A disputed regional election plan has ratcheted up tensions between Ethiopia’s federal government and its rivals in Tigray. To avert a confrontation, Tigrayan officials should press pause on election preparations and both sides should embrace dialogue to address the dispute and underlying causes.
Tigray held regional elections in defiance of federal govt, authorities continued to crack down on opposition, and intercommunal violence left over 100 dead in Benishangul-Gumuz region. In run-up to Tigray’s regional elections, Tigray govt 3 Sept said any move to disrupt polls, held despite federal govt’s decision to postpone elections due to COVID-19, would amount to “declaration of war”; federal parliament’s upper house 5 Sept declared elections unconstitutional and said it would not recognise outcome but PM Abiy 8 Sept ruled out military intervention or punitive budget cuts. Ruling-Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) 9 Sept won 189 out of 190 seats in regional parliament. After health minister 18 Sept told federal parliament’s lower house that general elections could be held nationwide if precautions against COVID-19 are in place, lawmakers 22 Sept voted to hold polls in 2021. TPLF late Sept said federal govt’s stay in power beyond 5 Oct (constitutional term limit for both houses of parliament) would be “constitutionally illegal” and that Tigray would not comply with any federal laws enacted after that date. In wake of late June-early July violent unrest in Oromia region, federal and Oromia regional prosecutors throughout month filed criminal charges against several opposition leaders including Jawar Mohammed and Eskinder Nega for their alleged role in instigating violence. In Benishangul-Gumuz region in north west, ethnic Gumuz militia early-to-mid Sept reportedly killed up to 140 people, mostly Amhara civilians, in several localities in Metekel zone; violence displaced more than 25,000. Also in Metekel, unidentified gunmen 25 Sept killed at least 15 civilians in Dangur district. In Somali region in east, police 3 Sept opened fire on demonstrators protesting against alleged police mistreatment of their community in Afdher zone, leaving at least nine dead and 39 injured. In Afar region in east, security forces 16 Sept shot and killed three youths in Abala town for allegedly violating COVID-19 restrictions. U.S. early Sept announced temporary suspension of some aid to Ethiopia citing recent completion of first phase of filling of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam without agreement with Sudan and Egypt and “lack of progress” in tripartite talks (see Nile Waters).
Firefights have broken out between federal Somali soldiers and troops from the Jubaland region. A heightened confrontation could embolden Al-Shabaab’s Islamist insurgency. The African Union should press Ethiopia and Kenya, which back Mogadishu and Kismayo, respectively, to coax the two sides into negotiations.
As Ethiopia’s 2021 election nears, a territorial dispute has flared between Amhara and Tigray, two northern regions. It could turn ugly amid rising ethnic nationalism. To heal the rift, the federal government should convene regional leaders in pursuit of guarantees for minority rights.
Ethiopia’s political opening under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has won well-deserved accolades but also uncorked dangerous centrifugal forces, among them ethnic strife. With international partners’ diplomatic and financial support, the government should proceed more cautiously – and consultatively – with reforms that could exacerbate tensions.
Southern Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Sidama, is set to declare a new regional state on 18 July. To reduce conflict risks, the Sidama should resolve sensitive issues before forming the entity, while the government should urgently organise a constitutionally mandated referendum on the question.
Ethiopia is building a mighty dam on the Blue Nile, promising economic benefits for both itself and Sudan. But Egypt fears for its freshwater supply. The parties should agree on how fast to fill the dam’s reservoir and how to share river waters going forward.
Ethiopia will not be deterred from finishing GERD by U.S. aid cuts and nor will it change its negotiating stance.
Ethiopian political leaders should consider appealing to a third party to mediate, should they have exhausted all other opportunities.
[En Ethiopie] le parti au pouvoir fait face à d’énormes défis électoraux et il semble répondre à ceux-ci avec les mêmes tactiques que l’ancien parti, c’est-à-dire les arrestations et la violence.
While [declaring a state of emergency in Ethiopia] is understandable given the situation, it is critical that there is transparency over the government's extra powers.
It would have been very difficult, if not impossible, for the [Ethiopian] electoral board [...] to organize this election in time for the 29th of August.
Ethiopia feels that the international community is, in some way, set up to rule against it... and that's why they have been reticent about having third party involvement [in Ethiopia's Nile dam project].
The Horn of Africa faces myriad crises. Beyond the potentially devastating impact of COVID-19 on politics and the economy, the region is grappling with deeply troubled transitions, cross-border jihadism and remains a playground for great power competition. In this Episode, Host Alan Boswell and William Davison, Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for Ethiopia, discuss Ethiopia's plans to start filling the massive dam it is building, including the complex dynamics at play, negotiations, and the parties' varius concerns.
With rains swelling the Blue Nile, Ethiopia is just weeks away from beginning to fill the massive dam it is building. Egypt and Sudan demand that it not do so without an agreement. All three countries urgently need to make concessions for a deal.