Ethiopia: No military action against Tigray regional state

Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed says there will be no military action against Tigray regional state, calls for support for Debretsion.

Tigray _ military
Debretsion Gebremicael with Isaias Afeworki (photo : OPM/file)

July 29, 2020

Tigray regional state has been acting as a de facto state essentially since a little after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took over power in April 2018. From defying Federal court order to hand over criminals who had been dominant in the Federal government for over a quarter-century to federal government policies – Tigray authorities have clearly demonstrated a regional power that has not enshrined the country’s constitution to which they relate themselves as an ardent defender.

The existence of the party that governs the region Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has evolved much like an opposition party. Yet, it is part of the government. When members and support parties of the former ruling coalition, EPRDF coalition, merged to form a single united national party (Prosperity Party), the former master parted ways outlining ideological difference, among others. An attempt was made to mobilize “Federalist Forces” to challenge the Federal government which is under the PP party. Before making much progress in that direction, the Federalist Coalition, which was meant to “rescue” the constitution and the “federal form of government,” dismissed TPLF from membership.

The latest string of confrontation with the Federal government was over the sixth general election. The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) said in April of this year that it cannot go ahead with the scheduled election in August 2020 as the Coronavirus epidemic offset activities essential for the election. The Ethiopian parliament was convinced with NEBE explanation but postponing the election was in a collision course with the Constitution.  

In an effort to resolve a constitutional limbo, the parliament (and the House of Federation) decided to refer the matter to a constitutional inquiry commission to have four articles of the constitution interpreted to extend the election date. The result was that the House of the federation extended the election until nine to twelve months after a relevant authority declared the Coronavirus is no longer a threat to the country.

But the decision was not acceptable to TPLF. It decided to organize its own election in the region which the NEBE declined to recognize.

Theoretically, the Federal government is faced with enforcing the rule of law and defending the constitution. In fact, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed himself spoke out saying no other entity in the country could organize an election.  However, the Tigray regional state continued to defy and proceeded with it.

There was anticipation that the Federal government’s move to enforce Federal laws in the region could cause a military conflict. And it appeared that there was a great deal of interest in it on the part of Tigray regional authorities as they have deepened mobilization for it.  Abiy Ahmed’s last visit to Asmara was taken among leaders in the region as something that signals impending military action.

This week the prime minister had an interview, in Tigrigna, with Fana Broadcasting Tigrigna service.  Apparently, the PM minister deliberately made the interview in Tigrigna language to engage people in the Tigray region. The key message was that there will be no military action against the Tigray region despite the challenges that TPLF is posing on the Federal government in terms of enforcing the rule of law. From the interview, it is clear that the PM aimed at de-escalating the tension with Tigray regional government which a considerable number of Ethiopians consider as, rightly, a good decision.

“There will be no Ethiopian politics that excludes the people of Tigray…The people of Tigray have been playing an irreplaceable role since the formation of Ethiopia and are still playing a part,” he said.

His interview, which came at a time when the Tigray region sent a mediation team under the leadership of Addis Alem Balema, portrayed divergence forces within TPLF. For him, the region’s president (and chairman of TPLF) Debretsion Gebremichael is cooperative and wants to work with the Federal government. The other one is a force that is mobilizing for war. He called on people in Tigray to support Debretsion Gebremichael.

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