Little more than a year ago, the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) hosted a meeting with Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize winner premier Abiy Ali. Back then it seemed that the extremely poor but quickly developing African country’s greatest international challenge would be to manage the huge Nile dam project fiercely opposed by Sudan and Egypt. We couldn’t have been more mistaken.
Last year, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ali arrived in the EP building to answer our questions, we saw an energetic young premier talking about grand plans. We were not surprised, because Ali had just received the Nobel Peace Prize for hammering out a peace treaty with Eritrea after many years of hostilities between the two countries, and Ethiopia seemed to have gained a new momentum.
Of course, we were aware how deep the African country was coming from: Ethiopia’s recent history is characterized by a series of tribal wars and dictatorships.
Yet it seemed at the time that they can make peace in this extremely poor country with such a rich history. Now we know it was a vain hope. Basing his policies on a common Ethiopian identity, Abiy Ali’s ideas were not welcomed by a nation struggling with an extremely deep ethnic divide, which eventually led to the former governing force Tigray People’s Liberation Front engaging in a war with the central government. Ali thought he could overcome the rebels, but he failed. Due to the extended conflict, not only did TPLF warriors approach the capital Addis Ababa, but even the politically less prominent Oromo people raised the flag of rebellion – bad news for Ali, who partly belongs to this ethnic group himself. Meanwhile, we are getting more and more reports of ethnic cleansing atrocities now reaching the capital, too.
To make matters worse, Ali made some hateful comments, blurring the opposing militia with the entire Tigray people.
As a silver lining, most analysts agree that Ethiopia is “at least” not likely to fall apart: despite all the conflicts, the country’s integrity may still be strong enough thanks to two factors: its borders were created organically instead being drawn by colonizing hands, and Ethiopia’s statehood dates back to a long history. What may easily happen however, is that one of the ethnic groups, just as it’s happened before, will take full control of the country, which, beside the immediate humanitarian ramifications, may deepen the divide even more.
The question is: who can stop this runaway war?
The ethnically organized militias will probably be unwilling to share the power, while Ali’s recent policies have got him completely isolated. If no one can intervene, the scenario of the former Yugoslavia appears to be increasingly likely. Back then, it took four years to stop the bloodshed in a region located right on the border of Western Europe. What should we expect in Ethiopia where western countries seem to have no other goals left than to evacuate their citizens?
We can only hope Ethiopia won’t become another, somewhat neglected crisis hotbed of the world.