Viewpoint by Daniel Haile*
COLLEGE STATION, Texas | USA (IDN) — The Ethiopian government claims the conflict in Tigray is a law enforcement operation, but that is incorrect; it is a war involving the Ethiopian government, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and the malign foreign influence of the Eritrean regime. The Eritrean regime in Asmara will be the only victor from the Ethiopian civil war.
Strategic miscalculations from the TPLF and the unelected government of Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa gave Isaias Afwerki’s regime in Eritrea a window of opportunity to encroach on the situation at Ethiopia’s expense. Eritrea, infamously known as the North Korea of Africa, is a Marxist one-party state and a criminal organization run by a singular, enigmatic dictator, Isaias Afewerki.
The war in Tigray is a complex military operation where various factions in the Horn of Africa have opposing geopolitical interests. Strategically and tactically, neither the TPLF nor the Ethiopian government is capable of victory in this civil war, which leaves the Eritrean regime as the only possible winner in this tragedy.
Current Situation in Ethiopia
The conflict in Ethiopia is getting worse, and the Eritrean regime playing a critical role in the destabilization of Ethiopia is a matter of concern in the Horn of Africa. The TPLF is mounting a guerrilla war against the Ethiopian government, Eritrea, and various ethnic Ethiopian militias, most notably the Amharas.
On November 28, the Ethiopian government captured the Tigrayan capital of Mekelle but has not been able to stop the insurgency so far. As of the beginning of 2021, 500,000 people have been internally displaced, 60,000 people have fled the region, and 4.5 million people in the Tigray region continue to need humanitarian assistance.
According to numerous sources, the Amhara militia, the Eritrean regime, and the Ethiopian forces conduct widespread ethnic cleansing, mass rape, and extrajudicial killing against the people of Tigray.
The unexpected collaboration between Eritrea and Ethiopia was a marriage of convenience because both parties had a common enemy—the TPLF. The Ethiopian government claims its actions in the Tigray region are a law enforcement operation. However, in reality, it is a military operation specifically designed to eliminate a potential enemy that threatened to destabilize the interests of both regimes.
If it was a law enforcement operation, why would the Ethiopian government invite a foreign country to attack Ethiopian citizens and violate Ethiopia’s territorial integrity?
Ahmed’s goal is to become the next benevolent dictator of Ethiopia and solidify his power structure. However, in doing so, he needed an ally in the region—the Eritrean regime—to help him oust the TPLF. The partnership between Ethiopia and Eritrea is mutually beneficial since the TPLF is an old enemy of the Eritrean regime. Ahmed transformed from a peacemaker to a warmonger, aligning himself with the last communist dictator on the African continent, Isaias Afwerki.
The question the international community should be asking itself is: Were the actions of Abiy Ahmed against the Tigray region premeditated?
The TPLF is sandwiched between the Eritrean forces to the North and Ethiopian troops and various militias to the South, and it does not have allies in the region that can enable them to sustain their multifaceted conflict. Ahmed tarnished his Nobel laureate for Peace by waging war instead of resolving the conflict peacefully. Eritrea is becoming an influential player in the Horn of Africa, and with the current civil wars in Ethiopia, Yemen, South Sudan, and Somalia, Eritrea appears to be an island of stability and security for international actors.
TPLF: The TPLF’s strategy was to internationalize the conflict and get the international community’s attention. The TPLF understood that they could not win the war if Eritrea became involved and the international community remained silent. Nevertheless, the TPLF miscalculated the tactical response from Eritrea.
In November 2020, the TPLF fired several rockets into Eritrea, striking Eritrean airports, expecting the Eritrean regime to acknowledge that rockets had been fired from Tigray and for Eritrea to declare war on the TPLF in retaliation and to preserve the integrity of Eritrea. However, the TPLF failed to convince the international community that the rocket attacks were retaliatory.
Instead, Eritrea’s refusal to acknowledge the attacks meant the TPLF appeared as aggressors, losing their last amount of international legitimacy. The TPLF launched the rockets in November 2020 because the TPLF had intelligence that Ahmed transported Ethiopian troops to Massawa and Assab, two vital ports in Eritrea.
