Ethiopia stands on the brink of escalating civil war and state failure

Ethiopia is plunging into chaos. It's time for a new Dayton Peace Process.

October 17, 2021

In this Monday, Oct. 4, 2021, photo, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks behind bulletproof glass at his inauguration ceremony, after he was sworn in for a second five-year term, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. | Mulugeta Ayene, File/AP Photo

Right now, Ethiopia stands on the brink of escalating civil war and state failure. Last week, fighting intensified dramatically, with Ethiopian forces striking hard against rebels from the Tigray province. Millions are starving — and time to avert a descent into chaos is running out.

The plight of places like South Sudan and Afghanistan after years of U.S.-led support should remind everyone of the limits of any outside nation’s influence. But Addis Ababa is not Juba or Kabul. Two years ago, Ethiopia was one of the emerging economic success stories of sub-Saharan Africa. Which means there’s a chance to turn things around. If we act now.

This is the moment to prepare for concerted international action to prevent further drift and to focus diplomacy on a comprehensive settlement for this nation of more than 110 million. Nothing less than a Dayton-style peace process with visible, American- and neighbor-led daily engagement will pull Ethiopia back from the brink.

National security officials in the U.S., Europe and regional neighbors —who already have full inboxes — will need to pay urgent attention. Sanctions certainly provide leverage but may not be enough. Military intervention or occupation is not an option in a country twice the size of Afghanistan and which is already sliding into civil war. This crisis will require diplomacy and mediation on a scale not seen since the 1995 Dayton peace process to end the bloody war in Bosnia.

Dayton was a model of how warring ethnic parties can be brought to the table through intense, coordinated diplomatic efforts on the part of honest brokers. It required steady engagement from the highest levels of the U.S. government including the president, national security adviser, secretary of state and a chief negotiator such as the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. The EU and other major powers played critical supporting roles.

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Ethiopia in 2021 is not the same as Bosnia in 1995, and a Dayton-style process would need to be adapted to local realities. But if the U.S. and other partners do not step up urgently to promote a peaceful settlement and provide necessary support to Jeffrey Feltman, recently appointed U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia could disintegrate like Yugoslavia — with far more serious repercussions.

This engagement is to the benefit of the U.S. and all others involved. The U.S., Europe and our African allies and partners have clear security, economic and humanitarian interests in Ethiopia. The implications of state collapse would be devastating for the entire Horn of Africa and beyond. Ethiopia is at the strategic center of the Horn, surrounded by Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somaliland, Somalia and Kenya.

Ethiopia’s instability could affect maritime routes through the Red Sea, trigger refugee flows that would dwarf those of the last few years, and disrupt the fragile post-conflict transitions in Sudan and Somalia. Chaos would also be exploited by terrorist groups like al-Shabab and other al Qaeda affiliates that want to extend their grip on the region.

This is no longer just an Ethiopian or East African problem. It will have a wider impact and require solutions and actions that unite all who care in Africa and beyond.

The Ethiopian government’s blockade of Tigray is turning that region into a 21st century ghetto. Late last year, Ethiopia restricted the flow of humanitarian assistance, in violation of international law, cutting off all banking, electricity and communications. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has unleashed a famine; he decides who starves and who doesn’t. Inter-ethnic atrocities have been committed, primarily against the Tigrayans, but the Oromo, Amhara and other ethnic groups are also at grave risk.

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The cycle of vindictiveness, unprecedented in Ethiopia, has led some experienced African leaders to speak in private about echoes of Rwanda before the 1994 genocide.

Tigray is at the heart of the highlands of Ethiopia, a country that expanded over the centuries to include an array of ethnic groups who speak dozens of different languages. In 1991, the Tigrayans defeated the ruling Soviet-backed Marxist regime through a prolonged guerrilla struggle, a victory which set them up to control politics in Ethiopia, often with a heavy hand. This changed in 2018 when massive popular protests propelled Abiy Ahmed, a non-Tigrayan, into the prime minister’s seat. Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize the following year for “for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea.” However, for three years, Abiy and the Tigrayan leadership have clashed over the role ethnic regions should play in governance of the country.

