The conflict turns against Abiy Ahmed

Eritrea Ethiopia Tigray

(Source: LE VIF) –

The entanglement in Tigray and accusations of ethnic targeting are ruining the Ethiopian prime minister’s idea of a lightning offensive carried out in the indifference of the international community, according to Sonia Le Gouriellec, a senior lecturer at the Catholic University of Lille (France). 

"Le conflit se retourne contre Abiy Ahmed"
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, from Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 to warlord against part of his people in 2021. © belga image

Did Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s concept of “unitary federalism” inevitably lead to an armed conflict with the Tigrayans? 

All federal states in the world are experiencing tensions between central power and regions. This is also the case in Belgium, I believe. In Ethiopia, the ethnic federalism set up by the charismatic Prime Minister Meles Zenawi (1995-2012) worked because he was authoritarian. On his death (Editor’s note: in August 2012, at the Saint-Luc hospital in Brussels),a transition began. It led to numerous demonstrations throughout the country because Ethiopians wanted to benefit from the dividends of the country’s economic development. Abiy Ahmed’s rise to power in April 2018 has given them great hope, especially among the Oromos from where he originates. They thought he was going to accede to their requests. Many were therefore surprised that he had this very unitary vision of federalism. First of all, the Tigrayans who, under the mandates of Meles Zenawi, had held power for thirty years and now felt marginalized. It was almost inevitable that the Ethiopian pressure cooker would explode at some point. There was a verbal escalation and a fallback by both for a year. The confrontation came in a political context aggravated by the health crisis. As the military theorist Clausewitz put it, “war is only the continuation of politics by other means.” That is exactly what happened. 

Doesn’t Abiy Ahmed take a lot of risks in this operation while he was full of the prestige of the Nobel Peace Prize? 

Yes, it is a disaster. At first, he was very smart. He took the pretext of the attack on a federal military base in Tigray by the Tigrayans to carry out his offensive. However, it had been under preparation for a few weeks. He launched it on the morning of the U.S. presidential election, a perfectly chosen timing so that one doesn’t get too interested in it. It was fast and lasted a month. But it has focused on cities and has not secured the countryside. It has therefore been prolonged into a guerrilla war. If the conflict had been limited to a month of fighting, it would have taken place in a certain international indifference. The problem is that the government army is getting bogged down. The conflict is dragging on. So the world is starting to worry about it and wonder what Abiy Ahmed is doing. Especially since this is not just a “police operation”. The conflict is an opportunity for genuine ethnic targeting, in Tigray, including rape, and as far as the capital Addis Ababa, where Tigray officials have been invited to stay at home and where police raids have targeted certain populations. The offensive in Tigray is indeed turning against Abiy Ahmed. I think he’s aware of that. 

Is there a possible way out of the crisis? 

Abiy Ahmed has set up another local government with more “soft” Tigrayans. All members of the TPLF must renounce their membership in this movement and join Abiy Ahmed’s new party. There remains still a big unknown. Does the TPLF have troops? What armament did it retain? Among its leaders, who was arrested, killed? I do not have the answers to those questions on which the duration and outcome of the conflict will depend. 


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