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.
With less than 2 months of funds left to run the government Ethiopia has been given a temporary reprieve from the International Monetary Fund of $408 million. The medemer reform of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his Properity Party which quickly turned to oppression and challenge to conventional economic norms has failed to create the celebrated economic growth of the previous regime under the late Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front which espoused the developmental democratic state concept.
Prior to Abiy Ahmed taking power in 2018 Ethiopia’s growth averaged over 9% from 2004 to 2019. Poverty declined from 46% in 1995 to 24% in 2016 as industry’s share of output rose from 9.4% in 2010 to 24.8% in 2019. However beginning in 2020 economic growth rapidly declined to now be less then 2%. Additionally the war prosecuted by Abiy Ahmed increased the government budget by 200%. Even if the war ends tomorrow it may take 10 years to get an economic recovery.
Although the Ethiopian economy was driven in a different direction then that recommended by Western financial analysts still the Ethiopian industrial plan under the EPRF before Abiy Ahmed saw manufacturing grew by 10% yearly during 2005-10, and by 18% during 2015-17. However once Abiy Ahmed took power, internal displacements increased throughout Ethiopia. The war prosecuted has also turned away most international investors and resulted in historical lows of the value of the birr.
Absence of clear central bank policies driven by economic rather political goals, lack of privatization, strictly regulated fuel and commodity prices, and the faulty “float system” of currency valuation are factors persisting in the financial policy under Abiy Ahmed which analysts note contribute to the progressive economic failure.
Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia and head of his self created Prosperity Party, to many rather than bringing a new vision which encourages development of a universally accepted national unity has instead re-aggravated old flames. His inability to escape internal colonialism, a recurring theme in Ethiopian politics, may be the straw that broke the camel’s back in breaking up the Ethiopian empire.
The rise of Abiy Ahmed was propelled first by the strong calls for inclusivity of the Oromia who make up at least 30% of the Ethiopian population in government. However the initial enthusiasm in cooperation was tempered when a division of the goals developed between many Oromia leaders and the Prime Minister was created. The Prime Minister switched allegiances to the Amhara elites who argued for a more traditional Amhara led model of government giving more power to the central government and less to the regional states. Even though currently the Tigray “rebellion” gets the most national attention there now opposition groups many of which are carrying out armed insurrection in most of the regional states of Ethiopia.
Internal colonialism is a reoccurring theme in the struggle for control of the Ethiopian federal state. We often hear the term colonialism and see it most commonly applied as an external phenomena referring to the history of European powers attempts to colonize and control African states over the past two centuries but internal colonialism especially in the case of the Ethiopia, a country which claims it has never been colonized by an outside nation, is one of the dominant forces against sustainment of peace in a empire of many nations.
In 1925 Adolph Hitler described the concept that Germany as an integral part of Europe, had the right to acquire adjacent lands that were poorly utilized and under populated as a result of the unfair treaties ending World War I in 1925. He saw his ethnic group as a part of greater Europe who by right of superiority which was inherent in their nationality had not only the right but the obligation to take control of his neighbors. A description of this type of justification for political action would wait until many years later.
Although first used briefly to describe the situation in South African apartheid in 1957 this concept becomes well defined by the Mexican sociologist, Pablo González Casanova, in his 1965 book, Democracy in Mexico where he defined internal colonialism as a result of the structure of social relations and exploitation between heterogeneous cultural groups. Although the term is named “internal” he notes the effect of outside powers global and regional does have an effect on this interaction. Traditional social struggle theory as one between classes such as in Europe and the United States is not the only relevant or maybe even predominant factor. Patrimony and oligarchy tend to develop in the push to create strong capitalist systems to engender economic viability of the state. Paulo Henrique Martins , French scholar has described that there is a relationship between social, political, and intellectual imagery that develops and helps steer political action by the dominate group over the lesser ones.
A well known phenomena commonly seen in developing countries as noted by the World Bank is that their capital cities tend to develop much faster then the rest of the country. I have written about how the Addis Ababa identity differs significantly than that of the rest of the Ethiopia. Peter Calvert has described how this accelerated growth of cities and its effects on the surrounding area becomes the center of power, identity, and social action. It should be noted that Ethiopia is most rural country in world (90%) such that Addis Ababa with a population of 4 million in a country with 110 million represents barely 0.4% of the population. As I have previously written the growth of other cities and universities is beginning in other regional states but they have little political impact.
Ethiopia was ruled by Amharic royal for centuries until attempted coups began in 1960 ultimately leading to a socialist communist takeover in 1974 called the “Derg” or worker’s party which was heavily supported by the Soviet Union. It was quite repressive although ideally not specifically linked to any particular ethnic group. Then a popular uprising revolted against the Derg leading to new leadership lead by the Tigray Liberation Peoples Front in cooperation with other ethnic fighter groups. Following the death of Melez Zenawi in 2012 uprisings in the Oromia and Amhara regions eventually lead to the placement of Abiy Ahmed, a half Oromia, half Amhara as the Prime Minister in 2018.
Although initially promising free speech, welcoming of opposition groups, political prisoner release, free press, and creating a new political party based upon a unifying national identity all was short lived. He went on to imprison Oromia allies who helped bring him to power, made dissent illegal by person or press, outlawed the leaders of the Tigray regional state calling them terrorists and finally invaded Tigray with the help of an old enemy Eritrea.
When you look at Ethiopia it is a tough region in which to thrive. There is very little water for agriculture and very little land which is really productive for food. The term internal colonialism was used by Oromia opposition groups against the TPLF during their dominance as they felt the federal government was interfering too much in land use and distribution decisions. Similarly the area of Western Tigray which is also very fertile has increasingly been claimed by Amhara elites.
As I previously discussed there has never been a strong claim of a national unity except by the Amhara peoples. Many other groups continue to claim national ethnic identity that trumps their Ethiopian identity. Those who are more educated and/or spent significant time living or being in university in Addis Ababa are more likely to see their Ethiopian identity over their regional one.
Meles Zenawi the late leader of the TPLF developed the concept of the democratic developmental state. This was based in large part in how South Korea recovered following World War II and the Korean conflict where at first their was a military oligarchy that had a first priority to create an infrastructure and lead business initially but then over time would allow more economic Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). freedom of private interests but with significant government input. Although there was a vision of a coalition of nations in forming the government via Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) Meles realized that there was in fact a danger of internal colonialism taking root. The argument of one nation versus a confederation of nations was continued by opposition groups which magnified upon his death in 2015.