Fresh from his inauguration, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister and Nobel Laureate, Abiy Ahmed, has launched a staggering attack on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), involving a combination of soldiers, drones, tanks and airstrikes and reigniting a devastating civil war that is imperiling the lives of hundreds of thousands and pushing Africa’s second populated country more and more to the brink. Since Ethiopia’s army’s devastating defeat in Tigray in July, the government has been on an enlistment drive, summoning all capable citizens to enlist in the armed forces to enable the government to unleash the “entire defensive capability” of Ethiopia on the rebels in Tigray to stop them “once and for all”. Abiy has completely ignored appeals by the international community as well as the regional government in Tigray for negotiations to resolve the conflict peacefully.
Since the senseless war started in November 2020, thousands have been killed and over 2 million people have been displaced. What is more, the United Nations warned that at least 400, 000 people are at risk of famine caused by the Ethiopian government’s “de factor humanitarian blockade” of the Tigray region.
But the entire country is bearing the brunt of the war. From a consistent 10 percent growth, Ethiopia’s economy is projected to slow significantly to a mere 2 percent in 2021. The country’s debt is also expected to rise from just above $35 billion to $60 billion this year, nearly 70 percent of GDP. Prices of goods and services have skyrocketed since the beginning of the war and the local currency has been losing value steadily.
To finance the war, Abiy has not only been on a borrowing spree, he is also coercing banks and the private sector to donate to the war effort. In August, as reported by Bloomberg, over 400 million birr ($8.8 million) was raised in a funding round, largely by four Ethiopian banks. In December last year, half of that amount (200 million birr) was donated to the army by the Ethiopian Bankers’ Association. Not done, the government “sent out consent forms to civil servants nationwide asking them to contribute one month’s salary to the armed forces” to finance the war.
Since Western countries, led by the US, greatly reduced the over $3.5 billion (representing between 50 to 60 percent of its national budget) in development aid to Ethiopia until the violence is stopped, Abiy has been scampering to finance his belligerence in Tigray. He has asked the IMF for a bail-out and has also asked creditors for forgiveness of Ethiopia’s over $35 billion external debt. Meanwhile, he won’t stop borrowing to finance the war effort.
Also, to circumvent the West’s arms embargo on the government, Abiy has turned to Turkey and Iran to replace arms supplied from Germany, France and Israel. Expectedly, China and Russia continue to prevent the UN security council from placing an arms embargo on the Ethiopia government.
In 2019, just after eleven months in office, the Norwegian Nobel Committee was fooled into awarding Abiy Ahmed a Nobel Peace Prize on account of his moves to end the long-running border war and the no-peace-no-war situation, restoring diplomatic relations and travels between Ethiopia and Eritrea. But it later turned out that the rapprochement with Isaias Afwerki, the brutal Eritrean dictator, was not for peace but just to isolate and hem-in a common enemy – the TPLF – on all sides. On November 4, while the attention of the world was focused on the US, Abiy, in collaboration with Eritrean troops launched a brutal military war on Tigray to topple the TPLF and suppress the Tigrayan people whose elite has governed Ethiopia for more than 30 years but willingly handed over power to Abiy, an ethnic Oromo, in a spirit of national reconciliation. To give cover to the troops and enable their atrocities, Abiy ordered electricity and all communications and internet services to be cut in Tigray and prevented all journalists and humanitarian workers access to the region.
Of course, before long, credible accusations of massacres, ethnic cleansing, extrajudicial killings, widespread looting and rape, food blockade, stoppage of all farming activities including ploughing, planting, or harvesting and the killing of livestock and looting of farm equipment began surfacing. It was clear the Ethiopian troops and their Eritrean collaborators are not just determined to brutally suppress Tigray, but also deliberately instigate a famine and use starvation as a weapon of war.
But in July, the war turned on its head with the TDF beating back the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, taking over 6000 Ethiopian troops captives and moving towards the Amhara region to try to end the blockade of Tigray. Despite the stunning victory, the TPLF made it clear they were not trying to break up the country and are open to peaceful negotiations to end the war. Abiy however, has been shockingly belligerent, erratic and gung-ho, insisting on a total military victory he is incapable of achieving.
Abiy’s war mongering isn’t just restricted to Ethiopia. His entire foreign policy is built on juvenile belligerence and lack of finesse. This can be seen in the border skirmishes with Sudan and the looming threat of war with Egypt and Sudan over the filling of the massive hydropower dam on the Nile.
Since coming to power in 2018, Abiy has demonstrated a shocking incapacity to manage Ethiopia’s fragile and ethnic federation. His transition from a Nobel Peace Laureate to an erratic war monger and a war criminal didn’t take long. Worse, he is on pace to destroy the continent’s fastest growing economy and threaten the continued unity of Africa’s second biggest country by population. Sadly, the African Union that should have called him to order or play a prominent role in peacefully resolving the crisis, is firmly behind his foolish belligerence. Perhaps, after completely destroying Ethiopia’s economy and killing millions, it will dawn on Abiy that he has embarked on a foolish war he cannot win militarily, that the Tigray people are the backbone of the Ethiopian armed forces and have a solid history of fighting and successfully resisting domination.