With September comes Ethiopia’s special season of all the months in the year. When the land is covered with blooming flowers, a clean sky emerges from the rainy season and harvests arrive, marking Ethiopia’s New Year, Enkutatash.
However, the 2015 Enkutatash arrives with bloodshed, drought, and an uncertain future.Yet, Ethiopians take a moment to mark their unique New Year holiday, amidst the overwhelming crisis unfolding locally and globally.
Ethiopia’s unique calendar, which is based on the ancient Coptic calendar, is seven to eight years behind the Gregorian calendar, as the Ge’ez calendar has its own calculation for the annunciation of the birth of Jesus. The just ended 2014 Ethiopian year constituted the last four months of 2021 and the first eight months of 2022. Now the new year of 2015 EC enters on September 11, 2022.
Despite being seven to eight years behind the Gregorian calendar, Ethiopia has historically led the way in global events.But the Horn of Africa nation has never been in the headlines as much as it was in 2014 EC. The following are the major highlights of the outgoing Ethiopian year.
War at home: TPLF, federal government swing between negotiations, war
Ethiopia’s domestic politics has drawn much attention as the relationship between the federal government and Tigray regional state oscillates between war and a ceasefire. The war, which initially broke out in November 2020, escalated to new heights during the just ended fiscal year, with human rights reports implicating Ethiopian Defense Forces, the Tigray Defense Force, local forces of Amhara and Afar regional states, and Eritrean forces in grave humanitarian breaches. Not less than half a million casualties were reported during the fighting between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Before the federal government declared a unilateral ceasefire and an indefinite humanitarian truce in March 2022, the Tigrayan forces were thrusting towards Addis Ababa. By April 2022, the TPLF pulled out its forces from Amhara and Afar regional states, after which the federal government also lifted the national state of emergency that was in place for six months.
The state of emergency brought many activities across the country to a halt, including the detention of Tigrayans.
After the ceasefire was reciprocated by the TPLF, the international community was busy trying to create a platform for a negotiated peace between the warring parties. The African Union’s first special envoy to the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, embarked on a shuttle diplomacy between Addis and Mekelle. For the first time since the war broke out almost two years ago, special envoys from the US, EU, UN, IGAD, and ambassadors from the UK, Canada, and Italy also arrived in Mekelle a month ago.
Nonetheless, peace remains farfetched, as the TPLF demands the resumption of basic public services in Tigray, including power, telecom, banking, and border trades, before sitting at the negotiation table with the federal government. The issue of Welkait in western Tigray, which was under the TPLF’s rule in the past three decades before the war, also became another bone of contention.
The federal government, which installed a Main Negotiation team led by the Deputy PM and Foreign Minister, Demeke Mekonen, insisted on sitting for negotiations without preconditions. The economic cost of the war is especially taking its toll on the federal government. According to the government, GDP growth has been reduced by three percent, while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have produced more pessimistic figures.
However, war broke out for the third time on August 24, 2022, sending chills to the international community, which has been partly unable to deal with the unpredictable moves of the warring parties. They are also partly blamed for trying to twist the conflict in Ethiopia in the interests of foreign powers. In particular, the TPLF blamed the AU and its special representative for the lack of impartiality and favoring Addis Ababa.
On the other hand, the federal government accused special envoys of the US, UN, EU and other foreign ambassadors of sympathizing with the TPLF, which is outlawed by Parliament. The federal government’s decision to negotiate with a force designated “a terrorist” is another ambiguity for those questioning the genuine nature of the peace negotiations from the beginning.
The federal government also established the National Dialogue Commission, which is on the move to create platforms for all political forces as long as they are willing to lay down arms. But this had no effect on the TPLF and OLF-shene, which are also at war with the federal government in parts of Oromia. In a continued war between government forces and armed militant groups, thousands of innocent civilians were killed in Welega, Gambella, Benishangul, and Guji.
As war erupts across regional states bordering Tigray, Amhara, and Afar, it seems only Addis Ababans have the time to enjoy the mesmerizing songs of Enkutatash. Of course, Enkutatash is a holiday for the girls, while Buhe is for the boys, according to the folklore.
Russia-Ukraine: The War of incisive bluffs
On February 2022, Russia launched a “special operation” on the eastern borders of Ukraine. Although the west accuses Russia of an unprovoked war, Russia blames NATO’s expansion to Eastern Europe and the west for making Ukraine their battleground. Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, is attempting to join NATO. But Vladimir Putin’s wish is not to see NATO at his doorstep, as NATO was designed particularly to dismantle the USSR.
The news of the war was nothing less than the first sign of the third world war, perhaps the last war. Scientists who theorize a nuclear war can be won are also emerging.
In retaliation to Russia’s action, the US, Europe, and western allies are pumping billions of financial support and the latest military weapons into Ukraine to defeat Russia in a proxy war. The UN, international organizations, and multinational corporations are also cutting out Russia from the rest of the world. Further, the west is also alluding for Africa to side with Ukraine.
In the meantime, Russia is braving the storm of western sanctions by using its alliance with China, India, Iran and a number of developing countries in South-South cooperation. The US and Russia openly embarked on maximizing their alliance countries’ economies, similar to the scramble for satellite countries during the cold war era.
