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Possible Coercive Decision on Tigray and Its Double-Crossing Pitfalls

By Taddisu Aberaha (MA in International Relation)
Tigrai Online, June 10, 2019

  1. Introduction

When Ethiopia and Eritrea came up to end the “No War No Peace” status quo, Horn Africa geopolitics has got huge momentum from the international community. A prominent scholar in the area Mahari Taddele asserted that United States and China are trying to inculcate their hegemonic presence in the region. The power competition on Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf has also its own impact on the Horn Africa including the Red Sea. In sum, the region, particularly the bilateral relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea, is highly swayed by geostrategic competition and petrodollar politics among super powers and regional powers. Thus, the aim of this essay is mainly focused on the new deal of Ethio-Eritrea having taken its ramification in Tigray. Methodologically, I employed foreign policy decision making models that well-developed by two well-known American political scientists (Graham Allison and John Stienbruner). In addition, four historical decisions on Eritrea, which were made by Ethiopian leaders since Emperor Menelik, were taken purposely as a sample.

Generally, the paper has four interrelated parts. The first section is attempted to brief on some foreign policy models. The second part is assigned to talk about Ethiopian foreign policy toward Eritrea from the historical point of view, whereas the next part is focused to evaluate certain decisions that were passed by four Ethiopian regimes. Finally, as way forward, possible decisions and their consequences are presented prospectively.

  1. Foreign Policy and Decision Making Models

Theoretically and practically, foreign policy decision making is significantly poles apart from other decision sorts. Scholars stated that foreign policy behavior includes intended and unintended actions. Thus, foreign policy decision making process usually takes place under complex and uncertain situation. Accordingly, leaders made their decision critically and strategically to promote their national interest. And, models are very instrumental and helpful in analyzing of foreign policy decision making process.

As Brule with his colleagues (2013) asserted, models of decision-making describes how individuals acquire and assess information as well as how a final choice is selected among alternatives. These information-processing characteristics and decision rules may lead to diverse models. Due to the different angles, there are several models of foreign policy decision making; however, this essay is limited only on four selected models: rational actor, organizational behaviour, governmental politics and cybernetic (bound) decision making models.


  1. Rational Actor Model

The rational actor paradigm was dominant throughout the last century, and even today it is perceived as the basis for more advanced paradigms. In its classical, original format, decision makers are seen primarily as rational players conscious of every possible alternative and capable of accurately determining the expected results of those alternatives. Decision maker decide in light of clear priorities and intelligent ruling systems. Rational decision makers perform a series of calculations in two interrelated dimensions: utility and probability.

The model is prescriptive in that it focuses on how decisions ought to be made. It assumes the decision maker is completely rational (i.e. seeks to maximize the payoff and utilizes a search process that proceeds in a planned, orderly and consistent fashion) and unbiased. Decision maker has available all the information needed to make a decision and that all possible alternatives are considered. The decision maker selects the optimum or best choice of national interest.  In sum, government is perceived in this model as monolithic block as a single actor and foreign policy decision are made by weighing all possible options picks up one among others that serves the best interest of the actor (government).

  1. Organizational Behaviour Model

This model explains extensively how organization behaves and makes decision and how these decisions are implemented. In accord with this model, foreign policy is the output of organization’s behaviour. There is, “illumination through disaggregation,” Graham Allison (1961) claimed. “We look and we first see a leaf. If we put this leaf under a microscope, we see chloroplast. If we can find a better resolution device, we see the grana,” he said. Likewise, the organizational behavior model opens the black box seen in the rational actor model into departments and their capabilities, while the governmental politics model further divides the departments and capabilities in the organizational behavior model into individual people with political interests.

The dominant idea of this model of decision making is that whatever organizations do is the result of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) honed over years of active use. The particular actions chosen by an organization are an output of one or several organizational subunits. The problems facing any organization are too massive and too complex to be attended by the organization as a whole. Problems are instead divided into their components and are parceled out to specialized groups. Each organizational subunit has number of standard SOPs tried and proven techniques that it invokes to solve a problem.  Organizations rarely change those SOPs they may have to change personnel and incur risks. Hence, foreign policy decision making is considered as the outcome of many different organizations’ collaborative effort instead of monolithic governmental actor.


