We must avoid turning Ethiopia’s inevitable breakup into Yugoslavia II

Rami Rayess
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Ethiopia as a nation state will break up soon. With so many peoples, religious groups and clans it is inevitable.

Tigray is never far from receiving comprehensive global news coverage, and the war in this region could become the catalyst for the push for independence by groups in other parts of the country.


The likely outcome is a recipe for disaster with multiple states bordering each other that bicker constantly while positioning themselves to dominate what comprised this failed country.

A violent and bloody divorce is inevitable, and along with what’s unfolding in Tigray other conflicts will spring up. With a government blockade, famine and a refugee crisis the political, economic and social differences make clear that relationships within Ethiopia are irrepaorable.

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The divisions are too deep and an all-encompassing struggle between all the different factions will yield unprecedented repercussions.

With more than 100 million citizens, Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populated country. There are over 80 different ethnic groups. Building a political governing system that can unite everyone is highly unlikely.

One central government has bred to doubt and national self-loathing, and there is little if any good will between the different ethnic groups.

Different militias and paramilitary forces have been in play for several years and their growing support is a clear reflection of the deteriorating confidence in the central government in Addis Ababa.

The failed coup attempt that happened in 2019 complicated the country’s predicament then and gave rise to doubt amongst the people of any positive perception that the government was able to run the affairs of state.

A void has been created where the government cannot rely on the Army’s total allegiance. Although the coup was aborted it showed clearly that the military is not blindly at the disposal of the federal government. Suspicion will always exist.

The situation in Ethiopia is similar in some respects to the breakup of the old Soviet Union. Between Czechoslovakia’s experience of peaceful divorce and Yugoslavia’s bloody separation, Ethiopia is following that latter’s path.

Ethiopian refugees who fled Tigray region, wait to board courtesy buses at the Fashaga camp as they are transferred to Um-Rakoba camp on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in Kassala state, Sudan December 13, 2020. (File photo: Reuters)
Ethiopian refugees who fled Tigray region, wait to board courtesy buses at the Fashaga camp as they are transferred to Um-Rakoba camp on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in Kassala state, Sudan December 13, 2020. (File photo: Reuters)

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed squandered his legacy as a Nobel laureate by striking a military operation into Tigray.

Initially this was aimed to restrict social unrest and preserve law and order. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that a full-blown conflict was underway leading to the deaths of thousands of people. This came amidst accusations of rape and displacement of a huge swathe of citizens in what developed to become a huge refugee crisis.

Consider the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which had an upper hand in Ethiopian politics after overthrowing the Marxist regime in the early 1990s. It will prefer to be superior in its own small territory, than be inferior to a united Ethiopia, regardless of the benefits. Domestic politics in Ethiopia is in fact identity politics.

The 1994 constitution is still in place, and when introduced had the clear aim to recognize ethnic multiplicity in the country with a level of self-determination a prerequisite.

The TPLF had a say in the drafting of the constitution, but ultimately the group, along with all of the other ethnic groups, would be committing political suicide if they remain within the boundaries of a unified Ethiopian state.

The dilemma facing the TPFL is that by rejecting parts of the constitution it is gradually losing the advantages of being involved in the political decision-making process in Addis Ababa.

Ahmed was hasty in transforming the political and democratic policies before cementing favourable partnerships between all of the now warring groups. The political coalition that he installed failed to act as an umbrella able to manage the different demands of ethnic factions and place them on an equal footing.

Ahmed cannot preserve the union through force. By attempting to eliminate the TPLF and its deep rooted presence in the ethnic political structure of Tigray separation is inevitable.

This is a lose-lose situation for both and for the Ethiopian people who are paying the price of a bloody conflict that lacks the prospect of any political closure.

A peaceful breakup is the ideal scenario for all concerned because the situation cannot continue.

Given that no one appears to have considered what the actual end game is a new constitution agreeable to all factions will not happen and multiple civil wars within Ethiopia’s borders will ensue. Yugoslavia mark two is about to commence.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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