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War or Peace? Why Abiy Ahmed’s war policy is a threat to his regime, Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa

October 5, 2023

Aklog Birara (Dr)

Part 5 of 6

In January 2023, Africa Confidential Vol. 64, No 1 wrote a commentary under the title “ETHIOPIA: a fragile truce with many foes” and forewarned that the Peace Agreement between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Abiy’s Prosperity Party regime required careful “monitoring, nurturing” and scrutiny.” Why is that?

The Agreement was not followed by total demobilization and reintegration of TPLF’s massive army into Ethiopian National Defense Forces. This is not the only flaw. Afar and Amhara stakeholders were not included. There was no accountability for the one million Tigrean and close to 400,000 Afar and Amhara lives lost. Nor was there any acknowledgement of the cost of the civil war that is now put at $28 billion. Declaring a peace agreement is the easy part. Making a real difference to the lives of victims of war is much harder. This has not been done.

As I write this commentary, Ethiopian Americans, and other members of Ethiopia’s large diaspora across the oceans are discussing peace and reconciliation as the only way out of Ethiopia’s danger zone. I have yet to see a shared understanding of the core institutional and structural issues that drive civil war and targeted ethnic cleansing, genocide, and massive displacement. I have yet to see a scholarly consensus as to which political forces are driving what I call “permanent conflict and war” in Ethiopia.

I do not know any Ethiopian soul who does not want peace and stability in Ethiopia. However, in the robust dialogue on peace, I have yet to see an agreement as to who is accountable for the deaths of more than one million innocent civilians during the two-year war. I have yet to see acknowledgement that the war against the Amhara population was initiated by the Abiy regime and not by Fano. I have yet to see a consensus barring Amhara from entering the city to which they have contributed immensely is wrong and divisive. I have yet to see that the use of state and government power and showcase the Oromo flag and exclude other representative flags in connection with the Irreecha 2023 celebration deepens mistrust. Simply put, acknowledge, and state the core institutional and structural problems and go from there.

On August 23rd, 2023, Africa Confidential Vol. 64, No 17 wrote a masterpiece under the title “Ethiopia the avalanche catches up with Abiy Ahmed. This time, the focus shifted from Tigray to the Amhara region. It started by stating one incontestable fact. “The rebellion in Amhara region and the government’s heavy response is testing the federal system to the limit.” It could have been said to “breaking point or a point of no return.

Unlike the war against the TPLF supported by a coalition of forces like Fano, Afar and Amhara militia, Eritrean forces and ENDF, Abiy’s war against the Amhara pits Amhara nationalist forces on one side and Oromo military elite commandeered forces on the other side. The war against TPLF was in defense of Ethiopia’s territorial integrity. The Amhara popular resistance against Abiy’s regime is in defense of Amhara survival. In this sense, Africa Confidential is right.

“The Amhara nationalist militias taking up arms against the Addis Ababa government and its proxies are at least as perilous for Abiy’s grip on the shaky federation as the Tigray war from November 2020-2022. Then Abiy was able to corral a national coalition against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Now he has no such coalition to take on Amhara nationalists. His federal forces found themselves fighting Fano militias in Amhara, who had been key allies in the war against Tigray. And the numbers matter. Tigrayans are about 7% of the country’s population. About a quarter of Ethiopians are Amhara: they have dominated imperial and military regimes prior to the fall of the Derg in 1991 and have a powerful political and economic pressure groups in the diaspora.”

Fano is deeply rooted in the community. Abiy’s attempt to sow seeds of division among Amhara by funding and bribing a few is a futile exercise. Because, regardless of where they live and work, Amhara are identified, classified, and targeted for ethnic cleansing, genocide, displacement, and disempowerment. Amhara rebels know that they are fighting for a cause, namely Amhara survival. if they do not, the worst is yet to come. It is unthinkable. This does not mean the struggle will be easy. Among other factors, there are Amhara within Ethiopia and in the diaspora whose primary loyalty is to serve their own economic benefit and social welfare.

Foreign Suppliers: stop selling weapons and spare parts to Ethiopia.

Drone strikes of Amhara civilians are a war crime. Lives and property losses notwithstanding, drone strikes by Abiy’s army strengthen unity of purpose and action among Amhara. Every atrocious action, including the State of Emergency by Abiy Ahmed triggers the opposite reaction. It generates support for Fano and other Amhara resistance forces. Increasingly tens of thousands of Abiy’s soldiers have fled from their units and joined Fano.

