Today what we see happening in Ethiopia is just another example of how forced assimilation without real benefit to the assimilated can lead to tragedy and de-evolution of society. My view of what the UN Secretary General said is that he and other world leaders now realize that Ethiopia will never return to what it was? I do not think this is much different then what the Tigray leadership feels about the future? They have purposed a referendum be held after the military engagement is ended for the people to decide whether they want to stay affiliated with Ethiopia or become “independent”.
The current regime of Abiy Ahmed has failed to create a peaceful coexisting multicultural state. The rhetoric of a vastly expansive nation of many ethnic groups existing for centuries you hear from Amhara elites about Ethiopia history is misleading. Most of the territorial expansion of Ethiopia where many subjugated ethnicity and religious groups were conquered occurred since the mid 19th century. They were different then the original Amhara and Tigray Semiticly derived populations. Frequently these groups have been a source of recurrent instability and rebellion. The dominant culture of the Amhara dictated language, religion, status, eligibility for education, political leadership, and development opportunities in the conquered regions.
The history of the world is full of stories of conquest and assimilation. Sometimes this assimilation is totally immersive and complete. For example the story of the exodus from Egypt really involved only a small group of Hebrews but was adapted to be a essential part of the whole Jewish history and tradition because of what it represented. Other times incomplete assimilation occurs where vital elements of the dominating culture are accepted by the minority to assure its well being or even survival. For example in the United States can American citizen can exist with cultural identity of a foreign nation. Unfortunately even in the USA this does not come with complete acceptance. The progressive ideals of the Western democracies have tried to create the concept of a “multicultural society” allowing many differences but sharing concepts of individual freedom and cultural identity. Unfortunately this has frequently fallen short of what is reality.
Just today we hear that severe fighting has broken out in Gondar between Amhara militia and Ethiopian National Defense Force fighters. Already numerous ENDF have been killed by Amhara forces when they wanted to surrender or retreat from the TDF. Thousands of Oromo people gather in the streets to celebrate the fast advancing and fast growing Oromo Liberation Army whose rises comes out of memory of being treated as second class citizens even slaves deprived of the opportunity to develop their homeland. Somali and Afar regions are going against the ancient rule that Muslim should not kill Muslim has the current chaos has brought to light again long standing feuds over water and land.
In summary, it appears the old Ethiopia will not return. Like Yugoslavia we will see a metamorphosis into a new collection of states who hopefully I pray when the fighting is over can find a way to live peacefully with each other.
Although Abiy Ahmed Prosperity Party supporters exuberantly welcome his medemer version of a national unity based upon the old model of Amhara elitism studies of the downfall of Yugoslavia just thirty years ago suggest it will similarly fall. Many of those who witnessed the Yugoslavia downfall today point to the fact that political elites tried to force their version of a unity identity while ignoring altogether ethnic and religious differences in the country.
This year marked the 30th anniversary of the breakup of Yugoslavia. What was known as Yugoslavia had several ethnicities including Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Although the different groups had similar “racial history” and language there were significant cultural as well as religious differences between the groups that were not “taken into account” in creating the Yugoslavian state in 1918 after World War I.
The monarchy gave way to a communist regime at the end of World War II during which many partisans were split between supporting the Allied and Axis powers. The new communist ideals fashioned under Josip Tito ignored language and ethnicity but instead claimed that a common goal of “self managed socialism” was the main contributing factor to a Yugoslavian nationality.
Historians have noted that the education system and cultural recognition mechanisms of the time did not present the presence of a “multi-cultural” society but only that a history of national unity from a common struggle defined the country.
Upon the death of Tito in 1980 the long standing denial of ethnic identities and their suppression gave way to overflowing cries of discrimination and favoritism. It is interesting that many who have studied this change remark that ethnicity itself was not the cause for change but the existing pattern of political elites of a few ethnic groups to claim their concept of national identity was superior to other groups ideals. Ethnicity became a tool of political power, oppression, and ultimately resulted in the killings of thousands.
Muslims, Christians, Catholics, Orthodox, Serbs, Montenegerins, Macedonian, Bosnians, Croates, and Slovennes all began to be polarized from each other. Even within groups there was division based upon how devoted one was to one’s own ethnicity or religion. In seeking recognition for their own religion it became a political tool for manipulation and oppression as well as ethnicity.
