Tuesday
April 23, 2024

Ethiopian Crisis: A Catastrophe in Making

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By: Nabhjyot Arora, Research Analyst, GSDN

Ethiopia: source Internet

Bring the weapon; do you support Fano?’ – a question amongst that many Amnesty International officials asked to the victims of civilian attacks made by the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF). The Horn of Africa has emerged as a geopolitical zone of conflict, with the security crisis coming to the fore after clashes were reported between the government troops and the ENDF insurgents in the Amhara Region on March 01, 2024. The government extended the state of emergency for four months until June 2024, which was initially imposed on August 04, 2023 over months of volatile clashes between the military and militiamen in the Amhara region.

The region is also affected by an ethnic conflict between Oromo and Amhara (Ethiopia’s largest communities) in Western Tigray. The government enabled a federal arrangement for the ethnic groups to create their own state by a referendum as per the provisions laid out in the 1994 constitution. The relations between the central government and ethnic groups in the Tigray Region, however, broke down as the government made efforts to disband and reintegrate the ethnic armed groups into the mainstream community, which was met with strong opposition and armed confrontations with the government security forces.

The federal government has been accused of launching military attacks on civilians against their alleged support for the ethnic armed rebellious groups including Fano and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). Fano is an insurgent group that operates without a formal leadership structure and is spread out into groups in the region. The group backed the federal troops in the Tigray War carried out from November 2020 to November 2022. The war ended in the signing of the Ethiopia–Tigray Peace Agreement (Pretoria Agreement) between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), under the mediation of the African Union on November 02, 2022. The peace deal called for:

  • the withdrawal of foreign forces from the region
  • cessation of hostilities, including the end to hate speech
  • restoration of essential services in the Tigray region
  • access to humanitarian aid in the Tigray region
  • disarmament of TPLF combatants
  • commitment to protect civilians – especially women and children
  • taking steps toward the implementation of a comprehensive Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program.

The conflict continues despite the signing of the peace deal, as the government is accused of disregarding Amhara’s security. Further, there have been apprehensions regarding the centralization of power by Prime Minister Abey Ahmed with the dismantling of state paramilitaries across the country in April 2023. Declaration of an emergency in Amhara followed in August 2023, which allowed for roadblocks to be imposed, suspension of transport services, imposition of curfew, and military to take over in certain areas.

Human Rights Violations

The ongoing conflict pose a threat to the country’s stability – the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reported repeated outbreaks of violence including raids carried out by the forces, highlighting at least 45 extrajudicial civilian killings undertaken by the government security forces on January 29, 2024 in the village of Merawi (Amhara). Similar killings were reported in the regions of Seba Tamit, Bahir-Dar, Abune Hara, and Lideta neighbourhoods of the Kebele 14 area from August 2023 to October 2023. The government stated that the attacks are a part of ‘joint security operation and house-to-house surveillance’ conducted to eliminate the extremist forces.

The EHRC reports of violations of international humanitarian law carried out by the regional forces in Tigray and Oromia including extrajudicial executions, bomb attacks, and enslavement of women carried out during the civil war, which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. There were reports of ethnically-targeted attacks and violence against Tigrayans living in Amhara and Afar regions. The ongoing emergency provisions in the Amhara region have resulted in internet shutdowns, communication blackouts, preventive detention, and curtailment of the freedom of speech and media, despite signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement which also amounts to a violation of the right to life.

Amnesty International reported on the social and economic impact of the violations of international humanitarian law. The conflict has resulted in the displacement of civilians, with over 60,000 people reported to have fled to Sudan and Somalia. Ethiopia is home to more than 3,779,000 Internally Displaced People (IDPs), with the majority of refugees from South Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea. The United Nations (UN) reports that ongoing violence and drought have left about 20 million people in critical need of emergency humanitarian aid. The drought conditions affecting eastern and south-east Ethiopia can also lead to  famine conditions  as observed in 1984-85.

The conflict can undermine the essence of the Pretoria Agreement, hinder reconciliation and peacebuilding efforts, and result in potential sanctions by the United States (US) in case of human rights violations. The US government announced a pause in its food assistance program due to widespread corruption and aid diversion in 2023; while the humanitarian aid resumed in December 2023, humanitarian assistance required for the IDPs is hindered due to roadblocks and only 14 percent of those targeted for food aid had received it by January 21, 2024.

