By William Tucker
The U.S., along with many nations in Europe and Africa, has called for an end to the years-long fighting in Ethiopia. Adding further urgency to the call for a ceasefire is the joint report from the United Nations and the Ethiopian government, accusing rebel forces and the Ethiopian military of gross human rights abuses.
In response to the report, U.S. president Joe Biden removed Ethiopia, in addition to Guinea and Mali, from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). While on a visit to Addis Ababa, U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman stated, “No government can tolerate an armed insurgency. We get that. But no government should be adopting policies or allowing practices that result in mass starvation of its own citizens.”
Removing Ethiopia from AGOA May Be Moot Since Rebel Forces Are Moving Closer to the Capital City of Addis Adaba
Removing Ethiopia from AGOA may be a moot point at this juncture since the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) have seized significant territory from the government and are 200 miles from the capital. OLA spokesman Odaa Tarbii called the removal of the current government under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed a “foregone conclusion” and further stated, “If things continue in the current trajectory, then we are talking about a matter of months if not weeks” before the rebels move against the capital.
Currently, the rebels have moved as far south as the city of Kemise in Amhara state, just south of Kombolcha. Before the rebels can continue their drive south, they will need to cut off ground access to the east.
The A1 highway, which links the port of Djibouti to Ethiopia, is a concern. Some rebel forces have been spotted moving towards the city of Mille in the east, which links several highways to the A1. Conquering Mille would effectively isolate Addis Ababa on the ground.
The Ethiopian Military Has Been Unable to Halt the Advance of Rebel Forces
So far, the Ethiopian military has been unable to halt the rebel advance, which is unsurprising given their poor performance at the beginning of the conflict. When the government retook a military base from Tigray rebels at the start of the war, they quickly lost momentum and the rebel forces largely pushed them from Tigray province in the north. The rebels have been on the march ever since.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been in power since 2018. Although Ahmed received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, he has been accused by the TPLF of consolidating his power. The TPLF was the dominant power in Ethiopia for 27 years before Abiy was elected. Their efforts to topple the current government may have as much to do with retaking power as it is in reaction to the assault on Tigray by the Abiy government.
In anticipation of a rebel assault on the capital, Abiy has declared a state of emergency which allows for the conscription of military-age men who have weapons. Despite the calls for a ceasefire, there has been little momentum on bringing the warring factions to any negotiations.
With such widespread suffering within Ethiopia, the need to end the fighting takes on a new urgency. But with several coups in neighboring African countries over the past year, Ethiopia is just one more destabilized nation on the list.
Despite the concern expressed by the U.S., Europe and many African nations over the fighting, it does not appear that one entity has the bandwidth to fully address the problems in Ethiopia. In essence, this conflict will not end anytime soon.