Abiy Ahmed who was once the representative in the Ethiopian Parliament for the Oromo region immediately north of the capital, Addis Ababa, made his early reputation as a mediator between religions and protector of Oromo rights to housing. However over the past two years he has found tremendous political support and power by realigning himself with mostly Amhara elites who have revived the concept of Ethiopia having an Amharic manifest destiny. Like those who tried to create a central unity in Yugoslavia he is supported by academics who speak not in terms of historical fact or scripture but in flagrant political language which proclaims this is the only manner in which Ethiopia as a nation can thrive. That this approach will lead to it becoming an international super power. No regard is given that while for last ten years it approached Gross Domestic Product Growth of almost 10% annually it is now in reality a -2% for this year and in unescapable debt.
As regards those who are not Amharic he is saying that they can be a “part” of this unity if they agree to suppress dissent on his approach. Whereas initially he called for a free press, release of political prisoners, and openness in political discussion this has been transformed to a tyrannical state where dissent is rewarded with a branding of “terrorist” that can lead to imprisonment, confiscation of assets, or even assassinations. Healthcare, banking, communication, food, security, and right to life are reserved for those who agree with the Abiy Ahmed version of medemer while others will be deprived.
Just as in Yugoslavia this strict acceptance of only the Prosperity Party ideal of being an Ethiopia has resulted in open rebellion in not only Tigray but also Beningshagul, Amhara (Qemont and Agaw), Oromo, Somali, Afar, and Gambella regions. The fastest growing revolt is occurring in the region of Oromia of his own ethnic group.
Noted authority on Ethiopia, Alex De Waal, wrote this week that Abiy Ahmed has turned up his rhetoric to excite his supporters while many other African leaders are increasingly shunning him. The United States previously the foremost supporter of Ethiopia finds itself having to impose sanctions because of overwhelming evidence of mass genocide. Both De Waal and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez both have indicated that they believe Abiy Ahmed is a risk of destroying Ethiopia if he does not change course. In an interview with Al Jazeera, the UN Secretary General stated that Ethiopia cannot defeat the Tigray forces.
Commanders in the Tigray Defense Army are now reporting in several Tigray media sites that atrocities suffered by the people of Tigray were committed by Beni Amir factions of the Eritrean Army. This news comes after many Eritrean army soldiers have been captured and interrogated.
Easily identified by their dialects and characteristic facial markings they are now being heavily implicated in the raping, ransacking, and killing which happened in Tigray and still happening in Western Tigray. TDA sources say that Eritrean soldiers were acting under orders from the Eritrean and Ethiopian command structure.
Witnesses to the killing of more than 80 civilians and priests at St. Mary’s Church in Axum, an important Ethiopian Orthodox shrine, toldAl Jazeera in February 2021 that many Eritrean soldiers had the dialect and facial markings of the Beni Amir tribe. Investigations by Amnesty International also report Eritrean Beni Amir soldiers committed many killings of civilians in Tigray.
Eritrea is semi-divided between Christians in the mountains and Muslim tribes in the valleys and periphery. Beni Amirs are a clan originally based in Sudan and present day Eritrea which traces its roots to at least the 15th century CE of the clan leader, Amer Ibn Kunnu. They have similar lineage to Kushites along the Nile River rather than the Tegaru people of modern day Tigray who are Semitic in origin. For centuries they were allied with Egypt and Sudan and then with the Italian colonists. They frequently have a facial scar on the cheek below the eye consisting of two lines which is different then the “eleven sign” of the Tegaru of Tigray.
A Beni Amir leader known as Awate (Hamid Idris Awate) who trained and served in the Italian Army is credited with starting the armed struggle for independence. Then Idris Mohammed Adem started the Eritrean Liberation Front in 1960.
A little more than 50% of the Eritrean population are Tigrinya (Semitic origin). While Beni Amir make up only a small percentage they have a long history of involvement with the Eritrean Army. Although initially in the 1970s the tyrant leader of Eritrea, Esaias Afwerki, was associated with the Christian Eritrean People’s Front which defeated their Muslim rival it now appears that Esaias who is now an atheist has created new bonds with at least a faction of the Beni Amir who have stayed in Eritrea serving in the military while many others left. They now have been reported as accepting Esaias Afwerki fascist ideology as their own.
