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The TPLF’s Double-A (Afar-Amhara) Strategy Throws Addis Ababa Into A Dilemma

The TPLF’s Double-A (Afar-Amhara) Strategy Throws Addis Ababa Into A Dilemma

11 AUGUST 2021

The TPLF

The TPLF’s “Double-A” strategy of invading both the Afar and Amhara Regions dramatically escalates Ethiopia’s undeclared civil war by throwing the capital into a dilemma whereby Addis Ababa will either have to deploy its “entire defensive capability” and “all capable Ethiopians” against the insurgents like it threatened to do or submit to their political demands if it’s not powerful enough to totally destroy them.

The “Double-A” Strategy

The undeclared Ethiopian Civil War is intensifying by the day after the TPLF implemented its “Double-A” strategy of invading both the Afar and Amhara Regions in response to what it claims is Addis Ababa’s failure to respect its own unilateral ceasefire earlier this summer by refusing to open up humanitarian corridors like it promised. What’s so surprising about this development is that inter-ethnic hostility between Tigrayans and Amharas is at an all-time high over territorial claims between their two regions, yet the TPLF has still successfully managed to sweep into part of the neighboring region and even capture its UN World Heritage Site of Lalibela which holds tremendous importance to the Amharas and most Ethiopians as well. This suggests that the region’s militia and their Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) allies weren’t strong enough to repel the insurgents’ attacks.

Addis Ababa’s Dilemma

That observation bodes very negatively for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who promised to defeat the armed forces of the formerly most influential faction of the country’s prior ruling party who his government has since designated as terrorists. The central authorities are now thrown into a dilemma whereby they’ll either have to deploy their “entire defensive capability” and “all capable Ethiopians” to stop them like they threatened to do or submit to their political demands, the most immediate of which is to lift the alleged blockade against their region which Addis Ababa denies even exists. For its part, the TPLF’s spokesman threatened that “If it takes marching to Addis to silence the guns, we will”, hinting that his forces might take their “Double-A” strategy as far as Addis Ababa and thus give their strategy’s unofficial name a dual meaning.

Foreign Meddling

The dynamics are very fluid and difficult to discern considering the lack of reliable information coming from the country right now, but a few educated inferences can still be made about the present state of affairs. Firstly, Addis Ababa is coming under intense international pressure led by the US and its Arab League allies. The first-mentioned is motivated by its strategic desire to irreparably weaken the Chinese-friendly Horn of Africa leader through Hybrid War means while the latter supports their fellow Egyptian member’s position towards the contentious Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and its speculative backing of the TPLF as a proxy force against its Ethiopian rival. The military, political, and sanctions pressure that it’s come under has considerably complicated the government’s response to this pressing crisis of national unity.

Military Dynamics

Secondly, the TPLF seems to have the military edge over the ENDF for now, at least judging by its surprise capture of Mekelle over the summer and the latest invasions of its two neighboring regions. This can be attributable to its speculative foreign backing, more battle-hardened forces, better familiarity with the terrain, and the support that they have among the locals (mostly relevant with respect to their home region). By contrast, the ENDF have no significant foreign backing, comparatively less military experience, aren’t as familiar with fighting in this part of the country’s terrain, and don’t have any serious support among the Tigrayan locals. Their resultant territorial losses over the summer – and especially those recent ones in the Afar and Amhara Regions – might have also dealt a heavy blow to their rank-and-file’s morale.

Taking The War To The Ideological Level

The third educated inference is that the battlespace is rapidly expanding from the military to the ideological level. PM Abiy’s vision of strengthening centralization processes over the country following his brief experiment with decentralization that he regards as a counterproductive failure which inadvertently threatened national unity stands in stark contrast to the TPLF’s promises of reforming Ethiopia’s former model of decentralization. Each national idea has their share of supporters and detractors who express their feelings to different extents. Those outside of Tigray who support the TPLF’s decentralization vision could pose a so-called “fifth column” challenge to the ENDF since they might sabotage them behind the front lines. The state’s fear of this scenario might lead to it overreacting through a more forceful crackdown and inadvertently provoking such attacks.

The “Scramble For Ethiopia” Scenario

Fourthly, the longer that the war rages on, the worse that Ethiopia’s humanitarian crisis will become. Not only might this undermine the developmental vision of Africa’s second most populous country, but it could also destabilize the entire Horn of Africa region too. Everything could quickly spiral out of control, especially if foreign actors like the US and/or the Arab League more directly meddle in its affairs, whether through so-called humanitarian and/or security pretexts similar to those that have been exploited over the past decade by those same parties and others in Syria. This could easily lead to Ethiopia’s de facto “Balkanization” which would forever change the regional geostrategic situation. A new so-called “Scramble for Africa” might commence whereby foreign parties carve out their own “spheres of influence” in the “Ethiopian Chessboard”.

