of the crime, but nothing even slightly resembling a detailed investigation into what happened has been conducted). LINK
Then, in 2020, Hachalu Hundessa – a popular and politically active singer from Oromia – was assassinated. Again, the Federal government claimed to have arrested the culprits, again there are many suspicions as to what happened and no detailed investigation as to the circumstances surrounding the assassination – or of the primary instigators and perpetrators of the mass violence that followed – has been conducted.
Both assassinations served to stoke mutual suspicions and recriminations and a massive surge in violent, chaotic and destructive protests, as well as serving as a pretext for sweeping ‘security’ clampdowns and mass arrests by Federal and regional authorities which invariably targeted political opponents and critics of the Federal and regional governments in the respective provinces much more heavily than other groups and social sectors.
A detailed study of available evidence and testimony concerning the mass violence, looting and destruction of property that followed the assassination of Hachalu Hundessa conducted by Ethiopia Insight commented:
“Federal prosecutors have charged four individuals allegedly hired by OLF-Shane, which it uses to refer to the OLF and OLA, for killing Hachalu. The (OLA) rebel group’s commander blames the government.
Amid and after the violence, the government arrested opposition leaders and members in Oromia, accusing them of orchestrating or enacting the violence. That included much of the OLF leadership (including Mikael Boran, Lammi Begna and Gamachu Ayana, who had already been imprisoned and released under this administration) and top Oromo Federalist Congress officials, Bekele Gerba, Dejene Tefa, and Jawar…
In July, more than 9,000 people were detained in police stations, warehouses, and offices in the region, and more than 4,000 people are being prosecuted in total…
The government closed Oromia Media Network and Oromia News Network bureaus and detained their journalists and others that have been critical of Abiy’s administration. Authorities arrested 1,200 officials for allegedly failing to discharge their responsibilities and 500 government employees for participating in the violence…
On August 15, after an Oromia Prosperity Party meeting chaired by Abiy, the branch ditched the premier’s former closest ally, ex-Oromia president Lemma Megersa, former Shashemene mayor Teyba Hassen, and Milkessa Midega, an outspoken academic-turned-politician, over failure to discharge their duties, though a senior party figure said they were also involved in orchestrating the violence.
The three officials came out against the formation of the Prosperity Party, which ethno-nationalist critics, including Jawar, TPLF, and the OLF considered an unwelcome step towards a more centralized federation at a time when they sought more regional autonomy and devolution of powers…
The government’s post-Hachalu moves against opponents, as with other events, have been interpreted in markedly different ways.
The party line is that officials who were negligent, disloyal, or complicit in the violence were removed. The counter-narrative is that the unrest was stoked and then used to purge opponents and ruling figures who sided with Lemma [former president of Oromia region], or with the opposition, by falsely blaming them for orchestrating the violence…
[Added to the rivalry between the ruling and opposition political factions within Oromia is the mutual hostility and resentment between the Amhara and Oromo political elite.] Opposition party the National Movement of Amhara (NaMA) said in a September report entitled ‘Recent genocidal violence in Oromia region’ that: “The Oromia security apparatus did nothing to stop the violence. In fact, many members of the Oromia Special Forces, the local paramilitary police, have taken part in the killings in various towns.” Although it considers the multinational federal system an anti-Amhara design, NaMA’s goal is to ensure a strong Amhara region and protect Amhara minorities who live elsewhere in Ethiopia that they say are particularly threatened by the Qeerroo [Oromo youth] movement and Oromo nationalist ideology… LINK
The latter point raises another explosive aspect of the resurgent ‘ethnic nationalist’ rhetoric and accusations – the situation of ethnic minority communities in other Regional States, which are particularly vulnerable to attack and campaigns of ‘ethnic cleansing’.
Although the political elites in Oromia put aside their differences with their counterparts in the Amhara region long enough to form a tactical alliance to oust the TPLF from their dominant position in the Federal government, culminating in the selection of Abiy Ahmed as prime minister in April 2018, the alliance did not last long and the many longstanding disputes and grievances between the two regions (particularly, their respective roles and representation in the Federal government and other State institutions, their territorial boundaries, and the security and governance arrangements for their respective ethnic minority communities living in other regions) have not been addressed.
Moreover, the branches of the ruling ‘Prosperity Party’ in each region face strong competition from their political opponents, with all factions claiming their rivals are not doing enough to advance their regional interests, resulting in ever more extreme rhetoric and demands. In Oromia, this has been temporarily resolved by the mass incarceration of the leadership of the main opposition groups and the closure or imposition of strict limitations on the activities of their political and social movements, combined with a largely successful effort to co-opt other influential members of the larger social movements as noted above. The authorities in Amhara have found it more difficult to neutralize their political opponents; indeed, the National Movement of Amhara is one of the very few political opposition groups that managed to win any seats in the recent polls to select the members of the Federal Parliament (the ‘Prosperity Party’ obtained 410 of the 436 seats that have been decided in the Federal parliament after most of the major opposition political parties were effectively prevented from participating).
