Recent acts of military aggression by the Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his government towards his own people in the northern region of Tigray has called into question his true commitment to peace for which he received a Nobel Peace Prize earlier this year by the Norwegian Nobel Peace Committee. 

The Prime minister may have worked hard to bring a seeming end to twenty years of armed conflict between Ethiopia and her neighbor Eritrea but appears to be contradicting himself with the start of what appears to be new civil or ethnic armed conflict within his own country of 109.2 million people.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali showing his Nobel Prize medal and diploma at the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony at the Oslo City Hall in Norway, 10 December 2019. 
© Nobel Media. Photo: Ken Opprann

Ethiopia is the only originally independent African country to have escaped European colonization despite its past history with Italy but the country is deeply divided on ethnic lines.

Many saw Mr. Abiy’s assumption of power from a minority Oromo ethnic group in 2018 after massive nation-wide popular protests as a new dawn of a broader ruling coalition and unity in the country with a vast geography and demography. But the coalition government of Prime Minister Abiy fell apart shortly following his attempts to introduce reforms. 

Demonstrators in the Oromo region of Ethiopia. Source|TRT World

This week’s ordering of a military offensive on the northern border region of Tigray has further helped to escalate ethnic divisions and tensions in the country. 

The Prime Minister has justified his internal aggression by accusing the Tigray region’s ruling People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), of launching an attack on a federal military base in the region that resulted in “many martyrs, injuries and property damage”. 

The Nobel Peace man then went ahead to declare a state of emergency in the region for the next six months, shutting down telephone services, electricity and internet connection to the entire population of the region, akin to a totalitarian regime. 

Between 1991 and 2018, The TPLF held power in Ethiopia and the Tigray region, which it controls, was the base of Ethiopia’s war with Eritrea between 1998 and 2018 when nationwide popular mass protests brought Mr. Abiy from the minority Oromo ethnic group to power to form a broad governing coalition called the EPRDF. 

In November 2019, the EPRDF fell apart and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed merged the smaller parties into a new party called the Prosperity Party (PP) that he officially founded on 1 December 2019.

This new governing coalition, of course, did not include the TPLF and greatly diminished its power at the federal level.

The Ethiopian Prime Minister received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, merely a year into office, for making a peace deal and restoring normal relations with Ethiopia’s long-time foe Eritrea but has faced increasing criticism from other ethnic groups for locking up opposition leaders who have fought the war with Eritrea for many years.

Several clashes between different ethnic groups in several parts of the country have been blamed on the Prime Minister’s lack of interest in internal ethnic unity and cohesion. 

Meanwhile, the Tigray regional governing party, the TPLF, fell out with Mr. Abiy’s governing coalition and has formed a strong opposition against his government. 

Tensions have since been growing between the regional ruling party and the central government. The Prime Minister has escalated the tensions in the country by proposing in a draconian fashion to the federal parliament to outlaw and designate the TPLF, an opposing political party, as a ‘terrorist organization’.

Mr. Abiy has tried to justify the ethnic war against his own people with the claim that armed attackers ‘tried to loot’ federal government military assets in the region this week (not that they looted). 

Peace Prize winner aiming at a “War Prize”

For the Nobel Peace Prize winning Prime Minister, the alleged attempted looting was “the last red line that had been crossed” by his opponents and this has ‘forced’ his government into a military confrontation with the regional government led by the TPLF.

Although these alleged ‘attackers and attempted looters’ were apparently identified in uniforms, ‘’resembling that of Eritrean forces’, Mr. Abiy argues that the regional government is responsible for dressing its attacking forces in those uniforms as a decoy to “implicate the Eritrean government in ‘false claims of aggression’ against the people of Tigray. 

This seems to have angered many in the region who accuse the Prime Minister of protecting and defending invading Eritrean forces in an attempt to keep his Nobel Peace Pact intact. This has led many to raise questions concerning whether or not the peace pact between the two warring countries is a fiction.  

The Peace-Prize winning Prime Minister shockingly did not even use a day to thoroughly investigate the true perpetrators of the alleged attacks against the federal military base before unleashing a military offensive on the entire region of Tigray, which is democratically governed by his biggest political opponents out of his ruling coalition. 

Again, this military asset attack that triggered the current impasse is the same military base that the country set up twenty plus years ago to defend the Tigray region and Ethiopia from the invading Eritrean forces.  

This history of the region is why Tigray has its own legally armed military and militia under the control of a regional government.  

But the main and real source of the current tensions is the unilateral decision of the Prime Minister to indefinitely postpone elections scheduled for this year under the guise of fighting corona virus

This decision was not taken in good faith by the opposition TPLF and its leaders who defied the decision and went ahead to organize regional elections in September, accusing the Prime Minister of attempting to illegally perpetuate his rule.

