Despots and Accomplices in the Horn of Africa
I was inspired by a book which is titled “The Despot’s Accomplice” written by “Brian Klaas”. Throughout my reading, the epiphany was that Horn of Africa incumbent leaders are more suitable than anyone else for this description.
The horn of Africa countries with its geographically strategic location are dominated by notorious leaders who made the region always hotspot. For instance, Eritrea which many political commentators considered as a “North-Korea in Africa” is ruling by one-person since its independence in 1993. Eritreans have never witnessed an election in their country because of the authoritarian leader and his iron fist rule which made Eritrea a “Pariah State” in the international discourse.
Isaias Afwerki, the infamous de facto leader in Eritrea is once interviewed by a journalist who works in Aljazeera, and asked him when he will hold an election. His answer was shocking and wide-eyed when he says “What elections?” the journalist repeated again, I mean the election in Eritrea and Afwerki replied recklessly “Three-to-four decades” the journalist asked again do you mean Eritrea will wait until three-to-four decades before it holds election? and Afwerki replied, “Maybe more who knows?” When I watched that interview, I realized without a doubt that, Afwerki lacks even the concept of the election, and he believed that, Eritrea belongs to him. Also, his whimsical answer makes me remember France’s King Louis XIV and his notorious utterance “’L’etat c’est moi’” which means “I am the State” or “The state is mine”.
Afwerki’s draconian rules led the country for becoming the most insular nation in Africa.
Eritrea encountered an embargo in 2008 imposed by the security council because of its meddling in Somalia’s internal affairs for hosting the Islamic Courts of Union (ICU) and providing weapons, ICU was fighting against the previous federal government of Somalia under the leadership of President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed. Also, Eritrea refuted to unleash the prisoners and withdraw the seized territory that belongs to Djibouti during a two-day war between the two-states. Additionally, Eritrea also had a vicious war with her neighbor Ethiopia. All these unbecoming adjectives made Eritrea an infamous state in the region. In November 2018, the security council lifts Eritrea the embargo which crippled its economy since 2008 after Somalia’s incumbent president his Excellency Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo advocated for it.
On the other hand, Ethiopia is considered as “China in Africa” because of the population booming, and historically and contemporary tended oppression against each other. Because, Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic nation with rainbow federalism which conglomerates the diverse population in terms of origin, religion, and language. Amhara, who is the longer-runner in Ethiopia’s leadership from Menelik to Haile Selassie and Mengistu era tended to suppress the other ethnics, especially Tigray, Oromo, Somalis, and Sidama communities. In 1991, the Tigray TPLF under the leadership of the former prime minister in Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi overthrew the Derg regime. In the beginning, Tigray engaged a revenge against Amhara, transgressing Somalis and other communities; and also denying Eritrea for becoming a new independent state.
Apart from the Tigray rule which was suppressing the dissenting voices, Meles Zenawi did something commendable which is the federal system that gave each community to exercise their right of self-administration and using their own language to their own region. Ethiopians have been deeply divided along ethnic and tribal lines always, and the federal system gave an opportunity to each community to self-administer their own business.
I don’t want to give an effusive praise to the Tigray rule because they did enormous mistakes during their era including but not limited to the denial of human rights and freedom of expressions; oppressing the largest Oromo ethnic; the killings and incarcerations of the Somali ethnic in the Somali region for bum-rap, especially when ONLF won the election with a landslide victory in the Somali region, and tremendous heinous acts, but at least Meles offered some leeway of self-administration to the different communities in Ethiopia.
Closely three decades of Tigray rule, demonstrations began in the Oromia region and later spread in the Amhara region which led ultimately to the resignation of the former prime minister of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn in 2018.
Those demonstrations enabled Abiy to the premiership in April 2018. In the beginning, the youngest leader in Africa pledged a plethora of fetching promises and lofty ambitions including but not limited to freedom of expression; privatization; human rights promotion; women empowerment and many more. He also normalized the longest-feud in Africa among Ethiopia and Eritrea by signing a bilateral agreement. All these scintillating actions welcomed the world with a lukewarm reception, and finally, Abiy received a Nobel peace prize in 2019.
Subsequently, all Abiy’s pledges became capricious and blowback when the Oromo’s prominent figures exposed their political will, Abiy’s administration incarcerated them ruthlessly, and when the sought-after Oromo singer began to mobilize his Oromo fellows via songs, shockingly was killed. These reprehensible actions taken by Abiy’s administration were crystal clear how Abiy hoodwinked the world. Moreover, Abiy delayed the election for sine die which was supposed to take place in October last year, and extended his term for one year through the rubber-stamper Ethiopia house of federations. Since then, the world realized the long-hidden true face of Abiy and his Trojan horse deal.