The State of Emergency and the recent unconfirmed report that Abiy’s regime has decided to militarize the Amhara region, isolating towns and cities from the countryside has triggered more anger among the Amhara population. Africa Confidential confirms the growing ethnic animus between the two largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia.

“It has also ratcheted up tensions along the Amhara-Oromo regional border about a different set of territorial disputes, including control of the federal capital (AC Vol 64 No 4, How the Wellega war threatens Abiy).

The rebellion may accelerate the collapse of Abiy’s Prosperity Party in Amhara. Many junior party members and state officials seem more loyal to the Fano militia than the federal forces. By mid-August, cities and towns such as Debre Markos, Dejen, Debre Tabor, Shewa Robit and Debre Birhan (only 130 kilometers from Addis Ababa), were under the control of Fano fighters or threatened by them. Some areas of Gondar and Amhara’s capital Bahir Dar have fallen to Fano.” More than 80 percent of the Amhara region is controlled by Fano and its close allies.”

Abiy Ahmed has deepened Ethiopia’s trouble. At one time he stoked ethnic venom and hatred when he accused citizens of Addis Ababa that “there are people who hate Oromo.” Who in their right mind would declare such a statement that adds fuel to the fire in a country that is ethnically polarized?

The problem Ethiopians face is this. As Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed does not seem to care if Ethiopians slaughter one another. He does not seem to care how many people perish due to war and ethnic conflict. He does not seem to care how many people perish because of hunger. He does not seem to care if foreign powers annex lands. He shows no empathy for the poor, for the hungry, for the unemployed. This is why Abiy is never fazed by the death and destruction he causes. For him, it is part of doing business. His preoccupation is staying in power. The gospel he and his Prosperity club preach as state doctrine is “prosperity” for the few in the poorest and least developed country on earth. This is why Abiy justifies investment of $15 billion to build a lavish palace and resort on more than 500 hectares of land while tens of millions of Ethiopians starve.

Abiy’s careless and boastful utterances are often toxic and inexcusable. Africa Confidential is on the mark.

“The divide between the Amhara and the Oromo is growing sharply. Their activists offer contrasting versions of Ethiopian history and visions for the future. Those tensions could fracture Abiy’s Prosperity Party along ethnic lines; and that factionalism could rupture the federal armed forces.”

I am troubled by the depth and breadth of growing animus between Amhara and Oromo political and social elites. A welcome joint forum of Amhara and Oromo Scholars in Addis Ababa terminated prematurely. They were not able to agree on the core policy issue of whether Abiy’s army should leave the Amhara region. Amhara Scholars demanded exit, Oromo Scholars took the Prosperity Party line and defended indefinite presence.

If Ethiopian Scholars within the country are unable to reach middle ground and stop the war, save lives, and preserve Ethiopia from disintegration, then who else can do it?

I know for certain that the international community in general, and the United States government in particular, are deeply concerned about the latest civil war that Is raging in Ethiopia.

In an Op-ed posted by the Wilson Center September 29, 2023, Adane Tadesse wrote “A Reflection on the Conflict in the Amhara Region of Ethiopia.” He believes “Given the population size and geography of the Amhara region, this new conflict will continue to have severe security and humanitarian repercussions. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission reported that the conflict is already claiming the lives of many civilians. In terms of security, there are indications that the conflict could spread to the neighboring Oromia region. Unlike the Tigray War, there is no buffer between the Amhara region and Addis Ababa, thus putting the survival of the central government at stake should the conflict remain unresolved. Similarly, the conflict also threatens peace in Tigray. Meanwhile, contestation over the Welkait and Raya territories continues. Considering the proximity of the Amhara region to Sudan and Eritrea, the conflict could potentially become a regional crisis.”

I agree with this assessment.

Among the most critical policy matters Adane raises in his analysis is the missing subject in the Pretoria Agreement that affects all Amhara, namely, Wolkait, Tegede, Telemt and Raya.  A viable solution must be found for this strategic geopolitical policy matter that affects the future of both Amhara and Ethiopia

” Uncertainties that arose from the Pretoria Agreement regarding contested territories such as Welkait and Raya further expanded the rift between the two actors. Furthermore, the decision to dissolve regional Special Forces served as a major turning point. This action was met with fierce resistance from protestors who argued that the decision was untimely and would leave the region defenseless from potential attacks from Tigray and Oromia. A subsequent wave of street protests across the Amhara region was followed by the defection of close to 50% of Amhara regional Special Forces to the Fano armed groups.”

