Four retired US ambassadors to Ethiopia write an open letter to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) stating their concerns about recent political developments in the country.

The letter sent exclusively to The Reporter is signed by Ambassadors David Shinn, Aurelia Brazeal, Vicki Huddleston, and Patricia Haslach.

The full content of the letter is presented below.

Open Letter to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed from retired U.S. Ambassadors to Ethiopia

January 21, 2021

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

We are former ambassadors who have served in Ethiopia during various political crossroads, and each of us are forever inspired by the resilience and principles of the Ethiopian people. At present, we are deeply concerned about the stability and future of Ethiopia, and so have taken the liberty to write to you about our concerns.

We have watched the conflict in Tigray with grave unease as, according to the United Nations, nearly 60,000 refugees have fled to Sudan, 2.2 million people have been displaced, and 4.5 million people need emergency assistance, many of whom are without adequate food. We are also worried about the reported presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray, which could jeopardize Ethiopia’s territorial integrity.

We are concerned about the worsening ethnic tensions throughout the country, reflected in the proliferation of hate speech and rising ethnic and religious violence. Based on our time in your country, this growing violence seems to us to be contrary to Ethiopia’s long-standing tradition of tolerance for diverse religions and ethnicities. 

It is our hope, Mr. Prime Minister, that your government will ensure the protection of civilians, the independent investigation of human rights violations, and unrestricted access for the United Nations and other relief agencies. We would like to repeat the advice we often heard during each of our tenures in your country: Ethiopia needs a national dialogue designed to bring together all sectors of society. We wish you and every Ethiopian the very best.

Sincerely,

Hon. David H. Shinn
Ambassador: July 1996-August 1999

Hon. Aurelia E. Brazeal
Ambassador: November 2002-September 2005

Hon. Vicki J. Huddleston
Chargé d’Affaires: September 2005-November 2006

Hon. Patricia M. Haslach
Ambassador: September 2013-August 2016 

Source=Retired US Ambassadors to Ethiopia write an open letter to Prime Minister Abiy | The Reporter Ethiopia English

JANUARY 25, 2021  ETHIOPIANEWS

Source: Union of Catholic Asian News

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launches military action against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front

Fredrick Nzwili, Catholic News Service

Updated: January 23, 2021 07:54 AM GMT

Ethiopian Bishop Tesfaselassie Medhin of Adigrat. (Photo: Amecea News Blog)

Massive damage and looting has occurred in Adigrat, a diocese in Ethiopia’s semi-autonomous region of Tigray, where the government launched a military offensive nearly two months ago, reported a delegation from the Ethiopian bishops’ conference.

Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel, conference president, sent the delegation to the diocese in mid-January, with instructions to visit and physically see Bishop Tefaselassie Medhin of Adigrat.

Father Teshome Fikre Woldetensae, secretary-general of the bishops’ conference who led the delegation, said the bishop is safe and in good health, but his diocese is reeling from destruction that will take a long time and cost the church millions to repair.

Fighting in Tigray started Nov. 4 after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali sent the federal army to fight the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which he accused of attacking an army base in the capital, Mekele. On Nov. 28, the government recaptured Mekele.

Bishop Medhin’s safety had become an issue of concern after he was cut off from the rest of the church due to fighting.

The delegation reported a church compound in the diocese was used as a military command center, even when the parish priests and the Daughters of St. Ann were staying there. The priests and the nuns witnessed heavy fighting.

“Adigrat minor seminary building and water tanker (are) partly damaged by the shelling fragments of the explosives, chapel at the cemetery is partly damaged, and windows … of the high school are damaged and broken,” said the report of the delegation. It also spoke of damage to a nearby Orthodox church and mosque as well as damages to church buildings.

The Catholic Church report comes amid international media reports that churches and mosques in northern Tigray were attacked, with sacred treasures, including ancient manuscripts, damaged or looted.

The team also said the administration offices and classroom buildings at Wukro St. Mary’s Catholic College were broken and looted, with laptops and computers stolen. Trees in the college were dying, the report indicated, after the solar panel, which provides power to supply the college with water, was stolen.

Delegation members spoke to officials of the U.S.-based Catholic Relief services, which had reached 50,000 people with food in Mekele. More people were targeted for food distribution.

At a meeting with the interim administration, government officials said 4.5 million people needed emergency support all over Tigray.

