A Special Report from Katehon Thinktank (Katehon.com) and The Radical Outlook (theradicaloutlook.com)
By Katehon and The Radical Outlook© KT and RO
The Radical Outlook
The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is a landlocked but strategically important country in the horn of Africa (East Africa). Its capital Addis Ababa is also hosting headquarter of the Union of the African States known as the African Union. Despite having strategic geography, like every other African state, Ethiopia is facing decades-long ethnic cum political strife. The major ethnic confrontation in Ethiopia began in 1974 when the Soviet Union-backed communist government Derg abolished the monarchy and declared Ethiopia the Federal Democratic Republic. Soon after the Communist military takeover, Ethiopia experienced the horrific civil war between the Derg regime and Tigray’s and the Eritrean Separatists. Perhaps, this was the first major wave of the civil war in the country, which lasted for sixteen years till the Derg Communist Military regime was overthrown by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in 1991. The EPRDF was mainly dominated by the TPLF (Tigray’s People Liberation Front), which later became one of the major reasons behind the mounting ethnic separatism in the country.
The ethnic turf between the EPRDF Coalition and the TPLF soared when the incumbent Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power. Soon after assuming the Premiership, Mr. Abiy Ahmed attempted to reform the old party setup of the EPRDF by merging its coalition partners into a new multi-ethnic Prosperity Party. Mr. Abiy’s reformation policy angered the leadership of the TPLF, who began opposing his new party policy and thus, started a military campaign against the government. In 2020, the civil War situation started swallowing the whole country, which turned violent last month, when the Ethiopian government decided to use Airpower to fight the TPLF separatists. The United Nations warned the world about the second humanitarian crisis after Syria due to the worsening situation in the country.
Katehon Think Tank
One of the largest and most dynamically developing African countries, finally the only African country (with the exception of Liberia created by the American colonists), which did not fall under the colonial rule of Europeans, is in a state of civil war, more precisely, an interethnic conflict. On November 9, the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces (UFEFCF) was proclaimed by representatives of the Ethiopian armed opposition in Washington.
The two main actors in the current conflict are the central government in Addis Ababa, backed by the Amhara people, and a coalition of ethnopolitical groupings led by the Tigray Popular Front for Liberation (PNLF), which represents a different people – the Tigers. Both peoples – “Habesha” – Abbisin, that is, closely related Semitic peoples, adhering to the majority of the same faith – Christians-Monophysites. Habesha is representative of the ancient imperial and religious tradition, which is actually associated with Ethiopia abroad.
To understand what is happening in Ethiopia, you need to look at the history of the country. So, the most ancient states, including the famous Aksum, who converted to Christianity in 333 AD, were located on the territory of the current region of Tigray and Eritrea, where the related peoples of the tigers and tigers live. Since the 13th century, the center of the Ethiopian Empire shifted to the south, the clans of the Amhara people began to play an increasing role. The periods of strengthening the empire were replaced by feudal wars, in which the feudal lords from Tigrai either claimed power over the whole of Ethiopia, then separated. Only in the 19th century, the negus Theodoros II and Menelik II create a kind of centralized state in Ethiopia, the latter moved the capital to Addis Ababa in his native Shoah region, inhabited by Amhara. This was preceded by another civil strife,
Under Menelik and his descendant Haile Selassie, the pendulum swung towards Amhara again. The military “Marxist” junta (Derg) that overthrew Haile Selassie also embraced Amharic identity and the Amharic language as a means to unite the entire country. Such nation-building did not like other ethnic groups and peoples of Ethiopia, which has always been an empire, a civilization united by a common culture, especially since the tigers considered themselves the descendants of those who founded this culture.
It is not surprising that in the next civil war against the regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam, Tigray began to play a key role. At the same time, both other Marxists from the NPLT (oriented towards Maoist China) and monarchists from the Ethiopian Democratic Union (led by Mangash Seyum, a pretender to the throne of Ethiopia from the tiger branch of the ruling Solomon dynasty) fought against the “Marxist” regime. In 1991, the NPLT, led by the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition, took the capital and took control of the entire country. Since then, the Tigers (6% of the country’s population) have ruled Ethiopia for almost 30 years.
