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Analyzing The American Hybrid War on Ethiopia

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Ethiopia has come under unprecedented pressure from the U.S. ever since it commenced a military operation in its northern Tigray Region last November. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the armed forces to respond to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which used to be the most powerful faction of the former ruling party, after it attacked a military barracks. Addis Ababa now officially considers the TPLF to be a terrorist group. It fell out with PM Abiy after initially facilitating his rise to power as a result of disagreements over his fast-moving socio-political reforms.

The TPLF refused to join PM Abiy’s Prosperity Party upon its formation in December 2019. It also regarded his decision to postpone national elections last August until this June due to the COVID-19 pandemic as resulting in him illegitimately remaining in power. In response, the TPLF organized its own elections in the Tigray Region in September 2020 that were not recognized by the central government. This set a tense backdrop against which the group attacked the military a few months later in early November, which was what triggered the ongoing conflict.

The U.S. and its allies claim that Ethiopia is carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Tigray, which Addis Ababa, of course, denies. This set the basis upon which the U.S. began to sanction the country. The first sanctions were imposed in late May to target Ethiopian officials as well as some of their Eritrean allies who, the U.S. claimed, were supporting them in their military campaign. The Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) pulled out of Tigray a month later in June, claiming that this unilateral move would facilitate the international community’s relief efforts in the war-torn region that had attracted so much global attention.

The conflict did not end, however, but actually expanded. The TPLF felt emboldened to invade the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara, parts of which it continues to occupy. Addis Ababa suspected that the group was receiving various equipment and other forms of support under the cover of UN aid shipments. It also accused the TPLF of manipulating international perceptions about the region’s humanitarian crisis in order to generate more support and increase pressure on the Ethiopian government. PM Abiy published an open letter to U.S. President Joe Biden last month, urging him to reconsider his country’s policy towards the conflict.

It regrettably went unheeded but deserves to be read in full, since the Ethiopian leader compellingly argued that the American policy is counterproductive and influenced by the TPLF’s lobbyists. Shortly after that, his government expelled seven UN officials at the end of September, who it accused of meddling. In early October, CNN published a report claiming that Ethiopian Airlines was illegally transporting weapons to and from Eritrea during the early stages of the conflict. This, in turn, prompted more sanctions threats from the U.S. The situation is such that the U.S. is now actively working in support of the TPLF against PM Abiy’s government.

This American hybrid war on Ethiopia is waged in various ways that deserve further study. They closely resemble the American hybrid war on Syria in the sense that the U.S. is using humanitarian pretexts to justify meddling in the country’s internal affairs. Its motivations to backstab its regional ally are entirely self-interested and zero-sum. The U.S. is uncomfortable with PM Abiy’s geopolitical balancing between Washington and Beijing. Although the former TPLF-led government was also close to China, the U.S. likely expected PM Abiy to distance Ethiopia from it, considering the pressure that Washington exerts upon its partners to do so.

He came to power in early 2018 around the time when the U.S. began to intensify its ongoing New Cold War with China. From the American perspective, it is unacceptable for the country’s partners to retain close ties with its top geopolitical rival. It is for this reason why the US far from appreciates PM Abiy’s balancing act since it likely expected for him to move away from China. This leads to the next motivation for the American Hybrid War on Ethiopia, which is to return the TPLF to power there, if not in a national capacity, then at least in its home region. Such an explanation will now be elaborated on more at length.

Ethiopia finds itself at a crossroads whereby the country can either continue on the path of centralization, like PM Abiy has attempted to do, or pursue the course of further federalization to the point where its regions receive more autonomy than before. One of the TPLF’s primary criticisms of the Ethiopian leader is that he is allegedly going against the country’s post-civil war federal foundation. If it can succeed at least in securing broad autonomy for its home region by force after failing to do so peacefully, this might then trigger radical reforms that result in advancing its federal vision throughout the rest of the country.

The U.S. could exploit the broad autonomy that these regions might receive in order to individually pressure them to distance themselves from China. Ethiopia is, after all, Africa’s second most populous country and used to have one of the world’s fastest rates of economic growth before the COVID-19 pandemic. From a continental standpoint, the U.S. might believe that turning Ethiopia against China could eventually become a game-changer in the New Cold War’s African theater. In other words, everything that the U.S. is doing against Ethiopia is motivated by its desire to “contain” China. It is now time to explain its modus operandi in detail.