JANUARY 25, 2021  ETHIOPIANEWS

Questions by Lord Alton, Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Eritrea in the UK Parliament and responses from the British Government

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL12040):

Question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports of a mass killing on 15 December 2020 at the Mariam of Zion church in Aksum, Ethiopia. (HL12040)

Tabled on: 12 January 2021

Answer:
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon:

We are shocked and saddened by further reports from Tigray of massacres of civilians, sexual violence, and attacks on humanitarian facilities and places of worship. An ongoing lack of access to the Tigray region for humanitarian agencies, means that it remains difficult to fully corroborate these reports, but we will continue to try to do so. We have however made clear our concerns with Ethiopian Ministers, and underlined the overriding need to protect civilians and adhere to international law and international human rights law. We continue to call for independent, international, investigations into allegations of human right abuses and violations, and that the perpetrators of those incidents that are proven are held to account, whoever they may be. The UK continues to call for sustained, free and unfettered humanitarian access across Tigray

Date and time of answer: 25 Jan 2021 at 12:17.   

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL11957):

Question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to end the forced repatriation of refugees to Eritrea from refugee camps in Tigray; and what assessment they have made of (1) reports of armed attacks on those refugee camps; and (2) of the humanitarian needs of the refugees in those camps. (HL11957)

Tabled on: 11 January 2021

Answer:
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon:

We are concerned at reports that Eritrean troops have entered Ethiopian refugee camps in Tigray and forced a number of refugees to return to Eritrea. Due to the lack of access to northern refugee camps in Tigray for humanitarian agencies, including the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), it has not yet been possible to fully corroborate these reports. We have however, raised our concerns with Ministers in both governments, making clear the overriding need to protect civilians and adhere to international law and international human rights law. We continue to call for independent, international, investigations into allegations of human right abuses and violations, and that the perpetrators of those incidents that are proven are held to account, whoever they may be.

The UK continues to call for sustained, free and unfettered humanitarian access across Tigray, so that the UNHCR can uphold its mandate towards refugees. It is the responsibility of the host state to ensure refugees are protected and are not subjected to forcible return.

Date and time of answer: 25 Jan 2021 at 12:18.

JANUARY 25, 2021  ETHIOPIANEWS

Eritrean soldiers went house-to-house seeking out and killing Tigrayan men and boys, some as young as 7, then didn't allow their burials."

Source: AP

Witnesses: Eritrean soldiers loot, kill in Ethiopia's Tigray

Huge unknowns remain in the deadly conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region

25 January 2021, 07:59

NAIROBI, Kenya -- The Eritrean soldiers' pockets clinked with stolen jewelry. Warily, Zenebu watched them try on dresses and other clothing looted from homes in a town in Ethiopia's embattled Tigray region.“They were focused on trying to take everything of value,” even diapers, said Zenebu, who arrived home in Colorado this month after weeks trapped in Tigray, where she had gone to visit her mother. On the road, she said, trucks were full of boxes addressed to places in Eritrea for the looted goods to be delivered.

Heartbreakingly worse, she said, Eritrean soldiers went house-to-house seeking out and killing Tigrayan men and boys, some as young as 7, then didn't allow their burials. “They would kill you for trying, or even crying,” Zenebu told The Associated Press, using only her first name because relatives remain in Tigray.

Huge unknowns persist in the deadly conflict, but details of the involvement of neighboring Eritrea, one of the world’s most secretive countries, are emerging with witness accounts by survivors and others. Estimated in the thousands, the Eritrean soldiers have fought on the side of Ethiopian forces. They are accused of targeting thousands of vulnerable refugees from their own country, raping and intimidating locals — and now, some worry, refusing to go home.

Eritrea and Ethiopia recently made peace under Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his efforts. But Eritrea remains an enemy of the Tigray leaders who dominated Ethiopia’s government for nearly 30 years and are now fugitives since fighting began between Ethiopian and Tigray forces in November, the result of growing tensions over power.

Ethiopia’s government denies the Eritreans are in Tigray, a stance contradicted by an Ethiopian military commander who confirmed their presence last month. The U.S. has called Eritrea's involvement a “grave development," citing credible reports. Eritrean officials don't respond to questions.

Despite the denials, the Eritrean soldiers aren't hiding. They have even attended meetings in which humanitarian workers negotiated access with Ethiopian authorities.

Now millions of Tigray residents, still largely cut off from the world, live in fear of the soldiers, who inspire memories of the countries' two-decade border war. The recent peace revived cultural and family ties with Tigray, but Eritrea soon closed border crossings.

