By: Patted Shamanth, GSDN
Ethiopia is ethnically heterogeneous; with over 80 major ethnic groups. The 1994 Constitution made Ethiopia a federal republic with the right to self-determination for ethnically-based regional entities. Ethnicity has been the cornerstone of political representation since 1991, when the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), was founded. A coalition of four major ethnically oriented parties with the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) functioning as the coalition’s leading force.
However, the long-reigning Tigrayan control of the national government was overthrown by protests in 2017 and Abiy Ahmed Ali was appointed Ethiopia’s prime minister in April 2018. He pledged to undertake a series of reforms that included the creation of the (PP) Prosperity Party (A single ruling party that was replaced by the EPRDF). However, three of EPRDF’s four parties were merged into PP, while TPLF refused to integrate itself with PP. The creation of the PP and his decisions to bypass TPLF in the appointment of the new cabinet and top officers was perceived as moving away from Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism.
Furthermore, in 2020, tensions swelled as the Abiy Ahmed-led government decided to extend the prime minister’s tenure and postpone the elections scheduled for August that year until the end of the pandemic. Deeming the decision invalid the Tigrayan regional government held a regional election in September 2020. The TPLF secured the majority of seats in the regional parliament. In retaliation, the ruling government cut their budgetary allocations for Tigray as their actions were considered invalid.
On November 3, 2020, these tensions escalated even further and erupted into a full-fledged war. When Abiy Ahmed ordered a military offensive by the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) against the Tigray Defense Force (TDF), who had taken control of the military headquarters in Mekelle, the regional capital of Tigray. Further tensions spilled over among other ethnic groups outside of Tigray, in which a slew of violent attacks against ethnically Oromo residents was witnessed. the government issued an order proclaiming an emergency in Amhara state in April 2021.
The overall conflict erupted into a civil war, with disastrous humanitarian effects by worsening the living conditions of almost six million people. In addition to the conflict, Tigray has had one of the worst famines in recent times, which was made worse by Abiy Ahmed’s decision to repeatedly deny humanitarian access to the region. Ethiopia also reported 5.1 million internally displaced people in a single year, the most of any country in a single year in 2021. This overall general state of affairs not only brings about humanitarian misery but also restrains economic development. As Resources shift from productive to destructive activities, reducing growth would result in Ethiopia’s fragmentation, placing it at risk of becoming yet another failed state.
Also, Ethiopia is at the centre of one of Africa’s five major disputes: the Nile water conflict or the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) issue. As a result of the continuing internal crises, Sudan and Egypt might have a gain over the GERD issue. Interestingly, even a small spill over effect from the Ethiopian crisis could have a grave influence on the stability of its neighbours. As the Horn of Africa is a conflict-inner region where both internal and external threats to a state intertwine, each nation’s security and stability are closely related to those of its neighbours.