  1. Governmental Politics Model

This model views the actions of government as political resultants and foreign policy perceived as resultants of competitive game. Decision maker is considered neither rational nor objective and unbiased. Since the group members have different agendas, they need to negotiate with each other. The process involves a cycle of bargaining among the decision makers. In order for each one to try to get his or her perspective to be the one of choice, more specifically, to sway powerful people within the situation to adopt his or her viewpoint and influence the remaining decision makers. This model does not involve making full information available, since it is based upon negotiation that is often influenced by power and favors. In fact, information is often withheld in order to better maneuver a given perspective.

In this model, potential problems and conflict often can be foreseen and minimized. Once
powerful people have been swayed to support a particular viewpoint, other group members usually fall in line behind them. The nature of bargaining and maneuvering (e.g., withholding information and social pressure) can produce effects that are long-lasting and detrimental. Once they discover it, the individuals involved in the decision may not appreciate the duplicity inherent in the process. Actions are not necessarily rational except in a political sense, and the outcome is not what any individual necessarily wanted. Instead policy action is a compromise, a mixture of conflicting tendencies. In short, Governmental politics model considers decision as the output of the game played by foreign policy actors.

  1. Cybernetic Model

Cybernetic (bound) model derives from the criticism of the rational choice model. Unlike the Allison’s three models, Steinbruner (1974) stated that cybernetic model is potentially useful in understanding how men and organizations comprised actually operate in complex environments. Stienbruner (1974) assumed that rational model did not cover all aspects of decision-making and especially regarding complex decision problems. For this reason, cybernetic model presumed three conditions:

  • The content of the decision affect at least two values that have trade-off relations, meaning that realizing one value comes at the expense of the other.
  • The decision is made under conditions of uncertainty, meaning a state of imperfect correlation between knowledge and the environment.
  • The authority to take the decision is scattered among several individual players or organizational units.

 According to the model, individuals are thought to possess cognitive constraints on their information-processing capacities such that it is impossible for a decision-maker to identify all potential alternatives and adequately assess their implications. If a dynamic model of sequential decision-making is considered, the problem is further complicated. Thus, in order to overcome the cognitive and organizational costs associated with choice search and analysis, individuals frequently make sub-optimal decisions. Decision made today may yield satisfactory results for one problem, but actually work against an optimal outcome in subsequent decision problems.

The model assumes an order-sensitive search process by which the sequence in which alternatives are considered will influence the selection of a choice. Rather than maximize with respect to a goal, decision-makers are thought to employ a satisficing selection rule, the first alternative that is deemed satisfactory is adopted. In terms of information-processing, the model assumes that decision-makers limit the amount of information considered at any given time.  In summary, as the pioneer scholar Steinbruner (1974) emphasized, cybernetic paradigm has been designed to handle uncertainty under complexity and increasingly applicable for examining group decision approach.


  1. Historical Perspective: Ethiopian Foreign Policy Decision Making toward Eritrea

Concomitant with formation, consolidation and centralization of the state, especially since Emperor Menelik, Eritrea has become peculiarly an integral part of Ethiopian politics. Ethiopian instability and sovereignty has been continuously challenged. As I have attempted to glimpse on the introduction, due to this impetus, various countries have been attempting to entertain and intervene their national interest in the region. Devastatingly, Ethiopia and Eritrea had paid time-long senseless wars which culminated hundreds and thousands of their citizens. And, their development potential has been chased away. Hence, it fair to say, the genesis of the problem has been originated from the wrongdoing of our previous leaders. Historical evidences too indicated that all Ethiopian leaders who had made their decisions on Eritrea, so far, were equivocal and problematic.  To support my argument with practical evidence, four decisions which were made by four Ethiopian leaders are reviewed briefly as follow.

To begin with Emperor Menelik’s culpable decision i.e. “U-turn” in 1896 after Adwa victory, once and for the first time, Eritreans had conceived to divorce from Ethiopia. Despite Eritreans got their full independence in 1991 at the cost of their sons and daughters, they had fought against Italian colonizers for fifty years. Unfortunately, in 1941, Eritrea transferred from Italy to British in the name of Trusteeship under the auspices of United Nations. In due course, in sixty years of yoke of colonization, Eritreans’ identity and interest was begun to shape in a new form somewhat dissimilar from the rest of Ethiopia and they had strengthened their dream to secede.