“If Eritrea refuses to leave, the U.N. should give us protection before we perish as a people,” a former Ethiopian defense minister, Seye Abraha, said in comments posted Sunday by a Tigray media outlet.

A spokeswoman for Ethiopia's prime minister, Billene Seyoum, did not respond to a request to discuss the Eritrean forces.

With almost all journalists blocked from Tigray and humanitarian access and communications links limited, witness accounts give the clearest picture yet of the Eritreans’ presence.

They were first reported in northwestern Tigray, which saw some of the earliest fighting. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission cites residents of the border town of Humera as saying the Eritreans participated in widespread looting that “emptied food and grain storages.” That has contributed to growing hunger among survivors.

The account by Zenebu, a 48-year-old health care worker, is one of the most detailed to emerge — and it came from central Tigray, an area little heard from so far.

She first saw the Eritrean soldiers in mid-December. She had fled with others into the mountains as fighting approached, leaving her mother, too frail for the journey, behind. Twelve days later she returned to the town of Hawzen, needing to know whether her mother had survived.

In the darkness, she said, she stumbled over bodies, including around 70 she later realized she knew as they were identified. The ground was strewn with beer bottles, cigarettes and other trash, and “I couldn’t tell the difference between human and animal bodies.” The stench of death was strong.

A neighborhood boy, just 12, had been recruited by soldiers to do errands and then killed.

“I saw his body,” Zenebu said. “They just, like, threw him away.”

Her mother had survived, her home stripped of possessions.

People had been killed for having photos of Tigray leaders, even long-ago ones, Zenebu said, and the photos were set on fire. While she said some atrocities were carried out by Ethiopian forces and allied fighters from the neighboring Amhara region, she recognized the Eritreans by markings on their cheeks and their dialect of the Tigrinya language.

“I was more heartbroken and surprised to see the Eritreans doing that because I felt a connection, speaking the same language,” Zenebu said. “I felt we shared more of the same struggle,” while others “don’t know us like the Eritreans do.”

Residents tried to survive as food supplies dwindled. Electricity for grinding grains was gone, and medical supplies ran out. “People are starving to death,” Zenebu said.

It was worse, she said, than in the 1980s, when famine and conflict swept through Tigray and images of starving people in Ethiopia brought global alarm and she fled to Sudan.

Then, “there wasn’t house-to-house looting of civilians, weaponizing hunger, the merciless killing," she said. "It’s worse than before.”

Zenubu eventually managed to leave Hawzen and reach the Tigray capital, Mekele, after pretending she was a resident and blending in with others traveling there. She called her family in the U.S., crying hysterically.

“I just wanted to say I was alive,” she said. Now she is unable to reach her mother.

Her account, like many, cannot be verified until communication links with Tigray are fully restored — and even then, people in Ethiopia worry that phone calls are monitored.

But another person who escaped Hawzen and arrived in the U.S. this month told the AP that Eritrean soldiers were “everywhere” and confirmed their killing and looting. He also identified them by their dialect.

“Same blood, same language,” he said, noting the close ties with Tigrayans. “I don't know why they killed.” He spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his relatives.

“We are investigating credible reports of a whole range of abuses by the Eritrean forces in central Tigray, including extrajudicial executions of civilians, widespread looting and damage of public and private property, including hospitals,” Human Rights Watch researcher Laetitia Bader said, urging “immediate international scrutiny” and a U.N.-led investigation.

Other accounts come from the nearly 60,000 refugees who fled to Sudan.

“My five brothers and mother are in Axum” near the Eritrean border, a doctor among the refugees, Tewodros Tefera, told the AP. “People from Axum said Eritrean forces killed many young men.”

“I don’t know if my brothers are alive,” he said of his brothers, who are 25 to 35. His phone calls don't go through.

A woman now in the U.S. after managing to leave Axum, who gave only her first name, Woinshet, wept as she told the AP she believes she survived because she showed Eritrean soldiers her U.S. passport instead of a local ID.

“There's no (military) camp in Axum, just monasteries,” she said, recalling bodies left in the streets. “Why are they there?”

Other survivors have fled the Eritrean soldiers to remote areas in Tigray and called to say they have been living for weeks on leaves and dried fruit.

"I don’t know how people are staying alive,” Tewodros said.

