Ethiopia: Where the Centre Cannot Hold

30 November 2021

The viability of any state depends on whether its centripetal (unifying) forces outweigh its centrifugal (dividing) ones. The former includes government efforts to build infrastructure, provide services, and strengthen borders, as well as efforts to persuade citizens to buy into the idea of the state--whether by promoting a shared national culture, language, economy, or other unifying visions. The latter includes large or unwieldy territory, weak infrastructure, lack of resources, and entrenched ethnic or social divisions. Ethiopia seems to be reeling under the weight of the latter.

Ethiopia has been in conflict with itself since the time of the first Emperor. Of these festering conflicts, the recent one in Tigray has been the most destabilizing, because it has torn apart the governing alliance that has ruled Ethiopia since 1991. The war pits Abiy's government (the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front - EPRDF -) against the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which once dominated Ethiopia's government but has raised a formidable rebel army and now seeks to conduct a referendum to determine the future of Tigray and to secure greater autonomy. Its forces have overrun Amhara and Afar regions and taken thousands of government forces prisoner.

Even more troubling for Abiy's government, Tigrayan forces have begun coordinating with the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), which has intensified a long-running insurgency and is closing in on the capital from the southwest. Speculations are that both rebel movements may join together with other opposition groups to forge an anti-Abiy alliance under the banner of the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist Forces.

The implosion of Ethiopia has very dire consequences for the region and Africa. as a whole. Remember, Ethiopia hosts the headquarters of the African Union. None of the confederate regions can survive as a viable entity. It is against this background that the international community owe it a duty to ensure the integrity and oneness of Ethiopia. Obviously, some geo-political interests may be at play here. Naturally, Sudan and Egypt should be happy that Ethiopia is in turmoil. The construction by Ethiopia of the Renaissance Dam had caused diplomatic row in recent past, yet to be resolved. The US is seen trying to empathize by sending the Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, to team up with Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, in a bid to soften issues. Meanwhile, Nigeria's former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, is tasked by the African Union to attempt some mediatory efforts.

Africa should be able to use all arsenals under its might to try and solve the Ethiopian crisis. Africa understands the problem better. The canvass of the problem, its trajectories, and the journey in conflict, traversed so far by Ethiopia, are more familiar to Africa than to any other outside forces. Most interventions from outside, be it diplomatic or kinetic force, have usually some geo-political undertones - Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, etc., are cases in point. In most instances, under the guise of humanitarian intervention, and applying the loud trumpets of the international media, the international community (especially the West) confound the issues and create more chaos. In this guise, the United Nations may even be used. Invariably, the situation gets exacerbated and blame is put on incompetent, corrupt leadership. But note it that, since 1991, Ethiopia had seen some stability and giant economic progress. The EPRDF, the coalition of which the TPLF was a part, had made giant enviable progress. Will Africa look on when its capital Addis Ababa goes into ruins? Please, let us not leave the resolution to the West or the Americans or to any others, whose only interest may be one of geopolitical gains.

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