Last November, those tensions escalated. Armed conflict broke out between the government of Ethiopia (aided and abetted by neighboring Eritrea) and under-resourced Tigray. Ethiopia now risks becoming a patchwork of violent struggles for self-determination.

For the center to hold in Ethiopia there must be a deft balancing act of internal regional interests with sensitivities to group grievances. What’s more, a united and stable Ethiopia has always been a provider of stability across the Horn of Africa region.

If the drift toward civil war in Ethiopia is not stemmed, the consequences are predictable. Prime Minister Abiy’s mass mobilization of forces from other ethnic regions against Tigray threatens to plunge the country into irreversible strife, with massive economic and humanitarian costs. Each failing state tragedy is unique, but the world has seen variants of this nightmare before: Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar.

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The bloodshed and cost of last weekend’s offensive launched by the government against Tigrayan forces could begin to exhaust the parties, creating an opening for negotiation. This is the moment to prepare for concerted international action to prevent further chaos and to focus diplomacy on a comprehensive settlement. Secretary Antony Blinken’s recent meeting in Washington with his European Union counterpart Josep Borrell, the African Union’s high representative for the Horn of Africa, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was a good start. It is the first time Africa, the U.S. and E.U. have met at this level to chart a way forward on the Ethiopian crisis. And President Biden’s Oval Office meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Thursday is important, with Kenya now presiding in the U.N. Security Council. This is the level of commitment that will be required for a Dayton-style process to gain traction and be successful.

A future political settlement will need to be comprehensive. It should include lifting the blockade and immediate opening of humanitarian access to Tigray and other regions; the withdrawal of Eritrean troops and a commitment to non-intervention by neighboring powers; the release of political prisoners; negotiation of a new political balance for Ethiopia, with substantial regional autonomy and a fair system of fiscal federalism; and provision for an independent commission to investigate abuses of power.



  1. Subject:“Ethiopia stands on the brink of escalating civil war and state failure Ethiopia is plunging into chaos. It’s time
    for a new Dayton Peace Process, ALEX RONDOS and MARK MEDISH, October 17,2021 “

    Humble Comment , 17 Oct 2021
    Quote: “It’s time for a new Dayton Peace Process“ Unquote It is said that little knowledge is dangerous. Indeed, I AM (this writer) a good example.

    Here I go with my sincere reaction >>> I sincerely believe that Ethiopia, an independent country for seemingly time immemorial can, and should, solve its internal problem by itself for its own salvation. If the Ethiopian Government, in its wisdom, prefers to jump into the ‘gutter’ it is time for Ethiopians to dedicate THIS DATE as the SADDEST DAY in the admirable History of Ethiopia.
    Post Script
    Humble Question:
    Would anyone contemplate meddling in the internal affairs of the United Kingdom?!?!? Just a daring general question with extreme sadness why BLACK AFRICAN COUNTRIES are treated like ‘gutters’. Why? I think, I know Why?
    Still, I leave the answer to the > Supremely > Exemplary > Educatedly > Proudly > Black African Leaderships!!!!!.

  2. This is mentioned in the article: In 1991, the Tigrayans defeated the ruling Soviet-backed Marxist regime through a prolonged guerrilla struggle, a victory which set them up to control politics in Ethiopia, often with a heavy hand.
    Says who? Would someone please ask Layne and Doula to talk to these two guys? Stubborn as they are now, this statement will make Debre and his cabals even more stubborn and arrogant.

    But it is true that the current situation in the old country is a matter of great concern. Debre and his soldiers are well entrenched in one of the most difficult terrains around. It is going to take unmatched military genius to dislodge them from those escarpments stretching from the outskirts of Dessie all the way to the borders with Eritrea. Let’s hope for peaceful solution because on the government site it is a dead giveaway that as long as the fighting continues/drags on without a decisive victory, battle fatigue is gonna set in among the soldiers. They will start being just bystanders tossing away their uniforms and firearms. Then you can forget all about it. Unless the will to forgive and move on sets in the psyche of both camps there will be one and only one result from this senseless fracas: mutual destruction.

