This is a quick translation from Amharic of the main points of an assessment of the current national security situation in Ethiopia by Bernau Nega’s part, Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice party’s assessment .
Introduction – Ethiopia is currently facing complex national security risks and dangers that can be broadly classified as internal and external threats. This current security analysis has four parts and is primarily based on information gathered from individuals whose identity remains hidden (for security reasons). The first part focuses on national security risks, and the second on election risks, and the third on the path (የኢትዮጵያ ዜጎች ለማኅበራዊ ፍትህ – ኢዜማ Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice) should take and the last focuses on remarks the government can implement.
Part 1: Current National Security Threats
1. Internal Threats
1.1 The War in Tigray – The ongoing war in Tigray is between TPLF fighters and the federal government where Eritrea and the Amhara Special Forces are playing crucial roles. TPLF’s capacity for conventional war has diminished, however, since it started guerrilla warfare, it has become difficult for the ENDF and Eritrean army to destroy it. TPLF fighters are launching attacks from rural territories. The fact that TPLF’s key persons are not captured is becoming a moral strength for its fighters. Moreover, TPLF’s popularity among the youth across Tigray is leading many youth to join its ranks. These factors are prolonging the time frame of the war.
Without the support of the Eritrean army, the ENDF does not have the capacity to cover Tigray hence its inability to manage the war. The longer the war continues coupled with the pressure coming from the international community will shorten the presence of the Eritrean army in Tigray. If the Eritrean army withdraws from Tigray without the ENDF making necessary adjustments, it is believed that this scenario will provide a chance for TPLF fighters to reorganize leading to potential dangers.
The collateral damage of the war and its impact on civilians is driving the youth in Tigray to join the armed struggle. The human rights violations committed by ENDF and Eritrean troops have destroyed the trust the Tigray people have on the government. Besides, Tigray’s interim government initiatives do not match the crisis and need the war caused. The interim government including its leadership is filled by TPLF-sympathizers, which has made the process of separating TPLF from the Tigray people difficult and creating a favorable condition for TPLF.
TPLF is also working with its proxies in different parts of the country stretching the capacity and resources of ENDF. If the war in Tigray is not ending soon, it will create a dangerous threat for national security and the wider region.
1.2. Attempts to overthrow the government.
TPLF’s main objective is to regain its power in Tigray and collaborate with others to control the federal authority. Internally, OLF and other ethnic-based parties are considered partners. Outside the country, Tigrayans in the diaspora are believed to be TPLF supporters and include many who conduct diplomatic and propaganda tasks. TPLF, with its former proxies and partners, is working to destabilize the country, undermine Abiy’s government and targeting Professor Berhanu Nega. On the other hand, TPLF is also working to promote ethnic extremism, destroy Ethiopia and it is aiming to establish Tigray as well as Oromia as independent countries. TPLF is the primary national security threat.
Besides TPLF, OLF and Amhara Fano are sources of national security threats. OLF is aiming to establish Oromia as an independent/confederate nation and is increasing its capacity through the help it is getting from TPLF, neighboring countries, people and wealthy donors. OLF is also getting help from insiders in government structures and groups in South and North Sudan who supply it with arms. Atrocities committed by the government are pushing people to stand with OLF and is driving youth support. The Amhara Fano is mobilizing against the perception that Abiy’s administration is working to undermine the Amhara through killing and displacement. Fano has supporters from the Amhara Prosperity Party as well as the Amhara National Movement. It is organizing secret groups and conducting discussions and preparations in North Shewa, Gojam and Wollo with the aim of creating region-wide instability and control of the region, making it a source of national security threat.
1.3. Problems of the Prosperity Party
The current governing party, Prosperity Party, does not have a unity. Far from its claim of unity, it is divided among the Amhara and Oromia, Somali and Afar, Amhara and Benishangul-Gumuz, Sidama and South factions. Prosperity Party has many who do not accept Abiy for various reasons – this is especially common in Amhara and Oromia Prosperity parties. The APP lacks coherence and is divided along federal and regional officials. Even at the regional level, there are various groups with different interests and aims. They blame Abiy for the killings and atrocities against the Amhara in different parts of the country and call for his resignation. The region is highly influenced by the Amhara nationalist activists, wealthy donors, and interest groups whose influence is sought by the regional officials.
OPP, like the APP, is fragmented with the lower local structure disregarding the instruction coming down from the upper echelon of the party. OPP has a large number of Jawar supporters and OLF-sympathizers, and those who oppose Abiy and want to replace him with Lemma Megersa. There are many who are accusing Abiy of working to promote the Amhara supremacist (Neftegna) ideology and are conspiring against Abiy’s administration and working with armed groups in Oromia. This is a source of threat for national security.
Religious and communal/tribal/ethnic extremism are some of the pressing issues of Ethiopia. There is a concerted effort to spread Islamic extremism and politicized Islam across the country. Compounding the challenges, the country is facing, these initiatives are supported by a network of wealthy donors in different towns and are working through mosques, private houses, hotels and conference arenas. These networks are believed to have close relations with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In recent times ISIS, Al- Qaeda and Al-Shabab are working hard to plant themselves in Ethiopia. The security bodies in the country have to prevent these developments.
On the other hand, there is the development of extremism related to the Orthodox Church. This development is in reaction to the perception that the Church is becoming a target of various attacks especially in Oromia region where inter-religious conflict between Muslims and Orthodox Christians has occurred. Orthodox believers are increasingly becoming convinced that the government is unable to protect the Church against attacks and is leading to the development of religion-centered parties like Enat Party or Freedom and Equality Party. Religious extremism that has a political aim needs to be reigned over before it becomes an issue beyond control.
1.5. Weaknesses in Security and Intelligence Agencies
Security agencies in the country are seen to lack the capacity to predict and prevent conflicts and attacks. These agencies are open for infiltration that creates opportunities for active and sleeper cells that work for TPLF and OLF. Therefore, there is an urgent need for the intelligence community to improve its structure and stop the threats the country is facing.
2. External Threats
In relation to the GERD, Egypt is posing a serious threat to the national security of Ethiopia. Using its influence in international organizations, its influence in and through Sudanese officials, it is actively working to undermine the security of Ethiopia. Similarly, Sudan (North), perceiving that Ethiopia is in a weaker state, is claiming border areas even using military power. Issues with Sudan will complicate the existing issues pertaining to TPLF. Sudan is also behind the conflicts in Benishangul-Gumuz and its threat to the national security of the country should not be underestimated.
Part 2: Election Security Threats
Ethiopia is in the midst of the process of holding an election, which is marred by complex issues. The internal and external threats discussed above will impact the election process, leading the country either to more positive and peaceful transition of power or plugging the country to further instability. There are two broad categories of groups: there are those that are working to undermine the election and those actively participating, while recognizing its limits. The former include TPLF, OLF, OFC are involved in activities that are aimed to undermine the election and legitimacy of the process through sabotage, propaganda, and if possible coup against Abiy’s administration. The second groups includes EZEMA and Prosperity Party, which engage in the election but its different factions have diverse views on the legitimacy of the election.
There are other parties like Amhara National Movement, Freedom and Equality Party and Enat Party that are trying to capitalize on the shifting conditions of the election.
One primary source of national security threat is the election fraud being carried out by Prosperity Party bodies especially in areas where it is perceived that it will lose the vote.
Part 3: Policies EZEMA should follow
- Making the current government to have a uniform understanding of the national security threats.
- EZEMA should not call for the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray. Doing so will create a favorable condition for TPLF to regain its power. It should be known that calling for the withdrawal of Eritrean troops will compound the national security threat.
- EZEMA should create awareness about violence and conflict that aims to overthrow the government via coup.
- EZEMA should create awareness about ethnic/tribal and religious extremism.
- EZEMA should work to influence Prosperity Party to get rid of extremist elements in its organization.
- Preparing and creating awareness about national security threats and pushing for the intelligence community to take actions.
Part 4: Policy proposals for implementation
- Preparing counter insurgency strategies to combat armed movements in Tigray and Oromia.
- Preparing counter clandestine activities in the defense as well as the intelligence community.
- Capacity building of the intelligence community to conduct covert actions and operations.
See also Berhanu Nega’s Eritrean passport