An alternative hypothesis: ‘Ethnic’ tensions as a distortion of and distraction from power grabs, class conflict and resource development disputes
At the height of the protests that culminated in the change of government in 2018, demands for democratic reforms and political opening of the State gained in prominence, along with demands for the elimination of all forms of discrimination and political, economic and administrative patronage, nepotism and corruption. Nonetheless, these demands often retained a significant ethnic-nationalist element (concerning, for example, each region’s ‘share’ in Federal institutions – and corresponding administrative budgets and resources), and over the last couple of years demands for correcting or avenging the claimed ethnic nationalist victimization – both historic and contemporary – have taken precedence. All appeals to pan-Ethiopian solidarity, consciousness and shared values and objectives such as civil rights, economic and social justice and broadening the opportunities for political participation of all based on merit rather than political or ethnic affiliation have been largely abandoned.
Similar developments to those in Amhara and Oromia have taken place in many of the other Regional States created (or recognized) by the Constitution that formally entered into effect in 1994, where the subsequent processes of cultural and ethnic national recognition, revival and reinvigoration have often taken a virulent and destructive form, renewing and amplifying all of the historic grievances, real or imagined, that each nationality that makes up the cultural mosaic of Ethiopia has suffered at the hands of other nationalities.
As a consequence, the dominant narratives in many regions have increasingly perceived and portrayed the people in adjacent regions (and communities of ‘ethnic others’ within their formally recognized territorial boundaries) as treacherous, thieving enemies to be feared, hated and despised rather than as neighbours who have coexisted peacefully for most of their existence and who have many shared experiences of hardship and achievement. Nonetheless, the largely negative ethnic nationalist rejuvenation process has been particularly vehement among the Oromo and Amhara peoples and the adverse consequences inevitably have had a much greater impact on the entire country, as the Oromo and Amhara constitute just over and just under a third of Ethiopia’s total population respectively.
Apart from the sweeping political changes that have occurred in Ethiopia, the country has also experienced a period of profound economic change. The last thirty years have seen the rollout of a succession of major rural and urban social and economic development schemes throughout Ethiopia, which have greatly increased the range and quality of the country’s infrastructure and essential services and improved the lives of many. As a result, up until the political and social turmoil of the last few years Ethiopia experienced a prolonged period of solid economic growth and social, economic and industrial progress, at the same time becoming the main centre for international institutions and associated diplomatic activity on the African continent.
However, the proliferation of wide-ranging economic development projects has also brought abrupt and adverse changes to many communities and families in areas where planning and consultation with affected communities and sectors was inadequate or when State resources and powers have been appropriated by politically and economically powerful groups for their own benefit at the expense of local communities and traditional landholders.
This has given rise to many legitimate local grievances against the negative consequences of exploitative and disruptive State and economic/ agricultural policies that were adopted by successive regimes (during the monarchy, by the ‘Derg’ regime and later by the EPDRF). Many of the most fertile areas in the northern regions were targeted for intensive agricultural development projects pushing irrigation schemes for the production of sugar and cotton, often favouring politically connected landlords and corporate ‘investors’ at the expense of local communities. The centralized agricultural development projects resulted in the displacement of large numbers of rural farmers and communities and severely degraded the land, water supplies and economic activities of many others (giving rise to additional problems in the areas where the displaced communities were relocated – if provision was made for them at all).
In the most recent period of heightened tensions and volatility, such legitimate grievances have been taken advantage of by opportunistic regional political and economic elites to further their personal ambitions and objectives. This has further aggravated hostility and resentment between neighbouring communities and regions and contributed to the explosion of violence that has occurred in many parts of the country over the last three years. Preliminary reports suggest the situation has not improved under the rule of the ‘Prosperity Party’, while – even apart from the conflagration in Tigray – numerous regions appear to be on the brink of descending into a terribly destructive and costly period of widespread and intensive conflict and ‘ethnic cleansing’ (particularly in Amhara, Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz).
