Due to the geographical location, the conflict between the Ethiopian Federal Government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) carries multiple repercussions that go beyond the borders of the Ethiopian state to include the countries of the Horn of Africa and the regional and international powers concerned with this region due to its great strategic importance in the international arena, given that the region is witnessing intense presence on the part of multiple regional and international actors.
The positions of most external actors regarding the conflict in the Tigray Region came to provide great support to the federal government, both by confirming the legitimacy of the military campaign launched by the Ethiopian armed forces and by giving it sufficient time to succeed without exerting diplomatic pressure. This trend came as a result of a number of governing determinants that contributed to shaping this regional and international position, namely the following:
1. Ethiopia's central position in the region, which prompted its neighbouring countries to ensure the stability of Ethiopia as much as possible to avoid exposing the region to a wave of sharp and violent changes.
2. The implications of the strategic mistakes of the TPLF, which were reflected in two mistakes: the first was the trend to militarise the dispute with the federal government through military parades and the armed protection of the regional elections in September 2020, and the attack on the headquarters of the Ethiopian Armed Forces Northern Command in Mikkeli. The second mistake was seeking to internationalise the conflict from an early stage by launching missile attacks on multiple targets inside Eritrea.
3. The proactive orientation of the Ethiopian foreign policy: Two days before the outbreak of the conflict, Abiy Ahmed received General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Chairman of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council in the capital Addis Ababa, on 2 November 2020, and before that on 13 October 2020, Abiy Ahmed had received the Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki . This early coordination with both Eritrea and Sudan contributed to ensuring that the common borders between the Tigray Region and Sudan were closed to additionally prevent the diversion of weapons and support for the TPLF.
4. The successful diplomatic management that accompanied the conflict itself through the foreign minister's tour to many neighbouring countries, the visit of the President of the Republic to Djibouti, and Abiy Ahmed's visit to Kenya, in addition to the many phone calls and interviews made by Ethiopian ambassadors in multiple capitals to clarify the federal government's position on the conflict . The Ethiopian Prime Minister’s participation in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) summit held in Djibouti on 20 December 2020 also came to reflect a positive openness to regional efforts to restore stability.
Positions of neighbouring African countries to Ethiopia
Since the beginning of the escalation in the Tigray Region, the neighbouring countries of Ethiopia have sensed a lot of concern about the possibility that the conflict could reach them or the possibility that the model of separation by armed force would be exported, at a time when all those countries are witnessing the presence of groups with separatist demands. The main goal of the countries of Ethiopia's immediate neighbourhood is to end all forms of military operations as soon as possible and to successfully contain the situation in the Tigray Region after excluding the leaders of the TPLF from the scene, and to preserve the cohesion of the Ethiopian state.
1. Eritrea: Since the first day of the conflict in the Tigray Region, the Eritrean armed forces have been involved in military operations in support of the Ethiopian Federal Army (ENDF) and the special forces of the Amhara region, in order to achieve a number of strategic objectives, as follows:
Despite the positive result achieved by the rapid advance of the Ethiopian Federal Army and its supporters to the city of Mikkeli, the capital of the Tigray Region, the course of Eritrean involvement in the conflict bore negative repercussions, including the following:
2. Sudan: since the beginning of the conflict, Sudan has adopted a supportive position of Abiy Ahmed within the framework of the great rapprochement between Sudan and Ethiopia since the political change in the two countries in 2018 and 2019, and in order to contain the crisis in the Tigray Region as soon as possible to avoid the transformation of the crisis into a source of continuous tensions in the region. The Sudanese measures were reflected in the complete closure of the borders between the state of Kassala and the Tigray Region in order to ensure that no aid or military support infiltrated to the TPLF. While the attempts of Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to mediate were unsuccessful after the severe rejection by Abiy Ahmed, the two parties were keen to preserve the friendly nature of the relationship. Sudan's interests have been affected by the conflict in the Tigray Region in more than one way, including the following:
3. Djibouti: Djibouti showed clear support for the law enforcement operation in the Tigray Region, given that it was the first country in the region to congratulate the federal government for the success of the operation the day after Abiy Ahmed announced the cessation of military actions and control of the region’s capital. This happened during President Ismail Omar Guelleh’s reception of the Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde on a visit to Djibouti on 29 November 2020. In addition, at the beginning of the conflict, the Djiboutian authorities handed over to the federal authority 16 officers from the Tigray Region who managed to cross the border separating the two countries. Djibouti has multiple interests that would materialise through taking a supportive stand for the federal government in Ethiopia, including the following:
