Is it possible that Prime Minister Abiy is adopting the strategy of the Chinese general Sun Tzu who argued in the Art of War that “The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy, so that he cannot fathom our real intent.”

The war that devastated Tigray and took so many lives from across the Horn of Africa ended on 13 November 2022 – almost exactly two years after it began.

Since then there has been real progress – up to a point.

The Ethiopian government has accepted Getachew Reda as the new leader of the Tigray region, endorsing his appointment on 23 March. Getachew Reda and several of his regional cabinet members were in Addis for a week, to hold discussions with federal authorities. They were also welcomed by the Oromia regional government.

Yet the day after Getachew and his team left for Mekelle the Tigrayan’s bitter enemies, the Eritrean government, sent the highest level military delegation visit Addis Ababa for years.

Senior Eritrean army generals and senior officials led by Brigadier General Abraha Kassa, Head of the National Security Agency, visited Ethiopia military establishments. “The central purpose of the current visit is to further consolidate the close ties of military cooperation that exist between the two countries,” declared Eritrea’s Minister of Information, Yemane G.Meskel.

During the visit, the Ethiopian military hosted a dinner at the Headquarters of the Ministry in honour of the Eritrean delegation. The dinner was attended by Abraham Belai, Ethiopia’s Minister of Defence.

Field Marshal Berhanu Jula, Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian Armed Forces, speaking at the event, said: “the support extended to us by the Eritrean people and its army when we were assaulted from behind can never be compensated by all standards and will remain in the annals of history…the bonds fostered between the two countries cannot be broken by any force”.

Eritrea’s Brigadier Abraha told the gathering that Eritrea had “no option but to play its part to thwart the prevailing threat and to contribute to the enforcement of legality when TPLF clique unleashed unprovoked, sudden, and treasonous military assaults on Ethiopia’s Armed Forces…Joint defensive measures and counter-attacks ultimately foiled three offensives the TPLF clique unleashed in two years.”

How much should be read into this? Are the links as strong as these remarks suggest? It is hard to tell.

What to do about the Amhara?

Now the Ethiopian Prime Minister has sent his troops into Gondar. The apparent aim is to force the integration of Amhara Special Forces into the Ethiopian army.

This is part of a wider and agreed approach to ‘reorganise’ of ALL regional special forces. The Somali region has just agreed to go down this route.

The Amhara Special Forces played a very substantial role in fighting the Tigrayans. Now they are prepared to strongly resist any attempt to reduce their independence. On Sunday 9th April there were large protests in Gondar.

This followed days of protest in other parts of Amhara, including and especially in Kobe.  

The BBC reports that this led to clashes:

It has led a partial curfew being imposed in the historic city of Gondar, while clashes have been reported between protesters and the military in Kobe town, near the border with the neighbouring Tigray region.

On Sunday, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed vowed to press ahead with his plan even if “a price had to be paid”.

Roads into and out of Amhara, have been blocked in an apparent attempt to prevent more ENDF troops entering Amhara.

The Ethiopian government responded by imposing a ban on all public gatherings and curtailing the movement of Amhara Special Force around Gondar, while an Ethiopian army’s Command Post has been established in the city.

So who are PM Abiy’s allies?

It is hard to make a great deal of sense of these developments.

  • On the one hand the Prime Minister appears to wish to re-establish relations with the Tigrayans.
  • On the other hand he wishes to maintain and even strengthen relations with the Eritreans – their sworn enemies.
  • Yet at the same time he is determined to bring the Amhara, who fought so fiercely against the Tigrayans, alongside the Eritreans, into line.

All of this comes as Ethiopia is attempting to find a way out of its economic mess by negotiating with the International Monetary Fund. Without a deal with the IMF debts will remain overwhelming. But to do so means persuading the Chinese to reschedule their loans to Ethiopia. Can this be done?

The role of Mamo Mihretu, the governor of the National Bank of Ethiopia, a loyal Abiy allie, could be critical. A former World Bank employee, he is said to have credibility with the international community.

Abiy Ahmed is playing a high-risk game, with many balls in the air all at the same time.

Is the confusion among his many enemies, or in his own administration? Hard to say.