BY ANDUALEM SISAY GESSESSE – On Monday some 37 million registered voters in Ethiopia voted to elect their next leader and political party that will government the country for the coming five years. Today’s voting matters not only to the some 115 million plus population but also to regional stability and global power’s scramble in Eastern Africa.
Currently led by the Prosperity Party (PP), which is a child of the former ruling coalition Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which dissolved following the popular protests a few years ago. The protest has forced the then EPRDF leader and former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to resign.
EPRDF, was coalition of four ethnically and regionally composed political parties namely – Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization (OPDO), and Southern party.
The reform launched by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who replaced Hailemariam Desalegn in April 2018 includes establishing independent national electoral board, independent court system free from the interference of the executive branch of the government, releasing of thousands of political prisoners, allowing exiled opposition party leaders and members to return and advance their political views peacefully, among others.
In addition, Prime Minister Abiy has also managed to restore peaceful relation with the neighboring Eritrea, ending the hostilities that led to the death of over 70,000 people during the war between the two countries from 1998 to 2000.
His effort has made him to win the latest Nobel Peace Prize. Not long after last year in November the hardliners of TPLF, who refused to be part of Prosperity Party, have launched a military attack in Tigray Region on the Northern Command of the Ethiopian Army.
Along with the military attack the TPLF, which has already been infiltrating its supporters in international organizations including the current World Health Organization (WHO) led by former TPLF central committee member – Dr. Tedros Adhanom – and many UN agencies, TPLF has launched aggressive media campaign investing stolen wealth of Ethiopia and investing on the Western international media, which serve their owners interest.
The former members, family members and relatives of the leaders of the rebels who have been studying in expensive universities in Western countries and the United Sates, sympathizers of TPLF and different ethnic extremists in the diaspora, who were beneficiaries of the divide and rule ethnic politics of TPLF, have also joined the Western lobbyists’ led aggressive global campaign against Prime Minister Abiy’s Administration.
They have been accusing Abiy Ahmed’s Administration and Ethiopian defense force for violations of human rights during the counter military operations of the government in Tigray region that ousted the rebels from most of the towns of Tigray region within about one month.
Capitalizing on the accusations before independent investigation on the alleged human rights violations in Tigray Region was completed, the former allies of TPLF hardliners that brought the rebel groups to power in 1991 mainly the United States and the European Union have also began opposing Prime Minister Abiy’s Administration.
They took speedy measures against Abiy Ahmed’s Administration, which includes the recent announcement of travel ban of Ethiopian government officials by the United States, which also tried to impose more sanctions Ethiopia at UN assembly.
The attempt was failed because Russia and China opposed the U.S. proposal to impose sanction on Ethiopia by indicating that the issue in Tigray is interference in the sovereignty of Ethiopia, which is one of the founding members of the League of Nations – now called the United Nations.
Significance of election
After losing its power unexpectedly during the EPRDF congress in 2018 that elected Abiy Ahmed, TPLF hardliners vowed to return back to power in Ethiopia at any cost, including by going back to gorilla fighting like they did to end Marxist Mengistu Hailemariam’s Regime in 1991 with the strong support of CIA of America, some European countries, and Arab countries involving Sudan and Egypt, among others.
As a result, some of the leaders of TPLF including the former spy chief Getachew Assefa, who were accused of involving in torcher of opposition members and killings in private (hidden) prisons among others, have refused to face charges by the federal government.
Instead of defending themselves in court, the accused criminals of TPLF have decided to run and hide in Tigray region – their stronghold with some 6 million people. They began preparations for war against the federal government led by Abiy Ahmed, which latter led to their defeat – also unexpected by their Western supporters.
Simultaneously after April 2018, using its previous networks within Ethiopia, TPLF has managed to support financially and technically over 100 ethnic clashes and conflicts, as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told Members of Parliaments several months ago.
As the federal government continue to strengthening itself preparing the country to make today’s general election, TPLF decided to fire its last bullet by launching “lightening attack” on the northern command as its members admitted on Tigray TV in November 2020.
TPLF, which bragged to train and over 200,000 militias claimed that by overtaking the mechanized armaments of northern command, it was hopping to return to federal power in Addis Ababa within a few months. But the opposite happened and TPLF militias lost most of Tigray Region let alone advancing to the capital, Addis Ababa.
Though the Ethiopian defense forces have managed to seize and kill most of the leaders of TPLF liberating most of the region from the rebel fighters, some have managed to escape to the neighboring Sudan, which used to serve TPLF as base during the gorilla fighting before 1991.