The U.S. immediately exploited the TPLF-provoked conflict in Ethiopia to pressure PM Abiy to treat the group as his political equals. This was unacceptable for him, since doing so would legitimize all other groups that attack the armed forces in pursuit of their political objectives. The Ethiopian leader rightly feared that it could also trigger a domino effect that results in the country’s “Balkanization”, which would advance American interests in the sense of taking the country out of the “geopolitical game” with China. In response to his recalcitrance, the U.S. alleged that his government was carrying out ethnic cleansing.

American officials knew that this would attract global attention that they could manipulate to put multilateral pressure upon his government. Even so, PM Abiy still did not relent but continued waging his war in the interests of national unity. With time, the U.S. began to portray him as a “rogue leader” who did not deserve his Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for resolving his country’s frozen conflict with the neighboring Eritrea. Its perception managers presented him as a power-hungry dictator, who was ruthlessly killing the ethnic minorities that opposed his government, including by deliberately starving them to death.

The ENDF’s withdrawal from the Tigray Region over the summer was interpreted by the U.S. as having been commenced from a position of weakness. It believed that ramping up the pressure at this sensitive point in the conflict could lead to him politically capitulating to the TPLF’s demands. This was a wrong assessment since PM Abiy hoped that everything would stabilize after his decision facilitated international relief efforts to the war-torn region. These were unfortunately exploited, according to Addis Ababa, in order to provide more support for the TPLF, which is why his government recently expelled those seven UN officials.

The U.S. “humanitarian imperialism”, as one can now call its policy against Ethiopia, is very pernicious. It focuses solely on the humanitarian crisis in the Tigray Region while ignoring the ones that the TPLF caused in the neighboring Afar and Amhara regions. This policy also manipulates perceptions about the situation in Tigray in order to delegitimize PM Abiy, the ENDF and the political cause of national unity that they are fighting for. The purpose is to encourage more members of the international community to pressure Ethiopia to the point where it finally feels compelled to politically capitulate. This policy, however, has proven to be counterproductive.

Far from giving up the fight, Ethiopia is doubling down and is now more motivated than ever before to see the war to its end, though ideally through a political rather than military solution due to humanitarian considerations. This does not imply treating the terrorist-designated TPLF as an equal but envisions replacing its leadership in the Tigray Region with a pro-government/unity party instead. That is, of course, easier said than done, which is why military means might continue to be relied upon to this political end. Throughout the course of its struggle, Ethiopia has begun to be seen as an anti-imperialist icon across Africa and the rest of the Global South.

PM Abiy’s open letter to Biden was full of powerful statements articulating Ethiopia’s sovereign interests. It showed that African leaders can resist the U.S., which could inspire the Ethiopian leader’s counterparts who might also come under similar pressure from their partner sometime in the future—due to its zero-sum New Cold War geopolitical calculations. Ethiopia’s sheer size makes it an African leader, not to mention it hosting the headquarters of the African Union, so it can influence the rest of the continent. It also has a very proud anti-imperialist history which motivates its people not to submit to foreign pressure.

China, Russia and India have politically supported Ethiopia against the U.S. at the UN, thereby debunking The Economist’s lie last week that “Ethiopia is losing friends and influence”. To the contrary, Ethiopia is gaining friends and influence, especially among the rising powers and the rest of the Global South. Its principled resistance to the American hybrid war on it has shown others that there is an alternative to capitulation. It is indeed possible to fight back in the interests of national unity. Not all American destabilization plots are guaranteed success. Just like the U.S. failed to topple the Syrian government, so too has it failed to topple the Ethiopian regime.

Ethiopia, however, is many orders of magnitude larger than Syria. This makes its hitherto successful resistance to the American hybrid war all the more significant. The leader in the Horn of Africa is a very diverse country, whose many people could be pitted against one another through information warfare to provoke another round of civil war that would help the TPLF’s U.S.-backed anti-government crusade. That worst-case scenario has not materialized, though, due to the majority of the population’s commitment to national unity even among some of those who might have misgivings about the present government.

This year’s elections saw the Prosperity Party win by a landslide, which shows how much genuine support it and its founder have among the masses. Furthermore, PM Abiy’s concept of “medemer” (“coming together”) aims to counteract “Balkanization” processes by pragmatically reforming socio-political relations inside the country. It is a very promising idea that could inspire other very diverse states across the Global South and help them ideologically thwart divide-and-rule plots like the one presently waged against Ethiopia.