JANUARY 21, 2021  ETHIOPIAHORN OF AFRICANEWS

A rebel region is being starved into submission

Source: Economist

Ethiopia suffered famines in the past. Many foreigners know this; in 1985 about one-third of the world’s population watched a pop concert to raise money for starving Ethiopians. What is less well understood is that poor harvests lead to famine only when malign rulers allow it.

It was not the weather that killed perhaps 1m people in 1983-85. It was the policies of a Marxist dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam, who forced peasants at gunpoint onto collective farms. Mengistu also tried to crush an insurgency in the northern region of Tigray by burning crops, destroying grain stores and slaughtering livestock.

When the head of his own government’s humanitarian agency begged him for cash to feed the starving, he dismissed him with a memorably callous phrase: “Don’t let these petty human problems…consume you.”

Things were supposed to be different under Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian prime minister who was hailed as a reformer when he took charge in 2018, and who won the Nobel peace prize the following year.

Yet once again it looks as if hunger is being used as a weapon in Africa’s second-most-populous nation. And once again the scene of the horror is Tigray. Since fighting broke out in November between federal forces and those of Tigray’s rebellious former ruling party, perhaps 2m out of 6m Tigrayans are thought to have fled their homes.

Many could now starve because the government has let so little food into the region

JANUARY 20, 2021  ETHIOPIANEWS

Source: Devex

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 Pekka Haavisto, Finnish minister for foreign affairs. Photo by: European Union

The European Union is preparing to send Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto to negotiate with the Ethiopian government as it pushes for unfettered access for humanitarians in the conflict-torn Tigray region.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell raised the possible visit on a Jan. 9 phone call with Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen, a spokesperson for the European External Action Service told Devex Monday, adding that the idea was “welcomed.”

The move comes after the EU announced its decision Friday to halt budget support for Ethiopia over the lack of humanitarian access in Tigray.

Haavisto is an experienced Greens politician and former development minister who has acted as a special representative and adviser in Africa for Finland, the EU, and United Nations, notably in Darfur. An EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Borrell accepted Haavisto’s offer to act on his behalf in talks with the Ethiopian government due to his high-level contacts and experience in the region.

“We have told the Ethiopians that we stand ready to negotiate something different, but what is now on the table is not working.”

— EU official

Haavisto’s precise mandate and mission will be finalized in the coming days, the official said, with the current plan for him to travel to Ethiopia in time to report back to a Feb. 22 meeting of EU foreign ministers. Haavisto’s office declined to comment.

Last Friday, Borrell outlined the EU’s decision to stop sending development assistance directly to the Ethiopian government, citing restricted humanitarian access amid “reports of ethnic-targeted violence, killings, massive looting, rapes, forceful returns of refugees and possible war crimes.”

“In the absence of full humanitarian access to all areas of the conflict, we have no alternative but to postpone the planned disbursement of €88 million [$106.7 million] in budget support,” Borrell wrote in a blog post.

The figure includes the suspension of three planned payments: €60 million for regional connectivity, €17.5 million for a health sector transformation plan, and €11 million for job creation.

“We were under circumstances under which by no means we could give a single euro of the EU budget to this government, because of what’s going on,” the EU official told Devex.

A spokesperson for the European Commission’s development department said Ethiopia will have to comply with the following conditions before the EU will disburse future budget support:

  • “Granting full humanitarian access for relief actors to reach people in need in all affected areas, in line with International Humanitarian Law.
  • Civilians must be able to seek refuge in neighboring countries.
  • Ethnically targeted measures and hate speech must stop.
  • Mechanisms to monitor human rights violations must be put in place to investigate allegations of breach of Human Rights.
  • Communication lines and media access to Tigray should be fully re-established.”

The move only affects budget support, which goes directly to the government. Other development modalities, such as funding channeled through NGOs, and humanitarian programs will continue. Last month, the EU increased its emergency aid to the region by €23.7 million.

The spokesperson did not respond to questions on how the suspension would affect the EU’s 2021-2027 development work in Ethiopia, which is currently being programmed.

Ethiopia is one of the top recipients of official development assistance from the EU. It was allocated €815 million for the 2014-2020 budgetary period, plus more than €400 million from the EU Trust Fund for Africa.

JANUARY 21, 2021  ETHIOPIANEWS

Antony Blinken, the nominee to be President Biden’s Secretary of State (Foreign Minister) had a nomination hearing in the US Senate on Tuesday.

