Banks Pitch In to Help Finance Ethiopian Government’s War Effort

Banks Pitch In to Help Finance Ethiopian Government’s War Effort

(Bloomberg)—Banks, businesses and civil servants in Ethiopia poured millions of dollars into state coffers to help fund the government’s fight against dissidents in the northern Tigray region.

A funding round this month raised more than 400 million birr ($8.8 million), according to four Ethiopian banking executives who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public. In December, the Ethiopian Bankers’ Association said its members donated 200 million birr to the defense force and the government.

Eighteen banks took part in this month’s second round of funding, according to a letter that the association addressed to the army and authorities in the capital, Addis Ababa, and the Amhara region, and which was seen by Bloomberg.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed requested donations for the war effort on numerous occasions in recent months as its price tag escalated. Federal forces and militia groups loyal to Abiy, have been battling soldiers who back the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which ruled Tigray and was the predominant political power broker in Ethiopia for 27 years prior to 2018.

The conflict, which erupted in November after Abiy accused the TPLF of attacking a federal military base, has scarred the nation’s reputation as one of Africa’s top investment destinations and sent its Eurobonds plummeting.

The donors were showing their solidarity with the national defense force, and none of them were coerced into paying, said Zemen Jonedi, a spokesman for Addis Ababa City Hall, one of the state institutions spearheading the fund-raising. The city administration has itself donated more than 2 billion birr in cash and kind, and is working on doubling its contribution, its administrators said Aug. 11.

Abe Sano, the EBA’s president, didn’t respond to several calls and text messages seeking comment. In December, he said the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, the nation’s biggest lender, provided the lion’s share of the donor funding.

Ethiopian authorities have meanwhile sent consent forms to civil servants nationwide asking them to contribute one months’ salary to the armed forces, according to a copy of one such letter obtained by Bloomberg.

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The money would be deducted progressively over 12 months, starting from July, it says. So far, state employees in the capital have donated 734 million birr.

Abiy, who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for ending a long-running conflict with neighboring Eritrea, earlier this month called all eligible Ethiopians to joined the armed forces and militia to repel the Tigray forces. His calls came after his troops incurred heavy losses, forcing them to retreat. The dissidents have since advanced deep into the neighboring Afar and Amhara regions. 

On Tuesday, the Tigray region’s military command announced via a broadcast on radio and social media channels that its forces were advancing on a major road connecting the towns of Weldiya and Wereta in the Amhara region. Wereta is 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of Amhara’s regional capital, Bahir Dar.

Ethiopia’s military meanwhile posted photos on its Facebook page on Tuesday showing hundreds of militia assembling nearby the town of Debark in northern Amhara. Crowds of smiling youths were seen wielding machetes, machine guns and sticks impaled with rusty nails.