Rural Tigray, Ethiopia

Tigray Conflict – an Insight Over the Causes, Course and Latest Developments

Insecurity is always a negative factor for investments. An open armed conflict even more. The Tigray Conflict is currently in the foreground when looking at Ethiopia. For this reason, we would like to share our insight of the cause, course and current situation.

The Tigrayan People’s Libaration Front (TPLF), founded 1975 and following the ideas of the Albanian communism, became later the leading party in the struggle against the communist DERG in Ethiopia. After the downfall of the communist regime, the TPLF, due to it’s military expertise and level of organisation, advanced to leading party of the EPRDF, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, the ruling coalition of the four main ethnic parties. As such it dominated the country for 27 years, despite the fact that Tigrayans are only 6% of the population. Changing the ideology with the course of time it adopted the development democracy approach – which was not democratic at all and was interpreted by TPLF according to need. The heavy investment of the state in the infrastructure and industry brought indeed GDP growth of 10% over 15 years, but lacking sustained financing it contributed to a great part to the challenges the county face today – high internal and external dept, inflation, ineffective SOEs. The growing discontent over the domination of the TPLF, not only of the EPRDF, but also of the government institutions, the security apparatus and the army, led to the election of Abiy Ahmed as a chairman of the ruling coalition and PM in April 2018. Taken by surprise and totally lacking the will to renew with the times, the leadership of TPLF could not overcome its loss of power and henceforth systematically tried to undermine the new PM Abiy Ahmed. This wrong track inevitably culminated in the Tigray Conflict – an open military conflict in the northernmost region Tigray. Overplaying its hand, the TPLF staged an unprecedented attack on the Northern Command of the National Defence Force of Ethiopia on November 3, 2020. The next day the federal Gouvernements announced an low-and-order Operation aiming to bring the culprits to justice. Contrary to the expectations of many connoisseurs of the country, TPLF was defeated on the battlefield within a month and holed up in the mountains. Many of the TPLF’s inner circle was captured or deceased. The press, and especially the social media, already ethnically divided before the conflict, sparked a full blown disinformation war. Although TPLF dominated federal politics and government for 27 years, it failed to make the people of Tigray independent of aid supplies. Even before the war, more than 950 000 were in need of aid (OCHA) Despite this, TPLF dominates the information war and still portrays itself successfully as a victim. Not only the pacifist aid organisations, but meanwhile also Western governments fall into this trap. The US administration, for example, does not even bother to read the remarks of its own Assistant Secretary of African Affairs Tibor Nagy. Mr. Nagy, a renowned connoisseur of Ethiopia, repeatedly communicated the TPFL’s efforts to overthrow the government and regain power, on the BBC radio and at official briefings: “….but it seems like they (TPLF) were doing this more to depose the prime minister from power and to reassert themselves into the prominent position that they had atop the Ethiopian political spectrum for the last 27 years.” In the meantime, blinded by the propaganda machine of the TPLF, the West is not interested in who started the conflict, the fact that negotiations were never possible because the TPLF never agreed with too (Ambassador M. Raynor, same briefing), and not least, that although the war is lost, the TPLF prolongs the conflict through sabotage, convoy attacks and actively hindering aid deliveries. PM Abiy Ahmed, on the contrary, is moving on to the post-TPLF era.

Role and Available Options for Each Side of the Tigray Conflict

As the informational war is still ongoing, let’s check the facts and find out the favourable option for the outcome of the Tigray Conflict and the future of Ethiopia. What if TPLF prevails and restore power?

Closer look on the achievements of TPLF shows a picture of an authoritarian state. State security apparatus feared for its arbitrariness and atrocities. Freedom of speech at very low level, extended bans on opposition press, opposition leaders arrested on fake terror charges. State owned enterprises (SOE) grossly ineffective, indebted, but controlling their sectors. 2/3 of the population still missing electricity, low productivity agriculture, mass unemployment. Mobile services are the most expensive in Africa and most of the rest of the world. Thus growing discontent and a spreading lawlessness – a state of disarray. The better positions were reserved for the Top Party Establishment and their affiliates. Inclusion was grossly missed or never intended. The TPFL leadership and part of the Tigrayan Elites got reach, but the Tigrayans as a hole remained poor. TPLF started the armed conflict despite expected exacerbation of the already experienced food shortages following the desert locust plague and the Covid-19 pandemic. Did the TPLF had an option to prevent the Tigray Conflict? Yes, plenty of them, but none bringing them back to old power. The expected suffering of the Tigrayans in case of military conflict, has not had the necessary weight on the scales for the TPLF Chair Debretsion Gebremichael. So the only option for him was to go ahead with the attack.

Abiy Ahmed as a newly appointed PM engaged in a swift and much anticipated reforms starting with the government – gender equity comes to implementation – smart women get prominent positions including President and Supreme Court Chair. He rebuilded the security apparatus and the prosecution authority, and apologised to the people of Ethiopia for the experienced injustice by these (fist time in history!). He lifted the ban on opposition and diaspora media and invited them back to the country. Thousands of unjustly imprisoned were set free. He reached to Erythrea and successfully negotiated a peace solution for the long standing war being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The port of Assab is now available for Ethiopian export activities. The Ethiopian Investment Commission got revamped and is meanwhile highly appreciated by Investors. Programs for boosting investments in the privat sector are implemented and new sectors are open for foreign investment. Investment parks are founded attracting more Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) in the country, meanwhile contributing for 45000 jobs with more to come. Abiy Ahmed moderated a peace solution and participation in the government of the civil uprising in neighbouring Sudan. But nevertheless he engaged TPLF in the Tigray Conflict. So what were Abiy Ahmed’s options?

PM Abiy was left with no other option but to confront the leadership of TPLF in the way of their choice

Was it possible for him as a PM and commander in chief to just ignore the attack of the Northern Command and fly to Mekele for negotiations? Some observing parties promoted this option. Perhaps in the beginning, missing exact information, it seemed, at least from afar, a promising option. For many others, it is driven of naïveté and is regarded as not really available. And not to forget – it always takes two for a Tango! If his army is attacked and casualties are experienced, as commander in chief he is expected to take firm actions – if the attackers refuse to hand over the culprits (how could they – the culprits are in charge!), he has no other option but to engage and restore law and order. PM Abiy proved to be much smarter strategist than many thought to know and defeated the stronger TPLF forces on the field in a course of weeks. No one would have bet on it! He excelled once again reasserting his bid as a leader of the multiethnic country. Summerized PM Abiy was left with no other option but to confront the leadership of TPLF in the way of their choice, and bring the culprits to justice – his duty by low and position. The days of TPLF are over. A new future opens up for the people of Tigray with the inclusivity they longed for decades. New entities will emerge with the vision to lead the people of Tigray. The Tigrayan Elites are well advised to participate of building a better Tigray and leave the TPLF behind. Dakota tribal wisdom says “when you’re on a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount”. Meanwhile security in the region is restoring, international help agencies are provided access, investigations of the allegations of crimes are on the way and more are to come. The destructive role of local vigilante groups (as always in armed conflicts) can not be overstated. Unfounded online attacks against the Ethiopian Army, known for its professionalism, do not bring justice. The social media, this should be clear, are not independent investigators. Transparent investigations must be completed first. Only then can judgments be made.

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