I thought that Ethiopia was gold Burnished, desiccated,
Like fallen acorns
In an Indian summer.
But now I see that it is green And rotting to be born.
The situation on the ground in Ethiopia now seems to be developing rapidly. The immediate precipitating factor has been the awaking of the Amhara resistance. As blood is shed, the will to oppose the tyrant strengthens. The time remaining until the current regime falls seems to depend on the following factors:
The army, of course, will play the critical role. Ethiopia has what many say is the tenth most powerful army in the world, with over 2,000 tanks, considerable artillery, and 80 or so aircraft. The top leadership is totally Tigran, as is well-known, and there is much tension between the top level officers and the rank and file. It is evident that the regime intends to deploy the army on a regional basis, and to create regional military government in place of the existing governing structure or any structure put in place by rebel groups. This is normal practice during the last days of any military dictatorship, and the government of the ERPDF certainly qualifies for that designation.
The army numbers around 185,000 by CIA estimates. How many can be counted upon to remain loyal to the regime? We have seen that in Syria, even after large-scale defections to the Free Syrian Army, Assad has been able to rally somewhat against the revolt, and hold out in his Damascus fortress. But this has been done with the aid of the Russians, Hezbollah, and additional support from Iran.
Ethiopia is not Syria. It is much bigger, far more populous, and it is doubtful that any outside agents will assist the Tigran’s. The Dutch have fled, as soon as their flowers were burned. The Chinese and the Indians will certainly allow matters to play out and then try to pick up the pieces. Contractors from the E.U. will suspend their work and wait for a clearing up to occur. The TPLF will be left to struggle on its own to defend its ill- gotten gains. It seems safe to assume that the army will fall apart. Does this mean civil war?
What are the prospects of civil war in Ethiopia? Civil wars in our era are fueled by great power interests. From Spain to China, Vietnam to Syria, to the Ukraine, the opposing sides in civil wars were in part proxies for great powers, and the clash of great geopolitical forces became a driving force behind the conflicts.
Ethiopia is of limited strategic value in the great power calculus. It has very little anybody wants, other than land and labor. Its borders are relatively secure. It is geographically and politically intact, so to speak, and so it will largely be left to its fate.
Furthermore, it is unlikely that as the army falls apart it will divide into two well-defined and competing factors. Many soldiers will simply go home, more when their paymasters are unable to feed them. This will be accelerated when the TPLF executes deserters. The army is not battle tested. It is not cohesive. In many respects it is a paper tiger. It has never faced a real counter-insurgency.
A second critical factor will be the role of the United States. Since 1991, and for a long time prior to 1991, Ethiopia has been a client of the United States, a Christian bastion against Islam. The United States sponsored the ERPDF and the United States is now unhappy with what has been spawned. The child was born, and after twenty-five years it has grown up to be a nasty piece of work. What to do about it? It is highly unlikely that the United States will play a direct role in the demise of the regime it has created and fed. Its indirect role, however, can be critical. The coming election in the U.S. is very important. A Clinton administration is likely to become somewhat pro-active in Ethiopia, cutting off aid and offering some support to the rebels. Trump, on the other hand, can’t even find Ethiopia on a map.
Third, is the degree of cohesion that can be created in Ethiopia among opponents of the regime. Historical antipathies must be put to rest. Amhara and Oromo, Muslims and Christians must bury their old quarrels and act in concert. Is this possible? The Amharic feudal empire ended in 1964, over fifty years ago. Ethiopians under the age of twenty-five have lived their lives under Woyanne oppression. Anyone under the age of fifty, Amhara, Oromo, or member of any other ethnic group, was not alive under the period of Amhara domination. If One Ethiopia is to become a reality now is the time. The nightmare of ethnic federation must be ended. It was a Tygrian chimera, devised to give a small group presence on a level playing field, allowing them to become primus inter pares. This artificial and dysfunctional arrangement has been exploited to the maximum by a tiny oligarchy of kleptomaniacs, to the last birr.
Darjeel, the antichrist, lives in Addis Ababa. This is what makes all of this so frightening. Talk has already begun of turning Addis Ababa into a Damascus-like fortress. The rulers of this catastrophe called a nation may try to conduct a desperate last stand. Clearly they will not be able to hang onto their control in the outlying regions of the country. They may attempt to hold Addis indefinitely. Two factors will come into play here. The most important will be the people who live in this metropolis. They are already battle-hardened in demonstrations against months and years of persecution. The have been jailed, starved, denied a livelihood. They are used to sacrifice. The city has never been free, not under Selassie, not under Mengistu, and certainly not under the Woyanne. If the TPLF thinks it can hold out in Addis indefinitely it will have to think again. At a critical juncture the TPLF, like all bullies, will run, just as they are beginning to run already.
The second fact mitigating against a long siege of Addis Ababa will be the absence of any lifeline from the outside world. The umbilical cord tying the TPLF to Washington will be cut. Obama, Rice and Kerry are not fools. Their impressions have been passed on. Enough will be enough. Other surrogates can be found to occupy the halls of power in Addis Ababa. And the TPLF will soon find that there is no land to confiscate and give away, there will be no foreign exchange to pay the Chinese and the Italians, along with lucrative kickbacks. The former ‘friends’ of the TPLF will no longer be answering their telephone calls or downloading their emails. The party will be over.