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'Tribalism' Isn't Going Anywhere
Migrants who fled fighting in the Ethiopia‘s Tigray region gather at the border reception center in Hamdiyet, Sudan, Nov. 14.
Ebrahim Hamid/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

'Tribalism' Isn't Going Anywhere

Walter Russell Mead

Azerbaijan and Armenia may have signed a peace deal, but a new conflict is brewing in Ethiopia that is potentially more devastating, strategically consequential and historically important. The Caucasian war looked backward to the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Ottoman Empire’s genocidal demise. The Ethiopian war looks forward, as the sort of national conflict that dominated the past two centuries of European history begins to shape the politics of a rising Africa.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, has sent in the army to force the restive northeastern Tigray region back into line. In September, local authorities in Tigray defied a nationwide ban on elections (ostensibly due to the Covid pandemic but seen by Mr. Ahmed’s opponents as a ploy to retain his power) to vote for a new provincial assembly. Though the Tigrayans only numbered 8.8 million by the last Ethiopian census in 2007, this relatively small ethnic group has played an outsize role in the country’s politics since it led a military campaign that overthrew the Marxist regime of President Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.

What many Ethiopians from other ethnic groups considered a form of Tigrayan domination took the form of a dictatorial government. Mr. Ahmed dismantled that dictatorship, to local and international applause. Many Tigrayans, however, resent the new system and believe that they are being targeted for unfair dismissals and prosecutions. Their current defiance of central authority is seen by many Ethiopians as part of a plan to reassert their power beyond their home region.

Read the full article in the Wall Street Journal

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