By Gregory Copley
Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs
How is it possible to find hope for Ethiopia in the wake of hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and millions of people displaced and impoverished by power-seeking militants over recent years?
Those searching for positive developments in Ethiopia in mid-2022 could point to the fact that the massacre, on June 19, 2022, of at least 200 ethnic Amhara civilians by Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) militia in Tole — a village in Oromia region — may not have been just one more futile loss of innocent lives.
This latest OLF genocidal atrocity may have finally forced Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali to go hard against the OLF and its associates. The deaths — on top of the tens of thousands of deaths, injuries, and displacements of the past two years — may finally been enough to have stirred Ethiopia and the world into action.
Dr Abiy was quoted on July 8, 2022, as saying that, as a result of the June 19, 2022, OLF “massacre”, as Dr Abiy described it, and the June 27, 2022, mass killings in Hawa Gelan district of Qellem Wolega area of Oromia, the Government would now “eliminate” the organization. This would be difficult, given the extensive foreign support to the OLF, particularly from Egypt.
Until now, Dr Abiy has held off dealing as harshly with the OLF secessionist, marxist rebels as he did with the Tigré (Tigray) Popular Liberation Front (TPLF) — another extreme marxist group which controlled Ethiopia from 1991 to 2018 — largely because the Prime Minister is himself half-Oromo (and half-Amhara) and is the Oromo’s political leader within the Federation. The OLF is, in essence, an enemy inside Dr Abiy’s own tent, and is committed to the secession from Ethiopia of Oromia, the most populous region, and to breaking up the Ethiopian Federation.
The Tole mass killing event, which the OLF blamed on “retreating Government forces”, was just one of hundreds of OLF rampages, often conducted in concert with the now-quiescent TPLF which rampaged outside Tigré Region. Dr Abiy had been reluctant to prosecute a major suppression of the OLF — despite the fact that it was declared an illegal terrorist organization — for fear of being labeled “pro-Amhara”. The Amhara have suffered sufficiently in recent years to believe that Dr Abiy has proven his loyalty to the Oromo wing of the ruling Prosperity coalition.
Even the US journal, Foreign Policy, has allowed itself to be used as a tool of the OLF, claiming that Abiy’s attempts to hold together the Ethiopian Federation were merely attempts to use “Christian nationalism”. The OLF is a radical marxist organization and the Oromo population is mixed between Muslim and Christian. Dr Abiy’s father was Muslim, although he is a protestant Christian, not Ethiopian Orthodox, and the OLF — and Foreign Policy — attempted to paint him as trying to restore the primacy of the Orthodox Church which has been dominant in Ethiopia since the Fifth Century CE.
Dr Abiy has had enough, and was expected to use the National Defense Force to suppress both the OLF and any remnants of the TPLF (and several other terrorist and guerilla groups associated with both movements). The TPLF itself has not given up hope of pulling Tigré out of the Federation, and, despite the fact that Dr Abiy’s Government had, in June 2022, created a new reconciliation body to resolve the dispute with the TPLF, it was now attempting to control the reconciliation agenda. The TPLF rejected the African Union (AU) moderator in the peace talks, former Nigerian Pres. Olusegun Obasanjo, and has demanded that Kenyan Pres. Uhuru Kenyatta moderate, instead.
The TPLF is militarily exhausted, but not yet defeated. The US Government has been seen as the discreet supporter of the body, and had attempted to persuade European Union states and the UK to support the TPLF against the Ethiopian Government. Most European states, however, have rejected that pressure from Washington, and the EU Commission itself had earmarked 1-billion euros in aid for Ethiopia until 2027.
Many Ethiopians look to the Ethiopian Crown and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as overarching entities which could help restore harmony.
Reacting on June 28, 2022, to “the senseless massacre of innocent Ethiopians in Wolega and Gambela”, the President of the Ethiopian Crown Council, Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile-Selassie, the grandson of the late Emperor, noted: “Nearly two decades ago, the Crown Council under my leadership announced its aim to be a strictly non-political institution. We stand by that goal. But it is not political to ask all Ethiopians to rise above party and ethnicity. It is not political to demand that our government and its leaders act quickly and decisively to protect the lives of all Ethiopians. And it is not political to remind Ethiopia that its Crown can help to unify and heal our country today, as it has at many moments in our past.”
In July 2022, the Ethiopian Government began talks with foreign creditors to restructure its debt. And despite the widespread drought in the Horn of Africa due to the El Niño phenomenon, Ethiopian wheat production had now begun to surge.
Inflation, which had surged immediately after the Tigré war began in November 2020, was, by May 2022, beginning to reduce (from 37.2 percent to 34 percent). A shortage of foreign currency, however, was limiting Ethiopia’s ability to import food and fertilizers, but some of the food shortage was also a result of the Ukraine-Russia conflict.
According to World-Grain.com, Ethiopia’s wheat production in the 2021-22 marketing year was expected to be a record 5.18-million tonnes. Wheat production in Ethiopia has traditionally been limited to smallholder farmers who rely on rainfall, but the Government recently allocated $6-million to create better irrigation and provide access to farm machinery. Ethiopia remains a net importer of wheat, importing about 25 percent of domestic demand. Ethiopian barley production in the 2021-22 year was 2.36-million tonnes, a slight increase over the previous year. But Prime Minister Abiy has committed to making Ethiopia grain independent within the coming decade and, despite the vagaries of El Niño and La Niña climate cycles, that is now a visibly close achievement.
Meanwhile, skirmishes between Sudanese and Ethiopian forces continue in the disputed border region of al-Fashaga, close to the Ethiopia-Sudan- Eritrea border conjunction, and this has as much to do with internal Sudanese politics and Egyptian support as it does to new territorial claims.
US State Dept. attempts to isolate Ethiopia, and support the TPLF separatists, have clearly not succeeded, and US allies — along with Russia, the PRC, and even Iran — have been anxious to support the unity of the ancient Empire which is critical to the stability of the Suez-Red Sea trade route. Key to making the breakthrough into stability and a return to economic growth would be finding a creative solution to the Egypt-Ethiopia dispute over Nile waters, given that this dispute has fueled Egyptian attempts to destabilize Ethiopia.
In the short term, it is up to Prime Minister Abiy to eradicate the terrorist movements, and make the reforms he promised before the 2021 elections to the communist-based Constitution.
Published by Permission from the Journal of defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis. Article was published first in July 2022
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