Op-Ed: Ethiopia’s seismic war will destabilize the

Op-Ed: Ethiopia’s seismic war will destabilize the region

FILE: President Isaias Afwerki with Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed celebrating Ge’ez New Year at the Bure Front along the Eritrean-Ethiopian border – 9-11-2018

Ethiopia, the second-most populous country in Africa is currently under a chaotic situation and a huge uncertainty since the seismic confrontation between the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) and the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) erupted in November last year.

Ethiopia is a hegemonic state in the region militarily. As such, if the ongoing conflict persists, it may metastasize and destabilize the Horn of the Africa region especially Somalia where huge Ethiopian troops are present under the AMISOM mission.

Abiy, the embattled prime minister took the power in April 2018 after huge demonstrations emanated from the Oromo region and later did spread to the Amhara region against the Tigray rule under the EPRDF coalition party was ruling Ethiopia closely three decades.

Somalia and Ethiopia: Ambivalent relationship

The two states had been at loggerheads for decades due to long-standing border disputes. The Somali region which is currently under Ethiopian rule is the biggest impetus for this deep-seated resentment between them. In 1954, the British colonial administration ceded the Somali region to Ethiopia. Since then, the two countries fought two vicious wars in 1964 and 1977.

The socialist governments of Ethiopia and Somalia vanished in 1991 right after the former Soviet Union collapsed in the same year. The difference was, in Ethiopia, when the former prime minister Mengistu was overthrown by the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF), Mengistu accepted “Soft Landing”, and the TPLF did not demolish the government institutions, while in Somalia, the late president Siadbarre rejected to transfer the power, and decided all-or-nothing war against the rebels which led the country into an internecine civil war.

Somalia’s protracted civil war was led by relentless warlords who used to kill innocent people because of clan animosity. During the civil war era from 1991-2006, Ethiopia used to provide weapons and ammunition to Somalia’s callous and reckless warlords.

This conflagrated the already deep-rooted resentment towards Ethiopia. In 2007-2009, Ethiopia was backing the lame-duck government of Somalia led by the late President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, and Ethiopian troops captured the capital city of Mogadishu in 2007. During the presence of Ethiopia’s forces, gross human rights violations took place where many civilians were killed, and tremendous properties destroyed.

Though the Ethiopian troops had the permission of Somalia’s legitimate government, the common people did not subscribe to their presence in Mogadishu. Surprisingly, the incumbent government of Somalia led by his Excellent president Mohamed Abdullahi, aka Farmajo changed the historical relationship between the two countries.

The current prime minister of Ethiopia, his Excellency Abiy Ahmed paid a visit to Mogadishu in July 2018. The two leaders had a word and expressed that, Ethiopia is going to invest in Somalia’s ports. Since then, the relationship between the two leaders was strengthened. Apart from the two leaders, Somalia’s dissenting voices and talking heads were criticizing the latent ties between president Farmajo and prime minister Abiy.

The most contentious issue was when the sitting government in Somalia stopped the Mirraa (Khat) from Kenya and replaced the one from Ethiopia. Since the two leaders of Ethiopia and Somalia had a close tie, the diplomatic relationship between Kenya and Somalia was worsening dramatically. Kenya hosts the largest number of Somali refugees since 1991.

International partners and their implications

The relationship between the west and Ethiopia dates back a century ago. During the second scramble for Africa, in 1897, Menelik, who pioneered the new Ethiopia received a special envoy “Rodd Mission” from the Queen of Britain Victoria. Since then, their ties blossomed and flourished.

In 1974, when emperor Haile Salassie, the then Ras Tafarri was ousted by Mengistu Haile Mariam, Ethiopia shifted from west to the former Soviet Union. Though the former Soviet Union was backed by the two regimes in Ethiopia and Somalia, it did not solve the border dispute between the two nations.

In 1991, when the former socialist government in Ethiopia was overthrown by the rebel groups, the historical diplomatic ties between the west and Ethiopia has been restored. Another diplomatic tiff was witnessed when Abiy’s government postponed the national election, which was supposed to take place in September last year.

Diametrically, the Tigray region orchestrated its local election which Abiy’s government called “shanty election”, and his government will never recognize the results of the election. As a result, the west started rebuking Abiy’s administration.

On the flip side, the situation became intractable when the prime minister declared on November 04, 2020, a military confrontation against the restive region (Tigray). This temerity has taken by the prime minister also raised more questions than answers. Again, the U.S, UK, and European Union expressed their concerns toward this conflict, and urged the warring sides to negotiate, deliberate, and compromise. But all the efforts that are intended to refrain from the confrontation ended up futile.

As a result, the European Union and the US cut the support budget to Ethiopia. But, this action of cutting the support fund did not change Abiy’s intention. Apart from the Tigray war, the biggest impetus for the current stalemate between the west and Abiy’s government is Ethiopia’s decision of expediting the filling of the dam, and Eritrea’s involvement in the war against the Tigray region. Colossal human rights organizations reported that Eritrean forces, Amhara militia, and ENDF have committed crimes against humanity including ethnic cleansing, rape, castigation, and all families of human rights violations.

On the other hand, the Tigray Defense forces (TFD) and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) have expressed that, Turkish, UAE, Iran, China, and Russia are offering drones to Abiy’s government. And these drones were targeted at the civilians in Tigray and Oromia regions. But, Abiy’s administration nullified and refuted such allegations. China and Turkey are the largest investors in Ethiopia, while Turkey aims at expanding its influence in the region. As such, Ethiopia is susceptible to this multipolar politics.


The ongoing conflict in Ethiopia will last some time if the international community insists to support differently the warring sides. But, if the west, which is the longest ally of Ethiopia, and China-Turkey who are the first and second-largest investors in Ethiopia engage in mediation among the warring sides, the conflict may last shorter.

It seems that the Tigray war opened another Pandora’s box. Because, the region was already struggling with protracted droughts, locusts, and famine. Now, the conflict in Ethiopia resulted from another humanitarian influx which the region cannot afford it anymore.

Anwar Abdifatah Bashir is a Senior Lecturer at Somali National University and Horn of Africa Affairs Analyst. His Twitter handle @Anwaryare1000

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Axadle’s editorial policy.

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