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.
Security forces violently suppressed protests in Oromia region and Southern Nations region, while tensions persisted between federal govt and Tigray region over Tigray’s planned elections. In Oromia region in centre, unrest sparked by June killing of popular Oromo musician continued. Demonstrations 17 Aug broke out against detention since late June of two prominent Oromo opposition leaders; security forces violently suppressed protests reportedly killing at least 40 people 17-24 Aug. Amid major cracks in Oromia’s ruling establishment, Oromia branch of ruling Prosperity Party 9 Aug suspended party membership of Defence Minister Lemma Megersa and two other senior officials; as part of cabinet shake-up, PM Abiy 18 Aug replaced Lemma as defence minister. In Southern Nations region, protests 9 Aug erupted in Wolayta zone’s capital Sodo following same day arrest of local officials and activists seeking regional statehood for Wolayta ethnic group; security forces 9-12 Aug killed at least 21 protesters in Sodo and other towns in Wolayta; Southern Nations branch of Prosperity Party 28 Aug replaced Wolayta zone administrator. Also in Southern Nations, clashes between ethnic Konso and Ale late Aug reportedly left at least a dozen dead. In Somali region in east, protests 17 Aug broke out in Degehabur city following police killing of youth previous week; police reportedly arrested “scores” of protesters. Political tensions persisted as Tigray region pressed ahead with preparations for regional elections scheduled for 9 Sept in defiance of federal govt’s COVID-19-related postponement of polls. Despite PM Abiy ruling out military intervention in July, Tigray in apparent show of force early Aug staged several military parades in regional capital Mekelle and other towns. Speaker of federal parliament’s upper house early Aug said govt will be forced to take “necessary and proportional measures” if Tigray’s ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front fails to halt electoral preparations. Tigray authorities reportedly detained throughout month at least 300 ethnic Amhara who refused to register for polls, and thousands of Amhara reportedly fled region. Talks continued between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (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.