Ethiopia’s peace-laureate leader is warmongering again

Since gaining power five years ago, the civil-military-religious alliance headed by Nobel Peace Prize winner and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, has waged two major wars against its citizens.

Abiy’s Prosperity Party has fomented disturbances that have destroyed numerous communities and religious sanctuaries, gravely impacting ethnic minorities living inside and outside their homeland.

The first war, between the Ethiopian federal government and the regional government of Tigray, headed by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), ended in a precarious peace agreement at the end of 2022. This followed two years of bloody conflict that claimed around 600,000 lives, displaced millions and was marked by serious human rights abuses on both sides.

Then, in April 2023, Abiy’s government unleashed a second major war, this time in the region of Amhara. An unholy alliance of former enemies, the Ethiopian state and the TPLF, was proposing to join forces against the Amhara on the understanding that the fertile Amhara lands of Wolkayit would be given to Tigray. But TPLF rebel generals failed to reach a consensus on this.

Abiy is now holding talks with the Jalmaro Oromo Rebel Group in Tanzania, promising to share substantial power to lure them to join the war against the Amhara. In November Abiy, provocatively, made claims to the Eritrean Red Sea port of Assab, prompting fears that a new conflict with Eritrea might also be on the cards.

The attack on the Amhara is largely in their homeland and in the neighbouring Oromia region, including in the capital, Addis Ababa. The magnitude of destruction and human suffering taking place is hard to quantify at present, especially given the lack of press freedom in the country.

Casualties from separate incidents in the current conflict, reported by Amnesty International, The Guardian, Le Monde and others, have yet to be aggregated, but it is feared that they may end up being on a similar scale to the war in Tigray.

Farmers are also being killed or thrown off their land for not complying with the government’s demands to hand over the land to Tigray.

Conflict as strategy

For the Amhara, as with the Tigray people, the struggle is existential. For Abiy and his allies, warfaring has become a strategy for holding onto power.

Before launching his latest war, Abiy’s time in office has seen many sporadic attacks on Amhara, Gurage, Gamo, and other peoples residing in various parts of the country, including Addis Ababa, Harar, Hawassa, Yirgalem, Shashamane, Att’aye and Wollega in Oromia.  

In Oromia, hundreds of houses belonging to Amhara and non-Oromo minorities were burnt down; people were killed and displaced without any state protection.

Such attacks persist today, with the approval and leadership of Abiy’s Prosperity Party and with command posts and security structures established at all levels.

A currently pro-Abiy faction of Oromo rebels, the Oromo Liberation Front Shene, allegedly trained and armed by the Oromo regional state and national defense and security forces, operates in tandem, using violence to confuse local populations and hold them hostage.

Abiy’s Government and the Prosperity Party has at all levels provided leadership and financial resources to the war, using terrorist methods of intimidation to rule.

‘Once he was afforded the saintly status of Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who would question Abiy’s authority and judgment and that of his supporters?’

Honeymoon over

It hasn’t always been this way. Abiy Ahmed’s early days in power were met with extraordinary national and international approval. Credited with helping to end the long-running border hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea, he was awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.

He and his team enjoyed the support of influential Western diplomats and many ordinary Ethiopians too saw Abiy as the one who could ‘save’ the country and reform democracy. Support also came from the Ethiopian diaspora in the US and Europe, as well as opposition leaders who had languished in prisons, suffering torture and abuse.

Once he was afforded the saintly status of Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who would question Abiy’s authority and judgment, and that of his supporters? Riding a wave of popularity, he was tagged a Moses who would lead his people out of slavery and exile. No Ethiopian leader in the past half-century had enjoyed such a honeymoon period.

But as public support waned, and youth protests resumed in 2019, he took drastic steps to regain his popularity. He made alarming allegations about attempts on his life, asking the American FBI to investigate. He funded several evangelical prophets and prophetesses who declared him the ‘saviour’ of his people. And though the TPLF initiated the Tigray War in November 2020, by ‘pre-emptively’ attacking the federal government’s Northern Command barracks, Abiy also used this to support his narrative of ‘saving’ the nation.  

In reality, Abiy’s forces attacked civilians and insurgents alike, causing great loss of life and suffering to women and children. Government forces also destroyed the civil service of the entire Tigray region and its well-established education system.

 

Bring criminals to justice

The people who continue to suffer the most are the citizens of Tigray, Amhara and the Afar people living in bordering areas. Meanwhile, the perpetrators of this suffering, the civil and military leaders on both sides of the conflict, have not been held accountable or faced. Citizens have not received any form of apology or compensation for their lost lands, livelihoods and loved ones.

Today, Amhara is the battleground. But this second war is not winning Abiy the popularity, admiration and support he craves. Instead, it is said to be causing fights and divisions within his Prosperity Party and the government. There are stories of federal troops defecting to join Fano, a youth militia defending its people against the Oromo special forces that Abiy commands.

'We must rein in the madness of Abiy and other warmongers whose hands are drenched in blood.'

We must rein in the madness of Abiy and other warmongers whose hands are drenched in blood. We must save Ethiopian women, children and youth from paying the ultimate price in Amhara and throughout Ethiopia’s minority regions.

Bringing these war criminals to justice must be a top priority, and the international community must take action to recognize the right to life, freedom and a secure home for all Ethiopians.