Abiy Getachew, Toronto, Canada
The ongoing conflict in Amhara engages three allied forces in the genocidal war on Tigray: Abiy’s regime, Amhara Fano, and Isaias’s EDF (direct or indirect). All vie for the primary rewards of the war on Tigray—consolidation of power to dominate Ethiopia and influence affairs in the Horn of Africa and containable Tigray that is weak.
What should then be the policy of Tigray when the three enemies of Tigray are at war with each other, as is now between Abiy’s Addis Ababa regime on the one hand, and Amhara and Eritrean forces on the other, or even between Abiy’s Addis Ababa regime on the one hand, and Isaias’s Eritrea on the other? This piece tries to answer this question.
Navigating these turbulent waters of the Amhara conflict is akin to choosing between Scylla and Charybdis for Tigray. Both sides, marred by accusations of war crimes and genocidal actions, leave no room for a palatable choice. It’s reminiscent of the dark days of World War II, where picking between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union was a devil’s dilemma. And while some might argue that Abiy’s regime, symbolizing the Soviet Union in this analogy, is the lesser of two evils, it’s a thin silver lining in a stormy cloud.
Yet, the motivations, will and capabilities of Ethiopian, Amhara, and Eritrean forces to wage war on Tigray differ. Let’s assess them in turn.
Abiy’s Regime: commanding the Ethiopian federal government and the ENDF, Abiy’s regime seems the least eager, least willing, and least capable to declare war again on Tigray. A subdued Tigray recognizing him as Prime Minister is strategically beneficial for his regime. Additionally, the “Pretoria deal” offers a chance for Abiy’s regime to rehabilitate his image, to wage war on the other two, and normalize his relations with the international community and garner endorsement.
Amhara Fano: the militias from the Amhara region possess deep-seated animosities against Tigray for destroying forever the assimilationist centralist state power they once own as theirs. This animus provides them with a strong drive, will and their demography and geography allow them to wage continued war of destruction and genocide. Their aim is straightforward: if opportunity arises, they will resort to another catastrophic war as their final solution.
Isaias’ regime: Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki, and the Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) bear significant grievances and demonstrate the utmost resolve and capability to destroy Tigray and Tigrayans. While Isaias leads, Tigray faces a perpetual threat for its survival as political cultural community let alone as military community. Isaias is ready to loss everything to have conclusive war after the Pretoria deal stropped him from achieving this.
The Fano and EDF together form a perilous duo.
Thus, the two principal warring factions (likely Abiy’s regime and the Fano), both are genocidal but not equally. They should be seen as long-term strategic adversaries of Tigray, albeit to varying degrees, for several reasons.
Firstly, Abiy’s regime is riddled with inconsistencies, with its downfall seemingly inevitable, he now relies heavily on protestant followers (mainly from non-Tigrayan and Amhara constituencies) who ardently believes Abiy’s actions. Among the crucial issues, Abiy’s main requests are recognition of his authority and an end to accountability demands. While the former has been granted, the latter can be tactically delayed. Secondly, it faces international resistance against attacking Tigray. While Abiy’s regime and Fano within Ethiopia, with their genocidal war, are threats, their risk levels differ due to the instability of Abiy’s regime, divided constituency, waning support in Ethiopia and international “oversight -pressure”. Thirdly, it lacks strength, and its support base, primarily in Oromia, is dwindling. Abiy’s efforts to consolidate power in Oromia are rife with opportunistic factions. Yet, with Tigray’s political unity, it can adopt a strategic approach.
War invariably alters the dynamics between parties, shifting their stances and positions. Thus, the current conflict in Amhara will not be different. Nothing remains static, particularly in Abiy’s Ethiopia and the Amhara region, and their respective relations with Eritrea, where the current politico-military situation is highly fluid and bound to change the power base in Ethiopia. Tigray, by maintaining its political unity, can successfully navigate the challenges presented by Abiy’s regime, especially with the support of the international community and those opposed to Abiy.
Thus, there’s a slight opportunity to cooperate with Abiy’s regime and its Oromia supporters to counter anti-Tigray elements in Oromia. In contrast, Fano, backed by a significant portion of the Amhara elite and the general populace, and Isaias’s direct support and sale of arms to Fano, presents a more clear, present and a threat to Tigray’s survival than Abiy’s.
While collaboration with Abiy’s regime might be feasible, aligning with Fano or Isaias’s regime could jeopardize Tigray’s core interests. However, such an endeavor in Amhara would be challenging without compromising Tigray’s essential interests, such as safeguarding civilians, territorial rights, accountability, and even vision on Ethiopia future, and thus Tigray’s in it. Peace with Fano demands nothing short of maintaining Tigray’s current status – including annexed territories, impunity for those responsible for genocide, displaced and dispossessed populations, and a restrained and weakened Tigray political and religious community within Ethiopia, all while partnering with the arch-enemy: Isaias’s regime. Achieving peace with Isaias would necessitate transforming Tigray into his depopulated outpost. Fano will also unlikely end its military alliance with Isaias. Together, the Fano and EDF represent a lethal combination. If Isaias remains in power, Tigray risks extinction as political and cultural entity.
