Ethiopia enters the second largest country in the African continent in terms of population for the new year 2021, carrying with it the load of the last months of 2020, which slid with its ends in an armed conflict with the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, which controls the region, which is located in the north of the country, and is inhabited by about 6% of the total number Population.
The country in the Horn of Africa takes with it to the new year the postponed general elections from this year, and one of the reasons for the tension between the federal government and Tigray, in addition to an economy whose growth rates are declining, according to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Has the war in Tigray turned into a guerrilla war?
Although the Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, announced after his forces’ seizure of Mekele (the capital of Tigray region) the end of the military operations in the region after 3 weeks of their inception, so far, international relief teams have not been able to enter the regions of the region to help the needy, despite the passage of two weeks since The Ethiopian government signed an agreement with the United Nations to establish safe corridors for the relief of citizens.
Besides, the central government has admitted that its soldiers shot an international team on December 8th. This reflects the security situation in the region.
The departure of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces from Mikkeli without a fight supports the hypothesis that the region entered into a guerrilla warfare character, and that the leaders of the front had fortified in the rugged mountain regions (north) of the region, using their experiences in the previous guerrilla war, which the region fought against the former president. Mengistu Haile Mariam, observers say.
The Tigray region is distinguished by its rugged mountainous regions, with an average altitude of about 2,500 meters above sea level; This creates an environment conducive to stealth for guerrilla fighters, while the federal forces do not have sufficient knowledge of the terrain and geography of the area.
In parallel, the federal government forces were keen to control the western areas close to the Sudanese borders. In order to cut off the road to the forces of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray, if they wanted to withdraw to the Sudanese lands, to regain their previous experiences during their war against Mengistu, and in light of the fact that the western side of the borders of the region with neighboring Eritrea is secured, and the position of Asmara supports the government of Abiy Ahmed.
With this government control over the main western cities such as (Al-Hamr, May Khadra, Al-Ruwyan and others), and it took control of the main roads; However, the influx of refugees continues to Sudan, while their number has exceeded 50,000.
With the availability of appropriate geographical data for this, the International Crisis Group in its report, issued last November, estimated that the Tigrayans are able to mobilize more than 200,000 fighters, in addition to the region’s special forces, whose number is close to 50 thousand.
On the other hand, Ethiopia has about 140,000 active members, most of them in the army, according to unofficial estimates. If these estimates are correct, the number of the Ethiopian army may be less than the number of Tigrayan People’s Liberation Army soldiers. But it can boost its numbers by relying on the special forces of other regional governments, as Ethiopian law allows each of those regional governments to obtain these paramilitary units to provide security within their regions.
This comes in light of reports that talk about the participation of the locally known military and paramilitary forces of the Amhara region (B Fano), whose number is estimated at about 150 thousand fighters.
The experiences of guerrilla warfare in the region, whether in Ethiopia itself, or in Eritrea, or in Sudan and South Sudan, reflect that it will extend for many years.
Tigray in front of the supply challenge
Although reports indicate that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front was preparing for this war early on, and equipped warehouses in the fortified “Adigrat” heights, which were used by the Ethiopian army during the two-year war with neighboring Eritrea from 1998 to 2000 ; However, it is confronting it with the dilemma of supply routes in light of Asmara’s position next to Abi Ahmed and its hostility to Tigray, and the Federal Army calculates the possibility of taking advantage of the western borders with Sudan, albeit a weak possibility, so that the matter of obtaining supplies becomes the controller in the long-term guerrilla war in the region.
General elections in the shadow of cracks
In the midst of the Tigray region crisis, Abiy Ahmed confirmed his intention to organize the country’s general elections, which were supposed to take place in September 2020; However, it was postponed by a decision of Parliament at the request of the Prime Minister.
Although so far, no specific date has been set for the electoral process; However, it is clear that it will take place in light of the Tigray crisis and its repercussions; Indeed, great doubts indicate that, in light of the current military operations, general elections will not be held in the region, due to the security situation. This makes it incomplete elections from one of the country’s ten regions.
Abi Ahmed enters the elections with his new son (Prosperity Party), which is an alliance between part of the Oromo in light of the splits that occurred in the great nationalism in the country, and to which the Prime Minister, Amhara, the Alliance of the Southern Peoples, and groups from Afar and Somali belong to it.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is that the prime minister will enter these elections in light of a major crack in his Oromo social incubator, which played a major role in his delivery to the prime minister’s seat after Abiy Ahmed’s coup against one of the symbols of the Oromo uprising in the years 2015 to 2017, Jawhar Muhammad and his imprisonment.
Also, some protests are escalating in Benishangul Qums, which is adjacent to the Sudanese state of Blue Nile, and the Renaissance Dam is located in it, the most important Ethiopian development project, and the region witnessed clashes between an armed group and the Federal Army.
The International Monetary Fund lowered expectations for the growth of the Ethiopian economy in 2020 from 6.2% to 3.2%; This means that the country’s economy has retreated by 50%, as it achieved 6.1% in 2019, down from 9% in 2018, and an increase in unemployment rates, which in 2019 reached 19% of the total population.
The World Bank also indicated that the Ethiopian foreign debt increased by about 25% of the country’s national income. These figures come in light of the repercussions of the Corona crisis, which hit the economies of the world countries and their effects on increases in foreign investment.
Quartz Africa, a non-governmental research organization, noted in its May 2020 report that Ethiopia’s economy, which had been described as a miracle, was slowing down and facing trouble; However, the economic crisis that followed the pandemic will undoubtedly represent a greater challenge, and may unravel some of the foundations of the developmental progress in the country with significantly slowing growth.
With external factors, the conflict in Tigray will increase the financial burden on the government, as it will directly affect foreign investment, whose returns represent about 40% of GDP.