Thus, the longstanding political and territorial disputes and conflicts between Amhara and Tigray are far from an isolated case, and their resolution by armed force instead of by negotiation (and if necessary investigation of the merits of the conflicting claims by an independent arbiter) would set a terrible precedent. Moreover, the ostensibly ‘ethnic’ disputes between certain Regional States over their territorial boundaries and related matters are also motivated, in varying degrees, by their ruling elites’ desire to obtain more political and administrative power and resources, both within their respective regions as well as at the Federal level:
“Expansionist Amhara land claims reverberate more broadly across Ethiopia’s politics, well beyond Tigray. Over and above the issue of forced removal of the existing population, the effective expansion of Amhara region into Western (and Southern) Tigray would, if formalised, have serious implications for budgets, political representation, parliamentary seats, and the overall influence of Amhara at the national level. Other politicians will see this not only in relation to Tigray but in a broader context, with a knock-on effect on the federation.
The quest for farmland underlies a number of tensions, either on the borders of the region, or where Amhara farmers have resettled (historically and during the 1980s) to other parts of the country. They also have a regional implication. As Gumuz are pushed into Blue Nile state, Tigrayans into Gedaref and Kassala, and Beni Amer and others in Sudan are mobilised with the Sudan Armed Forces against ‘Amhara expansionism’, political dynamics internal to the Amhara region threaten to upend regional stability…” LINK
As the political and security situation has deteriorated, specific disputes over land and resources within and between neighbouring communities have been used by many rival political factions to garner mass support for their expansionist territorial ambitions with the additional objective of increasing their regional and national political and administrative power and resources.
As such tensions – ostensibly ‘ethnic’ but underlain and impelled by many complex political, administrative, economic and cultural factors that vary considerably over time and from one region to another – and widespread marginalization and poverty have grown exponentially in recent times, the number and intensity of violent clashes and massacres have also surged. The provinces of Benishangul-Gumuz (location of the controversial ‘Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’) and Afar Regional States are just two examples of the lesser-known and largely unreported turmoil and poverty ravaging many parts of the country, where the vast majority of the inhabitants remain completely politically and economically marginalized, vulnerable and exposed to the violent currents sweeping over them.
Another localized analysis, of the ongoing developments and unresolved dilemmas and disputes in the North Shewa zone (one of ten zones in the Amhara region), comments of the consequences of complex historical legacies that have contributed to the current volatile situation that confronts all Ethiopians, irrespective of their political or ethnic affiliations:
“North Shewa zone can thus be viewed as a microcosm of the encounter of different histories and livelihoods in Ethiopia. In ecological terms, it encompasses all three of the major agro-ecological zones of Ethiopia: the Dega highlands populated by mostly Amhara farmers who practice plough-based agriculture, the Woyna dega semi-arid lowland area populated by Oromo agro-pastoralists, and the Kolla arid elevations below 1,500 feet populated by the Afar community. Furthermore, the zone has communities of Argobba and Saudani farmers, who are said to be descendants of West African pilgrims who have settled on their way to or from Mecca.
Geography has shaped and is still shaping much of the collaboration between the different communities…
North Shewa is also the place where three key trends shaping Ethiopia’s historical narrative manifest themselves – the demarcation line between the south-westward movement of the Christian Abyssinian kingdoms, the westward movement of the Islamic principalities of Ifat and Adal, and the great Oromo migration that eventually wedged between them…
Government-sponsored development has also had its impact and influenced perceptions of inclusion and exclusion…
How far new projects, regional administrative changes, and the perception of uneven development have created new winners and losers will need to be determined. At the same time, how fiscal decentralization has enabled or challenged the appropriate allocation of federal resources is also an issue to be studied. It will also be crucial to know what impact the latest political changes since 2017 and the dissolution of the EPRDF have had on wereda and village level cadres and their role in the delivery of basic services.
What is concerning is the report from yet another area of Ethiopia where different stakeholders and parties accuse each other of ethnic cleansing, and communities are being galvanized to arm and protect themselves in the absence of state protection.
The challenge for Ethiopia will be to untangle the legacies of the EPRDF regime and decide on how to deal with the ramifications of both its negative and positive outcomes. This can only be done through a peaceful exploration of the root causes of local grievances and addressing the real concerns of those who may feel threatened by the imposition of a new order which might bring with it new hierarchies and new forms of oppression.” LINK
The conclusion is indisputable. Ethiopia is in most dire need of a period of de-escalation, dialogue and confidence-building measures – at the local, regional, national and even international levels – in order to reduce tensions, stabilize the security and political conditions and initiate a period of profound reflection, investigation and analysis of what exactly has transpired over the last few years, in the context of a deeper understanding of developments during preceding periods and their consequences.
