June 20, 2021
Nowadays, many Ethiopians are asking whether Ethiopia is a failed state. For some, the answer is yes. For others, it is business as usual. If we must choose between the two, we side with the former rather than the latter. Barring an extraordinary reversal of fortune, we believe, Ethiopia will likely fail in the not-too-distant future.
Technically, Ethiopia does not fully meet the definition of a failed state. According to Britannica, “A failed state is a state that is unable to perform the two fundamental functions of the sovereign nation-state in the modern world system: it cannot project authority over its territory and peoples, and it cannot protect its national boundaries.”
On the first point, the central government is still in control of most regions in the country, however tenuously. On the second, Ethiopia cannot protect its national boundaries as evidenced by the presence of the Eritrean army and security forces in the country. The country is unlikely to regain full military strength anytime soon and assert authority over all of Ethiopia for two reasons.
First, the country has lost so much of its military power that was stationed in the north due to the conflict in Tigray. UAE drones are believed to have destroyed most of the military equipment taken over by the TPLF. But the loss is not limited to just military hardware, but also personnel. To wage the war in Tigray, Abiy Ahmed expelled all Tigrayans from the military, instantly degrading its capability substantially. More importantly, numerous third-party reports indicate the Ethiopian military continues to lose by attrition in the conflict in Tigray.
Second, the war in Tigray will likely intensify in the months and years to come draining whatever resources the country has. The Ethiopian military and its internal and foreign allies are already relegated to a few towns in Tigray as we write. They may leave Tigray proper at some point, although the war will continue. In the meantime, if another major conflict should materialize, either internally (for example, the escalation of conflicts in Oromia and Amhara) or externally (primarily Sudan and Egypt), the game is over.
What is even more significant is the mindset of Ethiopians at this very moment. Currently, the different ethnicities that makeup Ethiopia are consumed by ethnic euphoria. Almost every ethnic group is now more obsessed with its own interests and defenses than Ethiopia as a whole. Despite the great hope that Ethiopians once had on Abiy Ahmed, the core of the central government is fundamentally ethnic and cares most about protecting and promoting one ethnic group – the Oromo.
The ethnic mindset has become so extreme that many Ethiopians did not care (in fact, some cheered) when Eritrean forces invaded the country and occupied Tigray. Many Ethiopians also did not care when some six percent of their population went through untold atrocities: mass killings, widespread rapes, and the wholesale destruction and looting of major economic structures. Whether we like it or not, those of us who are still in denial against mounting evidence are also complicit in the savagery the world has just witnessed.
The tragedy has created highly motivated and determined forces in Tigray who have nothing left but to fight and win. We are not talking about the TPLF here, but all Tigrayans, even those who opposed the TPLF for so long. Some of us may dismiss Tigray as a small region of Ethiopia. However, history teaches otherwise. An insurgency normally takes hold with the participation of just about five percent of a population, with the rest ranging from the sympathetic to the neutral to the opposing camps. Here, a full six percent of the Ethiopian population is committed and with fury. And this is on the top of other aggrieved parties of the last three years.
Isayas Afwerki once boasted that he gave Ethiopia a hundred-year assignment. By that, he was highlighting the ethnic minefield that awaited Ethiopia. This has become evident now, fulfilling his wish for a weak and divided Ethiopia. What is astounding is how many Ethiopians are treating him as a hero and a savior, rather than a villain. To long-term Ethiopian observers, the joyous welcome this ruthless dictator received in Addis Ababa on multiple occasions in the last three years is so sad and sickening.
A lot has happened under Abiy Ahmed. In just three years since he came to power, he has unleashed so many forces that are now threatening the unity and stability of the country. No ruler has gaslighted Ethiopia (and the rest of the world) more than Abiy Ahmed. All along, he said one thing and did another. He invited all sorts of foreign forces and mercenaries raking havoc all over Ethiopia. Ethiopia is yet to discover the full extent of his irresponsibility and cruelty before all is said and done. In the meantime, Ethiopia is hanging by a thread, waiting for a full political and economic collapse, absent divine intervention.