They created a specific system – ethnic federalism – Ethiopia was divided into autonomous regions along ethnic lines, where, in addition to the national army, ethnic militias operated. However, now the Amhara and Oromo, the two largest peoples of the country, dominating the capital and adjacent territories, felt disadvantaged. At the same time, Oromo (mostly Muslims) are not part of the “habesh”, and were perceived in old Ethiopia as “savages” and second-class people.
In the wake of their protests, a representative of the Oromo people (however, it is said that his mother was from Amhara) and Protestant neo-Pentecostal Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018. He quickly fell out with the NPLT, which resulted in the conflict that began a year ago and the invasion of Amharic militias and the army into Tigray, where the NPLT still retained power. Ahmed was supported by Eritrea, interested in the defeat of the alternative center of statehood of the tigers that live on its territory.
Abiy Ahmed demonstrated by all his actions that he intends to dismantle “ethnic federalism”, moving towards a new nationalist idea based on Amharic identity. By that time, he had quarreled with representatives of the Oromo movements. As a result, the conflict turned into an interethnic one – people from Tigray began to be fired en masse and persecuted in the capital as potentially disloyal. Those, in turn, began to accuse the Amharic militias of the mass executions. Reports of crimes committed by the NFLT in relation to Amhara are yet another logical consequence of the ethnicization of the conflict.
In Russia and in the West, it is customary to perceive Ethiopia as a monolithic stronghold of the ancient Christian civilization in Africa, surrounded by “savages”. Behind this myth, however, lies the complex reality of a historically divided country, torn apart for centuries by tribal and inter-clan wars and reassembled, while preserving, however, a single cultural space. In a historical perspective, the current war is a continuation of the same wars between the Ethiopians among themselves, wars for the dominance of one or another part of the “habesh” in the empire. However, it is weighed down by the ideology of nationalism introduced from the West, where in response to nationwide “nationalism” the same “nationalism” arises, but separatist, which makes the parties increasingly irreconcilable towards each other, and on the once conflicting, but in the whole common socio-cultural space, centripetal tendencies prevail. Another negative influence of the West is geopolitical.
Ethiopia with a population of 100 million people in recent years under Abiy Ahmed showed the highest GDP growth rates in Africa – under 8% of GDP. However, this growth was based on almost free labor. Ethiopians received the lowest wages in the world. When the NPLT was at the head of Ethiopia, the country developed close ties with China, and the Ethiopian “Marxist” Tigrinya took control of a significant part of the country’s economy.
Abiy Ahmed maintained a partnership with China but also attracted Western investors through cheap labor. Plus Abiy announced important economic measures that threatened the economic dominance of the NPLT leaders. These include his administration’s plan to privatize the state-owned Ethio Telecom, Ethiopian Sugar Corporation, and companies in the energy sector with assets of over $ 7 billion, ”said experts loyal to Abiy Ahmed. As noted by Bloomberg, many companies were to be sold to “foreign investors.” Thus, as a result of this civil war, there was to be a violent redistribution of control over sectors of the Ethiopian economy, probably in favor of foreign capital.
The specific moment of the conflict is the ideology of the ruling regime. Abiy Ahmed is a Pentecostal practitioner from the Ethiopian Church of Full Gospel Believers movement with 4.5 million followers in Ethiopia. On the one hand, Protestant ideology manifests itself in the openness to capitalism and economic liberalism of the current leader of Ethiopia. On the other hand, it acquires a specific local flavor, where Abiy Ahmed appears as a new Ethiopian “messiah” who will lead the country out of darkness into the light. Ethiopian messianism is here combined with the Protestant notion of prosperity and success, which is necessarily given to the faithful. Therefore, by the way, the party of Ahmed is called the “Party of Prosperity”. In addition to prosperity, according to Ahmed, Ethiopia must achieve a state of “medemer” – “synergy”, to overcome all divisions, including ethnic ones. Here again, bizarrely combined personal conviction of a Protestant in his own “chosenness “, being born again, with the tradition of seeing the Ethiopian ruler as a monarch, God’s anointed, uniting nations around him.
Abiy Ahmed was favored by the Western powers, received the Nobel Peace Prize, and set an example in the field of gender diversity. Therefore, starting the war with the NFOT, I hoped for Western support or at least a benevolent silence. However, there is no such support now. His opponents gather in Washington and conclude a military-political alliance there aimed at a violent change of government. The US itself is clearly supportive of Ahmed’s opponents and threatens with sanctions.