Ethiopia’s Uncertain Administrative Future

And finally, regardless of whether the ENDF or TPLF comes out on top, Ethiopia will likely never be the same again after the end of this undeclared civil war. Everyone is now discussing its administrative future, both in terms of whether it’ll continue to centralize or return to a reformed version of decentralization and the exact nature of its contested internal borders. It’s clear that the pre-Abiy status quo will probably never return, meaning that some degree of change is inevitable, though the question is over what form it’ll take and how far it’ll go. The concern is that these expected changes might lead to increasingly unpredictable consequences, especially considering that the country’s preexisting identity divisions (ethnic/ideological/regional) have only been exacerbated by the ongoing conflict and are unlikely to be resolved through purely peaceful means.

Concluding Thoughts

The TPLF’s “Double-A” strategy can therefore be described as a game-changer since it’s now impossible to return to the fragile peace that was comparatively more likely of a scenario immediately after the ENDF’s unilateral ceasefire earlier this summer. No pragmatic compromise is possible between the two warring sides given the polar opposite nature of their ideological divisions and the interplay between them, the conflict’s fluid military dynamics, and the exacerbation of Ethiopia’s preexisting identity divisions, not to mention the foreign pressure upon PM Abiy and speculative foreign support for the TPLF. Any possible deal between the two would be to the TPLF”s advantage by default since it would at the very least result in Tigray’s de facto independence, and since that contradicts PM Abiy’s vision, he’s compelled to fight to the end or lose credibility.

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By Andrew Korybko

American political analyst

Tags: Ethiopia, Horn Of Africa, Abiy Ahmed, TPLF, ENDF, Afar, Amhara, Tigray, Hybrid War, US, Egypt.


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Is Foreign Meddling In Ethiopia Actually A Proxy War Against China?

Is Foreign Meddling In Ethiopia Actually A Proxy War Against China?

5 JULY 2021

Is Foreign Meddling In Ethiopia Actually A Proxy War Against China?

The US, its Western allies, and the Arab League must stop meddling in Ethiopia’s internal affairs and the GERD issue should be resolved via African Union-led talks, not the UNSC.

Africa’s second most populous country of Ethiopia has recently experienced a surge in foreign meddling over the past year. This former kingdom, which was among the world’s oldest prior to its 1974 revolution, has always proudly defended its independence. Emperor Menelik II defeated the Italians in 1896 and secured his compatriots’ independence during the height of European colonialism. One of his successors, Emperor Haile Selassie, promoted the Ethiopian cause at the League of Nations after Italy’s fascist invasion in the run-up to World War II. His efforts generated global sympathy for Ethiopia and etched its struggle in the minds of many.

In the present day, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is following in the tradition of his predecessors by standing firm against the latest foreign meddling campaigns that once again threaten Ethiopia’s independence. The most pressing is the American-led Western pressure against him following his decision to commence a law enforcement operation in the rebellious Tirgray Region last November. To oversimplify a complex situation, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – previously the most powerful member of Ethiopia’s former ruling coalition – broke with PM Abiy, launched a separatist campaign, and was designated a terrorist group.

The TPLF was upset at the pace and scope and PM Abiy’s ambitious socio-economic reforms. They were also reportedly very unhappy with his success in ending Ethiopia’s nearly two-decade-long conflict with neighboring Eritrea which separated from the former in 1993 following a three-decade-long struggle. PM Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending this war. Although he began his rule by implying a vision of broader decentralization, PM Abiy ultimately had to recalibrate his policies due to the inadvertently centrifugal consequences thereof. This generated dissent among some of its diverse people that the TPLF then exploited.

The lingering conflict there has prompted US-led Western accusations of war crimes against the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF), which in turn were the pretext for Washington to impose sanctions against several individuals allegedly linked to them. America is also leading the charge in warning about a supposedly impending famine in the Tigray Province that its perception managers strongly imply would be solely due to the ENDF. Furthermore, an airstrike in the region last month is reported to have caused many civilian casualties, thus leading to more US pressure. Addis Ababa described all of this as an “orchestrated attack” against Ethiopia.

Concurrent with this is another meddling campaign led by Egypt through the Arab League. Cairo accuses Addis Ababa of weaponizing the Nile River due to its plans to fill the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The North African state recently succeeded in getting the Arab League to call on the UNSC to intervene in this dispute. Ethiopia, meanwhile, believes that only an African Union-led resolution is acceptable. China also supports this proposal, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said earlier this month that his country opposes foreign interference in Ethiopia’s internal affairs.

The recent surge in foreign meddling there might be part of a proxy war against Chinese interests in Africa. Ethiopia’s developmental paradigm was powerfully influenced by China’s after the end of the former’s civil war in 1991. China is Ethiopia’s top trade and investment partner. The People’s Republic also helped construct the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, which serves as the Belt & Road Initiative’s (BRI) flagship project in the Horn of Africa. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ethiopia was Africa’s fastest-growing economy. The Chinese-Ethiopian Strategic Partnership is mutually beneficial and serves as a shining example of South-South cooperation.

