Reasons the international community is unable to end the war in Tigray

Source: Ethiopia Insight

Reasons the international community is unable to end the war in Tigray

Global strategic interests and domestic politics in Ethiopia are impeding the ending of hostilities in Tigray.

The war in Tigray has resulted in a catastrophic humanitarian crisis. International and domestic observers had released reports on gang rapes, extrajudicial killings, destruction of property, and deaths from starvation.

On 19 November, the European Union announced, “Progress remains very limited in Tigray, fighting is ongoing, and humanitarian access is still being prevented.”

The United States and European countries have called for a cessation of hostilities and peace talks. These calls, however, have fallen on deaf ears.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC), where matters of conflict supposedly find a solution, cannot even make an official statement on Tigray. This is after discussing the crisis for the fifth time last week.

Why is the international community having difficulty resolving the most gruesome conflict that has profound security implications for the region?

Five reasons

First, according to a senior diplomat, who wishes to remain anonymous, “Ethiopia is too big to fail.” The argument goes, undue pressure on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his government will weaken an already stretched national army engaged in military operations in many parts of the country: from Metekel to Wellega and now in North Shoa

The fear is that if the Ethiopian government is pushed too hard, it might embolden other disgruntled groups to launch armed resistance.

Conflicts will then mushroom everywhere, and millions will become displaced. “A horror of unimaginable proportions,” according to the diplomat mentioned above. He is, of course, referring to the potential refugee flows out of the country and the creation of fertile grounds for terrorist groups to flourish.

Therefore, members of the international community are engaged in wishful thinking that somehow the war in Tigray will end soon, secretly hoping the federal government will emerge as the winner.

Second, members of the international community are hesitant to denounce Abiy Ahmed, someone they hailed as a political reformer and an economic liberalizer, so much to award him a Nobel Peace Prize just a year and a half ago.

How could they now turn and hold the same man responsible for the many atrocities committed by his soldiers or those he allowed and encouraged to march into Tigray undeterred: Eritrean troops and Amhara regional forces.

The powers to be are punching him with a velvet glove and no iron fist in it. The trips to Addis Ababa by the envoys and emissaries had not resulted in anything substantial apart from the proverbial diplomatic speak “we are deeply concerned about the situation in Tigray.”

Exceptions are when the United States publicly declared that ethnic cleansing is taking place in western Tigray, and the European Union withheld €88 million for development assistance. They are also demanding the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean troops and Amhara regional forces from Tigray’s territory.

Third, the international community, who in this case we can crudely call the “West,” has a somewhat checkered history when it comes to forceful interventions. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya are cases in point.

The military interventions in these countries have not turned out as expected. Peace and development are still far from being achieved despite the many lives lost and the billions of dollars spent rebuilding war-torn economies.

Fourth, there is no functional international mechanism to address a crisis of such magnitudes as the one we are witnessing in Tigray.

The UNSC failed time and again to provide the leadership where the responsibility to protect populations from war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing can be enforced. The ongoing wars in Syria and Yemen testify to this.

The international community sat back and let Syria destroy itself for a decade, with foreign forces actively participating in the conflict. Thousands perished, millions are displaced, and half of the country is razed to the ground.

World leaders are watching Yemenis starve to death slowly. Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump not only turned a blind eye to the suffering of civilians, but they also supported and struck arms deals with Saudi Arabia, one of the protagonists of the deadly conflict.

There is little hope that members of the UNSC will forge any compromise on Tigray either. The lack of willingness by China and Russia to reach a consensus continues to be a major stumbling block. They seem to be calculating the potential benefits lest Abiy Ahmed and his government pivot to the “East.” Striking exclusive deals on trade and investment with a county of Ethiopia’s size is a strategic trophy.

Finally, the international community recognizes that Prime Minister Abiy has significant domestic political support.

His allies come in different shapes and forms. Some see him as the avenger for the past human rights abuses committed by, ironically, the party he belonged to as a senior official: Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which has morpheme into the Prosperity Party, a party the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) refused to join.

Other supporters of Abiy include those who think he is restoring Ethiopia’s past glory by moving away from “identity politics”, which they claim has divided the country for three decades.

Although the recent cycle of violence against Amharas in various regions has made them critical of him, a considerable portion of the Amhara population is also grateful to Abiy Ahmed. He effectively allowed them to lay hold of large expanses of land in the Western and Southern Tigray regions.

Foreign governments, therefore, realize that punishing Abiy Ahmed and his party will have little impact. They fear he will run roughshod over them, relying on his domestic political capital coupled with a possible pivot to the East.

To sum up, members of the international community have put themselves in a real bind when it comes to ending the war in Tigray. The more they dither, the more they are accused of overlooking the horrific atrocities on civilians.

On the other hand, serious measures such as economic sanctions may harden Abiy and his government even further, losing him altogether to a state of pariah.

But, hard choices have to be made, and they have to be made swiftly and at all costs. Enforcing a ceasefire is the first step to protect civilians and stop the looming famine in Tigray.


