Ethiopia Stares into the Abyss

Oct 10 , 2020
By Christian Tesfaye

The doom and gloom is becoming unbearable but there seems to be the attitude in Ethiopia that, however bad it is going to get, a last-minute turn around will deliver us out of the darkness.

Nothing better exemplifies this attitude than the relationship between the Tigray regional and federal governments. The former recently announced that it will no longer recognise the legitimacy of members of parliament. The House of Federation of the latter shortly after stated that it will no longer have formal relationships with the legislative and executive bodies of the regional government.

Supporters on each side of the political aisle are going to great lengths to delegitimise the other and express the sanctity of their positions. Blame is apportioned as far away from oneself as possible, and a sense of bravado seems to colour every single one of their positions.

Just as unfortunate is how both sides believe they can win the supporters of the other side to their team.

There does not seem to be any way of alleviating tensions at the moment. It seems to be a case of an unmovable object meeting an unstoppable force. We know how this could climax. Conflict is not unlikely. Peace and stability are not inevitable. We have seen around the world how, once the first trigger has been pulled, it becomes a violent and adversarial relationship that lasts years and costs too many lives.

How can such a scary predicament be avoided when both sides believe they can win and that they hold the higher moral ground? Is it just a matter of time before this engagement is handed over to the generals from the politicians?

Perhaps the Ethio-Eritrean conflict, which admittedly occurred under different circumstances, can serve as a lesson. It occurred between 1998 and 2000, half a decade after Eritrea formally broke away from Ethiopia.

Arguably, the roots of the war are partly economic and partly a function of political dysfunctions in both countries that allowed the war to occur. In the popular mind, it is also a disagreement over borders.

But how long-simmering political tensions manifest themselves through a conflict over areas of land that do not seem strategic can be understood from the Ethio-Eritrean conflict. Badme, a small border town, was simply an excuse to take matters to their military climax and stumble into a war that lasted two years.

Badme was used as an excuse to prove a point, advance political agendas by the respective ruling parties of the two countries and demonstrate superiority.

The conflict led to the loss of tens of thousands of lives, expenditure of resources in arms that could have been used for economic development, and almost two decades of tension between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

To this day, I have not read or heard any argument that demonstrates that the war and its consequences justified the loss of all those lives.

Indeed, what was the message to the loved ones of those that lost their lives during the 1998-2000 conflict when Isayas Afewerki, president of Eritrea, was greeted in Addis Abeba with such fanfare in 2018?

It was a senseless war, and it should weigh heavily on the conscience of those that were leaders at the time.

This conflict, and its consequences, should also inform how our leaders today are planning and calculating their chances in the current political impasse. They should be aware that the clock is ticking and all that large scale armed conflict requires is someone pulling the trigger at the wrong time at the wrong place. It should not have been the case, but the chances of stumbling into conflict are too high.

Are the current political problems that we have unassailable?

Not even close. We are not trying to find the Theory of Everything. We are not even trying to find a cure for cancer. We are just trying to get groups of elites with powerful political interests to sit for a discussion, and give in on some of their demands.

Politics is wholly a matter of human behaviour and actions. Sure there are some bad apples here and there that could cause major problems, but it has always been in the hands of the majority to realise stability.

If what they say is true, and if every country has a majority that is largely silent, decent, believes in diversity and values peace and stability, it is time to speak out.

PUBLISHED ON Oct 10,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1067]

Christian Tesfaye ( is a researcher and Fortune's Deputy Editor-in-Chief whose interests run amok in the directions of political thought, markets, society and pop culture.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Put your comments here

N.B: A submit button will appear once you fill out all the required fields.

Editors' Pick


Fortune news