Foreign meddling aims to undermine this partnership and could potentially result in Ethiopia’s disastrous “Balkanization” in the worst-case scenario. This makes Ethiopia the latest victim of Hybrid War, and the stakes couldn’t be higher considering that it’s Africa’s second most populous country. Nevertheless, just as it’s historically done, Ethiopia is standing strong against the latest foreign pressure. The US, its Western allies, and the Arab League must stop meddling in Ethiopia’s internal affairs and the GERD issue should be resolved via African Union-led talks, not the UNSC. No matter what happens, Ethiopia can always count on China’s support.

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By Andrew Korybko

American political analyst

Tags: Ethiopia, China, Eritrea, Tigray, US, Egypt, Arab League, Regime Change, Hybrid War, GERD, Horn Of Africa, BRI.


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What Explains Ethiopia’s Stunning Military Reversal In Tigray?

What Explains Ethiopia’s Stunning Military Reversal In Tigray?

30 JUNE 2021

What Explains Ethiopia

Addis Ababa’s unexpected decision to implement a unilateral ceasefire in its rebellious Tigray Region following eight months of war there was influenced by its opponents’ unconventional military advantage fighting on their mountainous home turf, neighboring Eritrea’s military withdrawal from the conflict following international criticism of its activities, and the immense Western pressure put upon the aspiring Horn of Africa hegemon to prevent what the US predicted might become the world’s worst famine there.

Observers were shocked by Monday’s announcement that the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) withdrew from the capital of the country’s rebellious Tigray Region and implemented a unilateral ceasefire until the end of the planting season there that’s usually sometime in September. Addis Ababa had presented its actions there as a law enforcement operation against separatists led by the previously leading force of the former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which was later designated as terrorists. Government accounts claimed that the ENDF was winning though these assertions couldn’t be independently verified the entire time due to the difficulty that independent journalists had in accessing the war-torn region. The protracted conflict there also led to accusations of human rights abuses by all sides, and the US recently warned that Tigray risked suffering from the world’s worst famine if the conflict didn’t end soon.

There are several possible explanations for this dramatic turn of events. The first is that the TPLF commanded an unconventional military advantage by fighting on their mountainous home turf. The allegations of human rights abuses by the ENDF might have also inspired a massive recruitment drive among the locals if they began to view the conflict through a national liberation lense, thereby making it impossible for the military to indefinitely control the region. Neighboring Eritrea, which also militarily intervened in the region, earlier accused the US of supporting the TPLF so it’s possible that some degree of foreign backing was responsible for the militants regrouping in recent months and thus being able to more effectively launch their latest counteroffensive that coincided with the country’s long-delayed elections last week. Regardless of however they came to be so strong, the outcome is still the same, and it’s that the ENDF were just defeated by the TPLF.

The second explanation concerns Eritrea’s withdrawal from the conflict zone under international pressure. This former Ethiopian region recently emerged as the Horn of Africa’s most influential country after its decisive intervention in Tigray at least temporarily prevented its neighbor’s “Balkanization” which could have been disastrous for the region since it’s Africa’s second most populous country. Eritrea was also accused of human rights abuses and still largely remains a “pariah” state. It could have been the case that its leadership concluded that it might not be able to withstand any more international pressure so it decided to pull out of the conflict for now. Whatever its strategic calculations may have been, its departure from Tigray seems to have directly affected the ENDF’s ability to retain control of the region. This could explain the military’s unexpected defeat at the hands of the TPLF, which if truly the case, would then show how much stronger Eritrea is than Ethiopia.

The third explanation concerns the US’ dire warning that up to 900,000 of the region’s approximately 6 million people faced the threat of what it predicted might become the world’s worst famine if the conflict continues to drag on. This placed tremendous pressure upon the aspiring Horn of Africa hegemon and especially its leader Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who received the Nobel Peace Prize two years ago for peacefully ending Ethiopia’s nearly two-decade-long conflict with Eritrea. Just like its neighbor, Ethiopia was quickly on the path to becoming a “pariah” state in Western eyes and would have arguably been the world’s largest one had that scenario come to pass, which it still might. PM Abiy earlier claimed that foreign aid might be exploited as a front to arm the TPLF so his volte face speaks volumes about how desperate the military and also possibly the international political situation had become that he’d order the ENDF’s withdrawal in spite of that.

