Eight months after the start of the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, thousands are estimated to have died, 1.7 million displaced people, and hundreds of thousands are living under conditions of famine. Despite intense pressure and punitive measures, the international response — led primarily by the United States (United States) and European Union (EU) —not helping. Some critics called the response mistake. Others fear that it is counterproductive and destabilizes Ethiopia and the Region.
the Ethiopian government accused the we of mingle in its internal affairs, straining existing alliances and future international cooperation. While it has already agreed to allow unhindered humanitarian access and to conduct a joint investigation into the alleged atrocities, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali’s government has continued to resist US pressure and attempts to subjugate it to its targets. foreign policy.
Even if the Eritrean forces withdraw, following the last unanimous resolution of the United States Senate, neither the conflict in Tigray (which has now become a guerrilla) nor other similar armed conflicts of an ethnic nature will be resolved quickly. Ethiopian lawmakers have designated two ethnic armed groups actively operating in the country – the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF) and the OLA (Oromo Liberation Army) – as terrorist groups, making it even more difficult to stop ethnic violence.
Why is the international response not helping to end the violence in Ethiopia? There are four explanations based on the broader perspective of internal dynamics and peacebuilding.
ethnic violence nationwide; Selective response
Violence in Ethiopia is diverse and linked; it is ethnically related and widespread throughout the country, including the regional states of Benishangul-Gumuz, Amhara and Oromia.
1) targeted identity assassinations (ethnic, religious or political)
2) deaths of civilians (armed and unarmed)
3) displacement (internal and external)
4) incidents of destruction of property (private, public and government); and 5) sexual violence, reports of which are either already confirmed, including by the Ethiopian government, or suspected to have been committed on the basis of credible sources.
However, the international response isolated the armed conflict in Tigray, underscoring its implication on regional security and the so-called rules-based international order. Many experts have also focused on the Tigray conflict, emphasizing its fallout.
Such a selective approach and framing have neither calmed regional tension nor stopped hostilities in Tigray.
The external response also appears to sympathize with various internal and global actors, and appears to be based on social media disinformation and disinformation campaigns and activists who claim or play a victim role vis-à-vis the alleged perpetrators. However, this approach does not recognize how common conflict binaries (ie.
Ethnic federalism and state reform
The international response failed to recognize the problematic aspects of ethnic federalism. Some major players in the international community have not considered helping to reform or change it, arguing that it has contributed to the relative peace and economic development of the country.
There was, in fact, relative peace in Ethiopia between 1991 and 2018 under the autocratic government dominated by the TPLF (but not throughout the period). Ethiopia was then also perceived, in particular by its Western allies, as an anchoring state in the region.
What Ethiopia had under the TPLF, however, was only temporary political stability based on the peace of a fragile victor.
In addition, politicized ethnicity has also gradually resulted in a new pattern of conflict and human security issues, evident in recent violence across the country.
Ethiopia’s main ethnic issues today include:
1) the creation of a new hierarchy in ethnic regions (in the form of natives against settlers) within historically integrated communities;
2) the rise of ethnic and political intergroup and intragroup polarization among political elites;
3) the growing problem of displacement, discrimination and violence against ethnic minorities residing in areas or regions controlled by ethnicity; 4) continued violence linked to claiming or maintaining the territorial limits of ethnic administration;
5) the naturalization of patriarchy and, consequently, gender-based violence in the process of legitimizing ethnic nationalism; and
6) the growth of ethnically organized radical or self-defense youth groups.
Legal and political aspects of violence
By focusing on human rights and international law, external actors give primacy to the legal aspects of violence. Global and regional experts, human rights organizations, activists and the international media have also focused on the criminal aspects of violence, intending to generate global attention and outrage. .
This approach, however, undermines the political nature of violence in Ethiopia, which is essentially political, where state and non-state actors resort to violence to achieve their political goals.
This political violence is expressed in the overt or hidden ideas and practice of:
1) challenge or protect state sovereignty;
2) reform or consolidate formally recognized politico-administrative regions of an ethnic nature;
3) control the territories inhabited by populations of mixed and multiple ethnicities and cultural heritages; and
4) privilege (including) or deny (exclude) citizens from ethnic membership and political rights, including access to means of subsistence, mainly land.
Proponents and supporters of ethnic nationalism argue that violence is not primarily about the elite competition for power and privilege. It is also about resistance and emancipation. Many instances of violence, including the Tigray conflict, are expressed and committed in the name of the defense and protection of the interests and dignity of historically and politically marginalized ethnic or minority groups.
However, since competing external and internal interest groups also initiate, fuel and manipulate violence for political and economic gain, not every instance of violence necessarily arises out of outrage or self-defense, such as many ethnonationalists claim.
Political settlement and normalization process
The main players in the international response are pushing and aiming for an immediate political settlement. However, this is not something that can be achieved in the short term.
Aiming for a quick solution, some of the major powerful players in the international community, including the US and the EU, have imposed punitive measures to force the government to end the Tigray conflict and hold a national dialogue.
A political settlement is, in fact, vital for peacebuilding efforts in Ethiopia. However, a series of factors make a complete end to ethnic violence and an immediate political settlement not only difficult but also unrealistic, given:
1) the continued use of violence by illegal or ethnic armed resistance groups;
2) the ethnic and political polarization of local and diasporic political elites;
3) the inherited form of autocratic governance and undemocratic political culture within the incumbent;
4) the fragmented political mobilization, activism and loyalties of the Ethiopian people; and
5) the multiple regional security issues involving Sudan, Egypt and Eritrea.
What is needed now are normalization processes to sustain and steer political change and reform in Ethiopia towards democratic transition. This effort involves at least two important simultaneous political processes.
On the one hand, it requires an intensification of humanitarian aid without abandoning the questions of accountability and responsibility of the actors of the conflict.
On the other hand, it also calls for a collective internal and external effort to depolarize, demilitarize and de-radicalize the Ethiopian political environment at large as a prerequisite for any sustainable and honest peacebuilding effort, without giving up human rights. .
While local and diaspora stakeholders, including government, have the ultimate and irreplaceable roles, the international community can and should play a concerted but impartial and facilitating role.
What should be done?
Ethiopia first needs comprehensive international support for peacebuilding that takes into account the diverse and interrelated nature of the acts of violence that are developing across the country. International responses must also recognize and integrate state or constitutional reform as an integral component of comprehensive international peacebuilding assistance.
Often, key players in the international community, including the United Nations Security Council and the United States, unequivocally state that it is in their interests to see a sovereign and united Ethiopia. If this is true, they must help Ethiopia meet the challenge of political violence that affects the sovereignty and unity of the country.
Only the Ethiopians themselves can resolve their conflict. Instead of pushing for an unrealistic political settlement among ethnically and politically polarized elites, key players in the international community should continue to engage in, support and facilitate a more comprehensive political normalization process in Ethiopia.
Zerihun A. Woldeselassie is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Critical Peace and Conflict Studies at the Center for Peace Studies, UiT The Arctic University of Norway. He tweets to @ zaw022.
“Originally published in the World Observatory”