Granting more autonomous powers to Tigray could set a wrong precedence
The Tigrayan People Liberation Front’s (TPLF) political intentions to gain more autonomous powers in Tigray are akin to a secession. Although the TPLF’s leadership has been careful not to utter the word “secession”, their actions, defiance and indeed the establishment of an “army” points towards a “creation of a state within a state”. “We will never back down for anyone who is intending to suppress our hard-won right to self-determination and self-rule,” the region’s leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, said numerous times. The repercussions of such political intentions, if realised, could prove extremely devastating not only to the national cohesion of Ethiopia but for the rest of the African continent. Whatever political angle this takes, if allowed it could set a dangerous precedent in African politics. Moreover, like many African countries, Ethiopian provinces are setup along ethnic lines. Therefore, secession of any province could open a pandora’s box of secessionists movements not only in Ethiopia but across the African continent. More autonomous powers to TPLF could encourage further insurgencies inside Ethiopia. There are already a number of regions that remain very volatile in the country, additional insurgency from those regions could impact negatively on the nation. Ethiopia’s accommodationist political coalition, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) enabled a stable political environment amidst multi ethnicity, some have come to regret its establishment in the first place. The formation of the Prosperity Party by Abiy Ahmed seeks to introduce a new form of national politics in Ethiopia, a move away from ethnically based politics. Therefore, allowing more autonomous powers to Tigray will be a step backwards in the politics of Ethiopia and could contradict the ambitions of the Prosperity Party. Furthermore, there are a number of countries in Africa that have groups that are actively seeking autonomous powers and independence. South Africa for an example, has an active group of white Afrikaners who have been pushing for independence since the advent of democracy in 1994. They are fighting for the establishment of their own autonomous region within South Africa called Orania. Similar aspirations also exist in Biafra and Niger Delta in Nigeria albeit for totally different reasons.
Importantly, granting more autonomy to Tigray could encourage impunity and undermine efforts to fight corruption and violations of human rights in Africa. After all, it must be remembered that TPLF dominated the previous government and formed part of the political and business elite in Ethiopia. When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed assumed office in April 2018 he undertook to fight corruption and to bring those accused of corruption and violations of human rights to account. Fearing government’s backlash, senior members of TPLF retreated to Tigray and started a rebellion. Historically, Africa has been dominated by “monkey sees monkey does politics”, it is therefore not farfetched that similar actions could be repeated elsewhere.
Over the past months the conflict in Tigray has taken a different turn. TPLF rebels have been accused by the United States (US) of destroying aid banks, depriving millions of innocent people in Tigray and neighboring Amhara and Afar regions. The US has also accused TPLF rebels of looting warehouses. The World Food Program (WFP) reports that in the next coming days if trucks caring food and medical aid are denied entry into the regions, levels of starvation will increase which could lead to massive deaths. In December the government of Ethiopia embarked on a unilateral seize fire in order to allow the flow of food and aid into Tigray and surrounding areas. However, during that time TPLF rebels intensified their attacks against the ENDF. They also used the opportunity to spread propaganda on how they are winning the war against the government hence the seize fire, this was of course far from the truth on the ground. Getachew Reda, the leader of TPLF, said the Tigray People’s Liberation Front would “stop at nothing to liberate every square inch” . He rejected the unilateral ceasefire Ethiopia’s government declared as a “sick joke”, and said the Front’s response was to treat the ceasefire “with a contempt it so richly deserves”.
The federal government has vowed to continue fighting the rebels in order to bring peace and stability in Tigray. The fight has since spread to other regions of Ethiopia, particularly Afar and neighboring Amhara. All the while thousands of refugees continue to flee their homes. What happens in Tigray could trigger similar uprising in other parts of Ethiopia and could give impetus to similar aspirations in other parts of Africa as already alluded. Allowing TPLF to win and gain more autonomous powers in Tigray, could encourage other formations with similar intents in Africa. Ethiopia has 90 distinct ethnic groups, allowing one grouping more autonomous powers could prove disastrous for the government of Abiy Ahmad and indeed other governments in Africa.