Africa File: Ethiopia’s civil war could destabilize eastern Africa

Africa File

A biweekly analysis and assessment of the Salafi-jihadi movement in Africa and related security and political dynamics.   Each edition begins “At a Glance.” Country-specific updates follow.

Africa File: Ethiopia’s civil war could destabilize eastern Africa

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(criticalthreats)–Civil war has broken out in Ethiopia, Africa’s second-largest country. Hostilities are ongoing between federal forces under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and regional forces led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The TPLF controlled the Ethiopian government before Abiy’s rise in 2018 and remains in power in Tigray, one of Ethiopia’s nine ethnic-based regions. The Tigray conflict will inflame Ethiopia’s many other simultaneous challenges, including spreading inter-ethnic violence and the fallout from both the COVID-19 pandemic and a historic locust plague.

Ethiopia’s war will likely spill over into neighboring Eritrea and Sudan. TPLF leadership has accused Eritrean forces of cross-border incursions. Thousands of Ethiopians have already fled into Sudan, which is girding for a humanitarian crisis while juggling its own political turmoil. The crisis may also disrupt urgent talks on Ethiopia’s Nile River dam, which have already strained relations with Egypt and Sudan.

Ethiopia’s destabilization is a boon to the Salafi-jihadi movement. Militants based in neighboring Somalia have previously sought to attack Ethiopia and may find opportunities in the current chaos. Ethiopia has not previously had a serious problem with Salafi-jihadi radicalization, but this dynamic may change as violence spreads and animosity along religious and ethnic lines rises. Ethiopia’s crisis will also strengthen al Qaeda affiliate al Shabaab, which will benefit from the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia.

Latest Publications:

  • CTP is publishing frequent updates on the Ethiopia crisis. Sign up to receive the latest updates by email here. Read Jessica Kocan’s latest update here and Emily Estelle’s background on the conflict here.
  • West Africa. Salafi-jihadi groups’ strengthening in West Africa is incentivizing attacks on foreigners, even in areas where Salafi-jihadi groups have a limited presence.Read more from Rahma Bayrakdar here.
  • US policy. Katherine Zimmerman argues that the Global Fragility Act (GFA) is an opportunity for the US to make necessary changes in its approach to countering al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The GFA should be used to develop and implement an approach that underscores conflict prevention, stabilization, and peace building. Read more here

Figure 1. The Salafi-Jihadi Movement in Africa: October 2020