Ethiopia: Abiy Ahmed’s Prospects Go Awry
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the Nobel laureate, is now accused of human rights abuses and calling on his civilian population to carry arms to secure the capital against a potential assault by rebels who include not just the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) but also eight other ethnic factions that joined an anti-Ahmed pact in an attempt to unseat him.
What went wrong is Abiy’s failure to navigate or deal with the deep ethnic divisions that have persisted in Africa’s second-most-populous nation since the 1960s. Equally unfortunate for the Nobel laureate is that he is now left isolated by the U.S. and Europe. An indication of that isolation is two-fold. The pact of the opposition factions was signed in Washington. Secondly, the U.S. has cut off aid to his government and accused his troops of committing grave human rights violations in his war with the Tigray rebels. But his isolation is further aggravated by his worsening relationship with two of his African neighbors—Sudan and Egypt. Both countries have been working to weaken his government because of their dispute with him over the Grand Renaissance Dam he is building over the Blue Nile. For those internal and external factors Mr. Ahmed’s own future suddenly looks much more tenuous.
It’s just a short time since Abiy won elections and almost a year since he declared military victory over the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the ethnic-based party whose forces now threaten Addis Ababa and which dominated Ethiopia until Abiy took office. Today he has to contend with eight other factions that joined forces with the Tigray rebels.
The U.S. Factor
Washington has for sometimes now relied on Ethiopia as a focal point in its strategy to contain China’s influence in the Horn of Africa. That reliance may end soon. The Biden administration has warned that that Ethiopia will lose access to some U.S. trade programs unless it ends the internal conflict and improve the humanitarian crisis by January 2022. President Biden has determined that Ethiopia no longer qualifies for some lucrative duty-free American trade opportunities that give African nations access to the U.S. market. U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffry Feltman has said that “as the war approaches its one-year anniversary the United States and others cannot continue ‘business as usual’ relations with the government of Ethiopia.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has” called on “all parties “ to stop military operations and begin ceasefire negotiations without preconditions. American citizens to leave the country as the security situation continues to worsen. These moves by the Biden administration may be a prelude to Washington’s reconsidering its reliance on Addis Ababa as a focal point for its strategy in the Horn of Africa. Not only is Abiy Ahmed weakening but the entire country could be divided along ethnic lines.
The Egypt Factor
While Egypt has no serious plans for military confrontations with the current Ethiopian government over the Grand Renaissance dispute it seeks to further weaken Abiy Ahmed and help unseat him, hoping that a chaotic Ethiopia might may want to reach an agreement that is more favorable to Egypt. The Egyptians have been supporting rebellious factions directly and indirectly through the Generals who until recently shared ruling Sudan with a civilian prime minister. Any change in the U.S. support for Abiy Ahmed’s government would be a welcome sign for Cairo.
The Sudan Factor
The reason why Egypt has not joined the international community in condemning the recent military coup in Sudan is not only that the leader of the coup, General Abdel Fattah Al-Buran is close to Egypt’s President Al-Sissi but also because Al-Burhan and Sudan’s military have been encouraging and supplying the rebels in Ethiopia with arms and military equipment. Not only are the weapons coming directly from Sudan but the Egyptian Intelligence Service has also been channeling arms shipments through the Sudanese military. Both Egypt and Sudan are threatened by a potential shortage of the Nile water and want to preserve their water supplies. The Egyptians have called for stability and calm in Sudan following the military coup nut so far never called for the restoration of the civilian-military power sharing arrangement. And General Al-Burhan reportedly visited Egypt just before he initiated the coup in his country. The leaders in both Sudan and Egypt are motivated by their desire to wreck domestic havoc in Ethiopia.
The Time Factor While the Biden administration has set January 1st as a deadline for Abiy Ahmed to resolve the crisis in his country or face further sanctions the humanitarian and security situations are deteriorating even as the advancing rebels may have difficulties overrunning Addis Ababa. Abiy Ahmed may not fall and may negotiate a political settlement with the opposition forces, Ethiopia will remain at war with itself. More By The Author