Second, after the end of British Administration, Eritrea federated with Ethiopia in 1952 by UN General Assembly Resolution No.390.  However, after a decade in 1962, Emperor Haileslassie annexed it forcefully without the consent of the people. Immediately, Eritreans, in militarized and organized form, had reacted and waged war against the imperial regime so as to regain their freedom. Yet, the regime was negligent to solve the problem peacefully and substantially. Thus imprudent decision led us to miss the second golden opportunity.

Third, after demise of the imperial regime in 1974, Derg had sworn the power. Accompanying with its Marxist-Leninist ideology, “might is right” was its source of power in the name of “Ethiopia Tikdem” (Ethiopia First). As a result, the military junta had attempted to handle Eritrean question coercively. Moderate Eritreans like General Aman Mikael Andom who raised and advocated “peaceful solution” were either executed or forced to exile. Due to that paralyzed decision, the first senseless war exacerbated for seventeen years and claimed hundreds and thousands of Ethiopians and Eritreans.

Fourthly, Eritreans fought for a century against European colonization and Ethiopian oppressor regimes though they have honored their national independence in 1991. Three years later, they have declared their statehood. On this regard, when Eritrea commenced officially its divorce, the decision was influenced by EPRDF and EPLF comrade relationship.  Legal framework which binds both countries were didn’t lie down.  This indecision also led us to the second senseless war and assaulted unrecoverable human and material costs. And, the “No War No Peace” status quo caused for underdevelopment, political instability, human and arm trafficking in both counterparts.

  1. Analyzing the Four Decisions against the Decision Making Models

It is well known that foreign policy decision making is usually made under complex and uncertain situation. For this reason, peoples who engage in foreign policy decision making take care utmost their potential; unfortunately, it seems less applied in Ethiopian leaders in view of Eritrean case. All previous Ethiopian leaders who were passed their decision on Eritrea hadn’t born fruit instead of a continuum conflict. Based on the four decision making models, all decisions were either politically motivated or rationally calculated although the nature of foreign policy decision making requires holistic and poli-heuristic approach. And, all these decisions are analyzed in detail in the next paragraphs.

  1. Emperor Menelik’s Decision

Of the many decisions of Emperor Menelik, the watershed decision on this matter was the returned back from Adwa aftermath of the victory. On this regard, the Emperor was faced two very competitive alternatives: either to liberate Eritrea from Italian colony or to maintain his omnipotent power. Certainly, he preferred consolidating his regime to sovereign integrity of the country. He decided to give up his claim on Eritrea and it became the official colony of Italy. As a result, Menelik’s decision was more or less influenced by rational actor and governmental politics model.

As rational choice actor (monolithic block), he calculated the possible outcomes of “U-turn”   vs. Eritrean liberation from Italy. He ranked the alternatives based on the pros and cons. As many Menelik’s proponent argued, to save the big picture (the rest Ethiopia) or due to lack of logistics, he had preferred the U-turn as optimal decision to cross Mereb River.  In view of governmental politics model, at that moment within very competitive game, Menelik was challenged not only by Italian invader but also by Tigrian nobilities who led by Ras Menegesha Yohannes. So, Menelik had returned back from Adwa so as to balance his counterparts by compromising his interests on Eritrea.


Thus, on one hand, had it been Eritrea liberated from the colonizer, the unity of Tegaru would have been the headache of the Emperor. On the other hand, had it been Eritrea liberated from the colonizer, it would have been the integral part of Ethiopia forever. Tactically, Menelik consolidated his regime by divided his potential competitor and by give up his claims on Eritrea. As a result, we have missed the strategic alternative i.e. Eritreans and Eritreans. This is the first Mistake.

  1. Emperor Haile-slassie’s Decision

When Eritrea reunited with Ethiopia, the Emperor was confronted by two systems in one country: federation and feudal system.  After a decade, whether Hail-slassie was accepted the “UN resolution” for a tactical reason or he revised his thought, he dissolved the federation.  On this regard, the Emperor’s decision was considered as rational actor decision making. He had passed the decision so as to block any inconvenience that could appear in the country and full control of Eritrea.  The rationale behind the emperor’s decision was domestic stability and power domination at the opportunity cost of Eritrean freedom.