With these three interconnected reasons in mind for explaining Ethiopia’s stunning military reversal in Tigray, it’s now time to consider the strategic consequences of this development. The TPLF will likely consolidate and become stronger than ever, including as a result of foreign support that’ll enter the region disguised as aid. Addis Ababa won’t have much if any influence over this de facto independent region of the country, but a continuation war might break out after the planting season ends sometime in September if the ENDF also successfully regroup by then. It also might not, though, especially if a large part of the reason for the ENDF’s withdrawal was to reduce international pressure resulting from the US’ dire warning of the world’s worst impending famine. PM Abiy might not have the political will to risk the Western political and economic (sanctions) response to restarting the conflict under those conditions.

Unlike during the (first?) Ethiopian Civil War, the TPLF is unlikely to make a run on the capital but it might pursue hostile forces a bit beyond Tigray. That’s because the people of the neighboring Amhara Region and Eritrea will fight to the death to stop the TPLF’s invasion. Ethno-regional animosity is at an all-time high and Amhara militias have also reportedly been active in Tigray during the recent conflict in order to reclaim territory that they believe is theirs. It’s extremely unlikely that they’d roll over and let the TPLF sweep through their region en route to Addis Ababa in order to overthrow the same Prime Minister who’s emboldened them and their claims on parts of Tigray. This state of affairs suggests that the conflict might remain frozen for the indefinite future, thus creating a prime opportunity for foreign meddling. In addition, the TPLF might activate its nationwide network of agents to stage attacks behind enemy lines and incite rebellion in other regions.

The conflict between PM Abiy and the TPLF is of an existential nature. Each regards the other as illegitimate and a threat to Ethiopia. PM Abiy sees the TPLF as a terrorist group that’ll do anything to return to power even if this includes provoking another civil war while they believe that he’s the one that’s ruining the country through his ambitious socio-economic reforms that risk opening up the same Pandora’s Box that they tried so hard to keep closed during their rule. In other words, they blame one another for “Balkanizing” Ethiopia, and this worst-case scenario might actually happen whether in full or in part if the conflict isn’t politically resolved as soon as possible. Regrettably, no such peaceful resolution appears possible since neither side is willing to compromise on their maximalist aims: PM Abiy wants to wipe out the TPLF while they want to overthrow him. This creates the ideal space for foreign meddling, which will certainly exacerbate the conflict.

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By Andrew Korybko

American political analyst

Tags: Ethiopia, Tigray, Eritrea, TPLF, Abiy Ahmed, Horn Of Africa, US.


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Here’s How Eritrea Became The Horn Of Africa’s Most Influential Country

Here’s How Eritrea Became The Horn Of Africa’s Most Influential Country

21 JUNE 2021

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Eritrea used to be regarded as a so-called “pariah state” and is still perceived that way to a certain extent among some, but recent years have seen its regional role evolve to the point where it’s arguably the most important player in the Horn of Africa right now, thereby warranting an analysis of how this happened.

Eritrea is one of the most mysterious countries in the world, which is intriguing for many outside observers, for better or for worse. It used to be regarded as a so-called “pariah state” and is still perceived that way to a certain extent among some, but recent years have seen its regional role evolve to the point where it’s arguably the most important player in the Horn of Africa right now. This development is attributable to a combination of its leadership’s vision and fast-moving events in neighboring Ethiopia from which Eritrea gained independence in 1993 after thirty years of separatist struggle. Considering its newfound importance, a general analysis of how this happened is certainly warranted.

For those who aren’t all that familiar with it, Eritrea is a revolutionary socialist-inspired state that was mostly isolated from the rest of the world after its bloody border conflict with Ethiopia from 1998-2000. It’s been previously accused of supporting armed groups across the region, especially in Somalia, including some that others have described as terrorists. The country excels in unconventional warfare considering its three-decade-long experience with it and the fact that this is the only means through which Eritrea can ensure its sovereignty from much larger Ethiopia which it always feared still harbored hegemonic ambitions against it. In fact, the previously mentioned border conflict can in some ways be seen as a “second war of independence”.

It’s neither here nor there who was in the right or wrong since the significance lies in the fact that Eritrea would probably have become a proxy state of Ethiopia had it lost that war. Ethiopia, having incomparably larger economic potential than Eritrea by virtue of its enormous population that’s at least 30x larger than its former province’s, was obviously much more important to the Great Powers than the tiny coastal state. This explains the immense international pressure that Eritrea experienced after that war which resulted in nearly two decades of isolation. During that time, the country has been accused of human rights abuses against its population, including through what some have reported is its de facto policy of indefinite conscription.

President Isaias Afwerki is considered to be a strong leader who exercises centralized control over the country. He’s also the former leader of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) which allied with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) during the Ethiopian Civil War and was thus jointly responsible for the rebels’ victory. Just as Afwerki subsequently went on to lead Eritrea after independence, so too did the TPLF essentially lead Ethiopia through the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). They eventually had an acrimonious falling out which contributed to their 1998-2000 war. It wasn’t until incumbent Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power and dismantled the EPRDF that the two countries finally agreed to peace.