  1. If these five points are the reasons why the west is incapacitated to take action on the on-going genocide on Tigre people, let me assure you this is goona be one more fiasco in the already injustice and black spot filled history of the west: and this time it is goona be the start of the decline of western civilization and hence their fall from the position of world leadership: for who ever folds his hands on injustice of fellow human beings can not lead.
    As to the points you enumerated, let me say few words about their invalidity.

    • “Ethiopia is too big to fall.”

    Who is failing Ethiopia except Abiy and his puppeteers – the Amara elites? All ethnicities love to be part of unified Ethiopia as EQUALS. Any one who doesn’t know this already should not be talking about Ethiopia.

    • “international community are hesitant to denounce Abiy Ahmed, someone they hailed as a political reformer and an economic liberalizer, so much to award him a Nobel Peace Prize just a year and a half ago”
    Well, they gave the medal for the wrong reason. Beyond doubt, it has been proven that what was hailed as a peace initiative was in fact preparation of genocide.

    • “the international community, who in this case we can crudely call the “West,” has a somewhat checkered history when it comes to forceful interventions”
    No doubt about the right and the wrong side in this case – Tigray genocide. Out come will be the win of the righteous eventually. Question is only after how long and how much blood: This is were the west can do good deed for the sake of humanity – including themselves.

    • “there is no functional international mechanism to address a crisis of such magnitudes as the one we are witnessing in Tigray.”
    What! Create one now. You got the power and means. Is your alternative to let millions perish?

    • “the international community recognizes that Prime Minister Abiy has significant domestic political support.”
    What a misrepresentation! His support is from the Amara who see their chance of becoming the superiors of all again. Is that what one calls the majority?

    One more thing. This thing about Ethiopia going to the east. Oligarchy Putin is falling soon and the China bubble is at end already.

    I am sure the leaders of the west see this simlpe truth – as the non-entity, non-politician simple me see it and equality and justice will prevail soon

    1. I agree that this is a failed analysis. If this is how western diplomats think, I’m very worried for the future. Main reason, if IC can’t take action against Ethiopia, who can they take action against? Lack of action here emboldens every tin-pot dictator in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. Every minority population is looking at this and saying there is no help from the UN. I expect a huge increase in independence movements and accompanying unrest, and in contrast to this analysis, lack of action will promote the breakup of Ethiopia. Tigray is already gone and others will follow. At least Syria was sort of understandable in the sense they had a big-league protector – Russia, which changed the calculation. Hey, if Ethiopia wants help from China and Russia, they can ask but I doubt the ‘help’ they will get. Gulf States are more likely in any case. Gulf states have the money and weaponry Ethiopia wants and Ethiopia has arable land in return and there are already connections. Only thing Ethiopia can provide to the West is people and they’re coming regardless.

  2. @Plaut,
    the obvious solution that is USA’s national security interests is for Biden to use the genocide as an excuse to effect regime change in Eritrea (just need a few well chosen stand-off precision missile strikes on Asthmera and military targets, from the ocean military ships and coordination with TDF troops) then Biden must install a US naval base at port Assab.  Eritrea is a failed state exporting terrorism already so regime change solves that problem, and once Eritrea is out, Abiy/PP automatically pull out of Tigray, and the war ends with Ethiopia in tack, eager and ready for negotiated settlements, the West’s goals.

    Biden will be very dumb not to do this ASAP b/c Russia is getting a naval base in Sudan, and otherwise China will replace UAE and install a naval base at port Assab, forever bolstering the despotic terrorist dictator Isaias, and both Russia and China will control the Suez canal shipping for at least another generation or two, blocking US from control in that global commerce critical region.

  3. The West should always stand for justice no matter what. The facts are on the ground. If Abiy is doing good for Ethiopia and Ethiopians then he has to be supported. The way I see it now is Ethiopia has the worst leader that is cooperating with a war monger Issayas of Eritrea that has ruled by murdering his own people for more than 30 yrs. The situation in East Africa in particular in Ethiopia will be solved with the downfall of Issayas of Eritrea. The US should remove Issayas in order peace to prevail in Ethiopia and its neighbors. This is what I think the solution is otherwise the way I see it now is Ethiopia is moving towards disintegration and the West should better realize that even out of 110 million people if half a million people are at the doors of the West, it is more than they can handle.

  4. If western democracies decide to watch not to act, while the entire people of Tigray are traumatized, humiliated, terrorized, starved and collectively taken into genocide end, it will be an insult to the civilized world. The wishful thinking the American (USA) government attempting to buy time at the expense of massive humanitarian crisis Abiy to win the war in Tigray is wrong, for two reasons. 1. the fact on the ground is showing that the USA has showed a deficit. Ethiopia of course is big with 110 million people. But this population is not as cohesive as they imagined. The reason Abiy and Isaias have promoted food as a weapon is because they know they will not win the war if they properly carry the war upon the international law and directly.
    2. The demise or humiliation of Tigray will be the demise and humiliations of the Ethiopia the United States of America is trying to pretend. That there was no history a central government in Ethiopia promoted such a dangerous cruel genocide supported by the civilized world. The attack will not be limited in Tigray it will be transported into the rest of the world.

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