4. Somalia: since the beginning of the conflict in the Tigray Region, the Somali government has committed to supporting the law enforcement operation in the Tigray Region. This constituted a source of internal tension after the Somali Foreign Ministry website announced an official statement to support the security operation in the Tigray Region. The Foreign Minister Ahmed Issa Awad came out to deny the truth of the statement and stress Somalia's pursuit of de-escalation among all parties to the conflict. This prompted Somali President Mohammad Abdullahi “Farmajo” to dismiss his foreign minister and stress his full support for Abiy Ahmed. The Somali federal government's motives to support the military campaign of the Ethiopian government in the Tigray Region varied, including the following:
5. Kenya: similar to other countries in the region, Kenya has committed itself to a supportive stance of the Ethiopian federal government in its military operation in the Tigray Region. This is due to a number of reasons, most notably the relative distance of the Tigray Region from Kenya, which was accompanied by the absence of any manifestations of ethnic overlap between the group and the Kenyan groups. The clear Kenyan support for the Ethiopian federal government was manifested in the reception by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta of Abiy Ahmed in the border city of Moyale to inaugurate the new land crossing between the two countries in the first foreign visit by Abiy Ahmed since the outbreak of the conflict. Through this support, Kenya seeks to achieve a number of interests, the most important of which are the following:
6. South Sudan: in general, South Sudan is keen to establish close relations with Ethiopia as a result of the latter’s active role in maintaining regional stability and pushing forward integration and development projects that can benefit South Sudan. However, the war in the Tigray Region imposed some pressure on South Sudan, namely Ethiopia's withdrawal of some of its participating forces in the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNIFSA) on the border between Sudan and South Sudan, which could pose a future threat if sustained. The conflict also imposed a lot of sensitivity on South Sudan's external relations, as reflected in the crisis that followed the Egyptian President's visit to Juba, which was linked by Ethiopian media sources to the conflict in Tigray, which was categorically denied by South Sudan.
7. Egypt: officially, Egyptian foreign policy did not engage with the conflict in the Tigray Region, especially given the complex situation of Egypt's relationship with Ethiopia in recent years. The TPLF was the one that launched the Renaissance Dam project at the time it seized power. While many analyses have gone to consider Egypt as benefiting from the current situation in the light of the deterioration of its relationship with Ethiopia against the background of the Ethiopian position in the negotiations over the Renaissance Dam, the continuation of the conflict in Tigray poses threats to Egyptian security, both with regard to the emergence of a stream of refugees heading towards the north, and in creating a favourable environment for the growing activity of the Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahideen Movement in the Horn of Africa, even as Egypt aims to strengthen its relations with the other Nile Basin countries, given that those relations have recently grown through the Egyptian President’s visit to South Sudan, the performance of the joint air exercise with Sudan (the Nile Eagles), and the participation by the Egyptian Ministers of Electricity and Housing in the ceremony of diverting the course of the Rufiji River in Tanzania to construct the Julius Nyerere Dam which is carried out by a consortium of Egyptian companies.
Positions of regional and international powers
The response of the vast majority of regional and international parties has been to adopt a conservative approach to the conflict in Ethiopia, which allowed the Ethiopian armed forces to gain sufficient time to launch their military campaign on Tigray from multiple axes. This conservative approach indicates that many external actors have fears about the escalation of the conflict or the exacerbation of the humanitarian crisis. This has been reflected in repeated calls for de-escalation and putting an end to the military operations in Tigray.
It is noteworthy that many countries with important interests in Ethiopia refrained from expressing declared positions on the Ethiopian military campaign in the Tigray Region, especially Saudi Arabia and Russia, while the European Union (EU) preferred to limit its attention to the humanitarian dimension of the crisis. Therefore, the following lines will focus on countries that have shown clear positions or interacted with the Ethiopian government about the conflict in Tigray.
1. The United States: the US response to the conflict in the Tigray Region has been characterised by three distinct features: the first is to take a supportive stand for the federal government in law enforcement that holds the TPLF responsible for the outbreak of the conflict. The second relates to the limited manifestations of the US engagement with the crisis, which came hours after the US elections, and accompanied the acceleration of developments in other issues in various regions. The US response was limited to some “tweets” by multiple officials, most notably former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The third feature of the US position was the presence of clear "red lines" that the US did not want any of the parties to the conflict to cross, namely the refusal that the crisis be internationalised and transformed from an internal security campaign into a regional conflict. This was reflected in severe criticism of the TPLF after the missile bombing of Asmara, and in the demand that the Eritrean forces fully withdraw from Tigray after the announcement of the end of military operations. This position reflects the existence of several considerations that have shaped the US position, namely:
2. China: the Ethiopian federal government has been keen to explain its position to China on the conflict in the Tigray Region. Indeed, the Ethiopian Ambassador in Beijing Teshome Toga met with Chinese Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Deng Li on 11 December 2020 to provide further clarification of the situation in Ethiopia. This was responded to by the Chinese official by showing support for the post-conflict reconstruction efforts in the region.
