To fight hunger and disease, Addis first needs peace

Thursday September 08 2022
Ethiopian Soldiers

Hunger and disease in Ethiopia could kill far more people in a shorter span of time than war, thus peace needs to be restored. PHOTO | AMANUEL SILESHI | AFP

By The EastAfrican

After a promising lull, pan-Africanists, peace advocates and the international relief movement, in general, must be rightly spooked by the resumption of fighting between Ethiopian government forces and the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) separatists this week.

In accusations and counteraccusations about who provoked the renewed fighting, both sides essentially confirmed that clashes were on. Tigray claims an offensive from the north by a combined Ethiopian-Eritrean force, while Addis accuses Tigray of expanding the theatre of the latest clashes into neighbouring Amhara and Afar states.

Vexing as it might be, maybe the turn of events should not be completely surprising. Sensing no progress on the round table, an impatient Addis might be gambling on a decisive military victory in the north. That can be achieved at a great human cost but will be a source of constant fear and huge military spending.

It is also doubtful that the current peace efforts appeal to the core of TPLF thinking. A tiny minority comprising only six percent of the population in a country of more than 100 million people, the TPLF appears to be playing a zero-sum game premised on only two cards – control of power in a united Ethiopia or breaking away from the rest.

Both propositions are fraught with risk. A breakaway Tigray would weaken Ethiopia, but it would be more vulnerable and a likely source of intermittent conflict. It is also unlikely to completely give up the ambition of controlling a united Ethiopia or extending its dominance into neighbouring provinces.

The TPLF’s 30 years of authoritarian control of power don’t quite endear it to the majority in Ethiopia. Even if they were to take that power forcibly, that would come at the price of even worse repression and deeper resentment from the other ethnic groups.


It can also be expected that a sustained conflict in Ethiopia would attract foreign allies on both sides of the war. That can only complicate matters and end in the kind of situation Libya and Syria find themselves in today — societies in which foreign interests take precedence over national priorities.

That is what makes this war a stalemate and a no-win for either side. The only loser is Ethiopia and its enemies, the winners.

A more sensible approach would be for both sides to face their fears and negotiate their way out of this crisis. The TPLF can renounce claims to sovereignty in exchange for social and security guarantees. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed would be well advised to be more magnanimous, understand the TPLF’s position and pull back from his quest for republicanism in a culturally diverse society.

Everyone is rightly worried because, whatever the imperatives, war simply doesn’t make sense in the current setting in the Horn of Africa. Always on the borderline between hunger and plenty, Ethiopia needs peace to confront the bigger enemies that nature has imposed on it. To fight hunger and disease, Ethiopia first needs peace. Those two combined could kill far more people in a shorter span of time than war. That is why dialogue must be given a chance.