Ethiopia’s prime minister may be starting a civil war

Back to blood: Ethiopia’s prime minister may be starting a civil war

Abiy Ahmed should pursue talks instead

prime minister may be starting a civil war

Nov 5, 2020 (The Economist) — It started as a border skirmish in 1998, between Ethiopian policemen and Eritrean soldiers in Badme, a small village on a barren mountain. One observer at the time likened it to “two bald men fighting over a comb”. It grew into a two-decade-long war in which two of the world’s poorest countries bled themselves to exhaustion. Waves of young men charged across the no-man’s-land between their trenches, in battles reminiscent of the first world war in Europe. Perhaps 100,000 soldiers died, and half a million civilians were forced from their homes.

Among those who fought in Badme was a young Ethiopian radio operator who briefly left his foxhole to position his antenna. When he came back to it, he found his unit had been wiped out in an artillery strike. “War is the epitome of hell,” said Abiy Ahmed, the radio operator who is now Ethiopia’s prime minister. “I know because I was there.” He ended that pointless conflict in 2018, by promising to withdraw Ethiopian troops from Badme and restoring relations with Eritrea. In 2019 Abiy won the Nobel peace prize.

Yet now the peacemaker has turned martial. Early on November 4th, while the world’s eyes were boggling at America’s elections, Abiy ordered his troops into action against the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (tplf), which runs Tigray, a northern region of Ethiopia (see article). He accuses the tplf of attacking an army base to steal weapons. “The last red line has been crossed,” he said. “The federal government is therefore forced into a military confrontation.”

Abiy argues that armed action is needed to bring the tplf to heel and to hold together Ethiopia’s fractious federation of ethnically based states. Yet in resorting to tanks, rather than talks, he risks rolling Ethiopia into another pointless, hellish war. Such a war could lead to the balkanisation of Africa’s second-most-populous country (with 110m people). It could also spread instability into neighbouring countries.

civil war

Start with the balance of forces. Because Tigray was on the front line of the war with Eritrea, it has a large militia and paramilitary force manned by veterans. The army’s Northern Command in Tigray contains more than half of the federal army’s fighting men and its best divisions, according to the International Crisis Group, an ngo. Many of the officers and men in the Northern Command are Tigrayan. If ordered into battle against their own region, many might choose to defend it instead.

Fighting in Tigray could draw in neighbouring Amhara, which has long-standing disputes over the border between the two regions. It could also fan ethnic conflagrations elsewhere in Ethiopia. Even though Oromos, another ethnic group, currently dominate the federal government, Oromo activists are demanding more power and autonomy for their region. Their mobs have been killing members of other groups in multi-ethnic towns and cities in Oromia. Amnesty International has reported that on November 1st Oromo gunmen rounded up 54 people, mostly women and children, and killed them in a schoolyard. Smaller ethnic groups, such as the Sidama in the south, are also agitating for greater autonomy and have mounted pogroms against minorities. Conflict could draw in neighbouring countries, such as Eritrea, which has a score to settle with the tplf dating back to the war it fought with Ethiopia. And it could destabilise Somalia, where Ethiopian troops are battling the jihadists of al-Shabaab.

For almost 150 years since Emperor Menelik II waged the wars of conquest that created the borders of modern Ethiopia, the country’s various governments have used naked power to hold it together against the centrifugal forces of ethnic nationalism. Now, however, violence is more likely to speed up the gyre. To slow it, Abiy and the tplf need to stand their forces down. That would allow time for Ethiopians to talk about how to mend their country’s many rifts—without shooting.


  1. The Ethiopian govt military orchestrated ’rounding and killing of 54 people by Oromo gunmen’ on November 1, 2020 in the area where the Ethiopian govt has stationed large number of soldiers and where the command post has been in place, looks a drama & pre-set ‘report’ when Amnesty International reports that way with one day of the alleged killing and the ‘The Economist’ incorporates in its front page pieces without verifying the authenticity of the allegation of the ’rounding & killing of 54 people’ by Oromo gunmen. Did ‘The Economist’ publish the report about the atrocities & genocide in South Oromia that was investigated, compiled & released by Amnesty International in May/June 2020?

    They quote a report that was not verified by third party, that a ‘crime’ that was calmed to happened in the area where the Ethiopian military is controlling in large number as “Amnesty International has reported that on November 1st Oromo gunmen rounded up 54 people, mostly women and children, and killed them in a schoolyard.” Who is controlling the area where this killing has allegedly happened? The Ethiopian military or the Oromo gunmen?

  2. If Eritrea is allowed to remain as sovereign country then Tigray or Oromia should be allowed to become a sovereign country whenever we want by holding a referendum to become independent.

    The ethnic Oromo or any other ethnic people of Ethiopia should not be forced to fight a civil war inorder to get independence from Ethiopia. Learning from the decades of war fought between EPLF and Ethiopia we should know that civil war will not stop the Tigray people’s demand for independence from becoming a reality . All civil war does in such situations is prolong the misery of the Ethiopian people .

  3. I think Amnesty International should correct the statement that states “Oromo gunmen ” killed 54 people. They need to get the facts accurate. The ethnic cleansing was set up by Command Post that Abiy Ahmed himself lead. Please investigate the killing without labeling and adding fuel to the fire.

    • Good observation. Please contact both Amnesty International and The Economist for correction before it’s further distributed. They are doing Col. Abiy’s and his neftegna cohorts dirty job in blaming Oromo. Oromos only struggle against operation, exploitation and marinalization that came along since Menelik’s barbaric conquest.
      Thank you.

    • Good observation. Please contact both Amnesty International and The Economist for correction before it’s further distributed. They are doing Col. Abiy’s and his neftegna cohorts dirty job in blaming Oromo. Oromos struggle only against opprassion, exploitation and marginalization that came along since Menelik’s barbaric conquest of Oromia.
      Thank you.

  4. Do oromos have activist for freedom or activist for self survival? The habesha media are spitting poison/fire on oromo every day strategically. They have objective,presistentence and metrics- always reach out to people at base from back home and pretend and change false scenario to truth. Why you gus cannot present truth to the public? They persist on same topic and repeat time and again till people or organization take it for truth or believe them. I believe the habesha media has the power to brainwash further the already brainwashed OPDO or PP or Abiy and make them react against oromo. We don’t have mature person on media we badly need someone mature, objective and who will work with plan. I am sorry but I will give you samples of oromo media personal style. They just walk up every day to be driven by Habesha’s agenda. The are not prepared and when they ask different people on issues their feedback is just thank you (Hasiya is a very bad example — Amaseginalew engidi- what the hell is your job on the media if you don’t have idea. Bring in someone who can work and go out to other work, donot be an obstacle. who will listen to such feedback if it useless? Amara is fighting oromo in their home land and they are claiming oromo is committing genocide, what are you guys doing ?

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