The Impact of Ethiopia’s Balkanization on Somalia

Published on 7th December 2021

No one could have predicted that the war in Ethiopia will drag on this long and with no end in sight at the moment, it’s even harder to predict the outcome. Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, promised a swift military action to bring the leaders of TPLF to justice for their attack on a military base housing the federal troops. The months that followed, the federal troops alongside paramilitaries from Amhara region and troops from Eritrea had captured almost all of Tigray forcing the Tigray people’s liberation front (TPLF) leaders disappearing into the mountains with which Abiy Ahmed declared victory. Soon after, it became apparent that the conflict wasn’t one that could be extinguished that easily.

Ethiopia’s conflicts are deeply rooted into the country’s long history and its foundation. In 1970s, the Solomonic Christian kingdom was overthrown by a socialist military power which demolished class differences and turned the country into secular state. This only answered parts of the religious and class issues but politically it made things more complicated. This caused political organizations that were formed to lead the liberation movements to shift their focus to ethnic bases subjugations in their struggle for nationhood.

In 1991, Ethiopia was reestablished as an ethnic federal state with more than 80 ethnic groups that coexisted in a centralized legal set up that offered autonomy and possibility of secession. Even though this set up was far from being perfect, there was always some form of progress in the state. Regardless, political elites have always found ways to mobilize armed rebellion against old or new regimes without attempting to find peaceful means to settle things.

Despite all this, Ethiopia was relatively progressing and expanding economically. But unfortunately, it was repressive of civil liberties in the form of sham elections. The people’s attempt to protest this repression have resulted in defragmentation within the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Members of the Front such as the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) and Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), came together to create a coalition and social support, called “Oro-Mara.” The coalition took steps that resulted in undermining the TPLF’s influence in the front and led to Abiy Ahmed coming to power as the PM and the gradual marginalization of the TPLF from the federal government.

The changes enticed hope for potential democratic reform with Abiy Ahmed initiating a series of reforms to implement democratization of the country’s political system and liberalization of the economy by adopting capitalist form of production. While the reforms progressed gradually, the marginalized former ruling party, TPLF, which for almost three decades monopolized power, remained the biggest obstacle to Abiy Ahmed’s vision to transform Ethiopia. The new leadership envisioned to shift the ethnic nationalist politics to national unity through institutional reforms such as merging the three main and the five minor political parties into one and forming prosperity party.

By attempting to overcome the deeply rooted ethnic politics buttressed by the former Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the prime minister’s political philosophy of “coming together” (Medemer), envisions a new political reality restoring Ethiopia’s past glory. Removing TPLF from power is seen to help further this political agenda by undermining the ethno-nationalists even though the federal government is obligated to reward its’ ethnic allies. Promoting national unity and harmonizing ethnic groups is a priority for the federal government, and marginalizing TPLF has revived the belief in common national project.

Unfortunately defeating TPLF will not solve the country's deep seated political problems. Ethiopia's size and strategic position in the region means that what happens in Ethiopia cannot necessarily be isolated. the extent to which Ethiopia will continue to exist as one nation after the war is now questionable in fact, it could have a drastic implication not only for the future of the country but for the already fragile region of the horn of Africa. Due to The Horn of Africa’s particular geostrategic importance, the conflict has the potential to destabilize the region for years, and possibly decades, to come. However, what is more alarming is the implications for the war-torn nation of Somalia in the event that the conflict leads to balkanization of Ethiopia.

With more than 2 million people displaced by the current war, it won’t be far too long before a humanitarian crisis engulfs the whole region. Sudan is already suffering from the influx of refugees and it’s a matter of time before Somalia could be hit with waves of refugees. However, Somalia is in no place to welcome any refuges since it’s already struggling with droughts that hit most of the country and had already appealed for humanitarian aid and declared a state of emergency. The Humanitarian fallout of Ethiopia’s conflict will make the already difficult situation in Somalia a life threatening one.

Civil war has a way of sparking tension within the neighboring countries and in the case of Somalia, this Spark might come in the form of disintegration of federal member states from the federal government. The relationship between the federal government and federal member states is weak at its best and there have been bumpy experience where the federal member states attempted devolving power from Mogadishu. As a result, one could only expect the member states watching the Ethiopian civil war closely as it seems one that could mirror the centre-periphery tug of war in Somalia.

Somalia had been crippled with terrorism since 2006 and war criminals from Ethiopia are more likely to find a safe haven which could mean a set of new recruits for terrorist groups. Not only will the criminals find themselves with allies but also with a hub for trading all the illicit firearms from the war.  According to a publication by Institute for Politics and Society, Ethiopia is already one of the major sources of illicit firearms for terrorist groups in Somalia which the Ethiopian authorities had been trying to combat for years. but with the Ethiopian government’s priorities and focus shifting, Somalia could expect an uninterrupted flow of illicit weapons into the hands of the terrorist groups. This could result in terrorist strength growing beyond the capabilities of the Somali government and ultimately Mogadishu facing the same fate as Kabul under the Taliban.

By Naima M. Soldaad

naciimosol4@gmail.com

Courtesy: Hiiraan


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