Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Caves to US Pressure on Tigré, Opening the Region to Major Instability

July 2, 2021

[Reprinted with permission from Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis]

Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis

Analysis. From GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs correspondents in Addis Ababa and elsewhere in the region.

By Gregory Copley

Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali on June 28, 2021, called a unilateral ceasefire in military operations against the Tigré (Tigray) Popular Liberation Front (TPLF) forces in Tigré Region of Ethiopia. This allowed TPLF forces unfettered access to the regional capital, Mekelle, and the prospect that the region would once again attempt to seal itself of hermetically from the rest of Ethiopia. 

It is believed that Dr Abiy gave in to immense pressure from the US Government, which had threatened to propose — through the United Nations Security Council — armed intervention in Ethiopia to stop an “humanitarian crisis” in the region.

The TPLF rejected the ceasefire, and said that it would continue to fight against Ethiopian Government forces, confident in its backing from the US. The TPLF also said that it would continue its war against the adjacent Amhara people. The TPLF felt that the scaling back of the conflict by Dr Abiy was due to the TPLF military success on the ground, rather than the impact of the US and other foreign governments pressuring Dr Abiy to limit military operations in the Tigré region and to cause the Ethiopian Prime Minister to ensure that neighboring Eritrean forces withdrew from engagement against TPLF forces. Meanwhile, Ethiopian Government officials appeared by June 28, 2021, to have all been withdrawn from Tigré, and the regional capital, Mekelle, is now back in TPLF hands.

What is significant is that there has been no independent verification of the claims of Ethiopian and Eritrean government atrocities against the Tigrean population.

The TPLF has, with some of the estimated $30-billion stolen from Ethiopian funds (and much of that coming from US direct and covert aid during the US Barack Obama-Joe Biden Administration), engaged in a major, professional information warfare campaign against the Abiy Government which replaced the marxist TPLF Government. This has been assisted by the reality that the TPLF retained great friendships in Washington, DC, as a result of the deal which the former TPLF Meles Zenawi Government did with Washington to train and equip the TPLF’s private, 30,000-man army in exchange for US use of Ethiopian air basing, particularly at Arba Minch, in Southern Ethiopia.

It should be remembered that the Croatian information warfare campaign in the early 1990s, against Yugoslavia and specifically against Serbia, was mounted with a budget of some $2-billion, and was highly successful in strategically containing Serbia at that time.

Senior TPLF officials — many of whom were given US passports by the Obama Administration — boast often of their friendship with senior US officials, but particularly with Dr Susan Rice, the former National Security Advisor to the Obama-Biden White House (July 1, 2013 to January 20, 2017). During her tenure as National Security Advisor, Dr Rice’s deputy was Antony Blinken, now the US Secretary of State in the Joe Biden Administration. But Dr Rice, who is currently Director of the Domestic Policy Council which reports to Pres. Biden, had a long history of engagement with the TPLF, particularly dating from her years as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the William Clinton Administration, and as Ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013. 

Significantly, the current US Ambassador to the UN is former Assistant Secretary of State for Africa under the Obama-Biden Administration, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who had, in that earlier post, lectured African leaders that the US would strictly implement its R2P (“Right to Protect”) interventionist policy to force African governments to comply with her Government’s values.

It was known that, during her tenure as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, US Pres. Barack Obama visited Ethiopia in mid-July 2015, and defied advice from Africa exports to tell Ethiopian and other African politicians to accept US views on same-sex marriage, a move which was seen as an affront to most conventional African norms. Rejection of Pres. Obama’s demand was not well received by the White House. By that stage, the founding leader of the marxist TPLF, Meles Zenawi, was already dead, and the incumbent Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, who had greeted Pres. Obama on his arrival, was already moving the Ethiopian Government away from the grip of the Obama Administration’s ally, the TPLF. 

Now, the same team of Obama-Clinton officials are back in power in Washington, DC.

Several realities, as well, point to the fact that the US was now preparing to move forward with plans to support Egypt’s goal in the region, to break up Ethiopia in order to enable Cairo to claim victory in the fight for the flow of Blue Nile waters. However, such a victory would, for Egypt, by pyrrhic, because it will not yield more water from the river to flow down to Egyptian use. So, within a short time, Egypt will recognize that its water problems have not been solved by the destruction of Ethiopia. Nonetheless, it is US (and British) policy to support Cairo, and this was what Cairo sought. The price, however, may well be instability in the lower Red Sea.

Continuation of the present trend by Washington and Cairo now seems set to further polarize the region. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were likely to increase their support for Ethiopia and Eritrea, and possibly welcome or assist in the re-union of Eritrea and Ethiopia into a new confederation, which would facilitate Ethiopia6s return as a Red Sea maritime power, regardless of the possible loss of Tigré. 

This would further pit Saudi Arabia and the UAE against Egypt, and potentially hold a veto over Red Sea maritime traffic utilizing the Suez Canal. And this would possibly then increase the interest which the UAE has expressed in helping to fund an alternative canal from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, bypassing the Suez Canal which is controlled by Egypt. Even the opening of a trans-Israel heavy rail link from its Red Sea (Gulf of Aqaba) port of Eilat to Ashdod or Haifa on Israel’s Mediterranean coast would enable shipping to avoid the increasingly expensive, and potentially risky, Suez Canal, although port facilities at Eilat, in particular, would need massive upgrading.

Such a project could significantly benefit Israel and Jordan, at the expense of Egypt.

Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, the TPLF’s moves toward a revived independence campaign would likely have two outcomes, even if that drive is successful. The first would be to highlight that it was the TPLF conducting the campaign, literally along genocidal lines, against Amhara people (a campaign supported physically and politically by the radical Oromo Liberation Front). The second would be to create a landlocked state of Tigré, in a condition of constant war with its two major neighbors, Eritrea and Ethiopia, and needing a lifeline landbridge to the sea via Sudan, if, indeed, the lands between the traditional Tigrean area and Sudan can be controlled by the TPLF. 

At the end of the day, the US policy, ostensibly to support greater Egyptian ambitions, will not yield more water from the Blue Nile to flow down to Egypt, and Egypt’s strategic water problem will remain unsolved, largely because its population has outgrown available water supplies. What then will Cairo do? And what then will the US do to address the problem, if anything?

In the meantime, will the Government in Addis Ababa awaken to the reality that its chosen ally, the United States (for which it abandoned the Meles Government’s support for the People’s Republic of China), has, in fact, abandoned it. And would Dr Abiy, with that realization, resume attacks on the TPLF, regardless of US pressure? At that point, it seems likely that the US would do what US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has already threatened to do: to seek United Nations Security Council approval for an international military intervention into Ethiopia on “peacekeeping” grounds, much as the same US team attempted to do (eventually getting some NATO support) in Yugoslavia during the 1990s?

See also other recent reports in GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis on this topic:

“War as a (Fatal) Diversion From Reality”, July 22, 2020

“Genocide is Alive and Well in Africa”, August 10, 2020

“Ethiopia’s Decisive War”, November 13, 2020

“No Rapid Solution Likely in Ethiopia’s Wars, But Vital Global Trade Interests at Stake”, November 23, 2020

“Ethiopia’s Emerging Year of Decisions”, January 25, 2021

“Is Egypt Pushing Sudan Into a New Military Government?”, February 15, 2021

“Seeing Reality in the Red Sea Wars”, March 31, 2021

“Moving Inexorably Toward the Avoidable War in the Horn of Africa?”, May 3, 2021

“NATO and the US Prepare for Military Intervention in Ethiopia”, June 14, 2021

“Ethiopia: Anti-Climax in a Crisis”, June 22, 2021

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