For decades, China had been Ethiopia's primary economic partner. This situation continues to exist, although without the significant political support that existed during the period when Meles Zenawi and the TPLF held control of power and wealth. Chinese economic interests have been directly affected by the conflict in Tigray. The Australian newspaper The Diplomat published a report monitoring Chinese economic losses as a result of the conflict in Tigray, where the Chinese industrial zone in Ethiopia, which was established by China Communications Constructions Company (CCCC), is located. As a result of the struggle, the China Gezhouba Group Corporation (CGGC) has also withdrawn its workers and investments from a water project in Tigray.
However, in general, the multiple Chinese interests in Ethiopia favoured the reserved approach, waiting for the outcome of the conflict in the Tigray Region, and dealing with the reality it would produce. Those interests include the following:
3. The UAE: in the light of the close relations that bind the UAE with both Ethiopia and Eritrea since Abiy Ahmed came to power and its sponsorship of the peace agreement between the two countries, the Ethiopian Ambassador in Abu Dhabi Suleiman Dedfo was quick to meet with the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Reem al-Hashemi on 19 November 2020 to inform her of the "irresponsible" behaviour by the TPLF, stressing that the Ethiopian government "will end the law enforcement operation as soon as possible". After the announcement of the end of the military operations, the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued on 2 December 2020 a statement in which it welcomed the end of the military operations and stressed the importance of constructive dialogue within the framework of the state of institutions and the rule of law. The UAE has various motives to support the stability of Ethiopia, the most important of which are the following:
4. Turkey: Turkey introduces itself as a major player in the interactions of the Horn of Africa, which prompted Demeke Mekonnen, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, to call his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on 16 November 2020 to inform him of the course of the military operation in the Tigray Region. The Turkish official responded by announcing that his country understands Ethiopia's decisions to maintain law and order. This Turkish position is justified by two basic considerations, the first of which being preserving the growing trend in the economic relations after the volume of trade between the two countries reached nearly 400 million US dollars in 2019, of which Turkish exports to Ethiopia account for 380 million dollars, in addition to the increase in the value of Turkish investments in Ethiopia to 2 billion dollars through the activity of more than 200 Turkish companies. The second consideration relates to the great importance of coordination with Ethiopia in managing the main security and economic issues related to the situation in Somalia, especially with the approaching date of the Somali presidential elections.
Significance of the positions of external parties
 Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis: The long, medium, and short story, BBC, November 17, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-54964378
 Ethiopia’s Tigray leader confirms firing missiles at Eritrea as conflict escalates, Euronews, November 15, 2020. https://www.euronews.com/2020/11/15/ethiopia-s-tigray-leader-confirms-firing-missiles-at-eritrea-as-conflict-escalates
 “Al-Burhan arrives in Addis Ababa in conjunction with a new round of negotiations on the Grand Renaissance Dam”, Asharq Al-Awsat, 1 November 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3mRwv1J
 “Eritrea's President visits the Renaissance Dam and is dazzled by Ethiopian coffee”, Al-Ain News, 13 October 2020. Available at: https://al-ain.com/article/ethio-eritrea-3
 Ethiopia’s President in Djibouti on Two-Day Official Visit, Ethiopian Monitor, November 29, 2020. https://ethiopianmonitor.com/2020/11/29/ethiopias-president-in-djibouti-on-two-day-official-visit/
 Ethiopia and Kenya inaugurate new border post to boost trade, Africanews, December 10, 2020. https://www.africanews.com/2020/12/10/ethiopia-and-kenya-inaugurate-new-border-post-to-boost-trade/
 Igad Summit in Djibouti, devoted to Ethiopia, the Kenya-Somalia dispute, Africa News, December 21, 2020. https://www.africanews.com/2020/12/21/igad-summit-in-djibouti-devoted-to-ethiopia-the-kenya-somalia-dispute/