Dialogue, reconciliation and transparent and independent investigation
Many prominent individuals and groups both within and outside Ethiopia have emphasized the urgent need for an immediate ceasefire and the commencement of political dialogue and negotiations without preconditions to begin to address the multiple existential crises threatening to tear Ethiopia apart. Although the African Union has been reluctant to make any statements that might displease the rulers of their host nation, the United Nations, European Union and United States have been much more pro-active in urging all the belligerent parties to agree to a ceasefire, negotiations without preconditions, and the immediate restoration of all essential services and unrestricted access for humanitarian assistance to the Tigray region.
Similarly, there is universal recognition of the urgent need for a comprehensive, independent and transparent investigation into war crimes and other atrocities committed during the conflict in Tigray, preferably with cooperation from international experts in order to facilitate the formation and conduct of the procedure given that numerous governments are among the accused and therefore cannot be considered appropriate agents for the conduct of such investigations.
Meanwhile, all the belligerent parties continue to further entrench themselves into positions that preclude the possibility of such developments occurring. The Federal government refers to the Tigrayan leadership as terrorists (and ‘weeds’ or ‘a cancer’ to be eradicated). All the allegations and accusations behind the ‘law enforcement operation’ remain pure rhetoric and political manoeuvres: the Federal government could have referred to political dispute that triggered the conflict (the convening of elections in Tigray Regional State when the Federal government postponed national polls) to the courts for resolution, but they pointedly refused to do so. The leadership of the TDF has responded in kind, their amended statement of demands asserting that the Federal government has no legitimacy and demanding the installation of a transitional administration until such time as a legitimate government can be reinstated. Clearly, the PP leadership is never going to relinquish power voluntarily.
Even if the resistance and obstacles to the establishment of these two processes (an immediate ceasefire and dialogue, and the initiation of an investigation into war crimes) by the belligerent governments and other powerful political factions could be overcome, a comprehensive process of national political dialogue and an independent investigation into war crimes in Tigray are just two aspects of the multiple existential threats confronting Ethiopia. The numerous crises and multi-faceted conflicts in many other regions must also be addressed if Ethiopia is to begin the process of stabilization, recovery and nation-building.
A wide-ranging and in-depth process of investigation and analysis of all of the clashes, conflicts and massacres that have occurred throughout the country is most urgently needed if Ethiopia is to survive as a country and avoid descent into a long term bloodbath of intractable civil war, fragmentation and foreign invasion and occupation (already underway by Eritrean military forces, it is not inconceivable that Somalia, Sudan, Egypt and/ or Djibouti might take advantage of Ethiopia’s implosion to further their own strategic and territorial ambitions or to seek some ‘strategic depth’ to secure their borders).
It is imperative that the underlying causes of the disputes and subsequent explosion in violence – and the principal instigators and actors involved as well as their sources of arms – are thoroughly investigated and clarified in each instance, taking into account the specific geographic, demographic and political circumstances of each region and locality, if the spiralling violence is to be confronted and brought under control. The elaborate efforts of a large number of different groups to provoke or instigate conflicts in order to blame their rivals will be a huge challenge to overcome in this respect.
The perceptions of and possibilities for understanding what has happened is greatly complicated by a long history of claims and counter-claims of infiltration and provocation by hostile groups to fan destabilization and conflict, whether by neighbouring ethnic or political rivals or by external powers (particularly Eritrea and – possibly – Somalia, Djibouti, Sudan or Egypt, leaving aside for the moment the possible roles of external powers from beyond the immediate region).
In this context, the recent exchange of accusations between the Amhara and Oromia chapters of the ruling Prosperity Party (the PP now controls the government and legislative councils of both regions as well as at the Federal level), with each regional faction accusing the other region of inciting violence by way of infiltrated or disguised armed elements (thereby seeking to shift the blame for the violence to the other side), is merely the continuation of a ruse that has been deployed by every ruling faction and a large proportion of the major opposition groups in Ethiopia’s recent history.
The controversy followed a series of attacks against civilians in Oromo Special Zone and North Shewa Zone (the semi-autonomous majority Oromo zones within Amhara Regional State noted above) in late March, resulting in numerous casualties and deaths. The Oromia Regional State chapter of the ruling Prosperity Party (OPP), and an Oromo politician in the Federal parliament, blamed the Amhara Regional State administration for the attacks and demanded that the perpetrators be brought to justice. The official statement by the OPP claimed the attacks were committed by members of the Amhara Special Forces acting on orders from extremist political factions.
On the 23rd of March, Ethiopian media outlet Addis Standard reported of the incidents:
In the statement OPP highlighted the brotherhood between the Amhara and Oromo people, it also said extremist actors in the Amhara Regional State leadership have been working to destabilize Oromia Regional state, “Oromo Prosperity Party have identified that extremist elements within the Amhara Regional State leadership are engaged in conspiracy to harm the solidarity the Oromo and Amhara people enjoy…” LINK
The Amhara Regional State chapter of the ruling Prosperity Party (PP) in turn condemned the statements made by the Oromia chapter of the Prosperity Party and offered their own version of what happened.
