Monday, January 30, 2023

Lest Ethiopia comes apart at the seams!

Throughout its history Ethiopia has rarely, if ever, faced the barrage of international pressure as it has now. Over six months into what the Ethiopian government describes a law and order operation to vanquish the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) following its attack on the Northern Command of the national defence forces based in the Tigray region, the U.S, the European Union, the U.N., the Western mainstream media as well as international think tanks and human rights organizations have been repeatedly calling on the Ethiopian government to cease military operations and begin the withdrawal of outside forces from Tigray, including Amhara regional security forces and Eritrean troops; allow unfettered media and aid access; investigate the atrocities committed during the conflict and bring the perpetrators to justice; and engage in dialogue with the TPLF. They argue that if the hostilities do not come to an end soon, they may provoke widespread unrest in Ethiopia and a humanitarian crisis in the Horn; spark regional war if neighboring states are drawn into the conflict; or cause Ethiopia to disintegrate like the former Yugoslavia. Though the U.N. Security Council has met over five times to discuss the conflict, it has been unable to reach a consensus on imposing sanctions against Ethiopia.

On another front, talks between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan on the filling and operation of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), being built on the Nile River, remain stalled. In 2020 Egypt tried to enlist the help of the U.S. to force Ethiopia to sign a binding on the filling period. The Ethiopian government refused to accept a US-drafted agreement regulating the filling time of the dam, insisting it has the right to fill the dam at its own pace and would complete it in no more than seven years. Egypt wants the filling to take place over 12-21 years, managed carefully on water availability hoping to reap the reward of increased electricity production as soon as possible. Neighboring Sudan, which initially supported the building of the dam, has now sided with Egypt, maintaining that the filling of the dam without the agreement of downstream countries threatens its national security. Understandably, both sides to the dispute fear of the setting of a precedent they may regret later. Egypt and Sudan are leery of Ethiopia’s position, believing that they will be adversely affected in times of water stress and prolonged drought absent an agreement on the minimum amount of water Ethiopia must release under such a scenario. On its part, Ethiopia is rightfully unwilling to give in, fearing that in doing so amounts to compromising sovereign right to use the waters of the Nile in a fair and equitable manner.

Most Ethiopians and some foreign observers believe that the reason the West is piling up pressure on Ethiopia is not entirely humanitarian as it holds out to be. They are of the opinion that the West is purely driven by its selfish geopolitical interest, namely to render Ethiopia a weak and submissive state so that it does not become a force that foils the realization of its strategic vision in the Middle East and Africa. They contend that on the one hand a rising Ethiopia determined to pursue an independent foreign relations and unwilling to do the West’s bidding makes it harder to protect the interests of Egypt—the linchpin of its Middle East policy. On the other hand, they say, it wants to curb the growing influence of China in Africa and that is why it is using the Tigray conflict and the standoff over the GERD as a pretext to pressure Ethiopia. 

The West better realize that the gradual change in the essentially undemocratic and unipolar global world order witnessed over the last several decades means that the days when it can boss around nations it considers to be feeble are slowly fading. The shift has led to the creation of multiple global forces jockeying for power and looking to broaden their sphere of influence. This is one among several factors that explains the unprecedented and relentless pressure being brought to bear on Ethiopia. As a country that has never been colonized and home to a fiercely patriotic people, it’s inconceivable that Ethiopia will ever cave in to the West’s demands. If the West chooses to stay the course in the belief that Ethiopia will capitulate, it could actually push the government to reject any negotiation proposed or managed by entities it views to be biased and thereby dig in its heel. The counterproductive effects of such a doomed strategy only serve to perpetuate the conflict that the West is ostensibly trying to stop and destabilize the country. This self-fulfilling prophesy is something it should fear and avoid at all cost because once Ethiopia comes apart at the seams none of us have any inkling the horrors that may ensue.

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