Hard to argue that war is for the defense of people

(Photo: Anteneh Aklilu)

One of the most unnerving things about analyzing politics in Ethiopia has been the need to start thinking in terms what financial analysts call “tail risk” the likelihood that events normally considered rare or unlikely will actually happen.
Five years ago, most pundits would have described as exceedingly small the likelihood of someone like Dr. Abye Ahmed a junior minister who had no political experience at all being elected prime minister. Yet it happened.
Two years ago, epidemiologists would have given a range of probabilities on the question of whether a pandemic would soon kill millions around the world in the space of 10 months.
Six months ago who would have predicted that the Federal Government would declare a state of war on TPLF?
Conditions in Ethiopia today resemble those of 1970s Ethiopia. The country is sliding for yet another civil war. Already the ties that bind us are fraying at alarming speed we are becoming contemptuous of each other in ways that are both dire and possibly irreversible.
One of the oddities of civil war is that it’s hard to say, except in retrospect, when a nation has passed the point of no return. Once you have crossed that fateful border, there’s no possibility of turning back.
Is that where we are today? For the answer to be “no” means either that one side in this devastating political conflict will simply admit defeat, or that there will be some softening of grievances, followed by a negotiated settlement. Does that seem likely?
You tell me.
What if civil war isn’t what we should be worried about but instead something different? Something like the Derg’s Red Terror, perhaps?
That’s even more terrifying. But let’s stick on the civil war issue, for now.
Looking at the deepening rift in Ethiopia between the administration of Abye Ahmed and the insurgents in Tigray the fundamentally incompatible visions of Ethiopian nationhood that the two factions hold, the huge damage already done, the scope of the humanitarian crisis, the thousands of people killed, and the implacable fury with which they grapple for every atom of power – can any of us imagine some way forward in which this Government and the people of Tigray just “bury the hatchet” and “hug it out”?
The war in Tigray will definitely tear apart the social and economic fabric of the country. The number of casualties is devastating, but the war is also destroying the institutions and systems that societies need to function, and repairing them will be a greater challenge than rebuilding infrastructure a challenge that will only grow as the war continues.
Some voices are beginning to be heard on the question of whether or not Abye Ahmed’s administration has the means to defeat the increasing insurgency in Tigray, prevent a possible conventional war with Sudan and its allies, resolve the GERD issues, halt the Eritrean forces (which cannot be labelled as pacific) from rampaging Northern Tigray, and the various internal ethnic strife and violence haunting the country today.
Is Abye Ahmed the right man to untangle this mess? While at the same time remake Ethiopian society… remold its economy… and reshape its politics?
Can he? You decide.
No matter how hard the administration tries to pacify Tigray, it will always prove to be unpredictable. The TPLF forces will certainly make sure the region remains in “not peace” condition, along with all the economic and security ramifications. As far as we know, no one has succeeded in making a country prosperous while waging a civil war.
The government and particularly the Prime Minister needs to be far more honest about the crisis in Tigray. It is far from clear how it (the Abye administration) plans to end the war. In any case, if it wins some form of tactical victory, the country still must live with the reality that follows, and purely military solutions will always account to the equivalent of cut and run. If it (the Abye administration) loses its grip, the wrath of the masses may be impossible to contain. Ethiopia with a history of cleavages and civil wars, and diverse population and socioeconomic disparity can be catapulted into Balkanization.
The question is, can this outcome be avoided?
At this stage it may require some miracle. But still, the Abye administration or the coming administration should give priority to stopping the war, first by withdrawing its forces from Tigray unconditionally and avoid, further social disintegration, political breakup, or collective nervous breakdown. Second, it should demand the withdrawl of Eritrean forces from the territories of Tigray. Third, it should seek mediation to end the conflict, and fourth it should mobilize sufficient buy-in from external actors to support the entire process.
There is no easy solution to this complex and destructive war, but if our leaders are going to follow advice our intuitions tell us that external actors play a crucial role in determining how (and whether) civil war concludes.
Don’t waste time on excuses. Do the right thing!