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The Three-Country Alliance Against Tigray Might Jeopardize Ethiopia’s Future – Analysis

By

By Martin Plaut

The Tigray war has turned into an all-out conflict, pitting Tigrayan forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation front (TPLF) against Ethiopian federal troops, the Eritrean army, Amhara militia and – as revealed last week – Somali soldiers.

Despite what would seem to be overwhelming odds against them, the Tigrayans appear to be holding their own in large areas of the region.

Both Eritrea and Somalia routinely deny any involvement in the war, but the evidence of their presence is strong. 

On December 8, Reuters reported that “a U.S. government source and five regional diplomats” told them the US believes Eritrean soldiers have crossed into Ethiopia. The EU and UK support this assessment.

A senior Ethiopian general confirmed that Eritrean troops were in Tigray. Major General Belay Seyoum, head of the Northern Command, described the presence of foreign forces on Ethiopian soil as “painful”.

The Eritrea-Ethiopia-Somali alliance

The alliance has its origins in the ending of hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Much of the groundwork for this rapprochement was done by the United States, with Donald Yamamoto playing a critical role behind the scenes, although Washington could hardly have envisaged where this would lead.

On July 8-9, 2018 Prime Minister Abiy visited Asmara to seal the peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia. In the same month, the ice between Eritrea and Somalia was broken, with a three-day visit by Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed to Asmara. It was the first visit by a Somali president to Eritrea since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. The two nations have not had diplomatic ties in nearly 15 years.

Abdinur Mohamed, a spokesman for the Somali president, said on Twitter that the country “is ready to write a new chapter of its relations with Eritrea.” Economic and security concerns are at the top of the agenda, as well as “regional issues of interest to both countries,” Eritrea’s information ministry said.

There were further bilateral visits in August 2018 and April 2019. This culminated in a summit between the leaders of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia on January 27, 2020, held in Asmara.

The communique committed the three leaders to consolidate “peace, stability, and security as well as promoting economic and social development. They also agreed to bolster their joint efforts to foster effective regional cooperation.”

There was no press conference at which the details of the agreement might be explained. The public was left in the dark about what the leaders were planning.

Further meetings took place in the run-up to the outbreak of war in Tigray:

  • Prime Minister Abiy made a rare visit to the Eritrea main training base at Sawa in July 2020.
  • Somali President Farmajo arrived in Asmara on 4 October.
  • President Isaias went to Ethiopia on October 14-15. This trip included seeing the Ethiopian air-force base at Bishofu.

Within three weeks, on November 4, 2020, the Tigray war erupted. Is it credible that the war was not discussed, and a strategy agreed between the three leaders at these meetings?

War aims

The first priority of the alliance is to remove the Tigrayan administration from Tigray. President Isaias has long loathed the TPLF. This goes back to the 1970’s and 80’s when the Eritreans and Tigrayans fell out over ideology, tactics and strategy.

Prime Minister Abiy also wants to rid himself of the vestiges of power of the previous Ethiopian government, which the TPLF controlled. He is attempting to reverse their policy of “ethnic federalism.”

Beyond this, outlines of a plan were revealed when information was leaked about a meeting held by President Isaias just prior to the outbreak of the war.

According to reports citing well-placed sources, President Isaias brought together his closest confidantes on the eve of the Tigray war. He said that Eritrea had to accept that it had a small economy and a lengthy Red Sea coast that it cannot patrol on its own. He suggested forming some sort of “union” with Ethiopia, at least in terms of economic co-operation and maritime security.

If accurate, President Isaias appeared to have echoed Abiy’s grandiose dream of re-establishing the old empire-state of Ethiopia. This includes suggestions that the Ethiopian navy could be reconstructed – a proposal supported by France. This would require the use of Eritrean ports which were once home to the Imperial Ethiopian Navy.

The idea of some form of union may not be as far-fetched as it would appear, despite the fact Isaias previously led Eritrea’s decades-long war to gain independence from Ethiopia.

It should not be forgotten that when President Isaias made his first visit to Addis Ababa in July 2018 he made what many Eritreans regarded as an extraordinary offer: for a joint administration of both countries.

“This is a historic day for all of us,” President Isaias Afwerki said. “Anyone who thinks the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia are separated is considered as naïve from now on.”  In a speech, Abiy said the countries had agreed to develop together and that Isaias had offered to help “lead this great nation.” He added that “we have finally found our sister nation after many years of hiding.”

This vision – of co-suzerainty – or a revised form of federation, appears to be behind the current conflict.

Regional blocs

In September 2020 Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia held their third trilateral meeting. They proposed to form a new regional bloc, which has been referred to as the “Horn of Africa Cooperation”.

The flaw in this proposal was commented on at the time. “Creating an economic and political bloc may seem a solution to bring peace and boost trade. But it risks sparking distrust from other East African countries, and with the other regional body, IGAD,” the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which Eritrea has long distrusted.

The Horn of Africa Cooperation could be linked to the wider ambition of the Saudis to extend their influence in the Horn of Africa. The “Council of the Arab and African States bordering the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden” was launched in January 2020. This new Arab-African alliance has eight members: Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Jordan and Yemen.

