Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Countering adversaries through robust diplomacy

The scope of the fighting between government forces and militants of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) along the border of the Tigray region has widened with both sides acknowledging that the conflict has spread to more areas in addition to the area where it initially erupted. The fighting between government and TPLF forces resumed on August 24 after a five-month lull. Though combat had been heaviest around the southeastern border of Tigray, TPLF militants have pushed into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions, sending residents fleeing. Clashes on the ground and air raids over Tigray have poured cold water on the efforts underway since June to find a peaceful solution to the 21-month war that began following an attack on federal army camps based in the region. The warring sides have accused each other of firing first and shattering the months-long relative calm that has been prevailing in the northern part of Ethiopia following the federal government’s announcement in March of a truce to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered to Tigray.

The federal government has also blamed what it calls the west and Ethiopia’s “historical enemies” for using the TPLF as a Trojan horse to advance their evil design on the nation. Ever since the administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) commenced a military operation in Tigray in November 2020 in response to attacks on the Northern Command of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) the country has been subjected to unprecedented pressure at the hands of Western governments, the U.N., mainstream media, think-tanks and rights groups. The U.S. particularly has sided with the TPLF, slapping a slew of sanctions on Ethiopia and withdrawing its benefits under the United States’ tariff-free African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) while it gave the TPLF a slap on the wrist. Furthermore, the U.S. and its allies at the U.N. Security Council have tried over a dozen times to formally admonish Ethiopia but failed thanks to the vote of China, Russia and India. Apart from exerting undue diplomatic pressure, the West has also been waging an information warfare against Ethiopia through a disinformation campaign undertaken by the mainstream media, think tanks and so-called rights advocacy organizations. Its end-game, as some analysts plausibly argue, is to engineer a regime change or if that does not work to coerce Prime Minister Abiy’s administration into accepting to the demands of the TPLF.

It’s not only over the Tigray conflict that the West is pressurizing Ethiopia though. The filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has been a bone of contention between Ethiopia, whose highlands supply more than 85 percent of the water that flows into the Nile River, and the lower riparian states of Sudan and Egypt. In 2020 the U.S. tried to force Ethiopia into signing a binding agreement on the filling period. The Ethiopian government declined to sign-off a U.S.-drafted agreement regulating the filling time of the dam, which Egypt insisted should be completed over 12-21 years, saying it has the right to fill the dam at its own pace and would do so in no more than seven years. Although Sudan initially supported the building of the dam, since then it has taken Egypt’s side on the ground that filling the dam without the agreement of downstream countries imperiled its national security. Again the Security Court, at the behest of Egypt and Sudan, convened on several occasions to consider a resolution calling on Ethiopia to cease filling the GERD’s reservoir and pushing for a binding agreement between the three sides on the operation of the dam but failed to adopt it.

The West’s motives driving its pressure campaign on Ethiopia, its long-standing regional ally, are purely self-centered and zero-sum. It is wary of Ethiopia’s pursuit of an independent foreign policy, which may very well frustrate the accomplishment of its strategic goal in the Middle East and Africa. First, Ethiopia’s apparent reluctance to do toe the West’s line has been perceived to make it harder to protect the interests of Egypt—the cornerstone of its Middle East policy. Second, its attempt to thread a needle as animosities between the West and China ramp up is not appreciated by the West, which feels threatened by Beijing’s growing clout on the global stage. Given Ethiopia has been a beacon of black Africans’ struggle for freedom and could inspire continental resistance to neo-colonialism, the West might deem that forcing Ethiopia to forsake China is instrumental in containing the influence of its top geopolitical rival in Africa. 

The West better realize that the essentially undemocratic and unipolar global world order that had prevailed over the last several decades following the end of the Cold War is ebbing. As a country that has never been colonized and is home to a fiercely patriotic people, Ethiopia will never cave in to the West’s demands. Needless to say this requires on the part of the federal government to develop and implement a robust diplomatic policy aimed at nullifying the threat posed by its historical enemies through a variety of tried and tested mechanisms. Some of the steps it can take in this regard include forging a compromise with its adversaries where possible and failing that to foil their destabilizing policies and measures. Ethiopia has the capacity to find a resolution to the political crisis engulfing it. Any nation or organization which has its interest at heart should stop meddling in its domestic affairs and instead support it in seeking enduring solutions.

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