He is a long-serving government official and diplomat. Blinken served as Deputy National Security Advisor from 2013 to 2015 and Deputy Secretary of State from 2015 to 2017 under President Barack Obama.

Speaking at this hearing he made his views clear on several issues, including the Horn of Africa.

Horn of Africa

The U.S. needs to be more actively involved in the horn of Africa and “not be AWOL as problems emerge” like in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, Blinken said.

We must use the diplomatic weight with the government of Ethiopia, he said.

“Eritrean refugees are on the receiving end of atrocities. We have Eritrea possibly getting there and we have other states that are now affected. The potential for this to spill over is a real concern,” Blinken told the Senators.

There needs to be greater access to the region, more accountability, a restoration of communication and humanitarian assistance, and an effort to put dialogue in place to address key issues, he said.

Otherwise, Blinken said, he worries that the violence has the potential to destabilize the region. He also said he would consider appointing a special envoy in the region.

Blinken was favourably received at the hearing. Several Senators supported him.

This was the assessment of the Washington Post.

There was every indication that Blinken would be confirmed with a strong bipartisan vote, although Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the incoming chairman, said earlier in the day that a panel vote was unlikely until at least Monday. After that, floor votes will have to vie for Senate time with President Trump’s impeachment trial.

One sign of the committee’s direction came from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a strong Trump partisan who opposed Blinken the last time he appeared before it, for confirmation as deputy secretary of state six years ago.

“I think you’re an outstanding choice, and I intend to vote for you,” Graham said this time around.

 

 

JANUARY 19, 2021  ETHIOPIANEWS

Source: UNHCR

UNHCR finds dire need in Eritrean refugee camps cut off in Tigray conflict

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch  to whom quoted text may be attributed  at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Children are playing in a street of Adi Harush refugee camp.  © UNHCR/Chris Melzer

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, regained access to two refugee camps in Tigray and found Eritrean refugees in desperate need of supplies and services two months after conflict forced humanitarian workers to withdraw from the region.

UNHCR led the first humanitarian mission to Mai Aini and Adi Harush refugee camps since the start of the conflict in November, after being granted one-time access by the Ethiopian authorities to conduct a needs assessment.

The assessment, which concluded last week, found help is urgently needed for the tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees in northern Ethiopia. Refugees were cut off from any supplies and services for more than two months. Wells were not functional without fuel for the pumps – leaving refugees to use water from a nearby creek for washing, cooking and drinking, resulting in diarrhea like illnesses.

The only assistance refugees received since the start of the conflict was a one-time food distribution conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP) almost a month ago. Plans are underway for a second distribution.

Thankfully, teams found that in both Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps, buildings and structures remain intact, including refugee homes, schools and clinics, with little damage observed.

However, refugees told our staff that while they were not impacted directly from the fighting, they were threatened and harassed by various armed groups. The refugees told us they continue to have safety concerns, reporting that armed gangs roam the camps at night stealing and looting.

UNHCR is working with the government and partners to re-establish a regular presence at the camps and launch a response based on the information collected. We have called on the government to strengthen security in both camps.

Further north in Tigray, we have not had any access to the Shimelba and Hitsats refugee camps since November. As highlighted in the High Commissioner’s statement last week, we continue to receive a number of reports of significant damage to those camps and indications that many refugees have fled in search of safety and food. We remain deeply concerned about them.

Some 5,000 Eritrean refugees have made their way to the town of Shire and are living in dire conditions, many sleeping in an open field on the outskirts of the town, with no water and no food.

UNHCR reiterates the UN wide call for full and unimpeded access to all refugees in the Tigray region and remains committed to work with the Ethiopian government to seek solutions together. We stress again that swift action to restore safe access are needed now to save thousands of lives at risk.

Is Ethiopia coming together or falling apart?

Tuesday, 19 January 2021 14:23 Written by

JANUARY 19, 2021  ETHIOPIANEWS

Source: Ethiopia Insight

January 18, 2021

Abiy and his Amhara supporters are in the ascendancy—but Ethiopia’s future is by no means assured.

Nominally in an effort to restore law and order, the federal government led by Ethiopia’s peace prize-winning premier is engaged in a brutal conflict with the defiant erstwhile leaders of Tigray region.

Tens of thousands of refugees have fled, militias have hacked civilians to death, and an unknown number of lives have been lost.

Despite Abiy Ahmed’s quick-win claims, he has plunged the country into what is likely to be a prolonged civil war that may exacerbate others and even tear the country apart.