In an official statement the Amhara branch of the PP endorsed a statement by Amhara’s regional administration that accused the “OLF-Shene” and the “TPLF” of being behind the recent violence. The accusation included the following affirmations:
“Amhara Special Forces have evacuated the area and heavily armed OLF-Shene members invaded the area and caused a lot of damage to lives and properties despite efforts by elders for reconciliation…
OLF-Shene knew that Amhara special forces had evacuated the area and they chose to start the conflict by killing religious leaders and elders.” LINK
The Amhara statement also claimed that regional authorities in both Oromo Special Zone and North Shewa Zone had seen movements and training of ‘OLF-Shene’ soldiers in the area, countering and contradicting the statement issued by OPP suggesting that there were no ‘OLF-Shene’ operatives in the area, and further accused the ‘OLF-Shene’ of provoking conflict in other areas near the border with Afar Regional State. The exchange of accusations and rhetoric was resumed the following week in the aftermath of another series of attacks, in this instance against civilians living in communities with significant Amhara populations located in Oromia Regional State.
Other than the Oromia, Amhara and Federal governments and administrations, no one would seriously suggest that any of the three governments formed by the three ruling political factions that are parties to the dispute should be responsible for the conduct of an investigation into the recent attacks and the preceding developments giving rise to the current violence and conflict. In the current state of widespread armed conflict with multiple causes and focal points, of institutional degradation and paralysis, and of arbitrary rule by decree (with many of the ruling factions resorting to covert alliances and disguised paramilitary operations), the greatest challenge for the Ethiopian people is to devise a procedure or mechanism capable of steering the country away from catastrophe.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has made some valiant efforts to investigate specific conflicts and outbreaks of violence but the scale of the crises confronting Ethiopia are far too numerous and wide-ranging for the Commission to investigate much less attempt to resolve, other than as one of many agencies and actors participating in a broader process. Moreover, the Commission’s current status as an agency responsible and accountable to the Federal government and parliament is a substantial impediment to it adopting an independent role, given that the national and Amhara branches of the Prosperity Party are two of the primary belligerent parties that must be investigated for their role and conduct in the many conflicts that have occurred and the terrible war crimes and atrocities that have been committed.
The Federal parliament approved a draft decree to establish a Reconciliation Commission late in 2018, however it was never activated and did not have an investigative capacity and role as one of its major functions and objectives (and it was also to have been accountable to the Prime Minister and the Parliament, which given the current situation would clearly be inappropriate).
More precisely, as alluded to above, a series of parallel local and regional investigations and reconciliation tribunals or commissions within the coordinating umbrella of a national mechanism and with membership and operating procedures acceptable to as many factions and regions as possible (and controlled by none of them) would be required to accommodate the many different scenarios of conflict and dispute throughout the country.
The Eritrea factor
Another aspect that greatly complicates the situation within Ethiopia and exacerbates the existential threat the country faces, is that the ruling regime in Eritrea appears to have a long term underlying objective beyond the current tactical alliance with Ethiopia’s Federal government and Amhara ruling elites, namely to weaken if not destroy Ethiopia. If this is indeed the case, the Eritrean leadership could abruptly terminate the unlikely alliances which have been formed over the last couple of years, and overtly or covertly resume hostile military and infiltration and destabilization actions in other parts of Ethiopia (if it is not already doing so – over the last few months there have been numerous reports of Eritrean military personnel being involved in clashes and massacres in several regions in Ethiopia well beyond the borders of Tigray, adding additional fuel to the conflict in numerous regional hotspots where communal clashes and ‘ethnic cleansing’ have been spiralling out of control over the last couple of years).
Eritrea has in the past provided refuge and considerable resources to armed dissident groups from Ethiopia as well as fomenting hostilities between different groups in an effort to weaken and destabilize what has been considered for most of its recent history an implacable enemy, and while there is considerable anecdotal evidence suggesting this might still be the case it would require an in depth investigation to ascertain whether this is so, and if so to what extent and by what means. (See, for example, HERE and HERE)
The Ethiopian government has on numerous occasions alleged that Egypt’s military and intelligence services have been involved in similar activities, though as yet no compelling – or even anecdotal – evidence has been proffered to back up the claims.
