Abiy Ahmed — The Lust for State Power of an “Undisputed Hero”

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I N T E R N A T I O N A L – E T H I O P I A

Ayaan Shams Siddiquee

“This is the largest influx into east Sudan in 20 years. It is very, very sudden. This is a full-scale humanitarian crisis that has unfolded in a mere two weeks. They are arriving exhausted and scared. They had to flee very quickly, often with just the clothes on their backs. They heard the fighting and just had to go.”

– Dana Hughes, spokesperson of the United Nations refugee agency in Nairobi

As unexpected yet welcoming as a diamond in the rough — Ethiopia has made remarkable progress in facilitating its large population of more than 110 million people. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), being the primary authoritarian entity for 27 years, was a Tigrayan-dominated ruling party until 2018. Through mass protests and intra-coalition infightings, Abiy Ahmed, a nobel peace prize laureate, was appointed as the Prime Minister of Ethiopia in 2018, putting an end to the EPRDF and a Tigrayan-dominated rule. However, little did anyone know that the highly coveted peace prize would end up to be the tyrannical anecdote for a cold-blooded civil war.

Last month, PM Abiy Ahmed initiated a wide-scale government offensive against their rival Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). His strategic aim was to oust TPLF, the rulers of the Tigray province, which was accused of attacking a military camp in the region and attempting to loot military assets.

“TPLF crossed a red line last week, when it allegedly organised a multi-pronged attack on the Ethiopian military’s Northern Command — a treason that will never be forgotten, announced Abiy Ahmed.

What followed the rather bold move was a long series of increasingly acrimonious disputes between the TPLF, which says it has been unfairly marginalised since Abiy took power two years ago, and the central government. The effects of the conflict have already spread to neighbouring regions and states, and analysts fear that this could well be prolonged to a civil war, with outcomes far more severe and concentrated. “The Sudanese are involved and at some point, it will involve other countries in the region, and also beyond, because it is a strategic region. The impact is huge,” said Mr. Rashid Abdi, a Horn of Africa analyst.

Despite the rising death tolls and hundreds of thousands of refugees moving into safe-zone regions, the federal government has so far resisted calls for diplomatic intervention and international mediation to end the hostilities with the TPLF. They have described the conflict as a “law-enforcement operation” against a “clique” intent on destroying Ethiopia’s constitutional order. The devastation, however, has been and will continue to be felt all over the Horn of Africa region. The results and effects are and will be manifold.


Firstly, an already-boiling guerilla warfare possesses a sturdy threat that can destabilise Ethiopia’s neighbours and weaken the country as a whole. Additionally, refugees from the regions of Eritrea and Tigray have already fled to Sudan and other safe-zones. The rummage of the conflict is being felt all over the country. Accordingly, on the weekend of 14 November, Tigrayan forces fired missiles into Eritrea in an apparent attempt to internationalise the conflict and force outside intervention to bring the hostility to an end. There has already been a long-lasting feud amongst Eritrea and Tigray, the both of whom share a long border.

The TPLF has said that its forces had preemptively moved to take over strategic military assets after seeing federal army units move north in the days leading up to the conflict. “We are fighting in respect to our right to self-determination and self-rule,” said Debretsion Gebremichael, the TPLF Leader, in a recent text message.

Further, there is also a danger that the federal government’s focus on Tigray could possibly debilitate its involvement in backing the government of Somalia against Al-Shabab militants. In this regard, the Ethiopian government has already withdrawn about 600 soldiers from Somalia’s western border. “If the situation deteriorates further and Mr Abiy is forced to pull out of Amisom (of Somalia), that would be catastrophic… it will create an opportunity for Al-Shabab to regrow and regroup again,” says regional analyst Mr Abdi.

The International Crisis Group agrees, asserting that unless the conflict is urgently stopped, “It will be devastating not just for the country but for the entire Horn of Africa.” Mr Abdi told BBC, “What you will see essentially is the regions drifting away from the centre and the centre becoming weaker, unable to assert itself.”

