The Arid Horn between War and Draught

Radio Erena: 03 June 2022

As if the scorching heat of summer and the imminent famine that is hovering over Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya weren’t enough, the Horn of Africa region is rapidly plunging into a renewed hateful armed confrontation between Eritrea and Tigray.

Peaceful intervals are really short-lived in this region which sits on a volcano. In a recent eruption, Tigray Central Command issued a press release last week saying that the Eritrean army launched an attack on its forces in Adi Awala, 40 km south of the famous Badme town.

According to the release, which was not verified by a third party, the Eritrean troops suffered heavy casualties in arms in personnel. Two brigades of the 57th and 21st divisions (Kifli Serawit) have launched the foiled attack, as a result, a brigade commander and hundreds of soldiers lost their lives the release said.

The release further warned forcefully that Tigray Defense Forces will be “obliged to defend and protect its territory if Eritrea doesn’t’ stop committing atrocities on innocent civilians.”

Reuters quoting a UN internal document said that a 14-year-old girl died, and several other civilians were injured in shelling in the vicinity of Shiraro.

Asmara maintained the silence of the dead with no statement coming from the Ministry of Information, the mouthpiece of the Eritrean government. Sources in the southern part of Eritrea closer to the Ethiopian border confirmed to Radio Erena that the sporadic shelling between the Eritrean artillery units and Tigray army units south of Seanfe last month forced villagers from both sides of the borders to flee.

As fears loom large that the border armed confrontation might turn into an all-out conflict, more than 16 million people are at risk of a massive famine (which could be the worst in 40 years) in the southern parts of the Horn. Al Jazeera live reports from the draught-hit areas in Somalia are distressingly alarming.

Natural and manmade disasters are tightening the noose on the necks of the peoples of the Horn. War immediate and subsequent tragic costs can’t be disputed. A diplomat in Paris linked the renewal of skirmishes between the Eritrean and Tigrayan Defense Forces with the attempts to break the blockade on the northern region of Ethiopia by forcefully opening a corridor with Sudan. “Realizing that Tigray’s archenemy Isias Afwerki is the concrete base of the blockade,” he said, “Tigrayans wish to shatter his power base.”

According to him, a dispute exists between Tigray military strategists as to what to handle first: Isias Afwerki and his rule; or to knock down the blockade wall in the west. “It seems that the party which proposes an open confrontation with Afwerki is gaining ground.” He added. He didn’t hide his fears when he concluded with a pessimistic remark: “this time it could be awfully bloody, and the world won’t give damn care with the war reeling on in Ukraine. This war will be fought in the dark.”

For quite some time bigots from both sides (Eritreans and Tigrayans) were engaged in a frenzied war-fanning over social media. While the Tigrayans promised to quash Eritrea and win the Red Sea, which they see as belonging to Tigray, the Eritreans, in turn, promised to bury, once and forever, the dream of greater Tigray (Hilmi Abay Tigray). Both sides are consciously adding more fuel to the raging fire.

On the other hand, the Eritrean official war propaganda echoed in the fervent folk songs and dances and fiery speeches put the Eritrean Defense Forces at the forefront as the defender of the motherland. Afwerki himself is indefatigably trying to portray the war as a national war of self-defense like the past struggle for independence; rather than the real and unending personal vendetta which marked his relations with Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) from the 1980s.

Internally, this national narrative of “nation’s war” is faced with doubts and embarrassing questions such as: “Why should the Eritrean youths be rounded up from their own homes to defend their nation by force?” “Are they treacherous? or are they not sufficiently equipped to shoulder their national duties? And what logic rest behind ‘forcing’ a nation to defend itself?”

This conflict from its inception to its unknown end acerbically reflects the words attributed to Albert Einstein who prudently said: “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

It is now more obvious than ever before that all the warring parties are using the same thinking that has already engendered the problem; with no judicious solutions appearing in sight. Only the unavoidable human costs of the war and drought in the Horn of Africa will reveal the scope of the tragedies of such conflicts, just to make us learn our lessons the hardest way.

By Fathi Osman