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‘How Ethiopia Reached the Brink of Civil War’

  • Category
    World Affairs
  • Published
    16th Nov, 2020

Ethiopia is on the brink of civil war, threatening the stability of one of the world’s most strategic regions,

Context

Ethiopia is on the brink of civil war, threatening the stability of one of the world’s most strategic regions, the Horn of Africa, and the fracturing of one of the continent’s most powerful and populous countries.

About

  • Ethiopia is Africa's oldest independent country and its second largest in terms of population.
  • Apart from a five-year occupation by Mussolini's Italy, it has never been colonised.
  • It has a unique cultural heritage, being the home of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church - one of the oldest Christian denominations - and a monarchy that ended only in the coup of 1974.

Some key dates in Ethiopia's history:

  • 4th century - Christianity becomes the state religion.
  • 1855-1868 - Reign of Emperor Tewodros II, who lays the foundation for the modern Ethiopian state.
  • 1896 - Invading Italian forces are defeated by Ethiopians at Adwa.
  • 1935-1941 - Italy deposes Emperor Haile Selassie and annexes Ethiopia, before being driven out by British, Commonwealth and Ethiopian forces.
  • 1962 - Haile Selassie annexes Eritrea, which becomes an Ethiopian province.
  • 1974 - Haile Selassie overthrown in military coup after government fails to deal with famine.
  • 1977-79 - Thousands are killed in "Red Terror" orchestrated by Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam.
  • 1984-85 - Another serious famine devastates much of the country.
  • 1991 - Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front deposes Mengistu. Meles Zenawi establishes stability and achieves considerable economic progress in his 19-year authoritarian rule.
  • 1993 - Eritrea becomes independent.
  • 1999-2000 - Ethiopian-Eritrean border war.
  • 2018 - Abiy Ahmed becomes prime minister and launches reform programme at home. Ends state of war with Eritrea.

How has the conflict started in Tigray?

  • The leaders of Tigray dominated Ethiopia for many years until Mr Abiy came to power in 2018 on the back of anti-government protests and curbed their influence.
  • The conflict escalated in September, when Tigray held local elections in insubordination of the Ethiopian federal government.
  • These elections were considered “illegal” by the federal government, further leading to conflict with Tigray authorities.
  • Conflict between Tigray authorities and the federal government can be traced to when Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018.
  • The Tigray region is wealthier than other parts of the country, and more importantly, has a well-trained army.
  • The authority of the Tigray officials has considerably reduced since Abiy took office, making their waning influence a point of contention.
  • The structure of Ethiopia’s federal system allows the country’s ten regions significant autonomy.
  • These regions also have their own parliaments, their own security forces, and the right to a referendum for independent rule.

What consequences for the rest of Africa?

  • Few regions are more vulnerable than the Horn of Africa.
  • Ethiopia’s neighbours include Somalia- Ethiopian forces have reportedly begun withdrawing from that country to return home and Sudan, facing its own huge political transition.
  • Neighbouring Eritrea has shown little sign of opening up after making peace with Ethiopia in 2018, and its government and the Tigray one don’t get along.
  • A conflict could suck in these countries and others not far from the most strategic military outpost in Africa, tiny Djibouti, where several global powers including the US and China have their only military bases on the continent.
  • The Horn of Africa is also a short water crossing away from Yemen and the rest of the Arabian Peninsula.
  • Ethiopia already was drawing concern over a dispute with Egypt over a huge dam Ethiopia is completing on the Blue Nile.

What is at stake?

  • For Africa's second-most populous country and Ethiopia's more than 100 million citizens, particularly for those living in Tigray, the latest events may deepen the sense of distrust for the federal government and the prime minister.
  • A stable Ethiopia is crucial to the restive Horn of Africa region.
  • Ethiopia has received hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid and military assistance and has been a key ally of the US in combating extremist groups in neighboring
  • For now, the US, one of Abiy's key foreign allies, appears to back the prime minister's stance on the alleged TPLF attacks.
  • But Abiy's real problem since coming to power hasn't been losing friends abroad -- it's been making enemies at home.
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