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Ethiopian Conflict, Essay Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1769

Essay

Ethiopian Conflict

Ethiopia’s Tigray War is a conflict that is currently ongoing in Ethiopia since November 2020. Although the war started on 4th November 2020, the conflict had been gradually building up since 2018 when the current President, Abiy Ahmed, ascended to power through a coalition of many ethnic political parties. After ascending to power, Ahmed dismantled the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which had ruled the country and was mainly dominated by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Although the TPLF mainly comprises people from Tigray, who account for 6% of the total population, the party had amassed a lot of resources and influence (Aljazeera, 2020). The new president sidelined the TPLF leaders and accused them of orchestrating murders in the country. Things escalated when Abiy Ahmed postponed elections in mid-2020, citing the need to curtail the spread of the Covid-19 virus (Aljazeera, 2020). The TPLF asserted this was unconstitutional and defied the president’s orders to form their election commission and conduct their own regional elections. However, the federal government declared the newly Tigrayan government illegitimate, and the Tigrayan leaders fired back, calling Abiy’s government illegitimate. The crisis reached a boiling point when the TPLF attacked a military base in their region, prompting Abiy Ahmed to declare war on the group. In order to gain a better understanding of the causes and possible solutions to the Tigrayan conflict, the crisis will be described using the protracted social conflict theory and the structural violence theory.

Theoretical Analysis: The Protracted Social Conflict Theory

Edward Azar fronted protracted social conflict theory to describe conflicts that arise due to prolonged and sometimes violent struggle by ethnic groups to meet basic needs like security, acceptance, recognition, representation in political institutions, and economic freedoms (Azar, 1990). According to Azar (1990), ethnic groups aim to achieve these needs by forming identity groups around individuals with similar interests. In protracted social conflicts, ethnic groups usually have deep-seated hatred based on race, religion, tribe, and culture. These identity-driven conflicts are mainly fueled by an underlying fear of extinction that only becomes stronger in vulnerable groups haunted by the fear of suppression or persecution. Typically, ethnic-based divisions and associated threats emanate from the domination of government institutions and structures by a single ethnic group or an amalgamation of elites who refuse access to opportunities and the ability to meet the basic human needs of the rest of the population (Azar, 1990). According to the protracted social conflict theory, four conditions are the predominant causes of violent conflict. These conditions include the deprivation of human needs, government’s role, international connection, and communal aspect.

In the Tigrayan conflict, the four predominant causes of violent, protracted social conflict existed. One of the conditions, the communal content or aspect, was the rallying point for the TPLF. According to Fisher (2001), human beings try to meet their developmental needs by forming identity groups. In Ethiopia, the rise of politically dominant groups was driven by a divide and rule system whereby some groups were privileged over others. Also, a historical pattern of rivalry between communities fuelled the need for ethnic dominant political outfits. These factors exist since Ethiopia had been involved in a war with Eritrea between 1998 and 2000, and the war was declared in 2018 (Melesse, 2020). The precondition of communal aspect existed in Ethiopia because many people have a huge reliance on their social groups due to the unreliability and incapability of government to meet the basic needs of the population. That explains why the TPLF had dominated the ruling coalition since toppling the Derg military government in 1991. The TPLF dominant coalition had ruled from 1991 to 2018 by forming alliances with four other dominant ethno-regional parties.

The second and third preconditions, deprivation of human needs and government’s role, were fuelled by the sidelining of TPLF leaders by Abiy Ahmed after the 2018 election and the postponement of national elections by the federal government in 2020 (Melesse, 2020). For 27 years (1991 to 2018), the TPLF was the dominant entity in Ethiopian politics. Before 2018, all of Ethiopia’s military and intelligence chiefs were headed by TPLF members. After winning the war in 1991, the TPLF government converted its soldiers into the Ethiopian army and disbanded the old Ethiopian army. This gave the TPLF political and military power, which enabled the ruling group to gain complete control over Ethiopia’s economy, natural resources, and foreign investments. Also, the TPLF controlled the selection process of religious leaders, which served as instruments of social control. However, TTPLF’s authority and control started being challenged by widespread protests in 2018. The leaders of the TPLF-led coalition did not perceive Abiy Ahmed as a threat to their dominance since he came from the Oromo ethnic group, which always played subservient to TPLF, despite being the largest tribe in Ethiopia.

Immediately after taking office, Abiy Ahmed launched anti-corruption efforts, which greatly affected the economic influence of Tigrayan leaders. Also, the new government implemented economic reforms like privatization of state-owned enterprises, which people from Tigray mainly dominated. Also, the new prime minister conducted reforms in the security sector by replacing TPLF allied leaders with new military and intelligence chiefs. A report by the Foreign Policy Council showed that ethnic-based conflicts had increased in all regional states, with the exception of Tigray, since TPLF lost control of the federal government (Melesse, 2020). Although there is deep-seated hatred between ethnic groups in Ethiopia, human rights observers argue that there is evidence that the majority of these attacks were financed and organized by people who were disadvantaged by Abiy’s regime. Notably, the federal government reduced revenue allocation to the TPLF region, which the TPLF leaders called an act of war. According to the protracted social conflict theory, the series of measures implemented by the prime minister since 2018 qualify as the government’s role as a prerequisite to protracted conflict.

