There are a lot of unanswered questions about the war in Ethiopia. Let me pose one more: who stands to gain across the region?

Ten years ago the then-Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi told me, “my nightmare is that we should have an Egyptian agenda financed by Gulf money.” He didn’t foresee state-of-the-art military technology as part of that nightmare.

The crucial military difference between the Federal army and the TPLF in the current war is armed drones flown from an airbase in Assab. A drone campaign of this nature will have required meticulous advance planning. The airbase is operated by the United Arab Emirates, formerly used as a base for its military operations in Yemen.

Under President Donald Trump, U.S. policy has been to give free rein to its key allies in the region—Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In a phone call with Israeli and Sudanese leaders on 23 October President Trump said, of Egypt and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, “And they’ll end up blowing up the dam.  And I said it — and I say it loud and clear, ‘They’ll blow up that dam’.” 

We don’t know whether President Trump was briefed about preparations for drone strikes in Ethiopia, but he certainly sent a loud and clear message to his allies in the Middle East. Those allies knew they couldn’t expect such latitude from a Biden Administration.

For Egypt, Ethiopia in turmoil is a return to the status quo ante before Meles was in government—something they desired. A strong Ethiopia challenges Egypt’s control over the Nile Waters and its agenda for influence in the region. Egypt also has a quarrel with the African Union, which suspended it after President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi seized power in 2013. (The AU automatically suspends governments that take power by unconstitutional means.)

For the UAE, a weakened Ethiopia as a commercial-military dependent would fit in with its overall designs on the region.

Let me reiterate: I am not assigning culpability or direct involvement to either of these countries. But they stand to gain.

The most immediate beneficiary of the war is the Eritrean president Isseyas Afewerki. He has longed for Ethiopia to be in turmoil. In the 1990s he described Ethiopia as like Yugoslavia, destined to fragment. His two biggest fears are the Ethiopian army and the TPLF. Today they are locked in mutual annihilation.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was perhaps a little naïve, to say the least, in embracing Pres. Isseyas as his security policy mentor. But the signal was clear, when, after signing the peace-cum-security pact between Addis Ababa and Asmara, the two men flew to Abu Dhabi to celebrate, and shunned the African Union summit that was held immediately thereafter.

Isseyas can declare innocence in the destruction of Ethiopia. He is discreetly silent while the country tears itself apart.

What is being destroyed is not just Ethiopia’s cohesion, but Ethiopia’s autonomy. It’s once-promising model of the developmental state in Africa is now history. The incoming Biden Administration will spend its time in office trying to manage the damage and won’t be able to pursue other goals.  And the norms, principles and institutions of a multilateral African peace and security architecture will be trampled underfoot as well.


Alex de Waal headshot

Alex de Waal is the Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Considered one of the foremost experts on Sudan and the Horn of Africa, his scholarly work and practice has also probed humanitarian crisis and response, human rights, HIV/AIDS and governance in Africa, and conflict and peace-building.

Photo: Chief Mass Communication Specialist Eric A. Clement, U.S. Navy March 05, 2007 Ethiopian National Defense Force 1st Lieutenant Ayella Gissa takes aim with an AK-47 assault rifle on a simulated enemy during a practical exercise as part of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa’s train the trainer course in Hurso, Ethiopia, December 27, 2006.

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21 Responses to Who Benefits from the Destruction of Ethiopia?

  1. Tsehmach says:

    Good read,
    The dictator of Eritrea has a long history of working whomever to advance his agenda. If I can understand a psycopath is that he has a goal to dominate the politics and power dynamics not only in Ethiopia but all the horh and beyond. The man has turned Eritrea into a prison country or North Korea of Africa and as far as Erireans serve him to advance his goals he is willing to expend them anytime. He always want to meddle with affairs of Ethiopia and the neighbors and yet not respect any legal or international laws. Though he was restrained during Meles Zenawi, PM of Ethiopia but he got new life with Abiy naive, ambitous and wanna be dictator in the making.
    Isaias Afewrki is teh architect of this civil war and what he is hopping to achieve with this , teh annihilation of TPLF and the weakening of Ethiopia that he might control but I pray to God that he wishes come to nothing for we have lost hundreds of thousands of young people from both Eritrea and Ethiopia for his warmongering and thirst of dominance in the horn of Africa. The man knows not the principles of Justice nor democracy.
    May God remove him soon before he turns Horn of Africa into bloody mess!

    • Tesfaye says:

      Abiy may be a wannabe dictator but the lionshare of political and civil strife is the responsibility of TPLF along with Abiy,OLF,NAMA and other political groups the Author coveniently ignores the culpability of TPLF.

  2. Aga says:

    Mr De Waal,

    This is not analysis. This is propaganda. The question is, why would you want to engage in such activity? For anyone seeing things with a clearer eye, TPLF’s demise would avert Ethiopia’s destruction. Your claim of the exact opposite is baseless. Also, you stated as fact that the drones are operated from Asseb, and that they are UAE owned, but you provide zero evidence for each claim. Do you really believe a word from TPLF? You know them, so you can’t be that naive. If you have any evidence other than their word, provide that. Otherwise, this too is propaganda on your part. You may be right that Eritrea may stand to gain from the demise of TPLF. But you forgot to mention that TPLF would do anything to get Issayas’ help in destroying Ethiopia if he would embrace them. They have done it before. In sum, you could do better than this even as a hired gun as some Ethiopians seem to believe, which I believe you are not.