Conclusion

These plans depend on succeeding to crush the Tigrayans. At the moment this appears a distant prospect, despite Prime Minister Abiy’s assertion in November that it was little more than a “law enforcement”  operation that would soon be over.

If the war goes badly, and Eritrea, Somalia and the rest of Ethiopia becomes sucked into the conflict, the conflict could threaten the future of Ethiopia itself.  This was the warning from senior African experts at the US Institute of Peace.

“As members of the bipartisan senior study group on peace and security in the Red Sea arena, we are watching with grave concern the situation in Ethiopia. While many of the facts remain unclear, the risks of escalation are certain: Intrastate or interstate conflict would be catastrophic for Ethiopia’s people and for the region and would pose a direct threat to international peace and security.

The acceleration of polarization amid violent conflict would also mark the death knell for the country’s nascent reform effort that began two years ago and the promise of a democratic transition that it heralded.

As we cautioned in the study group’s Final Report and Recommendations released on October 29, the fragmentation of Ethiopia would be the largest state collapse in modern history. Ethiopia is five times the size of pre-war Syria by population, and its breakdown would lead to mass interethnic and interreligious conflict; a dangerous vulnerability to exploitation by extremists; an acceleration of illicit trafficking, including of arms; and a humanitarian and security crisis at the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East on a scale that would overshadow any existing conflict in the region, including Yemen.

As Ethiopia is currently the leading Troop Contributing Country to the United Nations and the African Union peacekeeping missions in Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia, its collapse would also significantly impact the efforts by both to mitigate and resolve others conflicts in the Horn of Africa.”

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IDN-InDepthNews offers news analyses and viewpoints on topics that impact the world and its peoples. IDN-InDepthNews serves as flagship of the International Press Syndicate Group, partner of the Global Cooperation Council.

14 thoughts on “The Three-Country Alliance Against Tigray Might Jeopardize Ethiopia’s Future – Analysis

  • January 26, 2021 at 5:43 am
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    It is all fabricated. Ethiopians know it is a law inforcement operation conducted by Ethiopian forces. It is a arrogant that foriegn medias want to witness the involvment of other foriegn soldiers. Tplf Is the enemy of Ethiopians though bought foriegn medias to destort facts.

    Reply
    • January 27, 2021 at 11:15 am
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      Fabricated? how could you say this you knew the alliances target was 72 hrs to finish the war but they are still on war for the last 3 months. There is no access to international media’s and humaniterian aid? why the so called government blocked again the mobile communications?
      There is no health services, food access, bank services…….peoples are dying due to food shortages…girls are raped…

      Reply
  • January 26, 2021 at 1:06 pm
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    Funny how Martin Plaut tries to mislead the world in every aspect. Some people, especially Europeans, still consider him as an analysist when he actually is a friend and mouthpiece of the rebels.

    Reply
    • January 27, 2021 at 8:55 pm
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      Abebe Ka,
      I don’t see why Martin Plaut, a respected British journalist, would mislead the world (as you put it). Is he doing this under the direction of TPLF, just like OLF, the Benshangul liberation front, and many others according to FANA and ENA? If this is the case, then TPLF must be very powerful in which case Abiye and Isaias are in big trouble.
      This ”law enforcement operation” in Tigray was supposed to be over in three days. It is now over 80 days and counting. Abiye and Isaias are forcibly recruiting thousands of the youth. Have you wondered why? I guess you are one of the many gullible Ethiopians who consume the daily nonsense that people are subjected to.

      Reply
  • January 26, 2021 at 1:58 pm
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    It is wonderful to see such an insight on developments and prospects on the horn. happy to see that. But, there I see a lot of fact-checking assignments to be done in the future. For instance, you have mentioned the presence of Eritrean and other forces present in Ethiopia. The government is openly denying this fact and during such occasions, it is better for you to present first-hand information rather than second-hand sources and speculations.

    you yourself mentioned that Ethiopia is the major military power and contributor of peacekeeping forces. Losing such a big power contributes a great deal to the deterioration of peace and stability in the horn. What TPLF has done on the Ethiopian Army Forces is this big in dimension and intensity. we have to discourage and denounce such irresponsible act.

    Reply
    • January 26, 2021 at 10:04 pm
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      Eritrea is heavily involved in the conflict in tigray as it has been denied for so long the truth has come out,

      Major General Belay Seyoum has admitted that eritrean forces have entered ethiopia .

      “An army that we don’t want has entered. Are we the one that invited them? No,” he said. “They just entered by themselves, and this has to be made clear.”

      The ethiopian and the eritrean governments have strong relations it would be absurd to think they entered without invitation. If for arguments sake they have entered without the knowledge of the Ethiopian government this would make it an illegal invasion and abiy a weak and incompetent leader. If they were invited in by abiy to go and kill and loot his own country from his own citizens this is the epitome of treason either way abiy has allowed eritrean forces to continue their military operations knowing the hatred the eritrean government have for tigreans he has failed his own citizens.