The Beni Amirs were once cattle grazers but destruction of farmland drove them to city dwelling. Over the past century they have frequently been involved in land disputes and conflict between Sudan and Eritrea.
The supporters of Abiy Ahmed endorsed his inhumanity and cruelty in the election booth and are now paying the price of fostering division and tyranny.
In September 2020 in the midst of growing distrust of the Ethiopian Federal government and against the will of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed the Tigray Regional State held an election for its parliament.
Officials at the time noted that more than 90% of the eligible voters came out to vote for the 152 seats open in the 190 member regional parliament. All but 38 seats went to the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front. The closest contender to the TPLF was the Tigray Independence Party who wanted secession from Ethiopia.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed would declare this election illegal and the TPLF terrorists. Then Ethiopia in the midst of holding a war with Tigray as well as fighting insurgency in the Oromo region held an election in July 2021. This election did not include Tigray and two other regions. Many opposition groups in Oromia and other places boycotted the election saying the Prime Minister was controlling who could run. Abiy Ahmed supporters claimed an overwhelming victory that showed the country wanted to buy in to Abiy Ahmed’s false promise of medemer and unification. They endorsed his inhumanity and cruelty.
Meanwhile tens of thousands of women were raped, hundreds of thousands of civilians mutilated and killed, and millions more subjected to starvation, lack of health care, banking, and communication in Tigray.
Today the Tigray Defense Force, the Oromo Liberation Army, Agaw Liberation Army, and others are defeating Abiy Ahmed and Esaias Afwerki forces in Amhara and Oromia. I feel sorry for every civilian that is suffering as it is all unnecessary. But there is an important lesson here. Elections have consequences. Strong support for evil does not make it good. The suffering of the Amhara people now in the war has been brought on to a great extent by their own actions. Instead of sympathy for suffering of their fellow “Ethiopians” they and their leaders make fun of the injustice, mutilation, and death sanctified by them. Elections do have consequences!.
There is no doubt now that Ethiopia is now in an irreversible state of economic collapse and fragmentation under Abiy Ahmed’s government. Instead of addressing the everyday problems of the people he has caused millions to be displaced, killed, starving, and put Ethiopia in severe debt spending all the countries assets on a failed military adventure.
Everyday consumer items such as diapers, enjera, petrol, vegetables, clothes, etc. have doubled or tripled in price. People are waiting hours to buy a limited amount of fuel for their cars. Although the official government exchange rate of birr to dollar is 45 yesterday it was reported to be 67 and many forecasters predict it will approach 77 in the near future.
Although over 5 million are starving in Tigray it is now estimated that more than 1 in 4 Ethiopians are suffering food shortages. Locusts, war, changing rain patterns, displacement, lack of government funding for seeds and agricultural necessities giving way to war needs all will result in poor harvests for the foreseeable future. Abiy Ahmed has turned the whole government into a war machine neglecting the needs of noncombatants.
War and unrest in Oromia, million displaced in Amhara, and lack of hope for peace in the near future is killing any and all export trade. European and American sanctions on Ethiopian exports coupled with escalating prices on imports cannot be sustained much longer. Roads to Kenya and Djibouti are currently blocked by war impeding export and import to only air means. Growing world wide displeasure with Ethiopian Airlines is making it hard for the airline to make enough cash to pay off the monthly loans and leases on its aircraft. There are new calls from many African countries that they have been too dependent on one airline and now wish to develop others.
Noted Ethiopian scholar Alex De Waal in July noted that there are five mechanisms apart from military strategies that would play a role in the collapse of the Ethiopian state. Ethiopia’s decades of growing economic prosperity and development came to a screeching halt in November 2020 when after months of preparation the government of Abiy Ahmed decided to proceed with a plan to crush Tigray out of existence.
At this moment the area of influence of the Ethiopia federal government has significantly contracted. De Waal predicted that the federal government would become isolated, fragmented, and dissolve. Abiy Ahmed has ceded control of Western Tigray to Eritrea who will not likely just give it back. Armed rebellion has not only broken out in Tigray but now includes Gambella, Somali-Afar border where the two ethnic groups are fighting each other, Agaw of Amhara, Beningshagul, Qemont of Amhara, and very significantly in the Oromo region. The sphere of influence and control of the central Ethiopian government has contracted significantly from its status prior to November 2020.