Deal with Somaliland & Access to the Red Sea

The country is the world’s most populous landlocked region, which lost its coastline after the secession of Eritrea in the 1993 War of Independence. Ethiopia is thereby dependent on the Addis-Djibouti Corridor for international trade and aims to gain access to the Red Sea. Ethiopia signed a deal with Somaliland on January 01, 2024, to access the Port of Berbera for commercial marine operations and naval activity in the region. Ethiopia, meanwhile offered support for the declaration of independence for Somaliland. The deal poses a threat to the regional stability in the Horn of Africa, as Somalia claims authority over the self-governing breakaway state of Somaliland, despite of autonomy announced in 1991.

Ethiopia gained the ownership in 2017, with a 19 percent share in the Port of Berbera (Gulf of Aden), however, the country failed to make timely payments which resulted in the fall of the deal. There have been reports that Ethiopia might step back from the deal due to potential regional implications as well as intervention from Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Somalia. Further, incongruity in the terms of the deal suggests that the facility will have both military and commercial purposes, against the claims made to build only a naval base. Ethiopia considers access to the port as a means to strengthen maritime security, and economic and political influence in the region.

Internationalization of Conflict

An escalation of conflict in the Horn of Africa due to the potential fall of diplomatic relations between Somalia and Ethiopia could give rise to the activity of Al-Shabaab in East Africa. The terror group is reported to have increased international recruitment from Ethiopia and Kenya. International Security Studies (ISS) reports that there have been attempts by the terror group to call for youth in Ethiopia to fight against the federal government. Ethiopia is a part of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), though the forces are set to exit Somalia by the end of 2024. The withdrawal of Ethiopian soldiers as a part of African Union peacekeeping missions amid the potential rise of conflict could pave the way for Al-Shabaab to expand its terror operations.

Somalia in turn termed the agreement as a violation of its sovereignty and is backed by the US, UK, and Türkiye. Kenyan Prime Minister William Ruto in association with the regional bloc of The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has been enabling to mediate the conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia, where the leaders reached an agreement termed as ‘Nairobi Declaration’ on February 28, 2024, and February 29, 2024. Ethiopia and Kenya released a joint statement pledging to respect the ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity of states’ without naming Somalia. Kenya assured of the security of the Lamu Port, South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor, which provides Ethiopia an alternative to Port Berbera.

Eritrea, Somalia, and Djibouti raised apprehensions regarding the possibility of Ethiopia taking military means to gain access to the Red Sea. Ethiopia, however, lacks military capabilities to escalate the conflict, though the resurfacing of the issue can draw regional blocs of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Eritrea, and Djibouti against Ethiopia and the UAE to contain any power play in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Further, it could jeopardize the revenue source for Djibouti, which relies on shipping fees from Ethiopia against the access to the Port of Djibouti.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)

Egypt has raised opposition to the development of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile upstream from Egypt to Sudan. The project is undertaken as a potential violation of international law and a 2015 agreement on the development of the dam on mutual understanding; with Ethiopia filling the dam upstream threatens the water supply to Sudan and Egypt downstream. The dam lies in northern Ethiopia’s highlands accounting for 85 percent of the flow of River Nile in the region, which remains critical for the energy security of 60 percent of the population in Ethiopia, in addition to aiding energy requirements for Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, Djibouti, and Eritrea.

Conclusion

The country affected by internal conflict, food insecurity, humanitarian crisis, high inflation, foreign debt, and FOREX crisis relies on aid package negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the African Union (AU); while joining the BRICS forum could boost the investment opportunities and post-conflict reconstruction. Ethiopia as a key member of counterterrorism missions undertaken in association with the AU and the United Nations (UN) since 2007 highlights the strategic importance of the Horn of Africa. Potential escalation of the conflict could affect the containment of internal security crisis with Ethiopia relying on drones from China, Turkey, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which are deployed against the advance of insurgent groups. Reconciliation and recovery efforts with the mediation of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in the humanitarian crisis and diplomatic resolution of the conflict in the Horn of Africa could pave way for balance of power in the region already affected by geopolitical turbulence of civil war in Sudan and Houthi Attacks over the Red Sea.

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