Late on 3 November, with the world glued to the U.S.’s electoral theatrics, Abiy said Tigray’s forces attacked the military, and he adapted the Powell Doctrine for limited war. He informed Ethiopians that he sent federal forces in with clear, limited, and achievable objectives to restore the rule of law and constitutional order.

While sudden, the outbreak of full-blown conflict did not surprise observers of Ethiopian politics.

The long-simmering tensions between the premier and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) were there for all to see. The parties had openly prepared their forces for armed confrontation.

The question is, why has Ethiopia returned to war to settle political disagreements?

Mismanaged transition

Two years ago, a popular uprising, mainly in Oromia and Amhara regions, brought the country to the brink of collapse. To avoid the Ethiopian state’s disintegration, the reform architects agreed for the transition-to-democracy to be led by the ruling party itself, with new faces taking the helm.

Hence, from the outset, it was apparent that the change would be nothing but ‘old wine in a new bottle’.

“Reform from within” was preferred to “revolution” to avoid a state collapse since TPLF controlled the national intelligence, military, and various state apparatus. Hence, if “revolution” was chosen, the architects, such as Jawar Mohammed, believed, it would have proved to be bloody, tearing apart Ethiopia.

The 2018 (s)election of Abiy as coalition leader and prime minister initially engendered hope. Impressive steps were taken to open the political space, suggesting the country was finally on the road to democracy.

However, the premier failed to reconcile and reintegrate the Tigrayan political, security, and economic elites into the ruling structure, and thus they felt disenfranchised and targeted.

Hence, the trust deficit between the federal government and Tigrayan elites complicated the fragile relationship, embroiling the country in armed conflict.

Is that all? No. Reasons abound.

The trust deficit between the federal government and TPLF boils down to two crucial factors: power and ideology.

Both Abiy and TPLF want to shape Ethiopia’s future but they have clashing visions—hence, the power struggle.

Although the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) was a coalition of four parties, the TPLF, representing under 10 percent of the Ethiopian population, had been in the driving seat since 1991. Unwilling to accept its new junior status in Ethiopian politics, the party embarked on an attempt to discredit Abiy.

According to the government, TPLF undermined Abiy’s rule, incited conflict and peddled hatred, conducted regional elections (for right or wrong), and, more importantly, showed interest in reclaiming the power they lost in the name of championing a federalism they had trampled upon.

Abiy, perhaps convinced by his mother’s prophesy, was also in pursuit of power at all costs.

Naturally, they clashed.

The following Amharic adage captures the situation:

ሊሆን የማይችል ነው ሁለት ጌታ ከቤት፤

አንዱ ተሸንፎ ካላለ አቤት አቤት!”

“No possibility, under the same roof,

 Housing dual powers, being led by masters

 Unless one defeated and a subject he becomes.”

The second contradiction stems from the type of government system. Again, there exist two irreconcilable camps.

MEGA Camp—the right wing

The right-wing group, primarily drawn from the Amhara and urban elites, wants to bring back a centralist system. They consider the current system as the mother of all political problems and the cause of its instability. Abiy, especially after losing his Oromo nationalist credentials, subscribes to this camp, and both are associated with the “Make Ethiopia Great Again” “የኢትዮጵያ ከፍታ” slogan.

MEGA is for Abiy a means to an end: his self-aggrandizement. For other elites, MEGA is a return to yester-year, to Ethiopia’s cultural and political monopolization by Amhara. Ethiopia`s continuity, unity, and stability depend on cleansing it from TPLF and its political legacies, meaning the ethno-federal system.

Make Ethiopia a Real Federal State Camp—the federalists

The federalist group, favored by nine out of the ten regional states, firmly supports the current federal arrangement that gives regional governments autonomous power.

When Amhara elites shout the MEGA slogan, federalist forces hear “Make Ethiopia Amhara Again.”

Members of this camp trace Ethiopia’s political quagmire to its imperial roots and see the constitution and federal system as right for establishing Ethiopia as a democratic state since most Ethiopians never attained full citizenry status under past systems due to formal discrimination. They see a call to past “greatness” by the right-wing camp as an invitation to renewed servitude and dispossession.

For them, Ethiopia’s stability, unity, and continuity depend on the full implementation of the constitution and the federal system.

Abiy tacks right

Abiy went through two phases since coming to power.