More and more it is appearing in the views of many analysts that the Amhara region which is not held by the Tigray is beginning to function as an independent state. Amhara leaders including the Amhara National Movement are complaining that the Ethiopian Federal government cannot be relied upon to help the Amhara people. Tigray itself is now a defacto independent country.
Are Egypt and Sudan moving toward involvement in the Ethiopia Tigray conflict? Today respected Somali Journalist Bashir Hashi Yussuf tweeted that Egypt has been supplying weapons in flights to Sudan of humanitarian supplies intended for the Tigray to be used against Ethiopia.
I previously wrote about the deteriorating status of Ethiopian Sudanese relations. There is a very productive agricultural area the Sudanese call al-Fashaga and the Ethiopian’s call Mazega. Previously the TPLF leader Meles Zenawi had worked out a joint sharing agreement for its use. When Abiy Ahmed came to power the influence of the Amhara elites who claimed this area as theirs become vocal that it belongs to Amhara.
In March of this year the Ethiopian government had sent arms to a Sudanese insurgent group located along the Blue Nile which angered the Sudanese government in addition to Abiy Ahmed’s placement of soldiers in the disputed al-Fashaga region. Subsequently the Sudanese Ambassador was recalled for awhile but upon his return no agreement could be reached with the Ethiopian government.
The Egyptian government and its allies including Sudan have continued to bitterly complain that filling the Grand Renaissance Damn too fast will hurt the down river countries especially Egypt. Egypt and Sudan have signed a joint defense treaty and recently completed joint military exercises which many observers considered a warning to Ethiopia. As I said before some sources have told me that Egyptian press was publishing accounts that no military action should be taken until the outcome of the Tigray Ethiopian conflict was seen. Many believe a Tigray victory will yield a more understanding negotiation.
Just in the past month Eritrean opposition groups to Esaias Afwerki, leader of Eritrea and ally of Ethiopia in the Tigray conflict met in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, to discuss how they could remove the Eritrean government. Sudan has long standing problems with the Esaias regime regarding his support of the Grand Renaissance Damn and respect of Sudanese sovereignty.
An article written in Foreign Policy magazine in November 2020 predicted then that Sudanese involvement would predict the outcome of the Ethiopia Tigray conflict. Clearly if Egypt and Sudan support Tigray the odds of an Ethiopian defeat become higher.
If Ethiopia wants to avoid complete economic collapse it must sue for peace immediately. Even if the Ethiopian government wins a unlikely military victory in the next few months it is heading for unavoidable economic downfall. Ethiopia’s debt to Gross Domestic Product ratio will reach a record setting 70%. The country imports about $14 billion of goods per year, while it exports just $3.4billion. Analysts from the the United Nations and Trading Economics see the economy sinking fast without a chance to recover.
Thus even before the Ethiopian Tigray conflict increasing debt was building each year. As was widely reported Ethiopia with only two months funding left in its overall government funding received an IMF(International Monetary Fund) loan of $408 million in August 2021. With a normal $2 billion a year budget that would cover a little over 4 months. Recent reports of what the government is spending on military costs alone in the Tigray conflict cast even further doubt on Ethiopia’s economic survival
As reported by Europe External Program in Africa in February 2021 an initial payment of $500 million was made by Ethiopian Prime Minister to Eritrea before the invasion of Tigray by Eritrea in November 2020. Then following the exit of the Ethiopian forces from Tigray following the resurgence of the Tigray Defense forces another $500 million was demanded for Eritrea to stay in Tigray. This was likely paid through covert visits of high ministers to Dubai who took significant deposits of Ethiopian gold reserves to pay off Esaias to keep him in the war.
This week it was announced that Ethiopia would now agree to continue to pay 13,600 birr per soldier from Eritrea to Esaias every month. Assuming that there are 50,000 are in Western Tigray this means 680,000,000 birr per month being paid. Meanwhile Ethiopia pays most of its soldiers about 5,160 birr per month. Why is the Ethiopian government paying so much to foreign fighters and so little to its own soldiers? Assuming there are 200,000 soldiers in the Ethiopian forces that means 1, 032,000 birr per month in soldier pay.