Foreign and Ethiopian analysts of the current Ethiopia’s Prosperity Party regime led war against Amhara often neglect to pinpoint the critical drivers of the conflict. Grievances among Amhara have been simmering for almost five decades. The Ethiopian “left” triggered ethnic politics when it propagated the “national question” as a core doctrine. The “left” and national liberation fronts that mushroomed singled out Amhara as the culprit. Amhara paid a huge price and continued to incur the wrath.

Adane identifies the “drivers of the conflict” and says the following:

‘The conflict in the Amhara region is driven by a combination of triggering factors and long-term grievances. Political discontent tracing back to 1991 served as a foundation for the ongoing conflict. In May 1991, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) introduced ethnic-based politics. Since then, ethnic politics has become the modus operandi in Ethiopia and served as a basis for the country’s existing federal arrangement and party politics.

From the start, the EPRDF regime and other ethno-nationalist forces used derogatory labeling and anti-Amhara narratives to mobilize other ethnic groups against the Amhara. Consequently, Amhara living outside of the Amhara region have long been subjected to pogrom-like attacks including harassment, massacres, and mass expulsions.”

This is the reason why “peace makers” have the responsibility to acknowledge the institutional and structural hurdles that bedevil the current Ethiopian state and government.

“In present-day Ethiopia, the Amhara believe that the existing constitution and ethnic-based territorial arrangement disregards their interest and safety. Amhara nationalists underscore that the narrations embedded in the country’s current constitution expose the Amhara to “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide.” They also argue that the existing ethnic-based federal arrangements have disfranchised and marginalized more than 10 million Amhara outside the Amhara region. Moreover, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s inability to prevent the killings and displacement of Amhara from Oromia and Benishangul Gumuz regions has sown distrust and lack of confidence in his administration. The Fano and the zone and local level officials of the Amhara region view the emergence of the Oromo Prosperity Party as a dominant force within the Prosperity Party and the Federal government as a threat that undermines the political and security interests of the Amhara people.”

If the state and government are inimical to the plight of Amhara, the victims, how do you pursue peace?

Ethiopian civil society leaders, spiritual leaders, political leaders, government sponsored commissions and diaspora groups have made huge efforts to advance political and peaceful settlement of conflicts in Ethiopia over several decades. In a section “Room for Peace,” Adane argues “Despite calls by civil society, religious institutions, and the international community for Ethiopia’s federal government to look for a peaceful end to the conflict, serious talks among relevant parties have yet to start. So far, the federal government maintains a conviction that the problem can be resolved through might. Parallel to the military approach, the government has attempted to reach out to local and provincial Fano leaders through elders and religious leaders. However, Fano forces have rejected local initiatives and demanded a negotiation platform convened by international actors.”

Abiy Ahmed’s government cannot have it both ways. It cannot call for peace and reconciliation while at the same time the regime is slaughtering Amhara with drones; annexing and incorporating Amhara lands into Greater Oromia; razing villages and towns; destroying economic and social infrastructure that cater to the indigenous Amhara population; and declaring and mobilizing its forces to crush the Amhara resistance movement and the like.

What do I suggest?

  1. The international community, especially, the government of the United States must call on Abiy Ahmed’s regime to pull out the military from the Amhara region without preconditions and immediately.
  2. The United Nations, the African Union, the European Union and IGAD must leverage their influence and call on weapons suppliers to Ethiopia to cease and desist from availing more weapons and spare parts to the Abiy regime. These weapons are killing innocent civilians. These weapons are destabilizing Ethiopia and the entire Horn of Africa.
  3. The UN Human Rights Council is duty bound to dispatch “The Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia” established by the Human Rights Council on 17 December 2021 and extended by another year at the earliest opportunity. These Experts must be allowed by the Abiy regime to conduct site visits in the Amhara region.
  4. The donor community must refrain from availing more development assistance to Ethiopia until the current civil war stops and peace and national reconciliation take place.
  5.  The international community and all Ethiopians must reject the “state of siege” imposed by Abiy Ahmed on the Amhara region. The sole and deliberate intent of this latest “state of siege is submission.
  6.  Ethiopian Scholars and activists must join and work on future scenarios for Ethiopia, including deliberations on a transitional government of national unity.
  7.  Amhara associations in the diaspora must commit themselves (we) to work from the same script and for the same strategic objective of advancing the Amhara cause.

October 4, 2023

I also urge you to listen to the below video in English and share it widely.

https://youtu.be/VXHyAYFN11k?si=T974PZg0Cb5W8Z0l

(Watch “The Sword of Abiy’s Prosperity Gospel & Oromo Nationalism”)

 

 

 

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