Cracks on the Wall: The Fate of Afwerki-Ahmed Highway Alliance

Radio Erena: 03 March 2021

The Abiy- Isias alliance formed in the aftermath of the peace deal between the two leaders in summer 2018 has tripped over the hardline of piercing international condemnations and it is striding towards its fateful collapse.

The most recent and sharply worded denunciation came from the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken as he condemned the human rights violations in Tigray saying: “We strongly condemn the killings, forced removals and displacements, sexual assaults, and other extremely serious human rights violations and abuses by several parties that multiple organizations have reported in Tigray. We are also deeply concerned by the worsening humanitarian crisis.” Blinken’s statement didn’t stop there; it also ‘urged’ the “immediate withdrawal from Tigray of forces of Eritrea and Amhara’s militias. Blinken based his statement on the recent credible reports of grave human rights violations in Tigray, therefore, his call for an independent, international investigation into the violations came to support these reports and to warn the two allies of the scope of the crisis seen from Washington.

On Feb. 24, the special rapporteur, Mohamed Abelsalam Babikr gave a statement on the human rights situation in Eritrea. Commenting on the situation of the Eritrean refugees in Tigray he said:
“I have received information from credible sources that, as of November 2020, the situation of these refugees (Eritrean refugees in Tigray) and asylum seekers has become more precarious and worrisome. I also received first-hand accounts of allegations of grave human rights and humanitarian law violations, including extrajudicial killings, targeted abductions, and forced return of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers to Eritrea, allegedly by Eritrean forces.” These abductions were reported by Radio Erena on the basis of confirmed eyewitness statements.

The third irritating statement came from the European Union Special Envoy to Tigray, Finland’s foreign minister Pekka Haavisto. Addressing the EU on Feb. 23, he described the situation in Tigray as getting ‘out of control’; the envoy didn’t see a near end to the crisis as he said: “the operations (in Tigray) have lasted more than three months and we do not see the end.”

Such coinciding and multi-pronged condemnations are hitting hard on the wall of the alliance of Afwerki and Ahmed. The two leaders’ reactions to such condemnations are also driven by deep internal concerns.

The Eritrean president has developed icy and negligent responses to Western criticism. In the past twenty-eight years, Eritrea had frequently appeared in the Department of State reports because of accusations of insistent human rights violations. Nothing has changed as the country gave no heed to international blame. The Eritrean president is in a position of someone who has nothing to lose; he may as well ignore the current criticism and stick to his longstanding policies, at the end, Eritrea has no military or economic partnership with Western governments as to be scared of losing any of it. The indifference of Asmara’s leader could be understood as his country is a backwater and often overlooked in the diplomatic strategies of the heavyweights. When the Ethiopian army invaded a quarter of Eritrea’s land in summer 2000, the world paid no attention to the predicament of the country, its army, or its government.

Ethiopia, in turn, can’t tread the Eritrean ally’s path. The country has genuine economic and political partnerships with the West. The West has further blessed the reformation policies of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed; it went as far as endorsing his policies by awarding him the Nobel Peace prize, which turned out to be a premature move. Ethiopian prime minister can’t adopt his Eritrean ally’s strategies, although he has lately shown some fascination with his maneuvers. The Prime Minister is not appearing as required in media- a habit of his ally. Additionally, he gives information, especially on what’s going on in Tigray in drops. Finally, he has limited his participation in international conferences like his ally who doesn’t take part in summit conferences.

As a result, the impact of international condemnation is not equal on both capitals and leaders. The increasing international discontent of the human rights situation in Tigray may not upset Asmara’s leader; but it will no doubt weaken his ally, Abiy Ahmed. Furthermore, it will put more pressure on his alliance with the Amhara leaders; his local allies, who may find themselves at odds with him on both Sudan and Tigray issues.

Some Ethiopians believe that Abiy Ahmed is using a ‘foreign army’ to subdue his own co-citizens. The statement of general Belay Seyoum, the former commander of the Northern Command, in which he described the Eritrean troops as foreign forces and showed dismay at its presence in his country is a reflection of this mounting discontent.

As the two leaders’ responses to condemnations vary, so their boats will drift away from each other. Incessant hammering from within and without will no doubt bring the end of this alliance of convenience.

By Fathi Osman