I discussed Prime Minister Abiy’s inadvertently destabilizing reforms in a recent analysis asking, “Is There Still Any Hope Left For The Horn Of Africa?”, which goes much further in depth analyzing everything that’s recently happened there than is within the scope of the present piece. Readers should review it if they’re interested in learning more, but to oversimplify an admittedly complex situation, his visionary reforms prompted intense pushback from the TPLF, which later left the governing coalition, launched a rebellion in their native Tigray Region, was designated a terrorist group, and finally crushed through an ongoing military campaign there that’s also seen the contentious participation of Eritrean troops who’ve been accused of war crimes.

Before expanding further on that latest regional conflict, it’s important to point out that Eritrea previously took part in the GCC’s War on Yemen and even up until recently hosted an Emirati base. It remains unclear exactly why it decided to do this, but most observers agree that it was probably driven by a desire to procure much-needed funds for its struggling economy as well as pioneer a long-overdue breakout from its prolonged period of international isolation. Nevertheless, this development solidified the UAE’s growing influence over the Horn of Africa, which it later leveraged to facilitate the ultimately successful peace talks between Eritrea and Ethiopia that won Prime Minister Abiy the Nobel Peace Prize.

While Eritrea’s military involvement in that war resulted in a comparative reduction of international pressure upon it, that decision also harmed the country’s soft power insofar as it wasn’t to present itself any longer as a revolutionary state that always supports just causes and so on. It also prompted speculation that the opaque country’s economy was even worse than observers thought since it probably wouldn’t have done this if it didn’t desperately need the financial support that it received in exchange. Even so, the oft-repeated predictions among some that Eritrea is always just a step away from collapse have thus far failed to materialize, mostly due to the fact that the state itself still remains very strong (largely aided by the security services of course).

In contrast, neighboring Ethiopia has recently proven itself to be a lot weaker than some might have thought since it’s actually the regional country that’s nowadays on the brink of collapse, not Eritrea. The power reversal between these formerly acrimonious rivals tremendously plays in Eritrea’s favor, which isn’t lost on Ethiopia, hence why it requested Asmara’s military assistance in Tigray. That move was extremely symbolic since it showed that Ethiopia is no longer the regional hegemonic force that it used to be. It was also a deference to Eritrea’s comparative military strength since Ethiopia showed that it isn’t even able to control the situation within its own borders without foreign military support.

President Afwerki must have been pleased with this outcome. His vision has consistently been one of ensuring Eritrea’s security through asymmetrical and unconventional means in order to weaken Ethiopia from the inside-out, ergo its support for violent non-state actors in the region. Lo and behold, it ultimately wasn’t through militant means but political ones that Ethiopia ended up becoming destabilized, and by none other than its own hand through the inadvertent consequences of Prime Minister Abiy’s reforms. Not only that, but President Afwerki’s hated TPLF rivals became outcasts in the same country they once led, were designated as terrorists, and subsequently crushed through an Eritrean military intervention requested by Ethiopia itself.

As it presently stands, the geopolitical tables have certainly turned. It’s Eritrea, not Ethiopia, that’s the rising force in the region. Asmara, however, doesn’t intend to utilize conventional means to assert its influence. Rather, staying true to its his vision, President Afwerki seems to be cleverly manipulating the strategic situation behind the scenes through his intelligence services. His country simply can’t do much else considering how small and economically weak it is so this is the best use of its very limited resources by concentrating on its area of expertise. It’s more important to him at this moment to achieve tangible gains aimed at ensuring Eritrea’s security for years to come than to care all that much about the latest international pressure upon his country.

This explains why Eritrea controversially dispatched its troops to Tigray despite knowing that its previously secret military involvement there would eventually be exposed. The war crimes that it’s now accused of are very serious and have served to redirect international attention back to Eritrea, though of course not the kind that President Afwerki would have preferred. In his strategic calculations, however, the intervention was well worth the soft power cost since it symbolically showed that it’s Eritrea that’s calling the regional shots right now and not Ethiopia. In fact, Ethiopia tacitly confirmed that it can’t ensure security within its own borders without Eritrean support, thus showing how indispensable Asmara has become for Addis Ababa. President Afwerki is expected to take maximum advantage of this new power asymmetry to continue expanding Eritrea’s influence.

The Horn of Africa’s stability is intimately tied to Ethiopia’s, which is why Eritrea’s military intervention is of regional significance. Supporters believe that it helped restore stability to Ethiopia and therefore the entire region while critics claim that it further destabilized Africa’s second most populous country. Whichever side of the debate one is on, there’s no denying the game-changing importance of this campaign, for better or for worse. Even though both countries are now coming under intense Western pressure because of it, they still enjoy the support of key non-Western states like Russia and China. They could therefore rely more on the latter group of countries to compensate for the increase in pressure from the former.

