The Gulf crisis and the scramble for military outposts in the Horn of Africa are exacerbating regional tensions that risk triggering a conflict. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director Rashid Abdi untangles the complex web of relations that tie the Horn and the Gulf.
Talks between Ethiopia and Eritrea over contested border opened opportunity to advance rapprochement, as ethnic violence continued in several areas. PM Abiy 5 June said govt would accept 2002 ruling of Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission that sought to end 1998-2000 war and concede to Eritrea Badme town and other small territories on border held up till present by Ethiopian troops. Announcement met international approval, but local communities in border areas and Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), ethnic Tigrayan party in ruling coalition, criticised move. Eritrean President Afwerki 20 June said he would send delegation to Addis Ababa and Eritrean FM Osman Saleh held talks with Abiy 26 June. Govt 30 June said it had submitted to parliament proposal to remove from list of terrorist organisations three rebel groups: Oromo Liberation Front, Ogaden National Liberation Front and Ginbot 7. Ethnic violence continued in several areas. In Hawassa, capital of Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples (SNNP) regional state, violence sparked by ethnic Sidama demands for their own state left at least ten people dead. Ethnic Guji and Gedeo early June clashed on border between SNNP and Oromia regional states reportedly leaving several dead. In Somali regional state, local state paramilitaries known as Liyu police clashed with residents protesting against rule of state president Abdi Iley. Tens of thousands gathered in central Addis Ababa in support of Abiy 23 June, but grenade attack at rally left two people dead and scores wounded; 30 people detained over suspected links to attack. Abiy met Egyptian President Sisi in Cairo 10 June; both expressed commitment to resolving dispute over potential impact of Ethiopia’s dam on Egypt’s Nile waters. Egypt next day released 32 Ethiopian prisoners. Following Abiy’s visit to United Arab Emirates (UAE) in May, UAE delegation in Addis 16 June pledged $3bn to govt in direct aid and investments.
Ethiopia’s struggle with domestic religious radicalisation has shifted toward top-down intervention, a policy that has contained violence but is generating new risks. Political accommodation and compromise are vital to defuse faith-based radicals’ opposition to what they perceive as overly secular rule by the dominant party.
The most credible attempt at talks to end decades of armed conflict in Ogaden may soon resume, but concerted efforts need to be made to guide them to a peaceful resolution.
The West will need to show tougher love to his successor than it did to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who died Monday, if one of its most important regional allies is to remain stable.
The Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), led by its chairman and prime minister, Meles Zenawi, has radically reformed Ethiopia’s political system. The regime transformed the hitherto centralised state into the Federal Democratic Republic and also redefined citizenship, politics and identity on ethnic grounds.
The Ethiopia-Eritrea impasse carries serious risk of a new war and is a major source of instability in the Horn of Africa, most critically for Somalia. Following Ethiopia’s refusal to accept virtual demarcation of the border by the now disbanded Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission (EEBC), Asmara unilaterally implemented it and forced out the UN peacekeepers (UNMEE), significantly raising the stakes and shattering the status quo.
The risk that Ethiopia and Eritrea will resume their war in the next several weeks is very real. A military build-up along the common border over the past few months has reached alarming proportions. There will be no easy military solution if hostilities restart; more likely is a protracted conflict on Eritrean soil, progressive destabilisation of Ethiopia and a dramatic humanitarian crisis.
Ethiopians want [the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF)] to concede on the issue of the constitution. ONLF previously said they were not going to recognize the federal constitution.
[The dispute about future management of the Nile] is a proxy conflict over who should be the regional hegemon, Egypt or Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian government backed a different candidate, so there was speculation that the new Somali president may actually be hostile to Ethiopia.
The protests [in Ethiopia] have now reached a serious level, a different scale. We should not exaggerate and say the government is going to keel over tomorrow, but it portends future trouble unless they get a grip.
It is clear Ethiopia has a potentially serious and destabilizing unrest on its hands. What started off as isolated and localized protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions has now morphed into a much broader movement covering a large swath of the country
I think the government [of Ethiopia] is fearful that these protests may actually engulf the whole country. That is why you are seeing this heavy-handed crackdown
A 12 June clash between Eritrea and Ethiopia comes as the Horn of Africa’s two most implacable rivals face a crossroads.
Originally published in Slate Afrique