  3. Dayton guys prescribing a ‘Dayton like peace process’. How selfish and reflective of nothing else than sheer capitalist greed, the mother of all evils on planet earth!
    Ethiopia shall survive this oredeal on her own and with her true ‘non – Dyton’ friends standing with her, such as Russia, China and Eriteria,to name few.

  4. Yet another propaganda in support of a terrorist entity.

    Wipe your crocodile tears – no matter how much you wish for it – No, Ethiopia won’t be in a civil war, it is fighting a criminal terrorist, and No, Ethiopia won’t disintegrate.

    It is only the gods of destruction that are haunting the US officials, day and night, asking come on! We want the next bombing soon. Why are so late???

    You were not the first to say “Ethiopia could disintegrate like Yugoslavia.” American and British “specialists” had said it as early as 1974 that the fall of Emperor Haileselassie would unleash such a disintegration. Tplf has been repeating that its stabilizing leadership is non-negotiable without which the case of Rwanda, South Sudan, Somalia, Bosnia will be repeated. Guess what? Tplf run for cover under public fury and three years later Ethiopia has conducted the first ever free, fair, and peaceful election and the formation of a representative cabinet in a new government. America was the first to refuse to acknowledge the election!! Why? Because it violated its expectations of violence (as in America)!

    Fast forward to 1991. American experts at London Conference predicted the fall of Derg would cause a similar event! Luckily, the experts had the solution in their briefcases! They convened a sham meeting “between warring factions” and pulled out a preemptive “decision.” Recruit Tplf to takeover power in Addis. Twenty-seven years of brutality and looting later (documented mass murder and torture, stealing of $30 billions in aid, rapes, smuggling ring, human trafficking, etc) Tplf was kicked out by mass protests.

    Now you come back as if nothing has happened and to save your jobs to propose a far-fetched “Dayton Agreement.” It was London in 1991, now Dayton but the same old crap! Now you are talking about human rights violations oblivious to your own rotten record. You hope people who have paid a huge price due to your follies forget!

    You (America) is bullying and decimating communities across the globe. It always sided with terror groups beginning with Al Qaeda which it trained and financed to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Once the Jihadists saw they could beat a superpower it did not take much to turn their guns on another superpower!

    American pulled out of Afghanistan and Iraq after 20 years of creating mayhem (nothing of democracy and nation-building it promised except US private armies and businesses were awash with a booty of trillions of taxpayer’s money). America went in to this countries on concocted charges (as you are trying to do now) and decades later cowardly left in the dead of night! Recommendation? LEAVE ETHIOPIA ALONE! Go mind your own business.

  6. Couldn’t have said it better. Mind your own business indeed.
    At a time when a former US president and a large majority of Republicans believe that the current US administration is illegitemate, Rondos and Medishi do not have the moral or intellectual authority to give advice to Ethiopia. They and their ilk should put their own house in order before giving advice to others and pray that the former US president’s supporters do not use a ” Second Amendment solution ” as suggested by him. The Jan 6th insurrection would pale compared to what might transpire.
    Perhaps the other great powers would present the case to the UN security council for impending humanitarian disaster.
    It would the height if hypocrisy if they don’t see the parallel with the current Ethiopian situation.

    You don’t need to give lecture about Tigrian for others. What You need is find your place to make ass sit and learn the long history of colonializm. Tigrian was sold their own country for the white people/ Europe Colonist But the rest Part of Ethiopan was fought very hard to make Ethiopia free country. The only country in Africa Never been under colony or Never been slaved in their own Home. TPLF shows us what is in their DNA now. The history speak to it self. TPLF is like a diaper You find them behind white Ass and full of shit. Ethiopia Never back down to fight for itself.Tigrian need to learn how to work hard at least to feed themselves. beging food for life is nesty and shame specially in 21st century. If I were Tigrayan I will be trade my Tank with Tractor. I would buy farm equipment instade of guns. What stupidity it is not knowing their priority? playing poletics while your people starving to death is crazy Mind set. .

    People geting poor because of luck of thinking not luck of resource.To see Tigray people is good enough. Complainer and brade begger for lifetime.

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