Explaining the Conflict in Ethiopia, Finding Solutions: By Dr. Getachew Metaferia

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By Getachew Metaferia, Ph.D.

Situations have led the country to oppose the TPLF as an organization, and not the Tigrian people.

The current conflict in Ethiopia seems to be given different and erroneous interpretations by most members of the international community. This misinterpretation could be because of misinformation about the situation, misunderstanding of Ethiopian history and general ethos of Ethiopians, or simply the desire to provide simplistic answers to a complex situation. This is a country that boasts a long, and enduring history full of triumphs and tribulations, especially in its recent memory. As such Ethiopia’s history is dotted with periods of assimilation, nation-building, external conquests and being on the verge of total disintegration, and internal regional strife. Through such course of history, this ancient country has managed to build and foster a sense of strong Ethiopian identity and national spirit. Hence, although they might have their own internal differences, interests, and aspirations, like other countries, its people have forged a unity and strength especially when faced with external or internal threats. Unlike most countries, Ethiopia’s people have a common and shared history they can refer to. Based on such historical facts, the degeneration of the current situation into civil conflict and disintegration of the country remains implausible. That is the link that foreign observers most often miss.

Ethiopia was under a Monarchy that for centuries was known for bringing the vast realm of the country together at times through conquests and at times through amicable relations such as generations of intermarriages and blended blood. Consequently, most Ethiopians remain uneasy about claiming full-blooded membership in any single ethnic group. The country has always been a mosaic of interwoven cultures and beliefs uninterrupted by foreign dominations or colonial rules.

The monarchy which, despite some flaws, played an important role in Ethiopia’s history, was terminated when a despotic military dictatorship, Derg (1974-1991), assumed power and left its atrocious imprint in the country’s history. Later, it was replaced by the Tigrai People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), that had its genesis in a secessionist guerrilla warfare. When the end of the Derg became eminent, in order to gain acceptance by Ethiopians, TPLF formed and controlled Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Forces (EPRDF), composed of four ethnic-based rebel groups who had fought against the Derg. After 27 years of total control of the country TPLF/EPRDF was dismantled in 2018 through internal rearrangements and reorganized as the Prosperity Party headed by the current Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmad. As a result, the TPLF felt marginalized in the new political arrangement, recoiled back into its ethnic-region (Tigri) and continued to challenge the central government and undermine peace and stability in the country. Because it used to totally control all aspects of the country for 27 years, it now felt powerless, having lost the pinnacle of power, and thus became an existential threat to the country.

Finally, the TPLF’s abuse of power and misrule of Ethiopia (1991-2018) led most Ethiopians to hold ill feelings towards the ruling cabal. The following are some of the serious grievances leveled against the TPLF:

1. It exhibited outrageous corruption, land grabbing, and ethnic-based favoritism and ethnic chauvinism. Ethiopians felt marginalized, neglected and alienated.

2. It inflicted gross human rights abuses and inhuman treatment of the incarcerated.

3. It gerrymandered the country on ethnic and linguistic bases, leading the citizenry into a dichotomous relation of “we and them”, downplaying their long and interwoven tapestry of history and culture. On the other hand, TPLF concocted and/or emphasized real or imaginary differences and divisions.

4. It monopolized all facets of the country: politics, economy, military, social, and even intruded in the affairs of religious institutions to garner loyalty.

5. It muzzled the free press, denied freedom of speech and democratic rights, secretly armed followers and stockpiled illegal weapons, unleashed agents and informers in the society nand governmental institutions, unbecoming of a junior partner (province/region) of a federated sovereign state.

6. It assisted and enabled domestic uprisings and collaborated with foreign enemies in order to destabilize and/or undermine the country and even forcefully overthrow the government.

7. Finally, it attacked, slaughtered and inhumanly treated the Ethiopian national army posted in Tigri region. The army was involved in providing community services to farmers such as collecting harvest and fighting locust invasion. Such a heinous act is unacceptable by any country. The Ethiopian government was forced to take appropriate measures to bring the criminals to justice.

Such situations have led the country to oppose the TPLF as an organization, and not the Tigrian people. Ethiopians feel that Tigrians themselves have suffered under the regime, and only a handful of cliques tied through family connections benefited. As a result, most Ethiopians would hardly shed tears for the demise of the TPLF and the predicament their elites face today which is of their own making. The TPLF, during its waning day, is trying to internationalize this conflict by claiming to have bombed Eritrea. However, cool heads seem to have prevailed in the Eritrean leadership which refused to be drawn into the conflict, as they well know that it was not worth flogging this dying horse. It is on the edge of a cliff facing its mortal demise. The Eritrean position will also deter other historical enemies of Ethiopia who may have overt or covert ties to the TPLF from joining this conflict.

Looking forward, after the situation subsides and the dust settles, it would be an opportune time for the government, civic organizations, and political, religious and cultural leaders of the country to call for a national peace and reconciliation convention in order to find lasting solutions to the country’s myriad problems. Then, the focus must be on national development, democracy-building and embarking on bold programs that address poverty reduction, actively engage the large number of youths towards building the country, and generally meeting the basic needs of the people. It is about time for friendly countries, as they have done in the past, to extend their hands to help Ethiopia get reinvigorated and embark on the arduous task of recovery and reconstruction. The lion’s share of the task, however, remains in the hands of all Ethiopians who continue to be the captains of the ship of state (to use Plato’s analogy) of Ethiopia and its destiny.

About the author: Dr. Getachew Metaferia is professor of political science at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.


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