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Ethiopia's prime minister is playing games with the hopes and lives of a nation

When the Nobel committee decided to offer the 2019 Peace Prize to Ethiopia’s sophomore Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, they had no way of knowing he would go on to refuse to field questions from literally anybody on the planet ever, including actual children. They also had no way of knowing that, about a year later, he would preside over a horrifying new civil war in the Northern Tigray region of his country that would reportedly see thousands of civilians brutally massacred, at least a million Ethiopians displaced according to the UN, and widespread use of rape “as a weapon of war.” This is apparently equally as disgusting as regular mass rape, just with the added bonus of also being a war crime. Yeah, that decision really aged well.

You see, every once and a while, like in the case of Barack Obama’s 2009 win, the Norwegian nerds at Nobel will choose to dish out more of a Peace ‘Suggestion’ than a Peace Prize. This is done, according to people who claim to know about this sort of thing, in order to confer upon the recipient the weight of the Western world’s expectations of them. Weird use of a million dollars, if you ask me, I sort of feel like you could just like send them a stern letter and then maybe donate the money to the victims of your other Peace Prize recipients or something — looking at you, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Anyway, that appears to have been the motivation behind Ahmed’s decidedly dated invite to Oslo and it’s creepy pastel-gothic City Hall. In 2018-19, the newly minted reformist leader had, according to Nobel’s website, made significant steps toward the empowerment of women, freed political prisoners, and “abolished press censorship.” But what many saw as the clinching achievement was his acceptance of an international arbitrator’s nearly two decade-old decision to award disputed territory to Ethiopia’s neighbor, Eritrea, a decision which Ahmed’s predecessor had rejected, fueling ongoing tensions between the two nations. 

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 2019

The Prime Minister’s call to bury the hatchet officially ended a so-called policy of “no war, no peace” which had represented the status quo between Ethiopia and Eritrea basically since the end of their 1998-2000 war. Okay, hold on a second though, because what the fuck does “no war, no peace” mean? That’s like the geopolitical equivalent of hitting the person you’re fucking with the ‘why does everything need to have labels’ spiel when they ask you ‘what are we?’ No war, no peace sounds like a college student’s relationship with their landlord, not the status of an actual fucking border crisis. Anyway, whatever, it’s clear that the Nobel people just wanted to offer positive reinforcement to the first Ethiopian leader to take promising steps toward democratization in decades. 

Boy do they look fucking stupid now, eh? Somewhat ironically, the warming of relations between Ethiopia and its former mortal enemy have been cited as one potential agitator in this new Tigray war because of historical animosity between the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Eritrean forces, even though critics have been quick to allege that very little of substance actually changed in the two countries’ practical relationship. Oh, the TPLF is the organization fighting against Ahmed in the war by the way, I guess I should have said that. I was getting there. 

Before Ahmed’s reforms, the government of Ethiopia was run by a coalition of four political parties called the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). It was not very democratic, but under this system, the TPLF was dominant, which makes sense since they were key in installing it, defeating The Derg (insane name), the previous junta, in 1991. The TPLF, under the banner of the EPRDF, ran a repressive regime until popular outcry led to the resignation of Ahmed’s predecessor, Hailemariam Desalegn in 2018. The TPLF opposed Ahmed’s appointment as leader of the EPRDF and consequently as default Prime Minister, but they lost pretty hard in the leadership election and there wasn’t much they could do about it other than be salty.

However, in 2019, in an effort to ditch the ethnic nationalist framework of the four-party ruling coalition system, the Prime Minister merged the coalition members into his new Prosperity Party. The TPLF refused to join, but continued administration of the Tigray region. Then, when Ahmed postponed elections scheduled for late August, 2020 on account of Covid, the TPLF labelled him illegitimate and held their own regional elections anyway. In response, Ahmed declared the elections illegal and reportedly blocked press access to the region for the election. The postponed election is now scheduled for Jun 5, by the way, though it's unclear if Ahmed faces any substantive opposition. 

At this point, you might start to notice a pattern. Especially after I tell you that, after the next escalation in the conflict which occurred on November 4, when TPLF attacked and captured the headquarters of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) Northern Command in the Tigrayan capital of Mekelle, as well as several military bases in the Tigray region. In response, Ahmed declared an active military operation against thee TPLF and, you guessed it, blacked out media access, and this time, reportedly began arresting journalists again. So much for "abolishing press censorship." 

The Tigrayan capital of Mekelle

And it gets worse cause this is when the massacres started. It's important to understand that access to this region is still incredibly restricted and, even though the ENDF took control of Mekelle in late November, violence continues to ravage the region. This means that while reports of mass atrocities in Tigray are frequent, they are also piecemeal and roll in almost daily, which makes them very difficult to keep track of. Take a slightly removed vantage point though, and the picture becomes clear: it is royally fucked out there. 

There are no emerging good guys in this war. The TPLF, The ENDF, federally aligned militiamen and security forces from the Amhara region on Tigray's Western border, as well as Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) whose presence in the region was initially denied and then admitted to by Ahmed have all been accused of the most heinous of crimes including mass rape, weaponized starvation, and mass extrajudicial killings, including some allegedly along ethnic lines. The TPLF was also accused of firing rockets on Eritrean cities, which is a war crime and also kinda Hamas' thing, guys, stepping on some toes with that one. I should clarify that a fair majority of these atrocities, however, have been attributed to government-aligned forces, in case you wanted to keep scores or something, you fucking freak. There have also been reports that Somalian soldiers were sent to train in Eritrea, alongside soldiers that are often conscripted into indefinite or near-indefinite national service, though Somalis rejects these claims. 

Fighting has also spilled out to the West and East of Tigray, in the Amhara and Afar regions respectively, where militants reportedly actively target civilians in the former and skirmishes have broken out with Somali regional forces in the latter. Sooo, it's chaos, basically, and if you don't believe me, I encourage you to seek out the reports, they are quite graphic and I'm sure they'll shut you up quicker than I could. 

The situation is fluid, as they say, and it's still a little hard to tell what's going on or who is going to come out on top, if anyone does, but there's one thing has remained consistent since the bloodshed began in earnest in November, and even before that: Abiy Ahmed doesn't want anyone to pay attention to what happens in his country, and he has a Trumpian disdain for the media to back that up. The Ethiopian government's count of civilian casualties in its mission to retake Mekelle was a whopping zero, but he apparently stopped repeating that number by February. It took him until March to admit that there were Eritrean soldiers in Tigray, even though everyone knew there were, and just last week his government revoked press accreditation for an Irish reporter working for the New York Times, according to the paper, who had been reporting on "horrendous sexual assault" and other atrocities the day before. In the letter rescinding his accreditation, the Times reported that government officials accused him of "fake news."

However, the story doesn't end there. Like an abusive partner, Ahmed consistently trades up to a more sympathetic position. First there were no civilian casualties, and then once the truth became undeniable, the civilian casualties had "caused much distress for [him] personally." First no ENDF soldiers had been involved in mass atrocities, then when the reports came out and showed that to be demonstrably false, he made a statement claiming that any ENDF soldier proven to be involved in such an atrocity would be "held accountable." At some point, we have to stop letting him walk all over us. We are a strong, independent public, and we don't need no Peace Prize winning, fast-talking, democracy-promising, responsibility-avoiding, extremely bloody military-commanding, gaslighting headass man to feel fulfilled. And maybe if we can get him to realize that, he'll focus a little less on still looking good in the papers and a little more on figuring out how to stop his whole fucking country from being murdered or raped or forced to leave, including by his own military. That would be nice, I think.



Colman Brown
Instagram: @jacquesrockhard



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