Ethiopia’s civil war: Five reasons why history won’t repeat itself

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Abstract

One year after the outbreak of civil war in Ethiopia the spectre of regime change looms over Africa’s second most populous nation. The tides of the military conflict pitting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his allies against the rebel Tigray Defence Forces and Oromo Liberation Army changed after a government offensive failed to push back their enemies in October. Instead the insurgents made important territorial gains over the past weeks, vowing to take the capital Addis Ababa. In response, the government called on civilians to join the war effort against the ‘terrorists’. It also declared a nation-wide state of emergency.
The military outcome of the conflict remains uncertain. Nevertheless, the threat to Abiy’s elected government is reminiscent of the downfall of the Derg dictatorship in May 1991. Led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, the socialist military regime ruled Ethiopia for 17 years after the 1974 revolution that deposed emperor Haile Selassie. It gained a reputation as one of Africa’s most repressive Cold War governments. Supporters of Abiy, including many residents in Addis Ababa, fear a victory by Tigrayan and Oromo fighters. This could lead to a resurrection of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front, which ruled the country for 27 years. This coalition of ethno-national parties, led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, ruled with an iron fist until Abiy’s unexpected rise to power in April 2018. Get your news from people who know what they’re talking about. Those in favour of the rebels argue that Abiy’s nationalist politics seek to undo the autonomy and political rights of the country’s various ethno-linguistic groups. At a superficial level the conflict is between, on the one hand, a pan-Ethiopianist political centre advocating for a more unitarian state and, on the other, ethno-nationalist forces fighting for a federal order. This follows a familiar fault line in modern Ethiopian politics.
But, based on my long-term research on local and national politics in Ethiopia, this is where historical parallels between the current and past conflicts in Ethiopia end. A 1991 type of regime change at national level is unlikely, even if the Tigray Defence Forces and Oromo Liberation Army – which recently established the nine-member United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces – were to prevail militarily. Prevailing political attitudes, security actors, alliances and geopolitics differ starkly from the final days of the hated Derg military regime. Five reasons in particular explain why 2021 is not 1991.
OriginalsprogEngelsk
Publikationsdato21 nov. 2021
UdgiverThe Conversation
Antal sider2
StatusUdgivet - 21 nov. 2021

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