Abiy Ahmed’s election in 2018 as Ethiopia’s prime minister came after his predecessor, Hailemariam Desalegn, was forced to resign as Ethiopians opposing repressive practices that had lasted 30 years, including violent state repression, protested in large numbers. Abiy’s ascendancy brought to an end the lengthy reign of The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
In his initial days in power, Abiy freed tens of thousands of political prisoners, lifted Internet restrictions and restored diplomatic ties with Eritrea, culminating in the end of a long-running border war. These reforms contributed to his winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, impressing friend and foe alike. But no good deed goes unpunished, and a movement soon emerged to deconstruct his reforms with the ultimate aim of removing him from office.
Abiy’s most immediate frustration was a bankrupt government, a state of affairs that had been achieved by design. Before handing over power, the TPLF emptied the state coffers, taking $30 billion and a substantial amount of gold, effectively bankrupting the country. According to a highly placed source within the Ethiopian Government, TPLF stashed the funds in Djibouti before moving it to personal accounts and lobbying firms in Washington and Nairobi. This money is currently supporting a sophisticated misinformation campaign that involves compromising prominent journalists in the region and distributing fake news on social media against Abiy and his government. For long, the world bought into this disinformation campaign that successfully cast Abi as the villain and TPLF as the victim.
The problem of empty state coffers was very frustrating; it rendered the Ethiopian government unable to run or deliver services effectively. It was a tremendous triumph for the TPLF and its agents: it was choking the new administration away from international scrutiny. Subsequently, the TPLF began to blame Abiy for the country’s economic crisis in hopes of sparking a revolt. To its dismay, the UAE came to the government’s aid, pouring $3 billion into the Ethiopian government and providing a lifeline to Abiy.
As Ethiopia inched closer to democracy, and TPLF and its surrogates seeing their hold on power slipping, sought the assistance of the European Union’s in an attempt to install a militia to take over from the legitimate government. The EU, which worried about a refugee influx into Europe in the event a civil war broke out in Ethiopia and that it could prevail on a militia friendly to its interests to barricade borders and prevent refugees from crossing to Europe, agreed to this collaboration.
As part of that plan, former Somali region president Abdi Mohamoud Omar, was primed to make a declaration that Ethiopia’s Somali region had seceded to encourage other region states to follow suit. The intention was to keep Abiy distracted with regional wrangles and lose sight of his reformist and developmental agenda.
To cause further confusion, TPLF fanned tremendous inter-ethnic conflict. It used militia loyal to its cause to conduct war in border towns shared by different ethnic groupings, reducing once promising urban centres to rubble. While Abiy’s government dealt with TPLF’s chaos internally, TPLF was winning the propaganda war on the world stage, which only emboldened them to continue their destructive activities.
During his tenure as the president of Ethiopia’s Somali regional state, Omar was once quoted saying that Getachew Assefa, a prominent member of the Ethiopian People’s Liberation Front, was responsible for ordering assassinations in the Somali state region in order to cause instability and clashes with neighbouring ethinic groups. And even though Omar was later arrested, the same technique is still being used by the TPLF, the latest being deadly clashes between the Somali and Afar.
For years, the international community has tended to ignore all of the TPLF’s crimes while imposing unjustified pressure on Abiy; this means the IC is effectively giving the TPLF a free pass. But allowing TPLF to regain control is not a solution. And even if they were to remove a legitimately installed government, the TPLF has created too many adversaries with practically every region in the country, and would face enormous opposition in its quest to reclaim power. The attendant chaos would create instability and human displacement in Africa’s second most populous country. The prospect of such a scenario is frightening, since it would be one of the greatest refugee crises in modern history, with regional and international ramifications.
When the government and TPLF reached a ceasefire at the end of June, Abiy ordered the ENDF to leave Mekelle, Tigray’s main city. And even though the TPLF commanders went home, they dismissed the deal as a joke and promised to keep fighting. In particular, Getachew Reda, an advisor to the deputy and acting President of the Tigray Region, Debretsion Gebremichael, and he also is an executive committee member of the TPLF declared the war will continue “until no Kalashnikov remains.” In short, TPLF does not share Abiy’s goal for a peaceful coexistence; to understand this, consider an occurrence that occurred at the end of last month.
The author is the Executive Director of the Institute of Horn of Africa Strategic Studies, and an analyst at Southlink Consultants