The Ethiopian response to the Tigray insurgency is not a winning strategy

The Tigray insurgency plan has a considerable chance for success when compared with many previous historical fights.  Insurgency against an established governmental institution have happened since prehistoric times. Scholars in schools of war and government policy have studied these occurrences to see if there are factors which can reliably predict who will prevail? Certain patterns emerge from these studies.

Map of the studied 59 cases of insurgency in the world

Of the past 59 cases of insurgency across the globe those occurring in Africa more than the other regions have tended to favor the insurgent force.

When we apply this type of analysis to the Ethiopia Tigray conflict we find there are some important factors which favor Tigray and go against Ethiopia prevailing with a successful counter insurgency plan.

  1. Allowing the Tigray to switch from a guerrilla type of warfare to conventional warfare. The resurgence of Tigray from being trapped in mountains with only rifles to functioning as an army was an important step towards potential victory.
  2. The large component of experienced professional fighters in the Tigray Defense Force. Upwards of 75% of the experienced officers and all important noncommissioned officers of the pre-existing Ethiopian Army are now fighting with Tigray Defense Force. Many of the leadership of the current Ethiopian National Defense Force were defeated by the the same Tigray leadership in the Derg war.
  3. Ethiopia applying an “iron fist” of repression ethnic punishment. Case after case has shown that ethnic cleansing and repression builds support for the insurgency. A resilient fighting force with determination and high morale is created.
  4. Ethiopian failure to include motives for negotiation and wither Tigray support. Offers to negotiate a peace take the power away from insurgents and tend to favor the government. Abiy Ahmed’s refusal to negotiate goes against conventional wisdom in dealing with insurgency.
  5. Ethiopian reliance on a foreign nation to successfully fights it battles. The requirement of Eritrean support ex parte portrays weakness on the part of Ethiopia and emboldens the Tigray insurgency.
  6. Ethiopia inability to counter diaspora support. World wide support by Tigray diaspora has resulted in condemnation of Ethiopian practices on the Tigray people including starvation, abuse, ethnic cleansing, and discrimination against noncombatants.
  7. Most insurgencies average a 6 year duration yet Ethiopia cannot economically sustain its current military spending more than a few months. Ethiopia has already spent $ 2 billion in one year equal to its whole annual budget. It had only $480 million left to last the rest of year but spent another $51 million on weapons from Turkey. Inflation and the falling birr which may drop to 100 birr to the dollar predicts risk of state failure.

Author: Professor Tony Magana

Professor Tony Magana is Head of the Department of Neurosurgery, School of Medicine, College of Health Sciences at Mekelle University in Mekelle, Ethiopia. He directs a neurosurgery residency and training program as well as neuroscience research.

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