Belay Seyoum, Ph. D
Agust 16, 2021
Every country has its moments. Ethiopia has the third largest and most powerful military in Africa. It is also the first African country to defeat a modern European army. Apart from Britain, every other major power has been invaded at least once in the past 200 years and many of them were conquered and occupied. Consistent with this tradition, the Ethiopian army soundly defeated a well-armed and organized TPLF militia within a period of three weeks. However, Ethiopia has had a string of misfortunes since the 1950s that impeded social and economic development. It had to contend with internal conflicts (Eritrea, Ogaden, TPLF etc) that consumed much of the country’s budget which could have been used to improve basic services and improve living standards. In spite of its rich history and civilization, the country remains one of the poorest countries in Africa and the world.
Ethiopia has a favorable climate for intensive agriculture (almost half of Ethiopia’s potentially cultivable land is still available for use) and livestock that can meet the needs of its domestic and export markets. With its educated labor force and dynamic private sector, the country has potential to develop an export-oriented economy that can catch up with the economies of countries such as China or S. Korea within a generation. For example, since China opened its economy in 1978, economic growth averaged about 10 percent a year and this helped over 800 million people to be lifted out of poverty. In a period of three decades, it is the second largest economy and the world’s largest merchandise exporter (2.5 trillion USD in 2019). It has managed to achieve significant advances in incomes, health and education. Ireland which is now considered the Celtic Tiger, was one of the poorest economies in Western Europe in the 1950s with a large exodus of talented people. In the 1980s, it adopted an economic policy that targeted specific industries based on its endowments and used foreign investment to enhance productivity and exports.
Catching up with advanced economies is not as difficult as it appears. Countries do not have to reinvent the wheel and spend billions of dollars in research and development. They can simply imitate or license existing technologies, industries and institutions from successful countries. While the West took 300 years to innovate and industrialize, it took Japan less than 100 years and South East Asia less than 40 years. Late comers imitated and then upgraded and achieved dynamic growth mainly through foreign direct investment and exports.
Given Ethiopia’s resources, it is possible to achieve economic prosperity within one generation. However, there is one binding constraint which if removed would cause the largest gains in economic growth and entrepreneurship. That is peace. As Willy Brandt stated: “Peace is not everything but everything is nothing without peace”. Now, the country is battling TPLF terrorists who are attempting to take over power by force. Very few countries can claim such a long and unbroken series of misfortunes. At this point, the only way we can safeguard the peace and prosperity the people deserve is by removing all areas of insecurity and this includes draining the swamp of TPLF from all parts of the country. There is no doubt as to the outcome of this war given Ethiopia’s military superiority and the moral basis of this war. Injustice should not be tolerated to avoid a war. However, we all need to be wary of a long war with no end game. In the absence of a clear political and military objective, a territory that is taken from insurgents can be abandoned leading to a re-occurrence of a deadly violence stretching out the duration of the conflict.
In the context of this conflict, a number of areas need to be addressed not only to reduce the duration of the conflict but also to alleviate the suffering that people endure at this time. First, a successful conclusion of this war will only take place when TPLF is completely defeated, and this requires degrading their military capabilities to ensure that they will no longer pose a threat. A state that does not exercise a monopoly on the use of force is a failed state since no serious country will allow a bunch of insurgents running with guns and terrorizing people. No serious country would succumb to such blackmail and extortion.
Secondly, withdrawal of the army and interim administration from Tigray was a serious mistake since it allowed TPLF to recruit and mobilize more people into the war effort. A complete absence from Tigray will undermine our efforts to reach the Tigray people and hold the country together. It also makes it difficult to use the media to advance the cause of peace and solidarity with the Tigray people. It is important to isolate TPLF leadership from the good people of Tigray. This cannot be done if we completely abandon the state to TPLF and their squad of goons. Moreover, we will not be able to stop the forced recruitment of young people into the war front. We need to be there to support the mothers and fathers in Tigray who are opposing such forced recruitment and abuse.
Thirdly, we need to invest sufficient resources (intelligence and manpower) to apprehend the civilian and military leaders who are fueling this conflict. How is it that we have been unable to arrest the civilian leaders who are holding press statements in Mekelle every few days. This is strictly a law enforcement operation and we have to uphold the rule of law and hold them accountable for their crimes. History shows that civil conflicts quickly end as soon as the leadership is captured or killed. Otherwise, these leaders will continue to recruit and mobilize and prolong the war. Moreover, it is in their interest to survive long enough to build a force sufficient to defeat the government or create a stalemate to force it to a settlement.
Studies show that the duration of a civil war is the strongest single predictor of whether it would end in a negotiated settlement or decisive victory for either side. The longer it lasts, the less likely it is to end in victory for either side. Since 9/11 the norms of negotiated settlements have been challenged due to concerns about negotiating with terrorists and terrorist organizations. The proportion of wars ending in negotiated settlements as opposed to military victories has declined. It is in the country’s interest to shorten the war by using all its resources at its disposal. As the conflict drags on, it provides opportunities for other countries to meddle and promote their hidden agendas that will further undermine the country’s path towards peace and prosperity.
In short, the government needs to pursue critical military and political objectives in the prosecution of this war.
- Apprehend and prosecute TPLF civilian and military leadership that are fugitives from justice. There will be no lasting peace in Tigray and the rest of the country without bringing them to justice. They have been the agents of death and destruction for many years and the country needs closure.
- Degrade and destroy existing military capabilities to prevent TPLF from resuming military activities once and for all.
- Ensure sufficient military presence in Tigray. No government will leave a province unattended and leave the responsibility to TPLF thus creating a de facto state. The government has a constitutional obligation to ensure peace and security in Tigray. We should not identify the people of Tigray with TPLF. We must be there to protect the population that is abused and manipulated by TPLF. Basic services should be restored since depriving such services will alienate the Tigray people from their government and creates a perception that the government does not care for the Tigray people (promotes TPLF’s narrative). Basic services can be restored while pursuing and apprehending the TPLF leadership.
- Stabilization: Normalize life for the ordinary person by providing basic services. The idea of punishing everyone for the sins of TPLF will create more sympathizers for the TPLF.
- Interim administration that is responsible for stabilization and mopping out of any remaining TPLF fugitives from justice. This may require a temporary military administration till things get back to normal.
- Resumption of some political activity that will lead to democratic elections at a future date.
- Foreclosure of any room for negotiations: Negotiations is a ploy by Western countries and their donor agencies to allow TPLF to buy time to regroup and remobilize its forces. Several scholarly studies (including Monica Toft of Harvard & Alex Downes of Duke) show that ethnic civil wars (unlike ideological ones) are difficult to resolve with negotiated settlements (they fail two thirds of the time) and that durable solutions can only come with clear military victory. Moreover, there is no substantive issue to negotiate since TPLF’s primary objective behind this war is to take over power by force.
Let us quickly wrap up this conflict and go back to the serious task of building peace and prosperity for all our peoples.