Today sources released data Abiy Ahmed gave Turkey $51.6 million in just August for weapons when he met with Turkish President. This increases by another 10% the overall debt burden of Ethiopia. Many business owners are flocking to other countries to exchange birr for dollars and deposit them in banks outside Ethiopia this week.
Tigray’s growing period is generally 90 to 120 days long, depending on weather conditions in different areas. This stretches from June to September. Land preparation (ploughing) usually happens between March and July.
We investigated the status of ploughing from a distance because, due to the war, we couldn’t be present on the ground. Our main research tools were satellite imagery and telephone communications. This study covered March to early June 2021.
Sadly, our findings revealed a painful situation in which farmers try to grow crops, but they’ve lost many of their assets and fear for their lives. War conditions have made ploughing very challenging as oxen, used to plough farmlands, have been looted and deliberately killed. In addition, there was hardly any access to farm inputs such as seed and fertiliser, while farm tools have been destroyed by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers.
Crop cultivation in Tigray has a long history as settled agriculture started more than 3,000 years ago. This is reflected in the region’s high crop diversity, including endemic crops, such as the renowned tef cereal. Overall, farmers have small plots (less than a hectare in total). They mainly grow subsistence crops on rain-fed lands and cash crops on irrigated lands in narrow river valley bottoms.
Farmers in Tigray have modernised a lot over the last decades: they use mineral fertilisers and selected seeds and advice is mainly provided by the Office of Agriculture.
As a whole, we found that rainfall conditions in early 2021 were conducive to a normal planting season. However, we contrasted bird’s eye photographs with historical Google Earth imagery and saw that in early May, in comparison to previous years, less cropland had been ploughed.
To better understand why this was happening, we used 17 telephone interviews with key witnesses – all of whom who are well experienced within Tigray’s agricultural sector and have strong networks.
Challenges to farming
Several key reasons were given for why land wasn’t being prepared.
In many cases, soldiers – mostly mentioned were Eritrean soldiers who had entered Tigray as an ally of the Ethiopian forces – weren’t allowing farmers to plough their land. They told farmers, “we are here fighting to die, and you want to plough?”
Another reason was that young men, who would usually do most of the tillage work, left for fear of being killed. Some became fighters.
Having experienced atrocities, many young Tigrayans felt compelled to join the forces. A witness said:
The number of youngsters joining the Tigrayan Defence Forces per household may vary based on what happened in their surroundings (especially massacres, rape and destruction). In a village that I know well, almost all the young men joined after witnessing the indiscriminate killing of 13 people.
Even if farmers were “allowed” to farm, the absence of farm implements and inputs was often quoted as a major challenge. An agricultural expert in Mekelle said that:
Most oxen have been slaughtered or looted by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers. The Eritrean soldiers are not only disallowing farmers to plough but also burnt and destroyed their farm tools.
And a staff member of Mekelle University said that:
There are no farm inputs (seeds and fertilisers) available, and many oxen have been taken (without which ploughing is impossible).
Who farmed has also changed. Farmers feared that they’d be killed while ploughing. We were told that, in some places, during the daytime elderly people, women and children worked on the lands. Adult men worked at night and stayed in the village during the day because they were a target of the Ethiopian army and supporting Eritrean forces.
Still hope, but…
Farmers have been late with land preparation, but in June most rural areas came under the control of the Tigray forces. This meant that farmers could start working on their land again. Rural markets – where farmers bought or exchanged seeds – thrived.
Despite the difficult conditions, a big effort was made in June and July to prepare the land for crops. An analysis of True Colour Composite images (combining the red, green and blue bands of Sentinel satellite imagery) showed that, by June, most farmlands had been tilled at least once – the share of exposed dark earth was similar to that of 2019 or 2020.
But this wasn’t uniform across the region. Western Tigray, for instance, remains occupied by Amhara Special Forces and militia. Most farmlands have not been tilled and, on the satellite imagery, many display the typical reddish colour of the standing unharvested sorghum from last year.
We do have hope though for many farmers. Tigrayan smallholder farming systems are resilient. From interviews, we learned that farmers adapted by switching to crops that require minimal management and to fast-growing cereal landraces. Cereals require less human presence on the fields (as compared to tomatoes or onions for instance), hence less risk for the farmers to encounter soldiers and get killed.
Nevertheless, for many the last food that people had at hand has been consumed and the next harvest will only be in November. And we read that a fresh locust infestation is threatening.