In the first, he was the champion of Oromo nationalism. “Oromo not only knows how to lead a nation but also how to build it. Together, we can build East Africa and the entire Africa. No force on earth can stop us (from doing this),” said Abiy, speaking to his Oromo comrades in Jimma on  18 March 2019.

Hence, Oromo elites started to think of themselves as the saviors of not only Ethiopia but also the Horn. The troubled Horn of Africa will heal by “Kushitic” panacea, the Oromo elites asserted.

But alas, their hopes were dashed quickly following the killing of the famous singer Hachalu Hundessa and Jawar Mohammed’s arrest, a heavyweight politician who challenged Abiy’s leadership of the transition.

Oromo elites are now among Abiy’s fiercest critics, costing some their lives and others their freedom.

Displaced from the Oromo camp by politicians with better nationalist credentials such as Lemma Megersa and Jawar, Abiy pitched up in the right-wing camp. He embraced the pan-Ethiopian agenda and tipped the balance of power in favor of the anti-multinational federalists, starting his second phase.

To this end, Abiy established the Prosperity Party (PP)  in 2019 by dissolving three ex-EPRDF parties and five allied parties ruling the so-called “developing” states. The death of EPRDF, established by TPLF largely to do its bidding, sealed the end of TPLF hegemony.

One might also argue that Abiy has not joined any of the camps but has his own agenda.

For instance, as the Amhara inherited the Tigrayan thesis of Ethiopianism and wrote their antithesis; similarly, the Oromos synthesize the modern-day Ethiopia of the Menelik II mold. Maybe Abiy is infusing new Oromo energy into the synthesis again, so that what Oromos lost could be reclaimed, mutating Ethiopia into a new Oromo-tinged kaleidoscope.

Why crush TPLF?

Unsatisfied with prominent Oromo politicians’ jailing, the right-wing camp eyed their most significant prize—to crush the TPLF, a force behind the federalist camp.

Three motivations stand out.

  1. Control of contested lands

The Amhara thought it was an opportune time to re-control contested areas they lost to TPLF in the last three decades: Raya and Welkait. This Amharic expression aptly describes their intent “ተከዜ አፋፍ ላይ ካልሰራኹኝ ቤቴን

እኔም አልተወለድኩ መሀን ናት እናቴ”  (Equivalent poetic translation could be as follows)

Until built by all means,

My house towering on Tekezze hills,

Higher up, till standing on its cliffs,

Consider I, never been born,

Appraise my mother arid and barren.

  1. Erasing TPLF and its legacies

The Ethiopian ethno-federal constitution is the key target of Amhara elites. For them, TPLF introduced it to undo the nation-building project of their ancestors, pit Amhara against other nationalities, and sow the seeds for the undoing of the country.

  1. Return to glory

The Amhara elites are determined to avenge the humiliation they suffered at the hands of the TPLF and its cronies for the last three decades and take their ‘rightful’ position in Ethiopia`s politics.

A replay of 1979?

Who thought Abiy would survive after imprisoning Jawar? And after taking on his biggest threat, the TPLF?

Now, it seems a rerun of 1979 with Abiy taking Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam’s role. Colonel Mengistu emerged victorious from both internal and external threats against his rule. However, the initial victory did not save Mengistu from his final defeat; and it prolonged Ethiopians’ misery.

Similarly, Abiy and Ethiopia’s future has not been sealed by the federal control of Mekelle, nor by the capture and killing of TPLF leaders. Instead, it all depends on how Abiy plays the emerging multi-dimensional chess game, taking into consideration:

  • the interests of the West that does not want a failed state in Ethiopia
  • forging an alliance with Eritrea, thus amalgamating the military and intelligence machinations of both countries
  • decimating the pro-TPLF forces, and;
  • building it on empowering the Oromo alliance under the Shewa Oromo mould. This approach will either prolong his reign or hasten his demise—with the possibility of both Ethiopia’s integration or disintegration.

Potential Scenarios 

Ethiopia’s ideal case would be to bravely look the facts and for the warring political tribes to reach a consensus before the 5 June election. That is, however, unlikely given the current context.

Instead, below are the three most likely scenarios for Ethiopia’s future under Abiy:

  1. PP and new party-state

Abiy’s government will manage internal rivalries and mitigate external pressure.

The election will take place amid high security and some turmoil, especially in Oromia, Tigray, and Southern Nations. Opposition parties will likely share around a quarter of federal seats to make the election plausible and enhance the government’s legitimacy.

