New Realities in Ethiopia by Alex de Waal

There’s a new reality in Ethiopia: the Tigray Defense Force has defeated the Ethiopian National Defense Force.

In a series of battles over the last two weeks, the TDF has broken the back of the ENDF and taken control of most of Tigray. The armed forces do not possess the leadership, capacity, resources, or time to rebuild from their recent rout.

PM Abiy Ahmed has been taking the line that the troubles in Tigray are only a road bump on the track to a great Ethiopia. It appears that the road bump has broken the chassis of his great Ethiopian project.

If Abiy acts according to form, he will deny the reality, blame everyone except himself, and ratchet up the level of incitement and vengefulness. Given that those are the habits that have got him – and Ethiopia – into this crisis, it seems probable that more of the same will only deepen the problem, perhaps to a point at which the country cannot recover.

Having long dismissed any calls for a ceasefire, the Ethiopian government has declared a ‘ceasefire.’ It’s an empty statement.

Prime Minister Abiy and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen don’t have an army in Tigray capable of firing a shot.


The Ethiopian ‘ceasefire’ keeps Eritreans in occupation of substantial parts of Tigray and has no provisions for humanitarian access.


They declared a unilateral ceasefire because they don’t want to open negotiations with the TDF/TPLF. But that is what they will have to do if they are serious about the political future of the country.

A ceasefire can mean many things.

The Ethiopian ‘ceasefire’ keeps Eritreans in occupation of substantial parts of Tigray and has no provisions for humanitarian access. It could be an armed truce to try to rearm while continuing to use hunger as a weapon, blockading Tigray.

A peace mediator would want the parties to negotiate on a full package of items to constitute a comprehensive ceasefire. These would include protection of civilians, humanitarian access, release of prisoners, redeployment of foreign forces out of the contested zone, third party monitoring, investigation of war crimes and steps towards political negotiations.

Abiy managed to sustain the myth that he was a victorious warrior for just long enough for him to win acclaim from an electorate desperate for a strong leader. He could use that mandate to reverse course and negotiate with the TPLF/TDF on equal terms. Such humility is necessary but would be out of character.

The TDF won its battles without external support, though it was helped on its way by some remarkable miscalculations by the ENDF generals, and probably by Abiy himself.

The TDF has not yet engaged the Eritrean Defense Force at scale. The EDF is a tougher proposition than the ENDF. President Isaias Afewerki may decide to deepen his involvement in Ethiopia, thereby escalating and broadening the war, or he could decide instead to withdraw. Isaias will take that decision solely in his own interest, but the TDF could also force his hand, as their view is that they cannot be secure while he remains in power, and they have a better chance of a decisive military victory while the EDF is inside Tigray.

The last eight months of slaughter, atrocity and destruction have demonstrated two elementary truths. First, the war has proven the old TPLF adage that a people, politically aware, mobilized, and armed, cannot be ruled against their will. Second, it has shown that the dream of a great martial imperial Ethiopia was a dangerous illusion, and those who believed in it have led their country towards collapse.

There should be a ceasefire – but not the empty words of the Federal Government today. What’s needed is a comprehensive ceasefire as the basis for protecting civilians, ending famine, removing Eritrean forces, and bringing about a definitive political settlement.


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.

8 comments

  1. The man who called Ethiopia “a myth” commenting on Ethiopian affairs. We all know your deep and undying hatred for our country. Every single word you said above is a testament to that. It is also remarkable how you dictated the future course of events with all that familiar “I know it all, I tell it all” Anglo suffocating arrogance. But I have news for you. The Ethiopian people, the overwhelming majority, that were invaded by this inhumane, ethnic, sadistic, evil party TPLF all to be butchered, looted, evicted, and humiliated 27 years know their pain. They don’t expect you to understand it either. I know you can wail all day for the 36 killed at Mahebere Deigo, or the 40 at Dengolt, but the 700 butchered in Bishoftu, including my nephew (17) for you were just a 30 second bleep on the nightly news. According to you, TPLF vacates Mekkele it’s a tactical withdrawal, but if the government does it, it’s a route. But I guarantee you the can was just kicked down the road. As long as sadistic TPLF is not destroyed & the criminals pay for their savagery it will all return a 1,000 times more. By the single fact you forgot to mention the 3 million Tigrayans living all over Ethiopia, it shows how narrow minded and skewed your political thinking is.