 Phil Stewart, Exclusive: U.S. says reports of Eritrean troops in Ethiopia's Tigray are 'credible', Reuters, December 11, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/ethiopia-conflict-eritrea-usa-exclusive-idUSKBN28L06R; 'Slaughtered like chickens': Eritrea heavily involved in Tigray conflict, say eyewitnesses, The Guardian, December 21, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/21/slaughtered-like-chickens-eritrea-heavily-involved-in-tigray-conflict-say-eyewitnesses
 Rockets Hit Eritrea’s Capital, Asmara, Voice of America News, November 15, 2020. https://www.voanews.com/africa/rockets-hit-eritreas-capital-asmara
 Mebrahtu Ateweberhan, Brothers in Arms: Eritreans Caught in Dilemma Over Tigray Conflict, The Africa Report, December 11, 2020. https://www.theafricareport.com/53978/eritreans-caught-in-dilemma-over-tigray-conflict/
 Mortada Koko, “Sudan partially closes its borders with Ethiopia”, Al-Ain News, 6 November 2020. Available at: https://al-ain.com/article/sudan-partially-closes-borders-with-ethiopia
 “Abiy Ahmed rejects Hamdok's mediation to solve the Tigrayan crisis”, Al-Nilin, 8 November 2020. Available at: https://www.alnilin.com/13153384.htm
 “’Umm Rakobeh’: the Sudanese camp to which the Ethiopians took refuge twice”, Al-Hurra, 16 November 2020. Available at: https://arbne.ws/3prJsRO
 Mohamed Jamil Ahmed, “Will eastern Sudan turn into the Achilles’ heel of the Revolution?”, Independent Arabia, 27 December 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2KCtFRe
 “The Sudanese army continues its advance in Fashaqa on the border with Ethiopia”, Sky News Arabia, 19 December 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2WNbDhF
 “Despite the announcement of a ‘two-day’ visit, Sudan’s Prime Minister leaves Ethiopia in a few hours”, Arabic CNN, 13 December 2020. Available at: https://arabic.cnn.com/middle-east/article/2020/12/13/sudan-pm-visits-ethiopia
 Ethiopia’s President in Djibouti on Two-Day Official Visit, Ethiopian Monitor, November 29, 2020. https://ethiopianmonitor.com/2020/11/29/ethiopias-president-in-djibouti-on-two-day-official-visit/
 “While Sudan closes its borders, Djibouti hands over 16 officers fleeing the conflict in Tigray to the Ethiopian authorities”, Somalian Al-Qalam News, 7 November 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3aJ0AhJ
 AyaanIe Abdi, “Somali Prime Minister dismisses the Minister of Foreign Affairs”, Al-Ain News, 19 November 2020. Available at: https://al-ain.com/article/somali-prime-minister-minister-foreign-affairs
 Vanda Felbab-Brown, Order from Chaos: What Ethiopia’s crisis means for Somalia, Brookings, November 20, 2020. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2020/11/20/what-ethiopias-crisis-means-for-somalia/
 Ethiopia's PM Abiy Ahmed arrives in Kenya to open border post, The East African, December 9, 2020. https://bit.ly/3mPofzd
 “Hundreds of ‘OLF Shane’ militants killed in the Ethiopian Oromia region”, Al-Ain News, 16 December 2020. Available at: https://al-ain.com/article/ethiopia-olf
 US Urges End to Violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region, Voice of America News, November 30, 2020. https://www.voanews.com/africa/us-urges-end-violence-ethiopias-tigray-region
 U.S condemns Tigray forces' attacks on Eritrea, Reuters, November 15, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ethiopia-conflict-usa-idUSKBN27V0KT
 Simon Marks, U.S. Urges Withdrawal of Eritrean Troops From Ethiopia, Bloomberg, December 11, 2020. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-12-11/u-s-urges-withdrawal-of-eritrean-troops-from-ethiopia
 China Supports Efforts To Rebuild Tigray: Official, Fana Broadcasting Corporate, December 11, 2020. https://www.fanabc.com/english/china-supports-efforts-to-rebuild-tigray-official/
 Austin Bodetti, What Ethiopia’s Ethnic Unrest Means for China: China’s massive investments in Ethiopia give it a lot to lose amid renewed sectarian violence, The Diplomat, December 10 2020. https://thediplomat.com/2020/12/what-ethiopias-ethnic-unrest-means-for-china/
 China remains to be top foreign investment source of Ethiopia in 2019: UN report, Xinhua, January 29, 2020. http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-01/29/c_138741928.htm
 “Ambassador Suleiman Didfo meets the UAE Minister of State”, Fanabc, 18 November 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3rzgzoG
 “The UAE welcomes the announcement of the end of military operations in Ethiopia”, Sky News Arabia, 2 December 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2JlHK4Q
 “Tigrayan conflict: Turkey gets involved in the crisis in Ethiopia”, Arabic Sputnik News, 16 November 2020. Available at: https://sptnkne.ws/Evp5
 Relations between Turkey and Ethiopia, Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Foreign affairs. http://www.mfa.gov.tr/relations-between-turkey-and-ethiopia.en.mfa
EPC | 23 Feb 2021
EPC | 15 Feb 2021
Ahmed Nadhif | 13 Feb 2021