Failure to negotiate a peace will drive Ethiopia into dependency and economic stagnation

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”.

Samantha Power in Addis Ababa finds store of aid

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.

Tigray Defense Force using weather to win


There is heavy rainfall in the mountainous regions of Ethiopia during the summer months from the book, Nile River Basin :Ecohydrological Challenges, Climate Change and Hydropolitics Chapter: 6 Publisher: Springer Science Publisher

The rapid movement of the Tigray Defense force in recapturing Tigray and moving into the Amhara region is due to their successful understanding of fighting in the mountains during the rainy season. The Tigray-Ethiopian conflict is centered in Northern Ethiopia which for the most part is a very mountainous regions. From June through September especially in the mountains is the rainy season called Kiremt . It has been known for centuries that weather must play a role in how a war is fought if it is to be won.  In 1917 the Harvard Climatologist, Robert Ward, wrote about the effect of weather on World War I being fought in Europe. He said “ war does not make the weather but weather does make the war” 

The soldier must have weather protection, be able to move to contact the enemy efficiently , and have functional armament. He must be disciplined and trained to make difficult maneuvers. The added stress of fighting the elements as well as the enemy requires that the will to fight is present. The surrender of enemy forces now numbering over 30,000 to the Tigray Defense Force demonstrates this factor is with the Tigray Defense Force. The video attached shows the TDF marching on foot through a city near Lalibela in the cold rain. Many of the fighters do not have uniforms but they have multiple layers of clothing and rain gear which often the ENDF does not have.

The current rapid movement of the Tigray Defense Forces through the northern Amhara region is an example of military tactics made with weather in mind. Soldiers must be trained and equipped in a way that they can move through mountainous and often slippery terrain efficiently. During much of the year in Northern Ethiopia valleys and low points are dry but during the rainy season can be transformed to rivers. There are few good highways so often corridors of travel may be little more than a dirt path which can become so muddy that it becomes to difficult to even move in it.

Tigray Defense Forces crossing a seasonal wash in the mountains of the Amhara region

The frequent rain and thunderstorms curtails the ability of the Ethiopian forces to move their troops by airplane or helicopter. It also makes it difficult to carry out airstrikes with any precision. The placement of artillery units becomes difficult because they get stuck in the mud or cannot be placed accurately. The Tigray Defense forces tend to move over mountain trails in unexpected directions making it difficult for the Ethiopian forces to pursue or track them in the weather.

Whilst the TDF moves on foot through mountains the ENDF prefers to use trucks on highways that are passable during the rainy season making it easy to guess where they will pass. They practice poor convoy management in their movement to contact which is why they are so often ambushed successfully by the TDF.

Physicians duty in war

A woman is taken to Ayder Referral Hospital, in Mekelle, after an airstrike in Togoga, Ethiopia’s Tigray region June 22, 2021. Picture taken June 22, 2021. Tigray Guardians 24 via REUTERS

Being in the middle of the Tigray-Ethiopian conflict for three months and now following it I have pondered about were do health care workers duties fit into this all too common human situation. In the midst of war questions may come up about what are called conflicts of dual loyalty for doctors. However physicians of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faith recognize that they have a duty to their patients be they ally or enemy. This ethic goes back to the times of the medical scholars Hippocrates, Maimonides, and Al-Ṭabarī.

Religious medical scholars on ethics of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths

The Jewish rabbi physician Maimonides in discussing his interpretation of the Jewish law in the Mishneh Torah said that everyone who found anyone missing a possession should have it returned to him. That included health which meant physicians had to treat all comers including those of different faith and ethnicity. He said “ On the basis of this reasoning, the art of medicine is given a very large role with respect to the virtues, the knowledge of God, and attaining true happiness. To study it diligently is among the greatest acts of worship.”

Religious medical scholars on ethics of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths have given a very large role with respect to the virtues, the knowledge of God, and attaining true happiness.  Al-Ṭabarī , Islamic and medical scholar, expanded upon Hippocrates incorporating Islamic principles found in the  Qur’an of dignity of the individual, charity, dutiful study of the healing arts, and faith playing a role in the formation of a good healer.

Christians are familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan where Jesus tells the story of an abandoned injured man presumable a Jew on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem a place of frequent violence who was ignored by a Jewish priest and a Levite. Traditionally there was hatred between Samaritans and Jews but when a Samaritan encounters him he decides to render him aid and pays his expenses to recover in an inn. Jesus demonstrates charity when asked Who is my neighbor? The response is that all men are our neighbors (All men are a part of God’s loved creation?)

The Islamic faith has long seen medical practice has having an intimate relationship with their faith. A good physician is a faithful one who shows mercy and charity to all men. Incorporating their beliefs into a commonly used oath of which a partial quote is “The doctor will protect human life in all stages, in all circumstances and conditions, and will do his utmost to rescue it from death, disease, pain, and anxiety. He will extend his medical care to the near and the far, to the virtuous and the sinner and to friend and enemy.”

There is a shared believe among the descendants of the covenant that Abraham made with God so many centuries ago that physicians have a common ethic to care for all who are in need.

Although  health care providers around the world have been consistent in following this universally accepted moral imperative especially since the medical experimentation done by the Nazis the same cannot be said about the destruction of medical facilities and killing of health care workers. Although the United Nations and member countries have signed multiple treaties forbidding these actions.  Despite these diplomatic measures ongoing research has shown their progression.

In Ethiopia during the onset of the Tigray-Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict I spoke with physicians and nurses who had to escape military bombardment and ransacking of medical facilities in Humera, Axum, Adigrat and other places often killing both staff and patients. One wonders what if any consequences will come of these illegal war crimes?