What to watch in 2022: Ethiopia’s Civil War…time for peace?

By Nicholas Norbrook
Posted on Tuesday, 18 January 2022 17:55

Guessing where Ethiopia’s civil war will end up in 2022 is an impossibly hard mission; not only because of the paucity of information emerging, or even because of the duelling propaganda war, but because it is a genuinely fluid situation.  

The northern Tigray rebels had appeared to be marching at full steam towards Addis Ababa, joining forces with the Oromo Liberation Front and occupying owns like Dessie and Kombolcha.

But an early December fightback from the Ethiopian federation army – buttressed with drone strikes on overstretched Tigrayan supply lines – seems to put the initiative back into the hands of Abiy Ahmed, the beleaguered Ethiopia Premier. “The morale of the defence forces is great”, said Abiy in a photo op on the frontline.

The Tigray forces are unlikely to retreat into Tigray, where they would be easily boxed in and bombed. Instead, they may now look at trying to take on federal army forces in other areas, such as West Tigray.

Outside help

Abiy can count on the support of Turkey and China: Turkish president Erdogan visited Addis Ababa at the nadir of Abiy’s military campaign to show support; China’s Foreign minister Wang Yi dropped in on the 1 December in a similar show of solidarity. That ability to last over a long time may be the decisive factor in any federal victory.

Were the TPLF to breakthrough to take Addis, there would quickly be question marks over the viability of Ethiopia as a going concern. Some have already raised the spectre of a Yugoslavia-style break up into smaller proto-nation states. The Somali region may well refuse to take orders from a Tigray-held capital. Let alone the contestation between Amhara and Oromo over who controls the capital.

But for William Davison of the International Crisis Group, the most likely scenario is, “a drawn-out conflict, with the drone power of the federal government and popular mobilisation holding back the armed resistance of the Tigray forces”.

That will probably mean that Ethiopia holds together. But for the many millions for whom this conflict has meant unspeakable loss and suffering, a multi-year war is the worst of possible outcomes.

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