    Have a good day Sir.

  3. Susu says:

    I see Qatar’s money all over this article.

  4. Aag says:

    You removed a comment posted this morning? I thought you were an intellectual. I am a scientist, where respect for an opposing view is sacrosanct. I am sorry I wasted my time commenting on your diatribe. I did not know you are so small.

    Goodbye

  5. Haile Daniel says:

    I have read Alex De Waal’s writings for some years now. I find them succinct and clear. This article is no different. I am not at ease with his willingness not to assign calpability knowing full well that the drones bormbing Tigray are owned and operated by UAE from its base at Assab. The UAE, Saudi Arabia and others have always been troubled to have a Christian Kingdom on the other side of the Red Sea. So Ethiopia’s fragmentation was their dream come true. It started with Eritrea and now continues the process of the break-up. Their goepolitical goal is now fulfilled. Their religious conversion attempt has also gained currency with Abiy’s dubious background. UAE got its base in Assab after the death of Meles. Meles would not have let UAE establish a military base with in stone throw away from the Ethiopian security zone. Abiy is their man probably under their pay as well. He may not have designed to break-up Ethiopia since he has no mental capacity to plan. But his actions are resulting in the potential fragmentaion. He is being assisted by Esayas in breaking up the country.

  6. Willie Wilson says:

    What evidence do you have to support your allegation that UAE drones are being used in the armed conflict in Ethiopia? The only source of the allegation is the TPLF. As a rebel group fighting the Ethiopian government, we must be careful in accepting its claims, just as we need to be skeptical of the claims the federal government makes. Your uncritical acceptance of the claim shows your bias. You have been a committed supporter of the late dictator and the TPLF. To answer your question, the TPLF instigated this armed conflict because it assumed, as it turned quite erroneously, that its attack on the Northern Command will create an all-out civil war that will enable it to return to power. Sure, Egypt would like to see a weakened Ethiopia and would support any group in Ethiopia that opposes the central government, as it once supported Meles Zenawi when he was engaged in a guerilla warfare against the military government. You also seem to endorse the presence of a well-armed group of fighters against the government. The presence of another army under the command of a political party in any country is unacceptable. You would have supported that when the TPLF was in power in Ethiopia.

  7. I am wondering why the Tigray people are bombarded?
    People shouldn’t be judged for choosing their leader, or do their political affairs legally and legitimate wise. Abiy bombarded to Tigray because tigraian people believe in democracy ( did election contextualizing participation and decision).
    Above all, Tigray people preferred election fearing Abiy is not their government. They come to this conclusion:
    1. Because he tried to blame Tigrians for every sabotage and crime happened in the country in the past 27 years.
    2. Abiy remain silent when “mafias” blocked the road of Tigray to Addis.
    3. Abiy expelled Tigrian politicians from Addis ( minstrial and vice level) and people of Tigray did not had representatives in most of the Abiy political and economic affairs.
    4. Abiy nullify the achievement of Tigray people, they fought for 17 years to over throw the dictator government “Derg” but Abiy said Derg didn’t demolished by Tigray people but failed by himself.
    Its due to this Tigray people lost confidence and preferred to elect their own government maintain their voting and independence rights granted by the constitution.
    In return Abiy bombarded civilians, and for all this crimes Abiy should be judged. This is a genocide on one community. In the absence of legitimate government who is cruel about citizen, deconstructing a region, and horrifying its people world leaders and humanitarian agencies should help.
    Tigrya people need safety net not a bullet. World leaders and UN agencies should save the lives of Tigrians.

  8. Tsed says:

    You are so wrong. We Ethiopians are so eager for the war to be over, but we won’t shed a drop of tears for TPLF, your pals. We feel that this war is God send, His intervention to save the nation and us as people. The question is, why would people like you want to see us abused forever by these thugs? Why you would serve few sick people who, for, us Ethiopians, are worse than the devil itself? Please, stop! Please, please don’t spread lies no more.

  9. Giday Beshue says:

    I and the entire my family are I. Distress. We are the here in the USA as the result of the protracted war during the fascist Mengistu. The war in Ethiopia is again the same, repeating itself and the Abiy Government is killing civilians in Tigray. PM Abiy’s policy- Ex-communicate created social distress and as a result I am unable to get in touch with my family. May the mighty GOD come to help us.

    I wish and pray, people like you would create a strong team to help the helpless ✅

    God bless✅

  10. Riba Anseba says:

    Agree the dictator in Asmara is the architect of the current destruction of ethiopia. Abit Ahmed is fighting to build his empire where he can play dictator. Obviously egypt and the wealthy arabs in collaboration with issu as are dismantling the nation.i hope Abit will be stopped before the situation becomes irreversible.

