Addis Ababa December 29/2021/ENA/ The Biden Administration needs to correct course to end Ethiopia’s war, Senior Fellow Bronwyn Bruton and International Security Professor Ann Fitz-Gerald wrote on “Foreign Policy”.
In an in-depth article they wrote to the magazine, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center and the Director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs, Bronwyn Bruton, and Wilfrid Laurier University Professor of International Security, Ann Fitz-Gerald, analyzed the situation in Ethiopia during the past three years in general and the current situation in the country in particular.
According to them, “Washington has now an opportunity to create the conditions for peace.” Knowing Washington’s checkered past, many Ethiopians have not unreasonably interpreted Western media bias, and the Biden Administration’s punitive measures against the Ethiopian authorities as a deliberate effort to whitewash TPLF’s crimes in the name of counterterrorism, they noted.
The scholars further elaborated that many Ethiopians even fear that Washington actively backs the insurgency and is seeking a Libya-Iraq-Somalia-style intervention to shatter Ethiopia and the new efforts for regional peace that Abiy, for many, has come to represent.
Western media reporting has tended to depict Abiy—incorrectly—as both instigator and driver of the war. On the contrary, the TPLF was found at the start of the war to possess militia and weaponry that most experts assessed as equivalent, or better, than those of the federal army, they revealed.
Furthermore, they said the United States has been losing ground in Africa to China, Russia, Turkey, and the Gulf states for some time. But now, there’s not a single nation in the geo-strategically vital Horn region that is reliably in Washington’s corner. As a new cold war heats up, that bodes poorly for U.S. President Joe Biden.
The “U.S. policy is in tatter; there’s not a single nation in the geo-strategically vital Horn region that is reliably in Washington’s corner.”
Moreover, they stated that Washington needs to subdue its nostalgia for the TPLF dictatorship and embrace, instead, Ethiopia’s transition into a fragile post-conflict democracy, the scholars advised.
The U.S. needs to stop blaming Abiy for the inevitable explosion of decades’ worth of pent-up ethnic animosities and acknowledge that some part of the immense devastation of this war is due to Washington’s own careless funding, and political backing, of an authoritarian regime.
Critically, the U.S. government also needs to be far more prudent in its handling of the Egypt-Ethiopia conflict over the GERD, and acknowledge that the GERD’s potential for meaningful regional-led development will only bring scale to the last decade’s worth of international funded development in the Horn of Africa.
The Biden Administration also urgently needs to develop a better understanding of Ethiopia’s domestic political landscape — including the basis of dissatisfaction felt by some Oromo groups, and the impact of the TPLF’s historical, unconstitutional land seizures — and stop making impossible demands.
The prime minister cannot, for example, agree to negotiate with the TPLF, which has been declared a terrorist group by the parliament; popular anger at the rebels is so inflamed that a compromise of that magnitude would significantly destabilize Abiy’s government, the experts underscored.
“U.S. calls for both negotiations and inclusive dialogue are also incompatible, as the former afford exclusivity to one group and undermine the national, unified aspect of a dialogue,” they added.
Washington also can’t just double down on punitive actions that have so far done nothing to shorten or de-escalate the conflict. U.S. officials have already shot off the biggest arrow in their quiver: against the of congressional leaders, they have kicked Ethiopia out of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), throwing tens of thousands of low-wage female workers out of their jobs. Abiy hasn’t flinched. Doubling down on a failed strategy won’t work, the scholars elaborated.
They said, “Even if U.S. officials could bring Abiy to the table, there is no reason to believe — as Washington seems to — that a political settlement with the TPLF would not lead, as in South Sudan, to rounds and rounds of increasingly destructive warfare as the insurgent group rips up every peace deal it makes in its efforts to retake power. As horrific as this war is, the next one promises to be worse.”
According to the writers, calling for the surrender of key TPLF leaders will help to reassure Ethiopians that the United States is not backing the insurgency or seeking the overthrow of the Ethiopian government. Decisive action on that front is needed, not least to combat outrage over of discussions between senior U.S. analysts and former diplomats and the TPLF on plans to overthrow and replace the Abiy government.
If these TPLF leaders refuse to surrender in the interest of peace, the United States should apply sanctions. Unlike Abiy, the TPLF’s leaders have both assets and family overseas and would be vulnerable to pressure put on their fortunes. Sanctions would also send a firm message to anyone planning future insurgencies, they noted.
Both the Ethiopian and Eritrean people are set to bear the costs of U.S. efforts to punish their governments — Eritreans through sanctions and Ethiopia through loss of its access to AGOA. It is not lost on anyone that the only party that has faced no consequences from Washington is the one that started, expanded, and prolonged the war.
In the interest of peace, Abiy should, in turn, be encouraged to declare amnesty for the TPLF rank-and-file who were coerced into fighting (he has offered such amnesty). Whether to lift the terrorist designation on the TPLF is a matter in the hands of Ethiopia’s parliament, and thus probably beyond the reach of U.S. persuasion.
But if it were to call for surrender of the TPLF leadership, the United States might at least be positioned to exert some constructive influence on peace talks between the Ethiopian federal government and Tigray, including which parties and individuals are included in those talks —especially if it offers to help foot the reconstruction bills.
Abiy has already initiated plans for a comprehensive and inclusive that involve representatives from the TPLF, depending on the group’s next moves). These discussions will be organized by an independent committee and will address “all agendas,” including a constitutional referendum. But again, U.S. or EU engagement in these talks, even as observers, is unlikely to be welcome without a visible course correction.
The scholars stressed that U.S. support will be needed to chart this difficult path. With economic growth based on inclusion and not ethnic segregation, Ethiopia may become a real bulwark of stability—one whose peace is based on inclusive prosperity, not bloody repression.