By Marina de Regt While we were all busy watching the US elections in the first week of November, an armed conflict broke out on the other side of the world, in the already turbulent and instable Horn of Africa. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his efforts to bring about peace between the almost 20-year stalemate between Ethiopia and Eritrea, ordered a military offensive in response to an attack launched by the TPLF (the Tigray People’s Liberation Front) on the national defence force. It resulted in hundreds of deaths amongst whom many civilians and thousands of refugees fleeing their homes in the northern part of Ethiopia crossing the border to Sudan. Last week, when the results of the US elections were finally clear, the conflict has caught the attention of the Western media. Within a very short time Abiy Ahmed’s image as a peacemaker is receding in the eyes of the international community, and he is being pressured to stop the military attacks. But what is really going on in Ethiopia, and how can we explain the fact that this young and promising Prime Minister felt forced to use violence?
(This is the second part of an earlier published article)
By Jan Abbink Next to the demands for more economic rights and protection, the wider background factors of the spreading protests were: mounting dissatisfaction with authoritarian party politics, the interfering presence of party cadres in local life, the lack of accountability of the government, unresolved land allocation issues, lack of proper compensation for those removed from the land, the dismantling of civil society organizations in the last decade, the lack of political and civic freedoms, and the lack of a well-working justice system (as people say, one cannot really bring complaints against the government and get one’s right in the courts).
There is also a longer-term social dynamic involved: large groups of youth are unemployed, and there is still a large urban underclass that is often excluded from high school or vocational education and from jobs. New cultural-political youth movements – in both the classical political sphere as well as in the cultural domain – are seen with suspicion by the government and under close scrutiny. Also, emerging local ethnic elites in the various regional states have been cautiously putting forward new demands – and, paradoxically, their emergence and assertiveness is an achievement of the ‘ethnic politics’ of empowerment that the Ethiopian ruling party and government instituted since 1991 and which has led to many smaller ethnic groups getting ‘special districts’. The ethno-regional rivalry is now also seen in the serious tensions within the ruling party, where the four branches, the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO), the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM) are not always in agreement with the dominant Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).