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Ethiopia: How Abiy’s reform strategy plunged Ethiopia into conflict

Daily Nation

When Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018, he largely ushered a wave of political reforms.

His first few months in office were characterised by the introduction of a series of political reforms which made him be referred to by many as a “reform champion”.

Among his swift reform moves included the release of thousands of political prisoners, relaxing media control and liberalisation.

But a major turn in events came in June 2018 when Abiy announced his country will “fully accept and implement” a 2000 peace pact which Addis Ababa refused to immediately honour under the former EPRDF regime.

Peace deal
A few weeks later, a peace deal was signed between Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afeworki, ending two-decade-long hostilities.

The peace deal led Abiy to win the Nobel Peace prize award in 2019.

After the rapprochement, the former rival neighbours resumed diplomatic ties, reopened border crossings allowing separated families to reunite, further enabling people on both sides to resume trade.

However, these windows of hope didn’t last long as border crossings on both sides were shut down a few weeks later for unclear reasons.

Mr Abiy’s popular reform ideas, however, started to increasingly attract serious criticism from political groups, including from Tigray elites whose people were the ones who most sacrificed during the 1998-2000 border war with Eritrea, which claimed the lives of at least 70,000 people.

Two-man agreement
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) said the peace deal was a two-man agreement and it doesn’t represent a peace agreement between two countries, hence it was not institutionalised.

Ever since Abiy Ahmed came to power, the Tigray regional government has been at odds with the central government.

Tigray leaders have been defying almost all decisions made by the federal government.

The major driving factors of the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region are generally over differences in the system of governance, electoral disputes and power struggles between TPLF leaders and Prime Minister Abiy.

The war on Tigray has two major elements, ideological and historical, says Abera Negash, a political researcher.

“The ideological side of the war is the contention between those who advocate the federalist state arrangement which embraces regional self-determination and self-administration as its cardinal principle [like TPLF] and those who want a unilateralist and centralised state structure with a strong central government [Abiy’s party, PP]”

Tigray leaders accused the Nobel Laureate of deliberately postponing the election to retain his grip on power.

After the regional elections, the federal government reacted by slashing budgets, funds and subsidies to Tigray.

Abiy further ordered all federal institutions to immediately cut ties and communication with the regional government.

Tigray leaders saw the punitive measures as a “declaration of war” against Tigray and its people who make up six per cent of the country’s estimated 110 million population.

However, the tension between Tigray and the central government boiled early in November when Prime Minister Abiy accused TPLF forces of attacking a federal army based in the region.

‘Red line’

In a televised address, Abiy said Tigray had crossed the “red line” and he officially declared a military offensive against the region on November 4.

He sent ground and air forces in a bid to dislodge the TPLF-led regional force, raising fears of a protracted conflict in Africa’s second-most populous country.

Amare Seyoum, a former army member and resident of Mekelle, explains why TPLF had attacked the North Command Army.

“The federal government wants to restructure the military structure by increasing regional military commands from five to six as an effort to wage war against Tigray from all directions by sandwiching it,” he told the Nation. Read more on the Daily Nation.


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