Tigray region encounters Pincer-Attack
Since Abiy takes the office in April 2018 there were burgeoning grievances among the federal government and the Tigray region under TPLF. The situation simmered when the Tigray region orchestrated their local election in September last year and cited that, the federal government’s mandate was expired in August last year without organizing the awaited election. Since then, the two-parts engaged in mutual-demonization and character assassination. Abiy’s administration expressed that, Tigray’s election is invalid and his government will not recognize the result of the election. On 04 November last year, Abiy launched a military confrontation against the Tigray region under TPLF leadership. It was a novice and wide-eyed decision which left the world sickening and flabbergasted.
A person who won Nobel Peace Prize a few months ago and announced a military attack against his people was something peculiar and preposterous. Apart from Ethiopia’s National Defense Forces (ENDF), the Eritreans forces, and the UAE’s drones involved in the war against Tigray region which tripled the casualties. Though the Eritrean government several times denied stubbornly their involvement in the war, but after several investigations were done, the accusations became facts.
The ENDF and the Eritrean troops committed abominable human rights violations against the Tigray people such as incestuous rape; extrajudicial killings; looting; destruction of the mosques, churches, hospitals and historical places. On 28, November last year, Abiy claimed a final victory over Tigray war by citing that, ENDF intruded Makelle, the capital city of Tigray region. Apart from Abiy’s claim, there is yet intermittent fighting among the alliance forces and the Tigray fighters. And plenty of analysts expressed that, the war will be continued because of the mountainous terrain of the Tigray northern region which gives an opportunity for the Tigray fighters to pushback anytime sooner or later.
Since the war against the Tigray region has erupted, humanitarian crises are mushrooming in Tigray region. Thousands of people have been killed, and about 2 million have been internally displaced while numerous others crossed the border and went to the neighboring countries. Abiy’s administration restricted the humanitarian agencies to reach the region and deliver humanitarian aid. Several times the international humanitarian agencies such as UNHCR and OCHA asked Abiy’s administration to deliver unfettered humanitarian aid to the Tigray region. And up to date, Abiy’s regime is squeezing the humanitarian aid in the region in order to castigate Tigray people. Yet, the real causalities in the fighting are tight-lipped.
The only information available is just from the government sources, and the government is providing welter of information. The misinformation and disinformation are rampant and egregious up to date which makes Abiy infocrat. All these brutal actions are against the roseate hopes that the world was expecting from Abiy as per his pledges. Abiy and his tin-pot and accomplice Afwerki bewildered the region. Because of these dictators who bestrode in the Horn of Africa, the region is encountering “Bran drain”. The authoritarian regimes with their personal whims led a colossal of people to depart from their respected countries, especially the perspicacious ones.
In July 2020, I have written an article which is titled “Abiy and Aung San Suu Kyi: The Worst Nobel Prize Winners!”. In this article, I was foretelling how these two leaders changed their behavior after they received the Nobel Peace Prizes. Aung San Suu Kyi used to advocate the human rights and freedom of expression because of the military which used to oppress the dissenting voices in Myanmar formerly Burma.
Aung spent several years in jail, and finally was released and became State Counsellor of Myanmar and Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2016 to 2021. The dumfounding was when she permitted the massacre of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar by the same military which castigated her. When she did support the brutality of her military against the Rohingya, the world shocked and excoriated her relentless decision. Earlier this year, the military seized the power and detained her.
I predict equally that, Abiy’s demise will be behind bars like Aung San Suu Kyi, or Amhara chauvinist will oust him as they used him as a puppet; viceroy, and mouthpiece. And those who commit human rights violations will not remain scot-free. The two-states leaders, Abiy and Afwerki are confronting international excoriation because of their brutal actions against Tigray people.
The new administration in the Oval Office under the leadership of Biden-Harris rebuked several times Abiy’s tawdry rule and Eritrea’s involvement in the Tigray war. EU also halted the budget support and expressed their resentment toward the humanitarian crises in the Tigray region. Eritrea is aggressively and adamantly denying its involvement in the Tigray war; but the world confirmed that, and ordered Eritrean troops to leave the Tigray region. If Eritrea persists, it will encounter sooner or later another embargo.
– Anwar Abdifatah Bashir
Author, Researcher, and Horn of Africa Geopolitics Analyst.