Infernal Peace in Ethiopia — Forging National Survival in White Flames of Pragmatism and Quenching it in Red Flames of Realism
In 1870s, Khedive Ismail Pasha of Egypt ordered his Chief of Staff, William Wing Loring, to invade Ethiopia and bring the Abbay river basin under Egyptian control. This plan to control the Blue Nile was thwarted by the Tigrayan trio of Emperor Yohannes IV, Ras Woldemichael Solomon, and Ras Alula “Abba Nega” Engida. The trio defeated this Khedivate imperial campaign at Gura in 1876. For Ethiopia, this victory was testament to robust defensive realism, while for Egypt, it invalidated its offensive realism and angered European creditors who financed this campaign. The defeat of the American and European trained — and commanded — Egyptian army by Ethiopia ended Arab plans to militarily occupy Ethiopia and earned Ras Engida the moniker “Garibaldi of Abyssinia”. For Egypt, the plans to colonize all nations in the Upper Nile basin — from Sudan to Uganda — were shelved, and in 1950s, a new strategy was conceived: Ethiopia must be prevented from developing the Abbay river basin by fomenting Somali irredentism and domestic rebellions so that resources are spent on wars rather than hydrological and agricultural developments. To date, River Nile is key to Egypt’s survival, and this can make Egypt-Ethiopia contention a zero-sum game.
Under Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia took advantage of the Arab Spring in Egypt to start building GERD to develop the Abbay river basin, and by the time Abdul Fatah al-Sisi had secured his authority, GERD was a fait accompli. In 2020, Egypt, Europeans, and Americans found an opportunity to turn the tables on Ethiopia — by exploiting the innovative offensive realism of TPLF to invalidate the poorly integrated defensive-offensive realism of the Ethiopian Federal government. This also raises the following questions:
- Will Egypt be able to inhibit large-scale water usage in the Abbay basin by fomenting instability in Ethiopia to keep it underdeveloped and weak?
- Can Ethiopia survive as a unitary multiethnic state, or is federalism the best option?
- How did the Tigray people come to be aligned with Egypt and the West against the Ethiopian Federal government?
- Is TPLF being supplied through Sudan? If yes, who are the suppliers and what are the supplies (military and otherwise)?
- Is the withdrawal of ENDF from Tigray region cause for TPLF to validate their realism as iustificationem per successus?
- Can Oromo and Tigray people secede from Ethiopia and establish viable nations?
- Can political Islam be wielded as a geostrategic tool to destabilize the upper Nile basin nations? Will Islamists exploit this to their advantage and play a double game that benefits them?
- Will Somali jihadism be empowered by American counter-terrorism strategies being exported to Eastern Africa? Will this Jihadism be masked as the Greater Somalia project to destabilize the entire region? In September 1960, Emperor Haile Selassie openly accused Egypt of promoting the idea of Greater Somalia, and later Mengistu HaileMariam denounced Egypt for arming the Somali rebels during the Ethiopia-Somalia War in Ogaden. These accusations didn’t deter Anwar Sadat from arming Somalia, and in February 1978, the Kenyan Air Force did capture 20 tons of Egyptian weapons destined for Somalia. In May 1980, President Anwar Sadat proclaimed that “Somalia is an Arab country, and a member of the Arab League, (and) Egypt would not hesitate to send its troops to Somalia to fight beside the Somali people (against Ethiopia), if that were necessary”. Can Egypt now deploy soldiers in any nation neighboring Ethiopia so as to fight Ethiopia?
- Do Sunni Arab nation want to weaken Upper Nile basin nations?
- Why has the Biden administration turned against Abiy’s government and compared it to the twilight of the Yugoslav republic (whose breakup was accelerated by NATO bombing of Belgrade, Serbia, during Clinton’s tenure)? Both Clinton and Biden were elected on the Democratic Party ticket. NATO’s unilateral campaign against Yugoslavia — called Operation Allied Force/Noble Anvil — was launched without UN approval. Did Biden Administration threaten to launch a similar NATO campaign against Ethiopia? Was the Ethiopian government forced by Western pressure to withdraw its troops from Mekelle and let TPLF occupy it in exchange for sanctions relief?
- Can Ethiopia win an information war being waged against it?
This multi-part series approaches these questions and other pertinent issues from the geopolitical lenses of realism and pragmatism.
Offensive realism and its limits are explained in Offensive Realism and Foreign Policy.