      This is nothing new the amhara ruling powers during the reign of haile selassie pleaded with western colonisers to airstrike the tigrayan people on thier behalf.

      Reply
  • January 26, 2021 at 8:37 pm
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    This is a tragic war which is well planned by the superpower and league of Arab and its mission is to hold power in the strategic Red Sea coastal line. While this is the war of geo-politics, the innocent people are being massacred exactly like the Yemen people.
    Tigray is the place and origin of civilization, it’s the origin of Christianity and Islam and yet
    the Arabs are destroying Al NEGASH -shame!!
    This war is well planned and the only thing, what a ration human can make any thing out of it, is, pure genocidal against the innocent Tegaru who lives in the northern part of Ethiopia.
    The Eritrean army is doing act of genocide which
    is the only thing they know. President ISAYAS has treated them by putting endless national service, no human rights, by separating them from their family and the rest of the community. The national service in Eritrea starts at age 13 and the first three years is BRAIN WASHing and hence all they know is what they have been thought- killing killing killing – that is what they are doing in Tigray-Ethiopia.

    Reply
  • January 26, 2021 at 9:14 pm
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    This is all out invasion, more than 50 mechanized units or 500,000 soliders plus Chinese Drones 24/7 assembled to crush Tigray. Never have the region seen this scale of war. TPLF have administer East Africa for three decades. And now things have flipped and Tigray is fighting to keep it’s dignity and Freedom. There is so much atrocities in happening civilians are killed and women raped. This is not just war this is much closer to Genocide, because there is a deep hate for Tegaru that runs for 30 years, now they have the chance to do what they have wished for three decades. This is Rwanda in the process.

    Reply
  • January 27, 2021 at 4:13 am
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    Thank you for covering the involvement of foreign forces in Tigray. Isayas Afwerki of Eritrea is the mastermind of this war. Abyi of Ethiopia and Isayas together the Amhara elites have a common goal of eliminating TPLF and making Tigray weak. Then, they annex Tigray land, destroy and loot its factories, and historical places, kill the innocent people and many other things that humiliate the people of Tigray. What’s in the ground is far from law enforcement. hunger is being used as a weapon, girls are being raped, priests are killed, communication is cut, people arbitrarily detained and killed and people live in fear.
    Some of the above comments who blame foreign media for miss infomation are intentional. They do not want the international community to be aware of these atrocities. In fact, the Ethiopian government and its supporter want to dictate everyone. something different is a lei according to them. This how the law is enforced in Ethiopia. So SAD.

    Reply
  • January 27, 2021 at 5:57 am
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    Really fact based insight! The government of Ethiopia denys this fact many times. Our security is in danger! The foreign forces deployed in to the conflict by many calls of the government of Ethiopia as all seen the state based and in person visits by Ethiopian federal government and PM Abiy by himself!

    As we observed from many and huge international media outlets other forces out of Africa participated in the conflict between the strong TPLF and the others! The forces out of Africa were highly damaged the people of Tigray by using the war technology.

    Mr plaut ;you jumped these forces!

    Reply
  • January 27, 2021 at 4:07 pm
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    Assuming Eritrean forces are in “Tigray”, why should Martin Plaut complain?

    TPLF forces have been occupying Eritrean territory for the past 20 years. Territory that has been awarded to Eritrea by international courts. And it is not like Martin Plaut does not know this.

    Reply
    • January 27, 2021 at 9:03 pm
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      Jolly Telephone,
      “TPLF forces have been occupying Eritrean territory for the past 20 years.” I am not sure if this is true, but even if this is true, at least TPLF was not rampaging and gang-raping innocent Eritrean women. Shabia soldiers have been looting, murdering innocent civilians, and stealing (even silverwares is not spared). It is shameful to defend such an immoral army and its lunatic leader Isaias. Isaias’s days and his diehard supporters will soon face the music, just like his late friend Gadaffi did. Mark my words.

      Reply
      • January 28, 2021 at 7:34 am
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        You are complaining NOT about Eritrean forces being in “Tigray” but about how they conduct themselves. Because I suppose you agree with me that it would be completely justified should they occupy “Tigray”. Notice the quotation marks.

        As to your allegation of all manners of crimes under the sun being committed by Eritrean forces, it just goes to show how impossible it is to trust TPLF cadres with anything.

        To this date there is no confirmed evidence of the alleged crimes. And it is to be remembered that the day-to-day criminals that were in custody were let go by TPLF when it run away.

        So given your track recorded propensity to lie, the fact that no hard evidence is produced for the alleged crimes, and that a lot of prisoners were freed by TPLF, I would postpone judgement on the case.

        What is clear however is that Eritrea has a moral right to occupy any “Tigray” territory for at least the next 20 years, though again there is no evidence of this happening.

        Reply
  • January 28, 2021 at 1:25 am
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    The Ethiopian people were hoping for a reform focused on making Ethiopia a true democratic federal system. But Abiy, Isayas, and the Amhara elite have conspired to change the agenda from reform to reation, dictatorship, and regional hegomony. This is not good for the people of Ethiopia. Martin Plaut is a good and progressive journalist.

    Reply

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