Addis Abeba – Intricate and multilayered domestic, regional, and global challenges are currently threatening Ethiopia’s polity more than ever. Internally, the country is facing an unparalleled humanitarian catastrophe in the aftermath of the war in the Tigray region, one of the deadliest wars of recent times, and the ongoing militarized hostilities in the Oromia and Amhara regions.
More than 20.1 million people are food insecure, 6.6 million of whom require immediate food assistance as a result of the war, conflicts, and impacts of the recurrent drought ravaging the country. In the hard-hit Tigray, hundreds, including IDPs, have died due to hunger, exacerbated by the severe destruction of livelihoods during the two-year war. Elsewhere, millions who have been displaced by deadly conflicts, drought, and flooding are enduring dire conditions in the absence of sufficient food aid and medical supply.
Asymmetrically, war, conflicts, and political mobilizations have created a polarized society, threatening the country’s social fabric, cohesiveness, and national unity.”
Active conflicts in the two most populous regions, Oromia and Amhara, have clamped down on the country’s economic activities, particularly impeding the transportation of essential goods such as fertilizers, plummeting agricultural productivity. Combined with severe foreign currency shortages and a staggering inflation, this has put the economy under serious strain, pushing the country into the center of uncharted territory.
Asymmetrically, war, conflicts, and political mobilizations have created a polarized society, threatening the country’s social fabric, cohesiveness, and national unity to the point where Ethiopians stand divided on matters that could have otherwise been categorized as a national interest.
Regionally, the recent MoU that Ethiopia signed with Somaliland has ignited tensions in the Horn of Africa and beyond, deteriorating Ethiopia’s relations with neighboring Somalia, which argued that the MoU “violates its sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Subsequently, Somalia’s president has embarked on a diplomatic race to tighten relations with various countries, including Eritrea and Egypt, with whom Ethiopia has sour relations.
Furthermore, the MoU has sparked several diplomatic concerns, if not outright condemnations, from various countries that pledged their support for “Somalia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”, overshadowing Ethiopia’s diplomatic endeavors that have gradually been recovering from an abyss created as a consequence of the two-year war in Tigray. Unless handled carefully and in accordance with established international norms and principles, this may spiral out of control and endanger Ethiopia’s hard-won relations and partnerships with major global and regional powers.
A country that is ravaged by multiple internal crises can neither shape, nor safeguard a national interest, much less defend its sovereignty in the face of the growing regional dynamics.”
Many have argued that Ethiopia, by signing the deal with Somaliland, harbors intentions of diverting the focus from the multiple internal crises it is currently facing in an attempt to give Ethiopians a unifying agenda, such as securing access to the sea, which has been an aspiration widely shared among Ethiopians. In spite of whether it is done to that end or not, the issue of access to the sea has now become the prime national agenda, dominating burning internal issues. Regrettably; it has also become the latest divisive agenda, tearing Ethiopians who opposed the MoU and those who support it apart.
This comes at a cost that the country cannot afford to pay at this particular period when healing and reconstruction efforts should have taken the front seat. Ignoring these burning priorities at the expense of a new agenda for maritime access will not only disorient policy directions, but also distorts Ethiopia’s legitimate aspiration for sovereign access to the sea.
A country that is ravaged by multiple internal crises can neither shape, nor safeguard a national interest, much less defend its sovereignty in the face of the growing regional dynamics.
Ending the ongoing military conflicts in the Oromia and Amhara regions immediately through negotiations, as we argued in our December 2023 editorial, is not a matter of choice but of safeguarding Ethiopia’s national interest. The ongoing humanitarian catastrophe and economic hardships that are pushing millions to the brink need the government’s undivided attention, too.
Addressing Ethiopia’s ever widening internal fault lines to ensure a cohesive political community should be considered a top priority, just as much ignoring them will be at the peril of the country’s sovereignty and national interest. AS