There weren’t too many objections when the relatively new Ethiopian leader, Abiy Ali Ahmed, received the Nobel Peace Prize two years ago. At first glance, it seemed to represent a significant break with the nation’s divisive past. Political prisoners were released and conciliatory gestures were made towards political rivals. The Nobel citation specifically cited the Addis Ababa peace agreement with Eritrea, until the early 1990s, part of Ethiopia and subsequently a bellicose adversary.
Africa’s second largest country in terms of population appeared to be entering a more promising phase. But the illusion of a new course shattered a year ago, when the relatively new government went to war with its province of Tigray.
Tigrayan belligerence ostensibly served as a provocation, but it did not come out of nowhere. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF) was a key part of the coalition that overthrew the ostensibly left-wing government of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991. While the brutal military regime of Mengistu claimed allegiance to Marxist precepts – which unfortunately did earned Soviet and Cuban support – the Tigray rebels too.
Even though the TPLF represents just over six percent of Ethiopia’s ethnic diversity, it was the dominant component of the coalition that succeeded Mengistu until Abiy became a powerful force whose initial measures have earned him worldwide acclaim. The sense of relief after decades of conflict initially seemed to have some justification, given the prospect of relative peace in the Horn of Africa.
Peace in the Horn of Africa has turned out to be an illusion.
It turned out to be a short-lived fantasy. And there is irony in the fact that the settlement with Eritrea specifically mentioned in Abiy’s Nobel quote has proven to be a key part of the resumption of conflict, with Eritrean forces blamed for some of the worst atrocities against Tigrayans and other ethnic minorities after they joined hands. with the Ethiopian army.
Abiy imposed a state of emergency last week after it was reported that the TPLF had formed a coalition with other ethnic militias to overthrow his administration, and that opposition forces were barely within 160 kilometers from Addis Ababa.
This has raised fears that the end of Ethiopia as we know it is near. Under the circumstances, it is difficult to determine to what extent this could be an exaggerated claim. This is certainly not excluded, and tensions with neighbors as well as occasional border disputes can play a role.
Ethiopia stands out in Africa as a country that managed to avoid being colonized during the 19th century competition between a number of European states to take over part of the continent. Ethiopian forces repelled an Italian invasion – only to be occupied by Mussolini’s forces. But this subjugation lasted only five years, and after World War II, Allied forces recognized Ethiopian aid with the donation of Eritrea, a colony wrested from Italy.
This sowed the seeds of long-drawn separatist efforts that culminated in Eritrea’s independence in the 1990s. Decades earlier, Ethiopia was seen as a mainstay in Africa’s struggle against Eritrea. European imperialism. The monarchy under Haile Selassie was not there to antagonize the West, but nonetheless offered support for the liberation movements – including a passport that allowed Nelson Mandela to travel before his incarceration.
He also served as a common thread to Pan-Africanism as a founding member of the Organization for African Unity – which, since renamed the African Union, still has its headquarters in Addis Ababa (and has been accused of leaning towards the Abiy government). ).
Oddly enough, Haile Selassie was known as Ras Tafari before being crowned Emperor – and subsequently hailed as the embodiment of a prophecy about a black emperor that particularly charmed the African-born Caribbean and spawned the rastafarian trend. Its best-known adherent, Bob Marley, based one of his most powerful songs, War, on a 1963 speech by Haile Selassie at the United Nations.
Ethiopia has come a long way in the decades since, but seems unable to overcome its ethnic divide. Abiy’s advent briefly felt like a game changer, but it quickly turned out to be an illusion. A Norwegian scholar went so far as to say that the Nobel committee should step down – given that the 2019 Peace Prize was not only undeserved, but in fact encouraged Abiy to become less consultative and conciliatory.
It was probably awarded with the best of intentions, but perhaps on the basis of limited understanding let alone foresight – as in the case of Barack Obama a decade earlier. Human rights organizations as well as the UN shed light on war crimes – including horrific cases of sexual violence – which were committed by both sides in Ethiopia during the year elapsed.
It is not known how or when the current episode of violence will end. One can only hope that this is the case, and under circumstances which offer the possibility of a peace that present generations have seldom known.
Posted in Dawn, le 10 November 2021