To wrap everything up, Eritrea is now the most influential country in the Horn of Africa after its military intervention in Tigray showed the world just how drastically the tables have turned in the region. Ethiopia is struggling to contain newfound separatist threats unleashed as an unintended result of Prime Minister Abiy’s reforms, and it’s ironically doing this with Eritrea’s support for the first time ever despite Asmara being suspected of patronizing such forces in the past. Since the Horn of Africa’s future is tied to Ethiopia’s, and the latter has shown how reliant it is on Eritrea to ensure stability within its own borders, it therefore follows that the Horn of Africa’s future is being disproportionately shaped by Eritrea. President Afwerki has therefore fulfilled his vision of turning Eritrea into the region’s most indispensable country despite its “pariah” status.

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By Andrew Korybko

American political analyst

Tags: Eritrea, Ethiopia, UAE, Horn of Africa, Tigray, Isaias Afwerki, Abiy Ahmed.


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Egypt president Sissi holds talks in Djibouti to forge ties amid Nile dispute | Source: Alarabiya News

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

The Egyptian president held talks with his counterpart in Djibouti as part of Egyptian diplomatic attempts to build more African alliances amid an ongoing water dispute with Ethiopia. They also stressed their “strategic partnership” on fighting terror in the Horn of Africa and underscored their cooperation over security issues in the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

Source: Alarabiya News


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US Special envoy to visit Egypt and the Horn | Source: The East African

US Special envoy Jeffrey Feltman and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. PHOTO | COURTESY

The US is sending its first ever Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa on a trip to Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia in what the State Department said was to address “interlinked” security issues in the region.

Source: The East African


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Russia Should Consider Partnering With The UAE In The Horn Of Africa

20 MAY 2021

Russia Should Consider Partnering With The UAE In The Horn Of Africa

The Horn of Africa is arguably the most geostrategic part of the continent for the rest of the world at large so it’s only fitting that Russia crafts a comprehensive strategy for advancing its interests there, one which would become much more viable if it seriously considered partnering with the region’s de facto Emirati hegemon

The Horn Of Africa

Africa’s geostrategic significance is rising as Great Powers resume their historical scramble for influence, resources, and prestige there, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the Horn of Africa. This region is arguably the most geostrategic part of the continent for the rest of the world at large given its position astride the Gulf of Aden-Red Sea (GARS) waterway connecting the Eastern Hemipshere’s maritime trade routes. It’s therefore only fitting that Russia crafts a comprehensive strategy for advancing its interests there which aligns with the model that it’s begun to experiment with across Africa, albeit of course custom tailored for the Horn of Africa’s specific context.

Background Briefing

My recent piece asking “Is Khodorkovsky Behind Claims Of Russian Death Squads In The Central African Republic” chronologically lists my 18 prior analysis over the years on Russia’s new African outreach strategy, which should be referenced by those with an interest in the topic. In particular, attention should be paid to the one about how “The Improvement Of Russian-Togolese Relations Is A Multipolar Masterstroke” since it summarizes most of what’s been going on recently. To be brief, Russia is employing a combination of “Democratic Security” programs (counter-Hybrid War tactics and strategies), strategic economic deals, and political support to bolster the viability of so-called “fragile states” and strengthen their nation-building efforts.

Challenges & Opportunities

The Horn of Africa though already has a panoply of very confident nations, most of which which live within the centrally positioned cosmopolitan state of Ethiopia that’s recently been under severe strain as a result of the incipient “Balkanization” processes inadvertently catalyzed by its new leader’s “glasnost” and “perestroika” attempts. They therefore don’t require, nor have requested, any of Russia’s “nation-building” support, though the several states comprising this region (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan) are still attractive destinations for Russian investment though provided that the Horn of Africa eventually stabilizes. That might not happen anytime soon though, yet Russia can’t wait much longer to more actively engage the region.

Russia’s Regional Entry Point

Moscow’s entry point appears to be the naval base that it plans to open in Sudan despite recent speculation about its future. With or without a military presence there though, Russia can still utilize this location to benefit from the prospective Sahelian-Saharan Silk Road that China might eventually advance as part of its worldwide Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) upon the end of the global economic crisis brought about by the world’s uncoordinated attempts to contain COVID-19 (“World War C”). Chad’s recent security challenges following the unexpected killing of its long-serving leader at the front lines of its latest war with rebel groups might further delay this project’s implementation, hence the need for Russia to diversify its regional economic outreaches.