In the past few months, Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, has toured the Middle East and Africa, including a brief stop in Addis Ababa. The US Secretary of State immediately shuttled between the Middle East and Africa. But during his joint press briefing in Pretoria, South Africa, officials repeated Mandela’s statement that “the west usually thinks their enemies should be our enemies.” The US tabled a bill to sanction African countries that side with Russia.
Africa is facing hunger, supply-side shortages, inflation, and unrest as Russia and Ukraine are major sources of wheat, fertilizer, edible oil, fuel, iron, and other items which have not been shipped to Africa since the war broke out. In general, the war shrunk global economic growth, paving the way for probably the deepest economic scar since the Great Depression.
The war is not only a testament to the undying ideological and economic turf wars between the west and east. But it also shows that the world can never get to a better place even after human beings have acquired a level of technological sophistication in the 21st century. Nor did the COVID-19 pandemic teach the world to cooperate instead of scrambling for global power dominance.
Just like how the US became chief of world order after emerging victories in the second world war, the winner of the Russo-Ukraine war will also dictate a new world order.
Africa: a year of coups
The past year saw Africa caught up in an ever increasing coup and military dominance.
Three weeks after the unsuccessful air force led coup in Nigeria in March 2021, Chad’s military placed Idriss Deby to hold power, only to be killed in battle soon.
Mali also saw its second coup in May 2021, just eight months after the previous one. In September 2021, the military ousted Guinea’s long-serving leader, Alpha Conde. In October 2021, Sudan’s military, led by Abdel Fattah Alburhan (Gen.) and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Gen.), took power, putting PM Abdallah Hamdok under house arrest. Military forces also killed over 120 civilians, as public protest intensified in Khartoum.
In general, this year saw the highest number of successful coups since 1999 and the number of failed coups was also the highest in twenty years.
The increasing number of coups in Africa is also a sign of the increasing foreign powers in Africa. Especially as the US, Europe, Russia, and China scramble to set military foot on the continent, the scramble to install their respective favorite regimes is shackling the continent once again. Most of the coups that occurred in West Africa happened in former French colonies.
In sharp contrast, East Africa has seen a comparatively peaceful power transition during the year. Kenya and Somalia have elected new presidents peacefully. Particularly, Kenya has raised Africa’s standard in unrestrained participation and debates of opposition parties, impartial institutional and electoral system, and exemplary power transfer.
Even though regional economic blocks (RECs) are comparatively better in banning member states where there was a coup from their respective regional blocks, the AU remains handicapped in fending off foreign interferences, as well as halting coups.
Ethiopia: the third filling of the GERD
A decade after the ground breaking for the largest hydro power plant in Africa commenced in Guba, just 15 kilometers from Sudan’s border in western Ethiopia, top officials from Addis Ababa were visibly excited to announce the third filling of the GERD in mid-August. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) also switched on the second turbine of the dam.
After the third filling was completed, the dam now holds 22 billion cubic meters of water, almost a third of the 74 billion cubic meters when it is fully completed. The GERD, which consumed over USD four billion so far, will generate over 6,000MW once it reaches full capacity.
But Ethiopia’s excitement is not reciprocated by the downstream countries that stretch to Egypt. In particular, Egypt and Sudan have been discontent over Ethiopia’s filling of the dam, complaining it will affect their water shares. Though Ethiopia has been busy explaining the dam does not reduce the water that flows down, the hydro politics continues to unfold, only changing its appearances.
The Ethiopian government also often accuses Egypt and Sudan of lending arms to local opposition forces. The government says they are trying to reverse the reform gains since the fall of the EPRDF in 2018, posing an existential threat to Ethiopia as a state. Sudan, which is illegally occupying Ethiopia’s land 50 km inside its border at Alfashaga, also tried a military route. This escalated after Ethiopian military officials recently disclosed that its air force intercepted an Antonov aircraft that crossed from Sudan and tried to deliver military tools to Mekelle.
Horn of Africa: the drought curse
The Horn of Africa is descending into the worst famine in history after it failed to rain for the fourth consecutive cultivation season. Especially, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti are hit severely.
Latest assessments put the number of people in dire need of humanitarian assistance at 30 million, with surging figures as the drought continues.
Most of the livestock of pastoralists in the region died due to a lack of water and animal feed. Crop cultivation has also become a dream, as the rains dried up, and farmers lack irrigation infrastructure and technology to fetch underground water.
The war in Ukraine and northern Ethiopia is also adding salt to the injury for drought-affected areas. As the global aid flow is diverted, the Horn is suffering silently without global attention. The war in Ukraine, which disrupted the global food supply chain and hindered the shipment of food to Africa, also slashed the flow of humanitarian cargo to the Horn.
Aid agencies and humanitarian organizations have been complaining that they are resorting to meager funding since donors are not bridging the huge financial needs required to handle the humanitarian crisis in the Horn. The World Food Programme (WFP) has already announced that its humanitarian assistance supply to victims is already halved, and will run out of supply by October if donors continue to hold back.