The current condition of the Eritrean armed forces and revised strategy of the Eritrean political and military leadership in the aftermath of the TDF counter-offensive is one of the most significant outstanding factors that will influence the future course of the civil war in Ethiopia. Specifically, have the military capabilities of Eritrea been degraded to a similar degree as those of the Ethiopian (Federal) military forces? Does this explain at least partially why the current focus of fighting is in the south, west, and more recently to the east into Afar Regional State as the TDF attempts to break out of the stranglehold imposed upon the Tigray region?
Some analysts have suggested that the Eritrean regime is weak and unstable and could be passing through a period of acute vulnerability, whether to a rapid military offensive by the TDF, a mutiny within the military, or a more generalized revolution by its own people. Or, perhaps the Eritrean military and political leadership is content to sit back, regroup, and consolidate its own position while the respective factions commanding the bulk of the Ethiopian armed forces and regional security forces annihilate each other?
What are some of the possible future scenarios?
While an avalanche of critics have emerged over the last two years blaming the ‘ethnic Federalism’ design and principles underlying the current Ethiopian constitution for the multiple political crises and outbreaks of intensive and protracted violence that are afflicting the country, the centralized unitary system that preceded it fared no better and its reinstatement would inevitably cause at least as many problems as it resolved, almost certainly more so. The fragmentation of Ethiopia into several ethnically and/ or regionally based independent States would also face the same inherent risks and complications, promising to escalate and intensify rather than alleviate much less resolve the country’s many ethnic, territorial, political, economic and resource disputes.
Notwithstanding the difficulties that the implementation of the principles and mechanisms devised to provide for ‘ethnic federalism’ within Ethiopia have faced, both alternative ‘solutions’ to the current crises, conflicts and disputes (a unitary system or fragmentation into numerous small states) would create more problems than they would solve, and moreover would risk hurling the entire region into a prolonged period of widespread violence and conflict: no principle or law can succeed if the inhabitants of the respective regions and communities cannot live together and resolve their differences and disputes peacefully through orderly dialogue and negotiations based on mutual respect and the acknowledgment that the vast majority of the people will suffer enormously if conflicts persist, or if the people of each region are easily stampeded into a war frenzy by ruthless and power-hungry political factions seeking to take advantage of perceived or real grievances against other nationalities for personal gain.
The politically and economically marginalized groups and sectors of society in all of the respective regions would do well to pause and consider who is instigating, promoting and benefitting from the spiralling violence before signing up to sacrifice their lives ‘for the homeland’. Specifically, who is benefitting and who is losing from the exponentially increasing cycle of ethnically-motivated violence and conflict in each region? How are the conflicts affecting (and how are they affected by) the great disparities in access to land, education, State and private sector employment opportunities, as well as having differential effects and consequences among different regions and sectors of society.
What is happening to the vital infrastructure that has been so painstakingly built up over the last thirty years, who will inherit the ashes and rubble, and what will they do with it? Build new schools, health clinics and other facilities to provide essential services and the basis for expanding economic opportunities (and with what resources – all the country’s wealth is being consumed by the civil war – war of independence?), or will the land and rubble be privatized and sold off to politically connected ‘private investors’ at giveaway prices?
Although the current stalemate appears intractable, with neither the Tigray, Amhara or Federal governments prepared to make the slightest concession to open the possibility for a negotiated settlement, as noted previously there are both numerous internal as well as external factors which could change abruptly and thereby dramatically alter the current balance of forces.
As to an extraordinary event in Ethiopian politics, the military or political situation in neighbouring countries, or international diplomacy, what form might such a development take? At the domestic level, perhaps a sudden and dramatic shift among or within the ruling political factions, a mutiny within the armed forces (as noted in a previous report, there have been suggestions that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction within the armed forces over the fratricidal conflict being fought in a secretive and questionable alliance with Eritrea), or even widespread social mobilization and protest demanding an end to the conflict and the departure of all Eritrean military forces from Ethiopian territory? There have also been some reports suggesting that insurgent groups in several regions may be rallying to advance their claims, objectives and territorial control in core areas while the Federal military and regional security forces are in an extremely weakened state, particularly the OLA in Oromia but also in Afar region and possibly other areas, raising the spectre of a generalized descent into armed conflict and fragmentation or disintegration of the federal State in multiple key regions.
In many cases, the intra-Ethiopian regional disputes are inextricably linked with resource and territorial disputes with neighbouring countries (Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan and South Sudan). For example, on 7 April local media reported that violent conflict had erupted once again in a disputed area adjacent to the border between the Afar and Somali Regional States claimed by both sides.
A senior member of the Afar People’s party accused Djibouti President, Ismail Omar Guelleh, of supporting the Somali region, asserting: “Let the world know the war between Afar and Issa in Ethiopia is your proxy war. You have financed, sent your military for years to occupy Awash river, Addis-Djibouti road to destabilize Ethiopia.”