The Prospects For Ethiopian Engagement

Ethiopia is therefore an exciting prospect and close historical ties support this possible direction of Russian policy, but there’s immense competition with China and the GCC so Moscow would need to find a suitable niche from which to establish its influence there. Interest exists on both sides since each aspires to improve their respective balancing acts via the other, but not much of tangible significance has occurred. Statements of intent are positive signs, but they aren’t anything substantive. Both sides should therefore urgently set up working groups at the intergovernmental and entrepreneurial levels to explore this more seriously. If successful, then more trade, security, and closer political ties would be mutually beneficial and also help the larger region.

Relegating The Rest Of The Region

Speaking of which, Russian engagement with the other three countries – Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia – remains minimal, which is unfortunate. They, too, are under a lot of external influence and have recently become scenes of intense rivalry between various powers, especially Somalia which is the scene of competition between Turkey and Qatar on one side and the UAE on the other. The latter engages mostly with the breakaway region of Somaliland, among the most stable and successful places on the continent despite its de facto independence being unrecognized. Closer Russian-Emirati coordination in recent years might in theory provide some openings to Moscow in that region, but it still remains to be seen whether it has the political will to engage Somaliland.

The (South) Yemeni Dimension

Regarding the UAE, Russia could also utilize its newfound ties with that country to expand its influence in Yemen, which can unofficially be regarded as a Horn of Africa country for strategic purposes. More specifically, Russia might revive its historical ties with the UAE-backed South Yemeni separatist movement, not necessarily in support of their independence agenda, but for practical reasons related to Moscow’s broader interests in the Horn of Africa region. Again, this would require political will to risk provoking the ire of its internationally recognized government just like it would Somalia’s in the event of engaging UAE-backed Somaliland, but this possible vector should be more closely studied by Russian strategists to assess the range of its pros and cons.

The Pros & Cons Of Engaging With The Emirates

Upon contemplating this, an intriguing possibility begins to emerge, and that’s of Russia partnering more closely with the UAE in the Horn of Africa in order to proverbially “piggyback” off of its recent strategic successes there. Observers have positivenegative, and neutral views of the UAE’s grand strategic vision, particularly in the Horn of Africa, which should also be considered by Russian experts before deciding whether to move ahead with this or not. Should they end up doing so, then it might be a game-changing development since the impact of a prospective Russian-Emirati Strategic Partnership in the Horn of Africa region could improve the viability of both players’ comprehensive engagement there.

From Mutual To Multilateral Benefits

For example, they’re each formidable military players in their own right, whether with respect to their conventional or unconventional (i.e. “mercenary”) forces, and each could entrench themselves in different economic niches in select countries like Ethiopia or their subregions such as Somaliland and South Yemen. Russia and the UAE also have different networks of partnerships across the world and particularly in Africa, so coming closer together could end up being multilaterally beneficial as well provided that they coordinate their respective visions. Nevertheless, closer Russian-Emirati ties might upset Turkey, which is expanding its influence in the Horn of Africa (specifically Somalia) and the rest of Africa more broadly, but should be manageable.

Concluding Thoughts

What’s basically needed is a breakthrough for accelerating and expanding Russia’s outreaches in the Horn of Africa region. Bilateral efforts with certain countries like Sudan and Ethiopia have failed to reap thus far apart from a possible naval base deal in Port Sudan, hence the proposal for considering a strategic partnership with the UAE, one that would imply closer engagement with the Emirates’ partners in Somaliland and South Yemen. Russia needs to objectively assess its capabilities and realize that closer ties with the Horn of Africa require regional modifications to the strategy that it’s presently employing in other parts of the continent. Moscow might not be able to do much on its own, but together with Abu Dhabi, they might make a major impact.

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By Andrew Korybko

American political analyst

Tags: Russia, UAE, Horn Of Africa, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Somaliland, Yemen, South Yemen, Balancing.


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Top diplomats of Russia, Sierra Leone to discuss bilateral ties, fight against terrorism | SOURCE: TASS

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will hold talks with his counterpart from Sierra Leone to discuss fight against terrorism in the Sahel-Sahara region, West Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Central African Republic, as well as efforts to prevent the spread of dangerous infectious diseases, including the novel coronavirus.

SOURCE: TASS


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Russia’s Red Sea Base In Sudan Is A Recalibration Of Its Intra-Ummah Balancing Act

Russia’s Red Sea Base In Sudan Is A Recalibration Of Its Intra-Ummah Balancing Act

16 NOVEMBER 2020

Russia

Russia’s draft deal to open up a Red Sea naval base in Sudan amounts to a strategic recalibration of its careful “balancing” act between the GCC and Turkey after moving more closely to the latter following the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War, which in turn shows how important Moscow regards its “Ummah Pivot” as being by seeking to maintain equally excellent relations with all majority-Muslim countries without any of its bilateral relations being misperceived as directed against any third country in this civilizational sphere.