In fact, the tacit support of the United States at the first stage of the conflict with the NPLT pushed Abiy Ahmed to radical actions. However, now he is ready to get hit himself. What is the reason? It is possible that Washington is interested in destabilizing Ethiopia and East Africa as a whole, where the PRC’s influence is the strongest. And it does not matter who and how is engaged in this destabilization – local “Ethno-federalists”, the central authorities by their hasty actions, or all together. All is fair in the global confrontation with China.
Internal conflict in Ethiopia threatens to spill over its borders. Several thousand Ethiopian troops have been deployed to the African Union Mission in Somalia. Some of these troops, according to Somali media reports, have already been withdrawn to Ethiopia due to the conflict.
This situation gives the fighters of the terrorist organization Al-Shabaab, operating in Somalia, a new impetus and will require the more active participation of other countries, especially Kenya, in the conflict. The conflict could upset the balance of power in southern Somalia, where Kenya supports the autonomists of Jubaland and Ethiopia supports federal troops in Somalia. Jubaland is supported by the leaders of the Ogaden clan. The Ogaden region of Ethiopia has strong autonomist sentiments, while the leaders of the Ogaden National Liberation Front opposed the operation in the Tigray region.
It is not yet clear what the fate of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project on the Blue Nile will be. Sudan and Egypt see it as an existential threat and will rather be interested in continuing the conflict that will freeze the project. In Cairo and Khartoum, it is believed that filling the dam’s reservoir will lower the water level in the Nile, putting the lives of millions of people upstream of it at risk. The dam is located in the state of Benishangul-Gumuz, where formations of local residents are acting against the Amharic settlers. Ethiopia accuses Sudan of harboring militants on its territory. And then there is the border conflict between Sudan and Ethiopia on the border with the state of Tigray (El Fashga), where the Amharic militia clashes with Sudanese forces on the ground. The conflict escalated in early 2021.
Ethiopia’s protracted conflict means Addis Ababa can no longer serve as a source of security in the Horn of Africa. The result will be a power vacuum that other state actors and non-state terrorist structures will try to fill.
During the previous conflict between the NPLT and the central government in Ethiopia, the former achieved success only after the USSR stopped supporting its Ethiopian allies. It is no coincidence that pro-Russian sentiments are strong in Addis Ababa. In July, Ethiopian Defense Finance Minister Martha Lewig said Russia had agreed to help the African country modernize its military. Turkey is also active in the Ethiopian direction. There is information about the possible appearance of Turkish drones from the government forces.
However, it is impossible to resolve the conflict in Ethiopia by force alone with the help of Russia or Turkey. It requires an integrated approach: firstly, understanding the geopolitical context, and secondly, the ethnosociological one. The future of Ethiopia is also connected with the solution of the issue of identity, especially in the conditions when the “non-Abbisinians” – Oromo already make up the largest group of the country’s population (30 million out of 100 million). The policy of turning all Ethiopians into a monolithic nation, as well as “ethno-federalism” according to modernist patterns, turned out to be two extremes, each of which contributed to the current conflict.
The path to peace may be provided by a traditionalist alternative. The old monarchical Ethiopia took shape as a single state also in the context of modernist influences, including nationalist ones. At the same time, she could, however, integrate representatives of different elites, including the Oromo (Galla) Kushites, into the service of the Empire, and the ruling clan united the Tigray and Amharic branches. The monarchy, albeit with modernist influences and not without the use of force, united Ethiopia, while republican rule and further modernization, starting with Derg’s Marxists, did everything to finally destroy the unique and distinctive Christian country.
 In the Ethiopian Amharic language, it is spelled as Dergue, Which means committee or council.
 Historically, Eritrea has been an integral part of the Great Ethiopian Empire.
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The Radical Outlook Web portal is owned and sponsored by international relations expert Shahzada Rahim (Rahim Volkov) that aims at discussing the ongoing socio-political degeneration around the globe. The Radical Outlook believes that the world is facing an apocalypse due to the degenerated western modernity and its last cherishing ideology “Liberalism”.