Many people from Somalia proper might also feel they have some scores to settle after the brutal war in the late 1970s that left many of their compatriots dead, wounded or forcibly displaced, followed up by the US sponsored incursion in 2006 that returned the country to complete chaos and violent anarchy at a time when it appeared that it might finally be possible to stabilize the security situation in much of the country after many years of widespread conflict and bloodshed. Tensions with Sudan have also been steadily escalating over the last year and are reaching a dangerous level, both due to border clashes (primarily with Amhara militias, possibly at times backed by Federal armed forces) and the ongoing dispute over water allocations from the Nile River (which has also resulted in Sudan and Egypt significantly strengthening their strategic alliance and military cooperation).
Apart from the secretive and dubious tactical alliance with the Eritrean regime concluded by as yet largely unspecified parties within the Amhara and Federal political leadership with the objective of occupying large swathes of Tigray and annihilating Tigray’s security forces, the alliance that the Amhara regional elite have forged with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is also built on a narrow and potentially unstable base.
Since 2019 Abiy has moved steadily further away from his main support base in Oromia and the mass support base that he originally enjoyed in many parts of Ethiopia. There are many indications of extensive practices of nepotism and cronyism by the prime minister, with the dismissal of large numbers of experienced public officials and replacing them with close political allies and associates from a very limited sector of Ethiopian society or people whose main quality is unquestioning obedience, at a time when balanced representation and participation in all State institutions based on merit and experience is most desperately needed to stabilize the country and provide all regions and nationalities with a feeling of inclusion in the elaboration and implementation of State policies. The new prime minister has turned more and more as time has progressed to making key political, military and intelligence appointments from his closest political allies and collaborators from the Amhara region. The frequent states of emergency and security clampdowns have also served as cover for dismissing or imprisoning anyone, whether from his own party or from the opposition, who has dared to criticise Abiy’s leadership or specific decisions or policies that he has adopted.
Moreover, apart from Abiy’s controversial, secretive and antagonistic leadership style, as noted above several of the regional branches of the ruling Prosperity Party have become increasingly hostile to each other based largely on the rival nationalist assertions and ambitions and the resultant clashes and multiple massacres, in some cases in circumstances that suggest the possibility of a deliberate strategy of ‘ethnic cleansing’ being adopted by some factions within or close to the regional leadership and security forces.
Apart from the increasing tensions between the key Oromia and Amhara regional branches of the Prosperity Party, it is not inconceivable that the widening breach between the leadership of the ruling party and the broader membership could precipitate an eventual schism or rebellion within the ruling political party, once the base membership realizes the extent to which they have been misled, manipulated and deceived by the party’s leadership.
Most crucial in this respect is the prime minister’s grudging admission earlier this year that Eritrean military forces are involved in the fighting in Tigray, after many months denying vehemently that this was the case. It is an open question how long the base membership will continue to endure the constant deception associated with the ruling clique’s secret military alliance with a regime which was up until very recently a sworn enemy of the country and the catastrophic situation that has resulted.
Failing to secure the complete withdrawal of all Eritrean military personnel from Ethiopian territory could eventually provoke an internal rebellion against the party’s leadership, if not from the base membership of the Prosperity Party perhaps from the armed forces, which have clearly demonstrated the reluctance felt by many to participate in the war against Tigray. If they are left with no other alternative to end the conflict and secure the withdrawal of all Eritrean military and intelligence personnel from Ethiopian territory by the obstinacy of the prime minister and his associates, they may not put up much resistance to an all-out drive by the TDF on Addis Ababa to remove the prime minister from office if this should eventuate (and many might even be inclined to join such a campaign).
Reports have emerged over the last week suggesting that the Federal government has acquired an unspecified number of drones from an as yet unspecified source (current speculation suggests either Turkey or China may be cashing in on the situation to sell weapons to the Federal government), presumably hoping to repeat the success that was achieved at the outset of the conflict when air attacks – mostly conducted by drones based in Eritrea apparently – annihilated the TPLF’s heavy weapons and defensive lines.
Even if what remains of the ENDF attempted to block a TDF offensive on Addis Ababa, it is far from certain that they would be able to do so. Although the acquisition of a significant drone attack force could once again inflict heavy losses on the TDF units, it is unlikely that their effect will be as decisive as before. The ENDF is severely depleted and demoralized, and appears incapable of defending its present positions (or unwilling to) much less mounting an organized counter-offensive, while the TDF has proven its ability to strike deep into enemy territory to pursue and destroy enemy forces, and if necessary they may even be capable of locating and damaging, if not capturing, the drones’ operating base (reportedly in Afar region).
