Editor’s note: Kebour Ghenna writes “How Did Ethiopia So Badly Miscalculate Its War with Tigray?” Is the war against Tigray? His article appeared first on his personal Facebook page
A mission to rid the country of “Terrorist TPLF” is leading Ethiopia in tragic directions. As we approach the 1st anniversary of TPLF’s attack on the Northern Command, I cannot escape this sad conclusion: The Government of Ethiopia, and the nation as a whole got nearly everything about its response wrong, on the big issues and the little ones, leaving today the people of Ethiopia more afraid, more confused, and more alone in the world.
Miscalculating the war?
A miscalculation by the Abiy Administration transformed the uneasy relations between the Tigray Regional State leaders and Abiy Ahmed into open hostilities. Abiy’s military planners have conducted the war by miscalculation. They erroneously estimated their adversaries’ military power, mobilization capabilities, and reaction of the international community. The result has been a tragedy of miscalculation, putting into question the unity of the whole country.
This war is an identity-power driven war, where both parties are more interested in consolidating their personal power than in state-building. In such wars there are direct and indirect costs of war, that the indirect costs are far greater than the direct costs, and that the costs of war endure long after a formal political peace is agreed. And yet, relatively well to do Ethiopians who should have known better, have fully embraced the war, accepting blindly three myths about this military campaign as truth:
Myth no.1 – It’s going to be a ‘short war’.
Remember both the French and Germans in 1914 also believed the conflict would be short, but World War I lasted four years and took millions of lives. The same can be said about the Afghan or Iraq wars or the Ethio-Eritrean war. They zig zagged, they took longer time to end, were much more expensive, much bloodier, much more horrific than anyone thought at the beginning.
Myth no.2 is all about ‘We are the mighty’. Ethiopia’s past victory over Fascist Italy encourages this myth. People believe Ethiopia has one of the best army and air force in the continent. Many also believe that will be enough to defeat an enemy. But that’s not enough. You’ll need at least plenty of courage, which the country has aplenty, but also great war generals. Which we seem to have in short supply. As they say: a good general can make bad army look good!
Myth no.3 is the idea that ‘Armies go to war’. In the case of Ethiopia, the army didn’t go to war, the nations did.
The long-term damage resulting from the Abiy Ahmed administration miscalculations is quite significant. While part of the damage is physical, even more significant is the mental damage amongst the people in the region and the population at large. Ethiopia’s future political structure is also looking hazy, and its feeling of isolation obvious. It should now be clear that Ethiopia can only be secure if it achieves lasting peace not just with Tigray, but with all the other regional states. Weakened by this war, it is difficult to see how PM Abiy Ahmed emerges unscathed from this episode. More deeply, whether the PM stays or goes, it remains to be seen whether Ethiopia will learn from this misadventure and embark upon a serious attempt to sue for peace. Sadly, I can’t escape concluding the “enemy” that we are fighting are ourselves!
Years of negotiations are better than war.
The powers-that-be have chosen war (or ‘law and order operation’, whichever way you want to call it) to settle the current internal disputes and build the country’s unity. But guess what? History tells us most internal wars, as opposed to interstates wars, end with the extermination, expulsion, or capitulation of the losing side. Civil wars rarely end in negotiated settlements. In fact, groups fighting civil wars almost always chose to fight to the finish unless an outside power stepped in to guarantee a peace agreement. Studies show between 1940 and 1990 55 percent of interstate wars were resolved at the bargaining table, whereas only 20 percent of civil wars reached similar solutions.
What to do?
The answer is straight forward, negotiation or mediation is the only way out to save hundreds of thousands of lives to a senseless war. This war is not beyond compromise. Let’s not get stuck into a game of deadlock. There is no compelling reason why ‘enemy brothers’ would forgo negotiations in favor of potentially lengthy battlefield contests.
Of course, many may laugh at this suggestion… or ignore it completely. Or they may find it difficult to control their anger… until it’s too late to prevent the fragmentation of the country.
In any case, coming back to the topic of negotiation, IF the government wants to reduce the chance that peace talks will signal weakness to opponents or domestic constituencies, one strategy is to begin back-channel negotiations out of the public view. That may allow parties to reach agreements before the stage when their publics would support protracted negotiations and compromise. The Israeli and Palestinian negotiation in Oslo, out of the view of the pubic, is a good case to learn from. A similar secrecy shrouded the negotiations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for Iran.
In the end, deciding not to negotiate directly and indirectly harm – rather than help – Ethiopia.
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