Sudan, Egypt Alliance
When Ethiopian Defense Force took some of its soldiers from the border of Sudan to the northern front to combat the TPLF militias, Sudanese Army has occupied disputed border towns, which the two countries have been trying to resolve peacefully in the last few decades.
In addition, the Sudanese Government, which has been on the side of Ethiopia by admitting the benefits of Ethiopian Great Renaissance Dam (GERD) under-construction for the past ten years, to the people of Sudan, suddenly began criticizing GERD like Egypt.
Though Ethiopia’s Abay River contributes 86 percent of water to the Nile River that flows to the downstream countries, Sudan and Egypt, Ethiopia was not using its water resources because of the huge investment required to develop the Abay River.
Meanwhile, about a decade ago the Government of Ethiopia launched the construction of GERD indicating that it will not accept loan or aid from abroad to build the $4.5 billion hydropower dam. The government began mobilizing resources from the public including from Ethiopian in the diaspora by selling bonds to build GERD, which is now completed about 80 percent.
As the country is set to start the second round water filling of GERD reservoir during the current rainy season as of next July, Egypt along with its allies such as the United States, Arab League, Sudan have been working to put pressure on the Ethiopian Government to sign binding agreement before starting the second round water filling of the dam.
Meanwhile Ethiopia, which expressed its willingness to a win-win mutually benefiting agreement on the water of Abay River, has been resisting the pressure refusing a binding agreement that limits the future water use of the next generation of Ethiopia.
Global powers’ interest
Over the past few decades East Africa, especially the Horn of Africa has been in the attention of global powers. The presence of military bases in the tiny nation in the horn adjacent to Ethiopia – Djibouti shows how much global powers are interested in the geo-politics of the region. Today France, United States, Japan, China, among others have military base in Djibouti.
Some of these global powers argue that their presence in the bab el mandeb route assures sustainability and safety of their trade with Africa and beyond. While others say they need to be there to help the countries fight pirates on the water, illegal fisheries, among others.
Ethiopia, which hosts the African Union headquarter has been playing critical role over the past few years in shaping many African countries’ development orientation by focusing China for mainly infrastructure developments.
As a result, today China is more linked with Africa in terms trade, and investment than any European country or the United States. Capitalizing on this relationships China has been engaged in a mega infrastructure project – Belt and Silk that links Beijing with Africa using road networks via East Africa.
This project has not been liked by many Western countries, mainly the G7, which proposed a kind of similar mega infrastructure projects in Africa during their recent summit. Some analysts suggest that sponsoring crisis in Ethiopia and creating instability in the region with an old way of British style divide and rule method, may delay China’s ambitious mega projects in Africa and its emerging dominance in the continent, while helping the Western and the United States to form new alliances in East Africa with a new approach that replaces their outdated aid-diplomacy in Africa.
Some global powers, which initially were supporting the reform launched by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed now seems to be unhappy the speed he is trying to bring leaders of East African countries together such as the leaders of Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, South Sudan, among others. Abiy’s approach as some analysts suggest will nullify global powers interference in the region be its as mediators of conflicts within the countries or between neighboring countries in East Africa or as Western aid dependency of these African countries.
Some political analysts argue that the Western powers including the United States, which reportedly have been indirectly and directly engaged in the suffering of civilians in countries like Yemen and Syria, Libya, among others don’t care about about suffering of people in Tigray region of Ethiopia. These global powers including the European Union are trying to use issues like human rights violations in Tigray and the Nile to intervene in the internal politics of Ethiopia and advance their national interest.
The recent unusual request of the European Union to send its election observers with satellite phones and other equipment, which is declined by Ethiopian Government also suggest the interest of these powers to communicate the few militia leaders of TPLF now hiding in mountains of Tigray and in Sudan, according to these political analysts.
It is in the middle of such local and international pleasure that Ethiopia is holding its 6th general election. Ethiopia’s peaceful handling of today’s election and second round water filling of GERD without a military confrontation and external power indirect intervention is paramount in stability of the country and East African countries in general.
Both the local and regional politics as well as some global powers attitude to intervene in Ethiopia’s internal affairs suggest that the ruling party, the people of Ethiopia elect today will face hard times ahead. It will not be an easy task for the party coming to power in Ethiopia to restore both internal peace and stability as well as counter regional and international pressure to maintain the integrity and independence of the 115 million population never colonized nation in East Africa – Ethiopia.