    1. As a Tigrian, there are two facts I want to highlight to you. First, TPLF was/is against the core interest of the people of Tigray. Second, apprehending TPLF criminal clique was used as the obvious excuse to destroy/subjugate the people/livelihood of Tigray and pave the way to the political order envisioned by Abiy & Co. (foreign + domestic).
      At this time, I believe it is best for people (you/me…) to adhere to basic humanity against an ever decadent/rotten politics and irresponsible political personalities.
      Unless we try to acknowledge the suffering/death of innocents, at the very least, it will be an endless cycle of trading pain.

      Sincerely.

      1. አይ ወንድሜ እርሱ ድሮ በነፃዲቁ ዬሐንስ ጊዜ ቀረ ። አያቴ ስታጫዉተኝ እናትዋን ያሳደጉ እሳቸዉ ነበሩ ንግስተ ነገስታት ዘዉዲቱ ራስ አርአያሥላሴን ያገቡ ጊዜ ብቻዋን አትሁን አብራት ትሂድ ተብሎ ። እናቴ አንድ ቀን ምኒልክ ሃይለሥላሴን ጃንሆይ ሳትል ሞተች ለስዋ ዘላለማዊ ጃንሆይ አፄ ዬሐንስ ነበሩ አለች ። ሸዋ የመጡ ጊዜም አርባአራት ታቦት ተሸክሞ መሬት ስሞ ነዉ የተቀበላቸዉ ። ለምን ቢሉ ኢትዬዺያዊ ናቸዋ ። አገሬ ኢትዬዺያን አሳልፌ ከምሰጥ በቁሜ ጉድጎአድ ብገባ ይሻለኛል ይላል ለቪክቶሪያ የፃፉት ሊማሊሞ መላሽ አለዉሃ መላሽ አይልም ። እንደዚህ ያሉትን ገድሎ ነዉ ወያነ ጨፍጭፎ የጎሣ ሠራዊት ያዘመተብን ይቅር የማይባል ወንጀል የተሰራብን ። ከትግራይ ነኝ ያልከዉ ትግራይ በመኖሩ ነዉ ። የኛን ግዙፉን ሸዋ ሃያ ሚሊዬን የሚኖርበት ሺህ ዘመን የኖረዉን የስንት ስንት ጀግና አርበኛ ሃገር በተራ ምቀኛነት ለአራት ከፋፍለዉታል ። እና አንተ አንድ ከሚሊዬን ነህ ሌላዉ በነሱ መርዝ የተበከለ ቢጫ ባንዲራ አምላኪ ጠላት ነዉ ።

  2. Dear Alex

    I believe you understand Tigray very well. However, I don’t think you have been following what has been going on in the rest of Ethiopia, particularly the Oromia and the southern nations. That is why you think Abiy has an electoral mandate and give credence to Abiy’s sham elections. He has none of that. He is ruling through brute force, lies, sham elections, and Dergue style red terror. He is the source of the problem. He must go, for Ethiopia to get peace.

  3. Tigrayans is crying of famine: my son is dying of famine, my mom is dying of famine… How can you fight with such people?

    1. Tigray has the same mentality that American revolutionists had. Live free or die!!
      It is not worth living without freedom and the right to self-determination. That is why we will arm all able-bodied Tegaru in a similar fashion to revolutionary United States. The U.S may or may not be past the point of tyranny, but Tigray certainly is not, as a result, our version of a second amendment will be non-negotiable.

  4. ALEX DEWAAL , FOR STANDING WITH THE VICTIMS!!!
    THE GALEN TS ARE DOING THEIR BEST FOR THEIR BEST RIGHTS AGAINST THEIR INVADERS FOR THE LAST EIGHT SOLID MONTHS. THEY HAD SMASHED THE HUTUS FROM RUWANDA. BURUNDI. THE CHARLES REBELS FORM LIBERIA, THE SUDANY MILITANTS FROM DARFUR. THEY ARE SORT OF PEACE AND STABILITY IN AFRICA. THEY HAVE SMASHED THE FORMER ERITREAN ARMY SOME TWENTY YEARS AGO IN BADME. SOMALIS IN THEIR COUNTRY. AND NOW,THEY SMASHED THE EAST AFRICAN COM BIND FORCES. STILL THEY WILL CONTINUE THEIR COMMITMENT FOR THE REGIONS PEACE AND STABILITY.

  5. If 700 were butchered in Bishoftu, then you should give the credit to Abiy and the Orom parties that were in rule, why are you so disillusioned that you have to blame the Tigrians for crimes committed by yourself. Either you are an idiot or a sick disillusioned person who fabricates history.

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