A real and unprecedented crisis that Ethiopia is currently witnessing as anti-government forces form an alliance against Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and the latter’s intransigence to accept any mediation, especially from the US, to calm the situation. The picture is complicated and events are intertwined to a degree that may be difficult to overcome except through the complete collapse of all the fragile Ethiopian state institutions.
When Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018, Ethiopia was already beset by ethnic divisions and major economic crises. In 2017, more than a million Ethiopians were forced to flee for reasons related to ethnic conflicts, and others linked to droughts and a significant lack of food and services in some areas. But Ahmed faced the big test when nearly 240 people were killed in the violence and protests that erupted in Ethiopia in July 2020, when ethnic clashes erupted as a result of the killing of the popular singer Hachalu Hundessa, who is considered by many members of the Oromo ethnicity to which Ahmed belongs as a symbol of their suffering from marginalization.
Since the second half of 2020 Ahmed’s government continued to be under great pressure from the Tigray nationalists who were most enthusiastic about the secession of the region. The separatist tendency increased further in September 2020 after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front challenged the decision of the federal government to postpone local elections to choose a new government for the region that was scheduled to be held in August due to the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, the elections were held on the tenth of September, which the central government in Addis Ababa considered an illegal act and a threat to national unity.
Now the situation is more complicated. We are witnessing for the first time the formation of a new political and military front in Ethiopia that brings together Ethiopian Tigrayan forces, the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and other armed and opposition groups in an alliance against Ahmed to seek a period of political transition after a year of devastating war.
The new alliance, which took place in Washington, includes the Tigrayan forces, which are fighting the Ethiopian and allied forces, in addition to the OLA, which is now fighting alongside the Tigrayan forces, and 7 other groups from across the country. The new coalition called the “United Front of the Ethiopian Federal Forces” seeks to “establish a transitional arrangement in Ethiopia” so that the Prime Minister can leave as quickly as possible. This is how the situation is currently managed in Ethiopia.
The fall of the city of Disi, located in central Ethiopia, at the intersection of the main roads linking the capital, Addis Ababa, and the rest of the cities and regions, also came to complicate the calculations of the Ethiopian Federal Army. This is because, with the fall of Disi, the Ethiopian army lost the most important point for the flow of supplies, especially to the Tigray region, which ignited the current war, which is the latest in a series of ethnic and political conflicts that the country has experienced for many years.
After the entry of the Tigrayan Liberation Front fighters with the Oromo forces to which Prime Minister Abi Ahmed belongs, and their sudden advance during the past two days in the Amhara regions – the main ally of Abi Ahmed – the Ethiopian government was forced to declare a state of emergency, amid fears of declaring a comprehensive war with catastrophic consequences on both levels. local and regional.
There are also great fears that Abi Ahmed’s Oromo ethnicity will ally against him with the Tigray. This fear is due to the state of restlessness that prevailed for a long time among the Abi Ahmed tribe, due to what they describe as repressive measures and arrests of political leaders belonging to this ethnicity, including Muhammad Jawhar.
Current developments may pose an even greater test for Abi Ahmed due to the local and regional complexities overlapping with many countries in the region. Observers believe that these developments will put the Ethiopian army in front of heavy resistance and long “attrition” operations.
In fact, the war that broke out in the Tigray region on the 4th of November 2020 was; Like a “snowball” that started to roll at breakneck speed. Although the Ethiopian government repeatedly declared its control over the regional capital, Mekele, and was able to secure several key areas in the region, the Tigray Liberation Front fighters were able to return because of the nature of the area that enabled them to take shelter in the mountains.
Relying on the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF), which is estimated at 140,000 personnel, to resolve matters on the ground in favour of the government is almost impossible. This is especially in light of the splits that occurred in the army. The outbreak of the Tigray war occurred, as a large number of the region’s residents withdrew from it, who made up a significant percentage in all its formations and units. There is also the most important factor, which is the rapid control of the forces of the Tigray and Oromo alliance over strategic areas in the depth of the Amhara region, on which Abi Ahmed relies a lot in resolving the war with the Tigray. Therefore, the coming days may witness dramatic changes that no one expected.
Dr Hatem Sadek is a Professor at Helwan University