What Haile-slassie miscalculated was the response of the Eritreans. The decision was sleep over the unique feature of Eritrean politics. Relatively speaking, Eritrea became more democratic and modernized from the rest of the country. They had started to exercise their freedom and self-governance. Had it been the Emperor introduced democracy and self-governance in all part of the country to equate the extreme cases (federation vs. feudal), Ethiopian democracy would have been rooted profoundly and the cataclysmic civil war would have been remained nightmare. Unfortunately, it was not the case. And, after the annexation, automatically, insurgent fronts (ELF and EPLF) had begun war against the imperial regime of Ethiopia. Dissolving federation is second Mistake.

  1. Derg’s Decision

When the imperial regime dead end, Derg assumed the power and all problems which related with Eritrea had inherited as it was. Although Derg had dismissed all policies of the regime, the regime continued coercive policy on Eritrea in intensified manner. The regime waged military solutions in the name of Ethiopia First. In view of rational actor model, national integrity and sovereignty at the coast of everything was Derg’s firmly optimal choice and rejected any dialogue solution.  

That very bad decision led to break out conventional civil war in the country. Eritrean insurgent groups intensified their military operation on one hand, and they gave full support for new militant fronts (OLF, TPLF etc.) that organized in the country side on the other hand. Ultimately, Ethiopia lost not only Eritrea but also its development opportunities. Our country had experienced underdevelopment for seventeen years. Ethiopian economic and human capital was bleeding for nothing for two decades. This is the third Mistake.

  1. EPRDF’s Decision

Unlike its predecessor regimes, EPRDF’s decision toward Eritrea was unique in its nature.  Both fronts who assumed power in Amara and in Addis Ababa were comrade in the mountain and jungle of the then north Ethiopia to fight the brutal regime of Derg. In spite of their difference, as the slogan of French revolution remarked, the fraternal cooperation and unity of purpose between EPLF and EPRDF helped them to win the war and herald liberty and equality in Eritrea and in Ethiopia. On this juncture, any decisions that were passed against Eritrea were beyond rational actor model. Rather it seems governmental politics model why because by two reasons: both were very competitive game players and at the same time their relation was affected by their earlier friendship sentiment in the extent of “Border Meaningless cooperation.”

As a resultant outcome, Ethiopian foreign policy toward Eritrea was not well spelt out.  Particularly, economic exchange between both countries was free as similar as domestic commodity and service transactions. In the early years of 1990’s, the bargain power was somehow weigh to EPLF. After a while, EPRDF consolidated its power and attempted to balance the extra-influence of Eritrea. Ethiopian government had begun to counter illegal activities (human trafficking, contraband and money laundry) that were habitual action of the Eritrean government. At end of the day, the friends in war front could not compromise their divergent interests and they could not solve their problem on the round table. Ultimately, senseless brothers’ war has broken out and its repercussion has remained for twenty years. We do no, when the “No Peace No War” situation is normalized, still it is running. This is the fourth Mistake.

  1. Possible Decisions: What would be Abiy’s Decision?

As it is clearly indicated, the four decisions which had been made by the previous leaders were poor decisions. The basic problem with this generic problem is firstly and foremost it related with the concept of “Where you stand depends where you sit.” Nevertheless the Eritrean case had pigeonholed unique feature after the Adwa victory, Ethiopian leaders did not recognize its complexity and its risk.  They perceived it either completely endogenous or absolutely exogenous variables. They had never properly apprehended its bifacial leaf and its spillover effect.  Second, all of the four decisions lack comprehensive decision making approach. Many of them were made either in rational actor or in government politics model or mixed of them.  As a result, all the four decisions were incomplete and did bear continuous conflicts.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) has inherited the generic Ethio-Eritea problem particularly the “No Peace No War” status quo from his predecessors.  Ironically, its dynamism, complexity and uncertainty have been increased more than ever due to diversified geostrategic interest in the region. Different actors are taken part to middle Ethiopia and Eritrea. For instance, explicitly and implicitly, petro-dollar countries are demanding to engage in Ethiopian home affairs. The Eritrean government interventions are furthermore accentuated the problem. Thus, covering the Ethio-Eritrea new deal, Ethiopian sovereignty is being challenged. Ethiopian peace and unity is at risk. Both the center-periphery (vertical) and the region to region (horizontal) relation is going to sour. On this regard, the relationship between Federal government and Tigray region is severe and it is clearly connected by and large with the peace deal of Ethio-Eritrea. Hence, whatever the decision of Abiy Ahmed which related with Eritrea has its own double-crossing pitfalls in Tigray region.

