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.
New PM Abiy Ahmed took several measures to mitigate ethnic tensions, promote national unity and relax restrictions on civil liberties. Head of ethnic Oromo party, Abiy Ahmed, elected chairman of ruling coalition Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front late March, sworn in as prime minister 2 April. In his first trip, Abiy 7 April went to Jijiga, capital of Somali regional state, in bid to ease tensions between ethnic Somalis and Oromos. Govt 6 April said it had closed Maekelawi prison, alleged torture site, and same day internet service reportedly resumed in parts of Oromia regional state; internet access restored in other areas 16 April. Abiy 19 April appointed ten new ministers including defence minister. Lawyer representing opposition figures, arrested 25 March for reportedly displaying banned version of national flag, said 5 April they had been released. Arrests under state of emergency imposed mid-Feb continued, particularly in Oromia. Small-scale protests reported in Ambo, Oromia regional state and parts of Somali regional state late April. Lower parliament citing security concerns 12 April postponed local elections for a year and 30 April postponed population census. Grenade attack by unidentified assailants 17 April killed four people in Moyale town, Oromia, close to border with Kenya. Talks between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over latter’s building of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Nile 4-5 April ended without agreement on any issues; Egypt 19 April said Ethiopia and Sudan had not responded to its invitation to resume talks in Cairo. U.S. Congress 10 April passed resolution condemning rights abuses by Ethiopian security forces; govt 11 April said resolution was harmful to U.S.-Ethiopia relations.
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