However, there is also now the likely non-participation of the main Oromo opposition parties. If this happens, the legitimacy of the state suffers a big dent.

Regardless, with any kind of majority, Prosperity Party would probably attempt to negotiate a new federal arrangement not based on ethnicity so that the empire state of Ethiopia shall continue with the ‘right’ amount of change and continuity.

  1. Expansion of civil war

The second scenario would emerge alongside genuine regional state power. The shift of power from the north to south Ethiopia would contribute to the early retirement of the Abyssinian empire

Another factor pushing this scenario is the Amhara reaction to incidents. The Amhara, the self-proclaimed custodians of Ethiopia’s empire state, are nervous, for instance, about the existence of paramilitary security forces that they think empower regions to defy the central government. But if there is federal over-reach in this area, it could well cause a violent and destabilizing backlash.

More so, Amharas, unlike other major ethnic groups, live in all parts of Ethiopia. Emotions stemming from the targeting killings of Amharas in other regions, if not tamed, would re-energize other groups’ grievances, pushing the country closer to widespread civil war.  We can see this playing out in Benishangul-Gumuz already. Further instability may also be prompted by the sorry state of the Ethiopian economy, with youth unemployment rising even pre-pandemic.

  1. State of Emergency

An internal power struggle coupled with external pressures from Sudan and Egypt may develop into a wider regional war that urges the country to proclaim another national State of Emergency (SoE), leading to the incumbent’s continuation for an unspecified time.

The risk here is unbearably high. However, the war would be an excellent chance for Abiy to stay in power and crush remaining opponents

The result of this would be unpredictable but has comparable opportunities for disintegration and unity. For instance, what if the army takes control to ‘save’ the country from collapse, as happened in Egypt in 2013?

 

by Eritrea Hub

Source: Associated Press

Report: Images show latest 'attack' on Ethiopia refugee camp

By CARA ANNA, Associated Press Jan. 17, 2021 Updated: Jan. 17, 2021 5:20 a.m.

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — New satellite images of a refugee camp in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region show more than 400 structures have been badly damaged in what a research group believes is the latest “intentional attack” by fighters.

The report by the U.K.-based DX Open Network nonprofit, shared with The Associated Press, says “it is likely that the fire events of 16 January are yet another episode in a series of military incursions on the camp as reported by (the United Nations refugee agency).”

The Shimelba camp is one of four that hosted 96,000 refugees from nearby Eritrea when fighting erupted in early November between Ethiopian forces and those of the defiant Tigray region. The fighting has swept through the camps and two of them, including Shimelba, remain inaccessible to aid workers. Many refugees have fled.

On Thursday, U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi cited recent satellite imagery of fires and other destruction at the two inaccessible camps as “concrete indications of major violations of international law.”

On Sunday the U.N. refugee agency urged that it be given access to the camps.

“Until November, 8,700 refugees were registered in Shimelba. We have no information on how many refugees were still in the camp last week,” U.N. refugee agency spokesman Chris Melzer said in an email. “We still have no access to the two northern camps, Shimelba and Hitsats (25,248 refugees registered in November). We demand access since the refugees are without supplies for two and a half months now and we are extremely concerned. We also saw satellite pictures and heard frightening reports. But since we don’t have access we cannot confirm them.”

The new report says the satellite images show “smoldering ruins, blackening of structures and collapsed roofs.” The structures, it said, “match the profile of mud-brick dwellings constructed by the refugees themselves. The attackers likely split into multiple groups going door to door to set fires inside buildings," consistent with previous attacks on the Hitsats camp, which also is inaccessible.

Neither the U.N. nor DX Open Network has blamed anyone for the attacks, but the presence of troops from Eritrea, a bitter enemy of the Tigray region’s now-fugitive leaders, has caused alarm. Grandi noted “many reliable reports and firsthand accounts” of abuses including the forced return of refugees to Eritrea.

The day after Grandi’s statement, Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel tweeted that “UNHCR seems to indulge, yet again, in another bout of gratuitous & irresponsible smear campaigns against Eritrea.” He said Eritrea rejects the “forced repatriation of ‘refugees.'"

Eritrea has been described by human rights groups as one of the world's most repressive countries. Thousands of people have fled the country over the years to avoid a system of military conscription.

Fighting continues in parts of the Tigray region. Thousands of people have been killed and more than 2 million displaced.