In December 2019, the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. Less than a year later, he commanded Ethiopian troops in the fight against the country’s formerly dominant party – the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
It has always been a daunting task to transition an ethnically diverse country with a federal system through a transition to democracy. But when a flood of political assassinations and growing demands from ethno-nationalist groups led to conflict in the northern Tigray region in November, the future of Ethiopia looks increasingly bleak. Some analysts warn that there is a risk of Yugoslav style disintegration. Foreign policy has followed the country closely in recent years, representing the views of Ethiopian writers and regional experts from various perspectives.
Here are five of the top Ethiopia foreign policy stories as of 2020.
1. The Ethiopian-Egyptian water war has begun
by Ayenat Mersie, September 22nd
The war in Tigray has got the most attention this year – but another is taking place in cyberspace, as Ayenat Mersie argued in September. When the intense negotiations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile threatened to conflict with downstream countries such as Sudan and Egypt, online warfare began, which posed specific problems for traditional diplomacy. “[S]Pushing for nationalist sentiments means it is more difficult for officials to agree to compromises and for the public to accept compromises, ”Mersie wrote. “[M]Much of the online rhetoric remains maximalist and even rejects elements that have already been decided unanimously. This increases the chance that online tension and attacks will not ease off anytime soon. “
2. It is not too late to prevent the Ethiopian civil war from turning into a wider ethnic conflict
by Florian Bieber and Wondemagegn Tadesse Goshu, November 18th
In January 2019, Florian Bieber and Wondemagegn Tadesse Goshu wrote forward-looking that Ethiopia could become the next Yugoslavia. In November, when the war was raging in Tigray, they revisited the issue, arguing that “violence is a means of resolving disputes, it is difficult to stop, and the demand for autonomy is rapidly escalating into independence claims,” the current one The situation is compared to the beginnings of fragmentation in Tito’s Yugoslavia and recommendations for a constitutional way out.
3. Tigray’s war against Ethiopia is not about autonomy. It’s about economic power.
by Kassahun Melesse, November 19th
When conflict broke out in Tigray on the eve of the US presidential election, many outside observers assumed it was a battle for autonomy between the country’s overthrown old regime and Abiy’s new administration. Kassahun Melesse argued that the TPLF’s goals had much more to do with maintaining control of the economy. “[W]At the heart of the ongoing conflict are Abiy’s economic and political reforms and the relentless pace with which they have been unveiled – steps that TPLF leaders view as unacceptably threatening the longstanding economic and political domination and sizeable influence they still practice Ethiopia, ”he wrote.
4. Ethiopia’s government and the TPLF leadership are not morally equivalent
by Hailemariam Desalegn, November 24th
In late November, Ethiopia’s youngest former prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, criticized some of his former government colleagues from the once-dominant TPLF on these pages – describing the group’s leadership as “nothing more than a criminal enterprise” as it took over the international community to task for ” the assumption of moral equivalence “between the two sides. Equating the TPLF and the Ethiopian government would, he wrote, lead to “foreign governments adopting an attitude of false balance and bothsidesism. Facts and details about the true nature of conflicts and the forces that ignite and fuel them are often lost in international efforts to broker peace agreements, which often collapse once they are signed. “
5. The war in Tigray is a struggle for Ethiopia’s past – and future
by Teferi Mergo, December 18th
The war in Tigray is just the latest battle in a longstanding conflict over history and memory, argued Teferi Mergo this month. “By and large, the Tigray War is part of the same debate that has plagued Ethiopia since it was founded as an imperial state: whether Ethiopia is an exceptional country that should be governed more centrally or that must be governed as a decentralized polity,” he wrote. And in order to resolve the conflict, Mergo stressed, the new US administration must avoid short-term thinking and instead “use this historic opening to realign its foreign policy towards the country in order to serve as an impartial arbiter of the conflicts between the two sides. “