A Deal Three Years In The Making

Some observers were surprised by reports late last week that a Russian government website published details of a draft deal pertaining to Moscow’s plans to open up a Red Sea naval base in Sudan, but this was actually something that’s been openly discussed for the past three years already. The author wrote about former President Bashir’s public invitation for Russia to do exactly just that during his visit to the Eurasian Great Power in November 2017 in his piece titled “Here’s Why Russia Might Set Up A Red Sea Base In Sudan”. The geopolitical situation has considerably changed since then following his overthrow last year, which the author also recently analyzed at length in an article about how “The Sudanese-‘Israeli’ Peace Deal Required Lots Of Behind-The-Scenes Maneuvering”, but some of his insight from that time is still relevant.

Russia’s Silk Road & “Democratic Security” Interests

For instance, Russia indeed hopes to gain influence along China’s prospective Sahelian-Saharan Silk Road that he first identified in early 2017 and which is expected to terminate precisely in Port Sudan, which is where Moscow plans to open up its naval base. There are still domestic military dimensions to this draft deal which could be taken advantage of by Sudan, though not necessarily in terms of preventing the country’s further Balkanization considering the recent peace deal between its warring sides. More specifically, they likely relate to the “Democratic Security” strategies that the author summarized in his October 2019 piece written during the first-ever Russia-Africa Summit about how “Africa Needs Russia More Than Ever, And This Week’s Sochi Summit Proves It”, in which some hyperlinks are now broken but can still be accessed via other sites.

The “Ummah Pivot”

The most pertinent point made in his prior topical analysis, however, relates to Russia’s “balancing” act. The hyperlinked piece from the preceding sentence introduced the author’s concept of the “Ummah Pivot”, which he describes as the recent prioritization of Russia’s relations with majority-Muslim countries stimulated by the West’s anti-Russian sanctions of the past six and a half years. Many observers predicted Russia to “pivot eastward” in the face of that economic warfare campaign, but in reality, the country ended up pivoting southward towards the international Muslim community (“Ummah”) in order to optimize its continental “balancing” strategy by incorporating a third element (the Ummah) into this supposedly binary choice between East (China) and West (EU).

The Unofficial Russian-Turkish Alliance

In the present geostrategic conditions, there’s little doubt after the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War that Russia and Turkey are the new power duo in the “Greater Mideast”, which the author coined “Putogan” in his latest analysis on the topic titled “Analytical Reflections: Learning From The Nagorno-Karabakh Fiasco”. Less than a week prior, he noted that “Russia & Turkey Stand To Lose The Most From A Biden Presidency”, predicting that the simultaneous pressure that might likely be placed upon them in that scenario could result in them being pushed into an unofficial alliance out of pragmatic necessity. That potential outcome would risk giving off the optics that Russia is a partisan player in the cold war between Turkey and the GCC, however, hence the need to preemptively recalibrate that aspect of its “balancing” act within its larger “Ummah Pivot”.

The Unofficial Russian-Emirati Alliance

Post-coup Sudan is practically a GCC protectorate nowadays, and it wouldn’t have been possible for Russia to clinch its draft deal for a Red Sea naval base in Port Sudan without the approval of the North African state’s new Gulf overlords. They seemingly understand the importance of improving military interoperability with Russia through the joint naval drills that they’ll likely carry out in the Red Sea upon this agreement’s conclusion. The UAE in particular is the most important extra-regional player in this strategic waterway as a result of its newly established bases in Eritrea and the de-facto independent Somali and Yemeni regions of Somaliland and South Yemen, as well as its hegemonic influence over Ethiopia after brokering its historic peace deal with Eritrea two years back. Russia has also been seeking to cultivate closer state-to-state military ties with the UAE as well.

The Syrian Convergence

Unofficially allying with the UAE in this trans-regional space could “balance” its unofficial alliance with Turkey elsewhere in the “Greater Mideast”, thus reinforcing the impression that Russia is indeed the neutral partner that it presents itself as being in the Ummah. This in turn preemptively thwarts any misperception about the grand strategic motives behind its “Ummah Pivot”, thus helping it to maintain its careful “balancing” act in this civilizational space. The two halves of its intra-Ummah “balancing” act might ultimately converge in Syria where Turkey and the GCC are intensely competing in this geostrategic state where Russian influence undoubtedly predominates. It would be a diplomatic masterstroke if Moscow was able to leverage its “balancing” act in pursuit of a lasting political solution there, though it’ll still take lots of time and skill to achieve, if ever.

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By Andrew Korybko

American political analyst

Tags: Russia, Sudan, Horn Of Africa, Red Sea, UAE, Turkey, Ummah Pivot, Balancing, China, BRI.


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  • ETHIOPIA: Ethiopia’s conflict in its powerful Tigray region continued as PM vows further operations. Observers warned the possibility of a civil war. It could destabilize the already turbulent Horn of Africa. There is a great challenge in holding together a country of some 110 million people with multiple ethnic and other grievances.

SOURCE: CP 24

 

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