Assessing the strategic situation as it presently stands, the American Hybrid War on Ethiopia is expected to intensify on manipulated humanitarian pretexts. More sanctions and even the threatened revocation of Ethiopia’s access to the U.S. market through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) could worsen the economic situation for millions of people. The purpose in doing so would be to provoke anti-government protests that the U.S. hopes would be violent enough to catalyze a self-sustaining cycle of destabilization throughout the country after the security services crack down on the rioters.

The supplementary purpose is to encourage some Ethiopians to join anti-government terrorist groups allied or working in coordination with the TPLF unless the U.S. succeeds in pulling off a Color Revolution. This modus operandi is identical to the one that it relied upon in its hybrid war on Syria. In the Ethiopian context, the U.S. hopes to forcefully “Balkanize” the country, whether de jure or de facto through an extreme form of federalization. The point is to punish Ethiopia for balancing between China and the U.S., which showed other Global South states that such a pragmatic approach is possible instead of the U.S.-practised zero-sum one.

Nevertheless, the U.S. might still fail. The ENDF and other security services retain control throughout all the country’s regions with the exception of Tigray. It is therefore unlikely that any Color Revolution or Unconventional War there will succeed. Furthermore, Ethiopia enjoys close ties with the rising multipolar powers like China, Russia and India who can help it weather the current crisis by neutralizing U.S. attempts to isolate the country. In addition, the “medemer” concept ensures that national unity remains at the core of the Ethiopian society, reducing the appeal of foreign-backed “Balkanization” narratives.

Altogether, it can be said that Ethiopia is successfully resisting the U.S. hybrid war against it. There have certainly been some serious costs to its international reputation, but it remains committed to the cause of national unity, and it does not seem likely to politically capitulate to the terrorist-designed TPLF’s foreign-backed demands. Expelling those seven UN officials for meddling was a major move which speaks to how serious the country is about protecting its sovereignty. The same can also be said about PM Abiy’s open letter to Biden which preceded that development and explained why the U.S. is wrong for meddling in Ethiopia.

The American Hybrid War on Ethiopia will likely continue since the US doesn’t like to lose. It keenly understands what’s at stake in the realm of international perceptions, and it’s that the US cannot afford to have an African country – let alone one as large and influential as Ethiopia is – successfully resist its pressure campaign. Ethiopia’s resolute resistance can inspire other countries across the Global South, which can complicate the US’ efforts to pressure them into curtailing ties with China in the New Cold War. Had the US simply accepted Ethiopia’s balancing act, then the conflict might have ended by now, but its zero-sum policies prevented that.

From our partner RIAC

Andrew Korybko is a political analyst, journalist and regular contributor to several online journals, as well as a member of the expert council for the Institute of Strategic Studies and Predictions at the People’s Friendship University of Russia. He has published various works in the field of Hybrid Wars, including “Hybrid Wars: The Indirect Adaptive Approach to Regime Change” and “The Law of Hybrid War: Eastern Hemisphere”.

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Africa

Ramaphosa Faces Possible Impeachment for Corruption

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has fallen into turbulent waves and struggling to save his position and reputation. It has tainted image of and changed the global perception about South Africa, if Ramaphosa is finally impeached for corruption scandal similar to his predecessor Jacob Zuma. He, however, made corruption fight a top priority during the political campaign and has fallen victim himself.

Ramaphosa ousted former president Jacob Zuma in 2017 amid optimism that the new leader could rid the ruling party of graft and revitalise the economy. Zuma faces several corruption investigations, but denies wrongdoing.

He faces possible impeachment over claims that he tried to cover up the theft of millions of dollars stashed inside his commercial farmlands. Former State Security Agency director Arthur Fraser laid a criminal complaint against Ramaphosa in June over the theft in 2020. 

The Investigative Committee has concluded its report which report found the president may have breached anti-corruption laws. The African National Congress, the ruling party, has called for him to step down. But, Ramaphosa has denied wrongdoing.

“We are in an unprecedented and extraordinary moment as a constitutional democracy as a result of the report, and therefore whatever decision the president takes, it has to be informed by the best interest of the country. That decision cannot be rushed,” according to the spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya.

A panel report that found preliminary evidence that President Cyril Ramaphosa may have violated his oath of office is a “troubling moment” for the government and governing party, South Africa’s foreign minister Naledi Pandor said in an interview with the Reuters.

Pandor added that she was still reading the panel report on the robbery at Ramaphosa’s farm and that she did not want to rush into the public space with additional comments.

