Tigray crisis: West has fallen out with Ethiopia’s PM

Tigray Army men help a civilian during an attack by Ethiopian Forces.Tigray Army men help a civilian during an attack by Ethiopian Forces.
As  the Ethiopian government’s relationship with the US and European Union (EU) at a low brink, it is looking elsewhere for new allies to crush the rebellion being waged against it from the mountainous Tigray region.
The US and EU have threatened sanctions on the government and its arch-enemy, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), in a bid to press them into ending the almost year-long conflict that some fear could be as devastating as the civil war that led to the break-up of Yugoslavia.
According to Kjetil Tronvoll, a professor in conflict studies at the Oslo New University College in Norway, said this has led to the government’s focus shifting. The Ethiopian government feels that it can do without the West and that it can obtain weapons from Iran, Turkey and China, soft loans from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and political protection from Russia and China pointing out that the latter two had already blocked the UN Security Council from agreeing on a resolution on the civil war.
He further added that while there was no official confirmation, there were credible reports that the Ethiopian military had obtained Iranian and Turkish-manufactured drones to carry out strikes in Tigray in the hope of tilting the war in its favour.
Canada-based Ethiopia analyst Ann Fitz-Gerald said she was concerned by US and EU moves to take “punitive measures” against the government. The international community should be standing by the legitimate government of Ethiopia, and all three regions Tigray, Amhara and Afar affected by the conflict.
Prof Tronvoll said the EU and US had seen Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as a “close strategic partner” when he took office in 2018, and regarded Ethiopia as a “lynchpin of security” in a region that was close to the shipping routes of the Red Sea, a hot-bed of militant Islamist activity, and a major source of migration to Europe.
He added that their relationship deteriorated after the war started. The US and EU became increasingly critical of government atrocities, and the famine-like conditions in Tigray.
UN officials say that a de facto blockade imposed on Tigray by the government has restricted aid deliveries, leaving about 400,000 people in famine-like conditions in the region.
Ethiopia-based analyst Wuhibeegzer Ferede warned against “humanitarian imperialism” and “unbridled” diplomatic pressure on the government. Pressure should instead be placed on the TPLF to give the federal government unfettered access to Tigray so that it could deliver aid to people there, he said.
The international community’s preoccupation should not only be with Tigray”, but also with the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar as a TPLF offensive has created a humanitarian crisis there too.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced on 18 August that while development aid to Ethiopia would continue, the EU planned to impose sanctions against groups involved in the conflict once a UN investigation into human rights abuses was finalised.
“Tigray is shattered by systematic violations of human rights by armed groups that use war crimes and crimes against humanity as a weapon,” he said.
Prof Tronvoll said the administration of US President Joe Biden was also stepping up pressure through the following measures: It has ordered a “legal investigation” into whether or not the atrocities in Tigray amounted to a genocide, It has requested the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to withhold some loans to Ethiopia and, It is considering removing Ethiopia from the list of countries that get duty-free access to the US market though the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act, in a move that would be a huge political and economic blow to the government.
“When there is a war and pressure to end it, you would expect Ethiopia to strengthen its diplomatic presence in the US and Europe to win the argument, but the opposite is happening,” Prof Tronvoll said.
He is referring to the fact that the government announced in June that it was shutting or downgrading about 30 diplomatic missions around the world – including in African states such as neighbouring Kenya, the economic powerhouse in East Africa, and Egypt, with whom Ethiopia is at loggerheads over the building of a dam on a tributary over the River Nile.
Ethiopia had one of Africa’s oldest and strongest diplomatic corps, but that’s changing under this government.
For UK-based Horn of Africa analyst Abdurahman Sayed the government’s announcement signalled a move towards “digital diplomacy” to save money, and to “cleanse” diplomatic missions of TPLF supporters.
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