Is Europe ready for another wave of Immigrants from Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa?
Tigrai Online Nov. 25, 2020
Ethiopia, a country of more than 115 million people, after more than ten years of incredible economic boom is now in a bloody civil war. Once expected to reach a middle-income country by 2025, a country that hosts the largest number of refugees in Africa, and a country with the longest history in the African continent, seems to have reached a point of no return. But what happened?
A little back story:
Ethiopia, from 1991 up until 2018 has been an example to developing countries in the world due to the rapid economic growth it has achieved. However, human rights activists claimed that the growth was being sustained at the expense of human rights and democracy. The country, from 1991, decreased child mortality rate, poverty, and worked on building infrastructure, industry parks, increasing the literacy rate, making healthcare available for every Ethiopian among other reforms. The Ethiopian government also made sure that Ethiopia is a federal country made-up of nine regions and two special administration. This federal system, although to some extent not fully implemented, helped previously marginalized and forgotten people to be able to rule themselves and promote their culture. However, starting in 2015, the various protests in parts of the country, that were led mainly diaspora activists mainly from the Oromo ethnic group started mobilizing the Oromo youth, a.k.a. Qerro, to push for regime change. These protests became more commonplace starting from 2018 and forced the government of the then Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to declare a state of Emergency in 2017 that lasted for ten months in the Oromia region.
In the end, on February 15, 2018, Hailemariam Desalegn unexpectedly announced his resignation. This was a shock to many. He has been leading the country since the 2012 sudden death of then Prime Minister Meles Zenawi Asres. This led to weeks of negotiation behind closed doors until the ruling coalition of four ethnic parties i.e. EPRDF chose a new prime minister. Although initially Lema Megersa, the then president of the Oromia regional state was expected to become the new Prime minister, Since he was not a member of parliament, the post went to the second highest ranking official of the OPDO, the Oromo party that was a part of the then ruling coalition. Abiy Ahmed, a 41-year-old, former colonel of the Ethiopian army and a member of the council of ministers was chosen to lead the country until the next election panned to be held in 2020.
The civil unrest that plagued the country seemed to stop for some time. Abiy, after coming to power, appointed women to half of the ministerial posts. A peace deal, that would end the no-war-no-peace stance Ethiopia had with its former region Eritrea, was also claimed to be signed and borders opened in September of 2018, 20 years after a bloody war that took the lives of more than 70,000 people. This led to Abiy Ahmed winning the Nobel peace prize in 2019. Everything seems to be fine so far, so what is going on now?
Road to civil war:
Up until 2012, when the then PM Meles Zenawi Asres passed away, the TPLF, the Tigrayan ethnic party, a member of the ruling coalition, was claimed to have the most say in the country. The TPLF (Tigray people Liberation Front), a party that started out as a rebel group made up of University students from the Tigray region of Ethiopia, later grew to have an army that toppled, along with the then EPLF (Eritrean people Liberation Front) the then mightiest military force in Africa, the Derg, a communist dictatorship that led Ethiopia for 17 years with an Iron fist. For some, the dominance of the TPLF continued up until Abiy Ahmed came to power. The TPLF, instead decided to mainly focus on the Tigray region and try to improve the livelihood of the people that paid in life and blood to overthrow the Derg regime led by Mengistu Hailemariam, who for many is as murderous as Hitler and Idi Amin.
After coming to power, Abiy Ahmed, trying to minimize the influence of the TPLF in the federal government, started removing ethnic Tigrayans from important federal governmental positions. Ignoring calls to include every party in Ethiopia in the “reform” from opposition parties and political figures, Abiy Ahmed sidelined the TPLF. This created frustration in the Tigrayans at large. He also started retiring high ranking Army officials that are battle hardened just because they are from the Tigrayan ethnic group. Additionally, the Chief of staff of the Ethiopian National defense forces, General Seare Mekonnen, along with a retired General Geza-e Aberra were assassinated in cold blood. The federal government, making it seem like it had a part to play, did not pursue the case at all. The ethnic targeting did not stop there. Although the opening of the border with Eritrea, that neighbors Tigray to the North, was seen as a good action forward economically, politically, and more importantly socially, since the Tigrayan ethnic group in Eritrea is similar in many ways with the Tigrayans in Tigray, the fact that the components of the “peace deal” were not known to anyone except to Abiy Ahmed and the Eritrean Dictator Isaias Afwerki, was a subject of concern among concerned Ethiopians and International observers alike.
Isaias Afwerki, a former rebel leader, has been the President of Eritrea since its independence in 1991. After jailing his former comrades, journalists and people that called for a constitution and elections, he has been ruling the African country for almost 30 years. Eritrea, nick-named the North Korea of Africa, has an indefinite military conscription and no free press. This has led to many Eritreans fleeing their country. More than 500, 000 Eritreans live in Ethiopia and almost all of them live in refugee camps in Tigray. For Isaias, a leader that was supposed to have not ling left before losing his grip on Eritrea, the coming of Abiy Ahmed was an opportunity not to be missed. Some even go so far as saying Abiy Ahmed, while working with the National Intelligence agency of Ethiopia, was working with the Eritrean government. Therefore, Isaias, looking for vengeance, was willing to work with any force that is against the TPLF.