The panel’s findings come less than a month away from an elective conference that will decide if Ramaphosa gets to run for a second term on the African National Congress ticket in 2024 polls.

According to his biographical record, Ramaphosa is an anti-apartheid champion, and later South Africa’s wealthiest businessmen and then its most powerful politician and president. Born in Johannesburg on Nov. 17, 1952, the son of a retired policeman. Ramaphosa is a staunch member of the African National Congress (ANC).

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Russia-Africa Summit: Sergey Lavrov Embarks on Courtship and Assessment Tour

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Behind lofty summit declarations, several bilateral agreements and thousands of decade-old undelivered pledges, Russia has been at the crossroad due to the  ‘special military operations’ it began late February in Ukraine. It has achieved little these few years after the symbolic summit held in 2019. With preparations for the next African leaders summit, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov plans to undertake two African tours during the first quarter 2023.

At the heat of the Russia-Ukraine crisis and within the context of the current geopolitical and economic changes, Lavrov made a snapshot trip to four African countries July 24-28 this year. The four African countries on that travel agenda: Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of Congo. 

In January-February 2023, Lavrov will first focus on North Africa. Why the Maghreb is a strategic region for Russia? It is true that despite the appearance of competition between Europe and the United States, between Russia and China as well as the Gulf States, Russia has intensified its relations aims at raising its influence in the Maghreb.

Worth noting that Egypt already has significant strategic and economic ties with Russia. With the geographical location of Egypt, Lavrov’s frequent visits there has some tacit implications. Last July trip, for instance, concretely aimed at explaining the perspectives for Russia’s actions in neighbouring Ukraine, to frame-shape its geo-strategic posture in the region and solicit support from the entire Arab world. It followed U.S. President Joe Biden  official visit to the Middle East. Biden visited Israel, the Palestinian territories and Saudi Arabia.

Reports from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated that Lavrov plans to undertake two “coordinated working visits” and first trip will focus on Arab-speaking North African region popularly referred to as Maghreb. For several decades, the Maghreb region has been a multifaceted conflict region, in fact one of the most volatile geopolitical frontiers, and which includes Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. This vast area inhabited by some 120 million people – 80 per cent of them in Algeria, Egypt and Morocco – is landlocked between the huge Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert.

Historically, Russia has had long-standing good political relations not only the North but also with sub-Saharan Africa down to Southern Africa since Soviet times, provided tremendous support for liberation movements that culminated in decolonization and ultimately the rise of the economies in Africa. The continent is rife with rivalry  and competition, attracting foreign players especially this time of emerging new global order.

According to official reports, Russia is interested in expanding multifaceted cooperation, and making feverish attempts for a collaborative mechanism to upgrade its relations. It seeks to work closely in developing a new architecture necessary for participating in development projects, promote infrastructure, trade and other viable economic ties. It held the first Russia-Africa summit three years ago, signed many bilateral agreements and issued an impressive joint declaration as a roadmap for the future directions.

On the agenda for the second Russia-Africa summit scheduled to be held in St. Petersburg, there are matters relating to building a new global architecture in the context of strengthening multi-polarity and the international security, food and energy security, healthcare and humanitarian cooperation, education, science and culture. 

With rafts of sanctions imposed on Russia, it becomes expedient for both Russia and Africa to find alternative ways of collaboration (between Russia and Africa) that do not rely on Western currencies or sanctions policy. Of course, illegal sanctions imposed on Russia continue to have a negative impact on foreign economic relations, necessitating an urgent reconfiguration of strategies for pushing further cooperation.

The reports always note that Africa is one of the most important and fastest growing region for Russian producers. Moscow understands the significance of engaging and achieving sustainable development there. For example, Russia faces the challenge to promote the creation of a reliable infrastructure for the production and transportation of African energy products and the development of domestic markets. It faces the challenge of setting admirably its economic influence in the continent.

That however in November 2021, a policy document titled the ‘Situation Analytical Report’ presented at the premises of TASS News Agency was very critical about Russia’s current policy towards Africa. While the number of high-level meetings has increased, the share of substantive issues on the agenda remains small. There are little definitive results from such meetings, according to that authoritative report researched and put together by 25 Russian policy experts headed by Professor Sergey Karaganov, Chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. 

The report pointed to the lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa. For the past three decades, Russia plays very little role in Africa’s infrastructure, agriculture and industry. Many bilateral agreements, at the top and high political levels, have still not been implemented. A lot more important issues have received little attention since the first African leaders summit held in Sochi.

