War-torn Ethiopia is on its way to becoming another Yugoslavia

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War-torn Ethiopia is on its way to becoming another Yugoslavia

By Gwynne DyerContributing Columnist

Tue., Aug. 31, 2021

“We have to deal with anyone who’s still shooting,” said Getachew Reda, spokesperson for the Tigrayan forces, early this month. “If it takes marching to Addis to silence the guns, we will.”

In fact, Tigray’s army has already covered about a third of the distance to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, since it took back its own provincial capital, Mekelle, in late June.

The fighting has been bloody, for the Ethiopian army is much larger, but the Tigrayan army is more professional and determined. Not only has it liberated all of Tigray except the far west, but it has also seized around one-third of neighbouring Amhara, the province which is the historic core of the Ethiopian empire.

Seven million Tigrayans defeating the army of a country of 110 million people may seem odd, but Ethiopia is a patchwork quilt of different ethnic groups, languages and religions that was held together in the past by a centralized monarchy or dictatorship backed by ruthless military force. Until quite recently, it was Tigray that provided that force.

The Tigrayans earned that job by being the most effective guerrilla force in the long struggle to overthrow the former Communist regime, the Derg. They parlayed that role into an ethnic dictatorship that lasted from 1991 until just a few years ago. But the other ethnic groups then united to install a new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, who started to dismantle that corrupt autocracy.

He did it, but the Tigrayan military elite withdrew to their own homeland and sulked. It was a well-armed sulk, for almost half the Ethiopian army was based in Tigray, and it consisted largely of ethnic Tigrayans. When it became clear that Abiy’s project to destroy the old ethnic pecking order was not negotiable, they rebelled.

This was all pretty inevitable, but then the Ethiopian prime minister decided to invade Tigray and end the problem for good. That was bound to end badly for Ethiopia, because he was making a direct attack on what is practically an African Sparta.

The Tigrayan army pulled out of the province’s cities for a while, and by last November Abiy Ahmed declared the war over. But the Tigrayan leaders were just mobilizing their forces, and in June they counterattacked. The Ethiopian forces broke and ran, and most of Tigray was liberated without a fight.

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