At stake, to handle the issue, Abiy Ahmed has two options: let allow to continue the “No War No Peace” status quo or to agree with President Isayas Afewerki’s policy “Game over Woyane”. It is obvious that the first option has already relinquished. No more considered it as alternative. Hopefully, at system or state level, there is no possibility of conventional war because both parties are fall in love. The potential alternative remains “Agreement” yet, the basic problem is still laid down on the content of the agreement: chasing away TPLF from Mekelle or genuine peace deal with involving all stakeholders including TPLF. So, the option is up to Mr. Prime Minister either to make his government’s decision ideal scenario (win-win solution) or bad scenario (lose-lose/win solution). In other words, Abiy could make history using new trajectory of decision making Cybernetic model. Or, he could naïve and repeats the same mistakes as equal as his predecessors by employing similar decision making models (rational actor and governmental politics).


Possible Decision ♯1: Make new course of Action, all are the winners  

The toughest decision that prevail long-last peace is collaborative approach that entertains all shareholders who have stake on Ethio-Eritrea. In any conflict management, either the lose-win or the win-lose or lose-lose approach could not lead to stability. Avoidance, competition and accommodation could not bring fair share and peaceful solution. For the sake of sustainable peace and development, counterparts who have interest on the conflict shall be compromise (half way) at least or collaborate (win-win) utmost. For this purpose, cybernetic decision making is an ideal model. It is very useful to analysis the complex and uncertain Ethio-Eritrea relationships. Unlike the rest models that were used by previous regimes, it gives an opportunity to learn from past mistakes (cognitive learning) and to employ participatory group foreign policy decision making that would save the country from bad consequences.  

Possible Decision ♯2: The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend

The major essence of this essay is to elaborate more the double-crossing pitfalls of the bad scenario. If Abiy want to personalize his power at the cost of his revival palpably TPLF, he will be continued his friendship with President Isayas as he has doing so far. Officially and practically, Isayas’s primary objective is swept out Woyane from Mekelle at any cost.  The same, Abiy does not hesitate to do so though he doesn’t dearth to lose his legitimacy and he want to minimize its possible domino effect. The differences between both leaders rely on the means, not at its end. For Isayas, ends justify the means, but not for Abiy.  Ultimately, if TPLF couldn’t compromise with Abiy’s way-out, he will tend to accept Isayas statement. As Menelik had done a century ago, if Abiy choose his power consolidation at the cost of TPLF and Tegaru by pursuing “appeasement policy” in favor of Isayas, regrettably, both leaders could wage war jointly and clandestinely against TPLF. If it is the case, for sure, the model of decision making could be either rational actor or governmental politics or both of them. The bad story is that the possible decision may cause other generic problem.

Whatever it is the outcome of the war; its pitfall is devastating and lead certainly for the second “Oromay” dictum. Ethiopia will be bleeding for the next century. Tegaru could never go back to Ethiopia. They will either call up on their independence or become the other “Boko-Haram” of Horn Africa. This decision will be too registered as the fifth Mistake in the Ethiopian history. The same account, Tegaru may conceive for the first time to secede from Ethiopia as similar as Eritreans had done in 1890’s.   

The Only Way Forward: The Win-Win Solution

Hey Guys, we had made four big mistakes on average in each every quarter of twentieth century. Why don’t we draw lessons from our mistakes? Are we naïve?  Are we “Fenji Amkagn” (literally meant bomb exposer) who could never get an opportunity to learn from his mistake? I don’t think so. So, we have to go to made comprehensive and accurate decisions which brings long last peace, democracy and development in both countries. What we need to fix the problem is cybernetic model of decision making due to three reasons.

First, as the cybernetic model proposed, the authority to take the decision is scattered among several individual players or organizational units. Accordingly, the existing problem needs to participate all stakeholders, because, decision is scattered among several players. Second, we have to draw cognitive lessons (knowledge and the environment) from what we had mistaken for four times.  We have to aware of the possible double-crossing pitfalls (realizing one value comes at the expense of the other). Military or any coercive solution has never born fruit and its consequence is always lose-lose. No one win from this game, even if, it is not zero sum game, rather it is just sinking together. We have to look forward on the innovative and collaborative approach.


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