Aggravation of Conflict in Ethiopia


Photo source: Polish News

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

July 2022 witnessed Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian prime minister,  accusing a rebel group of carrying a massacre of civilians in the western Oromia state.

The Oromo Liberation Army has been inflicting damage on civilians as its fighters fled an offensive by security forces in Oromia, as per reports by Al Jazeera. There were a lot of citizens living in the Qellen Wollega zone of Oromia that have been massacred. Rebels had also managed to attack Gambella, the capital. According to officials, the rebels have been killing the ethnic Amharas. Around three hundred bodies were collected, although there still could be more and their whereabouts are known to no one. Many also believe that places like Tole Kebelle are vulnerable to more rounds of attacks if security forces leave from there.

Michele Bachelet, the United Nations rights chief, has called on the Ethiopian authorities to conduct ‘prompt, impartial and thorough’ investigations. It is also believed that the Tigray conflict in northern Ethiopia was instigating the persistent cycle of violence against civilians by security forces, which has made the country even more vulnerable.

The al-Shabaab extremist group has exploited Ethiopia’s internal turmoil by crossing the border from neighbouring Somalia and making unprecedented attacks, according to a top US military commander.

Ethiopia, by and large, has long resisted such cross-border attacks by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab, in part by deploying troops inside Somalia, where the extremist group controls large rural parts of the country’s southern and central regions. But, the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and its security forces have struggled with unrest at home especially since the Tigray conflict began in late 2020, making their foreign deployments less effective.

Matt Bryden, a security analyst with the Sahan Foundation think tank told Associated Press that Al Shabaab's turn to Ethiopia is a significant strategic shift. The planning for their offensives may have begun more than one year ago when the Ethiopian government appeared to be on the verge of collapse. Al-Shabaab has trained several thousand fighters for its Ethiopian ‘command,’ mainly ethnic Somalis and Oromos inside Ethiopia, according to Bryden. There were also credible reports of al-Shabaab units deploying in the direction of Moyale, the main border post between Ethiopia and Kenya. If al-Shabab establishes a stronghold in south-eastern Ethiopia, the consequences for peace and security in the region could be very serious indeed. It is because the fighters would be well-positioned to attack and penetrate deeper into Ethiopia, Kenya and even as far as Uganda to the west. In fact, Al-Shabaab has carried out several high-profile deadly attacks inside Kenya over the years.

The outgoing head of the US Africa Command, Gen. Stephen Townsend, has warned that al-Shabaab activities inside Ethiopia were not a ‘one-off’ and said the fighters made it as far as one hundred fifty kilometres into the country.

Al-Shabaab has long regarded Ethiopia as an enemy for its long military presence inside Somalia countering the fighters. Via its Radio Andalus media arm, the extremist group has claimed killing at least one hundred eighty-seven Ethiopian regional forces and seized military equipment in its attacks.

As per security analysts Caleb Weiss and Ryan O Farell, Al-Shabaab ultimate aims inside Ethiopia are yet to be determined. It’s new actions signal its ‘growing ambition, regional capabilities, and opportunism to exploit regional geopolitics.’

The Ethiopian government has also blamed Sudan for seizing more land in the Fashaqa triangle by ousting Ethiopian farmers. They also believe that there is a third-party involvement of Egypt in doing so. Egyptians, all along, have remained silent over the Tigray war and occasionally expressed their support for stability at the source of the Nile river. They want to take advantage of Ethiopia’s internal turmoil to protect its vital and strategic interests. In moments of frankness, President al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Shukri have stated that Egypt 'will not tolerate' any development upstream that will affect the Nile water flow.

According to an analysis in Adis Standard by Ezekeil Gebissa, professor of history and African studies at the University of Flint, Michigan: ‘Because of the meaningless Tigray war, Ethiopia is currently an isolated international pariah whose only friend is Isaias Afeworki of Eritrea, the vilest dictator of the Red Sea basin. It lost its military to war, land to Sudan, the capacity to defend its citizens, and credibility on the international stage. That is a high price to pay to satisfy an ambitious leader’s urge for power.’

Due to the recent upscale of the conflict, many survivors in Hawa Gelan Woreda, Lemlem Kebele in Kelem Welega zone of Oromia State are facing various problems due to their displacement from their residencies. The displaced people are currently sheltered in Mechara town where they are receiving support from the local community. Many are also living their life in various camps, where blankets and meagre food items have been directly given by the government. The displaced people are also unable to attend their farmlands, in the planting season, not only due to security concerns but also due to lack of fertiliser distribution. Most of their cattle is also looted.

According to the latest UN humanitarian report, ‘a marked increase of new arrivals (more than 20, 500 people)’ is reported across Amhara Region due to ‘the current hostilities in Western Oromia.’

‘Violence in Western Oromia (the Wollegas) and Southern Oromia (several locations in Guji and West Guji zones) also led to the killing and displacement of civilians, destroying livelihoods and impacting the operations of humanitarian partners. The increased violence in June has reportedly led to large-scale displacement from Gimbi Woreda to Diga Woreda in East Wollega Zone, as well as in Guji and West Guji zones. Insecurity in Oromia is also causing increased displacement into the neighbouring Amhara Region. A marked increase of new arrivals (more than 20,500 people) is reported across Amhara Region due to the current hostilities in western Oromia,’ the UN report said.


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