A member of Tigray Special Forces casts his vote in a local election in the regional capital Mekelle, in the Tigray region of Ethiopia Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. People began voting in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region on Wednesday in a local election defying the federal government and increasing political tensions in Africa’s second most populous country. (AP Archive)

But Mr. Abiy has justified his offensive by making unverifiable claims in a nationally televised address that “The national defense force that has been in the bunkers for the past 20 plus years defending its people and the country by paying heavy sacrifices with its blood and flesh, has been attacked by its own citizens in Mekelle and many other places by traitors and the forces they organized”.

This frame grab from a video obtained from the Ethiopian Public Broadcaster (EBC) on November 4, 2020, shows Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed saying that he is ordering a military response to a deadly attack by the ruling party of Tigray, a region locked in a long-running dispute with Addis Ababa, on a camp housing federal troops 

Regional President, Debrestion Gebremichael, told the media in reaction that the Prime minister is attacking the region and its people primarily as a punishment for organizing its own election for the Tigray parliament in September against Federal government wishes. 

Who is telling the truth?

We may not know. But we know that it is the responsibility of the Prime Minister to protect his own people and not fight them with military forces. 

When it comes to the corona virus pandemic, most African countries have gone ahead with their presidential elections this year as the pandemic has become less and less of a public health issue. 

This notwithstanding, many African leaders have tried bending the rules to perpetuate their stay in power. 

Others have manipulated their supreme courts and electoral commissions against the popular will of their people while many more have tampered with their constitutions or prosecuted and jailed opposition candidates or prevented them from taking part in elections by simply imposing impossible qualifying criteria to keep away potential challengers. 

Few African leaders chose to postpone the elections entirely in order to stay in power much longer, one of them is Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia. All these African leaders have had to do this at the expense of the peace and security of their people.

Unfortunately, countries like the United States that once stood against those undermining democracies around the world, including such African leaders, has lost the democratic moral high ground with their support for some brutal dictators and their sponsorship of regime change subversive activities around the globe. 

This has allowed many African incumbents to increasingly get away with undemocratic tendencies.

The Nobel Peace Prize winning Prime Minister of Ethiopia appears very impatient with the Tigray opposition leaders because he thinks they are working to undermine his authority.

But many observers think the prime minister is to blame for the crisis for his exclusion of TPLF officials in his reform plans and for purging the region’s popular leaders. 

His decision to postpone the elections was also unilateral and seen as a ruse to continue to stay in power.

Under the current state of emergency, movement of people have been restricted with passenger vehicles not operating while the airspace has also been closed, according to Ethiopian national media reports. Banks in the region are also closed. 

The people of Ethiopia in that part of the country are completely under siege by their own government led by a man who received a global prize for peace with another country only a year ago.

Tigray in “Darkness”

Ethiopia has no private mobile phone companies. And with only one state-owned mobile phone operator in the country, it was easy for the Federal government to shut it down in the region. 

But how can a Prime minister who came to power on the back of popular mass protests powered by social media be so quick to take away the people’s power of expression and freedoms of speech without even blinking an eye? 

The national Ethiopian Airlines has also stopped flights to the Tigray region. This means that the Prime minister has effectively isolated and cut off the region from the rest of the country and the world for their opposition to his government’s unilateral decisions. 

The offensive from the Prime minister seems to be giving way for local officials to take autonomous actions. 

For example, according to international media reports, the regional leaders are still in charge of the region, with its forces patrolling the boarder it shares with the Amhara region.

The regional leaders have also made unverifiable claims that federal forces deployed to the region by the Prime minister have defected to the regional side while a general appointed by Mr. Abiy to the northern command was blocked from taking office by regional leaders who said that ‘they will never be the first to shoot nor the first to blink’ but they will protect their people. 

All these reports point to a looming danger and threat of civil conflict in that country under the leadership of a Nobel Peace laureate. 

And yet, the imminent threat of an armed conflict between the federal government and the local authorities in Tigray has been brewing for a long time, making the current escalation not so surprising to many Ethiopians and Africans who have paid close attention to the events there.

Even Abiy’s close relationship with Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki, who the Tigray’s consider as a bitter foe, has also contributed to this bad blood between the government and the opposition.

The embattled Prime Minister has claimed that his aim of military intervention in the northern region of Tigray is “to save the country and region from instability”. Yet, instability in Ethiopia is exactly what is unfolding before our very eyes.

The biggest problem for Prime Minister Abiy and his government is that all regions in Ethiopia, have their own well-trained and autonomous armed police and militia. 

This means that any potential internal conflict could be a recipe for disaster for the massive civilian population of the country. 

And any escalation of armed conflict in the Tigray region could spread to the rest of the country, or even give radical or rebel elements in Eritrea and the horn of Africa in general, an opportunity to renew the age-old war in the region. 

This is the time for the African Union to proactively call the Aggressive Prime minister to order. As for the Nobel Peace Committee, they must know that the credibility of the Peace Prize is on the line as the so-called peace laureate is busy seeking a prize for war against his own people.

Source: Sacut Amenga-Etego