  11. enbur says:

    Only TPLF will benefit from the destruction of Ethiopia. TPLF thinks they will sustain if Ethiopia is destroyed. That is why they attacked the Ethiopian Defense Force and tried to steal Ethiopia’s military capacity. You know that is a black and white truth but you wish TPLF’s crime be hidden by repeating lies

  12. Tona says:

    I think the so called Hort Africa expert do not know that TPLF is a terrorist. Ethiopia will be much stable and strong after TPLF. In fact UAE can not provide Ethiopia drons since they will potentially could be used on Egypt, its strategic ally. Tona

  13. selam says:

    I always like your comments and the deep knowledge of the Horn.I like your books too an excellent writings.
    I can understand the mistrust between Abiy and the TPLF, but to involve a foreign military intervention is a national treason committed by Mr. Abiy having Eritrea took a fight on your own civil war is a total crime.
    He purposely extend the election and all the peace agreements signed with Isayas was fake just to buy time to crush the Tigray people.
    All Ethiopian should be aware that the country will not stay together unless things are stopped before it goes to far.

  14. Geleta Gammo says:

    Despite your effort I am afraid to say you have not understood the social and political dynamics of Ethiopia. You were mesmerized by TPLF and Meles Zenawi as every one else you missed everything ele.
    For example the ethnic cleansing that was going for almost 3 decades. It started in Wolquite Mai-Kadra and it seems may the end of Meles’s legacy may have started in May- Kadra.

    If you study the killing in May-Kadra and the killing of the armed force it will unlock for you the secretive world of TPLF.

    The people in May-kadra were killed by TPLF affilated Tigrean youth group called Samri. The people who died are Wolquites. The indigenous population of the area. This area was part of Gondar Amhara region. TPLF annexed this area to have access to outside world for eventual succession from Ethiopia. They not only annexed but the committed ethnic cleansing of the Amhara and Wolquite population in the area and brought Tigreans from Tigray (the highlands) to affect demographic change. Most of them were former TPLF combatants.

    The had a plan to annex the more land in Wesetern Amhara region bordering Sudan and connect with Benshangul and Gumuz at the end cutting the Amharas off from outside world. They did not make their plan secret. They made text books and thought in schools in their respective areas. Most of the inhabitants in Benshagul are Amahra. They brought many Tigreans to that area and they started systematic ethnic cleansing that still going on in that area.

  15. wedinakfa says:

    Selecting commentary shows the weakness of the analyst, expected form TPLF stooges.

  16. Berhanu Lemma Woldehawariat says:

    I have always had a feeling of admiration and gratitude toward Alex de Waal on account of his scholarly contributions that focus on the complex political and security environment in the broader Horn of Africa region. His 2015 book, “The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa”, was one that pioneered a new perspective and approach by which people like me could better understand the real forces driving the regional conflict dynamics, past and present. What I have always thought to be the most remarkable is, as demonstrated in the books, Mr. de Waal’s apparent sense of justice for and solidarity toward the poor victims of violence perpetrated jointly by those who wielded absolute political authority and those who fielded immense fire-power. I could mention much more of such enviable exploits as Mr de Waal has so liberally enjoyed among the intellectual circle in the region and beyond to which I proudly claim to belong. It is, therefore, with so much sadness that I say I am dumbfounded at what I have read in the article above. Let me only say this to Mr. de Waal: If the late Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, had had any plan that was noble and beneficial for Ethiopia – a plan that would make it a strong, united sovereign country – we never knew it. That is, he never revealed it to, or shared it with, his countrymen. He may have been a close friend to you – and some other outsiders like you – but he never was to the majority of Ethiopians whom he regarded ethnically inferior, an enemy, and, thus, liable for conquest.

  17. Eric Bremen says:

    What is your evidence beyond the claims made by the TPLF that:

    (1) Drones of the UAE are being used
    (2) These drones are effective

  18. Addis Folk says:

    TPLF when established had a dream of independence. But, later it revised its manifesto to rule the country in a camouflaged coalition named EPRDF. TPLF led Ethiopia for 27 years in nepotism and when it is removed from power it started destruction. Abiy Ahmed’s military pact with Isayas to contain the power of TPLF may not be wise but necessary. I know you have empathy for this group, but for some of us in Ethiopia, defending TPLF is like defending the white leadership of the appartied era.

  19. Yemane Desta says:

    Very decent and in depth factual analysis. Thank you. I am sure you don’t expect the those who are directly or indirectly supporting this war (and of cousre a clear genocide) is wrong! They will say and do whatever they can until they face justice. They are deeply immersed in it. So, keep up the good work and let the world know the mist under-reported crime against humanity, which ultimately will create obvious instability and unthinkable collapse of East Africa. God forbid!

  20. Frank Rispin says:

    Line 3 tells it all. This guy pretends to be neutral well informed academic.
    In reality he was a close friend of dictator Zenawi and a fervent support of the TPLF.
    It is typical of the UK media that they publish his articles on Ethiopia which totally ignore the 27 years of TPLF State Capture and the last two years in which the TPLF have tried every trick to undermine or kill Dr Abiy, including their liaison with multi murderer Jawar Mohammed in the June/July attempted Coup.
    He also ignores all Abiys attempts at negotiation.
    In the academic world of University Global Studies he is laughed at for this sheer bias.

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