Tigray’s policy on Amhara and other wars in Ethiopia:
In the midst of the conflict in Amhara, Tigray ought not to tilt its scales in favor of either. Rather, it should be an unwavering demand for peace, justice, accountability, and staunch commitment to the constitutional boundaries that define regional states. On these issues, Tigray must firmly plant its feet, demanding their full respect and refusing to be swayed by the conflict, empty invitations and winds of indecision.
Tigray’s policy on the current war in Amhara and its peace and war strategy thus should be built on three cornerstones: Strategic Ambiguity, Defensive Posture, and the Kingmaker Community, all underpinned by respect for human rights and international law. I explain each and how they related and should be implemented.
Through Strategic Ambiguity, Tigray believes in safeguarding its interests more via an ambiguous than a strictly neutral stance. This entails not openly siding with any group but prioritizing its essential interests. Concurrently, it’s paramount for Tigray to sustain open communication channels with all involved parties, ensuring the ability to recalibrate its stance, and present its demands in response to its continuously shifting core interests. Tigray’s main demands encompass protection of its territorial boundaries, recognition of the atrocity crimes committed against its people, and support for reparations and accountability. Financial and material backing for post-genocide collective reparations is also paramount. Official and formal dissolution of the security agreement between Abiy and Isaias is necessary.
The concept of Strategic Ambiguity is intrinsically linked to the Kingmaker Community and Defensive Posture policies. Historically, the term “Kingmaker Community” describes entails Tigray as a political community possessing significant influence in selecting or endorsing winners and leaders, without necessarily assuming leadership roles themselves. Within the political arenas of Ethiopia, Tigray, Eritrea, and even the broader region of Horn of Africa, a “Kingmaker Tigray” underscores the need to make Tigray an influential political entity by carefully presenting and seeking support to its interest by other forces in exchange for the support – political or military- it could extend to them. The idea of “Kingmaker Tigray” posits that Tigray, as a political unit, wields considerable influence over the broader Ethiopian political canvas and perhaps even regions beyond. Such a stance implies that forging alliances with, or securing support from others, is critical for political success within Ethiopia or in the larger Horn of Africa region. Historically, Tigray, both as a regional entity and an influential political community, has been playing this role in Eritrean and Ethiopian politics. In the current context, for Tigray to become kingmaker political community from which others seek endorsement, Tigray need to build pivotal military, political and diplomatic clout but its political, diplomatic and military cards need to be kept secret and used carefully needing for Tigray’s military capabilities to be in defensive posture, and given that Tigray’s vital interests are not yet full achieved, it cannot afford to be defensive only, when the opportunity to reclaim its territory arises, it should be on the offensive to seize them, and when the threat from any of the three forces – EDF, Fano and ENDF threatens its security, it reach a deal with the least threat and should act in unison to defeat the other most dangerous. The main consideration should be to thwart any attack, seize the territories, and criminals. least Thus, the defensive posture might transition into a proactive offense, potentially reshaping the addressing a clear and present danger, protecting vital interests of Tigray or even tilling the balance of power as far as aligned to the vital interests of Tigray.
However, it’s essential to recognize the fluid nature of geopolitical landscapes. The balance of power, alliances, and the potential role of any region or group as a “kingmaker” can be transient, morphing with the ebb and flow of political, economic, and societal changes. In terms of a Defensive Posture, should there be an imminent threat or perception that the conflict might escalate or directly affect the vital interest, adopting a offensive posture becomes vital. This may entail bolstering defenses and potentially seeking security assurances from other nations or global entities. Tigray’s historical political influence in Ethiopian and Eritrean contexts means it can become a sought-after endorser. This requires building pivotal military, political, and diplomatic clout. Tigray must maintain a defensive military stance, ready to be offensive when essential, especially when territory reclaiming opportunities present themselves. It should strategically partner with less threatening forces against more menacing adversaries.
The geopolitical landscape is constantly changing, marked by shifts in power dynamics and evolving alliances. Given its historical significance in Ethiopian and Eritrean politics, Tigray stands out as a potential key ally. In the face of defensive imperatives, it is crucial for Tigray to bolster its defenses against emerging threats. This may entail seeking security assistance from global stakeholders. Such unpredictability requires Tigray to adopt a flexible defensive strategy. If conditions permit, Tigray might consider challenging Isaias’s regime. Although maintaining a defensive posture towards Eritrea is vital, Tigray must be prepared to adopt an offensive strategy when its essential interests are jeopardized. While Tigray primarily adheres to a defensive military strategy, situations might arise that demand an offensive approach, especially in reclaiming territories. Strategically, it is imperative for Tigray to partner with non-threatening entities to address more significant threats. Isaias’s reign poses a significant threat to Tigray’s cultural and military survival. The geopolitical environment in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa remains volatile. Even though defense is predominantly Tigray’s approach, there will be instances when a proactive stance is crucial to safeguard its primary interests. Such scenarios might necessitate bolstered defenses and international security commitments.