Ethiopia flew 30 military planes to Eritrea, transporting thousands of Ethiopian soldiers. Thus, the TPLF strategy to internationalize the crisis was sound, but Eritrea’s silence and lack of acknowledgement proved to be counterproductive. Consequently, the Eritrean regime maintained control of the narrative.
Ahmed’s government had no choice but to rely on the Eritrean regime for two reasons. First, the Ethiopian government wanted to wage war on the TPLF on two fronts: from the North, in coalition with Eritrean forces, and from the South, with Ethiopian federal troops and ethnic militias.
Second, Abiy Ahmed did not want other ethnic regions to follow the Tigray region and put his regime’s legitimacy in question.
Ahmed’s alternative was a peaceful approach to the Tigray situation, which he refused to consider because signs of weakness could have created potential internal enemies. Being head of state in the Horn of Africa is a daunting task. Policies of hope and change seem impossible in the region while most leaders continue to play power politics.
Afwerki has been at the centre of geopolitics in the Horn of Africa since joining the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in 1966. After Afwerki’s departure from the ELF, he became the Eritrean People Liberation Front (EPLF) chief architect. It was the EPLF that brought independence to Eritrea in 1991. Afwerki is a brilliant strategist and unequivocally brutal against those who challenge his leadership. Afwerki, a brutal enigmatic communist dictator, cultivated a cult of personality during Eritrea’s struggle for independence.
Thirty years of civil war against a Western and Soviet-backed Ethiopia, coupled with military, political, and leadership lessons learned in China during the Cultural Revolution, have resulted in a unique mastery of realpolitik. Since 1991, Afwerki’s regime in Eritrea has been a malign influence in the Horn of Africa.
Eritrea does not want a robust and stable government in Ethiopia, nor does it wish for democracy to flourish in the Horn of Africa. Afwerki supports the Ahmed government in Ethiopia because it serves to prolong his dictatorship. Uncertainty and insecurity in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa are tools used to garner legitimacy at home, as Afwerki fabricates internal and external enemies to ensure domestic support. Afwerki is an obstacle to the stability and promotion of democracy in East Africa. He knows that Ahmed does not have the support of the Ethiopian people.
The Eritrean regime is conducting hybrid warfare in Tigray in consultation with the Ethiopian government. Mesfin Hagos, former Minister of Defense of Eritrea, who now lives in exile, reports that the Eritrean regime has deployed:
- 42nd and 49th Mechanized Divisions
- 11th, 17th, 19th, and 27th Infantry Divisions
- 2nd Brigade of the 525th Commando Division
- 26th, 28th, 53rd, 46th, and 48th Infantry and Mechanized Divisions
While Abiy Ahmed publicly announced that Eritrean troops would be leaving the Tigray region on March 26, 2021, Eritrean troops have camouflaged themselves as Ethiopian troops and blocked humanitarian access. This is eerily reminiscent of Eritrean actions during the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s when the EPLF closed corridors for humanitarian relief to the Tigray region.
Where did the Eritrean troops get the Ethiopian uniforms? No one knows, but it is plausible that the Ethiopian government gave Ethiopian uniforms to Eritrean troops since both actors wanted to eradicate the TPLF regime and its supporters. Isaias Afwerki removed the TPLF in collaboration with Abiy Ahmed, tarnished Abiy Ahmed’s image domestically and internationally, and made Ethiopia an island of instability where the Eritrean regime could exercise its malign influence.
Promoting uncertainty and insecurity has become the modus operandi for the regime in Eritrea. The regime of Isaias Afwerki in Eritrea is a pariah state in the Horn of Africa and an obstacle to the promotion of democratic norms, values, and stability in East Africa. Thus, how long will international powers remain silent while Isaias Afwerki propagates his malign influence in East Africa? [IDN-InDepthNews – 05 June 2021]
* Daniel Haile is a graduate student at Texas A&M University, The Bush School of Government and Public Service. He is a Masters of International Affairs candidate. He previously wrote for The National Interest. The opinions expressed are the writer’s.
Photo: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali apparently asked Eritrea dictator Isaias Afewerki to launch a second offensive in Tigray with the aim of destroying the TPLF. Source: lndro.it
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