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HomeGeopolitical CompassSub-Saharan AfricaTigray: The AU failed Ethiopia, while US calls the shots

Tigray: The AU failed Ethiopia, while US calls the shots

Author: VP Selassie

Affiliation: The Africa Report

Organization/Publisher: The African Report

Date/Place: November 25, 2020

Type of Literature: Analysis 

Word Count: 1700


Keywords: AU, US, UAE, Ethiopia, War, Tigray


The article examines the causes, course, and parties involved in the war between the Ethiopian government and Tigray region, an autonomous province in northern Ethiopia. It emphasizes the failures of the African Union (AU) to hold its founding norms. Since the start of the large-scale war in the Tigray region of Ethiopia in November 2020, multiple internal actors and external military players have been involved, motivated by various ideological, security, and economic motives while the continental organization has kept silent of what is happening in a country where the AU itself bases. The war is fundamentally ideological, both domestically and externally. Domestically, the battle is between the proponents of the unitarist and central national government, and multinational federal forces. The former is represented by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed under whose command is the Ethiopian Federal Defense Forces, the Amhara region’s paramilitary force, contributions of militias from the other regional states supported by the Eritrean army, and UAE’s militarized drones. On the one hand, the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) is relatively organized and experienced; Tigray’s regional military force has symbolized multinational federal political order and dominated Ethiopian political economy and security apparatus for the past three decades. The war is also an extension of external ideological warfare. The US considered Ethiopian political reforms that brought Abiy Ahmed to power in April 2018 as the opportunity to disrupt Chinese advance in Africa. The Tigray leaders, though good partners of the US-led global war on terror in the Horn of Africa, have been accused of having political-economic ideological ties with Beijing, anchored in the adoption of a developmental state model as a new path for development, policy sovereignty, and development discourse in Africa’s economic and international relations against the Western-led liberal economy. The UAE’s support of Abiy Ahmed’s war with Tigray is an extension of the US’s transactional foreign policy under President Trump—that any friendly regime or groups, or a coalition of states can get protection. Moreover, the UAE’s leadership has a clear regional interest to apply coercive diplomacy in the Horn of Africa, and beyond, in favor of strong leaders and short-term stability by strong security states. While US diplomats were active in the events that brought Abiy Ahmed to power as a prime minister, they were busy shooting down every effort to stop the war through negotiation, often expressing that they expect Abiy Ahmed to win the war over Tigray within days. In exchange, the US policymakers have always been pushing Abiy Ahmed to adopt large scale privatization policies. What is happening in Ethiopia proves that ideological and political problems are expected (at least in the eyes of the US Administration and its allies) to be altered by force and that this will be accepted by the international community after the fact. Moreover, events in Tigray have revealed that there is rarely any limit to the violence that can be conducted in the service of geopolitical goals. What is graver is that the continental organization, AU has shown its complete uselessness by simply watching the war with ensuing civilian casualties while non-African external actors are causing mayhem in the same country to which the AU is historically attached and currently bases.  

By: Jemal Muhamed, CIGA Senior Research Associate



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