Ethiopia: Why aren’t we paying attention? – Liberal Article
On 3 November, Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, declared war on the renegade province of Tigray. With the world focused on the US Presidential election, barely anyone noticed. PM Abiy’s actions, however, risk plunging Ethiopia, and the ‘Horn of Africa’ region, into a devastating and intractable war.
But why does this conflict, which pits the Ethiopian government against a small separatist group in the country’s northern reaches, matter so much? On the face of it, it seems like just another far-flung skirmish.
But the stability of Ethiopia, Africa’s second largest country, is crucial to peace in Eastern Africa. If this current crisis threatens that stability, it could set off a devastating chain reaction that would send Eastern Africa into chaos.
Consequently, the international community, including the UK, US and EU, should be treating this matter with the utmost urgency. So far, the Ethiopian government has resisted international calls for dialogue. Diplomatic pressure must be ramped up before it is too late.
But, why is this crisis so important?
The political situation in Ethiopia is highly complex and has been deteriorating for some time. I have addressed the political dimensions of the crisis in more detail elsewhere, but here I want to draw attention to four of the biggest reasons that this conflict could be so consequential.
- The Potential for a Full-Scale Ethiopian Civil War
Abiy’s decision to invade Tigray on 3 November means that the country is in a state of civil war. The struggle with Tigray is unlikely to be brief. The region is highly militarised, and battle-hardened by its recent history of conflict. In addition, its mountainous terrain makes it extremely difficult to attack.
This means that on the Tigrayan front, there could be prolonged friction, lasting months or even years. Even more worrying is the prospect of multidimensional conflict. Ethiopia is a deeply divided country, and recent unrest among ethnic and regional separatist groups has been growing increasingly violent.
Conflict with Tigray could add fuel to the ideological fire of these movements, while also drawing the army away from ‘problem’ areas. If this separatist unrest becomes a full-fledged rebellion, Ethiopia will descend into abject chaos.
- Eritrean Involvement
Internationally, the most immediate geopolitical concern is the involvement of Eritrean troops. Tigray makes up about half of Eritrea’s southern border, and after 25 years of fighting over that border, there is no love lost between Eritreans and Tigrayans.
After last year’s peace agreement, Eritrea is allied with Ethiopia. Unsurprisingly, given their deep hatred of Tigray, they have jumped at the chance to participate in this offensive and already have committed troops.
At best, the internationalisation of the conflict increases both its scale and complexity.
At worst, Eritrea could use the war to pursue its own interests. They could, for instance, capitalise on Ethiopian infighting by moving to reclaim territory that they believe to be theirs. Such action would totally derail the fragile alliance between the two nations, reigniting an age-old conflict.
- The Stability of Somalia
Crucial to bear in mind, another factor is the potential impact on Somalia. There have already been reports that Ethiopian soldiers have been pulled out of Somalian zones.
So, what does it mean if this continues? It could spell disaster for the African Union’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the Somalian Government. Heavily reliant on Ethiopian troop support, both could be in dire straits if that support vanishes.
If Somalia does become destabilised, this could, according to one analyst, ‘open the floodgates’ for al-Shabaab – a radical Islamist group that has been responsible for many of Africa’s most devastating terrorist attacks.
- Sudan and Egypt
Potentially, a number of other regional powers may be sucked into the conflict, if it suits their national interests. A threat to their political transition process, there is already evidence of Sudanese involvement.
Another crucial dynamic could be the ongoing dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile in Northern Ethiopia. Unabashedly, the Egyptians have not held back from expressing their opposition to the dam, which is seen as a move to control Egypt’s main water source.
Negotiations, which involve Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia, restarted in October. If these begin to falter, Egypt could provide support to Tigray or other internal enemies of the government, in order to improve their own negotiating position.
The Need for Action
As a result of PM Abiy’s warmongering, the security of millions is under threat. Sudanese authorities say they are already unable to cope with the vast numbers of refugees already crossing the border from Tigray.
Peace is on a knife-edge in Ethiopia and the wider region. Yet how has the international community responded? Mostly in silence.
For humanitarian, economic and security reasons, diplomatic intervention is needed, and it is needed as soon as possible.
At present, as one diplomat said, ‘international actors are too distracted by multiple crises’ elsewhere. If decisive diplomatic action is not taken immediately, suffering and displacement in the region will spiral out of control.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Anthony Morris
Point of Information
The same mistake must not be made like the Rwandan Genocide – A Conservative Response
I commend Anthony for raising an extremely disturbing situation taking place in Ethiopia. I strongly believe that this situation should be dealt with collectively by a group of nations, whether a UN response or a collaboration between multiple forces.
It is unacceptable that nothing has been done thus far. However, it is difficult to act on these situations so quickly. We want to avoid rash decisions similar to those of the Rwandan Genocide, where there was a lack of accountability, expertise and focus.
It is crucial that the UK government, along with other UN member states, continue to address and assess the unfolding events in Ethiopia. Full support should be given to the UN to carry out interventions when deemed appropriate. UN member states such as the UK should not hold back their support and adequate funding. Resources should be made available to help those desperately in need. Against their own accord, this crisis has seen thousands displaced and many innocent people killed.
Intelligence needs to be gathered for assessment before carrying out a full-scale operation. Otherwise, this could provoke an outcome that opposes the desired aims. The UN member states must get this right. For this reason, I do call the Foreign Secretary, the Rt. Hon. Dominic Raab, to ensure that adequate resources are made available to the UN and that operations are carried out to protect the population of Ethiopia.
Written by Junior Conservative Writer, Max Jablonowski
Greater pressure could lead to a more urgent response – A Labour Response
Anthony’s article expertly sheds light on the urgent situation in Ethiopia; the Prime Minister’s declaration will prove to be overwhelmingly devastating if it continues to lack attention from the international community. I applaud him for tackling an extremely important issue that has otherwise been neglected.
Admittedly, I have barely seen any coverage of the crisis on mainstream media and news outlets. I initially found out about it through social media and only then, after doing some further research, did I truly understand the extent of the situation. This lack of public awareness is a problem in itself.
So perhaps social media can help in spreading such awareness. But there is also the question of how much of this reporting is ‘surface-level’ or ‘performative’? This is something we see far too much of today.
I have mentioned before that with many global crises and protests, a lot of noise is made initially, but it is very rarely sustained. We cannot allow that to be the case with Ethiopia. Once people hear about the Ethiopian crisis, they must aim to spread awareness, and attempt to pressure the international community. If Anthony’s article tells you anything, it is that a response to this crisis cannot be half-hearted.
Awareness and noise can be incredibly beneficial here, but only if it is sustained beyond the ‘surface-level’. An urgent reaction from the international community is indispensable – I hope greater awareness will further pressure these actors for a response.
Written by Co-Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo
I am Max Jablonowski, a second year student studying French and Politics at the University of Exeter, and I am about to go on my year abroad to Paris to complete two internships. I was Academic Events Manager of the Politics Society in Exeter and I was privileged enough to organize events such as Question Time, co-host the 2019 General Election Hustings with MWEXE and host the Rt. Hon. James Brokenshire MP, the current Minister of State for Security.
I’m Abi! I am a liberal, political enthusiast from the Welsh valleys. Since I was young, I have been captivated by politics. I used to spend so much time watching the morning news before school, and have paid close attention to political campaigns for as long as I can remember. It was a lot later that I decided I wanted to pursue politics academically. Now, I have just finished my second year studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Exeter.