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If Ethiopia descends into chaos, it could take the Horn of Africa with it

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The Ethiopian army’s assault on Tigray province marks a serious backwards step by the country’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, who has been feted internationally as a moderniser and Nobel peace prize winner. Abiy calls it a “law enforcement operation” – but he risks being blamed for an expanding refugee emergency and a burgeoning region-wide crisis.

An even bigger fear is the break-up of Ethiopia itself in a Libyan or Yugoslav-type implosion. The country comprises more than 80 ethnic groups, of which Abiy’s Oromo is the largest, followed by the Amhara. Ethnic Somalis and Tigrayans represent about 6% each in a population of about 110 million. Ethiopia’s federal governance structure was already under strain before this latest explosion.

While it’s easy to point the finger at Abiy, Tigray’s leadership – the Tigray People’s Liberation Front – is just as much at fault for allowing political rivalries to degenerate into violence. Tigrayans dominated Ethiopia’s politics in the decades following the 1991 overthrow of Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Soviet-backed Marxist dictatorship.

But after the death in 2012 of Meles Zenawi, an authoritarian leader who achieved impressive economic advances, the TPLF lost its grip on power. Since Abiy took over in 2018, Tigray’s leaders have complained of being marginalised and victimised. A lethal attack this month on a federal army base in Mekelle, Tigray’s capital, triggered the intervention.

The fighting has brought predictable US and EU calls for an immediate cessation amid concerns that Ethiopia’s democracy as well as its territorial integrity are at stake. Elections, already postponed due to the pandemic, are due........

© The Guardian

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