In a flash, concern over the armed opposition marching on Addis Ababa has switched to concern over Ethiopia’s conflicts spreading to neighbouring countries.
Tensions are mounting in Addis Ababa as the armed resistance stands victoriously 400 km from its doorstep. It has also taken control of the railway lines and the highway connecting the capital with Djibouti Port. The highway is the lifeline for the majority of imports and exports in and out of Ethiopia.
The opposition, made up primarily of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and aided by the Oromo Liberation Front, are using the railway lines and the highway as a pressure card, but if they decide to halt movement there, the capital will be in chaos.
Ethiopia is already suffering due to food insecurity in many of its regions, and Addis Ababa is seeing sharp inflation that is choking its population of five million .
The country shares borders with its neighbours and there are many intertwining ethnicities and tribes.
On the borders with Sudan, Ethiopia had been engaged in armed conflicts from which Khartoum came out victorious after restoring Al-Fashqa, which Ethiopian Amhara militias had controlled for many years.
Sudan has also been demanding the restoration of the Benishangul region. The Sudanese Mahdi state had been in control of Benishangul since the late 19th century, before the British occupation gave it to emperor Menelik, the founder of modern Ethiopia, in 1902.
Towards South Sudan, the Luwo tribes live between the two countries, and the Ethiopian region of Gambella is home to the Nuer and Dinka tribes, which could send hundreds of thousands of refugees to South Sudan, already exhausted by a civil war that has killed 400,000 people and displaced millions.
Kenya, which hosted the largest Somalian refugee camps, may find itself home to more unwanted guests amid its fragile conditions. Moreover, northern Kenya, on the borders with Ethiopia, suffers from food insecurity due to the lack of rain, according to UN reports. In addition, Lake Turkana suffers a decline in water levels due to the Gibe III Dam on the Omo River feeding it.
Indeed, Kenya submitted a complaint against Ethiopia during the construction of the Gibe III Dam because its shepherds and fishermen were harmed, thus forcing more Kenyans to inhabit cities that are already suffering from a host of economic challenges.
Somalia, which fought a war to restore the Ogaden region inhabited by more than six million Somalis, suffers from marginalisation during the rule of Abiy Ahmed. Continuous clashes with its neighbouring Oromo, who make up Ethiopia’s largest ethnicity, claimed thousands of Somali lives and rendered a million people homeless.
The white star on the blue flag of Somalia still indicates the five Somalias: the French, which is Djibouti, the Italian, which includes the capital Mogadishu, the British, which includes the unilaterally declared republics of Somaliland and Puntland, the Ethiopian, which is the Ogaden region and the Kenyan in northeastern Kenya.
A year ago, Eritrea’s army fought alongside the Ethiopian Prime Minister Ahmed and has been pursued locally and internationally for committing war crimes against the Tigrayans.
If the Tigrayans take over Ethiopia or are able to secede their northern region, they will find themselves engaged in a war with Asmara, which regards them as its archenemy.
All these threats may push some of Ethiopia’s neighbours to intervene in its conflicts, as did the neighbours of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the late 1990s in what became known as the Great African War.
The collapse of Ethiopia, as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, will not stop at its borders, but will inflict long-term damage on its neighbours.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 November, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly