Ethiopia on the Very Brink of Civil war and Breakup: Déjà Vu 1977 All Over Again

Ethiopian top leaders in 1980 from left the strongman Major Mengistu Hails Mariam: Brig Gen Tafari Banti and Lt. Col. Atnafu Abate take salute at Military parade. In the background are the rest of the 120 members of the Ethiopian Military rules - the Derge. Credit: Camerapix © Keystone Pictures USA/

Somalilandsun: Abye Ahmed’s order to attack Tigray federal state rejecting international mediation resembles, when Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam rejected General Aman Mikael Andom’s suggestion to the peaceful resolution of the Eritrean problem by talking with the EPLF (Eritrean People’s Liberation Front) in 1977.  An all-out war in Ethiopia will lead to an unprecedented inter-ethnic warfare all over Ethiopia and the potential break up of that country.

An internecine war in Ethiopia will have devastating and rather seismic repercussions on the greater Horn of Africa region and beyond. Abye Ahmed’s rush to an unwinnable war against a very powerful foe-the TPLF (Tigrian People’s Liberation Front),  the powerful revolutionary army that marched into Addis Ababa in 1991 and brought down the brutal Marxist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam is a gross miscalculation. The Tigrians are well-armed and battle hardened warriors who will keep fighting to the last man. Today th

e attack on Tigrai marks the beginning of the end of Ethiopia as we know it. Abe Ahmed’s attack on Tigrai region does not look like the Ethiopian attack on the upstart ELF (Eritrean Liberation Front) led by Osman Salah Sabi that started their liberation war in 1961, but looks more like 1988 when a very powerful, and well-armed EPLF led by Isias Afwerki the current Eritrean leader has decisively defeated the Nadew command in the battle of Afabet.

The EPLF defeat of the powerful Ethiopian Nadew Command was the turning point in the 30 years Eritrean struggle for independence. The battle of Afabet was the largest Ethiopian forces base, and the fighting continued raging from March 17 through 20 March 1988 in and around the town of Afabet. The EPLF defeat of the Ethiopian forces in the Nadew command which was one of the biggest and strongest commands of the Derge regime deployed to confront and annihilate the EPLF force. That battle marked the beginning of the end of the Ethiopian occupation of Eritrea and the eventual liberation of all Eritrea. Basil Davidson a seasoned British expert on African Liberation Front called the battle of Afabet the greatest and most decisive battle in the world since the Dien Bien Phu battle in Vietnam whereby the Viet Minh (Vietnamese Liberation Army) defeated the French colonial forces.


It was 1974 when age old Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie was ousted by the Ethiopian military led by Generals, Tafari Benti, Atnafo Abete, Aman Andom and Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. All the above-named generals have been gunned down by Mengistu in an apparent power struggle and disagreement over the execution of the Eritrean war. The Generals and especially General Aman Andom was a decorated veteran who an Eritrean proposed to Mengistu who was the main man behind the military coup that deposed Haile Selassie to start peace negotiations with Eritrean liberation movement-the EPLF. Unfortunately Mengistu did not listen to General Andom’s advice that was immediately gunned down by Mengistu Haile Mariam. Mengistu’s mad dash to military solution regarding Eritrean question caused continued destructive war and the eventual defeat of his army, the liberation of Eritrea, and his ouster from power by the TPLF in1991. The TPLF are the current rulers of Tigrai region of Ethiopia. Addressing Ethiopia on TV on the 4th of November, 2020 Abe Ahmed announced that his forces have sustained losses in the attack on Mekele, the Tigrai region’s capital, and Dansha town. The TPLF had been the dominant party of the Ethiopia’s governing coalition the EPRDP before Abe Ahmed took office in 2018and announced sweeping political reforms that won him the Noble Peace Prize last year. After he came to power; the TPLF, felt marginalized, and left the coalition last year. According to independent sources the Tigrai region has a strong military force.

The actions of the new Ethiopian rulers are no different than the actions of their brother’s rulers of the past. Certainly all this solid evidence is a self-fulfilling prophecy, that Abe’s Ethiopia is not different than the Abyssinian and Axmite empires of the past. There may be a slight difference in style, but in substance their overall foreign policy goals remain the same. Superficially the current Ethiopian rulers look like less aggressive than his processors.

According to a report by the United States Institute of Peace the fragmentation of Ethiopia would be the largest state collapse in modern history, likely leading to mass interethnic and interreligious conflict and a humanitarian and security crisis in the Horn of Africa. The dangerous escalation Abe Ahmed has embarked on could potentially turn into cataclysmic war on Africa’s second most populous country and that may send shock waves, and refugees, into other Horn of Africa countries and beyond.

The author Prof.Suleiman Egeh is a freelance writer, political analyst and a senior science instructor.