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HomeOpinionA Looming Geopolitical Disaster in the Horn of Africa Ethiopia’s growing fragility...

A Looming Geopolitical Disaster in the Horn of Africa Ethiopia’s growing fragility and instability

Girma Berhanu

Girma Berhanu (Professor)

Having won the Cold War globally, the US-led West midwifed the birth of a new post-Dergue Political Order in Ethiopia in 1991. 

The new political order was dominated by the Tigre People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) -led so-called Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), an amalgam of ethnic fronts cobbled together from captured soldiers of the overthrown Army of the Dergue government and a small splinter leftist organization, remnant of the EPRP. The TPLF has always been and remains a secessionist ethnic Tigrayan rebel army ever since its foundation by left-wing students in the 1970s.

The US and the West portrayed the new post-Dergue Political Order as a panacea to Ethiopia’s persistent economic and governance problems. In a similar vein, the proponents of the New Political Order, Meles Zenawi and Issyas Afeworki, comrades-in-arms who succeeded in ousting the Derg and seceding Eritrea, were praised as the new crop of “Visionary Leaders” post-Cold War Africa was witnessing.  TPLF ruled the entirety of Ethiopia for nearly three decades without ever dropping the “liberation” agenda as indicated in its acronym!

The new post-Dergue Political Order was unique in many ways. It was a strange system not only by Ethiopian but even by African standards. For example, contrary to the trend in the rest of Africa where political mobilization based on race, religion, ethnicity, or such primary identities were frowned upon, if not constitutionally proscribed, in Ethiopia, these very divisive attributes were turned around and made foundational blocks of the newly constitution yielding the ethnic “federal system”. 

The results of this experiment are there for all to see – three decades down! 

Ethiopia witnessed a senseless brutal war with Eritrea in 1997 in which over 100,000 young recruits perished in a brief WW-I style brutal trench warfare. No one, including the West, insisted on holding the TPLF/EPRDF leaders accountable for the loss of lives and eviction of thousands of people and untold human suffering, not to speak of development forgone. With the world uninterested to ask any questions of accountability about the callous irresponsible behavior of the TPLF, and the brutal suppression of the Ethiopian population, the TPLF-led EPRDF regime continued ruling with an iron fist as if nothing happened. As we see below, this behavior of TPLF was encouraged and would recur.

Eventually, in a wave of popular unrest, the TPLF/EPRDF was dislodged from power in 2018. Recalcitrant TPLF retreated to Tigray and launched a series of attacks on the central government which led to the death of over a million young people, war crimes and atrocities, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. TPLF lost the war, at last, and was soundly defeated. 

Yet the TPLF was rescued from political and military oblivion, thanks to the US-West instigated [AU-brokered] Pretoria Agreements of 2023, remaining a military threat in the region. 

TPLF’s core agenda has still not changed. The current constitution which singles out ethnicity as the sine qua non for political organization in the country remains a breeding ground for divisions, endless claims, and counterclaims for federal statehood, border claims, and armed conflagrations thereof. Most recently, there have been armed conflicts between not only Tigray and Amhara, Tigray and Afar but also between Afar and Oromia, Oromia and Amhara, Oromia and Somalia, Oromia and Gambella, etc… There have also been unrests in the SNPPR region, particularly in Gurage, Sidama, etc… the cascade of ethnic conflict seems to have no end. There is generalized distrust between and among ethnic groups, which the current government, out of short-sighted power calculus, intentionally stokes. 

Ethiopia is becoming increasingly fragile and unstable. A cumulative of political, social, cohesion, and economic indicators from, for example, the Fund for Peace, ranked Ethiopia as the 26th most fragile state in the world in 2006, and 11th in 2021. Other reputable academic and research publications point in the same direction i.e., overall deterioration. If this trend continues, that Ethiopia could fail might not be as far-fetched as it first seems. 

The current post-Pretoria peace is fragile. One should not delude oneself. The current peace is anything but political expediency and dangerous machinations of a regime adept at constantly shifting unprincipled alliances. 

This interim could be the harbinger of a dangerous convulsion. As Ethiopia fails so does the Greater Horn/North-East Africa. The contagion will spread all over, eventually affecting maritime trade across the Red Sea Lane and the Bab el Mandab; spilling over and deepening conflict among Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt over the waters of the Nile not to speak of the instability the flow of refugees and displaced persons across borders engenders all over the region. Such deterioration coupled with unpredictable developments in the Middle East and the gathering storm of conflict between the US/West and China/Russia might turn the region into one of two or three hottest theatres where the most intense geo-political conflicts of the 21st century will play out. 

Given the foregoing, would it not be wise for the US/West, to support the emergence and consolidation of a more inclusive – hence more stable – political order in Ethiopia? Does not US/Western experience in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Somalia intimate the desirability for prudence? For nearly four decades the US has been singling out and investing in the TPLF to the dismay of all other political forces, and the Ethiopian people in general. The Pretoria Agreement has resuscitated the TPLF, without ever holding it accountable for its crimes, making it once again a legitimate political actor and broker able to partner with the regime in power and commit another round of inter-ethnic atrocities. 

These developments, contrary to appearances, are laying the foundation for Ethiopia’s instability and perhaps failure as a state – along with the permanent harm of US strategic interest in the Horn and North-East Africa. 

