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.
In April 2018 Abiy Ahmed the new appointed Prime Minister of Ethiopia came to visit Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, with a message of hope, cooperation, and development. As a teenager in the Ethiopian Army he had served in the Tigray region and learned Tigrinya, the native language. He watched a circus show, sat with Tigray People Liberation Front leaders, and talked about a future together. Before his visit he had stated that it was time for a new era for all regions to work together. That the country should look forward and not be focused in the past.
He talked about infrastructure development including hydroelectric dams, a railroad project, the Mekelle water problem, giving support to private sector development , loans for investment, export support from the national bank, improving tourism, bringing public meter taxi for Mekelle, and a short lease proclamation for agriculture. None of these things ever happened.
Instead after his visit there came to be a movement in Ethiopia about the need to deal with the past. In late 2018, the Prime Minister created a Reconciliation Commission “to maintain peace justice, national unity and consensus as well as Reconciliation among Ethiopian Peoples.”
Discussion began about injustice under the Monarchy, the Derg, and the Ethiopian Peoples Democratic Front under whose auspices Abiy Ahmed came to power as a compromise between Amhara and Oromia factions. Soon however, this effort which lacked any clear mandate, become a mechanism for consolidating power.
By the 2019 budgets for the Tigray state which were calculated by population formulas used for all regions were beginning to be cut. Many former political leaders including those of the TPLF were sought out for arrest. Ethnic identity in the Amhara region, and other regions as well, which normally had about 10% Tigray became an issue. There were pushes which began subtilty but then became open and forceful causing many Tigray to leave other regions and move back to Tigray. Abiy Ahmed was using the usual formula for dictators by creating a Tigray strawman. He began to turn on even those who facilitated his rise namely Jawar Mohammed from Oromia.
On the occasion of the 2019 harvest and women’s festival Ashenda , Abiy Ahmed sent a message that Tigray culture was an important and vital part of Ethiopia. In a speech to Parliament he stated that the TPLF and Tigray leadership were examples to follow for other regions in Ethiopia.
The Tigray Ethiopia conflict which was the end result of almost two years of escalating actions against the Tigrayan ethnicity was touted as a “law enforcement action”. That the Ethiopian government was going to free the Tegaru people from the crimes committed against them by the TPLF. Instead with its expatriate Eritrean allies it looted, killed, raped, and stole from the very people Abiy Ahmed said he would “liberate”. Finally he sarcastically complained that he had to remove his army from Mekelle because the Tegaru were helping the Tigray government too much.
Today more than 300,000 Tegaru are suffering famine. Aid is being actively blocked by the Ethiopian government. Revolts are now active in Beningshagul, Afar, Oromia, Agew, Somali, and Gambella who also feel betrayed. Hope has been replaced to a fight for survival against a great betrayal.
Failure to timely resolve the Tigray Ethiopian conflict will kill the hope of Ethiopia emerging into a middle income country. The resurgence of the Tigray Defense Force and the refusal of the Ethiopian government to negotiate with Tigray’s leaders predicts a prolonged conflict triggering decline into a state of increasing poverty and dependency .
Most of the members of the United Nations clearly see that there is humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region of Ethiopia reminiscent of the previous famines. The clear obstruction of international aid and even communication to the region is perceived as mostly the fault of the Ethiopian government. The presence of the headquarters of the African Union as well the continental headquarters of the United Nations in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Ababa along with its frequent role as an intermediary in solving African conflicts stands in stark contrast to the “no negotiation” stand of the Ethiopian government.
The Tigray Peoples Liberation Front leaders have stated they wish to negotiate a peace on the following conditions: that restoration of its pre-war condition of semi-autonomy as called for in the Ethiopian constitution. All invading forces of Eritrea, Amhara, and the Ethiopian National Defense Force must leave Tigray. Blockage of power, fuel, food, travel, banking, and communication would be ceased. The 1991 borders of Tigray would remain unchanged. A decision on whether to stay a part of Ethiopia or become independent would be decided by referendum. Those who committed war crimes must be brought to trial.
The increasing isolation of the Ethiopian government from the international community has implications for the welfare of its people and economic growth. The highly touted visit of Samantha Power, recognized genocide expert and now head of the USAID, was basically shunned by the Ethiopian Prime Minister and his ministers. She accused Ethiopia of “brutal treatment of Tigray.. that personal issue were favored over national issues”.
During her brief one day stay she found 58,000 metric tons of international aid stored in a warehouse in Addis Ababa which apparently the Ethiopian government had no plans to distribute.
The United States, Britain, and the European Union have called for withdrawal of Tigray forces from outside its traditional borders present prior to the this conflict as well as withdrawal of Eritrean and Ethiopian forces out of Tigray. Much of what the Western democracies are calling for is similar to the Tigray conditions. All parties must cooperate with the flow of aid to Tigray and the restoration of power and communication.
The reality is that the crisis of Ethiopia is not just in Tigray. At this point the Ethiopian birr is trading at 75 birr per US dollar which is a historic high. Inflation is over 40% for this year alone. Huge multibillion dollar deficits exist between Western countries and China with Ethiopia. The economic output from the country does not meet its import needs of food, fuel, and basic materials for industrial and agricultural development. According to the World Bank Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world with a real per capital income of only $850 pear year. Although its annual rate of growth has been positive this is a false indicator because the denominator is so low. Before the Tigray conflict 1 in 4 Ethiopians was requiring international food aid to survive. The continuous waves of COVID-19 in a country with minimal hospital resources and vaccination have further impeded its attempt improve the lot of its people.
Rebellion against the Ethiopian government is not just in Tigray. The attempt to consolidate power into a single political party, the Prosperity Party, coinciding with a movement towards a national Ethiopian identity has incited opposition in almost every region. As I previously wrote about this identity is more accepted by the Amhara ethnic group and others who are educated in Addis Ababa. Much of the opposition not just in Tigray is a really a revolt to oppression of the national identity felt by the regional states.
When you combine the effect of ongoing poverty, war, pandemic, and political struggle for identity it is hard to see a bright economic future. In the current global environment of cautious economic growth where the only major gains have come upon a greater reliance of internet transactions it seems likely that Ethiopia will have a difficult time participating. Ethiopia has very poor communications. Only 40% of Ethiopians have a cell phone or any phone and 20% have any connection to the internet. The internet present in Ethiopia is very slow and very expensive.
Millions of people from Tigray, Amhara, Afar, and the Southern regions of Ethiopia are now displaced by ethnic conflict. The locust swarms of the past year caused by an usual wet season added to a severe reduction in harvests that feed the population and sustain farming families who make up 90% of the economic output of Ethiopia. Even before the Tigray Ethiopia conflict the need for food aid was rising.
Prime Minister’s bold claims that Ethiopia will emerge as a superpower rivaling China and the United States by 2060 and the dominant force of Africa in this decade are obvious fantasies. Instead it seems likely that failure to resolve the war will add to the general decline of Ethiopia into a state of stagnation, increasing dependency, and misery. The author hopes the Tigray leaders and the Ethiopian Prime Minister will cooperate with finding a solution for the benefit of all parties.