[Reprinted with permission from Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis]
Founded in 1972. Formerly Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily Volume XXXIX, No. 30 Tuesday, June 222, 2021 © 2021 Global Information System/ISSA.
Ethiopia: Anti-Climax in a Crisis
Analysis. From GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs, Addis Ababa.
By Gregory Copley
Watch for incumbent Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali and his national Prosperity Party to retain office after the June 21, 2021, general election. But that will only be the start of the story. Ethiopia is girding for major change and challenge.
The election was approached with caution and concern, befitting its status as the first “real” election in the country in 47 years and coming at a time when the future security of the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea sea lanes was at stake.
A number of things should be expected to be triggered following the election, namely:
1. A total overhaul of the communist Constitution of 1994;
2. The prospect of a revived federation or confederation of Ethiopia and Eritrea; and
3. Attempts by the Government to re-build nationalism, and to find ways to bring the Amhara and Tigrean populations back into the fold after a period of alienation of them for different reasons. This would also need to include a reduction in Oromo dominance of the governing Prosperity Party.
Predictably, however, in positive and negative ways, the elections for all 547 seats in the House of Peoples’ Representatives — from which the Government is created — was an anti-climax, a fact compounded by the good fortune that it was not marked by the predicted widespread unrest and violence. It also had a strong voter turnout in most regions, but particularly in Oromia and Amhara regions.
However, it was anti-climactic in that (a) results will not been confirmed for some weeks, (b) voting was postponed in Tigré (Tigray) region because of ongoing security concerns, as well as in several other locations, and (c) the voting is unlikely to change the national leadership under Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali. However, despite ongoing and in some areas increasing international hostility toward Dr Abiy and Ethiopia, the elections were likely to improve the perception of Ethiopian governance.
But it was a peaceful election, despite claims that it would be violent and chaotic.
None of the elections held since the coup against Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1974 (there have been six, including the 2021 poll) have had any real measure of international approval until now. The June 21, 2021, polls, however, saw a measure of transparency unseen since that coup, and had international observers from a number of institutions, including the African Union (AU), and at least three US institutions [International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute, and Carter Center].
Even so, a number of foreign governments, including those of the US, UK, and France, were unwilling to change their views on Ethiopia based on their desire to support Egypt, which has been pressing claims against Ethiopia for many years and has been funding Ethiopian separatist and terrorist organizations, and on the basis of allegations made by the Marxist former governing party, the Tigré Popular Liberation Front (TPLF), which lost power in 2018 and immediately began a guerilla war against the successor Government.
The TPLF’s Marxist leadership, who had taken an estimated $30-billion from national coffers and from international donors (primarily the US), initiated a full war against the Federal Government in 2019, mainly in Tigré region itself, and then used its funds to establish a major international information campaign to blame the war and atrocities within it on the Government. This has largely been successful, and has the full support of the US Biden Administration State Department and the ultra-left pro-Biden George Soros organization, which controls the International Crisis Group (ICG), which has also been heavily engaged in denigrating the Ethiopian position.
Significantly, Birtukan Midekssa, a former judge, opposition leader, and a one-time political prisoner, chairs the National Elections Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), and she and her organization have been relentless in encouraging and enabling 46 political parties and more than 9,000 candidates to contest the Parliamentary and regional and municipal elections, monitored by nearly 50,000 independent Ethiopian citizen observers.
The big difference which the 2021 elections will make is that the resultant parliament will appear to be less of an imposed body. It will not have the 100 percent dominance of the former ruling parties; it may have only 60 or 70 percent dominance by the Prosperity Party, a significant movement toward enabling the construction of a meaningful political opposition in Parliament.
But the elections, while possibly moving the country toward a calmer perspective in some respects — the “ethnic” divisions, encouraged by the TPLF-dominated Government after 1990 remain unresolved — still face the reality that Ethiopia has done little to address its substantive isolation at the hands of the international community and the international activities of the well-funded communist minority from Tigré, the TPLF. And much of this is because Egypt has been pushing for the isolation and break-up of Ethiopia in order for Cairo to be able to control the flow of Blue Nile waters from their source, Lake Tana, in the Amhara Highlands of Ethiopia.1
Ethiopia is also a scene of considerable Turkish-Egyptian rivalry. The Turkish Government has been sustaining covert operations in Ethiopia for some time, in part to reinforce its attempt to dominate the Horn of Africa from bases in Mogadishu, Somalia, and by being able to compete with Egypt and Israel in the Red Sea (as well as to compete against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) by gaining some measure of influence throughout the Horn, including Sudan. The Ethiopian Government and people are caught, then in a pincer movement between Egypt and Turkey. Separatist groups, such as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), benefit by being wooed by both Egypt and Turkey.
The elections may show Prime Minister Abiy as more of a “conventional” political leader, facing credible domestic opposition, but nonetheless largely unchallenged on the national scene. This is because most of the 46 parties contesting the elections are not national parties, so Dr Abiy can convincingly claim a national mandate, even though it was clear that voters in the Amhara Region, for example, felt betrayed by the pro-Oromo stance (and Oromo domination) of the Prosperity Party. Certainly, Dr Abiy can claim that the extremist Oromo group, the OLF and its various militia groups, have opposed both him and the election.
However, it would be difficult for Dr Abiy to claim a national mandate if he cannot show some support from the Amhara Region. The Amhara felt unprotected by Dr Abiy and the Prosperity Party from OLF- and TPLF-led murder gangs (actually espousing genocide against the Amhara), particularly through 2020. So, Dr Abiy will need to calm his Oromo base (he is half-Oromo) and find a way to rebuild an alliance with the National Movement of Amhara (NaMA), among others.
1. See Copley, Gregory R.: “Ethiopia Revives as a Red Sea Power”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 5-6/2021. Also see: “NATO and the US Prepare for Military Intervention in Ethiopia”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, June 14, 2021.