Theoretical analysis: Structural Violence Theory

Structural violence theory asserts that violence is not necessarily physical but also includes a social structure or system that prevents people from meeting their basic needs (Weigert, 2008). According to Galtung, structural violence exists without a fixed point of departure and does not require a perpetrator for it to occur (Malesevic, 2016). Common examples of structural violence include classism, tribalism, hate crimes, and police violence. These types of violence are driven by unequal distribution of power and resources. As such, they are built in societal and governmental structures. Galtung divided structural violence into four categories. The first category entails structurally conditioned poverty, while the second category entails poverty and things that deprive one of access to basic human needs (Weigert, 2008). The third category of structural violence includes repression, which causes deprivation of human rights, while the fourth category entails alienation, which causes deprivation of higher needs.

Applying the structural theory in the Tigrayan conflict, it is evident that the three categories of structural violence existed before 2018 and continue to characterize the ongoing war. Notably, the Tigrayan conflict is described to have started as early as 2005 when protestors against the TPLF government were killed in Addis Ababa (Melessa, 2020). The protests were driven by disenfranchisement and lack of representation among Ethiopian ethnic groups. Notably, the TPLF region and, by large, the Tigrayans, dominated government positions since 1991 despite comprising 6% of the population. That dominance elicited feelings of marginalization, especially among the biggest ethnic groups, Oromo, who comprise 34.5%, and Amhara, who comprise 26.9% of the population (Kebedde, 2022). These feelings of marginalization catalyzed ethnic divisions as many people experienced difficulties meeting their basic needs.

Since taking power, the TPLF engaged in second, third, and fourth categories of structural violence. The behavior of TPLF leaders to deny other autonomous regions a chance for fair and equal representation qualifies as the third category of structural violence. Also, the TPLF party was long accused of not recognizing its allies as equals. One leader from the EPRDF (an ally of TPLF) reported that his fellow party members felt that the TPLF treated them as subservient entities. Similar remarks were made, with some leaders arguing that leaders from Somali and Afar regions were not considered worthy or competent enough to join the TPLF (Kebede,2022). These behaviors and subjugation of other ethnic groups fueled the 2018 protests that saw a new regime come to power.

Also, the violent conflict currently raging between Ethiopia’s federal government and the TPLF army has exposed the victims to the first, second, and third categories of structural violence. According to a United Nations Human Rights Commission report, the warring parties had blocked humanitarian access and caused a blackout of communication systems in the affected regions (OHCR, 2020). The lack of humanitarian access to access by civilians affected by the conflict means that individuals are likely to experience challenges to meet basic human needs like access to health care, food, safe shelter. Also, the destruction of communication systems alienates civilians from other regions. Further, the Human Rights Office High Commissioner cited that soldiers engaged in sexual violence to intimidate civilians into giving crucial intelligence (OHCR, 2020). These actions qualify as second, third, and fourth categories of structural violence.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Tigrayan conflict could be well understood through the lens of both the protracted social conflict theory and the structural violence theory. Although the two theories apply to many conflicts, the structural violence theory is more applicable in non-violent conflicts. Also, the structural violence is limited in explaining the Tigrayan conflict since it mainly describes types of conflict and does not focus much on the causes and nature of conflicts, especially armed or violent conflicts. On the other hand, the protracted social conflict is better suited to explaining the origins of the Tigrayan conflict since it mostly focuses on violent conflict. Notably, the four prerequisites for protracted social conflict to occur existed in Ethiopia, thus qualifying the crisis as a protracted conflict. Also, the four prerequisites reveal that resolving the conflict and restoring it will require more than a ceasefire from both parties to address the deep-seated and long-standing grievances.

References

Aljazeera. (2020). Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict explained in 500 words. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/11/10/ethiopias-tigray-conflict-explained-in-500-words

Azar, E. (1990). The Management of Protracted Social Conflict. Theory and Cases Aldershot: Dartmouth.

Fisher, R. J. Cyprus: The Failure of Mediation and the Escalation of an Identity-Based Conflict to an Adversarial Impasse. Journal of Peace Research 38(3), 307–26.

Malešević, S. (2016). How Old is Human Brutality? On the Structural Origins of Violence. Common Knowledge. Duke University Press. 22 (1): 81–104. doi:10.1215/0961754X-3322894

Melesse, K. (2020). Tigray’s War Against Ethiopia Isn’t About Autonomy. It’s About Economic Power. Foreign Policy Council. https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/11/19/tigray-tplf-war-against-ethiopia-abiy-ahmed-isnt-about-autonomy-its-about-economic-power/

Office of the High Commissioner Human Rights (2020). Provide unhindered access to whole of Tigray to protect civilians, Bachelet urges Ethiopia. https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26623

Weigert, K. (2008). Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace, & Conflict. Springer.

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