It seems that fate has coupled the two countries together such that the US and Ethiopia are bound to swim together, and failing that, sink together in the troubled waters of the Horn of Africa!

Editor’s note : views in the article reflect the views of the writer, not the views of 


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  1. QUOTE: “With the world uninterested to ask any questions of accountability about the callous irresponsible behaviour of the TPLF, UNQUOTE


    That is not their project. After all — let me be undiplomatic — as far as the White World is concerned, BLACK PERSON’S LIFE is absolutely NOT important to them. This is a standing BELIEF >>> whether we like or not.

    So, Dear BLACK Africans, face the eternal ugly FACT; straighten- up and do what you have to do for your own benefit and happiness. YOU WILL NEVER GET IT FROM COLONIAL POWERS. NEVER.

  2. If that country falls down to widespread violence engulfing every region, then the entire 120+ million citizens will be on the move. That will present the world the worst nightmare it never had. The first victim will be Kenya where it gets walloped by 50+ million refugees. Djibouti will be gone. Before seeing it coming more than 10 million battle hardened-turned-monster refugees will be by the gates of Europe with other tens of millions right behind the first arrivals. The current human trafficking routes in the Saharan Desert will be littered with bodies of millions who perished due to heatstroke, thirst and hunger. Even Asian countries will not be spared from the swarms of humanity banging at their doors. It will be a calamity that nothing will be found in history to match with. That will not be a laughing matter, okay. That is a human tragedy that gives me nightmares right now. It is not funny!!!
    Some of you may challenge this looming predicament. Why not? Why not? The groundwork has been done already. Since 1991 so much poison has been spewed around both by the state and private media to wedge hostility between rather harmonious people. Thanks to bigots and their toxic hateful narratives the trust among 80+ ethnic groups has been rendered razor thin. Such hostile and wholesale incriminations by those in the government, college campuses and so-called human rights groups located here among us have made many gullible Oromos not to trust Amharas and many gullible Amharas not to trust Oromos no matter what. Such lack of trust is widespread throughout that nation. Then with a single will have destructive and deadly conflicts. I am worried. I am worried witless. Unless level heads somehow prevail the roads to nationwide carnage are well constructed by bigots in every region. It is a matter of unfortunate time before the world witnesses these bigoted forces butchering innocent citizens like predatory animals. Yes I am extremely worried. I feel like I am helpless and hapless. I have no alternatives except to throw myself on the ground and pray for the level heads to prevail. Insha’Allah!!!

  3. At this critical moment, the phrase ‘choose your enemies or was it pick your enemies’ makes a lot of sense. Saving lives is the first order of things. But making ‘fighting back’ seem useless can’t be a solution in a sense that ‘the enemy is USA and we can’t fight USA”. USA clearly wants TPLF back in power. USA had had secret detention centers in Ethiopia to torture suspects of terrorism b/c it couldn’t do that on American soil. USA doesn’t abandon her old friends. Afghan translators and help are being brought to America just like their south Vietnamese counterparts in the 1970s. America help them at their homes as long as possible and look away while they steal billions. Probably b/c the stationed Americans themselves get some kick backs but make sure it is never traced. And in the aftermath, USA brings them to Texas and California. This has never changed over the years.

    It is what it is. That is called the real world. You fall, you get up, dust up, and you go back again, learning each time. You work within the system of this world. Ethiopia was abandoned in 1936 and Haile Selassie I made a speech at the League of Nations the world never forgot. Bob Marley made a song out of that inspiring speech a few decades later. That is cool but it is all in the art world, for Morale. In real world Ethiopia should’ve beaten the hell out of fascist Italy in 1935 and it nearly did. God is in heaven. Our ancestors Thanked God for their victories and blamed it on their sins when they lost. That was good back then but not any more. We tend to be caught by surprise a lot. Anticipating the move of the enemy should’ve been a habit. African leaders promise a lot and when they can’t deliver they blame the former colonialists, a lot. The ex colonizers let them co-steal with them and take in their spoiled children in best villas and private schools. That is just a routine.

    What does America do? How do we save Ethiopia despite ‘that’? PM Abiy’s moves and speeches were very amateurish and at times really embarrassing but we looked away and gave deaf ears like a mother does to her child’s errors. B/C we really loved the guy and chose to believe him. It is not on us, it is on him.

    America is not going to change her ways just for Ethiopia anytime soon. We got to try and find a way within the existing world order. Many other nations, specially in Asia, were once in our position. They must have been desperate at times before they made it out of the yolk. ANC did get a bad treatment from USA and UK for a hundred years. Mandela insisted on visiting South London where the ‘color’ lives, embarrassing UK for its support of Apartheid and thanking Black British at the same time. S/A did get a lot of support from former USSR and East block and some countries like Sweden. Well, Ethiopia too used to have level headed leaders. But not anymore.

    That can work towards Ethiopia’s advantage. America might have her own interests but she can’t rely on erratic thieves who have no idea where they are going (‘I’ll die for America’ in private in a car to two different important Americans). As evil as it was TPLF knew what it was doing. TPLF and OLFiets are like addicts on the roof of a high rise getting high. No sooner says the weed-head ‘would it be nice to fly down from here?’ before the crackhead OLFite jumps off the roof.


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