If the TDF should decide to risk a lightning strike against the seat of the Federal government, the morale and will to fight of the ENDF will be crucial to the prospects for success. Such a move would obviously be a huge gamble: the longer TDF forces remain beyond the borders of Tigray Regional State proper, the more they risk provoking anti-TDF sentiment and suspicion amongst the other nationalities of Ethiopia as to their intentions (inflaming such sentiments has been one of the main ploys of the Federal government and its collaborators).
An attempt to strike at the national capital to physically remove the prime minister from office might invoke fears that the TDF – TPLF intends to reclaim control over the national government at the expense of the other regions and peoples of Ethiopia. However, if the Federal government doesn’t budge from its refusal to commit to the withdrawal of all military forces from Tigray region proper and negotiate, time will probably be against the TDF as the Federal government builds its drone attack force, and prime minister Abiy has clearly stated that he could draft a million more of Ethiopia’s impoverished youth into the armed forces in order to launch another attack against Tigray if necessary. In the meantime, many in Tigray will die from hunger. The stakes could not be higher.
Testimony from Federal military personnel who spoke with one of the very few journalists who has managed to enter the Tigray region (reported in the New York Times, “How local guerrilla fighters routed Ethiopia’s powerful army”) suggest a significant degree of demoralization and feelings that the political leadership is either extremely inept or even that it is betraying the Ethiopian people by inviting Eritrean military forces into Ethiopia to participate in the conflict.
The reporter quoted one of the prisoners, a young recruit from Oromia, as saying he had surrendered without taking part in combat: “We were told there would be fighting. But when we got here it was looting, robbery, attacks on women… This war was not necessary. Mistakes have been made.”
The commanding officer of the 11th Infantry Division in Tigray, speaking from an improvised detention facility where he was being held prisoner after surrendering, affirmed that his unit was completely obliterated by the TDF. He further stated to the reporter: “The course of this war is political madness, to my mind.” He always had serious reservations about Mr. Abiy’s military alliance with Eritrea, Ethiopia’s old foe, he said: “They ransack properties, they rape women, they commit atrocities. The whole army is unhappy about this marriage.”
Only time will tell the extent to which such feelings exist within the rest of what remains of the Federal armed forces and regional security forces. An unspecified number of military personnel was sentenced by a military tribunal to death or life imprisonment for treason late last week, either for expressing doubts or criticism of the Federal government’s leadership or for expressing approval of the actions and objectives of the TDF. The military and political leadership of the Federal government is clearly extremely concerned that it does not have the unquestioning loyalty and obedience of all of the military personnel, and may make the situation worse by taking such extreme measures.
In terms of ‘international diplomacy’, at this stage anything less than the deployment of international monitoring teams or peacekeepers to the main contested areas to separate the belligerent forces and guarantee the safety of civilians and the supply of humanitarian assistance would probably be insufficient to head off a protracted all-out clash between the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) and the Amhara, Federal government and Eritrean military forces and militias.
Nonetheless, as a matter of urgency a strict embargo on all weapons sales and shipments to all of the belligerent States and parties to the conflict must be considered by the relevant institutions of the ‘international community’ and individually by all countries with a significant presence in the region, combined with the prospect of individual sanctions and penalties for those within Ethiopia and Eritrea that are most involved in promoting the continuation of hostilities. Combined, such measures might help reduce the fanaticism of the main war enthusiasts somewhat and encourage them to agree to a ceasefire and dialogue with the aim of reaching a negotiated solution.
Sooner or later Ethiopians will presumably emerge from the stupefied state of confusion, mass-mesmerization and paralysis that appears to have taken hold throughout the country, to ask themselves how they got into a situation where multiple Regional States have decided to settle long-standing territorial disputes by brute force despite the terrible danger this poses to individual communities of their own ethnic nationalities and of entire regions throughout the country? Above all, how have Eritrean military forces managed to get so involved in Ethiopian internal affairs at the invitation of political factions within the leadership of the Federal and Amhara administrations? And who exactly are they collaborating with within Ethiopia, based on what objectives, mutual understandings, secret agreements and commitments? To what extent are the disputes and violent confrontations the consequence of particular local disagreements and grievances, and what other external and internal actors and forces might be involved in fomenting the proliferation of fratricidal violence to further their own malignant interests and objectives?
The possibility of extricating the country from disintegration and many years of intense conflict between and within the many regions and nationalities that make up Ethiopia lessens with every day that passes without a ceasefire being agreed and a commitment to open and sincere dialogue and negotiation being made.