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Ethiopia - still embroiled in internal civil strife - may be preparing for an invasion of Eritrea (which was part of Ethiopia until 1993)

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As if multiple simmering internal interethnic civil conflicts and a looming military confrontation with Egypt and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam weren't enough, the possibility of an Ethiopian invasion of Eritrea -- which fought a 30 year-long war for independence from Ethiopia from 1961 until 1991 -- has apparently increased significantly in recent weeks because the prime minister of Ethiopia has strongly made his desire for the country to obtain a port on the Red Sea abundantly clear.



Abiy Ahmed’s push for access to the sea has rattled his neighbours



Nerves are jangling once again in the Horn of Africa, just a year after the end of a brutal civil war in Ethiopia that led to the deaths of perhaps 385,000-600,000 people. Now foreign diplomats and analysts fear that in his bid to get a port on the Red Sea, Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s prime minister, risks sparking another conflict, this time next to one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.






In a jingoistic documentary aired on state television on October 13th, Abiy argued that landlocked Ethiopia must acquire a port on the Red Sea to break its roughly 120m people out of a “geographic prison”. Turning to history, he quoted a 19th-century Ethiopian warrior who had proclaimed that the Red Sea was the country’s “natural boundary”.


Ethiopia, Abiy noted, had indeed been a sea power with a navy and two ports, Massawa and Assab. It lost these along with the rest of its coastline in 1993, when Eritrea seceded to form a new country. Now, Abiy suggested, the moment was nigh to right a historic wrong. “It’s not a matter of luxury,” he insisted, “but an existential one.” Foreign diplomats say this reflects what Abiy has been declaring in private for months.


Ethiopia’s neighbours are rattled, particularly because Abiy had not raised the issue with them before making his threats. “The whole country thinks the man is mad,” says an adviser to Somalia’s president. A fight over ports would further destabilise a region already in turmoil. Sudan, Ethiopia’s neighbour to the west, has been plunged into what the un calls “one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history”. Fighting between two warlords there has forced almost 7m people from their homes. And Ethiopia itself faces simmering rebellions in Oromia, its largest and most populous region, and Amhara.


Abiy says that Ethiopia’s demands can be met through peaceful negotiations with its neighbours. Better to discuss the matter now, he argues, than to risk an armed conflict in the future. But Abiy has reportedly said in private that he is ready to use force if talks fail. “If it is not achieved by other means, war is the way,” says an Ethiopian official. A few days after the broadcast Abiy flexed his muscles with a military parade in the capital, Addis Ababa, in which the army displayed its new weapons including a Russian-made electronic-warfare system. Troop movements have been detected along both sides of Ethiopia’s border with Eritrea in recent weeks. A well-connected source in Addis Ababa says that the armed forces are exercising in preparation for another conflict. On October 22nd the head of the air force warned his troops to ready themselves for war.

Ethiopia’s Red Sea conundrum dates back to at least the start of its bloody border war with Eritrea in 1998. Though a ceasefire was reached in 2000, the two countries remained at loggerheads. Ethiopia could not ship goods through Assab and Massawa. Now 90-95% of its external trade flows through Djibouti, to which it pays some $1.5bn a year in port fees.




Another article that discusses this absolute mess of a situation that strongly correlates to Ethiopia's internal interethnic conflicts:



Increased military mobilization and belligerent rhetoric are raising the temperature in the Horn of Africa.



The Eritrean government and Amhara nationalists had sacrificed tens of thousands of troops, accrued high financial costs, become implicated in crimes against humanity and war crimes, and made bitter enemies in different parts of the Horn of Africa—all without attaining any of their political goals.




Abiy Ahmed had until recently not publicly responded to Eritrea’s internal meddling and violations of Ethiopian sovereignty. However, in the past weeks, the Ethiopian government has been agitating the public to restore what the prime minister calls Ethiopia’s “historic and natural right” to a Red Sea outlet. In addition to documentaries and public statements propagating the message that Ethiopia had been deprived of an inalienable right to a sea outlet, a military parade was held in Addis Ababa recently where soldiers were chanting, “The sea is ours, and the ship is ours.” Although Eritrea has not been mentioned by name in these statements, it is implicitly understood that it—and specifically its Assab Port—is the target of the messaging. 


Abiy Ahmed’s irredentist rhetoric is not simply a response to Eritrean President Afwerki’s recent provocations. Instead, it is part of a long-held nostalgia for Abyssinian imperial history. Abiy sees Ethiopia’s imperial past as a model to be emulated in the present. In particular, his rhetoric indicates that he considers it imperative to restore what he sees as Ethiopia’s lost territory, prestige, and status as a unique civilizational state. 





Despite the rhetoric, several factors may still deter Ethiopia and Eritrea from escalating their conflict to a full-scale war. The Ethiopian army is bogged down in the Amhara region and is still recovering from the war in Tigray. The Eritrean military also lost many troops in the last war and would unlikely want to confront a well-resourced Ethiopian army under the leadership of experienced Tigrayan commanders. 


On the other hand, a tit-for-tat escalation and a strategic culture characterized by deep suspicion may lead one of the parties to conduct a pre-emptive strike that escalates to a full-blown war. Moreover, beyond rhetoric, there are also indications of practical preparations for war. This includes increased shipments of weapons from the UAE and the export of new drones from Turkey to Ethiopia. Increased mobilization of troops on both sides of the border has also been reported. Both the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments have also been busy trying to appeal for the support of local leaders from the Afar people who reside on both sides of the common border.   


The last time Ethiopia and Eritrea went to war, the conflict lasted two years and cost an estimated 100,000 lives. The current war can potentially plunge the entire region into a crisis that results in both states collapsing. It would also have repercussions beyond the two countries. A war between Ethiopia and Eritrea would incentivize regional actors from both the Horn of Africa and the Middle East to support their allies. Notably, the UAE has emerged as a strong ally of Ethiopia, while Eritrea has been busy trying to mobilize diplomatic support from Saudi Arabia. It could also destabilize the narrow Bab el-Mandeb strait on the Red Sea through which some 6 million barrels of oil pass daily. Despite these worrying trends, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the wider Horn of Africa region are receiving scant attention from the international community. 



This video was posted only yesterday:



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  • Commissar SFLUFAN changed the title to Ethiopia - still embroiled in internal civil strife - may be preparing for an invasion of Eritrea (which was part of Ethiopia until 1993)

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