Furthermore, the entire conflict has paved way for ethnic profiling, primarily against the Tigrayans, which goes against PM Abiy Ahmed’s sole political philosophy known as Mereber. While he has tried to emphasise national unity whilst also respecting the identities and rights of the different groups which govern the country’s ethnically based federal states, the fallout from this conflict has exposed the difficulties of maintaining that position.

The recent developments had led to an intensification of ethnic profiling as a means to target police and intelligence resources more effectively and to detect potential enemy suspects. However, the discrimination had not been limited to civilians only — law enforcement officers and high-ranked individuals had been singled out and detained as well.

A federal soldier (who wishes to stay anonymous) who had been serving in the Ethiopian military for 14 years told BBC that he was detained in a warehouse by his fellow soldiers along with nearly 90 other Tigrayan members of the armed forces. They had their phones confiscated and were “treated as prisoners of war”, he claimed. “It was only the Tigrayans who were disarmed and detained together. So, it’s obviously based on our ethnicity.” 

While those who were discriminated against were not severely or mortally harmed, malignant war crimes were being committed elsewhere. Innocent civilians having no part in the conflict were massacred in the hundreds, sought out through their identification cards.

Earlier, Aljazeera published that at least 600 civilians were killed in an ethnically-driven massacre earlier this month in the town of Mai Kadra in Tigray (according to the country’s human rights body). Information was hard to be obtained and verified, owing to the communications being cut off. Ethiopian Human Rights Council dispatched a team of experts to the region for an investigation into the killings.

Their report stated — “The local militia and police security apparatus joined forces with members of the Samri group to carry out door-to-door raids and kill hundreds of people they identified as ethnic ‘Amharas and Wolkait origin’, by beating them with sticks, stabbing them with knives, machetes, hatchets, and strangling them with ropes.” Moreover, some of the 40,000 people who fled to neighbouring Sudan had alleged mass killings perpetrated by government forces, including killings done with machetes and axes. 

Amidst the hostile conflict, a fleet of questions had risen about the Nobel Peace Prize laureate PM Abiy Ahmed. While tens of thousands of his countrymen had to flee from their homes and take refuge in safe-zones, civilians were hacked to death, and neighbouring regions were disrupted — Mr Abiy suppressed every call for international peacemaking calls and mediation. 


In this regard, Debretsion Gebremichael wrote a letter to the African Union, accusing the government of a power grab, and Abiy Ahmed of imprisoning his opponents and trying to turn Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism into a system where the prime minister holds all the power. “Dr. Abiy Ahmed’s one-man dictatorial regime has started to unravel the constitutionally-established state institutions. He is also endangering the unity of this ancient country.” While Mr Abiy did not comment on the allegations, his lust for maintaining state power and political supremacy has caused one the most massive uproars in the country in recent years.


The gold-coated Nobel laureate Abiy Ahmed has pervasively been framed as an undisputed hero of his era. However, the blood of hundreds and thousands of his countrymen has exposed the multitude of cracks within his political ideologies and manifested an all-important question to a much wider audience — what is Abiy Ahmed’s ultimate goal?



  1. Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis: How the conflict could destabilise its neighbours
  2. Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis: PM claims capture of regional capital Mekelle
  3. Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis: Fears of ethnic profiling stalk conflict
  4. Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed: Inside the mind of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner
  5. Ethiopia Claims Victory in Tigray Conflict After Shelling Restive Region’s Capital
  6. Abiy Ahmed Ali – Facts – 2019 – NobelPrize.org
  7. Here’s how Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed rose to power to bring change in the East African country
  8. Ethiopia: fears of refugee crisis ahead of ‘final’ offensive against rebels
  9. What To Know About Ethiopia’s Tigray Conflict
  10. Conflict between Tigray and Eritrea — the long standing faultline in Ethiopian politics
  11. Amnesty International Warns Of War Crimes In The Tigray Crisis
  12. Thousands more refugees cross into Sudan to flee fighting in Ethiopia


The writer is a part of TDA Editorial Team.


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