In recent weeks, after the declaration in Ethiopia of the indefinite humanitarian truce by the federal government, many analysts have been divided on its meaning: on the one hand, optimists, who see it as a first step towards peace, on the other hand, pessimists, who see it only as a way to gain time by the government to prepare a further offensive.
René Lefort, one of the most experienced journalists and analysts in Ethiopian politics, has examined the Ethiopian situation revealing many backgrounds thanks to the internal sources in the country gathered in his immense experience and shares his point of view, particularly brilliant, on the various forces in the field providing what, to date, seems the most in-depth and revealing key to interpretation.
Lefort states that secret negotiations took place between Addis Ababa and Mekelle, according to diplomatic sources, and that a call even took place between Abiy Ahmed and Debretsion Gebremichael, the president of Tigray. This is because the TPLF in four months has stopped its offensive – either because it is incapable militarily or due to lack of political will, or both – but in the belief that secret negotiations could lead to a solution. However as much as the parties were discussing a cessation of hostilities and the various details, including ending the humanitarian aid blockade and resolving Ethiopia’s fundamental problems, the federal government made an unexpected move by declaring the indefinite humanitarian ceasefire unilaterally, which is less significant than a ceasefire per se but also because it was declared by only one of the two sides.
In this way, Abiy untethered himself from the process that seemed to have been established, as well as from the obligations consequent to a ceasefire established by both sides. In fact, the main problem with these negotiations is that they were between the TPLF and the FDRE, and did not include Eritrea or the various regional governments that are increasingly eroding the power of the central government.
The pressure that Abiy is receiving from his various allies is precisely the reason for his decision. Internationally, the alliance with the U.S. in particular is shaking, Congress must soon vote on two resolutions that could substantially cut aid to Ethiopia apart from humanitarian aid. The link with the Amhara ethnic group that was one of the pillars of Abiy’s power seems to be increasingly fraying.
At the same time, it seems that a widespread arming of regional forces is underway, whose number has now become twice the number of federal forces, even if taken individually these forces are less numerous. However, this certainly reflects a feeling of encirclement and fear, as evidenced also by the numerous identity conflicts that are emerging in the periphery of the country. Moreover, it seems that every regional state now has territorial claims on its neighbors, not just the Amhara on Tigray.
Eritrea on the other hand seems more and more to become the strongest force militarily in the region after the weakening of the federal forces, is occupying part of Tigray and, in addition to having a direct channel with the Ethiopian security forces seems to be tying also to the Amhara irredentism. This is because, since the border war for Badme in the late 90s, the Eritrean objective is the annihilation of the TPLF and the annexation of Tigray, in order to weaken Ethiopia and thus play on equal terms for regional hegemony.
Economically, the worst drought since 1981, the inflation of the food market at 40% and the greater improbability of receiving aid from Western countries and military spending, are leading to a decline that could undo much of the growth achieved during the EPRDF regime.
But the Tigrinya front is not the only open one, there is also the one in Oromia with OLF and OLA. And perhaps Abiy’s declaration of truce was also made to try to ingratiate himself again with the Amhara forces who seem to be more worried about Oromia than Tigray, as evidenced by a statement of an Amhara militia member: “The main war has yet to begin”. Despite the withdrawal in the last days of the TPLF from Afar and the renewed conflict with the OLF by the federal forces however it does not seem that these moves are gaining much support for Abiy but rather that the situation in the country and his consensus, even within the diaspora, is in free fall. However, his allies are too divided to join forces and oust the prime minister, despite the fact that militarily the federal forces are very weakened.
As it has often happened in times of division in Ethiopia, the Oromia people are always looked to as the center of a possible common front to solve the country’s problems, however historically this responsibility has never been taken by the Oromia people and nothing indicates that this is the turning point.
In any case, Abiy is still in power, according to Lefort, because his enemies are too divided and weak taken individually and, without an objective or a coalition to support his ousting, it seems that the road to Ethiopian recovery is basically still a mirage while the various centrifugal forces that animate the conflict are having the upper hand.