Abiy Ahmed on the other hand, fearing he would not be elected, had to use Covid-19 as an excuse to indefinitely postpone the Federal election. He then went on to imprison all the prominent voices that argued the mandate of the Abiy government would end in September 2020. They called for a national dialogue and a transition government. The main voices that were seen as contenders to the one-man rule Abiy desires, Jawar Mohammed, Bekele Gerba, Lidetu Ayalew, were put in Prison. This is when the TPLF decided it will go on and hold regional elections while adhering to WHO’s recommendations related to social distancing. The election, which according to the autonomy given to the regional governments within Ethiopia, was help according and in adherence to the Ethiopian constitution. The regional government was able to hold the elections and the TPLF was elected by the majority of the 2,7000,000 Tigrayans that voted in the election. This led to questions in the country as to why federal elections could not be held. This prompted the federal government to state that elections will be held in 2020. Many in Ethiopia and abroad believed that Abiy Ahmed, learning from his Eritrean mentor, will create a diversion to make sure there is no election.
Start of the civil war:
In the months from September to October, the federal government had tried to move the army referred to as the Northern Command that was stationed in the Tigray region stating that the peace deal with Eritrea means there is no need for a strong Northern Command. Additionally, a large mobilization of the Ethiopian Defense forces to the borders of Tigray was being done. These, and the fact that the Eritrean Dictator Isaias Afwerki’s repetitive visit to the various military establishments in Ethiopia and Abiy Ahmed’s visit to Sawa, the military academy where every Eritrean in their last year of Secondary school attend, led to suspicion from Tigrayan officials and the public at large. In the days leading to the breakout of the civil war, the Abiy administration had tried to change the leadership of the Northern command by people loyal to Abiy Ahmed.
In the early days of November, after more than a year of harsh propaganda and troop mobilization, on the night where people all over the world were focused on the US election, the Federal government led by Abiy Ahmed, waged war claiming that the TPLF had attacked the North command. In the days that followed, the war had escalated to an all-out civil war. The proven participation of the Eritrean army makes this war an even more devastating one. In addition to the Ethiopian and Eritreans Armies, the special forces of the Amhara region that borders Tigray to the south are also taking part. The reason for the Amhara to join this was is to “reclaim land” from Tigray region where Tigrigna speakers like in overwhelming numbers and according to the ethnicity/language-based federation, belongs to Tigray. This land has never belonged to the Amhara since the Amhara is a region that was created after 1991 by bringing together provinces of the previous administration that spoke Amharic language. The government has claimed this is an operations aiming to maintain “law and order” and bring the TPLF leaders to face justice for what they have done in the past 27 years in power. It has to be noted, most of the government officials leading Ethiopia, including Abiy Ahmed, were part of the ruling coalition. This raises the questions if this war is about maintaining “law and order” or vengeance for Isaias and making sure no one stands in his path to dictatorship for Abiy Ahmed. Since the start of the war, the people of Tigray have been cut from Electricity, Internet and aid. It is estimated that more than Two million Tigrayans are in need to help and more than 40,000 have already fled to Sudan according to the UNHCR report on November 25,2020.
Nevertheless, in a recent statement, Abiy Ahmed has said on a televised speech to the more than 500,000 residents of Mekelle, the capital of Tigray region, they should leave, or they will be bombed to the ground. This has been repeated by the Army General of the Ethiopian Defense Forces. The various statements by the Abiy Ahmed government coupled with the pulling out peacekeepers from South Sudan and Somalia and mobilization of the entire Ethiopian National Defense Forces to the Tigray front are causes of grave concern. These statements and current events undertaken by Abiy, Isaias, the Amhara special forces, and other external players has led to various reactions worldwide. The former US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, who is expected to have a prominent role in the Biden Government, stated this to be war crimes committed by Abiy Ahmed’s soldiers. Additionally, Anthony Blinken, the new US secretary of State appointee by the Joe Biden administration has been voicing concern about the possible war crimes being committed. The EU, a strategic partner of Ethiopia, has brough about the on-going civil war to the United National Security Council and countries like The United Kingdom, Belgium, and Germany have been pushing for an immediate stop of hostilities. These calls came after various accounts from people that fled from Tigray to Sudan where they shared the horrors they faced at the hands of the Amhara Special forces and Abiy Ahmed’s forces. Rapes, Murders, tortures..
A looming Refugee and Humanitarian Crisis:
If this civil war does not stop now, the consequences will be far reaching. The loss of life it will create, the massive destruction on the Tigray region it brings, and the resulting need for humanitarian support will be huge considering the already devastating effects of Covid-19 and the desert locust that had affected the region. This civil war also seems to be paving way to the disintegration of Ethiopia. This would mean another unstable region, which much like the disintegration of Yugoslavia, will have wider regional effects.
All these could open door to another flow of refugees who tend to choose Europe for a peaceful and better future. It has to be noted that the refugee situation has been an element of concern to Europe especially since the massive influx that resulted from the Syrian civil way in 2015. In this case, in addition to the Ethiopians that have to flee, the more than 500,000 Eritrean refugees that had found refuge in the Tigray region have to flee as well. From previous events, it is known that Europe is the main destination for these refugees fleeing dictators in Africa. This could well mean that more than one million people will have to flee and Europe, if it does not intervene now, have to carry the burden again.