Our monitoring shows that the Russian business community hardly pays attention to the significance to, and makes little efforts in leveraging unto the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which provides a unique and valuable platform for businesses to access an integrated African market of over 1.3 billion people. 

In an interview with Steven Gruzd, Head of the African Governance and Diplomacy Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), explained that Africa is a busy geopolitical arena, with many players, both old and new, operating. Apart from EU countries, China and the US. There are players such as Iran, Turkey, Israel, the UAE, Japan and others. Russia has to compete against them, and distinctively remain focused its efforts with strategies. 

On the other side, Russia uses the rhetoric of anti-colonialism in its engagement with Africa, and that it is fighting neo-colonialism from the West, especially in relations with their former colonies. It sees France as a threat to its interests in Francophone West Africa, the Maghreb and the Sahel.

Russia brings little to the continent especially in the economic sectors which badly need investment especially building infrastructure. Undeniable fact is that many external players have also had long-term relations and continue bolstering political, economic and social ties in the continent.

“I would largely agree that there is a divide between what has been pledged and promised at high-level meetings and summits, compared to what has actually materialized on the ground. There is more talk than action, and mere intentions and ideas have been officially presented as initiatives already in progress. There needs to be a lot of tangible progress on the ground for the second summit to show impact. It will be interesting to see what has been concretely achieved in reports at the second Russia-Africa summit scheduled for this 2023,” he assertively argued.

Of course, Russia aims at restoring and regaining part of its Soviet-era influence, but has problems with planning and tackling its set tasks, lack of confidence in fulfilling its policy targets. The most important aspect is how to make strategic efforts more practical, more consistent and more effective with African countries. Without these fundamental factors, it would therefore be an illusionary dream considering multifaceted partnership with Africa.

As a direct result of Russia’s ‘special military operation’ aims at ‘demilitarization and denazification’ in the neighbouring post-Soviet republic of Ukraine since late February, Russia has come under a raft of sanctions imposed by the United States and Canada, European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and a host of other countries.

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…Africa is a Continent and not a Country

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Russian officials are highly educated and knowledgeable people, but are often confused to make the difference between a continent and a country. Africa is mentioned in reports even when dealing with a single African country. Referring to dictionary definitions can help to understand the distinctive meaning of these and how to use them in official phrases and reports.

Any English dictionary gives the meaning and shows how to use them. For example, Britannica and Webster dictionaries say “a country” is a distinct part of the world, such as a state, nation, or other political entity. It may be a sovereign state or make up one part of a larger state.

Both Britannica and Webster, additionally, explain that “a state, a nation and a country” are interchangeably used, but what is important to note is “it is a territorial entity, with a permanent population, defined borders, and a government that effectively controls the territory.

What is under simple discussion here is that Russian officials oftentimes and frequently confuse “a continent” with “a country, nation and state” in speeches and reports. In geography, history and social studies at all schools throughout the world, teachers explain that Africa is a continent but not a country. 

In this context, Africa as  a continent consists of or made up of 55 states or countries, and a state or a country is an individual entity.

Take for example: The first ship with 20,000 metric tons of Russian fertilizers on board sailed from a Dutch port to Africa on November 29. Does this mean sending 20,000 metric tons to entire Africa or just to one African country? This shipment is only meant for Malawi. The Russian fertilizes will be carried by sea to Mozambique and then delivered by land transport to Malawi.

Take for example: President Vladimir Putin said during the first Russia-Africa summit that “Russia has written off $20 billions of Africa’s debts to the Soviet Union” and that was an act of generosity.

What is noteworthy here is Moscow’s decision to write off African debts that were accumulated mostly through weapons and arms delivery to a number of African countries during the Soviet era. The politics of Africa’s debt write-offs has had historical chronology. Always referring to Africa’s debts et cetera.

The simple question here is that not the entire Africa bought Soviet weapons and military equipment. How many African states bought military equipment from the Soviet Union? Records, however, show that some of these countries include Angola, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Benin, Tanzania and Zambia.

Reports from the Foreign Ministry generalizing that Russia is helping Africa with humanitarian food deliveries is completely wrong. Not the entire Africa is benefiting but a few countries.

There are too much generalization in diplomatic rhetoric and phrases, most probably to draw or solicit sympathy from Africa. With food supplies to Africa, it is necessary to specify African countries benefiting from this free delivery and humanitarian aid. It is not the entire Africa, of course not. With questions relating to Russia-Ukraine crisis and about the food deliveries, these are going to Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti and Malawi. 

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